Unsound plan, insecure future

Pam
Pam Frampton
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“…We must not repeat the mistakes of the past by making arbitrary or across-the-board cutbacks, whether in programs, services or staffing, that might save money in the short term, but do great damage in the long run by creating a less effective government.”

— From “Making Smart Cuts: Lessons From the 1990s Budget Front,” a report released in 2011

by the U.S. Partnership for Public Service

 

The provincial government lessened the blow to the justice system on Thursday, restoring some of the many jobs that were lost in Budget 2013. But in doing so it may have caused greater injury to itself.

Despite Premier Kathy Dunderdale’s assertion on VOCM’s “Open Line” that the government’s willingness to reconsider cuts is a sign of strength, the fact is that in the political realm, a government that has to acknowledge it made imprudent decisions comes across as weak.

Governments have a responsibility — and the luxury of time — to do sound research before making decisions, and this one clearly did not do its homework before the budget axe fell.

Don’t get me wrong — I’m glad the government has reversed some of the cuts, and I hope there’s more of that to come, but a strong government is proactive, not reactive. It consults before, not after.

It ponders outcomes, thinks long-term. It does not wield its axe recklessly and then jump back out of the way, hoping to avoid being splattered with gore.

And yet that’s exactly what happened here. I don’t doubt the government had difficult decisions to make, but that’s what its members were elected to do: govern. The word “govern,” by the way, comes to us by way of the Latin “gubernare,” which means “to steer, rule.”

Well, this train got steered clear off the tracks and now it’s trying to right itself.

In describing how the government decided on how to save money, Dunderdale said they reviewed what was working and what could be done more efficiently. “We need to see if these programs are effective,” she said.

So, who decided that decimating the justice system would be effective?

And yet Justice Minister Darin King seemed genuinely taken aback by the vociferous reaction.

Did he think no one would object?

“We listened to the concerns and acted quickly to address the important issues that were raised,” he said Thursday, after reversing some of his handiwork.

That’s a nice try at positive spin, but the government didn’t act quickly, it reacted quickly, simply because the outcry was so long and so loud.

In fact, King even admitted that they did not necessarily act on the input provided to them in prebudget consultations.

The premier blames the pro­vince’s sharp reversal of fortune on the uncertainty of oil prices, and she commented on radio that she was “a little surprised why Newfoundlanders and Labradorians find it so difficult to understand oil pricing and the volatility associated with it.”

Well it sure seems like the pro­vincial government doesn’t have a great grasp of it, either.

Dunderdale also posed a rhetorical question to the populace: do you want the public service to offer “a job for life, regardless of what the circumstances are … or do you want the most effective use of your money?”

That’s insulting. No one is clamouring for cushy jobs for life — we’re talking about justice, here.

And slashing the system to the point where even the government had to acknowledge it had gone too far hardly seems like making good use of our money.

People want and deserve timely and affordable access to justice. The day we decide we can’t afford to offer that will be a pretty sad day indeed.

In her Jan. 28 column for The Toronto Star, Gillian Steward was describing Alberta, but it might as well have been this province.

“To live in Alberta these days is to run the risk of getting severe whip­lash,” she wrote. “This is because our provincial government often tells us how fortunate we are to live in such a prosperous pro­vince; how Alberta is blessed with such an abundance of resources. But the next day our government tells us it doesn’t have enough money to cover its spending, there will have to be cuts to services; and we are all suddenly jerked into a different reality.”

Laying off so many people that you effectively gum up the wheels of justice was not a wise decision made by a strong government.

It was a shortsighted, irresponsible decision; an unsound plan from a government with an insecure future.

King says he decided to reverse the cuts in part based on compelling arguments made after the fact, saying the stakeholder committee struck this week “was invaluable in helping us develop pragmatic solutions that can be implemented quickly.”

Shouldn’t the pragmatism have come into play first thing?

 

Pam Frampton is a columnist and

The Telegram’s associate managing editor. She can be reached by email at

pframpton@thetelegram.com.

Twitter: pam_frampton

Organizations: U.S. Partnership, The Toronto Star

Geographic location: Alberta

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  • Will Cole
    April 13, 2013 - 10:25

    I only caught part of that Dunderdale lecture on VOCM... I tend to tune that individual out whenever I'm subjected to to the chronically exasperated tone that permeates her dialogues. However, if Dunderdale did indeed pose asinine, childish, foolishness such as "Do you want the public service to offer a job for life, regardless of what the circumstances are … or do you want the most effective use of your money?” that's another clear indication of the lamentable dearth of leadership exhibited by this individual... from the Burton Winters saga, to the Bill 29 Official Secrets Act, and now to the utter lack of wisdom and foresight demonstrated by allowing the public finances of a petro-province to implode to such a degree that it resulted in this sledgehammer approach to cuts throughout the provincial public service. A lamentable dearth of leadership indeed.

  • Cyril Rogers
    April 13, 2013 - 10:11

    No matter how you slice it....they messed up in a big way with the severity of the cuts to Justice, a decision that reflects the poor administrative capabilites of the entire government and all those who sit around the Cabinet table. Sure, it is okay to spin it in such a way that they are saying, Well, at us...there was a problem and we fixed it." The fact is: they created the problem to begin with, by a lack of in-depth consultation but, more than anything....a knee jerk reaction to a fiscal deficit. On that note: Was it a real crisis or not? How do you reduce the number from 1.5 billion down to .5 billion, almost overnight. Poor planning, poor analysis, political spin....all of the above. The machinations of this poorly-functioning Cabinet are frightening .......and to think they are managing a project like Muskrat Falls, in collaboration with a corporate entity whose performance record is coming under increasing scrutiny every day, should raise all kinds of red flags. In summary, this is a brutally inept administration that is slowly but surely frittering away our future.

  • Maurice E. Adams
    April 13, 2013 - 09:04

    To state the obvious --- if government could not get the planning right for the justice department (involving a few people and a few million dollars), what confidence should people put into government's claim that its multi-billion dollar Muskrat Falls project is needed, affordable and a sound, viable "investment"? Government touts a return of $20 billion over 50 years (while arguing that it has no intention of raising TAXES to deal with the deficit). IN FACT, Muskrat Fall IS A MASSIVE (hidden) TAX GRAB .....Those $20 billion in revenues are from ratepayers. The revenues come from ourselves and go into the coffers of Nalcor and government (a TAX by any other name). It must be paid because government passed special legislation to make sure ratepayers pay their electricity TAX BILL. ----- Deceptive? Needed? Affordable? A sound 'investment'?---- YOU DECIDE (operating and debt service payments are $14.5 BILLION alone over 50 years --- on average about $300 million per year, EVERY YEAR for 50 years)? --- Then add another $400 million per year so that Nalcor and government can have their $20 billion in taxes (revenue) and you have ratepayers forced to pay $700 million PER YEAR, EVERY YEAR (while Holyrood costs about $100 million per year)...... Sound investment? Keep in mind that demand will be going down (not up) after about 2020, so rates will have to increase even further in order to pay for Muskrat. It's time for people to wake up to what is going on here and to protect the interests and the future of their children (who are the one's who will pay for this useless monstrosity).

  • STephen Redgrave
    STephen Redgrave
    April 13, 2013 - 07:33

    For whatever convoluted reason I have more respect for anyone who steps up to the plate and admits they made a mistake. Idealy, sound financial forecasting is the way we'd like to have our government run and for some jurisdictions that is the reality. Our reality is a little bit different. We have to work with the people we have and do the best we can to keep them in line. Never before has is been so obvious that our government is screaming for public input and needs our help making the hard decisions. Is it because they lack something?....yes!!! experience. We have , by all standards a very young crew running this province. As they say, youth is wasted on the young and the young are going to make mistakes. It's up to all of us to help them along. As we've seen, decisions are not "final" and subject to change. Newfoundland needs a full time philosophical,well respected historian on staff to consult with every department on a regular basis. This method is centuries old and can predict bloodshed or peace with amazing accuracy. Well written article Pam !