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EDITORIAL: Window dressing

Outside of the House of Assembly Monday, Tom Osborne takes questions from reporters about paying for the plan to get severance liability off the province’s books.
Finance Minister Tom Osborne. — Telegram file photo

Somewhere in the provincial Department of Finance, there must be a shrine.

Maybe it’s only a plaque with a pair of small vases, regularly filled with cut flowers. Maybe it’s a full-on brass bust of the great one, the noble inventor, the creator of the great budget bait-and-switch.

We’re speaking, of course, of the departmental inventor, whomever he or she may be, of that most constant of empty events, the annual pre-budget consultations.

Years ago, in the dark times, there was much wailing and gnashing of teeth: “How do we convince the public that whatever we’re doing is what they want? How can we do what we were going to do anyway, and yet blame it on public at large?”

And the inventor spoke: “We shall hold a great pre-budget consultation, and the finance minister will go and stand before all of the people.”

The fact of it is that the framework of the budget is set long before the pre-budget consultations; not only that, but even the finer structure of individual departmental budgets have been drawn up, sent to the provincial Finance Department, have been worked over by Finance officials and sent back for fine-tuning.

“But how will the people have input, when most of the work on the budget is already done and we don’t have any extra money to make any changes anyway?” the veterans of Finance clamoured.

The fact of it is that the framework of the budget is set long before the pre-budget consultations…

The departmental inventor rested finger against forehead. “It is not important that the people be heard,” the sage inventor said. “It is only important that they think that they are being heard.”

And so it was done: the pre-budget consultations were launched.

All right, it probably wasn’t quite like that. It was, in all likelihood, supposed to be a public relations exercise to prove that the government was really listening. But it worked, and it’s stuck, even though the timing makes it virtually hollow every year. (In some years, provincial governments have gone so far as to collect snippets of supportive comments from individual residents to stuff into the budget.)

A few days ago, Finance Minister Tom Osborne was scheduled to head off to Gander, the first stop on a 12-day journey with the requisite two days in Labrador.

But it’s much bigger than just a series of pre-budget meetings now.

Now, there’s also an online promotional video, featuring Osborne giving a one-minute-and-17-second free-time political announcement on all the good things he says the government has done, and welcoming anonymous feedback.

The web document points out “what we’ve accomplished so far” not once, not twice, but 12 separate times, and even includes promotional government videos on its own actions.

It’s a campaign.

Who knows? Maybe one day, the government will name a ferry boat after the noble inventor.

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