29 January 2009

The tolling of the bells

While most of us don’t understand the intricacies and complexities of Equalization, we’ve had enough experience to know that when Danny Williams decides to take a political leak on someone’s loafers, what he says and the facts might be a little at odds with each other. There’s usually more to the story – sometimes much more – and the full story might not turn up until much later.

Like say a tirade against Evil Stephen who had nothing better to do these past couple of months  - if you accept the view of the Premier and his hand-bell choir - than figure out how screw Danny Williams out of about a half a billion each year for the next three years. 

The whole country is at varying levels of the economic shitter but revenge against one man and the province he leads is all that Evil Stephen could think of.

Give us all a break.

Conditioning and old political habits obviously work wonders in these parts.   A bell dings and you need your old red soles to keep the feet dry and to keep from slipping on the saliva.  Never mind, of course, that a mere 24 hours after declaring the jihad to bring down Evil Stephen, the Great Tinkler had decided on another route, namely of just having a one year delay in making any changes.

And don’t forget that this relatively small amount of money – 2% of the entire value of all goods and services in the province in any recent year - will “cripple” the provincial economy according to the Premier.  Undo in one tiny gesture years of hard work to turn the corner.

Sure it will, mate.  The claim could be put down to mere laughable hyperbole were it not repeated in earnestness by everyone of the faithful manning the ramparts to defend something from something just because they heard a noise.  It could be dismissed as more of the same if it did not spur comparisons between the people of the province and fleas nipping at the nether regions of some mythical beast.

In this latest Equalization tirade, the whole thing is merely cover for the real story:  a year after finishing a string of record surpluses, this place is facing deficits that will run, according to the first townie first minister in this place since the Great Depression, somewhere between $500 million and $1.2 billion in just a single year. No forecast for what may come after that.

A year after finishing a string of record surpluses, Danny Williams’ Provincial Conservatives are set to record deficits the likes of which have not been seen in Newfoundland and Labrador since before 1934.

For those who do not know, 1934 is the year the Newfoundland voted to give up democracy.  Bankrupt on war debt and  a raft of foolish schemes, the country’s legislature opted to let the place be run by a bunch of appointed commissioners. Newfoundland and Labrador is nowhere near the financial mess it was in the early 1930s, largely due to the economic security offered by Confederation.

But just imagine the headlines come April after Jerome delivers the news. That’s what makes their blood run cold.

These guys are worried.

The should be.

No amount of poll goosing could unring that bell.

The provincial government revenues are so bad next year  - forget this Equalization offsets stuff - that the government is planning spending cuts, as Jerome reportedly told one audience of people he was listening to last week during the annual “consultation” farce.   

These guys are worried.

How worried?  Worried enough of the decision right in front of them – never mind a plan for the years ahead – that they would be willing to change the goal a mere 24 hours after starting the latest war if only they can get their hands on a few hundred millions for the coming year.  Even the appearance of a few bucks would make it look rosier than it.  Like say being able to draw down some of that 2005 money on paper, anyways.

Worried enough that they didn’t wait five figurative seconds from launching the tirade to drop the collective bargaining hammer on doctors, nurses, cops, turnkeys and assorted other public employees who had the misfortune of not simply rolling over on their contracts from the get-go.  Forget that 21% wage offer the government made of its own accord  last year.  That’s done and gone.

In its place, another budget taken from Seinfeld

From masters of our domain – yes, that was actually in the budget speech – to “No soup for you” in the space of 12 months.

But the bonus of this latest political gong show is that in one fell swoop, every single cut and cancellation from here on out gets blamed not on the people who made the decision but on the old, very familiar Danny Williams enemy:  Ottawa.

Labour unions are already onside to back the cuts:  labour federation president Lana Payne either voluntarily jumped on board the first night or got a call from Danny to pull her to his side. Lana endorsed the Equalization thing so hard, she will sound stupid criticising the provincial government later on when she’s already accepted that it’s Ottawa’s fault.

Ditto local labour party leader Lorraine Michael.  The erstwhile official opposition is now officially screwed.  The Dippers cannot criticise the government for a thing without appearing to be the biggest hypocrites in history. 

At least the leader of the official opposition  - Yvonne Jones  - had the good sense to morph her message a bit once she got over the shock of getting a call from Danny. She’s been distancing herself from the whole political charade and good on her for doing it.

And then there is the crowd in Ottawa.  Two of them had cause to quake when their political godfather called due his marker.  They wouldn’t be there without him and unsurprisingly they’ve been delivering their lines as if the words arrived straight from the 8th.

But the others? 


Baffling considering that thus far there is not a single independent corroboration of a single thing Danny Williams said Tuesday night. 

That, in itself, should get everyone’s attention in the province.

It would, too, if it wasn’t for that damn bell that keeps ringing.

Or is it tolling?