06 March 2012

New Energy? Same Old Stuff #nlpoli

After more than a year in office and the better part of six months after the last election, the Dunderdale Tories delivered their second throne speech opening a new session of the province’s legislature.

For a bunch that are supposedly anxious to break with the past, they spent a lot of time talking about how much things haven’t changed.

Get beyond the very long-winded introductory material that took every back to the middle of the 19th century, you will find a paragraph that includes a series of sentences that all began with “This is the Government that…”.

At the end, they are talking about a set of routine changes to the public tender act and the access to information law.  The latter is now two years overdue, having started in March 2010.

The speech then made an interesting reference to how the current administration spends public money.  At least one reporter heralded this bit as proof the Dunderdale Tories are serious about fiscal restraint and getting spending under control.

Yeah, well, that isn’t what’s in the speech.

The speech talks about “a long-term, multi-year approach”.  Then it talks about how the government is “determined to achieve efficiencies” and  “to maximize the value of every public dollar spent”.

Not exactly anything concrete in that.

Then they repeat the commitment we’ve already heard:
Improving Newfoundland and Labrador’s debt position even more in the next 10 years to achieve the same per-capita debt as the Canadian average is a goal the province can reach through discipline in spending and the allocation of a significant portion of surpluses to debt reduction…
Sounds marvellous, doesn’t it?  No doubt someone could easily be fooled if they didn’t read the paragraph before that.  That’s where the government pledged they would stay the fiscal course:
to ensure we continue to live within our fiscal means.
Continue?  They haven’t been living within the public’s means as it is, so continuing would not be good at all.
And that debt thingy is a bit of old Tory verbal bullshit.  This is the government that like to claim they’ve reduced the public debt.  This is the government that included the claim about debt reduction in the throne speech:
Already, it has reduced the province’s burden of debt by more than a third from a high of $12 billion to an estimated $7.7 billion at March 31.
Problem is that the claim just isn’t true. 

It’s false.

A total crock of crap.

The gross public debt – the bit that determines the annual burden of servicing the debt – is more than $12 billion.  What the speech refers to is net debt, an accountant's calculation of assets and liabilities. 

This is the government that took every surplus and simply socked the money in the bank.
This is the government that put a tag on it to spend on the Muskrat Falls dam.

And that’s all they’ve done.

Take it altogether and you have words in the speech that might fool some people into believing it means spending control in the future.

But since this is the government that hasn’t been able to control its spending since at least 2005, this is the government that merely pledged to deliver more of the same.

Then they pledged to spend money on health care.  There’s a novel idea.

Then there’s a mention of a three year old change to child protection laws that is only just now finishing up.
Then there’s a reference to more of the same education and employment subsidy programs that have been in place for years as well as more spending on K-12 education.

When you get beyond that bit, the speech mentions a new poverty reduction strategy, as if the current one is finished.

There’s a reference to economic diversification but no sense of what the current administration understands that to mean actual changes to current policy.  On the contrary,  while so many parts of the province have grown more dependent on government spending, the throne speech uses exactly that – the references to Grand Falls-Windsor and Stephenville - as examples of how the government intends to move in the future.

And after all that there’s the obligatory recital of the Muskrat Falls project.

Nowhere in the throne speech is there a single significant new idea of any kind.

- srbp -