Duelling rich guys

Brian Jones bjones@thetelegram.com
Published on February 14, 2014

One of the best things that could happen to politics in this country is if lawyers would stick to lawyering and businessmen would stick to businessing.

It would also be beneficial if retired teachers would find a different hobby, but that’s an argument for another day.

Rich, powerful people in politics would be comedic if they weren’t so destructive.

Former premier and cable guy Danny Williams has obviously been watching too much hockey, because this week he dropped the gloves and was all over fish merchant Bill Barry.

Danny and Billy are both ardent free-enterprisers … except when they’re not.

Danny said he doesn’t support Billy’s quest to be Tory leader. Danny said Billy is trying to take the easy route to the premier’s office.

Apparently, in Danny’s mind the difficult, more credible, pay-your-dues route into the premier’s office is to make tens of millions via a legally sanctioned monopoly, bank it, be crowned as a party leader, serve in opposition for a few hours, then take the elevator to the 8th floor while your sycophants hold up the end of your robe so it doesn’t drag and collect dust.

Billy’s sins? That he supposedly wants to privatize Nalcor Energy, and allow more free enterprise in the educational and health-care systems.

How about allowing more free enterprise in the fish business?

Not so fast, suckers.

Prolific letter writer David Boyd of Twillingate publicly posed the question earlier this month right here on Page A6 (“What do you say, Bill Barry?” Feb. 3). If elected premier, would Barry allow a free market in the sale of fish, so fishermen could sell to the highest bidder, whether or not that bid came from a Newfoundland (or Labrador) fish merchant?

To his credit, Barry responded to Boyd’s query (“This is what I say, Mr. Boyd,” Feb. 13). His short answer: no. His businessman-politician answer: yes, “provided there is a level playing field which allows our processing sector to compete” — i.e., as long as Newfoundland fish merchants continue to have first dibs.

Voters should be careful when busiticians blurt clichés and jargon such as “level playing field” or

“ability to compete” or “climate for investment.” It usually means they’re looking for taxpayers’ money or some other kind of government support. (See: bank bailout; auto industry bailout.)

For instance, consider Danny and his colleagues on the board of directors of Alderon Iron Ore Corp.

They have plans to develop an iron ore mine in western Labrador. The proposed Kami mine requires plenty of electricity.

Alderon needs a transmission line from Churchill Falls to the area of its mine site. It wants taxpayers to chip in $300 million toward building this line.

Sure, you might say. Why not? The government is always talking about “investing” in this and “investing” in that. I wouldn’t mind receiving a dividend cheque every once in awhile.

Hold on. Who said anything about giving taxpayers a return on their investment? Not Alderon. Not Danny.

Predictably, they rely on the old ruse of jobs, jobs, jobs.

But do the math — almost a million bucks per.

Corporate fingers reaching into the public cookie jar is common, unfortunately.

This week, Chrysler Group LLC asked the federal government and the Ontario government to pitch in a total of $700 million toward the company’s planned $3.6-billion upgrades to two of its Ontario auto plants.

So, the free-enterprise argument comes full circle. When a busitician says the government needs to be run more like a business, he — or she — is saying more public money needs to be put into it.

Someday, in a better world, this might also apply to health care and education.

In the meantime, we’ll continue writing those cheques payable to Big Inc.

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