Monday, 22 April 2019


Except for the ardent cynic, a sprinkling of magic transforms even the dullest bore. The Liberals hope that the majority of us still believe. That may explain the recent resplendent shower of pixie dust.

In February an MQO opinion survey put the Liberals (44%) and the Tories (42%) in a virtual tie. What has changed since then to bolster Liberal fortunes? Why call the election now rather than later? Why are Liberal election missiles falling from the sky?

In all likelihood, the numbers were not as bad for the Liberals as the MQO Poll indicated. While polls are a mere snapshot in time, any analysis gets weaker as statistics are bundled. The MQO Poll combined “decided” and “leaning” voters. 

In contrast, a Corporate Research Associates (CRA) Poll, also conducted in February, gave 45% to the Liberals against 38% for the PCs and 16% for the NDP. This is a much clearer picture. The large “undecided/refused” category at 34% compared with 40% in the MQO Poll — a big uncertainty factor — helps explain the Liberals’ pre-campaign juggernaut of election goodies.

Another important statistic is the perception of the Party leaders. The MQO Poll gave Ball a mean score of 5.2 on a 10-point scale. In contrast, the CRA Poll favoured Ball 38% to 31% for Paul Davis/Ches Crosbie.

They are not great numbers for either leader, especially for the Premier. But taken together they award Ball a clear edge, particularly when the advantage of incumbency is added.

Besides better numbers, what would have influenced Ball’s decision to go now? The NDP will have to re-think itself and, for now, is not a threat to anyone. NL Alliance has no definable base. Ches Crosbie is not charisma incarnate.  

The Commission of Inquiry into the Muskrat Falls project is exposing a tale of possible malfeasance at worst and, at best, gross deception, incompetence and stupidity which will dog the Tories.

Of course, politics is never static. There is always a flip side.

The Ball Administration has overseen Muskrat for over three years. Fired Astaldi has been replaced, the software problem allowing minimal power loading on the LIL persists, and the synchronous condensers, essential for balancing the grid, are undergoing an expensive re-work. Those are just the problems we know about. Another cost increase and another schedule delay is a virtual certainty. The “stop/go” analysis for Muskrat that some critics sought, and which Ball refused, is not an off-the-wall idea after all.

Then, too, NL’s $23 billion debt has no insulation from the vagaries of a global economic slowdown, rising international trade tensions and ‘toppy’ equity markets, all of which could have a negative, or worse an untimely, influence on future borrowing.

While elections are fought on the basis of a glass “half-full”, election timing requires a common sense nod to one “half-empty”. Hence, the thinking: ‘the Polls are not great but could get a lot worse, the Feds’ Atlantic Accord transfer is politically positive… the rest we can make up.’ The fiction writers have been busy.

Ches Crosbie, on the other hand, ought to have positioned himself to contrast with an abominably indecisive Premier. Incumbent Tory MHAs ought to have been shown the exit for their association with the Muskrat disaster. Crosbie ought to have been ready with new blood. He must surely hope that the district nomination process will attract more Sheila Fitzgeralds to provincial politics. Fitzgerald, who is Mayor of Roddickton, reported on Twitter that, after 21 years as a social work supervisor, she is quitting her job having been denied leave to run.

Crosbie has shared other lucky breaks.

Inexplicably, Ball has never properly framed Muskrat as the lynch-pin of Tory incompetence, even though he should have. The decision to let the PUB come up with a Plan for $700 million of rate mitigation suggests he never intended it to be an integral part of his election platform. Did the “CHEAP” Plan force the Liberals to abandon the PUB to perform one-upmanship with Ches’ fiction? Both Plans are based not on fiscal room but on public ignorance of mitigation’s impossibility.

Governments, far more than Oppositions, are held to account when they mislead the public. Why would the Ball Government have put itself on the same level as the perpetrators? Except that, from the moment the Premier eschewed responsibility for Ed Martin's $1.4 million severance, the Premier has not requited himself well in the integrity department.

That said, nothing could have prepared political watchers for the frenetic pace of election announcements. While a front-end-loaded Atlantic Accord transfer preceded the march to the microphones, the airwaves were abuzz with a new $200M correctional facility, elimination of the sales tax on insurance and of the deficit levy, too. The Budget address was rendered meaningless, and not just by prorogation of the House.

The whole show constituted less the equivalent of a surgical strike in pursuit of votes than an all-out military bombardment. It was so over-the-top no one cared that the Federal Finance Minister arrived in town empty handed.

On re-assessment, the Liberals’ massive roll-out of public expenditures, in a province financially broke, speaks to a Government insecure about re-election.

A big irony is the $1 million McKinsey Plan that included 30,000 jobs mostly in the tourism sector. $15/hour used to be a signing bonus for the workers at Bull Arm, Hebron, Vale and Muskrat. The McKinsey Plan includes the wages, too.

Still, the showering of Liberal goodies should have elicited something more than peevishness from Crosbie. His reply contained neither criticism nor an alternative, only that Liberal hacks were favoured with investments in cannabis. That’s an important issue. But right now there is only this question: “What’s your plan, Ches?” Crosbie needed to say: “This government is a failure and this is what I intend to do if my Party replaces them.”

In a democratic society, elections should speak to pride of place, of accomplishment, plans for the future and, ultimately, respect. Contempt is the prerogative of the governed, not the government. The showering display of false promises is a contemptuous act by an Administration desperate to be re-elected.

It is a failing in our character as a society that we embrace the notion that government spending and our pocketbooks are not linked. Pixie dust, in the style of the Ball Government, perpetuates the notion. In this case contempt may be warranted, but voters ought to know that it is still, nevertheless, contempt.