For someone who presides over the government of a “have” province enjoying an oil boom, Premier Kathy Dunderdale sure is pessimistic.
To hear the premier speak, as she did this week to the St. John’s Board of Trade, listeners must inevitably conclude the future of Newfoundland (and Labrador) is full of deficits, cutbacks and misery.
It will be just like the good old days, before a drill bit ever chewed into the seabed on the Grand Banks.
Marg Delahunty is still funny after all these years, but Dunderdale is also talented in the humour department, although unintentionally — her statement to the board of trade that the government is forecasting a deficit of about $500 million this year must have caused plenty of Newfoundlanders (and Labradorians) to guffaw and exclaim, “That’s almost as much as their estimates were in error last year.”
As you may recall, a gloomy Tom Marshall — who as finance minister oversees the realm’s bank account — was surprised last year to find $792 million the government didn’t know it had.
We should all be so lucky: “Hey! Where did this $7,000 come from?”
Government assertions that doom and gloom await should be afforded the same credibility given to cultists who declare the end of the world will arrive next month — the main difference being that the latter’s predictions are literal, while the former’s are political.
Dunderdale’s intent is transparent (even if her government is not).
By making governmental debt a primary issue, she foments fear among the populace.
It is an old tactic, used widely and often. A fearful electorate abhors change — either in governing parties or in policies.
On the other hand, an optimistic and hopeful electorate would be more demanding of their government and of its policies. It is similar to what sociologists say about rising expectations: when people have them, they are more willing to throw off old ways of thinking and old ways of governing.
To avoid that, Dunderdale — like many politicians — pulls out the reliable bogeyman, “debt.” It is a surefire tactic. Everyone hates debt. Without that nasty monthly charge card bill, you could stop shovelling snow and instead buy airplane tickets and be on a beach somewhere (although not Mexico, hopefully).
It would be better to treat public debt like a mortgage. Instead of cutting back on today’s necessities, set a longer term for paying back the amount owed. That way, both goals are met. Needs are filled, and debts are paid.
Try it at home
Imagine if a family adopted a household policy similar to Dunderdale’s government.
“Kids, your mom and I have decided to change our 25-year mortgage to a 10-year mortgage. So, we’ve got to make some cuts. There will be no more minor hockey, piano lessons or holidays in Gander. Oh, and no more birthday parties.”
Dunderdale’s fear-stoking rhetoric is contradicted by the facts.
The St. John’s real estate market is hotter than the underside of Danny Williams’ collar. It shows no signs of cooling. Why is that, the premier might wonder.
Employment is up. Business is bustling. A story in Wednesday’s Telegram revealed “62 per cent of business owners in Newfoundland and Labrador say the current state of their business is good, 28 per cent say it is satisfactory,” according to a survey by the Canadian Federation of Independent Business.
Most importantly, consider the oil companies. By their own estimates, they will be busy pumping offshore oil until about the middle of the century.
A mere two weeks ago, Chevron Canada Ltd., Statoil Canada Ltd. And Repsol E&P Canada Ltd. announced joint plans to expand offshore exploration off Newfoundland.
Their actions say a lot more than Dunderdale’s self-serving words.
Brian Jones is a desk editor at The Telegram. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org