Tough times, tough poll numbers

Trevor
Trevor Taylor
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The latest public opinion poll last week was interesting. At just about the halfway point between elections, the governing Progressive Conservatives are in third place, with the NDP out front followed closely by the Liberals.

With Kathy Dunderdale’s numbers at 27 per cent, it is the lowest support the PCs have had in over a decade.

The PCs took and held office with a fanfare of bold statements — “No more giveaways,” “Masters in our own house.” The government was marked in the early days by strong stands against all comers, from oil companies to the federal government to public sector unions.

Things did change. The province went from being the poor cousin of Confederation to “have province” status for the first time in our history.

Sure, some of you say they were just lucky, they just cashed in on the increasing oil prices. It is good to be lucky, but most lucky people I know have a strong hand in making their luck. It is hard to dispute the fact that much of the increase in oil revenues would have continued to bypass us on the way to Ottawa had it not been for the hard-fought-and-won renegotiation of the Atlantic Accord.

Likewise, the renegotiation of components of the Voisey’s Bay agreement, the White Rose agreement, the Hibernia South expansion and the negotiation of the Hebron/Ben Nevis development have given us,  or will give us, billions of dollars that otherwise would have been lost to the people of Newfoundland and Labrador.

With oil prices, in particular, climbing from approximately $35/barrel to approximately $145/barrel, government revenues increased substantially. And so did calls for increased spending, expansions to programs, new programs, expansion of drug and medical coverage and infrastructure upgrades.

Hand in hand with this growth in program spending — and contrary to early predictions of a 25 per cent slashing of the public service — the number of government employees has increased by about 20 per cent. The provincial budget has gone from roughly $4.1 billion in 2003/2004 to approximately $8 billion today.

 

Changing times

But things have changed. Oil at $145 a barrel, and the predictions of increases, have given way to oil at $95/barrel. This has resulted in a huge loss of anticipated revenue for the government. The payments that were made on the government’s long-term debt are eroding due to recent deficits. The payments on the unfunded public

sector pension liabilities have entirely

disappeared due to a combination of

poorer than anticipated plan performance and increases to public sector wages (pensions are based on employees’ best five years).

This, in part, is where we find Dunderdale’s dilemma. Does she carry on as though things are the same? Hope for the best? Leave it to someone else to pick up after she leaves?

Or does she put on the brakes and attempt to rectify the situation?

The poll results last week were interesting if you look outside our province at the rest of Atlantic Canada. In New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, both governments were confronted with challenges similar to those of Newfoundland and Labrador. In both cases, a PC government in one and a NDP in the other chose to tackle the issues in a manner similar to Newfoundland and Labrador’s government. In both cases, the governing party and its leader has taken a substantial hit in public opinion, with their support running around the 20 per cent mark.

No matter how you cut it, the fiscal situation of the province has to be addressed. No matter how you do it, the wrath of public opinion is likely to land on you.

We elect governments to address hard issues, to sometimes make difficult decisions, to subject their personal reputations to the whims of public opinion and sometimes condemnation. And we ask them to do what they think is right and not govern by the polls.

Fortunately, some people are crazy enough to subject themselves to it.

Winston Churchill said, “When you are going through hell, keep going.”

Yes, Dunderdale needs to shake some things up internally, but she needs to stay the course, generally speaking. Let the short-term political chips fall where they may.

 

Trevor Taylor is a former cabinet minister under the Danny Williams administration. Email: trevortaylor@nl.rogers.com.

Organizations: Progressive Conservatives, NDP

Geographic location: Newfoundland and Labrador, Ottawa, White Rose Hibernia South Hebron Ben Nevis Atlantic Canada New Brunswick Nova Scotia

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Recent comments

  • Jerome
    June 20, 2013 - 10:19

    Tough times? What financial institution is saying that Newfoundland and Labrador is going through tough times?

  • Adam B
    June 19, 2013 - 21:47

    Mr. Taylor is bang on in my view. Nice to see a little balance in the pages of the Tely.

  • Townie
    June 19, 2013 - 07:19

    So Crosbie and Taylor are your Pro Con defenders. They don't provide any really necessary function that I can see. Do we really need two of them? How about some has-beens from the other parties for balance?

  • John Smith
    June 19, 2013 - 06:24

    We have the lowest unemployment in our history,(and the NEA is below the national average). We have the lowest taxation in Atlantic Canada. We will lead the country for the next two years in GDP growth. Personal wealth, and spending are at record levels, home prices on the NEA are the highest in Atlantic Canada. Wait times for most surgeries are the lowest in Canada. We have two or three major mega projects on-going....Yet people want to elect Lorrain Michael??? LOL give me a break...

  • Areyoukidding
    June 18, 2013 - 19:57

    Short term??? So are we to forget the BS, lies, games and the unfortunate ones who lost their jobs while the PC elite got plum positions that will set them up for life and business gets what others can't dream of getting? Mill gets millions!!! You waste words here, it's all a dirty greedy game. No matter the price of oil or the efforts the previous Premier put into services and wages. This government has been a hugh disappointment and people won't forget. Even diehard partisan PCs don't believe anything this Premier says. Oh, they made a mistake with the finances. I said that would change and a little more "honest" (using term very loosely) statement would be made and guess what? that's what happened. Transparent or what!

  • Neil
    June 18, 2013 - 19:31

    When you are a Government who has been nothing but oil and Muskrat Falls, you have to expect some backlash. They have just laid off thousands and increased some user fees. They need to swallow the deficit and look forward to surpluses. Having so many unionworkers without contracts for over a year doesn't help public opinion either. This Government is in dire need for some good publicity but I don't see any on the horizon. Nothing....nada....zip....zilch.

  • Corporate Psycho
    June 18, 2013 - 19:28

    If anything Dunderdale needs to stop taking advice from people like you.

  • Adam
    June 18, 2013 - 18:51

    Mr Taylor is right we owe a lot to the pc government for our current prosperity and affluence. We should be more patient as they try to get us through this small setback. We have to be careful that we don't fall into the trap of not appreciating what we have.

  • Willi Makit
    June 18, 2013 - 18:18

    To paraphrase; when you spend like drunken sailors, the public stops finding you popular when you run out of cash.

  • Calvin
    June 18, 2013 - 14:30

    People are upset with the current government because the general population is fickle and easily swayed. When the Liberals were on their way out last time their approval ratings were terrible. The PC's time is winding down for now. In 4 or 5 years the NDP will be in the hot seat. Then we will head back to those loveable Liberals again. THEY'RE POLITICANS PEOPLE!!!! Blue, Red, Orange, Green, Mauve..... doesn't matter. They were all cut from the same cloth, but the next crop will be cut using a different pair of scissors, lol.

  • anne
    June 18, 2013 - 11:42

    You forgot to mention the Grand Falls Mill what that has cost us, along with giving millions to mining companies who are already doing quite well and off course the famous write your own check to Nalcor. I think any of these reasons would suggest why people are upset with this current government.

  • Concerned
    June 18, 2013 - 11:10

    @J Smith: Your right on when you say, "Tough decisions are easy to make when you're not affected by them. A real "tough decision" would be to raise taxes." That's exactly what this government is doing, they all got their cushy jobs and pensions, off of our backs, now there pushing Musk Rat on us, no doubt taxes will be going up along with our utility bills.

  • Jmsmith
    June 18, 2013 - 10:11

    Tough decisions are easy to make when you're not affected by them. A real "tough decision" would be to raise taxes.