Monday, 2 March 2015


Last year, the Minister of Finance, Charlene Johnson, released a PR piece entitled: “Five Things to Know About Budget 2014”. It’s very first claim was: “A return to surplus in 2015-16”! 

The problem isn’t just the price of oil. Johnson forecast $791 million extra revenue next year and assured us $28 million would be left over. It would be foolish to say the surplus constituted a rounding error, because the whole forecast was just made up. 

It’s the stuff that earns Finance Ministers laughs, but not much more. 

Charlene should have known better than to compete with Snook for the Stephen Leacock Award; yes, that’s the one for humour.

A year earlier, in 2013, Jerome Kennedy, more an enema than a paragon of fiscal rectitude, invoked a “10-year Sustainability Plan”. Put together with Wiseman’s five more years of deficit, that’s 15 years of planning, in just three years. Little wonder we need an extra couple thousand public servants.

Wiseman’s confession may have put in high gear Harbour Grace lawyer Doug Moores’ characteristically colourful articulation.  The Telegram reported the Harbour Grace lawyer as having told the Finance Minister, on his Budget Road Show, “I tell ya, the arse is almost out of ‘er”.  

Sticking in the word "almost" means he is still hedging his bets, but Moores, it seems, isn't too impressed, either, with Wiseman.  

It is too bad more members of the public do not come out to these budget consultations. While the Government really only wants to see people who will engage in flattery, the truth is they could be great forums for citizen rebuke, even if the opinions of the Finance Minister's accomplishments are ribald or just plain funny.



I thought CBC Reporter, Peter Cowan, missed a great opportunity to take a page out of Doug Moores’ book. 

Cowan interviewed the Minister on his five more deficits declaration. Exclaimed the far too serious reporter: “We can’t fix in one twelve month Budget cycle the challenge that has been laid on us since the drop in oil prices since July…”  Cowan finished: “a year ago no one predicted oil prices could be this low…” 

How does a viewer get to wake up after a story like that?

Heck, what can one expect when Government assumes $105/barrel oil and actually spents on the basis of around $122! 

Cowan could have spared us all the insight and just said: ‘the Finance Minister has assured me "the arse is out of ‘er”.

Cowan must have been in the House of Assembly the day Wiseman confessed math was not his forte, and took pity on him.

He should savour those opportunities to characterize vanilla Ministers, except he knows he’ll get plenty of them from the Liberals, too.

Opposition Finance critic, Cathy Bennett told the Telegram on Feb. 14th that “new borrowing and increased debt is a very big deal” but she can’t say what the Liberals would do differently “until we see the books…” 

Reporter, James McLeod must have swallowed the eraser on his pencil, not to have taken Bennett to task. The lady of the golden arches needs “to see the books” when the financial situation of the province is the only bit of transparency this government ever had; having forgotten to include the Budget under Bill 29!

What would the “books” reveal we don’t already know? The numbers can be worked out on the back of an envelope; unless Bennett suffers the same math malady as Wiseman.

“The arse is out of ‘er” alright; but I think, Dougie, the problem is actually bigger, and it’s farther up, too!

Bennett should have lambasted the Finance Minister for proposing a five year plan when the Government will have an election within eight months. The Tory Finance Minister is prescribing decisions for the Liberals, the Tories are afraid to take!

Bennett didn’t have a single suggestion with which to inaugurate a new era of fiscal responsibility: she could have, at least, said: yes, I have an idea: ‘Let’s get rid of the government”.

So, why would we expect her to have any ideas, eight months from now?

Still, it’s the Finance Minister who should be in the cross hairs. When adversity presented him an opportunity to troll the acumen and the insights of fellow Baymen or, if inside the overpass, to embrace the wisdom of the great unwashed, what does he do?

He rings up the University looking for the largest dose of economic flatulence the institution can spare…and gets Wade Locke!  

Locke puts me in mind of a great big paving machine; Tory banner attached....smoothing the way for the government's agenda. Oh! Don't mistake. Wade has his fans. Carol Furlong believes him when he says we'll be back to $100 oil in a couple of years.  With public servants a bit like French troops facing a Russian winter, perhaps she is just assuring the troops they'll be home for Christmas. 

For a fraction of what he will pay the obedient Professor, the Minister could have received enough ideas to balance the budget, this year and next year, too. He may not have liked them, but they just might be what is required for our collective well-being.   

The problem is: Finance Ministers, including Wiseman, seem to have learned a bad habit from Nalcor’s Ed Martin. 

When it comes to Consultants, Nalcor is always willing to pay more for the answer it wants.

That’s why the increase in the HST, Locke proposes, will be just the first smack at taxpayers to cover cost overruns on his earlier recommendation: Muskrat Falls.

When even the Government’s economist is trying to cover his arse, you just know Doug Moores is right: “the arse is (almost) out of ‘er”.

1 comment:

  1. I find it rather amazing that Cathy Bennett could not comment on the fiscal state of the Province "until we see the books". This has been a secretive government but the budget documents approved by the Auditor General present a rather clear picture of our sorry state of affairs. It should be obvious to Ms. Bennett that tough medicine is called for, and it is apparent that she, like the Tories, does not want to prescribe it. Cuts will need to be made in health, education and social services, at a time when the demographic photo shoot suggests otherwise. Tom Marshall put a band-aid on the public sector pension plan, so more restraint is required here too, unless the average worker is prepared to be content with paying teachers to retire at age 50, with life and health benefits to go along with nice pensions. At least, she could have taken a cue from the Auditor General, who raised the issue of the merits of subsidizing Canadian and foreign students to the tune of over $100 million per year. Maybe, her solution is higher taxation.