The party that wasn't

Steve Bartlett
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Province spent $174,986.19 on cancelled 'have' party

Danny Williams — File Photo

It was a bash to celebrate Newfoundland and Labrador’s economic independence, its coming off of Ottawa’s teat.

In November 2008, then premier Danny Williams announced the province had stopped receiving federal equalization payments — a year earlier than anticipated.

It was good news and the government wanted to celebrate.

After all, nationally, Newfoundland and Labrador had long been considered an economic basket case and this was a chance to celebrate the province’s oil-fuelled turnaround.

A “have” party was tentatively set for March 31, 2009 — fittingly, the 60th anniversary of Confederation with Canada.

The event would celebrate the province’s culture and history. But then came bad news —  lots of it.

The world’s economy was hit by a devastating slowdown from which some countries are still trying to recover.

Although Newfoundland and Labrador weathered the storm well, it wasn’t immune to turbulence and turmoil.

The paper mill in Grand Falls-Windsor closed, although that had been coming for some time. The mining industry took a hit as the global demand for commodities dipped. IOC pulled the plug on a major expansion in Labrador. Other industries faced uncertainty.

Because of the misfortunes, the plan to celebrate “have” status came under criticism.

The government announced it was reassessing the bash.

Then Cougar Helicopter Flight 491 ditched into the Atlantic while ferrying workers to the offshore. Seventeen people died and the province’s collective heart broke.

The party was off.

“Given the economic times, we’ve pulled back on any kind of celebration,” Williams told reporters at the time, “and as well, the province has gone through some difficult times in the last two or three weeks, with the helicopter tragedy. It’s not a time for a celebration, and it’s not appropriate.”

Anyone living in Newfoundland and Labrador would have agreed. It wasn’t.

But cancelling the party came with a price. A lot had already been spent.

According to documents obtained by The Telegram, the province had incurred $174,986 in expenses, the bulk of it going to a production company ($53,833) and a marketing firm ($47,154).

The rest covered pay for the event’s co-chairs and contracted staff.

Liberal Leader Yvonne Jones thinks the expense is unacceptable and shows the government’s wastefulness.

“It’s quite obvious when you look at $20 million for holes in the ground up in Parsons Pond and then you look at the fact they are spending almost $200,000 on trying to organize a party. I mean, some of these things are a little bit over the top,” she said Friday. “And they’re doing this all in the fiscal reality that many people in this province are not ‘have.’ The Government of Newfoundland and Labrador may be ‘have,’ but there’s a lot of people in this province who are not ‘have’ and a lot of communities who are not ‘have’ and who would have liked to have seen some of that money invested into what their everyday needs are.”

Jones doesn’t think the money spent organizing the party will go over well with people.

“It certainly doesn’t go over well with me,” she said.

“I think the government of the day has more money than they have sense.”

The Liberal leader believes there were ways the government could have better marked finally obtaining “have” status, like setting up a scholarship or heritage fund.

“They could have done it in a way that had tremendous and long-term benefits for the people of this province and, unfortunately, this government didn’t see that as a benefit unless it was a party that they could be showcased in. It’s quite obvious that they had no interest in marking this occasion.”

But Tourism Minister Terry French suggests that had it happened, the bash would have been a massive celebration for Newfoundlanders and Labradorians, one that would have promoted the province to the rest of the country.

“It was going to be one of those ‘Finish the Drive in 65’ moments. It was going to be a celebration to all of us. We all pumped our chests out and said, ‘We don’t need handouts anymore. We’re paying our own way. We’re contributing.’ Because we believed that for years, but now economically, it was shown on paper. So it was a time to celebrate.”

French said the party simply couldn’t have proceeded given the circumstances.

He considers the $175,000 bill unfortunate.

“Obviously, who wants to be paying for something that doesn’t happen? It’s not something we are thumping our chests about today.”

But the minister argues the cash wasn’t just flushed down the drain.

“No, it wasn’t a waste of money, because we have the work done now that we can use into the future,” he said.

That work, French explained, includes a production plan and marketing scheme that can be applied to significant celebrations.

“Down life’s road, hopefully — being Newfoundland and Labradorians — we’ll find something to celebrate … and we’ve got a significant piece of work done now to throw that kind of event.”

French said there have been internal conversations about what that event might be, but no concrete decisions have been made.

Asked how much the “have” party might have cost if it had gone ahead, French said he hadn’t seen the projections.

“It would have been more money, and certainly significantly more, but how much? I don’t have a number to tell you.”

Twitter: bartlett_steve

Organizations: IOC

Geographic location: Newfoundland and Labrador, Ottawa, Parsons Pond

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Recent comments

  • jeffer
    April 18, 2011 - 05:39

    seriously guys. how slow a news day was it that this had to make the top story? if williams didn't plan any celebration you would have labelled him a schmuck, right? he had no control over the world economy or the cougar crash so stop being so gullible to the media's attempt to get your blood boiling about a cancelled party 2 years later. oh yeah, and if you want to witness a catastrophic wastage of taxpayer's $, go to one of the big hotels at 3am durig the next annual liberal convention. you'll see 40 or 50 loaded politicians, sitting on their fat asses in the guestroom hallways, eating kfc. that's one party that never gets cancelled. and $175 000? that's probably blown on pens for the event.

  • bob hebbard
    April 17, 2011 - 21:03

    For God's sake people, if you had planned a family party, and someone in the family DIED, would you go ahead with the party?? I guess common sense is not all that common!!. If you rented a hall for "Dad's birthday" and he passed away, would you say "the hall is paid for, let's party anyway? People make me sick!!!!!

  • steve
    April 17, 2011 - 13:48

    Maybe we could ask Brian Tobin or Clyde Wells or Roger Grimes to teach Ms.Dunderdale about prudent fiscal management.HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAH. Yvonne Jones for premier,,WHAT A JOKE>

  • Joey
    April 17, 2011 - 08:01

    Oh sweet merciful Yvonne, put a sock in it already. I know its your job, but this broken record bit lately is getting terribly annoying. Anything to get a few votes, though, hey!

  • MBC
    April 17, 2011 - 07:32

    This is a WASTE of TAXPAYERS money. Terry French, $175,000 could have been spent on medical equipment for NLers, or it could be used to fix the POTHOLES in your district. Taxpayers are incurring additional cost for repairs to their vehicles due to your government not keeping up with road maintenance. Also, why are taxpayers paying for this? The party was open to only PC members and should have been paid by the PC Party, not the taxpayers of NL. When will Dunderdale stop using " IT IS A NEW DAY" ? And the premier should "manup" and answer opposition questions. She doesn't not answer any questions other than waste her time implying the opposition should be nice to her.

  • Matt
    April 16, 2011 - 17:19

    It's $175,000 people. That's not a lot of money. Less than 35 cents for each person in NL & Labrador. There were extenuating circumstances that led to the cancelation of the event, and the same people complaining here about the cost of the cancelled event would be complaining that in light of the paper mill closure and the Cougar helicopter crash that it wasn't right if it had gone ahead. And don't think the Liberals (or any other political party for that matter) given the situation, would have handled it any differently.

  • Rob Thomas
    April 16, 2011 - 16:24

    Being Newfoundland and Labradorians — we’ll find something to complain about.

  • Frank Blackwood
    April 16, 2011 - 13:22

    I can read between the lines as there are many comments trying to dethrone Yvonne Jones before she even gets a taste of the upcoming election in our province. I think it is disgusting to make reference to her illness. Where is that Newfoundland compassion and ethics? Of course, this is only coming from the heartless people who may have to face oneday that terrible disease of cancer. I was there and I know how Yvonne Jones is feeling. She is a challenger and you need be as cancer is much more deadly than a persons rude remarks. Let's show some compassion, don't stamp a person under your cold hearted feet. We must not forget that Danny Williams jumped ship and left his crew to carry on without a master, atleast he thought so. He was not missed at the party and his video was just another attention seeking tactic. He has his days of glory so let it be.

  • John Smith
    April 16, 2011 - 13:20

    The liberals almost bankrupted the province when they were in. They took wastefullness to new heights. I think the biggest waste of money is what we pay for the hopposition, talk about a waste, they are a joke.

  • Kent
    April 16, 2011 - 11:44

    $174,986.19 of taxpayer's money for this is nothing short of disgusting. Then these politicians have the nerve to complain about being unfairly tarnished by the recent spending scandals. What hypocrisy! Meanwhile, volunteer groups and private citizens constantly scramble to raise money for hospital diagnostic devices every other month while these clowns pi$$ away our money. If they want to have party, then they should pay for it out of their own pockets! What a bunch of unaccountable fools!

  • bob
    April 16, 2011 - 11:41

    Just wanted to say after reading this story that if Miss Jones ever gets any power the opposition will have lots of dirt to through back. I would like to also say that we don't need an ABC campaign this time because Miss Jones is really turning off anyone from voting Liberal with her attacks on the Premier.

    • W McLean
      April 16, 2011 - 18:25

      Imagine, the nerve of the Opposition leader, criticising the Premier. The gall!

  • Randy
    April 16, 2011 - 11:39

    What a waste of tax-payers money..Maybe Terry French could have given it to Nalcor to keep our light bills from skyrocketing, And yes DON there are many new words around since Williams left--one of them being BLUNDERDALE

  • Cher
    April 16, 2011 - 11:26

    The Opposition can complain all they want. If they were in power, they'd be wasting money just like the PCs do now. No one party is any different from another when they're in power.

  • Mark
    April 16, 2011 - 11:06

    ''...then premier Danny Williams announced the province had stopped receiving federal equalization payments — a year earlier than anticipated.'' What's bizarre about this is that the fact that the province stopped receiving Equalization payments was the source of Danny's beef with Stephan Harper at roughly the very same point in time. Classic case of the Premier speaking out of both sides of his mouth, celebrating and cursing the very same thing, inventing and embellishing 'facts' to support this rhetoric, and the media obediently playing along.

  • Jarge
    April 16, 2011 - 08:56

    Wow! Some of that wastefulness sure would have gone a long way if shared out properly instead of wasted: - seniors could afford to heat their homes AND buy food - education - health care - below poverty line pensions could be topped up to borderline poverty

  • mainlander
    April 16, 2011 - 08:09

    who cares?! This is not a lot of money considering how much is in the overall government budget. There was nothing wrong with having the celebration in the first place. After years of being the poor cousin, nfld deserves to celebrate its economic independence.

  • Party Pooper
    April 16, 2011 - 07:34

    Fools and there money must always part.

  • Don
    April 16, 2011 - 07:27

    Did Yvonne learn a new word while she was on sick leave ??? All I hear coming out of her mouth now is everything is "Unacceptable." Take a day off Yvonne and learn a new word. This one is becoming boring.

    • Chris
      April 16, 2011 - 11:07

      So Don, you're saying that the waste of $175,000 is "acceptable''?

  • Dave in NL
    April 16, 2011 - 07:02

    This government is out of control. Last year, (then) MInister Dunderdale, through ADM Wes Foote, sole-sourced a consulting contract to a local research company to look into use of natural gas for power generation including the less expensive option of converting Holyrood to natural gas. Clearly, she wasn't convinced of the benefits of Muskrat at that time. Some may say that there is no natural gas being developed offshore NL. True, but for $6billion (the cost of Muskrat) you could develop a field the size of Hibernia, supply Holyrood for $0 and market the rest into the US. The Hebron MOU contains a significant section enabling the province to receive either crude oil or royalties. With the option to access "free" crude oil in lieu of royalties and, by paying North Atlantic Refinery (or another in Atlantic Canada) a through-put fee, we can control the cost of using heavy oil at Holyrood and thus the references to rising fuel costs is somewhat disingenuous. Unless the left hand doesn't talk to the right hand. Even if Muskrat Falls was developed to power the Island, Holyrood which operates less than 20% of the year would have to be replaced by a Synchronous Condenser (See Hydro's 10 Year Capital Plan registered with PUB) which burns heavy oil and would have to operate 365 days a year. Where in the name of goodness are the economic or environmental benefits? Energy Plan? Ha. The Unbearable Debt Plan.

  • George Smith
    April 16, 2011 - 07:01

    I was never in tune with this celebration idea. I think it is rather lame. No need to be blowing off about coming into some money whether you are a province or an individual. Sure we should have all been proud, but what really gave us the "have" status. Good fiscal management? Yes to a degree, but most if it was due to sky-rocketing oil prices. So here is a way to celebrate: Spend the party money to reduce the taxes on oil and gas and to enhance the home heating fuel rebate or to offset the cost of those who have to travel from very rural areas of this province to the urban areas for dire medical treatment. Establish a fund to help offset these costs and the new found wealth will be of real benefit to the citizens of the province. Having a party was all about ego!