21 September 2010

Full of sound and fury

Public consultations on a strategy for “the inclusion of persons with disabilities” in society.

In the 21st century.

A strategy to include people with disabilities in society.

Another consultation to develop a strategy for early childhood education.

Novel idea.

41 cash announcements in the month of August alone, according to the Telegram editorial, a great many of which involved the announcement – yet again -  of earlier announcements.  In some others, announcements include money for new food carts in hospitals and nursing homes.

Announcement of a plan to install a new set of road scales in Labrador.

A gaggle of ministers and government members of the legislature visit a shipyard to look at construction of new ferries that have been in the works for most of the current administration’s tenure.

And then there’s the study of garbage.

This is a provincial government that talks more and more about less and less.

The reason is simple enough:  we are in a pre-election/pre-leadership period. We know that, all things being equal, there is an election in October 2011.  We also  know that Danny Williams will leave politics sometime over the next two to three years.

Now governments in either of those phases alone aren’t famous for doing much of anything new. Pre-election governments like to spend cash, as everyone in the province saw in 2007’s Summer of Love vote-buying orgy from the Reform-based Conservative Party currently running the local show.  Pre-leadership governments usually get caught up in the internal division as people jockey for position in the party leadership race.  And since they can’t get any agreement on any major initiative until someone winds up as leader, there is nothing knew likely to happen until the leadership issue is resolved. Well, nothing that is except spend money,

Governments in the double-whammy of pre-election and pre-leadership are rare.  But what they do is guarantee a unique kind of lowest-common-denominator politics.  Money is everywhere for everything.  In addition to that, you have the raft of consultations on things that are the sort motherhood issues not likely to raise controversy.  Inclusion?  Early childhood education?  These are hardly debatable subjects.

Even John Hickey  - seldom heard from any more - is getting in on the act. He’s got an information session scheduled for Churchill Falls.  Apparently there is something about the Northern Strategic Plan they haven’t heard yet.

You can tell these things are busy work, by the way.  First of all, there is that word strategy.  This is nothing more than the latest government cliche.  Second there is the schedule.  A good half of the consultations on childhood education take place in the afternoon, a time when the people most likely to be concerned about the subject are working.  As the video of the session from Mount Pearl showed, the room was nearly empty and two of those in the audience were cabinet minister Dave Denine and his executive assistant.

Added to this whirligig of deep thoughts are the early stages of a leadership racket.  Until lately, cabinet ministers seldom showed up to talk about anything substantial with anyone. Danny and Liz wouldn’t let them. But now education minister Darin King is on any radio station with a phone to discuss his early childhood education initiative.  Health minister Jerome! Kennedy is the face of health care spending.  Note the number of news stories about multiple sclerosis that described government spending as something Jerome! himself was doing personally.

Personally is the clue.  Cabinet government is normally collective government.  Sure there is a powerful front man, but cabinets wind up being committees that share the load of deciding on this problem or that one. Except of course, in the Danny Williams administration. It’s only natural that those who wish to replace The Old Man should work hard to be seen as the one person with an idea.

And while all of this consulting, and announcing and news conferencing is going on in public, not much else is happening.  No discussions about labour relations.  No talk about reforms to economic development policy, the fishery, a strategy to address problems in the labour force or anything else that might actually involve some serious discussion and tough choices that everyone in the province has a right to be involved in.


That’s the sort of stuff that will have to wait until after the next election and Danny’s successor is firmly in place. Meanwhile, the people in government no one has heard much of in a while are busily sorting out the budget for 2011. 

That’s right. 

We are now half way through 2010 and it is usually around this time that government officials try and figure out what next year will look like.  For the past seven years that’s been pretty much Danny’s exclusive responsibility and odds are that’s where he’s been holed up lately.  He’ll work hard into the winter and make the big decisions well before sending old Tommy Marshall out for that biggest consultation farce, the one on the budget.

While the Old Man works quietly in the background on the stuff that involves real choices, government officials are wondering if you think that in 2010 we should find ways to allow people with disabilities to become fully contributing members of our society.

The busy-work will continue.  The number of news releases and consultations will only multiply as time goes by. It’s all part of an effort to make it seem like stuff is happening when, in truth, not much of consequence is. But it will certainly seem important, as only a Fernando Administration would allow. It is better, after all,  to look busy than to be busy.

And lest you doubt all this consider that coming soon to a motel meeting room or bingo hall near you, is a round table on that burning question on the minds of fish plant workers, and foresters and soccer moms everywhere -  puppy dogs: cute or what?

- srbp -