Thursday, 3 December 2015

BEWARE A CHILL IN THE POLITICAL WIND THAT BLEW IN THE LIBERALS

The two cousins of conversation, politics and weather, seemed to converge for Monday’s vote as the wind that blew the Liberals into power possessed a bite that may be felt for a long time.  

Disenchantment with the Tories ought to have caused the popular vote to soar when the biggest surprise of the night was that it declined.

Even the Liberal sweep the Polls had forecast, found the mechanism of reverse polarity the very instant the Party had something to say.

The idea of saving $380 million without costing a public service job contained the logic of a former a former Premier promoting hydro at a New England Governors Conference.

It wasn’t that this was one of the few Liberal ideas that possessed some specificity; rather it was that this one held the symbolism for why the voters were mad in the first place.

Davis even showed some moxie, using the item to an advantage that might account for his own political survival and that of a few more Tory candidates. A benefit to such liveiness is that, together with the two experienced NDippers, Lorraine Michaels and Gerry Rogers, we might get an effective Opposition, unless they follow the Liberal's recent parliamentary tradition and choose hibernation.

Still, the Tory rebound from the Pollsters’ worse predictions suggests the public are hyper-sensitive and skeptical of purely political machinations.

Having achieved 57% of the popular vote on Monday, winning 31 Seats, the Liberals ought to have been able to have expected a mild euphoria.  Yet, they seem not to have earned the courtesy of even a brief honeymoon.

Perhaps, that is because they did not so much earn the mantle of leadership as have it handed to them. Little political capital was put at risk these past four years, so the Liberals should not be surprised if the returns, expressed as confidence and goodwill, are just as paltry.

This is not a minor point and one to which I will return.

But, first, Dwight Ball may need reminding he has made commitments regarding the Burton Winters and Don Dunphy tragedies. These are nightmares that transcend even the fiscal variety. The soul of any society is found in its compassion for families and loved ones seeking relief for perceived wrongs. In those two cases, an entire province seeks closure.

Recently, I wrote that the Party leaders were "prisoners of their own deception"each having embraced a fundamentally incorrect, if not dishonest, appraisal of the province’s financial well-being. 

I am referring, of course, to the “Wiseman Plan”, a prescriptive folly of over-spending, persistent debt and deficit that was the basis for their promises and programs. 

It will be difficult for the Liberals to now claim they were misled because Finance Minister Ross Wiseman failed to release the Fall update; that is, unless Ball is also prepared to say he’s doesn’t read the paper.

Willful blindness, whether over weak commodity prices or the Tories’ treatment of capital account and Muskrat Falls overruns as a special category of debt separate from the operating deficit, can’t pass the smell test anymore than does high balling revenues and feigning surprise when the operating deficit is found out of whack.Everyone in this province, reporters, pundits, and politicians should begin reporting the more correct combined figure. 

Perhaps, Ball will acknowledge, at least to himself, the Liberal Red Book represented a failure of leadership akin to that which characterized the Tories. 

He will need the discipline they avoided. Ball can continue ‘kicking the can down the road’ but he risks hitting the wall, too. 

There is one area in which there is cause for optimism, even if it has the taint of cynicism.

“Opening the books on Muskrat Falls” was another of the Red Book’s non-specific commitments. But, in a perverse way, it doesn’t matter (except to the public).

The Liberals will “own” Muskrat, be blamed for its poor execution and cost overruns, too, if they don’t conduct a thorough review.

If Dwight Ball is a fool he will give an inadequate mandate to an inadequate review team. He will give less than a full report to an already skeptical public. He will defer to CEO Ed Martin, and he will permit him to bamboozle us, as he has done from the beginning.

It will cost the Liberals dearly.

And, while on matters Muskrat, Ball should address the admission by Premier Davis, that he held talks with a potential buyer for assets of NL Hydro. Is that how Ross Wiseman intended to finance the additional $800 million for Muskrat, announced in June? Does the admission not have the ring of “energy warehouse” renounced? 

There are a good many outstanding questions on Muskrat, on the budget, and on Balls plans to provide transparency. But the biggest problem Ball will have to address is whether he will be able to escape the comfort zone which deception affords; the same one that brought down the Tories.

I think the public knows it will have to be content with less.

Mr. Ball’s job will be to tell them what he will do differently; honestly and early.

Within weeks of his inauguration, Ball should be ready to initiate the process of transparency and change that will signal a new beginning.


If he is true to his word, the cold, biting air that descended on voting day may well have been the last gasp of a once great P.C. Party; one disgraced and demoted, in need of re-birth.

But if deception continues to reign don't be surprised if, in four years, the two cousins of conversation put a new chill on our politics.

10 comments:

  1. If Mr. Ball does not ''initiate the process of transparency and change that will signal a new beginning", then he will be doomed right from the start! I'm hoping he will stand up and tell the truth about All issues that are vital to Newfoundlanders and Labradorians........time for Truth!

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  2. Mr. Ball owes it to electorate to provide a full and complete disclosure on Muskrat Falls. There is no down side to that approach. I doesn't mean that he will be forced to shut the project down, that is unless it makes sense to modify the original plan. It will also enable him to show just how poorly it was conceived and managed. As for Ed Martin. and company, he should start the search immediately for a replacement. While the picture is bleak, it will allow him to reflect on future progress with a new starting point.

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  3. Mr. Ball really has no option but to do a full and public disclosure on the status of the Muskrat Falls project. This would include a full schedule review, full cost review, and most importantly a full disclosure on the rate build up following the commissioning of Muskrat Falls. It is time for Nalcor to become fully transparent on this issue, and stop clouding the public knowledge of this project.

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  4. I find it a bit disconcerting that a new page has not been turned from the get go. Why? Because he has appointed Ed Roberts to head the transition team. Turning a new page would not have brought in that old horse. We need a new approach from the start.

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  5. *Ross* Wiseman.

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  6. "...once great P.C. Party; one disgraced and demoted, in need of re-birth."

    Des...I would suggest that conservatism is not welcome in this province. That was made abundantly clear with ABC, Bill Barry's reception and federal election results. It has been replaced with another left-wing party with little ideological difference between it and the Liberals & NDP. The PC retreat to the left started with Tom Rideout, Len Simms & co. and peaked with the administrations of Williams, Dunderdale, Marshall & Davis.

    The province is getting what it deserves.

    Keith

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  7. To respond to your point Keith: I don't think the fiscal mess the province is in has anything to do with ideology, whatsoever. This is about incompetent leadership, the belief high oil prices would last forever, and that there was no need to put a brake on public spending. The government allowed deficits when prices were high; when prices turned down they lacked the leadership skills to pair spending. Then they went into denial that Muskrat Falls cost overruns would compete with funds needed for normal government operations. It is too easy to paint those on the ideological left as financially irresponsible. Let's see this problem for what it is: incompetence on the part of the Williams, Dunderdale, Marshall, and Davis Administrations, and a fundamental failure of our business, academic, and union leadership to intervene in the madness. The public has yet to learn how bad is this "perfect" storm really is....but wait a few weeks....

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  8. Thanks for the response Des. I still believe that adding 10,000 to the public payroll from 2006 to 2010 combined with massive wage and benefit increases, increasing minimum wages some 60% in a four-year period as one of the main mechanisms to combat so-called "poverty", proceeding with Muskrat Falls despite warnings that the business case was seriously flawed, if not fabricated, equity positions instead of royalties on offshore oil and zero plan to address the mounting debt other than to kick the can down the road and hope high oil prices will save the day was driven by an ideology that said we can cure all that ails us by spending and failing that redouble our efforts.

    Conservatism by its' very definition is risk-averse with public spending and looks to curtail . Liberalism will only act fiscally conservative when forced (eg. Chretien/Martin federal administrations of the 90's and Wells and, to a lesser extent, Grimes provincial administrations).

    I expect Mr. Ball will be quite fiscally conservative over the next four years. My fear is that it's probably too late.

    Great topic.

    Keith

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  9. What an ignoramus.! There is no 'so-called poverty' in this province. There is REAL poverty and it has always existed. One has to question your social conscious, values and morals to make such an assertion. As to increases in minimum wage - this move helped put this province more on pare wth other provinces and prevented many more ppl from leaving.

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