Monday, 7 January 2013

UNFINISHED BUSINESS

Don’t think for one minute that the troubling questions outstanding, at the end of 2012, were swept away by all the goodwill fostered by good Saint Nick.  If only life were as uncomplicated as a child’s Yuletide innocence! Still, that time of year does refresh our spirit and magnify the enormous possibilities life in Newfoundland and Labrador affords. 

While we ponder that prospect, let’s not be duped into thinking that, if we think only good thoughts, nothing bad will happen.  If you are of that bent, I can offer none of the wine that fuels your optimism.  You won’t find any “Dear Abby” advice on this Blog, either.  But, if you wish to engage in a forum that attempts to deal with public policy issues in a way that respects sound analysis, reason and common sense, your participation is welcomed. 
My own experience has stripped away any reflex to view life through rose-tinted glasses.  I believe that good outcomes are products of good decision-making; they are rarely accidental.  I have learned that good public policy is difficult to develop and even harder to implement; still, we have a responsibility to never relinquish the challenge. 

Governments are constantly subject to a multiplicity of conflicting interests which are often contrary to the public interest. Sometimes, Governments are unwise.  On other occasions, they are downright stupid. 
Remember, the ‘elected’ are only human; sometimes, they are not even the best humans for the difficult task which they either ill-advisedly sought or were assigned. Often, as is presently the case, the leadership is misguided, even if it is hopeful.  We ought to understand that, just because government claims to possess a public policy agenda, it can offer no guarantee that it is, in any way, enlightened. That is the job of others to assess. Then, too, underlying all that hope is the desire of politicians to be loved and especially to be re-elected.
The idea that individual citizens can vote once every four years and then park their responsibilities, believing that things will turn out alright, neither advances democracy nor society. The demands of real life need not discount the prospect of good fortune; but, as citizens of a small Province, we need to be more vigilant than perhaps, more populated societies.  In, at least, the democratic ones, analysis, criticism and independent thought is encouraged; its advancement frequently, though not exclusively, has an organized structure and such analysis is frequently funded.  Such analysis should be welcomed by enlightened governments and not viewed as the work of conspirators and naysayers, as it is here. 

We have a majority government that is too large for its, and our, own good.  It has a penchant for arrogance and secrecy; it either refuses to understand the implications of assuming too much risk, as it has by sanctioning Muskrat Falls, or it enjoys a disproportionate view of its omnipotence and our vulnerability. 

As a society, we have other challenges, too.                                                                                    
Our Opposition Parties are too small and under-resourced to seriously tackle complex issues, as gallant as their attempts have been. It is a travesty that they were required to oppose, last year, several terrible pieces of legislation and a complex mega project even while Government, and some others, demanded that they “prove” an alternative approach is more viable. As if the Government had laid all its cards on the table, had been fair, transparent, helpful or even respectful!  Unfortunately, none of these attributes apply.

In this small Province, there are too many capable, intelligent and experienced people who have removed themselves from influencing important public policy matters.  They fear that their job or that of a member of their family or their company will be adversely affected, if they speak out. 
I have previously written of the failings of the senior people at Fortis Inc. to be blunt about their views of Muskrat, in deference to their captive customer base in this Province; but, to be fair, there are many such capable individuals who have stayed silent from the very beginning.   

The leaders of public sector Unions, now girding for a bigger slice of the already over committed fiscal pie, inhabit that rather large and auspicious group. Even if they felt no obligation to the broader society, did they forget that any hiccup, in Muskrat Falls, would cause the Government to look for savings, first, among their membership?
The St. John’s Board of Trade has already shot its bolt; though expectations of its leadership, to a higher calling, were never that great.  On the other hand, wanton silence by other key groups and individuals cannot be ignored.

That said, and this is the nub of the issue, I simply don’t believe small societies, like ours, can survive successive, arbitrary and unwise governments, if many of our most capable people refuse to become engaged in public policy issues. I believe that is fundamental.  
Are there other concerns?  Yes, specifically, that financial interests who may even be in a conflict of interest, have a disproportionate influence on the Government and on matters of public policy. 

A ‘fiscal cliff’ of the Government’s making, looms.
The Federal Loan Guarantee and Emera’s Sanction Agreement have many unfinished aspects, though the Province’s sanction of Muskrat has unleashed millions of dollars which will be spent before these Agreements are finalized.  How will we ever be in a position to negotiate from a position of strength?

A major Canadian Corporation, SNC Lavalin, which is unable to account for tens of millions of dollars and finds three of its former senior officers charged with corruption, continues to be the single largest designer and directing force of the multi-billion dollar Muskrat Falls Project.  Yet it seems de rigeur for our media to ask if it has forfeited its right to be trusted or to ask any other questions.
Nalcor is on an empire building spending spree while the Auditor General is not permitted inside its hallowed hallways. Trust in the Crown Corporation, by the Government, is so absolute and its authority so embedded, that “these international experts”, as the Premier refers to them, see no need to correct her astounding belief that Nalcor built Churchill Falls!

While I have said more than I had planned, one thing is clear:  Christmas has not cleared away the political detritus of 2012, nor that left over from previous years.  There is much work to be done if we wish to cement a future for ourselves and our NL society; one that is strong, year in year out, and celebrated every day.  As elusive as it may seem, I believe it is worth striving for. 

If people participate in decisions willingly, intelligently and we still screw up, we will be left, at least, with our pride. If we fail to engage, leaving the big decisions to others, without even basic  scrutiny, we will be left an embittered lot, capable only of enmity towards a leadership whose unfettered laxity failed us.
As usual, I will post every Monday and, more often when time permits. 

Hopefully, Uncle Gnarley will make an occasional personal appearance.
With every best wish for the New Year. 

2 comments:

  1. It is not too often you wiggle my whiskers. But you have so this time.
    "Rose-tinted glasses," "optimism", "Good outcome ........from sound decisions," "citizens......parking their responsibilities.
    The first thing that comes to mind is the idea of unintended consequences – not my choice of words, but it well depicts what often happens when good intended people spent considerable time attempting to legislate good policy. I firmly believe the process of good government starts with a good system, and then plays down to where informed people can and will elect dutiful and honest representatives. I don't believe I have to expand much further to let us know how well that operates these days. So we get left with an opposition to watch our backs, and failing that we look to the media. You push that that responsibility to look, listen, learn and react to the populace.
    Let's put that idea on its top and look to see the responsibility of any large corporation to overview the working of its clerical help. I would agree that the president must take ultimate responsibility for the work and behavior of the clerical staff, but to expect him to supervise, review, and analyze the work of such individuals is nothing less than a grand inefficiency on one level and a ridiculous impossibility on another level.
    Good government policy takes responsible elected people who are informed and willing to do what is best for the society it represents. A meager voice like mine should speak at election time. I might howl and holler form time to time as is my right; but back to unintended consequences. My opinions would tend to be short sighted at best, and very subjective and ill-informed at most levels. That is not because I am ignorant or uncaring – I simply do not and should not have to spend the considerable time and energy to carry out a function that firstly my elected representatives should have perceived, secondly been analyzed, rebuked and scolded by a loyal opposition, and thirdly resoundingly ripped apart by the media as a mandate of its charter to inform.
    When none of that works there is little hope my voice will win out. But guess what, in the smaller picture of my life I can and do make a difference. I will continue to strive for and believe in a future where the pull of greed and power are well trumped by folks with compassion and understanding for his fellow man.
    Yes, I hear the echo, "Dream on", and thus I will.

    ReplyDelete
  2. As usual, a rational prespective, and encouragement for hope of a better tomorrow. It helps keep up one's spirit.
    John Steele had said Ed Hollett was brave in that he puts his name to his point of view. Hollett responded that it says a lot about our society if that is a requirement for bravery. Yet the silence of many our citizens on such important issues is a seriour problem, as you point out... Fearful of consequences to express a sincere informed view. It is said that silence gives consent, and it is unfortunate. Winston Adams

    ReplyDelete