Monday, 4 November 2019


Ches Crosbie wants the Government to call a referendum on equalization. He believes it will call attention to the program’s unfair construction and garner support for reform of the system, giving this province some much-needed additional revenue. 

Other than the Schroder Policy Institute’s Upper Churchill proposal — which has been articulated by local artist and entrepreneur Bob Hallett — no ideas have been brought forward to deal with the Province’s full-blown, and largely unacknowledged, fiscal crisis.

This Blog has never assessed Mr. Hallett’s proposal, but it is gratifying that a talented, fresh face has entered the fiscal crisis debate — even though “debate” may be too strong a word.

As to Crosbie’s referendum proposal, we might ask: how sound is the idea? Does it stand on its own merits, needing no other supporting cast of initiatives? Does he have any other ideas?

Is Ches finally ready with a grand reveal?

A personal assessment is that, on the scale of NL’s debt problem, can it be anything more than a single mindless distraction? It is hard to think of it any other way. 
Even if we humour Crosbie and agree that it is a useful tactic among a grocery list, what is the next move? Why isn't he more transparent about his Ches(s) Game?

Mr. Crosbie has so far failed to enunciate any strategy; the suggestion of referendum is dumped on the public mind essentially without explanation.

Why now, anyway?

We have just come through Federal and Provincial General Elections. In neither case was our fiscal nightmare even a subtext, let alone the main issue. Why didn’t Crosbie do something, anything, to make sure that it was the top issue on everyone’s agenda — including those of the Federal Tory Candidates?

In the Federal Election, six Liberals went back to Ottawa not even slightly red-faced by their Federal Finance Minister’s empty hand. Crosbie employed about the same amount of energy as did Premier Ball to prevent that from happening.

In fact, Crosbie has hardly been heard from since last May.

Two weeks ago, the Alberta Government took the none-too-popular step of curbing its spending problem. No one doubts that it will achieve Budget surplus by 2023, in contrast to this Government’s admission that it has given up even the pretense of trying. Finance Minister Tom Osborne thinks debt is a Ferrari and he should test the limits of the tank’s remaining fumes.

What Alberta is doing is called 'self-help'.

Might 'self-help' be a necessary precursor to a bailout here, too, or even to winning support from other Canadians on equalization?  Is that part of the strategy one that Ches is still hiding?

Or, does Ches have no Plan, having found only a bogeyman?

We can complain — and we should — that Quebec will lift $13.1 billion from the Equalization Fund next year, even as it openly advertises its opposition to cross-border economic development in the Country, including pipelines and transmission lines. But carping at Quebec has as much effect as waking a dopey Premier; it’s has no utility in this Confederation, it’s tiresome, too, and it doesn’t solve OUR existential problem.

Starting this week, the House of Assembly is open for Question Period. Will Ches use the first five minutes on his “tactic” and be seated — or does he have something more persuasive in mind?  Is “referendum” the best and only idea on offer?

If it is, has Mr. Crosbie considered the opportunities afforded by minority Government? Has he talked with the Premier about NL's debt crisis? Any new idea is surely one that Ball lacks. Has he spoken with the Leader of the NDP about a referendum? Has he enlisted their  legislative support to kick off his crusade?

Crosbie doesn't need to do a lot to shine. As one wit recently suggested: ‘it isn’t as if the Government is getting by on Ball's charisma. So, what better opportunity will he ever have to provide interesting, alternative leadership proposals than right now, in this Legislature?

But first, he will need to overcome his personal limitations and exhibit a leadership style like he has never done. He has to use the intellect to which he has been credited, and offer solid, supportable ideas. Otherwise, he risks being written-off as a hopeless seat-warmer. It's as simple as that.

We need a referendum to prove we don't like the equalization formula about as much as we need proof we dislike our weather.  But if Ches can prove otherwise, he will soon have plenty of opportunity over the next few days. We have a public pining for Crosbie's grand vision and they shouldn't be denied.

Give him time, Mr. Speaker.

Keep that Speech From the Throne brief, Your Honor!