Dean MacDonald speaking to members of the St. John's Board of Trade. — Photo by Keith Gosse/The Telegram
Dean MacDonald has some major grievances with the current government led by Premier Kathy Dunderdale, and he wants to rouse the province’s business community to action.
In a speech to the St. John’s Board of Trade, MacDonald — a businessman who is widely expected to run for the leadership of the Liberal party — laid out a litany of complaints against the PC government, and called on business leaders to be more vocal when it comes to government direction.
“We’re knowledgeable stakeholders on this, and we should have a very, very loud voice on it, and provide leadership, because I think leadership on these matters would be helpful,” MacDonald said. “It’s not about partisanship. It’s about good stewardship.”
MacDonald called into question the government’s handling of the provincial budget deficit, Muskrat Falls, access to information legislation and the current skilled labour shortage.
Speaking to reporters following the speech, he didn’t mince words.
“As a citizen of this province, when a premier walks in the door on Day 1, we all want them to succeed,” he said. “Unfortunately for the premier, it’s been an unmitigated disaster. There isn’t a file that you can show me that she’s handled well — she really hasn’t.
MacDonald said no other jurisdiction in North America has budgeted based on oil being at $124 a barrel like the province did, and that overestimate initially masked massive overspending.
“What really makes me mad is I think it’s just a plug number to balance the budget, which means there’s all sorts of overspending,” he said, saying that Alberta budgeted on a $95 barrel of oil.
“Maybe we could lean across the table at a first ministers meeting and say, ‘Hey Alberta, what are you budgeting this year for oil per barrel?’ or, ‘Hey Ontario, what are you doing?’ That’s not a difficult conversation.”
He told the crowd of business people that the business community has expertise that can be helpful to the government, and they should be more vocal in their advocacy.
“The message is that we have to speak up louder. We haven’t been doing that. We really haven’t,” he said. “The body of knowledge is there, the expertise is there to really have an impact.”
The St. John’s Board of Trade does do advocacy work, and speaks to the provincial government regularly. Chairman Steve Power was lukewarm on what he was hearing from MacDonald.
“Dean is certainly very passionate about the business community and there’s no question that he’s very passionate about our province. Dean is certainly right, the business community needs to be heard,” Power said. “We certainly feel that our voice is heard, we follow a number of the key issues that are impacting our members, and we feel both publicly and privately through discussions with key members of government that our voice is certainly heard.”