Whenever Kathy Dunderdale happens to see that television ad that so effectively captures the head-scratching bewilderment of thousands of Newfoundlanders — unable to understand how the government has taken the province from the penthouse to the outhouse in such an shockingly short period of time — she must long for her relatively benign political days on the Burin town council.
Back then, Dunderdale may have had to tolerate a late-night phone call from an angry Burin resident demanding she personally fill the two potholes in front of his house.
Now, though, she’s in the big time and has a sizable proportion of the province wishing she had stuck to municipal politics and, at the same time, perhaps concluding she is in way over her head.
If asked, I’m sure Dunderdale would pooh-pooh the ad, produced by the Newfoundland and Labrador Association of Public and Private Employees in much the same way she so pathetically attempted to dismiss her latest disastrous poll figures this past week, numbers that show her government and her own popularity continuing to plummet.
It wouldn’t be a far-fetched notion to assume, though, that privately Dunderdale felt those ads hitting where it hurts, in that part of her noggin where pride resides.
Because she has to recognize, in her most honest introspective moments, that the questions being asked by NAPE are not only legitimate, but are indicative of those being asked in much broader circles, not just by the union representing government workers.
NAPE has self-serving motives here, of course; it is in the midst of negotiations and will use every weapon in its arsenal, as it should, to win the public relations battle in its duel with a government that has warned its employees that contractual flexibility is not on the table (layoffs, however, are on the agenda, and began in the most arse-backward, cruellest way possible).
But I sense that the ad has struck a chord with many in Newfoundland.
Politicians, as we all know, are experts at using the motto — if you can’t dazzle ’em with brilliance, baffle ’em with bullshit — especially in economic matters, where most of us are fairly ignorant and therefore vulnerable to government spin.
But the NAPE ad gets down to the nitty gritty, uses the KISS (keep it simple, stupid) formula and poses questions in a way in which you or I might relate, those of us not blessed with a degree in financial wizardry but with enough of a grain of sense to wonder how government managed to turn our fortunes upside down.
“How could we be a have province and still seem to be moving backwards?”
“If the future has never been brighter, why are you asking us to tighten our belts?” And so forth.
Other citizens of this fair place might also be asking additional questions: why are we investing a fortune in a hydro project at a time when we’re being told the province is several billion dollars in the hole?
Or: if a decline in oil prices contributed to the deficit problem,
wasn’t it the job of government and their highly salaried bean-counters, to take that and other factors into consideration when projecting our financial status?
I hear a chuckling across the country, the Newfie joke emerging once again, as mainlanders look easterly for a good laugh and see how that stunned bunch of idiots down there made a balls of their newfound wealth, like a lotto winner who partied himself to death in six months.
Now as we all know, it’ll be two years before Newfoundlanders cast their votes and that’s a shame, especially for political junkies, because those poll numbers to which I referred signal that an election in the present environment would make for a fascinating show and provide us with one of the more interesting elections we’ve had in recent memory.
To state the obvious, two years is an eternity in politics, still plenty of opportunity for Dunderdale to loosen the purse strings, say to hell with the deficit and calmly declare to her cabinet and caucus that there there’s an election to be won, that it’s time to buy a new mandate.
Meanwhile, you can’t blame Lorraine Michael with her five-piece band of brothers and sisters playing a chorus of “the times they are a-changin’” and luxuriating in those figures released Monday.
Tens of thousands of people have obviously been convinced, at least for now, at least at this moment, here in March of 2013, that the NDP is capable of extending way beyond its social conscience mandate and can be trusted to manage the province’s finances.
Then again, everything’s relative, as they say: the public is comparing the NDP to Team Tory — a team on a losing streak, unable to score with the best of power-play opportunities, bottled up in its own end (hockey metaphors abound). A political party has a fair chance of being viewed favourably when compared to the Tories, a crowd on a downward spiral matching that of our ragtag American Hockey League team, the IceCaps these days (although the Liberals and Dwight Ball, the Man from Glad, can’t seem to take advantage, seemingly stuck in the penalty box of public opinion).
I think if I were Dunderdale, I’d uncover the name of the company that produced that well-crafted ad and see if it’s interested in some Tory cash to put together still another video, one that might counteract the indigestion she suffers whenever she views the NAPE message and hears the rhetorical question: “A have province should mean a have people, shouldn’t it?”
Or maybe those award-winning tourism ads the government is so proud of can be re-edited so that tape of the premier, Jerome Kennedy and Tom Marshall can be inserted, the three of them standing by an iconic clothesline, computer-generated freckles accentuating their smiling, red-cheeked faces, their hair blowing in the wind; or the three of them galloping across a Southern Shore blueberry field in slow motion, the ocean in the background, a guitar version of the “Ode to Newfoundland” completing the image.
You can’t beat television ads.
Bob Wakeham has spent more than 40 years as a journalist in Newfoundland and Labrador. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.