01 May 2013

Political Translator: No’durn Strategy #nlpoli

Former premier Tom Rideout has an accent typical of the northeast coast of Newfoundland.  in his days as a cabinet minister after 2003,  Rideout often used the word “northern”.  It came out in his pronunciation as “no-durn” or “know-durn”.

Tom’s legacy leaves on, even inadvertently.  Four years or so after Rideout got fed up and left provincial politics,  Labrador affairs minister Nick McGrath confirmed recently that the Northern Strategic Plan the provincial Conservatives talk about so much doesn’t exist.

There’s no durn plan.

You’ll find the details in a story by Ashley Fitzpatrick that appeared in the business section of the Telegram on Tuesday.  NDP member of the House of Assembly Chris Mitchelmore more has been asking about the document the Conservatives unveiled in 2007 after a full two years of “development”. As SRBP put it at the time:

So what's the thrust of the document? Well, there is the obligatory commitment to sweeping goals of making things "better". There is plenty of cash committed here and that likely is the real purpose of the document: spending in an election year.

Other than that, most of the initiatives in the plan are already in train or are the sorts of things that one might expect, like building schools where needed and improving access to health care.

Mitchelmore has been trying to get some kind of update on the specifics – such as they are – in the plan. He isn’t having much luck.

Turns out that the Northern Strategic Plan isn’t really something the government is committed to any more, except maybe as an obligatory reference in a government news release.  The Conservatives can attribute all sorts of things to the NSP that were never in the NSP in the first place.

You see, this is what Nick McGrath calls a “living document.”  Now in some cases, like say a piece of legislation, saying it is a “living document” means that it won;t take several centuries until people update it again.

For reference to a strategic plan, though,  “living document” mean the plan doesn’t apply any more if it ever applied in the first place.  Here’s how the Telegram rendered McGrath’s view of the NSP:

"Today, we're using it as a guideline," he said, pointing to how the original plan saw a ballooning of commitments to new to-do items year after year.

It launched in 2007 with about 145 specific commitments and $250 million in expected spending over the five years.

That soon became $870 million and more than 240 commitments, McGrath said.

Now, the specific commitments have been muted by attention to overarching goals, he said. The original commitments, many fulfilled, then further guide his thinking, he said.


In another spot, McGrath blows off the idea of a plan as a series of specific commitments on a list that you check off as they are finished.  That’s pretty much what a plan is:  a list of specific commitments that you will do.  So if you say that your plan is not about doing things, then you are saying you don’t really have a plan.

Then there’s this line about how particular commitments are “muted” by attention to “overarching goals”.  Translation:  these specific commitments have been abandoned entirely just because. No reason.  Just because. 

And as for a commitment to public accountability, McGrath confirms that the word means nothing to McGrath and his cabinet colleagues.  The original commitment was to an annual “verbal” report and a written update every couple of years.  Now, McGrath says, that’s just a guideline.

Once you understand what the words mean, everything becomes crystal clear.