By: Ryan Young
Welcome to 2017, my dear constant readers. As you may have noticed, The Rogue Bayman has been a quiet space for the past couple of weeks. I apologize to my readers who may have been expecting some commentary to digest over the holidays, or some response to the big items that are currently dominating the headlines such as snow clearing and gas prices. I had intended to be more active over Christmas, but after finding my way back home to Bonne Bay on Christmas Eve, I decided to take a step back from writing and commentary to reflect on the year that just passed, and the new one that just began.
The previous year was certainly an eventful one. I don’t think anybody could have predicted the turmoil that resulted from a change in government from the Tories to the Liberals. We all knew that times were tough in the provincial treasury, but when the new Liberal Government brought down their first budget last April, it quickly became apparent that the “Stronger Tomorrow” they had campaigned on was not actually what they intended to deliver. I had contemplated doing a “Best of 2016” style post, but there have been plenty of those to go around, and to be honest, I don’t really have the stomach to go back through it all. Instead, I have decided to do a list of stories to watch for 2017 that I hope you will enjoy.
1. Grieg NL
The proposed aquaculture development by Grieg NL on the south coast was a major story in 2016, and it will likely become an even bigger story in 2017 as the project begins to move forward. The decision by Perry Trimper to excuse Grieg NL from a full environmental assessment has raised many questions about the project and many people are worried about what the negative effects of the development might be. On the other side of the coin, we desperately need the employment that the project will provide for the province, especially with unemployment numbers predicted to hit 20% by 2019. We can expect to see plenty of discussion about this story in the coming year, including a feature post by The Rogue Bayman in the weeks to come.
2. Public Sector Job Cuts
Despite Dwight Ball assuring us over and over again that there would be no public-sector job cuts under a new Liberal government, unions are bracing for a battle as it is becoming apparent that job cuts are very likely on the table for Budget 2017. It is very hard to imagine that the government can reach its own financial targets without job cuts, but they money they save will come with a very deep cost to their political capital, which is already dangerously low. Any job cuts will result in a negative PR campaign by the unions that will likely include more public protests and marches in the streets. With contract negotiations due to begin soon, it will be interesting to follow how this story unfolds in the months ahead.
3. Ed Martin Severance Report
The Ed Martin Severance story dominated the news for several weeks in the spring of 2016 and then it kind of went away as we were asked to wait for the Auditor General to complete an investigation into the matter. The report was expected in the fall, but as of yet we have not heard anything from the office of the AG. People want to know who knew what, and when they knew it. The premier was caught in several lies on the issue, and it was the first of many knocks against Dwight Ball’s credibility. When the report is released it will bring the story back into the light, and from the way I see it, there is no way that Ball can come out of this looking good. He simply lied too many times for people to trust him on this issue. While this may not be enough to force a resignation, this story has the potential to do serious damage to the premier’s already rocky reputation.
There was plenty of talk about backroom deals with Hydro-Quebec during the last sitting of the House of Assembly and I expect that it will evolve into a major story to watch in 2017. For starters, Newfoundlanders and Labradorians have a legendary distrust for Quebec, and in particular, Hydro-Quebec. Even if the government were in a position to get a good deal, (which they are not) it would be a hard sell to the voting public. With the Upper-Churchill renewal kicking in last summer, we were reminded again of that great Smallwoodian giveaway, and people will be wary of any deal with the Quebec boogeyman. Any discussion around developing Gull Island will create even more controversy and will draw the ire of Land Protectors in Labrador and create an even wider divide between the big land and St. John’s. Will Ball and Coady sell out our future once again for a little bit of short-term relief for Muskrat Falls? I guess we will have to wait and see
5. Budget 2017
It might be hard for many to imagine that Budget 2017 will draw the same sort of backlash that Budget 2016 caused, but with the aforementioned public-sector job cuts, the budget this spring will be a major story to watch. With nothing left to tax or put fees on and no real diversification plan, cuts are the only thing the Liberals have left to meet their own financial targets. We can likely expect more cuts to unionized jobs such as teachers and health care providers and less money for programs and services. It is hard to predict how deep the cuts will go, but there will be cuts and people will be angry. There will likely be more protests and marches and if the unions are hit hard they will spend plenty of money to make sure everyone knows that Dwight Ball lied to public-sector workers. No matter how much the government and the media try to portray the problems last year as just bumps in the road, people will not forget, and they will continue to be very vocal in the year ahead.
2017 has the makings to be another very eventful year, and The Rogue Bayman will be here to bring you the issues that matter to you. I believe that while we need to keep the governments feet to the fire on the issues that matter to us, we also need to start looking ahead and talking about how we can do things better. If 2016 was the year of anger and disappointment, then let us make 2017 the year of creativity and innovation. We don’t have to reinvent the wheel. The research and the solutions are out there, we just need to bring it all together and start looking at real evidence-based policy decisions. It is clear that our politicians do not understand the reality of information sharing in our new digital age, and we must continue to share the real truths about our lack of democracy and what we can do to enact real change. I wish you all the very best in the year ahead as we dig in our heels and show this government that we, the people WILL be heard.