Swinging the axe in good times

Brian Jones
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Astronomers calculate there are more stars in the universe than grains of sand on Earth.

Astronomical numbers can really mess with your head. As Older Boy might say, in his generation’s lingo, “That’s messed up.”

Of course, statistics can be

notoriously messed up. When astronomers say “on Earth,” do they include all the sand under oceans and lakes, or do they count only the beaches?

Similarly, when Premier Kathy Dunderdale declares, yet again, the province has no money and has to implement cuts to services, members of the attention-paying public might wonder which wallet she is looking in.

Governments pleading poverty in order to cut public services is an old strategy. The provincial government is apparently addicted and can’t break the habit or find the inner strength to just say no.

With issue after issue, it becomes more obvious Dunderdale is not merely ineffectual, but is actually a hard-c conservative in the vein of her social-slashing federal pal, Prime Minister S. Harper.

Contemplating stars and beach sand is mind-boggling, but only slightly less so than trying to figure out why an oil-producing, oil-rich, booming province would cut spending on health care.

A broad answer: hard-c conservatism.

Astronomers and non-astronomers alike will want to ask the next obvious question: how do the dim bulbs who are the stars of this province’s government manage to convince so many Newfoundlanders (and Labradorians) that these are hard, frugal times and cuts must be made?

Repetition, mostly. They talk so much and so often about the deficit and the debt, and the debt and the deficit — and did we mention the damage that will be done to future generations? — that disagreeing with them is regarded as a willingness to let your great-grandchildren go hungry.

But every now and then, like a glimmer of light from a distant galaxy, information will emerge that contradicts the government’s mantra of doom and gloom.

This week, it was a report called “Socio-economic Benefits from Petroleum Industry Activity in Newfoundland and Labrador, 2008-2010.” Whew. The bureaucrat who concocted that title deserves a bonus. For the sake of brevity and anti-mindboggleness, let’s shorten it to “Oil Benefits.”

Reports like this can give an average person a headache. It’s like staring directly into a quasar. The pages shoot flashes of data: so many millions spent on exploration, x-millions earned in salaries, y-millions accruing from production, z-millions in GDP growth and so on. It’s almost enough to make you want to jump into the sun.

And then you come to something legible, like this statement on page 12 of the “Oil Benefits” report: “Development impacts are expected to increase as construction activity ramps up as activities related to extensions to White Rose and Hibernia South and the development of Hebron occurs in the coming years.”

The report’s author, Mark Shrimpton, told The Telegram this week oil benefits will keep coming for another 50 years.

There you have it. We can all stop worrying about “future generations” and our great-grandchildren, and start fussing over our great-great-grandchildren. In 2062, they will undoubtedly be thankful Dunderdale had the foresight to save money by cutting 550 positions at Eastern Health.

One drawback of “Oil Benefits” is that it has a built-in bias. It was compiled by Stantec Consulting Ltd. for an outfit called Petroleum Research Newfoundland and Labrador. “Assistance” came from ExxonMobil, Husky, Suncor, Statoil, Chevron and Nalcor. In one sense, “Oil Benefits” could be a cheerleading booklet.

Except that the provincial government also had input, via two departments — Natural Resources and Finance.

To paraphrase Mark Twain, reports of Newfoundland’s demise have been greatly exaggerated.

Brian Jones is a desk editor at The Telegram. He can be reached by email at bjones@thetelegram.com.

Organizations: The Telegram, Stantec Consulting, Petroleum Research Newfoundland and Labrador Statoil

Geographic location: Newfoundland and Labrador, White Rose, Hibernia South Hebron

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Recent comments

  • Jeaola
    June 10, 2012 - 16:04

    It is about time the blatnant abuse of sick leave was stopped in our health care system!!! Way to go government and Eastern Health.

    • Peter
      June 10, 2012 - 22:48

      I understand that money identified thru the announced measures by Eastern Health, as distinguisehd from cutbacks, will be put right back into the system. Now, that's smart money managenent! This is clearly a good news story!!!!

  • Michael
    June 08, 2012 - 19:23

    To LPN: We should spend all our resources on the sick and dying! That is a terrible statement! What about the living? Medical care is like a Black Hole. Whatever money you throw at it is not coming back! Whereas, at least money spent on the living can be used to prevent some of the diseases before they start. Obesity, diabetes, heart disease and most cancers are at least 95% preventable. Prevent disease instead of waiting for the symptoms to manifest itself and then just treat the symptoms forever.There has to be a balance with health care spending. Just throwing money into the system is not the answer.

    • LPN
      June 09, 2012 - 17:40

      To Michael: I never said we should spend all our resources on the sick and dying. I don't think you read my comment. I am saying that we should not have to cut front line workers when we are a have province. This is something we would have expected when we were a "have not" province. Cutting back on hours of work by laundry workers, RNs, BNRNs and other workers is not a step in the right direction. Increased prevention is a good idea and we have seen some improvements in this area over the years. Some of these temporary workers have been working full time hours for many years. Cutting back their hours has to have an impact on patient care.

  • William Daniels
    June 08, 2012 - 18:30

    Harperdale. Nuff said.

  • Just a guy
    June 08, 2012 - 12:59

    I know people in health care, most of the peons can't get vacation time at suitable times for the worker. And I'm not just talking about the temp workers who are hired on to replace full timers for vacations. I'm talking about full time workers. Sure, you can get all of the vacation time you want when it is inconvenient, such as during the winter (inconvenient unless you are a sled head of course). But most people like to try to get a bit of time off in the summer to enjoy the 5 or 6 days of warm weather we actually get. So, they take the time the only way they can get it. I can hardly blame them. Here is an idea, have enough workers hired to be able to cover for employees on vacation, and actually let them get their much deserved rest. That would cut down on the abuse of sick time. Oh, but we can't do that because we are already over budget. How about you make the management less top heavy, with their salaries you could hire two front line workers. If that is still not enough money, how about you axe some of the private companies you have been hiring for millions of dollars to conducts tests and studies to determine why your worker morale is down, and why people are abusing their benefits. That would have been enough money to hire on a few more workers to relieve the strain. No, No, I'm being silly. Of course, the most effective route is to cut employees, increase the strain on the already drained employees, and then threaten them to stop abusing their benefits. Makes perfect sense. Kudos to Mrs. Kaminski!

  • Angela
    June 08, 2012 - 11:26

    I've got to agree with "John Smith" on this one. Thank you Mr. Smith for enlightening us!!! I have to applaud government for making changes to Eastern Health, we need to stand behind our Government and agree that changes have to happen in order to keep it working as efficiently and effectively as possible.

  • Joan
    June 08, 2012 - 10:10

    Finally we have this month's most inane comment: " we pay"health care" workers 20 dollars an hour to sling coffee. " Well done John Smith. It's one thing to be ignorant, it's another thing to proudly flaunt your ignorance for all to see.

    • John Smith
      June 08, 2012 - 10:42

      How is what I said ignorant? Housekeeping staff consider themselves to be healthcare workers...they are paid $19.05 an hour, plus benefits(28.75 an hr.), to work at pouring coffee. So is there an error in any of that? If so please correct me, with your vast knowledge. I would say it is you, my dear, who is the ignoramus here...lol

  • Marie
    June 08, 2012 - 09:01

    I'm still scratching my head and wondering why its so bad to be careful. We still have debt, everyday someone has there hand out looking for more more more. Money is being spent, things are getting done. We can have it all! we just can't have it all at once!!

  • LPN
    June 08, 2012 - 08:49

    It doesn't make any sense to me to cutback hours of work in any area of the hospital or homes when we are now a "have" province. Healthcare is a team effort. If their is no cleaning done infections will spread. If meals are not served patients will be hungry. Paramedics drive ambulances to scenes most of us can't even imagine. They save our loved ones every day. Materials support staff ensure that supplies are where they are needed. You can't put on a dressing if you don't have one. Personal care attendants duties include taking patients for tests, doing personal care and feeding patients. Licensed practical nurses are working to an increased scope of practice responsible for medications and a variety of nursing duties. There are temporary employees in all these areas that may be affected by cutbacks in hours of work.

  • David
    June 08, 2012 - 08:24

    On the CBC news a couple of nights ago, it was reported that they've figured out why the South Sudanese region remains impoversihed, even after about 2 decades of massive volumes of oil production in that country. Despite being under the scrutiny of numerous world charities, aid agencies and even the UN itself, it turns out that corrupt governemnt officials simply stole it all...billions of dollars over several years...and smuggled it out of the country. It likely continues to this day. So...imagine what would happen if that were a place where no one even cared, where everyone is of the mindset that 'stealing' anything from the government is a respectable achievement, and every last person is so totally in the tank for the ruling dictator that no one dares speak up, even if they saw something going on. Fridge magnet, anyone?

    • Holden
      June 08, 2012 - 11:11

      The last time I hear of "stealing" from the government it was a company and MHA's. I guess you are right.

    • David
      June 08, 2012 - 14:46

      The last time you heard anything about stealing, the small-timey looting and 'worthless trinket fencing' that had begun a few months before Hibernia cash started to wash in was just Amateur Hour, and got busted.....but not a single peep of impropriety since then!?! Which means either there's no corruption (despite the immense, yet mysteriously handled funds) or they all just figured out how to think bigger and plan their heists better.....hmmmmm, which of these two options sounds more likely, especially given that there hasn't even been a change of parties in power to even see the books, and the office of the Auditor General is now treated like a hostile leper? Hmmmm .... tsk tsk tsk.

  • John Smith
    June 08, 2012 - 07:24

    Mr. Jones, we have barely 500,000 people here, a population the size of a Toronto neighborhood, we spend 3.2 billion a year on helthcare, we pay"health care" workers 20 dollars an hour to sling coffee. What the government did was to hire Ms. Kominski to take a look at the inner workings of Eastern health, and see if there could be any savings to be had, without compromising care. An independant study was returned that said there is more abuse of family leave, sick leave, and every other kind of leave than at any other institution in Canada. Mr. Jones you often whine and complain about Muskrat falls, the dam will cost about 3.2 billion to build, about the same as what we spend each year on health care...every year...for a project that will last 100 years. Just for a little perspective. So I applaud the actions of gov. Stop the incredible waste at eastern health, pay for more drs nurses equipment...and less on leave and expensive coffee....

    • Holden
      June 08, 2012 - 11:07

      Very cryptic comment, but I am still waiting for the point. Comparing one hospital in the middle of 500,000 people to a system with many branches on the Avalon, Burin and Bonavista peninsulas sounds like apples and oranges to sane people. I wonder how much we pay for people to drink coffee and do nothing in the Premier's Office. And spending $3 Billion for power we don't need is not a rational decsion.

    • John Smith
      June 08, 2012 - 15:04

      LOL...and you call my comment cryptic??? I wasn't talking about one hospital, I was talking about a health care authority, with many institutions, clinics, and staff over a wide area. I mentioned the cost of the dam to put the 3.2 billion we spend a year in perspective...oh. and let the first sane person cast the first stone...give me a break