23 June 2009

There’s no pleasing some people

That’s the thing about being a political saviour.

People expect you to save them.

There’s no good complaining, as Danny Williams did last week with the host of a local talk radio show.

Not only do you manage to overshadow your own good-news announcement less than an hour after you made it, people don’t really care any more about the umpteenth round of good news.

In central Newfoundland, people are not happy since the major private-sector employer left Grand Falls-Windsor and the provincial government stepped in to scoop up the most lucrative asset, the hydro-electric generators owned by three companies.

The provincial government resisted calls for financial assistance before finally coughing up $35 million for some. Others have gone looking for a bit of provincial help and have been told  - as some of them might see it - to sod off. The local chamber of commerce and the town aren’t happy either since, as the chamber put it, the whole thing looks like the region has lost while the province – read provincial government  - has gained.

And if all that wasn’t bad enough, CBC’s Here and Now is reporting that people the Premier’s own district are worrying that their mill – the last paper-making operation in the province – might also be in jeopardy.

Then there are the 10,000 or so in the fishery reeling under the downturn in markets for their products.  Ask talk show host Randy Simms about them.

Then there’s health care.  On another radio call-in show last week, this time on CBC, Danny Williams made it plain he hasn’t been thrilled with the string of strings about problems in health care.

Compared to previous administrations of any political stripe,  Danny Williams and his administration have had a relatively easy time of things.  The usual local political demands have either never materialised or were met with the cash.  No one got a “no” unless there was a good reason.

Those days appear to be over.  The global recession is producing economic problems and political demands, that seem fairly typical for anyone watching local politics for more than the past few minutes, are surfacing with unsettling regularity.

As much as it is pretty simple to criticize Danny Williams’ for his public tirade last week, that litany of problems recited above is probably the view from his office.  As much as he claims to be an optimist, and as much as Williams talks about the bright future, the view from his office window must seem pretty bleak.  before the current stuff there was breast cancer and before that there was the House of Assembly scandal.  Neither of those is over and, given some media, it seems like it might never go away.

Inside the office, things must surely be stressful.  Government is a tough place to work at the best of times.  There are all manner of problems and issues that crop up.   Cabinet government is designed to manage that by distributing the power to make decisions among different people.  Pull everything together into the Premier’s Office and it can seem to the few people on the end where the spray comes out like  the three inch fire hose of demands is always running on high and that someone has secretly replaced the line with a six inch gusher. 

On top of that, consider that the provincial Tory administration can no longer blame everything on the crowd that went before.  They are now in control and everything is theirs to manage.  That’s a normal transition for every government to make:  after a certain period, every government hits the point where they have effectively taken ownership of government and they see themselves as indistinguishable from it.  

The current administration has been able to work through the past few years thanks to oil money and the lack of any coherent political demands from the province as a whole. They wandered through the first six months and whatever they set in place back them has largely become the pattern. They gained control of the political agenda by inertia and default.

Countless items got left behind in the meantime, a sure sign of a government that took office without the plan of action it claimed to have.  major projects get tackled one at a time, in serial fashion.    Even if this administration isn’t run entirely from one office on the eighth floor of the East Block, it gets pretty hard for cabinet to form a cohesive team if half the people aren’t working every day in the same place (or even the same town) and get together only every week or so for a few hours of cabinet.  That doesn’t get any better when there are large numbers of people within the administration shifting jobs or being appointed only on an acting basis. 

If you stop and think about it for a second, if you put yourself in Danny Williams’ place, it’s not hard to see why he blew up at Randy Simms or even he’s been known to get a bit testy on a fairly regular basis.  He’s in a hard spot.

In 2007, voters gave Danny Williams what he asked for.  They voted for him because they’d learned the way to get anything done was with a Blue member in the legislature.

They performed the rituals of the local political doctrine and now they are looking to get into the Kingdom.

And here’s the thing:  if people think Danny Williams was testy, wait until they see a pack of voters who feels condemned to perdition.



Winston Smith said...

Most premiers pray for the kind of luck Mr. Williams has enjoyed. He has received three large gifts from the political gods:

1) An unpopular nemesis in Stephen Harper, against whom he could rally public opinion;
2) An unusually weak Liberal party that is still trying to rebuild;
3) A rise in oil prices.

Most of the problems you outline are, either directly or indirectly, of Williams' own making. If he is now in a "hard spot," as you say, he has no one to blame but himself.

Edward G. Hollett said...

Thanks for the observations Winston.

This is one of my windier posts but it really boils down to a handful of things:

1. Government is hard anyway.

2. While from the outside things look great, if you are at the centre, things can look relentless all the time.

3. Some of the things they've done organizationally and as a result of specific decisions only exaggerate the intensity of the negatives, even if they only exaggerate the perception of the negatives as viewed from the inside.

Your point is part of that last one.

Lacing into Harper seemed like a good idea at the time but... and it's the part after the but that bites.

Setting yourself up as the magic man is great short-term political spin but it creates a perception that is inescapable: people want the saviour to save them when the time comes.

Having all this money flowing is great but people expect to see some of it. And it's not really like you can say we have money at one minute and then deny the bags peeking out from behind you later on.

I can bang off all the positive things and advantages these guys have had. I can list the stuff they've done really well and the crises they've managed and survived when in other circumstances the full story or something other approach would have had them all cashiered.

Even though the swamp is drained, relatively speaking, it sure doesn't necessarily look like that when you are in the middle of it and the handful of alligators look enormous because those are your alligators. You can tell them they are just little mites compared to the ones from 20 years ago but the ones here now aren't trying to bite your ass off.

It's a matter of perspective.

WJM said...

On top of that, consider that the provincial Tory administration can no longer blame everything on the crowd that went before.

They can't. But they obviously don't know that they can't.

WJM said...

Lacing into Harper seemed like a good idea at the time but... and it's the part after the but that bites.

It's becoming increastingly clear that that is just a subset of a larger lacing-in syndrome. "Harper" is, essentially, just one value for the variable:

Lacing into (X) seemed like a good idea at the time but... and it's the part after the but that bites.

Randy Simms, Lorraine Michael, Mark Griffin, etc., etc., etc. The Great Hockey Player doesn't lace up, he laces in.