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Russell Wangersky: Liberals loving life in the rearview mirror

Premier Dwight Ball speaks Monday during question period in the House of Assembly, defending his government allowing Bernard Coffey to moonlight as a private practice lawyer while serving as clerk of the executive council.
Premier Dwight Ball (left) and Justice Minister Andrew Parsons in the House of Assembly. — Telegram file photo

It has been some 1,076 days since Dwight Ball’s Liberals were elected to run this province. Just 20 days short of three full years.

To put that in government terms, that’s meant something like 90 well-paid pensionable person-years of employment for the current crop of Liberal MHAs.

Three-quarters of their mandate.

But while the Liberal slogan may be “The Way Forward,” I think it could just as well be “The Blame Backwards.”

Because here we are, all that time later, and the Liberals seem to be critically focused on raising past Tory failings to defend themselves from criticism on all fronts.

Just take the past few days in the House of Assembly.

Here’s government House Leader Andrews Parsons answering a question about methylmercury: “The irony again is that we’re dealing with an issue that was left to us by the crowd over there when we talk about Muskrat Falls.”

And Premier Dwight Ball, answering a question on the carbon tax: “I just want to refer the member opposite to the Muskrat Falls project, no bigger impact on Newfoundlanders and Labradorians, no bigger impact on Newfoundlanders and Labradorians, doubling of electricity rates…”

Dwight Ball on workers getting paid by Nalcor: “This is a long list of the issues that we’ve had to deal with as this administration that we inherited, the mess that was put in place by the administration that you lead. … Unfortunately, Mr. Speaker, the former administration, the administration that the Leader of the Opposition now leads, has left this on the backs of taxpayers in Newfoundland and Labrador:”

Tourism Minister Chris Mitchelmore, after he was asked about the appointment of someone with Liberal connections to a prominent and well-paid position at The Rooms: “So, Mr. Len Simms was appointed chair and CEO of the Housing Corporation in 2005, resigned as chair in 2007 to run the PC campaign. Then, after election day, was reappointed as chair and CEO of the Housing Corporation …”

The Ball government may well have been elected the first time as result of the mismanagement of Muskrat Falls and windfall of oil revenues by the Conservatives. But the current administration can’t possibly expect to go into next year’s election on the basis of “the Tories still did bad things four years ago.”

Dwight Ball, asked about a court challenge to the Upper Churchill contract: “But, Mr. Speaker, right now the strategic focus for us in Newfoundland and Labrador is not just about winning a court challenge, it’s actually fixing the mess that the people that you now sit with created for the people in our province.”

Ball, on the deficit: “I would ask the Leader of the Opposition, why is he failing to accept responsibility for why we are where we are? Why don’t you accept responsibility? Ignoring the fact that you and your party put this province in the mess that it’s in. Accept the responsibility. Apologize to the people of our province.”

And the House of Assembly has only been open this fall for a handful of days.

The theme is obvious.

It’s also bankrupt. Take Mitchelmore’s use of the reappointment of Len Simms at the Newfoundland and Labrador Housing Corp. as justification for The Rooms job — well, two wrongs don’t make a right. While pointing backwards at Simms’ appointment, Mitchelmore conveniently forgets, for example, that members of his own party called the appointment “unethical and obscene” at that time. But it’s a justification now? Only if you believe in the most selective of rear-viewing.

The Ball government may well have been elected the first time as a result of the mismanagement of Muskrat Falls and windfall of oil revenues by the Conservatives. But the current administration can’t possibly expect to go into next year’s election on the basis of “the Tories still did bad things four years ago.”

For a while, a new government can tee off on the mistakes of past administrations. I can remember Liberal John Efford chastising the Tory opposition over the Sprung Greenhouse for years after the Liberals won. Then, as now, there was a point when it stops being legitimate.

After a while, it just gets exceedingly stale.

Three years in, it’s about time to own your own record, instead of blaming someone else’s.

Russell Wangersky’s column appears in 36 SaltWire newspapers and websites in Atlantic Canada. He can be reached at russell.wangersky@thetelegram.com — Twitter: @wangersky.

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