Wednesday, 30 May 2012


(Uncle Gnarley is hosting the Class of 2012; his umpteenth time performing high level instruction to the politically naïve.  Let’s listen in…as he addresses the group.) Here's Uncle Gnarley:

People, often to their detriment, enjoy a belief in the fundamental fairness of political institutions.    Human progress is frequently inhibited because, all too often, we give way to, what I call, “the tyranny of naïve realism”.  

The art of the process is not as much science as it is attitude.  Perhaps it is our relative isolation, maybe it is in the generous nature of island people, as most of us are; whatever its source, we have a tendency to see things as ‘we want them to be’ rather than ‘as they are’.  It is a common weakness, especially in politics. It has to stop!

But don’t worry. Uncle Gnarley will have you wearing the grim aspect of a Presbyterian in no time. 

Now, Johnny, down in the far corner; you look so wise, yes, you, the one with the Walmart ‘Prices are Falling’ sticker on your jacket.   Answer me this question, what does the phrase “envelope approach to federalism” mean?  No, Johnny, I didn’t ask you to let your eye balls fall out; it’s not time for ‘show and tell’.  What do you mean, ask, Mary.  I’m asking you!  You have never heard of it? Then sit down and let Mary speak. 

Mary: “Would it mean Kruger gets to supply all the envelopes to the government in exchange for staying open until after Muskrat Falls is built so that the government won’t be embarrassed for starting the project too early?  Now Mary, you knock that off, you said this was your first time at Boot Camp, you sound like a very old cynic…come closer; you’re not Mary, are you?  I thought so; you’re Dwight Ball.  Cross dressing, are you Dwight, just so that you can sneak into my Boot Camp!  You looked familiar; didn’t have the cash to fly south with Brian Tobin, did you? Now, there was a guy who received individual tuition in the business of political realism…as did Danny Williams!

‘The envelope approach to federalism’.  Let me explain it this way.  The Trudeau Liberals decided some 40 years ago that a province, the size of Newfoundland, being a dead weight on Ottawa, should get the equivalent of about 100 marbles from the Federal Government each year.  Of course, I am using marbles as a metaphor. 

You have to think of those marbles as federal money for roads, lobster buy out programs, ACOA grants to business or regional development associations; any one of a bunch of federal expenditures in the Province. Now, you may get more, one year; but, you must always remember that any excess will be grabbed back in future years.

The other provinces receive a number of marbles too, in proportion to their size and economic heft, except, of course, Quebec and Ontario and except, if you have a lot of MPs supporting the party in power and except, if you have skillful cabinet ministers from certain provinces, better able to extract favours out of the government because they are powerful, have more buddies or things to trade.

What you have to remember too, is that ‘envelope’ federalism has never fundamentally changed; under the Liberals or under the Tories. As much as the politicians, the bureaucrats also like it that way.  Any Premier, who has failed to learn that essential Canadian concept, has always run into trouble, as Dunderdale is now.

Frankie, you have a question…yes, very good question, Frankie...Frankie wants to know if the marbles have to be all the same colour?  That is an excellent question; truly a measure of your seriously enhanced political maturity.

Frankie, it’s like this.  ‘Envelope’ federalism is a system that cares only that you not get more than 100 marbles.  You can have Liberal red ones or Tory blue; in fact, even if the NDP ever form the national government, they will insist that all the marbles are orange, the same colour as their favourite ice cream.  This little fact is important for road signs, you see.  One Party would not want another to get credit it should receive. But, always remember, it matters less what the colour is, as long as the number of marbles you get, add up to no more than 100. 

Now Paul, you had your hand up?  Paul wants to know if ‘envelope’ federalism applies to the loan guarantee for Muskrat Falls…an important question.  Fast progress, Paul.  The answer is an unequivocal, YES.  If Dunderdale wants a loan guarantee, the PM will give her one, or “…equivalent”, as he skillfully noted.  (But the loan guarantee has to benefit Nova Scotia, else the PM might not be quite as interested.  Ironically, the Nova Scotia PUB may be our best shot at killing this “nutty” project before it bankrupts us.  But, I digress.)   

The federal bureaucrats will tally up the cost of that “equivalency” (they are so good at it, they can even do it, en francais!).  They will also figure out where best to take back “equivalent” marbles, so that the number of marbles are kept nice and even and so that none of the big cabinet ministers and none of the big provinces complain that we are getting more than our share.  You have already seen a couple of Coast Guard Centers close.  Funding to all the regional development councils will end, as announced; the claw back of marbles for the loan guarantee has barely even begun!
The Muskrat Falls guarantee or ‘equivalent’ is likely worth around $300 million. That, my friends, is a lot of marbles.

Yes, Judy, yes? If Premier Dunderdale understood how federalism worked, why would she be calling the PM at all.   Well, she doesn’t understand federalism, you see, Judy. 

If the Premier understood federalism she would not ask Harper for anything. 

Instead, she would hammer the bejeepers out of the Prime Minister; hammer him for what he gives her and she would hammer him harder for what he didn’t.  Plus, she would hammer him for what he takes away. 

That way, she would become the most popular NL Premier ever, perhaps even as popular as Danny Williams.  How do you think Danny did it? 

Had she attended my Boot Camp, Dunderdale might have been a truly beloved Premier. 

And, oh! yes, she might not be losing so many of her marbles!