The Funeral March
By: Ryan Young
When Education and Early Childhood Development Minister, Dale Kirby, publicly stated that any teacher cuts in this year’s budget would be made “over my dead body,” most people rolled their eyes at the ministers attempt to make it appear like he was finally ready to stand up for the children of Newfoundland and Labrador. The very next day, we learned that Mr. Kirby was already backtracking on that statement, and what he actually meant was that there would be no change to the teacher allocation formula, but that there was still a possibility of more job losses for teachers.
Of course, Kirby was not literally talking about his own dead body, he was talking about the death of his career. As a long -time advocate for education, Dale Kirby became known for being stubborn and voters had assumed that after four years on the opposition side criticizing education policies, that he would be a good man to get our system back on track. Nobody could have predicted that Kirby would quickly cut education in this province to the bone, a term that was a favourite of his when in opposition. He is already feeling the heat, and he knows that further cuts to education will certainly hasten the end of his time in our House of Assembly.
Nothing was spared in education last spring. Teacher cuts, busing cuts, library cuts, and child care cuts were all offered up as part of Cathy’s directive to trim 30% from each budget. The provincial child care budget alone took a 16% cut in funding, just months after Kirby had ridiculed former minister Clyde Jackman at a public child care forum where he promised investment, not cuts. I’m sure that everyone understands that the province is in a tough place, but when you make a career out of advocating for better education and then when you finally have the chance to make a difference, your first act is to make dramatic cuts, people are going to question your credibility. Kirby has continued to defend his actions by blaming the opposition whenever a serious question is asked of him and has refused to take responsibility for any actions or comments he has made. All of this has elevated him to the same level of disdain that people have for the premier and the finance minister.
If you read my last post, you would know that credibility is a big problem for our government. With the House of Assembly open again, the Liberals have continued to dodge questions and dance around the issues, all the while pointing the finger of blame back at the opposition side every single time a serious issue is raised. Dwight Ball continues to throw his own credibility under the bus by maintaining his Ed Martin story, and Cathy Bennett maintains that her fiduciary responsibility to Nalcor, a crown company owned by the people, trumps her responsibility to protect the people of the province by providing pertinent information to government about the corporation. If that was indeed the case legally, then why was Bennett ever appointed as a minister in the first place? How can we have a finance minister that stated publicly that her first responsibility is to the Nalcor board and not the people of this province that she was elected to represent?
Politics is a world built on trust. You don’t always have to make the most popular decisions, as long as the people feel that you are being honest with them. Governments in this province and elsewhere have quite often been able to get themselves out of trouble by coming clean with the people and providing a clear plan of action. For this government, it seems to be more about duck and cover and one-way communication. Trust does not seem to be a matter of concern as the tendency has been to not be honest until evidence is presented that forces them to acknowledge the truth. Even when faced with blatant facts, such as in the recent Auditor General’s report into Ed Martin’s severance, they continue to go with their own story, despite the fact that everyone in the province knows that they are not being honest.
Trust is something that when broken, is very hard to get back. Most governments realize this, and work very hard to ensure that those values shine through in their interaction with the people. In our case, government has failed at every turn to be upfront and honest, or to provide us with a clear plan of what their intentions are. The Way Forward is a lovely document, but one that is very short on details and facts, and even when they make announcements that sound positive, hard facts are always left out in favour of spin and fluff. Even after all of the public outrage and backtracks in the past year, they still can’t manage to come out and have a real conversation with the people about the issues.
Despite the millions spent in communications, it seems like every single time a government member opens their mouth, something comes out wrong. This is a tell-tale sign that the decision makers in this province are not in tune with the wants and the needs of the people of this province. People are tired of the same old political games. They want the real change they were promised and they want their elected officials to listen to them. Kirby’s “over my dead body” quip has been a gold mine for cartoonists, media, and bloggers, but it does raise the issue that there will likely be many “dead bodies” of political careers after the next election. Cue The Funeral March…