08 December 2014

Let’s talk about pol-i-cy. #nlpoli

Some people are making issue lately out of the fact that – supposedly  - the Liberals have not released any policies.  The Liberals will be government soon and no one knows what they plan to do.

There are two types of people talking like that.  One are partisans, mostly Conservative, but with a few New Democrats.  The Conservative interest in this idea is pretty obvious.  They want to shift the pressure of their team and onto the Liberals.  They want to change the channel.  But more than that, they want to expose the Liberals for the frauds they are. 

Well, frauds at least in Conservative thinking.  Conservatives believe that they alone are able to government.  They are pre-ordained by God, Danny Williams, or some equal deity to rule over us all as the natural and proper government.  Getting the Liberals to talk about their policies would expose the Liberals’ weakness.  If the Liberals don't reveal anything, then it is proof  - in the Conservative talking points – that the Liberals really don’t have anything. “I think they’re devoid of policy at this point,”  Government House leader Darin King told the Telegram’s James McLeod at the end of November.

A couple of New Democrats – there really are only a couple –have been joining in the same argument.  They have decided that talking policy is their thing.  They will not form government or even the official opposition, as Lorraine Michael now admits, so the NDP will be the ones to talk about things. 

The second group is an odd one.  They are the people who like to study about politics.  They are like Kelly Blidook,  a political scientist at Memorial University.  Blidook turned up in the McLeod article in the Telly saying that the “Liberals have really presented nothing in terms of what they would do and how they would govern and what their policies are.  I think there’s a good chance we’ll end up with a premier simply because he was in the right place at the right time.”

What’s curious about this second group is that they should know that it’s a bit nutty to complain before an election that a political party hasn’t released its election platform.  None of the parties have.  None of the parties will,  until the writ drops and the campaign is on.

And, given that there has to be an election between now and when the Liberals would – theoretically – form a government makes it highly unlikely that a political party will get into office without revealing some of its plans or intentions.  Theoretically, it is possible:  if the Liberals actually took in the  bunch of Conservatives looking to cross the floor – and there are quite a few of them – the Conservatives could slip below the magic number needed to keep the confidence of the House.  In such a situation,  Paul Davis could advise the Lieutenant Governor to ask the opposition leader to try and form an administration.

These days, though, that’s never the last piece of advice the Premier gives the LG as he heads out the door.  In fact, the last time a prime minister in Newfoundland handed over power without an election was before the collapse of Responsible Government in 1934.  Lately,  no matter what the situation,  the outgoing first minister advises the LG to dissolve the House and hold an election.  The LG could refuse to take the advice, but, in practice,  lieutenant governors just don’t do that sort of thing any more.

And so we are assured of an election and the chance to discuss all sorts of policies before the next administration takes office.

Just like always.

There’s nothing unusual in this, by the way.  Before the 2003 election, the Liberals went after the Conservatives withe exactly the same argument and for exactly the same reason.. The Conservatives didn’t take the bait then, even though the Telegram chimed in with the same demand for the Conservatives to release their policies long before the lection came.

There’s also nothing odd in the fact the Liberals now, like the Conservatives, then haven’t announced very many policies.  They’d be absolutely stupid to let the public focus shift off the government that’s actually in power and under great pressure and onto the opposition.  It’s not just good political strategy:  it’s good politics.  You have to wonder why the folks at the Telegram or academics like Blidook would rather talk about events a year or more away rather than discuss major problems that are happening right now.

Like the current budget crisis.

The focus of that discussion should be on what the government actually plans to do today.  There’s no point in talking about what someone else might do, hypothetically. Some people might think the Liberals should tell us all what they would do. Well, there again, you’ve got that hypothetical situation thing.  It’s a complete waste of time.

Some people  - like Darin King and other Conservatives – whine that it’s somehow unfair for people to criticise the government without offering an alternative. It’s also unfair for the government to hide information from the public to serve their own purposes, to spend public money beyond what the treasury can afford and to do so solely for their own partisan gains.

So for all the Conservative whingers out there, the answer is the same as the one the Liberals either got or deserved before 2003:  life is unfair. Grow up.  It will all work out in the end.  And if you want a policy debate, the easiest way to get one is to call an election.  Since that would involve a bunch of Conservatives risking their pensionability on it – they don’t qualify yet – you can bet there won’t be an election until sometime after April 5, 2015.  That’s when Paul Davis qualifies for a pension.  They might even wait until Judy Manning has been a lawyer for 10 years so they can appoint her to a judge’s bench somewhere. That alone tells you how serious they are about policy, by the way.

There’s nothing new in this Conservative whine by the way.  They have tried all sorts of variations on the same whine since 2003.  Every critic they couldn’t silence with the “quisling” and “traitor” crap got the challenge to offer a better idea.  When they got a better idea, the  Conservatives just dismissed it and carried on with the same crappy ideas that have now gotten them into trouble.

The difference between today compared to 2006, say, is that the Conservatives know their political goose is burned to a crisp. They are desperate to stay in power and they will do and say just about anything to hang on.  They are also supremely arrogant enough to believe that they are right and always have been, even as the last of their political dead is figuratively heaved onto the bonfire called the coming election.

As for people like Blidook, you just have to wonder why they join in  with the Conservatives’ superficial whinging.   It’s like saying that the Conservatives have no moral right to govern. Of course, they do.  They have the same legal and moral right to govern as any other gang of politicians who has ever commanded a majority in the House.  The Conservatives have lost a bunch of by-elections.  People aren’t happy with them, apparently.  But unless a raft of them cross the floor to the Liberals or to sit as independents AND start voting against the Conservatives,  the guys running the place now have a majority of votes in the legislature.  They can stay in office.

Some people might not like that now, but the alternative wouldn’t be too palatable either. The way our system runs gives us some political stability.  We don’t have an election every time the polls take a tumble.  We don’t bring about a crisis just because a single by-election or even a string of by-elections go against the governing party.

To claim that the current administration has no moral right to govern is to give into the same superficial thinking behind Danny Williams’ claim that we need an election whenever there is a new Premier.  Williams was just pissed off that he had to sit in opposition for a few years.  It was pure egotistical bullshit. What came out of his whining before 2003 was a series of changes to the Elections Act that did made the system less competitive, less democratic, and in the case of special ballots, completely screwed up.  We’ve now got a political system that completely devalues the individual politician and places all the emphasis on the party controlled by a single individual.

The rest of what the Conservatives have wrought on the political system is no better.  We have less public discussion of substantive issues, full stop. The policy discussion in our system should be led between elections by the government.  Instead, since 2003, we have had a government that  is far more secretive than ever about everything they do. 

Hang on a second.

Government transparency.

That sounds familiar.

<snap fingers>

Of course.  The Liberals have announced at least one policy. They are going to reform access to information laws. 

There’s a topic the Conservatives undoubtedly want to talk about.

Let’s discuss that for a while.

The sound you hear is the Conservatives desperately running away from a discussion of that.