Letter: Stop the spiral toward doomsday

Published on November 15, 2016

I closed my last letter to The Telegram (“’Shut Out’ a bright ray of hope,” Oct. 20) with the words: “We live in hope.” My life in hope for a long-term economic plan in our province has certainly been heartened by media commentary during the past couple of weeks.

The editorial page of The Telegram on Oct. 28 had meaningful letters. Bob Oxley of St. John’s said, “we need a province-wide effort, an effort with leadership that transcends party and politics to find the best way to go forward.” George Martin of Clarenville noted, “the many sins of commission and omission by government will, it seems to me, lead to not only a frightening price tag, but to an unbearable cost to all of us — we will never be able to afford it. What to do?” And The Telegram’s editorial feature Cheers & Jeers on Oct. 31 opined: “Sound financial management and long-term thinking are the only things that will bring us out of the red and give us any hope of staying there.” Amen, and amen!

Economist and long-time senior official in government David Vardy had an interesting and important interview with VOCM talk show host Pete Soucy on Oct. 31, in which he supported the concept of public involvement in long-term financial planning which I have been writing about for the past four months. Soucy posed the question which I have heard from other commentators and a number of fellow citizens during the course of this debate: “Isn’t the elected government responsible to show leadership and solve our financial problems?” Of course they are, and Vardy indicated that they were constrained by our system of party politics.

I just want to add that the key words in our need to involve the people of Newfoundland and Labrador as developers of our fiscal planning are simple: “long term.” With all due respect to all political parties, our system of democratic government is unable to accommodate long-term planning. No party or government can realistically plan any action beyond a four-year cycle, because they are only guaranteed tenure for the period prescribed in the previous election. So the tendency is to use quick fixes that often result in draconian measures for a year or two and then political pandering and excessive spending for the last year or two in order to gain re-election. It is a frightening spiral toward doomsday.

With an accumulated total debt (including Nalcor) heading toward $30 billion in the next decade, we need long-term planning like we never needed it before. It is not a task for a four-year government. It is a task for the people of Newfoundland and Labrador. We have the brains and the expertise in great quantities throughout the province, and not just in cabinet or even in the House of Assembly. As I noted in a previous letter, I’m sure that the government’s new Independent Appointments Commission would find such willing (maybe even volunteer) expertise in business, labour, academia, the social sector and, of course, the career public service. But we need a plan that is practical, with objectives and strict benchmarks, and not political; a plan that will require sacrifices to be sure, but will be fairly spread over a 10-year period or longer, and won’t be front-end loaded with draconian measures up front to impress the bond market (which is smart enough to know when it is being “impressed”).

The people of this province (who must pay the bills) have the right to be involved in planning their future. It will be a long and tedious process, and we will suffer to save our children and grandchildren from our own wasteful years of oil-rich wine and roses. But it will be historic, and heroic.

Edsel Bonnell

Conception Bay South