21 January 2011

Fin minister Tom Marshall talks debt reduction - audience pees in pants with stifled giggles

According to voice of the cabinet minister, provincial finance minister Tom Marshall is interested  - again – in talking about the provincial debt.

Here’s a excerpt from the VOCM online story, quoted here since it may have been disappeared by the time this gets posted:

Marshall proposes several measures in doing so. First, the government needs to balance sustainable and prudent spending with the implementation of steps to lower taxes and net debt. He says the province has to maximize the benefits from its non-renewable resources now so that it is prepared for when they are depleted. Finally, he argues that it is important to diversify the economy, such as focusing on the Lower Churchill Project.

Marshall’s talked about sustainable spending before but only to the extent of making clear he wasn’t the teensiest bit interested in actually doing it. In fact, Marshall’s record is of a profligate spender who never met a deficit he didn’t like.

And just to get the point across, note that current provincial gross debt is about $12 billion.  That’s roughly where it’s been for the past four years and it higher than it was in 2003 when Marshall and his crowd took office. 

Tom mentioned lowering the net debt.  Well in order to do that he’d have to stop overspending as he’s done the past two years.  According to the most recent financial statements, the province’s net debt went up in 2009 and it is set to go up again in 2010 (the current fiscal year) if current trends hold.

So while that whole “sustainable and prudent spending” thing is a great objective, Tom and his friends haven’t done it yet.  After seven years, Tom’s got to have cajones the size of watermelons to talk about debt reduction and fiscal responsibility with a straight face, expecting the people in the province to take him seriously.

Ditto the part where he talks about maximising benefits from oil and minerals.  Tom and his former boss specifically rejected any suggestions to set aside sovereign wealth funds, real debt reduction and any other ways to accomplish the goal of putting the money from oil and minerals to work for the future.

And double ditto for the bit about diversifying the economy.  The current fragile state of the provincial economy is a direct result of provincial government policy since 2003. 

That leaves the Lower Churchill.

Reducing net debt, right?

Okay, Tom Marshall’s current plan is to force taxpayers to borrow at least $3.0 billion and put a total of about $6.0 on the provincial government’s gross debt load.

Tom also wants ratepayers in the province to accept electricity rates roughly double what they are currently to pay for electricity.  Can you say “uncompetitive” boys and girls? 

And he’d like to ship power free to Nova Scotia for 35 years.

Surplus power would enter the market at uncompetitive rates so the chances of export are pretty much slim and none as it now appears.

Given all that’s going on in the province and what Tom Marshall and his pals have actually done since 2003, the finance minister’s audience on Thursday must have peed in their pants with stifled laughter as he rambled on.

Surely no one would take Tom seriously, not with all the evidence against him.

- srbp -