It is another sign of a government in severe decline.
For months and months and months, the provincial government has been digging its way out of a giant political hole with an even bigger shovel. The end result: the hole keeps getting bigger and bigger and bigger.
Some will pinpoint the beginning of the great fall to the day Premier Kathy Dunderdale stepped on that stage with the most disliked politician in Newfoundland and Labrador: Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
It was an example of extremely poor judgment. But it was also to be just the beginning.
The 2013 budget, the erratic swings on projected deficits and surpluses, the mixed messages, the poor communications, Bill 29, the handling of Muskrat Falls, the failure to reach out to a cross-section of society and build relationships and bridges, the indecisions, the revolving door in the senior bureaucracy, the talking down to the citizens of the province, defensive behaviour, the attack on Gerry Rogers, the cancelling of funding for people with disabilities, the failure to meet with Burton Winters’ grandmother. And the list goes on and on.
They all point to a government that has not only lost its way, but has lost the confidence of the people of the province.
This is a government that hasn’t been able to take advantage of good news. Newfoundland and Labrador has one of the hottest economies in the nation and virtually no one is crediting the governing party with it. When was the last time that happened?
And now the latest tempest.
While Gander MHA and Municipal Affairs Minister Kevin O’Brien has denied that he threatened a local business organization with the loss of infrastructure funding for the region if it didn’t toe his party’s line, most people know there could be a grain of truth in the story.
Government funding has been known in the past to be tied to a price: silence, no criticism, or tempered criticism. Non-profit organizations have known this unwritten rule for a long time. Criticize government policy and risk losing your project funding.
A former member of the Gander Chamber of Commerce says his MHA threatened to hold up or slow down major infrastructure funding if the organization didn’t play nice by disinviting NDP MHAs from participating in a charity breakfast.
In the recent Labrador byelection, the now-former Conservative MP Peter Penashue bragged that he held up approval for an island-based project until funding was awarded for the Trans-Labrador Highway.
When asked about this at the time, Dunderdale told the CBC’s “On Point” that had Penashue been a member of her cabinet, he would be ejected for such actions.
She was quite critical of Penashue saying, “I wouldn’t bring a minister to the table if that was their perspective.”
There is a difference between Penashue and O’Brien. One admitted to taking such action, while the other has denied making the threats. And yet O’Brien did admit to asking the Chamber of Commerce to disinvite MHAs from another political party, saying he didn’t think the event should be partisan. Yet it was O’Brien’s actions that turned the matter into a partisan discussion.
The problem for the Dunderdale government is when you’re a government in decline, people are more likely to believe the worst. And in this case, folks don’t seem to be buying the denials. They know that this kind of favouritism has been common practice back to the days of Smallwood.
It is the ugly underbelly of politics in this province; perhaps in every jurisdiction: play nice, toe the line, don’t criticize and everything will be OK.
That doesn’t make it right.
It is ultimately about stifling dissent. It is very much the action of an insecure government; a government that has lost its way and its purpose. And it also is exactly what the Harper government has been doing since 2006.
Defunding advocacy organizations the government doesn’t agree with; slashing funding for science and research. Hammering anyone who voices a different opinion.
Democracy in Canada is on a slippery slope, greased with insecurities and hyper-partisanship, divisiveness and fear.
The position of the provincial PCs in the polls suggests
Newfoundlanders and Labradorians are not going to just sit back and take it.
Lana Payne is the Atlantic director for Unifor. She can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @lanampayne Her column returns Oct. 5.