10 October 2012

Another sign of the democratic deficit #nlpoli

If you have a few minutes to spare, flip through the provincial government’s 2012 budget.

Look for the work “donation”.

You won’t find it.  Nor will you find any amount of money set aside in the health department budget that would cover a donation by the provincial government to health care foundations operated in some communities on the west coast earlier this year.

In Corner Brook and Stephenville, cabinet ministers and local government backbenchers announced a total of $250,000 in provincial government “donations” to the local charities that support the hospitals in Corner Brook and Stephenville.

In Port aux Basques, in a district represented by a Liberal, no government official showed up with cash.  The official explanation – according to the Gulf News – is that no one in Port aux Basques asked for any money.

The weekly newspaper also took issue with this slight in its editorial:
Casting a vote for the “correct” party might lead to getting our roads paved more quickly, but it shouldn’t lead to better health care in some ridings over others. Health care dollars should be handed out on the basis of need. Period. Health care dollars should not be used as a partisan tool.
This isn’t the only example of this sort of thing that has gone on since 2003.  In 2006, when the politicians in the House of Assembly got caught using their constituency allowances as a patronage slush fund, they did away with the practice. On the government side, they created pots of money within departments that their boys and girls could hand out as “donations” so that the patronage could conttinue. The opposition parties got nothing.

The practice is every bit as fundamentally wrong as the Gulf News editorial makes it out to be.  It’s just another manifestation of the culture of patronage that sustains the political system in Newfoundland and Labrador.

But here’s the thing:  it is no more acceptable for the government to pave roads and build bridges and schools on the basis of how a district voted than it is to fund health care or education that way. What happens in Newfoundland and Labrador these days, well that's what you get in places that aren’t democratic.

Politicians and their friends see nothing wrong with it.  They make up excuses for it. What they don’t seem willing to explain, though, is where the money comes from, how much is available, or how one gets it.  There’s no information on the government website about the cash.  Application forms?  Apparently none.

The government is the government of everyone, not just the people who voted for it. In a democracy, that’s the way things are supposed to work. People expect government to deliver services based on need.
That would be the public need, for those who don’t understand it, not the need of people like Joan Burke, Vaughn Granter, and Tom Marshall to buy themselves some good publicity  - and hopefully some electoral support - with public money.