Friday, 28 October 2016
Mixed Signals & Fiscal Fidgeting
Mixed Signals & Fiscal Fidgeting
By: Ryan Young
Yesterday we saw the release of the provincial fall fiscal update from Finance Minister Cathy Bennett. Mrs. Bennett has certainly come a long way from her tough talk in Budget 2016. Despite harsh criticisms for her predecessors and even harsher budget measures imposed on the people, Bennett has softened considerably since the spring, and has apparently lost her appetite for fiscal solvency. Thanks to increased oil revenues and the massive tax grab that was Budget 2016, our provincial deficit has been reduced from $1.8 Billion, to just under $1.6 Billion. Not much was said about the Liberals magical plan to get spending under control, but we were promised a “vision statement” from the premier in the very near future. It seemed that Bennett was at odds with many of her previous statements about her economic plan, but as we all know, communication is not this governments strong suit.
Trying to follow government messaging since last November has been an adventure, to say the least. Remember when Dwight Ball called the HST a job killer and repealed the 2% hike, only to reinstate it in the budget just a few months later? Former Liberal insiders have said that Cathy was never happy with Dwight’s opposition to the HST hike, knowing full well that we would need the revenue that it would provide. But once Dwight walked out in front of the camera and denounced the action as a “job killer,” the rest of the crew had no choice but to go along for the ride. As we all know, they formed government on a campaign platform full of wistful promises and within six months, Dwight had to bring back the job killing HST hike.
Then there was also the issue of job cuts. Dwight Ball was very quick to declare every job safe under a new Liberal government, but shortly after taking office, Cathy was telling us that everything was on the table. When we finally got to the budget, there were 650 public sector jobs cut. Despite the public outcry and comparisons to “Clyde Lied,” Bennett assured us that action was necessary to get the fiscal situation under control and to expect more action in the fall. Her very words from the budget speech were:
“Given the seriousness and scope of the current and forecasted fiscal situation, a new approach is required that moves beyond the traditional single year budget efforts. Budget 2016 contains decisive actions, and will be followed by more actions in a supplemental budget later this fall in conjunction with the Fall Fiscal update.”
This, of course, had us all bracing for cuts. High priced consultants were brought in to assist with labor negotiations, and the people could almost hear the knives being sharpened on Confederation Hill. Cathy had already told us that the spring budget was about “revenue actions” and the fall would see new “expenditure actions,” so it was odd when Dwight told us over the summer that the fall budget was not about cuts, but about creating new sources of revenue for Newfoundlander’s and Labradorians. Then, in September they decided to scrap the fall budget altogether and go with a fiscal update.
All of this is great political jargon. The Liberals are masters at it. But when push came to shove, it the government had little stomach for facing more outrage and protests against more broken promises. I’m sure most people were quite happy to not have to endure any more cuts, but at the end of the day we are still left with a deficit of nearly $1.6 Billion, and no clear plan of how our government expects to deal with it. We were told that the premier finally has a vision, and that he is even going to tell us about it. They just won’t tell us when, although I fully expect it will be at the party AGM next weekend In Gander.
At this point in the game, I am not sure if our premier could gain back the trust of the people if he walked down over Long’s Hill with two burning tablets with a plan written by the big man himself. The repeated government gaffes and communication breakdowns have brought things to the point that even when this government does or says something good, it is greeted with cynicism and negativity. With this government’s entire first year being comprised of deception, backtracking, and continuously changing their own narrative on the fly, is it any wonder that approval ratings are the lowest in the country?
I often write negatively about this government, but so far they have not given me much of anything positive to write about. I want them to do better, because when they do better, we all do better. I want them to be able to create effective programs and do a better job of managing government spending. I want to believe that they have a plan in place to guide our province through this rough patch and back into prosperity. I am not an anti-liberal any more than I am an anti-pc or anti-ndp. I could care less about partisan politics. What I care about is results. If this government has a plan, I want to hear it. I think we have all endured enough buzz-words and slogans. The people are desperate for real change.
All the people of the province really want is for this government to engage us on our concerns, and tell us their plan for the future. We were promised that under their watch things would be done differently, but so far it has just business as usual. Unfortunately, they seem to think that governing is the same as an running an election campaign where you must keep your cards close to your chest. Nobody disagrees that this government came into power in a tough spot, but they have been quick to find every opportunity to dig that hole deeper and use up all their political capital on deception, reactionary policy making, and bad communication. Nobody knows what this government stands for, and they have been trying their hardest to keep us all in the dark. Sooner or later someone is going to have to figure out how to communicate with people. If not, it’s going to be a long few years until 2019. Cathy said the premier has a vision, I hope it starts with learning how to talk to the people.