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BRIAN JONES: Baby bonus and Muskrat Falls bailout

Premier Dwight Ball and federal cabinet minister Seamus O’Regan shake hands after signing the renegotiated 2019 Atlantic Accord review Monday at the Sheraton Hotel Newfoundland in St. John’s.
Premier Dwight Ball and federal cabinet minister Seamus O’Regan shake hands after signing the renegotiated 2019 Atlantic Accord review Monday at the Sheraton Hotel Newfoundland in St. John’s. - Juanita Mercer

If you’re looking for yet another example of just how far removed many politicians are from the lives of the electorate, Premier Dwight Ball’s jubilant pronouncement about the renegotiated Atlantic Accord is a fairly good one, rating a seven on a scale of 10.

His emphasis is what sets him apart. Predictably, his mind goes first to the provincial debt, whereas most of the citizenry is likely thinking less about the government’s annual deficit and more about their own impending jump in electricity bills and the devastating effect that will have on their household budget.

(Predictably, given two impending elections, Monday’s announcement included “rate mitigation.” More on that later.)

Politicians can’t help but be isolated from the concerns of regular people, because their jobs entail talking about Big Money. I don’t know about you, but the word “billions” seldom comes up when the Missus and I talk about our monthly spending.

But Ball’s ballyhooed $2.5 billion can be comprehended with basic arithmetic. Spread over 38 years, to 2056, Ball’s big-B $2.5 billion from the federal government’s Hibernia shares works out to $66 million per year — barely enough to keep the coffee warm at Nalcor Energy.

Just in case those numbers failed to impress people, Monday’s announcement emphasized the transfer of money from the federal government would be “front-end loaded,” a political euphemism meaning it will arrive before most current Newfoundlanders are dead.

Thus $1.9 billion will be handed over by 2030, and you’ll just have to hope and pray — and exercise and eat healthily — that you will be around to witness the collection of the final $.6 billion during the ensuing quarter-century. Think of it as something to live for.

Perhaps envisioning that a lot of people will naturally think, “But this doesn’t really have anything to do with me,” the premier and/or his advisers wisely/sneakily worked in a personalized number: your portion of the provincial debt will go down by $5,000.

Please, people, keep your celebrations reasonable.

The Atlantic Accord news just kept getting better. Federal Finance Minister Bill Morneau will be in St. John’s Friday to begin discussions about a Muskrat Falls bailout.

OK, its good news in the political sense, from Ball and the Liberals’ point of view, but in terms of individuals, it could bring other things to mind, such as, “That $5,000 is approximately how much my annual power bills will increase.”

Maybe I’m speaking only for myself. Maybe I’m a bad citizen. But hearing that my portion of the provincial debt is going down $5,000 doesn’t make me want to set off fireworks.

Ball’s $66-million annual campaign booster from his Liberal pals in Ottawa is a pittance compared to the $700 million per year the province could have saved if the Liberals had cancelled the Muskrat Falls project upon their election in November 2015.

I know, I know … not possible, couldn’t be done, too late, etc. Except that, no. Astaldi Canada was behind schedule and over budget in construction. Rather than rip up the contract and cite broken terms, what did Ball do? He renegotiated it. To put this gutless reaction into perspective, the provincial government has been paying lawyers for 20 years in its ongoing lawsuit against Big Tobacco, but didn’t have the courage to enter a legal battle against an Italian company that would soon file for bankruptcy protection.

The Atlantic Accord news just kept getting better. Federal Finance Minister Bill Morneau will be in St. John’s Friday to begin discussions about a Muskrat Falls bailout.

Well, “bailout.” You won’t hear any Liberal or Tory politicians utter the word, but that’s exactly what it will be if the federal government forks over any money to help with “rate mitigation.”

It has to be repeated: every dollar spent on “rate mitigation” is a dollar that could have been spent on something worthwhile — schools, hospitals, roads and whatnot.

It is fitting the announcement was made April 1. Confederation brought the baby bonus, and it brought — or will bring — the bailout. But don’t cheer too loudly. If other Canadians hear about it, they might be reinforced in their views about basket-case Newfoundland, always with its hand out.

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

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