The Way Forward
By: Ryan Young
After nearly two years of being told that the Liberals had a plan and that we were going to like it, Dwight Ball finally released his vision document yesterday. They have still not explained why the creation of this plan required years of cloak and dagger operations, but alas, we have finally been let in on the Liberal’s guiding vision for the future of our province. It might have been a better idea to release this plan in conjunction with the budget last spring, so that we might have been able to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen and the Liberals have spent the last seven months burning political capital like the Tories burned the oil money. There are some good things in the document, but I fear that even the positive moves that the government has announced will be met with skepticism and cynicism.
The Way Forward’s guiding principles are “We will do better with less,” and “We will collaborate.” The document includes three phases that will guide the outlined goals from consultation to implementation.
Phase one is called “Securing our Footing: The First Six Months.” The document explains that the first phase focuses on rapidly implementing initiatives to reduce spending and support economic growth.
Phase two is called “Realizing our Potential: Six to Eighteen Months.” We are told that the second phase focuses on actions to reverse negative socio-economic indicators that prevent economic growth and drive up public expenditures.
Phase three is called “Building for our Future: Beyond Eighteen Months.” Government promises that the third phase will focus on creating long-term conditions for growth in the province by investing in the future, including redesigning government services to fit demographics of the future and investing in children and youth.
At the end of each phase a report card will be released to measure progress, and government maintains that its decisions will be evidence-based, measurable, and concrete. The plan also laid out it’s four major objectives which are; a more efficient public sector, a stronger economic foundations, better services, and better outcomes.
The meat of the plan is designed to explain how each of the four objectives will be met within each phase. The language is very government-y (what the heck is a government silo?) and hard to read, but it does outline some clear timelines for many of the key points. In some cases, the only commitment is to do more consultation but there are some good objectives in there if they can achieve them.
Phase one contains the majority of initiatives and goals and starts by outlining the first steps towards a more efficient public sector. It looks at things like reducing the government footprint by reducing office space, adopting a leaner management structure, and reducing silos in government operations. What that actually means is that they will attempt to govern based on a broad approach with collaboration within departments instead of our current system of stand alone departments that do not communicate well. If they can accomplish that in any form at all it will be a positive move. As part of the plan to reduce these silos, government agencies, boards, and commissions will be cut by 20%, a new unified transportation assistance program will be implemented, and marketing and engineering services will be consolidated instead of being spread across all departments. It will also look at reducing red tape, utilizing zero-based budgeting, and procuring the Corner Brook Long-Term Care Facility.
To tackle a stronger economic footing in phase one, the government will enhance access to crown lands, increase immigration by 50% by 2022, double resident and non-resident spending by 2020, develop a provincial tourism product development plan, facilitate a transition to ground fish, and introduce a new procurement act. These are lofty goals and without any real details, it is hard to imagine that some of these are realistic targets. I spent over a decade working in the tourism industry and if the government plans to double our tourism spending it will need to do much more than invest in marketing campaigns and throw money at existing operators. Things like training, insurance, and co-operative marketing initiatives will all need to be addressed to facilitate such a large increase in spending in just a few short years. I will remain optimistic that they can reach these goals but I am not sold that they can pull it off. The language is also tricky as it plans to double 2009 spending, not 2016 spending.
The next part moves on to achieving better services. It discusses establishing a major investment projects unit, a multi year infrastructure plan, improvements to provincial roads, a marine infrastructure plan, advancing regional collaboration, a review of the NL Housing Corporation, designation of industry facilitators for natural resources, and positioning NL as a globally preferred location for oil and gas development. Again, all of these are great sounding initiatives but there are few details to explain how the desired outcomes will be achieved and how they will improve intergovernmental communication to ensure that the aforementioned silos are reduced.
The final part of phase one focuses on better outcomes. It is no secret that we have an outcomes problem in this province and it is important that the government says that it is willing to create and fund programs based on the achievement of these outcomes. In an attempt to repair the division between the island and Labrador that is happening right now, the document promises to establish a leader’s roundtable with indigenous governments and organizations. It also promises a Health-in-all-Policies approach that will consider health effects during the creation and/or revision of policy. It also promises to respond to the recommendations of the All-Party Committee on Mental Health and Addictions, modernize the College of the North Atlantic, increase collaboration between CAN and MUN, and proceed with the Premier’s Taskforce on Improving Educational Outcomes.
As you can see the government has bitten off quite a bit for the first six months of its plan. As much as they have worked hard to get the right things down on paper, without a clear implementation plan for each part, it is hard to imagine that they will be able to deliver on all of these objectives in the timeframes allotted and it will be important that people keep them accountable to these timelines.
The next part of the document moves on to phase two that covers from six to eighteen months. The focus of this second phase is to undertake action to reverse negative social and economic indicators that are preventing economic growth and driving up public expenditures. Concrete steps will be announced with the report card on our Government’s progress on phase one of The Way Forward.
The second phase looks at creating a more efficient public sector by strategically leveraging federal funding, supporting innovative work solutions, and implementing more effective business financing. To improve our economic footing, they promise to; release a business innovation agenda, increase the number of social enterprises, introduction of a status of the artist act, increase revenues through international education, increase mining activity, and support growth in the aquaculture industry. Again, these all sound like very good initiatives on paper but the proof will come in the implementation plan that will put these ideas into reality.
To achieve better services and better outcomes in phase two, the plan discusses; improving community support services, implementation of an individualized funding model, and one window, multi-year community grants. They also plan to expand primary health care teams, implement healthy living initiatives, implement child health risk assessments for school-aged children, implement healthy living assessments for seniors, streamline financial assessment process for community support services and long-term care, implement responsive justice and public safety measures, provide increased educational support to disengaged and at-risk students and youth, improve the performance of child protection services, advance and finalize land claims and self-government agreements, and release a climate change action plan.
The final part of the document, phase three, focuses on measuring progress beyond eighteen months. The description given explains that The Way Forward is a living document. Each year, our Government will announce the actions we will take to help realize our vision. The focus of the third phase of the vision is to create long-term conditions for growth by investing in the future, including redesigning government services to fit demographics of the future and investing in children and youth. In pursuit of these objectives, our Government has set down a variety of long-term goals to establish a stronger economic foundation and achieve better outcomes for Newfoundlanders and Labradorians.
Phase three promises to measure progress through targets such as:
-By 2022-23, our Government will return to surplus.
-By 2022-23, our Government will return to surplus.
-By 2022, Newfoundland and Labrador will have increased its food self-sufficiency to at least 20 per cent. Our province is currently only about ten per cent self-sufficient in its food requirements.
-By 2020, there will be a 20 per cent increase in timber allocations and harvest levels over the previous five-year period.
-By 2018, the water area available for development to support growth of the salmon industry will have increased to 50,000 MT and the mussel industry will have increased to 10,750 MT annually.
-By 2020, Newfoundland and Labrador’s annual tourism spending by residents and non-residents will be double 2009 levels.
-By 2022, immigration to Newfoundland and Labrador will increase by 50 per cent. In 2015, Newfoundland and Labrador welcomed just over 1100 immigrants.
-By 2025, Newfoundland and Labrador’s breastfeeding initiation rate will increase by seven per cent. The current provincial rate is 72.7 per cent, while the national rate is 90 per cent.
-By 2025, Newfoundland and Labrador’s obesity rate will be reduced by five per cent. The current provincial obesity rate is 30.4 per cent, while the national rate is 20.2 per cent.
-By 2025, Newfoundland and Labrador’s smoking rate will be reduced by four per cent. The current provincial smoking rate is 21.7 per cent. This target will bring us to the national rate of 18.1 per cent.
-By 2025, Newfoundland and Labrador will increase our physical activity rate by seven per cent. The current provincial rate of physical activity during leisure is 48.3 per cent. This seven per cent increase will see Newfoundland and Labrador surpass the national rate of 53.7 per cent.
-By 2025, Newfoundland and Labrador residents will increase their rate of vegetable and fruit consumption by five per cent. The current provincial rate is 25.7 per cent, while the national rate is 39 per cent.
It is encouraging to see our government engaging in some lofty goals after keeping us waiting for so long. The Way Forward Plan contains some very good ideas and is capable of being part of the solution on restoring this provinces finances without a drastic reduction in services. While there are certainly some parts of the plan that contain questionable targets, there are many initiatives included that would be very positive for the province. While the document does require some expansion, by all accounts it is a good place for our government to start addressing the major problems we are facing. So, what is the problem?
Governments and political parties are very good at putting positive things on paper, but that does not always translate into policy decisions. This government has not exactly done a very good job of keeping the trust of the people after campaigning on an unrealistic platform that led to them breaking far too many promises when the budget came down last spring. It also abandons several key issues that the Liberals promised to address such as child care, democratic reform, injured workers, and many more. While we should be cautiously optimistic about The Way Forward, many are already rolling their eyes and saying that all we got was another pile of lies from Dwight. I don’t want to be quite as cynical myself. Even a broken clock is right twice a day, and this government is overdue to make some positive decisions. We are all angry with Dwight Ball and his government but we still need to support them when they make positive policy decisions. We have not seen many of those yet, but we have to hope that they are committed to implementing much of this plan in the timeframes they have outlined.
One thing is certain, if the government fails to deliver on The Way Forward they will be nailed to the wall at every opportunity. It was easy to say that something was coming, but now that the document is out the Liberal’s will need to be 100% committed or else face the wrath of the people again. Some of their goals and objectives are questionable and they will need to find ways to deliver on them. I am sure that they left the document vague on purpose, but the people will want details and they will want them soon. There will be no hiding if the government is unable to fulfill the promises that it has made this week. At this point I am going to stay open to the possibilities, while at the same time holding the governments feet to the fire to make sure that they do what they said they would do. Things have changed and many people no longer have the wool over their eyes. Now that we know The Way Forward, they had better make sure we get there.
Read the document here: http://www.gov.nl.ca/pdf/the_way_forward.pdf