22 May 2012

Fiscal conservative, you say? #nlpoli

One of the more curious comments from provincial Conservative supporters lately has been the claim that they support the current Connie administration provincially because they – the supporters – are fiscal conservatives.

labradore has already challenged one such claim with a look at the provincial labour force figures.  Here’s the chart from labradore’s post. It shows the public sector as a share of the total provincial work force:

Yes, friends, the “fiscally conservative” provincial government has produced a massive increase in the size of the provincial public service since 2007.  And, lest any of these “fiscal conservatives” try to justify the Connie actions with talk about the unions’ favour excuse – catch-up – notice that the chart shows that Newfoundland and Labrador had no catching up to do.

While you are at it recall that the current labour force in the province is the largest it has been for quite a while.  So the current “fiscally conservative” provincial Conservatives employ a larger percentage of a larger labour force in a very fiscally unconservative way.

But there’s more to it than that.

Let us look at the size of the gross public debt or, as the auditor general calls it, the total provincial liabilities.  The figures from 2004 onward are readily available because of the way the auditor general’s reports.  Before that you’d have to do a bit of figuring to add things like pension and health benefit liabilities that they didn’t include before. 2004 was the first year they added health and pension liabilities to the calculation.  Other liabilities were lower than they were in 2003 so the total liabilities numbers for years before 2004 would be lower.


While the total goes up and down since 2004, it stays at the highest level it has ever been in the province’s history.  Note at the end that the number is headed upward, again.

That hardly looks like a bunch of fiscal conservatives are running the place.

Before anyone starts clucking about “net debt”, just remember that you get that figure by adding a bunch of cash and other assets into the mix to figure out what you’d be left with if you closed up shop tomorrow.  Well, government isn’t going to close up shop tomorrow for one thing.  For another, the cash you include to make net debt is actually money the provincial government has already committed to Muskrat Falls, among other things.  And for a last thing, bear in mind that the cost of carrying those liabilities around is based on the gross total, not the net.

So, in short, the current provincial government isn’t run by fiscal conservatives.  It is run by a bunch of provincial politicians who are – in most respects – indistinguishable from the majority of their predecessors. They are indistinguishable from their contemporaries, too. 

The only people – the only people – who insist that isn’t true are the people for whom  “My team good!  Your team bad!” is about all they’ve got for an argument on anything. And when you confront those people with firm evidence that contradicts their precious delusions, you know what you get: bigger delusions.