Premier stokes fear for political gain

Brian Jones
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For someone who presides over the government of a “have” province enjoying an oil boom, Premier Kathy Dunderdale sure is pessimistic.

To hear the premier speak, as she did this week to the St. John’s Board of Trade, listeners must inevitably conclude the future of Newfoundland (and Labrador) is full of deficits, cutbacks and misery.

It will be just like the good old days, before a drill bit ever chewed into the seabed on the Grand Banks.

Doom looms

Marg Delahunty is still funny after all these years, but Dunderdale is also talented in the humour department, although unintentionally — her statement to the board of trade that the government is forecasting a deficit of about $500 million this year must have caused plenty of Newfoundlanders (and Labradorians) to guffaw and exclaim, “That’s almost as much as their estimates were in error last year.”

As you may recall, a gloomy Tom Marshall — who as finance minister oversees the realm’s bank account — was surprised last year to find $792 million the government didn’t know it had.

We should all be so lucky: “Hey! Where did this $7,000 come from?”

Government assertions that doom and gloom await should be afforded the same credibility given to cultists who declare the end of the world will arrive next month — the main difference being that the latter’s predictions are literal, while the former’s are political.

Dunderdale’s intent is transparent (even if her government is not).

Spreading doubt

By making governmental debt a primary issue, she foments fear among the populace.

It is an old tactic, used widely and often. A fearful electorate abhors change — either in governing parties or in policies.

On the other hand, an optimistic and hopeful electorate would be more demanding of their government and of its policies. It is similar to what sociologists say about rising expectations: when people have them, they are more willing to throw off old ways of thinking and old ways of governing.

To avoid that, Dunderdale — like many politicians — pulls out the reliable bogeyman, “debt.” It is a surefire tactic. Everyone hates debt. Without that nasty monthly charge card bill, you could stop shovelling snow and instead buy airplane tickets and be on a beach somewhere (although not Mexico, hopefully).

It would be better to treat public debt like a mortgage. Instead of cutting back on today’s necessities, set a longer term for paying back the amount owed. That way, both goals are met. Needs are filled, and debts are paid.

Try it at home

Imagine if a family adopted a household policy similar to Dunderdale’s government.

“Kids, your mom and I have decided to change our 25-year mortgage to a 10-year mortgage. So, we’ve got to make some cuts. There will be no more minor hockey, piano lessons or holidays in Gander. Oh, and no more birthday parties.”

Dunderdale’s fear-stoking rhetoric is contradicted by the facts.

The St. John’s real estate market is hotter than the underside of Danny Williams’ collar. It shows no signs of cooling. Why is that, the premier might wonder.

Employment is up. Business is bustling. A story in Wednesday’s Telegram revealed “62 per cent of business owners in Newfoundland and Labrador say the current state of their business is good, 28 per cent say it is satisfactory,” according to a survey by the Canadian Federation of Independent Business.

Most importantly, consider the oil companies. By their own estimates, they will be busy pumping offshore oil until about the middle of the century.

A mere two weeks ago, Chevron Canada Ltd., Statoil Canada Ltd. And Repsol E&P Canada Ltd. announced joint plans to expand offshore exploration off Newfoundland.

Their actions say a lot more than Dunderdale’s self-serving words.

Brian Jones is a desk editor at  The Telegram. He can be reached at

Organizations: Board of Trade, Canadian Federation of Independent Business.Most, Chevron Canada Statoil Canada Repsol EP Canada The Telegram

Geographic location: Newfoundland and Labrador, Mexico, Gander

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Recent comments

  • baieboy
    February 06, 2012 - 20:37

    The public service pension plan has this province crippled. Marshalls recent statment said it is 66 % of our total depth. Look for more on this in the comming months. It must be addressed.

  • Target group
    February 04, 2012 - 22:36

    Our provincial public service management is terribly top heavy and untrained for the most part. Too many are chosen because they are boot licking their managers, chosen even though they don’t have the slightest idea of how to heighten moral and motivate staff. Lets hope that this gets addressed instead of losing more of those who actually serve the public. I voted for our Premier because she was the best person for the job. It has to be the most challenging position and it very obviously takes its toll on those in it. I’m proud of the way she represents our province and I hope she can always look in her mirror and feel proud of the lady she sees there. Yes, Premier, you’re the one we have high expectations of. No need to use past premier’s insulting tactics such as Grimes with the poormouth and Williams with attrition and using legislation to force a contract instead of negotiating fairly. Premier, please always be respectful, reasonable and honest. Our province needs and deserves a strong leader.

  • Target group
    February 04, 2012 - 00:49

    Ever since the election, I've been waiting to hear this from our premier. After all she has to prepare for the upcoming union contract negotiations by poormouthing. She has to make sure that as little money as possible goes to increase worker's wages. Not an easy task after using so much money to look good for the last election.

  • Cyril Rogers
    February 03, 2012 - 19:07

    The government finds it convenient to urge caution after the fact. They have increased the size of the public service during a period when our population has basically remained stagnant. When the windfall from oil came in, Danny increased the total numbers in the civil service by a significant amount and then gave them huge increases. I realize many were underpaid but he added a large and largely permanent number to the yearly budget to appease the many voters and retain their support. Ms Dunderdale is warning of budget deficits in the early days of her mandate but will she have the guts to limit the salary increases and possibly consider cutting back on a bloated bureaucracy? The infrastructure deficit in this province is huge but they put too much money into the bureaucracy and too little into basic services. Where is her plan to address these needs? In the budget, I presume.

  • Harvey
    February 03, 2012 - 13:26

    Our provincial don't seem capable of exercising much foresightedness. During the past summer, prior to the election, money was flying all over everywhere...hundreds of millions, if not billions. Now , just a few months later a $500,000 deficit is forecast. How come? Just because politicians act dumb, doesn't mean the electorate is dumb. It's most unfortunate that we have Mr. Harper in Ottawa and Ms(Harper)Dunderdale in St. John's.

  • Newfoundland and Labrador is not isolated from the World's Economic Woes
    February 03, 2012 - 08:35

    While a component of the province of Newoundland and Labrador is a large island, we are not isolated from the woes of Global Economy, and while we are a rich resource based economy we need others, who are suffering with an anemic economy in the Global arena to buy the commodities that we have to sell.

  • Doug
    February 03, 2012 - 08:28

    Dunderdale's crying wolf and no one should believe her. She spent millions or was it billions just before the election during the summer and Autumn of last year. In her recent, "OMG- we are poor speech", she talked of doom and gloom in the world markets and economies. Yet she is speeding ahead like a freight train about to be derailed to borrow billions and billions for her mega project, without knowing how much really will be required for overruns, etc. Dunderdale is telling us we are poor now - imagine the state that we will be in when we have to start paying off our greatest ever deficit, because of Muskrat Falls. Power, we might have loads of power but no money to pay for it. Increased taxes and increased power costs are the realities for the people of our province in the future . T'is then, when we will really know debt!

  • What a load
    February 03, 2012 - 07:28

    Good god, how many times do we have to be exposed to the bizarre logic of Jones - Jonesism. I guess his memory is short or very selective. Oh what a bright idea, let's pay down the debt over a longer time period, because, gosh darn it, it worked so well in the past. Oh wait, that's right , it didn't, in fact, under Jonesism it ballooned. It's even more amazing that he thinks SJ is a reflection of what is happening all over the province, newsflash Brian, it's not. His family example is a farce but using his Jonesism it would be more like "Hey kids, we just won a small fortune, your mom and I were thinking of using it to pay off some of our bills so that maybe someday we will own this house and put aside some money for your education or we could spend it all on some toys and hope the bills go just away. Little Brian speaks up and says 'Spend it all Daddy' ".

  • Townie
    February 03, 2012 - 07:24

    Deficits way into the future, until the next election looms, then watch the picture change and the money flow like water. Fiscally responsible. Ha, Ha!