Best-laid plans

Peter Jackson
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“When we commenced our review, we requested a copy of the ‘Infrastructure Strategy’ that was being referred to in the speech from the throne and various government media releases. We were told by the former deputy minister of Transportation and Works that there was no formal, documented infrastructure strategy.”

— Acting auditor general

Wayne Loveys


When you come up with a plan, it’s a good idea to write it down.

Say you have a plan to only get those groceries that you need. The best way to accomplish this is to devise what’s commonly called a “shopping list.” Not everyone does this all the time, which is why there are always five bottles of ground cloves in the spice rack.

When your plan gets more complicated, writing it down is even more important. Even if you’re robbing a bank, it helps to have some crib notes to go by — as you long as you destroy the evidence later.


Lost in space

It seems odd, then, that the government’s oft-touted “infrastructure strategy” only exists in the world of mind.

Premier Kathy Dunderdale has said that the budget is their strategy. Well, the budget is a budget. It says, “We’re going to put this much money into that.” That’s not a strategy. A strategy — intangible or not — should explain why this money will be put into that, not just that it will be.

But then it got me thinking: what if political entities in the past had been similarly cavalier towards documenting their initiatives? Would it have made a difference?

As it turns out, some plans weren’t even worth the paper they were written on.


Say what?

Take the Magna Carta. The famous document was signed in 1215, “in the meadow which is called Runnymede, between Windsor and Staines, on the fifteenth day of June …” blah, blah, blah.

It was supposed to be a watershed moment in the transition from divine rule to democracy.

Except it wasn’t actually signed by anyone. And the most important bits were scrapped almost immediately afterwards.

Baron: “Your Majesty, I thought we had a deal here.”

King John: “Deal, schmeal. We scratched up a piece of paper and I stuck my seal on it. Could have been our lunch order for all I know.”

Baron: “But what about our liberties, rights, concessions and all that? You gave your solemn vow.”

King John: “Well, at least you don’t have to buy your inheritance anymore. That’s more than the peasants can say.”

Baron: “With all due respect, your Majesty, screw the peasants.”

Moving on to 1941, the Atlantic Charter wasn’t signed either. In fact, no one is really sure whether FDR and Churchill were even in Placentia Bay at the time. Memories were hazy. And it didn’t help that they cracked that second bottle of Old Navy.

Whatever got sent out to the newspapers certainly had holes in it.

They whistled past the Stalin graveyard, and made scant reference to Asia. (Asia … right! I knew we were forgetting something.)

The charter did, however, lead to the formation of the UN, so I guess that’s something.

Speaking of Stalin, he spent a lot of time coming up with strategies. In fact, he came up with a new one every five years. All sorts of bold economic planning in those. Even infrastructure.

Of course, Stalin didn’t need to come up with documentation. No one questioned Stalin, if they knew what was good for them. In fact, things didn’t work out so well for those who did know what was good for them.

So, do we really need to see those strategies in the flesh? Warts and all?

Or does it really matter whether you carve things in stone or not?

It depends. But one thing is clear: sometimes it’s more trouble than it’s worth.


Peter Jackson is The Telegram’s commentary editor.


Twitter @pjackson_NL

Organizations: UN

Geographic location: Asia, Windsor, Placentia Bay

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Recent comments

  • ....of mice or men
    February 03, 2012 - 13:25

    The (An) Infrastructure Strategy should mean more than the fact that the gov. spends money on infrastructure - that they would have to do anyway. A strategy to accomplish what - over and above conventional bricks, mortar and asphalt budgets? Not only does it have to be written down, but a fiscal analysis is req’d over the life of the structure c/w interest, cost of capital and depreciation etc.. If it is Job creation, then what is the projected $$$/Job? I once asked a politician (NOT the Minister of DOT) in a public forum why a section of highway was "upgraded" with new pavement and curbs but there was not any improvement in the alignment or grading - even on tricky turns. To make the point about how the project appeared I said that I literally was riding over hot asphalt as I went to the voting station. So defensive was he! – he never answered the question first nor last! There is a 1677 Watershed Statute requiring that many agreements had to be in writing and signed or marked to be valid- even though most of the British Empire was still illiterate (?). Constitutional Baby Steps, I suppose. As far as the importance of documentation in world history goes…… putting a bad plan on paper, does not necessarily improve the plan. Stalin - they said he had many standing ovations because all feared to be the first to stop clapping - but the carving up of Africa takes the cake and the "Private" Colony of the Belgian Congo was unbelievable – paper deed or no paper deed - unshackled Hearts of Darkness? It is not necessarily the good intentions of a government - written down or not - that matters but their accountability - brick by brick.

  • Lane
    February 01, 2012 - 09:30

    Mr. Jackson, why would you expect something called the Atlantic Charter to deal with Asia? Since you hadn't noticed, Asia's coast is on the Pacific, not the Atlantic.