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Russell Wangersky: Government’s lack of plan calls for far more than fretting

Premier Dwight Ball and Natural Resources Minister Siobhan Coady at a news conference Wednesday at the Confederation Building.
Premier Dwight Ball and Natural Resources Minister Siobhan Coady at Wednesday’s news conference at Confederation Building. — Telegram file photo

What is it?

Do our politicians think we just can’t handle the truth?

Or are they just allergic to telling it to us?

 

I am seething, practically foaming at the mouth, at the expectation by our current government that they can pat us on the head and tell us that we shouldn’t worry our little heads about Muskrat Falls and the price of electricity, and that we don’t need to know what it is they plan to do to mitigate the impact of the project.

Think about it this way: isn’t telling us “everything will be all right” every bit as bad as telling us that there’s no way a hydroelectric development can go over budget, and then admitting later, as prominent provincial Tories have done about Muskrat Falls, that they knew all along that the budget would be overshot?

Both are, in their own ways, creating false expectations to avoid unpalatable truths.

Both are telling people what they want to hear, rather than what they need to hear.

We made a mistake and we’re going to have to pay for that mistake. We elected a government that was critically mistaken about how much power we would use, what oil would cost, what business would be like in the province. Those mistakes are in the midst of coming home to roost, tied up tight in legal agreements that are essentially impossible to break.

We can postpone paying for what we have done, but that will only increase the cost of our mistake as a result. In other words, we have options, but those options don’t make any of the financial damage disappear.

Electrical rates are virtually guaranteed to increase, most likely dramatically, and if they are going to do that, then we have to have time to prepare for what that will mean.

And please, “don’t fret” to put it in Premier Dwight Ball’s own words?

I “fret” when the car’s in the shop and I don’t know what it’s going to cost to fix whatever its problem is right now. I “fret” when the grocery bill is unexpectedly higher because produce has leapt upwards.

The overwhelming message is painfully obvious at this point: the current government does not actually have a plan. They do not actually have any plan, except to delay everything for long enough that they can admit that lack of plan after the next provincial election.

But when it’s a fundamental change in the cost of heat and light, I do a lot more than fret. An increase in power rates spiderwebs out in all directions: it increases municipal taxes, it increases food prices, it is passed on to end users — consumers and taxpayers — essentially 100 per cent of the time.

What is most revealing about the actions of the current government — the “don’t fret, be happy” folks — is that if they actually did have a solution, they would be in a huge rush to trot it out publicly and take credit for their actions. But they haven’t.

Instead, we’re getting press conferences that tell us not to worry while they take another baby step, referring and delaying and obfuscating.

The overwhelming message is painfully obvious at this point: the current government does not actually have a plan. They do not actually have any plan, except to delay everything for long enough that they can admit that lack of plan after the next provincial election.

They are not thoughtfully protecting us from the fiscal folly of past governments, they are callously protecting their own political backsides. And that is every bit as deceitful as telling you that there was no way Muskrat Falls could fail.

I’m not fretting. Fretting is way too gentle a term. I am actively worried about how the legacy of Muskrat Falls will be to pitch us even closer to bankruptcy. It will be a long, expensive haul to pull us out of this mess, and glib talk about faux solutions will not cut it.

And I won’t stop being deeply worried about how anyone who isn’t well off is going to make ends meet.

Russell Wangersky’s column appears in 39 SaltWire newspapers and websites in Atlantic Canada. He can be reached at Russell.wangersky@thetelegram.com — Twitter: @wangersky.

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