Government needs to change its tune

Russell
Russell Wangersky
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It may sound like Nero’s fiddling away, but it’s too early to say just how much of Rome is burning.

This week, Kathy Dunderdale’s government got its loudest wake-up call yet: continuing a popularity slide that has run for more than a year, the party — and its leader — are now polling lower than all of their competition.

They are officially in last place.

Does it mean that the government will fall in the next election, set for 2015 unless Dunderdale resigns first? No.

It especially doesn’t mean that when the opposition parties still have so many missing pieces, critical pieces that they’d need to actually form a government.

The NDP may be doing well in the polls and may be performing well in opposition, but they still lack critical skills. Who is likely to come forward and be able to fill critical portfolios like those of the minister of justice, minister of natural resources and minister of finance?

The Liberals don’t even have a leader yet. Dwight Ball, as interim leader, is probably pretty pleased with where the numbers are, but his is still a party in flux, trundling along with what feels like the slowest leadership race ever invented — the party’s leadership won’t end until after mid-November. (Candidates have to pay a $20,000 nomination fee and the rules say you have to make your intention to run known by July 5. Is Turtle leading? Hard to know. Snail’s a tough competitor — if Snail’s running. We’ll find out. Eventually.)

On the same front, the NDP could face the potential of pretty-imminent leadership change: Lorraine Michael has not indicated how long she intends to stay in politics and, at 70, is likely considering her options.

Leadership aside, with their respective poll numbers strengthening, the NDP and the Liberals are likely reaching out to prospective “star” candidates (it’s remarkable how people can come out of the woodwork when the heavy lifting in opposition is already done). But that’s all in the future. Right now, it’s hard to know what you’re going to have for dinner when the menu’s pretty much blank.

So the Tories are not without options, and not without chances.

They’d do well to start taking some advice, starting with realizing that they have to be able to take advice — and that ability is something that has been absent for the last five years or so.

Used to being top dog at the pet show, the Dunderdale government has continued the Williams model of insulting and bullying both the opposition and any critics who might pop up.

Someone asks a question of a cabinet minister in the House of Assembly?

The answer is something like “the member obviously does not have a lot of knowledge about education. It is obvious in his question. It is all part of the collective bargaining process and notification. I cannot say anything else other than that. He just does not know the system.”

Or “Mr. Speaker, the government of Newfoundland and Labrador takes its responsibilities very, very seriously. This is a very serious issue for the people of Newfoundland and Labrador and there will be no rhetoric and spin on this side of the House and if there is none to be on the other side of the House, I recommend that the member stay in his seat.” (Actually, those are both real answers in the House.)

Someone complains about government policy in a letter to the editor?

A cabinet minister writes in to dismiss the concerns outright, without ever bothering to point out where any errors were.

What is clear is that some pretty significant changes have to be made, both in substance and style.

Can they be made?

Perhaps.

The problem is that it’s a little like a hockey team that’s taken an early lead and then tried to hold onto the lead, playing defensively. If the other team catches up, it’s hard to break out of a defensive style and actually go back to trying to score.

Right now, they’re still playing defence.

The government has taken to complaining that no one understands or appreciates the good that they are doing — if that’s the case, they have no one but themselves to blame.

They have the tools, the cash that comes with government, the ability to garner the most ink and television and radio time.

So here are some suggestions. First, if there are senior staffers who are continuing to recommend that the premier and the government should stay this particular course, get rid of them.

Thank them for their service and their dedication, but show them the door — because if you don’t, you’re going with them.

Tell cabinet ministers to get

off their high horses: stop being unavailable for interviews and demanding that reporters file their questions by email. Refuse a telephone interview by saying “come on in and let’s talk about it instead.” Stop defending the indefensible. Drain any hint of condescension from your voice and your pen.

Make letters to the editor — and news releases — about politely clarifying issues rather than attacking whoever raised them. (Two supposedly “non-partisan” news releases that went out last week were headlined “Irresponsible and Misleading Statements Do Not Help New Ferolle” and “Minister Responds to Inaccuracies on CETA Negotiations.”)

Leash the Twitter attack dogs — if the junior members of your party can’t play nice, take away their toys.

Don’t take my word for it: the PC party has experienced campaigners who know just what’s happening, and chances are, they’re clamouring for just the same kind of change.

Can it be turned around? I don’t know.

One thing I do know: continuing to make the same mistakes over and over again won’t help.

For MHAs, we’re rolling into a summer of barbecues and constituency events.

For government members, a heaping serving of humility better be on the menu.

 

Russell Wangersky is The Telegram’s editorial page editor.

He can be reached by email at rwanger@thetelegram.com.

Organizations: NDP

Geographic location: Rome, Newfoundland and Labrador

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Recent comments

  • Lane
    June 17, 2013 - 00:14

    Wangersky, do you really believe that the PC government 5 years ago (when Danny Williams was still Premier) enjoyed 80% support in the polls because it was good at taking advice!? Seriously? Think back. Remember Danny Williams? He took no advice from anyone. What a ridiculous article.

  • Sick of being Shafted. What actions do we take to get ahead?
    June 16, 2013 - 11:23

    TO: COMPLAINING NEWFOUNDLANDER: You, Sir/Madam, must have been asleep for the past 64 years to not have seen the degradation and negativity brought on your fellow Newfoundlanders and Labradorians , through the giveaway and misappropriation of their natural resources by the politicians in charge, both in the Newfoundland and Labrador Legislature and the Ottawa House of Commons. If you were, at all, astute you would be able to decipher what your fellow citizens have had to endure because they were not treated the way other Canadians have been treated. The province of Newfoundland and Labrador's Natural Resources were stolen for the betterment of the rest of Canada's economy, while allowing Newfoundland and Labrador's economy to die on the Canadian Economic vine. I will give you a list of the coveted Natural Resources that were pilfered Fish, Iron Ore, Nickel Ore, other ores, Hydro-electric Energy, Oil, etc. All of these natural resources I have mentioned, some other location became the primary beneficiary of those natural resources that have been worth Hundreds of Billions of dollars combined with the processing and refining that took place on them, to their economies over the past 64 years. Then add to that the monies derived from our Strategic Location and Air Space that we brought into Canada, earned by Ottawa itself. It is time for the average Newfoundlander and Labradorian to OPEN their mouths louder and let their IRE be heard. Until they do so, nothing will happen, so please COMPLAINING NEWFOUNDLANDER shut your mouth until, at least, you can leave it OPEN to advise the rest of your fellow citizens to speak up about the negativity that has happened to them with regard to the pilfering of their natural resources and the lack of creation of an economy that should have been here in the first place from our own natural resources. And you Mr. Wangersky please keep on writing about what happened to the province of Newfoundland and Labrador over the past 64 years, while you have been strong, you have not been strong enough in pointing out the negativity and degradation that resulted to our people from the pilfering of our natural resources. You and other journalists at your Media Establishment will have to go further to point out the facts, so that others will understand the order of what transpired in the province of Newfoundland and Labrador. And very few Canadians are aware of the great wealth of natural resources that the province of Newfoundland and Labrador provided to Canadians for the great economic health they enjoyed on the Mainland of Canada over the past 64 years, yes they have to be apprised too. If they had been apprised we would not have been looked down upon over the years in the NEGATIVE WAY Canadians treated us Newfoundlanders and Labradorians.

  • Kat go your tounge
    June 16, 2013 - 09:32

    I heard Steve Kent on the radio the other day. What he said and how he described his own government, to me, was just the opposite of what it really is and wha'ts really happening. How much b.s to we have to hear before we say enough is enough. It amazes me that no can answer a straight forward question on behalf of the people anymore. Even when we hear Nalcors Ed Martin talk about the project. They dilute the questions so much that they end up giving no answer at all. They aren't accountable to the people, because they don't have be. Because lets face it! It isn't our oil money that's paying for the project. The taxpayers have become the oil and the revenue source, to the unaccountable. The people in these positions of trust and power, who refuse to answer, should be treated with the same contempt as some who refuses the Breathalyzer. Either answer or remove them and get someone there who can.

  • jerome bennett
    June 15, 2013 - 20:13

    If i hear MR.SPEAKER one more time i'll throw up.If you treat the opposition with contempt,you reap what you sow.

  • Voting Pensioner
    June 15, 2013 - 13:09

    Thanks Russell! What you say here is right even if the PC politicians/supporters don't want to admit it. Cutting jobs while giving a dying industry mill millions won't be forgotten ever especially when election rolls around. I often think about those poor workers and their families, do those who made the decision ever give them a thought? Not likely, they are just faceless nameless people to those overpaid disrespectful puppets. I just hope the other parties get their ducks in a row so we have someone to vote for. We need a government who shows that they care about all people of this province, I have family and friends in the public service so I'll be checking with them before voting. Hopefully their unions will be fed up enough to go for A-B-C if things don't change here. We've had enough of these governments against the people who vote them in and for big business. Big business and the rich get richer is what PCs stand for is common knowledge, don't forget that.

  • crista
    June 15, 2013 - 12:37

    They were not elected to please every one they were elected to do the job???? they were elected to do not the buddy buddy system???? and Russell you are at this long enough to speak for your self so who is being the honourable here???? and if the media do not exercise your rights and not only Russell all you are going to see and read is abuse???? and asking a question not talking about everyone who do you complain to and what gets done????reading your article and an interesting article and not being sarcastic.Look at the mess that is gone on and going on,and not everyone is effected yet???? remember????any thing is possiable did any one ever think bill c-29 would be what it is ???? lawyers are are complaining about disclosures????

  • Maurice E. Adams
    June 15, 2013 - 12:36

    "...you will NEVER please everyone"... True enough. But this government is only focused and determined to please the corporate sector --- especially the mining sector --- at the expense of electricity ratepayers and the environment (evidence today's announcement of the establishment of a Mining Industry Advisory Committee (complete with joint government-industry Working Groups)..... Nothing short of a Proxy Corporate Government --- co-chaired perhaps jointly by our Proxy Premiers --- Danny Williams and Ed Martin.......Hardworking taxpayers are sick of having their money used to fatten the coffers of government and to increase profits for giant, multinational corporations.

  • Maggy Carter
    June 15, 2013 - 12:34

    An interesting trilogy of opinion pieces. This one from Wangersky and an editorial - no doubt written by Wangersky - entitled 'One Year Later' which together underscore the plight of the Dunderdale government and the part played by Bill 29 in its demise. On its one year anniversary, this government's 'secrecy act' looks no less ugly than it did a year ago but no doubt it accomplished what it set out to do. Principally, of course, that was to blind the public to the enormous flaws in its Muskrat project and to the true extent of the risks and the threats it poses to this province's longterm economic security. The third piece is a letter carefully crafted on behalf of ministers King and Marshall in which they do their best to discredit MHA Parsons and other critics of government's handling of the justice portfolio - and more particularly the budgetary measures that have caused such havoc in the justice system. We know this particular letter wasn't penned by Darrin King - it lacks the abrasive, arrogant, small-minded, partisan qualities that are so characteristic of all Mr. King's utterances since his election. Who could forget his ingracious comments on election night when he vowed revenge on anyone who opposed him - going so far as to say that he "was not going to be as nice as he used to be". Turfed from one portfolio after another, Mr. King managed in each case to quickly poison the water and then burn his bridges on his way over them. The thinking therefore of the premier's hacks on the eight floor or the fourth floor - wherever they preen themselves during these never-ending days of renno's - was that Mr. Marshall's signature to the letter would add some measure of respectability. Regrettably it is Marshall who is heading out the door before the next election and King who still has his eye firmly, if laughably, fixed on the premier's chair. And while I agree with much of what Wangersky has opined in today's columns, I think he is wrong on at least two fronts. The first is that Ms. Dunderdale is somehow the victim of bad advice from senior ministers like Kennedy and King, and from her own staff and advisors. While all that is unquestionably true, it is Dunderdale's conviction of her own infallibility that - I believe - is at the root of her current predicament (and, by implication, ours). Wangersky is naive to believe there exists any prospect that Dunderdale might manage to rehabilitate her image, and that of her government, in the next two years. Nor frankly is she deserving of any electoral reprieve. Like others, I might have reservations regarding either of the opposition parties, but like many others I will overcome them on the sheer strength of my disdain for the party and leader who have so cavalierly abused the public's trust. Happy Anniversary.

  • Sam
    June 15, 2013 - 11:49

    Complaining NLer...I have been thinking the same thing. While not everyone might agree with what the govt is doing, the media makes it all worse. They pick the worse pieces out of the scrums that Ministers, and esp the Premier has, to report. I have lived in Alberta and the media reporting is so different. Here in NL its like the reporters main focus is making the govt look bad. Would love for someone to talk about what a great place we live in! I guess that wouldn't be good for the ratings!

  • Cyril Rogers
    June 15, 2013 - 11:21

    The rot that has set in with the PC government and the party itself cannot be purged from within those entities and can only be cleansed by a defeat at the polls. Who would lead them? All of the so-called experienced and senior ministers, namely King, Kennedy, Marshall, Sullivan, Burke(Shea), et al, are tarred with Danny's ego and Danny's arrogance. Premier Dunderdale was, and remains, a shadow premier despite their protestations of her "great" leadership. The opposition don't need to mount an inspirational campaign.....the government is doing an outstanding job of skewering itself.

  • concerned
    June 15, 2013 - 10:54

    They have been a party whose entire existence was driven by the desire for change in the province, which Williams was able to capitalize on. Go to CBC digitial archives and search on the interview Rex Murphy had with Danny williams in 2006. It is the same old BS that we hear today. We got the wind, we got the hydro, we got the gas.... blah blah blah. He then launched into his vision for rural newfoundland which was centered on building roads, hospitals and broad band (Spend, Spend, Spend). It is quite chilling to listen to Williams describe how we need to be more like Ireland and Iceland. The Conservatives have delivered exactly what they said they would in uncontrolled spending, and poor fiscal management. The issue is that no one was listening back in 2006. We were too enchanted by Danny Williams. Historians will describe the 10 years of conservative rule as the decade of missed opportunity. They were given so much, and they did so little. No matter how they communicate you are not able to transform their record into a positive legacy. They are a tired government, who were short on real ideas in the best of times. But it is not fair to blame Dunderdale solely. She is burdened with the poor decisions of her predecessor who was smart enough to get out while the card house was still being built.

  • Sick of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians like COMPLAINING NEWFOUNDLANDER.
    June 15, 2013 - 10:51

    TO: COMPLAINING NEWFOUNDLANDER: You, Sir/Madam, must have been asleep for the past 64 years to not have seen the degradation and negativity brought on your fellow Newfoundlanders and Labradorians , through the giveaway and misappropriation of their natural resources by the politicians in charge, both in the Newfoundland and Labrador Legislature and the Ottawa House of Commons. If you were, at all, astute you would be able to decipher what your fellow citizens have had to endure because they were not treated the way other Canadians have been treated. The province of Newfoundland and Labrador's Natural Resources were stolen for the betterment of the rest of Canada's economy, while allowing Newfoundland and Labrador's economy to die on the Canadian Economic vine. I will give you a list of the coveted Natural Resources that were pilfered Fish, Iron Ore, Nickel Ore, other ores, Hydro-electric Energy, Oil, etc. All of these natural resources I have mentioned, some other location became the primary beneficiary of those natural resources that have been worth Hundreds of Billions of dollars combined with the processing and refining that took place on them, to their economies over the past 64 years. Then add to that the monies derived from our Strategic Location and Air Space that we brought into Canada, earned by Ottawa itself. It is time for the average Newfoundlander and Labradorian to OPEN their mouths louder and let their IRE be heard. Until they do so, nothing will happen, so please COMPLAINING NEWFOUNDLANDER shut your mouth until, at least, you can leave it OPEN to advise the rest of your fellow citizens to speak up about the negativity that has happened to them with regard to the pilfering of their natural resources and the lack of creation of an economy that should have been here in the first place from our own natural resources. And you Mr. Wangersky please keep on writing about what happened to the province of Newfoundland and Labrador over the past 64 years, while you have been strong, you have not been strong enough in pointing out the negativity and degradation that resulted to our people from the pilfering of our natural resources. You and other journalists at your Media Establishment will have to go further to point out the facts, so that others will understand the order of what transpired in the province of Newfoundland and Labrador. And very few Canadians are aware of the great wealth of natural resources that the province of Newfoundland and Labrador provided to Canadians for the great economic health they enjoyed on the Mainland of Canada over the past 64 years, yes they have to be apprised too. If they had been apprised we would not have been looked down upon over the years in the NEGATIVE WAY Canadians treated us Newfoundlanders and Labradorians.

  • Complaining Newfoundlander
    June 15, 2013 - 08:37

    Oh Russell you forgot to mention the role the media plays in all this! Pick up any one of your papers or turn on the news, the only thing you see is negative things. Sometimes it would make one think we live in a third world country or somewhere where we don't have any rights. I was at the St Johns Women's Center yesterday and one of the workers said they had a visit from the Governor General the day before. She then went on to mention how disappointed they were that it wasn't on the news that night. I then said 'if its not negative you won't see it on the news'...and most there agreed with me. It is really sad that we have reverted to trying to make everyone negative, and the media is the lead ringer here. While I know not everyone agrees with all the government does, that's only normal! But you would think we would focus on some positive things. We have gone from being the 'fighting Newfoundlander' to the 'complaining Newfoundlander'. Thanks to people like Russell who thinks he's the hero for bringing down the government. Well come on Russell put your money where your mouth is and put your name on the ballot in 2015...you will then see its not all a bunch of roses and that you will NEVER please everyone.

    • Tony Ducey
      June 15, 2013 - 13:12

      I agree with Complaining. I don't like some of what the PC party is doing but all you hear from people is complain complain. They complain because not every little town in the province is booming. There was all this complaining about the budget (Which was warranted) but next to no coverage about the announcement 2 days later about mining in the province which will create lots of jobs. And people think that the NDP or Liberals would do better than the PC's? I think not. I think in 2015, if I vote, I'd vote for the devil I know (PC) than the devil I don't know (NDP) or the devil that governed us so poorly before (Liberals).