The bad script is really symptomatic of larger problems. After all that has been said in the media, these past few months, regarding poor governance, poor leadership and profligate spending, it might have been a reasonabe expectation that the Government would signal, in a new Session of the Legislature, that it was ready to take responsibility for the our fiscal mess. The Dunderdale, together with the former Williams’ Government, largely helped create it. As a precursor to the Budget, we might have expected the broad strokes of a plan to invoke change and earn the public trust.
What was on offer was disappointing. It eschewed any responsibility for the predicament in which the Government finds itself. It contained none of the markers that suggest the Administration is trying to rehabilitate itself from a very shaky beginning or that it is learning from the messages sent via a series of bad Polls. The Speech confirms that the Premier lacks an understanding of the demands of public administration or of the themes and ideas that underpin a Government’s heft.I don’t think a Lieutenant Governor has ever been asked to refer to the First Minister as “My Premier”. “My Government” has a constitutional basis; “My Premier” does not. In Cabinet Government, the Premier is merely the “First” among equals. Perhaps, this First Minister feels some sense of déjà vu for the heel clicking Latvian, Dr. Alfred Valdmanis, who paid deference to former Premier Smallwood, with the same boot licking salutation. “My Premier”; indeed.
Irksome, yes, but the Speech had greater shortcomings.
The Government recounts the financial condition of the Province before oil; then, it proceeds to take credit for rescuing us from the worse statistics. States the Speech: “Thanks to the leadership of My Premier and My Government, and the deliberate efforts we have taken together since 2003, all that has changed”. Not oil revenue, not the Atlantic Accord, not the leadership of the Peckford Administration, almost three decades ago, and not the perseverance of ordinary citizens, contends the Premier; it was her leadership that has gotten us where we are, today.
Note, too, that no attempt by this Premier was made to differentiate her Administration from that of Danny Williams. Perhaps, the two are peas in the same pod. Though Danny, likely, would not see himself, as Dunderdale’s equal.
When oil is mentioned, the Speech notes that prices have experienced “…large and unpredictable price fluctuations on the world market” and states that Ottawa and the western provinces have been equally side swiped. Of course, there is no mention of Alberta’s huge discount to the WTI price (the benchmark for western Canadian crude) caused by its inadequate pipeline system to the U.S. and the enormous cost of sending oil on rails. Nor was there any reference to the fact that Newfoundland’s oil is priced, not on the basis of WTI, at all, but on the Brent crude price, affording NL oil a substantially higher valuation. And, it doesn’t mention that her Administration failed to include a discount, to the forecast estimate last year, and essentially using the estimate of $124/barrel as a budget ‘plug’.
Some lines, in the Throne Speech, are just plain silly. As an example, on page 5, we are treated to a piece of fiction over the Government’s attempts to control public spending. States the Speech, “Still, there are some voices in this province calling loudly for us to take this other path – to grow the size and cost of the public sector and raise taxes and public debt levels to pay for it. These same voices have also disagreed with My Government’s decision to develop Muskrat Falls”.
This statement is not credible. Only the Public Sector Unions have been opposed to Budget cuts and lay-offs. None of them have called for higher taxes; all the Unions have been in favour of Muskrat Falls (which I believe, they will all come to regret).
The next train of thought has a humorous side. I don't know if His Honor was able to maintain a straight face: “We are running the government the way a sound business is run – in accordance with effective management principles” (page 6).
I believe I am on safe ground if I postulated that business simply would not survive if it emulated the spending practices of this Administration.
Still, the Government evidently thought it a credible proposition. The Speech offers this additional comment: “We cannot dismiss out-of-hand the suggestion that there might be better approaches worth trying just because things have been done a certain way year after year”. Peter Drucker, the guru of business management would cringe at the thought that unbridled spending followed by drastic job cuts constituted any management style, at all. Recklessness is not a strategy favoured, in any of his books, dealing with the subject.
Later, on page 6, we are informed that, ““Thinking outside the box” is not just a catch phrase: it is a principle we are embracing...”
No, Premier, it is not a principle. It is a good idea. But, it is not a principle. I am not going to explain the difference.
On Page 7, we finally see a glimpse that the Government may be entering the light: “Good governance means serving the people as effectively as possible while living within our means. It means making choices that will leave our people better off than they would otherwise be. That is the essence of sustainability”.
Premier, why not just do it?
Much too quickly, on page 9, the Throne Speech disappoints again. It states, “My Government is fulfilling its Blue Book commitment…”
Velcro must have kept the Lieutenant Governor in his seat!
His Honor had to have been horrified being placed in a position where he was forced to endorse the Tory Blue Book…in the Throne Speech, no less! No class among this crowd, Your Honor.
I have a single piece of advice for the new Lieutenant Governor: whether or not you invite anyone from “Your Government” to Government House, any time soon, the fine China won’t be required. I suggest, given Budget constraints, His Honor might trade a cup and saucer for a red marker.