Premier Furey’s year-end declaration
that the “deficit must be tamed with broad action, not big bombshells” might
sound encouraging if only we could point to any plan, even a “broad” one. But
Furey has no such intention. He and his little band of insiders, Cabinet
passively looking on, are focused on the sale of NL’s most valuable strategic
assets. At any cost he isn’t prepared to impose on the Government — and the
public — spending practices that reflect the more responsible behaviours employed in other provinces.
Following release of the
PERT Report of Moya Greene and her advisory committee in May 2021, Furey
commented that “this is the
pivotal moment in our collective history… the problem is clearly laid out
before us. We are not on a sustainable path.”
The statement reflected a fiscal circumstance which Greene defined as
total provincial debt obligations of $46.3 billion, an abominable figure in a place
occupied by only a half million people. Otherwise, the Government’s response
was silence. Moya returned to London to be heard from no more.
Eight months later — just a few days ago — the Government of Newfoundland
and Labrador told the American office of French banker Rothchild and Co. to “review
the province’s assets to determine their value and file a report in March.” The
study is not limited to the specific ones named in the PERT Report. Finance
Minister Coady’s press release acknowledged that “all assets are
under the microscope” but that “the review will focus on the province’s oil and
gas holdings, registries, the Newfoundland and Labrador Liquor Corporation and
No terms of reference were released. The amount of $5 million was
offered for the work, not a small sum for a three-month appraisal job, unless,
of course, large scale assets are being weighed.
Consistent, too, with the way NL governments operate these days,
Minister Coady also stated that she wouldn’t confirm the report would be made
public, due to the potential presence of “commercially sensitive
Now then, that’s scary. The Report has been Ed-Martin-ized
There is, however, more than secrecy that should worry us. To paraphrase
one senior government official: when an old banking establishment like
Rothchild, masquerading as a consultancy, is employed to value things like
Marble Mountain (an afternoon’s work for a local commercial appraiser) which
doesn’t even have the value of candelabra in a place of ill-repute, we might
wonder what has piqued the Government’s interest for the impending fire-sale.
You don’t go to Rothchild for the small stuff — Marble Mountain, the
Liquor Stores. It isn’t the right entity to value our offshore oil interests.
More likely you are thinking Bay d’Espoir and the Upper Churchill… the stuff
that the ‘big boys’ are interested in: assets with big price tags, that attract
salivating lawyers and big fees, political insiders and middle-men, too, who would
sell their mothers as quickly as they would sell out the province.
Incidentally, the other worry is that Government can get away with
It is not as if the public is clamouring for Furey to act on fiscal
issues. Public contentment with his flat-footed predecessor,
Dwight Ball, and the Tories before him, is legendary. Ball is gone, but not due
to his failure to deal with the deficit as much as for an inability to be
either forthright or courageous — on any issue.
Indeed, all indications suggest that the public is happy with soothing
assurances that the Premier is a friend of the Prime Minister and that, as long
as this (perceptibly) cozy relationship is sustained, nothing will interfere
with NL’s spending practices.
The same public
contentment permeates Furey’s over-hyped, misunderstood, misrepresented and totally
inadequate “rate mitigation” plan for Muskrat Falls.
Furey’s suggestion that
the “rate mitigation” deal with the Feds is the “highlight” of 2021 is actually
the farce of 2021 — except that very few people understand what the deal
Political rhetoric may
mask genuine worry over NL’s debt spiral, but it is no cure for the deep-seated
financial issues experienced by this province. Eventually, the shortfall in
revenue required to finance and operate the Muskrat Falls Project will come to
the surface. The only question is how long it will take the bond rating
agencies, buoyed by the recent surge in the global price of oil, to tire of
NL’s long running hope-based strategy of fiscal repair? A fire sale will
assuage their anxiety.
Moreover, Premier Furey is
not going to aggravate the electorate with layoffs and salary cuts or let
protest define his Administration. The worry is that, while he plays to
momentary public support, he is not paring but pairing.
When some backbone would
reduce public expenditure and possibly stave off a financial debacle, he is
pairing corporate players and political hangers-on for a glutinous feast of NL
And, by the way, this is a
table to which the great unwashed is not invited.
The only safeguard the
public has against such an outcome is its own diligence, which should include a
constant demand for transparency.
A less-sleepy public would
not let another consultant in its midst until the Government comes clean about
its intentions. Had the Government released any response to the PERT Report —
let alone an extensive one — we might be less apprehensive. They didn’t do
The need for good
governance is not an isolated requirement related to Nalcor. Neither is
transparency something to be demanded only after the billions are spent. The
public has a right to be informed all the time, most especially when matters are
being discussed that threaten the very destiny of the province.
Even with our backs to the
fiscal wall, an informed public should expect its government to come clean with
exactly which public assets are up for sale and the policy implications —
rewards and costs — of what is on offer.
I have one other worry. It
is that Premier Furey also subscribes to the Nalcor method of having
consultants write the script of Government’s instruction. If you are not sure
what this means, you haven’t read Judge Richard LeBlanc’s Report.
As it stands, the public
is still in the thrall of “re-imagined” government — Furey’s phrase. It is an invention
of slick PR types with small ideas.
My bet, however, is that
you will like those “small men and women” far more than the greasier ones with
far larger and more self-serving ideas.
But, again, be warned: within
the paradigm of the carpetbaggers — large and small — there is no room for an