In anticipation of the return of the Kathy Dunderdale crew to the bridge of the USS Newfoundlabrador, I decided to take another scan through the 80-page Blue Book released during the election campaign.
(Without benefit of knowing any numbers, I will predict Tuesday night’s result to have been 43 PC, 3 Liberal and 2 NDP. You may now gasp in wonderment or laugh hysterically, as appropriate.)
The Blue Book is now the Bible by which we judge the performance of the new-old government.
Unfortunately, finding any forward-looking commitments in that tome is like finding a splinter in a toothpick factory.
On every page, there are vows to “engage” or “do more to promote” or “explore opportunities,” but very little in the way of firm action.
This is the telltale sign of a caretaker government, one that has been in power for eight years and sees nothing left to do but stay the course. The most common word in the document, by far, is “continue.”
True, the book focuses on a wide range of issues, and does address a couple of specific areas that merit attention. In health care, for example, they promise to produce strategies on wait times within 120 days of returning to office. They also announce plans to construct a replacement for the Waterford Hospital, and to open new addiction treatment facilities. But the former has been on the front-burner for years, and the latter are not new promises.
There are a few straightforward steps planned in the labour and business sectors.
The Tories will, for example, eliminate the Health and Post Secondary Education Tax, or payroll tax. The plan is to reduce the value of the tax by approximately $10 million per year for the next four years.
In debt reduction, one small measure was promised to help bolster underfunded pensions. The book vows that one-third of all future surpluses will be earmarked to pay down pension shortfalls.
But other plans for debt management are deliberately vague, and pretty well leave the door wide open: “We will take on additional public debt for specific purposes only if it is affordable and makes our province stronger and our children better off than they would otherwise be.”
On one fundamental issue — fisheries — the book glosses over the role the government played in thwarting progress towards rationalizing the industry.
In March 2011, the government rejected a multilateral report on downsizing the fishery, prepared in the wake of an earlier memorandum of understanding (MOU). The fisheries minister declared the study was big on projecting ends, but short on spelling out means.
“Therefore, we will be vigorous in working to engage again the parties to the Memorandum of Understanding, and others if that is determined to be helpful, to complete the critical phase that is missing from this MOU report by developing a comprehensive restructuring proposal for a sustainable fishing industry.”
In other words, one step forward, two steps back.
Similar sidestepping can be found in a section on Labrador. The Muskrat Falls hydro project may mean plenty of jobs, but not a spark of electricity for Labrador.
The solution? “We will continue to examine options for developing small hydro sites in coastal Labrador to provide access to green, low-cost power. We will complete the review of Labrador isolated commercial customer electricity rates and ensure rates in the future are not onerous for customers. We will continue to provide a diesel subsidy where required, ensuring the cost of power is reasonable. We will move forward progressively toward the day that every region of Labrador is fueled by green, renewable energy.”
“Not onerous”? “Reasonable”? “Move forward progressively”? If you saw anything to hang a hat on there, let me know.
In short, it’s important to hold the government to its promises, but the job is difficult when there are so few promises to keep.
Premier Dunderdale will more likely be judged on how she handles emerging situations than on how closely she sticks to vague commitments.
Peter Jackson is The Telegram’s
commentary editor. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.