Even at the worst of their leadership feuding Jean Chretien and Paul Martin never frigged each other over the way Kathy Dunderdale and Jerome Kennedy did last week.
While Kennedy was trying to tell everyone that the justice reversal wasn’t going to happen to all the cuts, Dunderdale (right, poppy eyes and all) was on the open line shows and everywhere else someone had a microphone, telling us that if people could make “compelling arguments” she’d have another look at the budget cuts.
What is a “compelling argument”, you might ask?
No one knows.
Dunderdale certainly wasn’t giving any clues in her interview with CBC’s David Cochrane. All that she would say is that the arguments came from the province’s chief justices and lawyer Bob Simmonds. She said there was some “ambivalence” about what the government had done in the budget. The judges were concerned about security but – according to Dunderdale – couldn’t say whether they had too much security now or too little.
If someone in the province started a comedy show calling Spitting Image, they wouldn’t need a script writer with the Premier out there fracturing language and logic at every turn.
Dunderdale started her interview with Cochrane by describing what she called the Core Mandate Analysis. it went right down to the front lines of every department, said the Premier. She wanted to make sure that every nickel and dime was being spent efficiently and effectively.
Those of you who read last week’s summary of the Keystone Kops newser starring justice minister Darin King and Tommy Marshall will recognise King told a different story the end of last week. King made the the Core Mandate review sound pretty simple, quick and superficial. The speed with which Dunderdale abandoned the justice cuts, King’s words match more closely with her actions than her own words do.
David Cochrane chased after that one for a few minutes, incidentally, but try as he might, Cochrane couldn’t get Dunderdale to admit the obvious: her core review wasn’t all that detailed if she tossed it out based on some ambivalent, unspecific comments from a couple of judges and Canadiens fan Simmonds.
Just ensure that she had the maximum credibility for a leader at 25% in the polls, Dunderdale even made up a few things about what things used to be like in 2003. Schools closing every week. People leaving home to come to Sin Jawns for health care. Utter garbage every word of it she spit out of her mouth.
Kathy spent 30 minutes with Bill Rowe and another 30 minutes with Paddy Daly on Friday doing much the same thing as she did with Cochrane. She started out with Bill with the same garbage about the state of the province in 2003. Then she segued into her journey into the bowels of the government as part of this Core Mandate anal probe of government.
Not surprisingly what the Premier reported on her colonoscopy is the same sort of stuff one finds in bowels. The hodge podge of cuts involved things like a recreation centre in Stephenville and the managers of a couple of wildlife refuges. The Premier characterised all the cuts generally as being the result of finding inefficiency. There are apparently better ways to do things.
The better way, apparently, is to slice off a bit here and a bit there. In education, it involved saving every building and only wiping out courses at the province’s technical school system that are not subscribed up to an arbitrarily determined level. This is a neutron bomb policy: it kills jobs but leaves buildings standing. Politically, it also ensures that the angry voices are in every corner of the province instead of the one or two under-performing campuses.
Dunderdale and her minister seem oblivious to this sort of stuff, just as they are oblivious to the contradictions between their claims and reality. Wonderful if it were true, the Premier said to Bill and to David and then proceeded to describe her own enormous delusions. Real to her, just like the spiders crawling on the walls are real in your average bad trip.
“We’ve paid down four billion dollars of debt in the last 10 years,” Dunderdale told Rowe on Friday. There’s countries that can’t make that claim, let alone provinces, she insisted. Anyone can make that sort of claim. Lots of people claim all sorts of things. And it’s all wonderful, if what Dunderdale said were true, but it is like those LSD-induced creepy crawlies. The public debt remains every bit as high or higher than it was in 2003. Nothing has changed and yet Dunderdale insists on making the same false claim her predecessor and her colleagues make.
Nalcor spending doesn’t have anything to do with the provincial debt or deficit, as the Premier told Paddy Daly right off the top of his afternoon show. Again, lovely if it was true, but it is completely false. The fact the Premier keeps saying false things is disquieting. Then again, we are used to it. Dunderdale did claim that the PUB – who refused to offer an opinion on Muskrat Falls – endorsed the project at the end of their review last year. Evidently Dunderdale forgot the hissy fit she threw when they did not endorse her project.
For the record, as Nalcor is a public company, taxpayers are liable for their debt. The cash the provincial government is transferring to Nalcor is part of annual spending and therefore goes into making up a chunk of any deficit. When we have to borrow $3.0 billion, we will have to pay that back and it counts as part of the public debt. Anyone who claims otherwise either doesn’t understand public finance or is a liar.
It’s that simple.
There’s one story that Dunderdale repeated to Rowe, Cochrane and Daly that does ring true, though. She talked about the 2004 budget, the one tough budget when the Tories started to come to grips with a bunch of financial problems in the province. Dunderdale pretends it went on for several years, but it didn’t. As soon as the public started shouting the Conservatives abandoned their initial plan and started spending and spending and spending unsustainably.
But Dunderdale talks about the police escorts, the legions of pissed off people, and the shock of that first budget. And she vows those cuts won’t happen again.
Those people won’t be pissed off because Kathy won;t let them be angry.
That’s why, for all the cuts and layoffs, government spending hasn’t gone down. They just redirected the money to other areas and keep holding out the hope oil revenue will come back. That’s why, for all her talk last fall about a conversation about taxes, Dunderdale keeps blaming the values reflected in the current budget on the people at the budget “consultations” who supposedly wanted no new taxes and a chunk of new spending.
To avoid dealing with those angry people, Kathy is prepared to change her position. She said so quite plainly. All she needs is a compelling argument.
When you decide, you divide. Kathy quoted Tony Blair’s line to David Cochrane. The former British prime minister was talking about his predecessor, the Iron Lady, whose reputation was for sticking to her guns in pursuit of a policy she believed was right.
Where Margaret Thatcher was made of sterner stuff, Dunderdale, it seems, is just made of stuffing. Kathy Dunderdale talked tough in 2012. Then she abandoned the toughness in the disastrous 2012 budget that forecast spending higher than even the absurdly high oil price they used to make up the budget. Now in 2013, last week’s justice cuts reversal shows that Dunderdale has abandoned her position yet again, under pressure.
When you decide, you divide. Kathy seems to think that when you undecide, you undivide. She will go on undeciding all to ensure that we never again see a repeat of the 2004 budget and the angry masses. Too bad for Kathy that there is no such thing as undeciding just as the debt hasn’t gone down and the PUB did not like Muskrat Falls. Each decision further divides.
That’s how you get to 25% approval in the polls with 73% disapproving of your performance.