10 May 2013

More on the 2009 Rift #nlpoli

The Kremlinology post on Trevor Taylor, Paul Oram and the apparent policy disagreement in cabinet in 2008/09 generated two contacts (a tweet and an e-mail) that are worth discussing.

Let’s take them one at a time.

The tweet argued that the Kremlinology post was wrong because Taylor left cabinet and politics in 2009 for personal reasons.

That may be his reason but the post was about what was “going on at the time” not about why Taylor quit politics, as such.  We'll get back to that, but let’s recap what happened at the time.

CBC has a good summary that is still available. Taylor said it was for personal reasons. He also said:

I want to stress that this is a very personal decision. It has nothing to do with anything that has or is going on in government. You know, it's not a question of my support for the premier or the government…

As you can see from a clip from the scrum [VOCM via youtube] in September 2009, right after Taylor said he was leaving, his very next set of sentences was that bit CBC quoted.

All the stuff after “personal decision” in that quote sounds like a pre-emptive denial.  Personal is personal and if Taylor had stuck to that,  there’d be no question.  Sure he returned to the personal later in the scrum but those opening words just leap out because they are out of place.

Incidentally, the VO clip includes the Old Man giving his reaction.  Note the reference to Taylor being smart because he is getting out of “this racket”, namely politics.  People scoffed at the time when some of us suggested he was headed for the door too, but a year later they were sitting gobsmacked at the Old Man raced into the oblivion he clearly hates so much.

Anyway, as SRBP said at the time in one of the earliest Kremlinology posts, the things he said the sudden resignation wasn’t about would actually turn out to be what it was really about.  In his departure interviews, Taylor spoke about the pressure that politics puts on families – absolutely no question that is true – and that he had probably lost part of his family already.

But let’s not forget that when he left, Taylor was minister of public works.  It was a very far cry from his days as fisheries minister or in innovation and business where things were much more exciting. As fisheries minister, Taylor had tried to bring in a resource redistribution scheme but wound up getting yanked out of the job when his reforms caused too much political backlash.

And let’s also not forget that the first clue to problems in Taylor’s political standing was his curious absence from a string of news releases announcing cash for his district.  This happened in June.  Taylor said during his scrum in September that he decided to leave about a month earlier, i.e. in late August.  None of his personal reasons would explain his bizarre absence from a series of news releases a few months before that or indeed his apparent banishment back to the public works department.

So even if Taylor left in 2009 because he had huge family problems, that doesn’t really preclude there being some other issues like a policy dispute about spending also going on at the time.  In other parts of his scrum, Taylor sounds frustrated, as though he hasn’t been able to make the sorts of changes he wanted.  Maybe he was talking about fisheries things. After all he got punted from fisheries into public works in the fuss of raw materials sharing.  In light of his column on Tuesday, maybe Taylor was talking about financial issues.

We know at least one other minister had money on his mind around the same time.  Paul Oram quit cabinet and politics around the same time Taylor left.  He was also concerned about spending.

Add it all up and there seems to have been some pretty serious disagreements over policy in 2009.

The second comment came in an e-mail.  it had two parts.  First was the observation that Taylor was right:  government signed the big public sector agreement in early 2009.

That’s correct.  But note that the agreement was retroactive to the start of the fiscal year in April 2008.  And the Conservatives decided to give a huge wage increase in 2007.  it just took a while to finish negotiating the whole collective agreement with the unions.  Not unusual.

The second part of the comment had to do with the impact of the wage increases.  Generally, pensions are based on the employee’s best five years.  The 20 percent increase created a situation where it boosted salaries in the near term and – as a direct consequence – boosted pension benefits in the long run by a comparable amount.  People who had considered retiring in 2008, for example, could have – and likely did – delay retirement until they had the full benefit of the 20% hike.

Again, that’s true.

So what was Taylor suggesting at the time or now?  We don’t know, but in some respects we don’t need to know.  His observation on Tuesday was that they’d have had an easier time cutting pension benefits in 2009 than they are having now.  That’s highly debatable at best.

At worst, just think about it for a second, though.  When they raised salaries, the Conservatives had to realise they were also increasing the size of the unfunded pension liability.  It’s like hiring an extra 2,100 people in the core public service.  The Conservatives had to realise that all their hiring at much higher salaries would increase the long range pension problem as well.

And the tens of thousands of other hires and much higher salaries than before? 

No brainer, man.

Except for Trevor and his colleagues, apparently.

In the end, Trevor’s suggestion that the Tories have missed their chance is pretty much a penetrating insight into the obvious. it also doesn’t matter.  They couldn’t cut when they were riding high in the polls.  Indeed, the reason they were riding high was because of the unsustainable spending.  So now that they are tanking in the polls, there’s shag-all chance they will be able to make any serious changes now.

Speaking of which, how’s this for an even bigger dilemma involving change?

Some Tories want to dump Kathy Dunderdale.  They’ve been talking about it for months.

Not surprising, that, given that she has been the leader during the entire sorry-assed Conservative slide from the tops in the polls to the point where the NDP have a shot at forming a majority government.

If they force Kathy out, then they have to find someone to replace her.

That’s not so much the biggest part of a problem as the fact that the new premier would have to go to the polls almost right away. That’s thanks to changes they made in the Elections Act way back in 2004.   When you are crapping out in the polls and your prospective leaders are Steve Kent and Darin King, having a quickie leadership and heading to the polls might not be such a great idea.


So they don’t force Kathy out and pray-to-Jesus-every-day-all-day that some miracle happens.

In the meantime, Kathy gets fed up and decides to leave.  She’s tired of the crap, the whining, the unbridled egos, and the name-calling and that’s just the stuff coming from her own caucus and cabinet. Kathy decides to spend time with the grandkids and leaves faster than Danny did, even allowing that his knees were in way better shape than Kathy’s.

There’s really nothing the Conservatives can do to force her to stay.

They still have that election thing sitting right there in front of their faces.  Just imagine following behind Premier King_Darin with Steve Kent insisting that King is the Greatest Leader who’s butt Kent has ever kissed.  The NDP could make Gerry Rogers leader just for the fun of watching King’s head explode.

Hey, Trev.  Do some more talking about pension cuts.  This hasn’t been painful enough to watch as it was.