Is anyone listening? Anyone in government, that is, listening to anyone in this province? I seriously doubt it, not if the evidence of the past few days is any indication.
You all know what’s been happening subsequent to and consequent to the budget, so no need to repeat the insanity. But there are some aspects of it all that strain credulity and boggle the mind.
Let me mention them in no particular order and in the context of, “How stun in God’s name do these people think we all are?”
There have been more spins placed on impossible situations in the last week than you’re likely to see at a party of hormone-driven teens hyped up on the latest aphrodisiac and surrounded by wine bottles in a rousing game of spin the bottle.
On a television news political panel the other night, the MHA representing the government was faced with a similar question: “What the hell do you think you’re doing?” This fellow, with a perfectly straight face, replied, “Well, we had a series of public consultations around the province and the people told us what they wanted us to do. That’s what we’re doing.”
After I, like several thousand watching that program, had picked my jaw up off the floor, I waited to hear from the other panelists an incredulous, “The people of this province told you they wanted government to cut umpteen hundred jobs, take incomes away from umpteen hundred families and leave thousands of people without bread for their tables, money for their rent and futures for their children? They actually asked you to do that?”
I waited to see that man embarrassed to the point where he’d slink down to the level of Debbie’s shoes, somewhere under the table.
My blood started to boil when the budget cuts were announced in the House, and the vast majority of PC MHAs, if not all of them, began to applaud and pound their desks and stamp their feet and otherwise show what a fantastic document this budget is.
We all know they have to support the government line, but do they have to appear so damned happy and enthusiastic about it? Can it be they’ve been so brainwashed that they aren’t aware of what’s happening in this province as a result of this so-called budget? OK, stupid question.
I have not been one to get on Kathy Dunderdale’s case every time her government does something stupid. I’ve always maintained that she’s probably a nice person who gets lousy advice. Considering some of those around her, that’s not a big surprise. However, I was really upset to see her respond to a question by Lorraine Michael, for whom I have profound respect, suddenly with loud cries of “Shame! Shame!”
It was a question everyone in the province was asking, and to which everyone in the province knew the answer: “How did the government explain the sudden windfall of a couple of billion bucks over two weeks? Was it absolute ineptness or downright deception?”
The premier’s response of “Shame!” was absolutely appropriate, except it was sent in the wrong direction. She should have turned around and delivered it broadside to her close advisers, her cabinet and her caucus.
How dare Ms. Michael suggest that everyone, she included, should not be dancing up and down in gay abandon that the government had been smart enough to find that amount of money at a time like this? Aren’t you happy, Ms. Michael, for our good fortune?
For God’s sake, premier, how stun do you think we all are? We’re as sure of the answer to that question as we are of the certain fact that a few months before the next election our financial situation will take a dramatic turn for the better.
My problem there is that the question of how stun your electorate might be could be answered in their decision to return your government to office.
There was something else bothering me about this budget, if only I could remember the details. Oh yes, now I know, the small matter of that idea by one or more geniuses with whom you’ve surrounded yourself to make away with school boards.
Of course, I know why you’ve done that. You want to improve the quality of education in the province. What other possible reason could there be? True, there will be a few dollars saved by this really progressive move, but that’s more or less incidental.
When I was a kid in the ’50s, there were people called school inspectors who made the rounds of the various elementary and secondary schools to make sure the highest of standards were in place.
Parents were notified and we would be dressed accordingly for the visit. Chances are, the minister would pay a visit and lead us in prayer. The teacher would come to our desks equally instead of dividing his time between the two Grade 11 girls who sat up front and with whom he consulted during the night.
Finally, we were warned upon pain of death and loss of recess for a month to be on our best behaviour.
I could take another thousand words minimum listing the reasons I maintain that having only one board responsible for all schools in a province this geographically large and culturally diverse is as retrogressive a step as you’re likely to find this side of the Congo.
Why do I say that? Perhaps it’s enough to point out that more than 30 years of teaching and administrative experience, not counting 11 years in school myself, gives me a fair insight into the needs of our students and how they can be best met.
I don’t know what the educators in that caucus could have been thinking. Possible answer: they were not.
Or perhaps they were putting their political futures ahead of their common sense. Or perhaps they were speaking up, but no one was paying attention. You choose.
In education alone, this province has just taken one giant step backward. With the loss of so many public service jobs and so many cuts to extremely important groups, it’s only the beginning.
For many of our people it could be the beginning of the end.
Ed Smith is an author who lives
in Springdale. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.