Analysis: The new political reality

James
James McLeod
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Now it’s all about the money

At some point in the last month, there was a shift.

Dwight Ball.

It’s hard to put your finger on when it happened, exactly. Maybe it was Dec. 1, the day after the election. Maybe it was a few weeks later than that.

This isn’t about the Liberals unseating the Progressive Conservatives to form the government following the 2015 general election. This is bigger than that.

For the past year, at least, all of Newfoundland and Labrador politics hinged around one question: how does this affect the election?

The Tories managed to rag the puck for a while, but ever since Paul Davis became premier in September 2014, it was only a matter of time before he’d have to face the voters.

Nothing the Davis government did — the province’s fight with Ottawa over CETA, the plan to cut eight seats from the legislature, the budget, privatizing long-term care — could be considered on its own merits. Every move could only be parsed through the crass rubric of political pandering, and electoral strategy.

Was deputy premier Steve Kent aggressively pursuing access to information reform because it was the right thing to do? Was he doing it to mend a political wound the Tories suffered from Bill 29? Was he doing it because a strong access to information law would be useful to the Tories once they were relegated to the opposition side of the House?

Who can say?

In some ways, all of this was a disservice to the Tories. They doubtless had some good ideas. At least a couple of times, they were almost certainly doing what they thought was in the best interests of the province, not just what would, hopefully, salvage their re-election efforts.

Anyway, that was the old reality. The Liberals are in, Dwight Ball is premier now and the safe bet is that voters won’t go to the polls again until 2019.

All that changed in December, when Ball and Finance Minister Cathy Bennett sat reporters down and delivered the hard news about the government’s fiscal situation.

The $1.9-billion deficit is huge. It’s 24 per cent of the budget. To put that in perspective, if the federal government was running a deficit the same size, Ottawa would be about $70 billion in the red.

As we step into 2016, there’s a new question lurking in the background at every news conference, every government meeting, every time a politician opens their mouth: how does this affect the budget?

In many ways, it’s the only question that matters right now. Whether it’s justice or fisheries or health care, tourism or mining, for every move the government makes, we will ask if it’s something we can afford.

Can the economy afford tax hikes? Can the government afford to operate without taxes going up?

When Ball sat down with The Telegram for a year-end interview, it was the week between Christmas and New Year’s, and the premier’s office was quiet.

He said the finance minister was in the building, though.

“I think there’s two cars in this parking lot today. It’s mine and hers,” Ball said.

There are 11 other people in cabinet, but realistically, they’re all subordinate to Ball and Bennett.

If Eddie Joyce or Andrew Parsons or Perry Trimper wants to do anything new, they’ll have to go through Bennett and answer that all-important question: how does this affect the budget?

This is the political reality in 2016.

But at least they don’t have to worry about another election for a few years.

jmcleod@thetelegram.com

Twitter: TelegramJames

Organizations: Progressive Conservatives

Geographic location: Ottawa, Newfoundland and Labrador

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Recent comments

  • Denis
    January 04, 2016 - 07:19

    Reality... We r up the creek without a paddle. These successful business people have people running their businesses for them!

  • Salt Beef junkie
    January 02, 2016 - 18:26

    The political reality is that the province voted for change under the bogus promise of a fictitious " plan"..... we got the "deer in the headlights" reds by default and now we gotta LEAP into the fire with them lighting the match ...THAT is the political reality..... nuff said

  • Fred Pike
    January 02, 2016 - 11:26

    Mr.McLeod: Your article of January 1 2016 is in my opinion very well done as are the previous articles on this subject.Keep on writing,even if you have difficulty getting on the Eight Fkoor of Confederation Building.

  • John Smith
    January 02, 2016 - 08:13

    I heard Ball in his year end interviews saying that he was surprised by the size of the deficit? Really? The deficit was at 1.8 billion during the last fiscal update, before the election, and Ball and Bennett did an update last week that pegged it at 1.96 billion....so it went up by 160 million dollars, the same amount that oil went down by...any grade school kid could have figured that one out. Ball said, nonetheless that he would go ahead with the money for the HST reduction, the money for the pensioner paybacks, and now I heard today that Eddy Joyce is starting his spending spree...dam the deficits, full speed ahead...say the Liberals....do they really think that some of us can't see past the charade? This Liberal government under Ball and his band of clowns will be funny to watch...to be sure...but will be ruinous for this province...the question is how long before the majority wake up to what they have wrought?

  • Pierre Neary
    January 02, 2016 - 07:58

    Premier Ball made the right choice making Ms. Bennett Finance Minister. Her success in private business speaks for itself and she is in this for the right reasons. The financial state of the province may not be good but I feel she is definitely up for the challenge.

  • Dolf
    January 02, 2016 - 07:18

    Can't figure why Muskrat Falls is going ahead full steam, tightening the noose that will eventually strangle us. Unreal!

    • a business man
      January 03, 2016 - 18:44

      I actually cannot figure this out either, but I am not complaining because I stand to benefit from the fall out of MF and from the increased energy prices. Some may choose to try and stop our province from falling off the cliff, but I am looking towards how I can profit from the inevitable crash. I am fine with pushing our province over the edge, and I do so by voting for and donating to politicians who are committed to a project that I know will ruin our province.