26 September 2009

Uncomfortable thoughts

One of the little stories that seemed to sail past most people was a report that three of the province’s four regional health authorities will finish the year with balanced budgets.

"The light bill goes up, the phone bill goes up, the oil bill goes up — that type thing," said Western Health finance committee member Tom O'Brien. "We submitted that to the government and [government] approved our budget with those inflationary numbers in it. So we'll have a balanced budget for 2009-2010.

The only one that wouldn’t is Eastern Health but given some of the issues involved, that’s understandable.

But Labrador-Grenfell,  Western and Central expect to balance their books by year end.

Last spring, Labrador-Grenfell Health estimated it would end its fiscal year with a $2-million deficit, but officials said Wednesday that's no longer the case.

"We have had a greater success in recruiting staff, with a greater number of nurses on staff that actually cuts down on our cost of providing services," CEO Boyd Rowe said. "When we don't have adequate numbers of staff, we end up paying a considerable amount of overtime."

How odd then that earlier this month health minister Paul Oram announced that government had decided to cut laboratory and x-ray service in Flower’s Cove and Lewisporte. he claimed the government needed to save money and that the cuts had been recommended by the health authorities involved.

Sure those two ideas were among dozens tossed out by all four regional health authorities back in February as possible cuts when they were asked  - hypothetically – what they could do to balance their budgets if they got funding frozen at 2008 levels.

But if the books are balanced the cuts weren’t necessary.

And if there was a problem with the government health budget generally, then surely it would have made more sense to do some serious thinking and announce a wide range of options with the new budget in the spring.  There was no rush to chop in September if things were okay and certainly there’d be no reason to cut only two.

That’s what one would expect from a government that generally practices sound financial management based on a genuinely strategic approach. That was the logical implication when Oram acknowledged what many have known for some time, namely that the current administration has been spending wildly, spending public money in a way that – in Oram’s word was “unsustainable.”

Such a government would not engage in seemingly capricious, apparently ill-considered and curious, bizarre cuts that seem to bear no connection to anything. Heck they aren’t even connected to a review of laboratory and x-ray service which isn’t even completed yet.

Such decisions would seem driven by something other than sound reasoning, logic, and a firm grasp of the whole picture.  They’d seem panicky.  They’d seem irrational, perchance even stupid given the political fall-out that’s resulted across the northern coast of Newfoundland.

And it would seem even more irrational, capricious, certainly foolishly stubborn  and – yes maybe even stupid – to persist in the irrational and apparently unnecessary cuts on those two communities once the backlash started  and the overall financial picture was shown to be something other than dire.

Events of the past couple of weeks make you wonder what is really going on inside the provincial government.  What is the real story behind the Flower’s Cove and Lewisporte cuts.

Was there more to Trevor’s departure than meets the eye? Was there something to be found in his comment to Randy Simms the other morning that we are facing the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression?  Taylor was known to speak bluntly and he certainly never spouted the “we are living in a bubble” rhetoric.

Once upon a time, not so very long ago, the good people of Newfoundland and Labrador would look on another administration and wonder what was going on.  Things sometimes didn’t make sense. 

The good people would stare in bewilderment since the leader was known to be a political mastermind.  Surely there had to be some Mensa answer they would rationalize, an idea incomprehensible to mere mortals as to why such bizarre things were occurring. 

Even went things looked insane they figured there had to be a plan behind it all. No one had to tell them that at a board of trade speech;  they knew it already.

Yet, despite their faith, they remained perplexed.




Your humble e-scribbler would suggest to these people that they think about the issue again, and about their conclusion, with one tiny difference:

Merely look on events without the assumption that there was some inscrutable genius at work.

Then look again at the conclusion they reached.

Invariably, inevitably, predictably, at the point they reached a conclusion once again – devoid of the assumed secret and unknown brilliance – their faces turned ashen.

And they would go very quiet.

Quiet isn’t a word you’d use these days in some parts of Newfoundland and Labrador, is it?  Places where the Great Tory Revolution supposedly started.

That must be a very uncomfortable thought for some people.