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Bob Wakeham: N.L.’s political circus has the same tired old acts

Tom Osborne.
Tom Osborne.

I was already reeling this past week from the dismissal at the White House Circus of the Michael Corleone imitator, Anthony Scaramucci —even his nickname, “The Mooch,” sounded like a Mafia handle, as in “Ice Pick Willie,” “Johnny Sausages” or “Baby Shanks” — when word came down locally from that high and windy hill on the Parkway that Cathy (The Burger Queen) Bennett was abandoning her cabinet colleagues and being replaced by Tom (The Nomad) Osborne.

Bob Wakeham

But, unlike “The Mooch,” who only lasted a week or so in the Trump Big Top, just long enough to force a shuffling of clowns, The Burger Queen and The Nomad have been around our block for a good many years, certainly long enough to accumulate common denominators of shame and blame, players in a merry-go-round of decision-makers who have conspired to keep Newfoundland perched as the target in a carnival dunk tank.

Bennett and Osborne are, of course, connected — another example of the six degrees of embarrassing separation that has always dominated Newfoundland politics, the unfortunate fact that it matters little who occupies the government offices in Confederation Building because the electorate always seems to be adjusting to the same damn Q and A. (With an insincere apology on my part to Ms. Browning for the crude rip-off: “How do I screw thee, oh Newfoundland? Let me count the ways.”)

Osborne, The Nomad, is actually in a relatively unique position: the one-time Tory, one-time independent, now Liberal, has been appointed as the chief financial wiz for a government that has ignored its own responsibilities and spent the last number of years blaming past PC administrations for the economic mess in which the province finds itself.  For those with a short memory: don’t forget Osborne was a minister in the Danny Williams government when it was parlaying high oil prices into a spending spree as if there were no tomorrow. So: Osborne is now in charge of clearing up a mess that had its genesis during the time he sat around the cabinet table. The irony is palpable.

It’s going to be difficult for him to have the gall, to have the face, to continue with the Ball government’s argument that it was the inebriated sailor routine conducted by the Tories that has put Newfoundland in such a pickle; after all, Osborne was swabbing that same deck.

Even in a business where the operators are characteristically known to have the faces of a robber’s horse, it’s impossible to imagine Osborne replying in the House of Assembly to tough questions about his financial policies with the response that he’s been stuck with the fallout from past Tory actions.

Unless, of course, he wants to be perfectly honest: “Mr. Speaker, we inherited an awful situation. And I know from where I speak about the atrocious moves of the Tories to buy popularity and elections with oil money. I was there, Mr. Speaker.”

And Osborne was also a member of administrations that arrogantly ignored the warnings of bonafide experts that Muskrat Falls had the makings of a disaster, one that could put Newfoundland in an economic tailspin from which it might never recover.

So, as the new minister of Finance, he can’t possibly deflect questions about the Muskrat Falls horror show by blaming Williams, Dunderdale and company, unless, unless…: “Yes, Mr. Speaker, I know from where I speak. I was there. I was in cabinet. I was in caucus.”

But he just might be able to get away with that sort of shot to his own head, given the fact that Newfoundlanders seem to have contracted amnesia about the Muskrat Falls abyss. The latest polls show the Tories, those same Tories who pushed Muskrat Falls down the throats of Newfoundlanders, with a substantial lead over Ball and the Liberals (the NDP are a distant third, as has been a sad, but normal fact of life for just about the party’s entire existence, voters unwilling to give the third party at least a shot to shine or flop).

Paul Davis, nothing but a leadership convention premier, is suddenly having second thoughts about his departure from the Tory leadership, and might be our next premier, a man who was part of an administration that sprung the latest white elephant onto our gullible paws.

Davis, Osborne, Bennett (the former member of the board of directors of Nalcor, its chair for a while), all cut from the same ignominious cloth.

How can we possibly take any solace in this latest shuffling of the inner circle of the Ball government’s intelligentsia?

The Burger Queen out, The Nomad in.

At least that circus to the south of us has some entertainment value.

    

Bob Wakeham has spent more than 40 years as a journalist in Newfoundland and Labrador. He can be reached by email at bwakeham@nl.rogers.com

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