29 May 2012

What they said…Part Deux #nlpoli

Basic public relations problem.

Say one thing.

Say another thing.

A few weeks later, do something else, twice over.

For starters, here’s the what Premier Kathy Dunderdale said in the House of Assembly in March about job cuts and the provincial budget:

March 13:

…Mr. Speaker, we will make the number, the exact number, known when we announce the Budget….

…I have stated quite clearly in this House and outside this House that there will be no permanent employees to lose their jobs as a result of this exercise….

and we will be able to clearly say to the people of the Province the number of those jobs that will be affected when we announce the budget….

March 14:

…Mr. Speaker, I also stated quite clearly that by the time we bring down the Budget we will be able to give a definitive answer to the number of positions affected. I have never talked about the number other than to say there was a cap and we certainly do not expect the number to be large….

The one thing:  a small number of people will get the boot.

The other thing:  the complete number will appear with the budget.

Turns out neither thing happened, as a few hundred people at Eastern Health, the province’s largest health care authority, will find out.

Now if there is good reason to lay people off, then this wouldn’t necessarily create a huge political problem.  People anywhere understand things when you tell them the straight, unvarnished facts. 

And since they are taxpayers in this instance, they will also be thankful when a government actually does something that demonstrably gets them a good return for their tax dollars.  Taking action to correct a problem is good. 

Governments in Newfoundland and Labrador have done far worse than this. Remember, the government Kathy Dunderdale hated with a burning passion not only guided the province through a far tougher time than the current one, they also laid the foundation for the current prosperity she and her friends have been squandering AND held onto popular support despite the cuts it had to bring in.

They did it by being straight with people and by doing what they said they would do.  It’s basic public relations and damn good politics.

The huge problem for the current Premier is that:

  • she said one thing – three percent cuts, no big deal, all done by budget time – in the spring,
  • did something else – almost two percent increase in spending and a net increase in public sector employment – in the budget,
  • did not even vaguely hint there was more to come, and, then,
  • delivered something that looks way worse than what she first talked about.

Your human body can fall through the sky, travel at hundreds of miles an hour and live the whole time.  It’s the sudden shock at the end that kills you.

Well, in the same way, this announcement by the provincial government could be the sort of sudden shock that ends a political career.  It could certainly damage it severely.  What will tell in the end is how much this latest situation adds to the considerable credibility gap Kathy Dunderdale has already opened up with other issues.

At the very least, people who work for the provincial government  will really start to wonder what is next. They’ll trim their own spending.  Of course, that, as SRBP noted before, is where the provincial government’s real problems  - the financial ones - will come from. 

And it all goes back to the communications problem the Premier started out with back in the winter and early spring.