24 July 2011

The Politics of Public Spending

Check the local media for the past week and you’ll see a sudden bunch of stories about the series of fire truck announcements provincial politicians of the Tory persuasion are making across the province.

Voice of the Cabinet Minister’s got one.

CBC’s got one.

Apparently there have been 19 announcements or unveilings of new fire trucks, with three more to come.

Municipal affairs minister Fairity O’Brien insists this is just routine stuff and has nothing to do with the provincial election coming in October.

Now ordinarily that would be such a nose puller of a line that one would involuntarily scream “bullshit” at the top of one’s lungs. 

Except that it is Fairity O’Brien. 

In fairitiness to Fairity, the guy who probably can’t remember the name of the  district St. Anthony is in and who bullshitted about planning and emergency response likely does not know that what he said about the fire truck and the truth are two different things.

So let’s just say he has a particularly virulent case of pinochiosis.

And that he’s more full of shite than usual on top of that, besides.

The announcements are all about politics and the upcoming election.  Even Fairity knows it.  As Geoff Meeker pointed out, here’s what Fairity said in his rambling answer to a question on an open line call-in show about the pork announcements.  After denying they were political, O’Brien said:

okay, so the question here in my district is, and I am only speaking for myself, do you want four more years of what you’ve just experienced in the last eight, or do you want to sit in the Opposition, or whatever it may be…

Now sending such an incredibly weak minister as O’Brien out to defend blatant pork-barrel politics is a sign of arrogance or cynicism.  Take your pick which it is; either way is bad.

O’Brien threat, however is one thing:  stupid.  Were Fairity and his colleagues to punish a district for voting for an opposition member, they would only be cutting their own political throats. Ask the Tories from the 1980s what that sort of political extortion netted them. 

Better yet, ask the Tories on the Great Northern Peninsula what even the mere perception of a political vendetta – the air ambulance decision – has netted them since the Tories lost the Straits and White Bay North by-election.

Not much of any good would come back the answer.

If Kathy Dunderdale wanted to send a stupid message to voters about patronage and voting, then she evidently picked the right fellow.  Fairity O’Brien did a fine job for her.

The Tories might have a bigger problem.  They might be faced with an electorate that knows full well this is all about pork and that realises they win pork no matter what way they vote. He who lives by the hock might wind up dying by the hock, so to speak.

All three political parties in the province will be running campaigns this fall built around delivering ever increasing amounts of pork in exchange for votes.  All three political parties agree that the provincial economy is going gangbusters.  So basically there’d be no legitimate reason to justify cutting back any spending.

The choice for voters this fall is not between fire trucks and no fire trucks. It is over how many fire trucks they want. 

Or a search and rescue centre.

Or an offshore supply base.

If you want to see naked electoral pork-barrelling in action, don’t look at fire trucks.

That’s old hat.  The first election fire truck announcements came in 2007.

Look instead at Bay Bulls.

The provincial and federal governments held separate announcements this week to give cash to the same project.  They held separate announcements so the provincial minister – in trouble in his own district – could get some free advertising for himself without the original tree hugging federal cabinet minister horning in.

Federal cash of $1.0 million for an expansion to Pennecon’s offshore supply base at Bay Bulls met the investment criteria for a provincial program.  Now the province will kick another half million.

$1.5 million in public money for a project estimated to cost no more than $2.1 million in total.

The job haul? 

Maybe 15. 

$100,000 per job.

The Tories hand out millions of taxpayer dollars to private businesses, often free of charge  The Newfoundland and Labrador NDP want to give Nova Scotians a free university education. The Liberals and the New Democrats want to give rich people in the province a break on their Hummer fill-ups and cut the cost of heating their luxury homes. Next thing you know the Liberals will resurrect that God-forsaken Stunnel idea just to mark themselves as the stupidest of stupid political parties.

But seriously: the Tories ran in 2007 on the argument that the Liberals would bankrupt the province by spending like drunken sailors.

They simply can’t make the argument any more. No one will believe it is possible to bankrupt the place after Fairity and his buddies spent the last four years spending on anything and everything imaginable.  And they really will find it hard to accept that money is tight if every political party in the province wants to double electricity rates in the province and double the public debt at the same time through this insane Muskrat Falls megadebt project.

Happy days are indeed here again, b’ys.

The only thing missing is the Fonz.

Now that you are squirming a bit, think about what might happen if at the same time people had three parties offering variations on a pork-flavoured platform, they also realised that neither of the leaders would be in their jobs four years from now.

And then wonder what all that might mean in an election where there is nothing to chose from and turn-out might drop by 20%, mostly consisting of Tory voters.

After all, that’s what happened in 2007.  Liberal vote collapsed.  Tory vote declined and the same New Democrats turned out in 2007 that had turned out in 2003.

It could give new meaning to the politics of public spending.

- srbp -