Only a few days ago, natural resources minister Tom Marshall was telling us that the Premier was an Iron Lady. A compassionate one, mind you, but an Iron Lady, nonetheless.
Firm in her decisions.
Unyielding under pressure.
Tom was telling us that Kathy Dunderdale and Margaret Thatcher were made of the same stuff.
Tom was not drunk.
No. He was not stoned, either.
And it was not April Fool’s.
Knock it off and keep reading.
One of Margaret Thatcher’s most famous speeches was at the 1980 Conservative Party conference at Blackpool. It’s the one where she tossed out the line that “the lady’s not for turning.” The words became the Iron Lady’s theme.
To those waiting with bated breath for that favourite media catchphrase, the “U” turn, I have only one thing to say. “You turn if you want to. The lady's not for turning.”
Thatcher and the Conservatives were famously - or infamously - trying to change the country,as Thatcher notes in her speech. The British were mired in debt, with a stagnant economy and high unemployment.
In light of recent events in this province, it’s obvious Tom Marshall didn’t put much thought into his suggestion that somehow Dunderdale and Maggie Thatcher were made of the same sterner stuff. Before she got to that line, look at this appraisal of what had gone in Britain in the 1960s and 1970s:
If spending money like water was the answer to our country's problems, we would have no problems now.
The same could be said of Newfoundland and Labrador under the Conservatives since 2003. If ever a gang of politicians spent, spent, spent and spent again, ours has. All of that oil and mining money is gone; enough to give every man, woman and child in the province the better part of $32,000 each.
For all that spending, none of the real problems are gone. The government needs more money and that has to come from somewhere. And so the government has decided to squeeze a bit, getting rid of a few thousand workers here, a few there, and shifting the money over to spend somewhere else. They will keep on spending what they do not have and what ordinary people cannot afford, in the hopes that the oil money will come back.
They will drive public spending ever higher as they try to replace sustainable jobs in the private sector with public sector jobs. Higher public spending, far from curing unemployment has been the very vehicle that loses jobs and drains the life and energy out of the business community in a place that depends so heavily on international trade and commerce.
Those in the province’s business community who urge the government to continue the squeeze are like those who encourage the Conservatives to relax it. Both want to spend yet more money indiscriminately in the belief that it will help the small businessman and the unemployed.
It will not.
Neither should fear, though, since the Conservatives in Newfoundland and Labrador are not like Conservatives anywhere else.
And Kathy Dunderdale is no Margaret Thatcher.
Two days after the budget speech, the provincial Tories halted one of their cuts, the one that would have closed a recreation centre in Stephenville.
Two weeks after the budget speech, Kathy Dunderdale’s Conservatives abandoned their cuts to justice services. Now a committee will review the whole issue. Justice minister Darin King told reporters not 24 hours beforehand that everything would be fine with the cuts and that they’d fix anything if problems turned up. A short few hours later, King acknowledged that he and his colleagues had come under great pressure and that, as a result, they’d gather a group of people and rethink the whole thing.
On Wednesday, King told CBC’s David Cochrane – the first link the preceding paragraph - that the cuts were the cuts. By Friday, King was saying his department may need more money. His new committee will bring the new spending recommendations back to the Premier who will have the final say.
The Lady is for turning, as it turns out.
While the political pressure the past couple of weeks may seem heavy to people – like the Conservatives – who aren’t used to such things, the truth is that we haven’t seen anything like the sorts of political pressure other governments have faced in the past here and elsewhere.
So if the Conservatives are turning already, then they will likely be dizzy by the end of the spring session of the legislature as they turn and turn and turn again.. And if they balk at these first tentative steps to fix a multi-billion dollar problem – supposedly – then even blind people can safely predict that the changes to health care and the public sector pensions won’t be happening next year either.