Monday, 25 May 2020


One year after the General Election, Ches Crosbie’s pathetically weak Opposition should not go unnoticed. Neither should NDP Alison Coffin’s entirely un-influential role, despite holding the balance of power holding up a minority government. 

Another year of the same is layered onto a fifteen year legacy of disastrous public administration under Williams, Dunderdale, Marshall, and Davis and Ball. Each has built on the thesis of Lord Amulree, whose Royal Commission Report suggested that the British Constitution is not suited to the people of Newfoundland. That is to say, we are incapable of self-government. Crosbie and Coffin have done their part, too, to strengthen Amulree’s claim.

The problem of perennially weak and fiscally irresponsible leadership is exacerbated by weak institutions and a belief in government as a “bottomless pit” of largesse. Few, it seems, including the Opposition leaders, want to be associated with public policies that are directed towards the goal of a progressive, fiscally prudent, and productive society.  A fact, poorly understood, is that not just Governments but weak Opposition Parties also play a role in fostering an environment in which poor public policy is applauded.

Oppositions are every bit as critical to the functioning of the democratic state as is any government. In this province, weak Governments are thought of as “opportunity”; Oppositions believe that their function is that of a “government-in-waiting” when it is solely that of “loyal opposition”, the basis of parliamentary government.

We should cringe when people opine — as they often do — that Government and Opposition Parties should “work more closely together”. Likely, the mantra is nothing more than an expression of frustration with bad government. Still, sensible people ought to encourage Oppositions to do their job: to “oppose unwise public policy”, to “communicate better”, to “espouse their ideas (if they have any)” and to be “loud and boisterous.”

“Co-operation” from Oppositions is license for governments to suppress information, limit public debate, hide abuses of power, and shield their most grievous errors.

What is it about Muskrat Falls that we still do not understand?

Whether your views accord with this traditional view of the role of “Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition” or not, you might ask yourself: what public policy has Tory Leader Ches Crosbie influenced — even minimally — since his election in 2018?

Has he railed against the Liberals’ successive deficit Budgets, which have entrenched a massive “structural deficit” begun by Danny Williams?

Did he admonish the Ball Government’s continued march over our fiscal cliff?

Has he been engaged in the Muskrat Falls fiasco which, while begun by Williams, continues to be mangled under Ball beyond a state of mere incompetence to one of abject neglect and irresponsibility?

Has he brought any air to an airless Legislature, the very place where scrutiny and official accountability ought to find expression?

Can you think of one clever question that challenged the (not terribly bright) Members opposite?

(Let’s not use “clever” to described the Opposition’s tepid handling of the Government’s support for Bill C-69 giving the federal government control over the environmental assessment process for offshore oil industry.)

The Province is dealing with a pandemic. Our “island” geography has afforded a rare advantage to keep it at bay. It took the Ball Administration 5–6 weeks — and not a small amount of cajoling by private citizens — to get the Premier and his Health Minister to stop “talking” for a minute, and to deal with the most viable sources of threat from the Coronavirus: the air and seaports.

This was a time for Ches Crosbie to bang on the doors of the Telegram, CBC, NTV and VOCM and to demonstrate his own energy and engagement, his proximity to the issue. No such luck! He couldn’t even get Bill 38 right — which restricts travel by temporary residents — having aided in its construction and voted for it.

Then there is the existential issue.

Little imagination is required to shutter an economy and to pay people to stay home. Political leadership, however, is found not in the convenience of deferring decision-making to the bureaucrats in the Department of Health, but to the weighing of the public health threat with the substantial shutdown of the whole economy. The Chief Public Health Officer does not have an economic mandate; Fitzgerald’s job is to use her resources — such as they are — to minimize the spread of the virus. Achieving that objective, while not crashing the economy, is the role of the Premier and the Government – not Fitzgerald’s.

The Leader of the Opposition ought to have played a very public role in this process, but he has been as absent from the periphery as much as from the epicenter of pandemic issues and how they ought to be addressed.

Whether he personally agrees with the Government’s approach or not is secondary; he has an obligation to articulate the concerns of the public and of business, many of whom will not get back up from the much-exaggerated period of shutdown. His May 19th tweet is hardly an example of earnest preoccupation with an economic and heath care debacle, either.
Equally, Crosbie’s re-tweet of David Brazil’s comment on the healthcare backlog system — largely shuttered by the lack of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) — is hardly indicative of an Opposition that is knowledgeable or even empathetic of the 14,500 deferred surgeries that are playing havoc with people’s physical and mental health.

He has no views on our having the lowest rate of testing per capita, no views on why other Island states — Iceland, New Zealand, South Korea — have re-opened their economies so much earlier. With little in place to ward off a dreaded “second wave” of the virus, he offers no assurance that he has even checked on whether the belated protocols at air/seaports are being enforced or taken seriously (tracing).  

Someone with more energy and a desire to work for the Premiership, rather than feeling entitled to it, might even have had the courage to nudge a few reporters and suggest their slavish attention to, and repetition of, mind-numbing - and often mindless - “official” pandemic verbosity has strong echoes of “we need the power” and “lowest cost option”. Change does not come easily from any quarter!

Still, it is Crosbie's job to get their attention except that you won't find him banging his shoe on anyone's podium.

The reward of “high-office” is an unfortunate reward for someone so laid back.

A no different view applies to NDP Leader Alison Coffin, if anyone remembers her name. 

Someone must have told her that her job description does not include politics.

Both should get in the game or follow Dwight Ball out to pasture.