11 March 2015

The Other Other March Madness #nlpoli

Premier Paul Davis mentioned the prospect of privatizing some public services last week.

This week,  the Liberals started running ads declaring they were opposed to privatising any part of health.

This week, NAPE started an ad campaign that predicted any form of privatization of public services would result in the end of life on the planet and possibly on adjacent planets in the galaxy.

This week,  whatever political staffer it is they have looking pretending to be Paul Davis on Twitter assured us all the future is bright, the fundamentals are strong, and that this financial problem is just a temporary hiccup for which the Conservatives will have a plan.

We’ve heard that before every year for the past three or four years.  It wasn’t true then and it isn’t true now.

But that’s not you should pay attention to.

What you should pay attention to is that, true to form, the Conservatives are tossing out all sorts of ideas of things they’ve already decided to do as if they haven’t already decided to do them. 

They have so not decided already what they are doing that they are lining up sessions with their allies in the St. John’s Board of Trade to talk up the things they are going to do but are pretending they haven;t settled on yet.  The budget “consultations” are only the tip of the very large iceberg of deceit that lies at the heart of politics in this province these days.

The Twitter staffer playing at being Paul Davis on Twitter has a sense of humour.  Yesterday, there was this comment, after a mention of a new “workforce” strategy due next week:

Together, we have built a solid foundation for our construction industry. But we want to make it better, and we want to do it with you.

That was right before the staffer plugged a session at the Board of Trade today on public-private partnerships.  The joke is not the play on words of a “foundation” with the construction industry.  It’s the reference to the original public-private partnership, the one  between the construction industry and the Conservative Party since 2006.

The provincial government spent record billions on capital works over the past decade.  The construction industry had so much work they haven;t been able to deliver it all on time or on budget.  But that didn’t matter since the government’s administration of public works has been spectacularly inept.

Plus, they never cared how much money they had to spend.  From the start they promised deficits of at least a half a billion every year and they worked hard to keep their promise.  The only years the Conservatives did run a deficit was when oil prices shot up so much, it exceeded even their own forecast overspending.

So the government spent and the construction industry thrived on the public money that had no end to it. 

Meanwhile over in another corner and completed unrelated to the record levels of public cash flowing to construction companies, the construction industry rapidly became the largest single bunch of donors to the provincial Conservatives.  Shag all to everyone else.    Just the Conservatives. A handful of cheques, mostly from construction companies, covered the finance minister’s campaign expenses in 2011.

While the Conservatives are playing out their annual farce,  the Liberals and the public sector unions and their front group  - d.b.a. the New Democrats  - are already condemning whatever they can condemn. The Liberals and the unions launched their ad campaigns using all the stock lines they could find laying about. Theirs is as much a political Punch and Judy show as the Conservatives’ budget pantomime is. 

This is the Other Other March Madness.  The original March Madness was the seal hunt protests and the seal hunt counter-protests.  The Other March Madness is the Extinction of the Caribou  Each year the government predicts the imminent decimation of the herd.  Each year the Innu condemn the decline of the herd.  Then they hop on their snowmobiles to slaughter them.

The herd has been wiped out 30 times in the past 30 years.  Miraculously, the wildlife officers manage to find a few more to count and the Innu – whether from Labrador or Quebec – manage to find a few to shoot. 

The annual budget show is the Other Other March Madness. In most respects, the current show is the same as the other shows. It only looks different on the surface, at least as far as what the players are doing.

This one is a bit different because the government really has a serious financial mess on its hands.  We shouldn’t be seeing the usual knucklehead stuff from the three parties, but we are. The Conservatives still haven’t told us anything about the size of the financial problem. Neither the Liberals nor the New Democrats seem bothered by this. 

This is much more important than it has ever been before.  After all, if we don’t know what the problem is, we can’t tell if the Conservative ideas  - such as they are  - make sense or not. There is merit in reviewing what government does and how it does it. The Conservatives might be saying the right things but, if their record is any indication, they will be guided by the Astigmatic Seer and the imaginary can opener he uses to divine the future.

Meanwhile, if we don’t know how bad the finances are, we can’t tell if the completely unoriginal lines from the Red Ball Express revving in one corner and the Michaelistas and their innovative male-female co-leadership scheme fumbling around in the other actually make sense.

You can see the problem.

Well, if you do, that makes two of us.

And right now we are the only two not playing one version or another of March Madness in Newfoundland and Labrador.