When the provincial Liberals took control of government, they rolled out a “roadmap,” “a blueprint,” a plan — a document called “The Way Forward.” This was in response to an urgent need to get the province’s finances under control.
At the time, the bond rating agencies were circling overhead like the gulls at the dump in Robin Hood Bay. The government was in danger of not being able to borrow money to pay for the spending problem that they acknowledged having.
With Cathy Bennett as finance minister they came at the problem with gusto that was a thing of beauty. They commanded every government department and agency to reduce their spending by 30 per cent; they implemented a bunch of temporary tax measures. But then, amid protests, marches and demonstrations, some creative young fella started putting up mugshots of Dwight Ball on poles on the parkway that sucked every bit of wind out of his sails.
A few months later, Bennett resigned from cabinet (for personal reasons). Who could blame her? She was surrounded by a bunch of hangashores whose only priority is to get re-elected. The Liberals produced one Way Forward report card that consisted of about a dozen line items of things they claim to have accomplished, ticked them all and, in effect, gave themselves 100 per cent.
What did they accomplish in the 30 per cent drive? Not enough, that is obvious.
The Way Forward is chock-full of governmentese. Beneath it all there are some good thought processes, but without explanation. For example: “The provincial government must be redesigned.” The how, the when, the what a redesigned government would look like are missing. I’m not feeling it or hearing anything about this redesigned government.
The Way Forward says: “We must think and act in a way that is long term….” That was an empty promise. What part of planning to add a billion dollars a year to the deficit is good long-term strategy? The deficit was $14 .7 billion at last report and increasing daily. The Liberal government plans to truck toward $17 billion to $20 billion and then return to surplus. “Magically,” I guess, as there is no other explanation.
There are other statements in the Way Forward document, regarding outcomes: “Many of our indicators remain well below the national average.” “We will not continue to fund the status quo.” I ask, what specific outcomes are being targeted, what has been accomplished? I am not hearing or feeling any improvement.
“N.L. has the highest per capita program costs among provinces. … Our province has a spending problem.” That thought is repeated in several places.
What I am feeling on this topic is that complaints will be carefully ignored. There is an election coming up and that is a bigger priority than reducing program costs. I simply do not know of a single program that has been realigned to national per capita cost.
There is a disclaimer in the Way Forward document, too: “Problems straddle bureaucratic silos, which is preventing government from solving them.” That is a clear statement that the tail wags the dog. The politicians are talking heads, programmed and controlled by “silo bureaucrats”! We obviously lack serious and committed leadership.
The Way Forward, at this point, is gathering dust. With the appointment of Finance Minister Tom Osborne, we have gone into re-election mode. New dynamic leadership in the Department of Finance will lead us to the garden of Eden, a place with a low standard of living and very high cost of living. Under his “stifle restraint policies,” like the NAPE agreement, we will eventually achieve insolvency. We will not be able to borrow and will be drowning in interest payments. The hardball negotiating will probably include the sale of Labrador to Quebec to bring in a lump of cash. Our offshore revenues could be under attack and the outraged Canadians will be picking our bones.
I read a couple of articles in the paper recently that, to me, were naïve in the extreme. Insolvency will be no picnic. It may already be too late to avoid!