Tom Marshall spent his last few hours ever as a member of the House of Assembly on Thursday, as the spring session drew to a close. Tom’s already handed in his notice and will be out of the Premier’s Office and politics around this time next month.
Marshall is decent fellow who brought sincerity, integrity, and dignity to the House and to the cabinet responsibilities he bore. He took a lot of praise from colleagues on both sides of the House on Thursday and Tom deserved every word. Tom’s short tenure as Premier began with some of the smartest moves the Conservatives have ever made.
It’s unfortunate that the end of his tenure has been marred by a series of unfortunate events. But in another sense, those events are typical of the history of the current administration.
The first unfortunate event was Frank Coleman. The entire Coleman episode – from the rigged leadership process to the unelected Coleman controlling a job he does not actually hold – does nothing more than confirm the individuals and the means by which they have controlled the government since 2003. How people assumed things worked and how things actually worked were two dramatically different things.
The second event was the speedy passage on Thursday of a surprising new piece of legislation that amended a piece of legislation the Conservatives had only succeeded in passing through the legislature 24 hours or so beforehand.
Whatever the merits and demerits of Bill 22, the point to note here is that the Conservatives insisted that the amendments to the Labour Relations Act it contained were right, proper, well-thought through, and a dozen other righteous things.
Yet on Thursday the Conservatives introduced Bill 24, a hastily drafted piece of legislation with the laughable title of “an Act to Amend an Act to Amend the Labour relations Act” (Bill 22) and another amendment bill from 2012 called Bill 38, otherwise known as the Public Service Collective Bargaining Act No. 2.
The Conservatives flip-flopped on Bill 22 within 24 hours.
They also flip-flopped on a piece of legislation from 2012 that, until 24 hours ago, had no interest in changing whatsoever. To be truthful, they had no interest in the 2012 Bill at all. While the provincial government passed the Bill two years ago, the government had not put the law into effect.
Since 2003, the Conservatives have shown repeatedly that it is far easier to spend huge amounts of public money to buy re-election than it is to develop sound public policy. This is not the first time the Conservatives have introduced a law, passed it, failed to implement it, and then replaced it with another piece of legislation later on. They did it in 2004 with the Court Security Act.
In other cases, like the Sustainable Development Act, the Conservatives pushed the bill through the House and then ignored it entirely. Then there are the unfulfilled promises to introduce a new oil royalty regime, a new gas royalty regime, and on and on the list goes.
This sort of thing didn’t happen in previous administrations, at least not with this regularity. The fact that it is commonplace speaks to a fundamental problem within the Conservative administration. A government that cannot develop laws and implement them or that develops laws and does not implement them is one that simply doesn’t function properly. It is the same as a government that cannot get its public works done on time and on budget.
Spending money is always the easiest way to govern. It is the lowest common denominator, the one thing that everyone can agree on. There’s no surprise that a group of politicians with a record like the Conservatives on public works management and flip-flop legislation are also the ones with a record of spending more than the people of the province can afford. That they have admitted to such fundamental mismanagement since 2009 doesn’t make it any better.
That is Tom Marshall’s legacy. As finance minister, Tom Marshall presided over the largest - unsustainable - increases in public spending in the provinces history. He talked about lowering the public debt, but the truth is that when he leaves office in July, Tom Marshall will be the finance minister who added more to the public debt than any one of his predecessors. Indeed, by the time you add up all the spending he supported or caused, Tom will have added more to the debt load carried by every living person in the province than all the finance ministers in the first 40 years after Confederation.
Tom Marshall is a good man.
In public life, Tom has undoubtedly done good things.
Unfortunately the good that public men do is often interred with their bones. In Tom’s case, the legacy of debt and mismanagement that the Conservatives will leave behind them will sadly be what people remember of him.
That is a shame.