Top News

RUSSELL WANGERSKY: Gifts for all

Premier Andrew Furey called the election at 6 p.m. Friday evening at Confederation Building. — Barb Sweet/The Telegram
Premier Andrew Furey called the election at 6 p.m. Friday evening at Confederation Building. — Barb Sweet/The Telegram

On Friday afternoon, I watched the snow filter down slowly, piling up on top of the branches in perfect branch-shaped mounds. The promised Friday-evening strong winds hadn’t arrived yet, and the looming provincial election hadn’t been called yet.

But it was certainly in the forecast: new releases had been pouring down more heavily than the snow, offering insulin pumps to some residents of the province, new rules on health travel funding to others. Oil giants had been offered conditional funding to help them start operating again, and the Come By Chance refinery had gotten $16.6 million to help keep it warm on standby while its owners search for a new buyer or investor. Chickens for pots, pavement and water lines, a plum for the thumb of every Jack Horner.

And all I could think is that, somewhere in the last few weeks, a group of senior politicians in this province and their campaign advisers sat down around a table — or maybe sat in on a Zoom call — to strategize about how to get the most political bang by promising the most effective fistful of bucks.

The difference is that we need to find our way out of a huge hole, rather than just digging ourselves in deeper.

I thought about how bluntly pragmatic that meeting must be, how unlike any version of idealism; did they get right down into the reeds and calculate things like “there are X numbers of diabetics, versus X numbers of refinery workers, so the best cash investment for votes would be …”? Or was it all more scattershot than that, with $2 million for a PET scanner sometime in the future for Corner Brook and $9.5 million for municipal infrastructure projects just getting shoved into the middle of the table like a bunch of drunks playing Texas hold’em? Surely, huge oil companies need $175 million commitments, right?

And then I thought: why does it always have to be this way?

It doesn’t matter who is in power. At least, it hasn’t yet. This is the 10th election that I’ve covered in this province, a record stretching back to when Brian Peckford was premier, and elections in Newfoundland and Labrador are always the season of giving.

Now, giving doesn’t always mean delivering. Sometimes, it’s a lot more like ordering things online from random vendors. Sometimes, your present gets held up for ages in Dieppe, N.B., like flotsam spinning around a whirlpool. Sometimes, when it actually arrives, it’s not anything like what you thought you were ordering. And sometimes, it just doesn’t show up at all, while the vendor points fingers and somehow fails to refund your vote — I mean, your money.

There’s only one way to explain it, really. The only reason people do things the same way over and over and over again is when they’ve done them that way in the past, and it worked.

The difference is that we need to find our way out of a huge hole, rather than just digging ourselves in deeper.

Right now, the second largest expense in the provincial budget — after health care — is paying other people money for the privilege of borrowing their money. That’s right: in this time of record low interest rates, we’re paying out more on interest than we are for the education of our citizens. This year, the plan is for $843 million in spending for kindergarten to Grade 12 education, and $415 million for post-secondary education — grand total, $1.26 billion. Financial expenses? $1.51 billion, or almost one dollar out of every $5 the provincial government plans to expend this year.

And yet, we’re once again talking about presents, even as an unelected panel plans for what sorts of belts will have to tighten in the spring.

Why?

It works.

And we let it work. Shame on us.

Russell Wangersky’s column appears in SaltWire newspapers and websites across Atlantic Canada. He can be reached at [email protected] — Twitter: @wangersky.


RELATED:

Did this story inform or enhance your perspective on this subject?
1 being least likely, and 10 being most likely

Recent Stories