The Red Tide Recedes as the Grassroots Rise
By: Ryan Young
I don’t think that either Dwight Ball or Cathy Bennett realized what they were doing when they tabled the latest provincial budget on April 14th. It probably didn’t look too bad on paper, just a series of revenue actions and expenditure actions. They probably expected a bit of blow-back and resistance, but nothing of the magnitude they have seen dropped at their doorstep over the past two weeks. People are making noise and have become politically charged to the likes of which we haven’t seen here since Danny’s flag flap roused our inner nationalism back in ‘04. Liberal approval ratings have dropped a full twenty points since the budget dropped, with both the PC’s and NDP almost pulling even with the big red juggernaut that came to power just five months ago in a landslide election victory. The tide is turning on the Liberals, but unfortunately for them, and ultimately us, they don’t understand how big and bad things have gotten, let alone how much worse they are about to get.
It should come as no surprise to anyone who follows politics in this province that the Liberals are now looking like a bunch of moose caught in the headlights up on the Viking Trail. They don’t know what to do. They just can’t understand why people are so mad at them for trying to clean up the mess left by the Tories. They can’t seem to clue in on the fact that people are frustrated with the rhetoric and they want straight answers from the Premier and their MHA’s. Unfortunately, straight answers are not generally offered by party politicians, least of all the current incarnation of Joey’s Liberals.
For anyone who has listened to Dwight Ball speak since he became Liberal leader in 2013, there should be absolutely no surprise at the way he dances around questions like some weird, tongue-flamenco mutant. The man has not answered a straight question since he entered in politics. Mums the word for Dwight and he is the master at duck and cover politics. It has become painfully obvious to all but the most partisan supporters that the Liberals never had a plan to begin with. In fact they never even really tried to make us believe they did. They promised to make lots of plans to make plans, but what they have put together for the people of Newfoundland and Labrador is exactly what Minister Bennett accused the opposition of weaving in the House of Assembly, a tapestry of bologna.
The saddest part about it all is that the Liberals insist that the budget backlash is a communications problem. Well I agree. The communication problem is that they are not willing to listen to the people of the province when they stand up and say “no!” As the people have been quick to remind the premier this week, if you can't listen, you can't lead.Thousands have marched and rallied all across the island and in Labrador to protest this budget and the Liberal deceit and yet Education Minister Dale Kirby dismissed their concerns as” nonsense.” If 10 000 union and grassroots activists converge on Confederation Building next Saturday will they call that nonsense too? The unions have already booked the buses and are calling in all the troops to ramp up the “Dwight-Lied” campaign. I expect that the shouts of the protesters that day won’t be able to be so easily ignored. If Dwight Ball wants to keep leading, he better learn to listen.
Let us not forget that this is a government that was swept to power on the sole merit of not being the Tories. They promised a more open and transparent government and they promised that they would work with the people to come up with solutions. They even spent millions of taxpayer dollars promoting their silly Government Renewal project, offering the illusion of democracy, while at the same time selling out those who elected them to be their protectors. I wonder if Dale Kirby realized that his “nonsense” comment was a direct echo of the arrogance and disdain that we endured under the PCs for all those years. I doubt it. The common sense train seems to have left the station right about the same time he tried to explain to us poor simple folk how closing libraries would actually improve our abysmal literacy rates. It makes it easier to understand how they put this budget together when you start to realize just how stupid they think we are. The Liberals can do their best to keep defending the budget but they should have opened the window at the last rally to hear a thousand angry people saying that they won’t be fooled again. For the ones who have not yet earned their pensions the fear should be very real by now.
I was privileged to be a part of the most recent march and rally on April 29th. I have been involved in protests and marches before, I even marched with a crowd of thousands in Ottawa during the occupy movement in 2011. While each of those experiences was special, the buzz in the air as a thousand people marched upon Confederation Hill was something I had never experienced before. These were not union leaders and politicians, they were real people. Seniors and students, moms and dads, locals and CFA’s all marching side by side. It was the first time I have ever witnessed such a grassroots display of solidarity in our province in my lifetime, and it really brought home how much this budget is going to affect everyone. People are tired of bearing the brunt of the burden. The arrogance is so great on the 8th floor that they don’t even notice that real people are getting mad enough to stand up and take action. People are tired of being lied to and taken for fools. One of the speakers, Gemma Hickey summed it up the best when she said: “We went from have-not, to have, to been had.”
If the Liberals think this movement is going to fizzle out, they may be more out of touch with reality than I thought. A multitude of protests and rallies have already been held all across the province and even more are being planned for the coming weeks and months. That anger will be helped along when the gas tax kicks up in June and when the levy starts hitting paychecks on July 1st, the same day that we are supposed to be honoring the bravest of all Newfoundlander's and Labradoreans for their great sacrifice. And if that is not enough to fan the flames over the summer, Cathy Bennett has promised another budget in the fall. With lots of public sector layoffs expected and even more cuts, the Liberals should be preparing for a long four years. If the next two budgets are anything like this one, I wouldn’t rule out the possibility of pitchforks and an angry mob. The grassroots are rising and people have had enough. As much as this budget stinks, it has inspired people to work and come together in search of the real change that we have been swindled out of so many times before. Our time is now Newfoundland and Labrador. This is your home, stand up and fight for it!