28 April 2015

Contending Political Strategies #nlpoli

Starting last Friday, the ironically-named Conservatives currently running the place started holding a series of “pre-budget” announcements.

They started with news that to deal with the massive financial crisis they would be dumping 77 and a half teaching positions in the provincial school system.  About twice that many would retire, so the school boards in the province would only hire enough teachers to fill half the empty slots.  To make that fit with the declining student enrolment,  the school boards would adjust the allowed class sizes by one student per teacher for grades 4 to 6 and by two students per teacher for grades 7 to 9.

Other than that, no change in staffing.

On Monday, the finance minister announced that the massive financial problem the government is facing led the government to cut the public service by zero real people.

Well sure, what Ross Wiseman said was that over the next five years, the government would eliminate 1,420 positions across the 46,000-member public service.  They’d look to save $300 million as a result, which works out to about $60 million a year.

They’d go it all through attrition.  About 9,000 people would retire over the coming five years.  The government would hire replacements for 80% of them.

Before you go any further, though,  realise that this amounts to three percent of the public service.

Three percent.

Spread out over five years.

It’s shag-all, compared to the $1.5 billion or so the government is going to be short every year thanks to chronic government overspending and the drop in oil prices. 

The head of the province’s largest public sector union turned up on television Monday night to warn us all about the possibility that there might, theoretically, possibly be lay offs, you know, if maybe no one retired.


Like that would happen.

And, of course, the New Democrats scorched the House of Assembly for the 30 seconds or so the rump of them get in question period now that Lorraine Michael has brought the party back down to its historic norms in public support.  Lorraine Michael said the government will “eviscerate the delivery of services to people of the Province.”  Three percent of a public sector that is so largest we cannot afford it even though we spend more per person than any other province in Canada to get what public services we have.

Lorraine’s comments were so far removed from reality that they were laughable. It would be laughable if it weren’t so serious. But it was all predictable, just as it was utter foolishness. There are about 46,000 people in the provincial public service.  Dropping three percent of them – maybe -  isn’t even like a paper cut, let alone the kind of disembowelling Lorraine Michael would have you believe it is.  Her posturing is silly.  It is as ridiculous as the NAPE ads about the evils of “austerity”  or, for that matter, any of the claims made by the public sector unions since January.

What the government is doing is on track to match up with what SRBP forecast a month or so ago.  The government will do as little as possible to get through the current budget.  They’ll raise some extra money here and there with small things like permits and a little hike in the sales tax.  They will cut public works spending by about half and borrow a crap-load of cash.  Politically, they can’t afford to do anything else but kick the fiscal can down the road until later.

Five years and two elections later.

When you read that say it out loud.

Hold up five fingers.

Then hold up two fingers of the same hand, turned around like the British way of flipping the bird.

The visuals add to the humour.

Try it.

The NDP slash union position is foolish because anyone with half a brain can see what is going on. The only people tearing their clothes and pulling their hair are the union leaders and their stooges.  The union members, on the other hand, heard exactly the message Ross Wiseman wanted to send them, in the clear, free of any other distortion:  everyone relax.  You have a job until you retire.

That’s the same message they sent teachers last Friday.  The biggest worry for the 46,000 people in the public service was that lay-offs were coming in huge numbers.  Now they know exactly what will happen.  Nothing.

The provincial government had no intention of doing anything.  Politically, they couldn’t afford it.  Everyone knew that, including the union leaders who have been cynically screaming and shouting about “austerity” and the imaginary plans to gut the public service.

On Tuesday, the provincial government will announce a new business opportunity for the private sector to propose some kind of deal to deliver care for seniors. The unions will scream and bawl blue-murder but everyone will have a job and people will wonder what Wayne and the rest of them are beating their gums about.

Come the election even union members won’t vote for the NDP.  That’s what it’s always been like in politics around these parts.  Even telling people that imaginary cuts will mean fewer jobs for young people is a pile of crap.  No one will believe it.  By saying that,  Earle McCurdy didn’t reach out to young people.  Except for the few young Dippers, no one would pay any attention to it. McCurdy just looked desperate.

And he gave the Conservatives a chance to explain yet again how really inconsequential their announcement about can kicking was, in real terms.

The Conservatives might have another announcement on Wednesday and then on Thursday they will have nothing but happy news. Everything’s fine.  Nothing to see here.  Lots of money for everyone.

That’s their big “strategy”.  There’s no election frame of stark choices, except maybe with the NDP, but that is by accident of the NDP’s stunnedness more than any Tory masterstroke of political genius.  After all, these guys can’t even figure out Twitter and Facebook. They are hardly a bunch of Machiavelli-clones all of a sudden.

Just ask Mark Whiffen, the Party president, who became yet another national embarrassment to the province over the weekend for childish comments made on Twitter.  He’s closed his account down, by the way so that the only people who can read his childishness are his fellow Conservatives.


Or Ross Wiseman, who tried to lynch Gerry Rogers over something on Facebook Ross clearly didn’t understand.

Face it:  Frank Underhill they ain’t.

The Conservatives just want to clear the decks so they can have a good day on Thursday.  Then they’ll all head back to their districts and hopefully some good news.  Such is the happy face strategy that the transportation minister is meeting with the group representing ferry users in the province.  He wants to talk about getting them cheaper fares on ferries already heavily subsidised by scarce tax dollars.. Others looking for government help will find it if they ask. 

People who expected the Liberals to spend Question Period in the House on Monday giving the Conservatives an easy ride found out, to their surprise, the Liberals had other things in mind.

They wanted to talk about the police investigation into the Dunphy shooting.  Andrew Parsons picked up where he left on Thursday, giving Darin King the chance to show he has no idea what is going on in his own department.

Parsons is doing a highly skilled job with King. Parsons asks him a simple question.  King doesn’t answer. So Parsons asks again. And again and again.

The thing was so simple and so stark, that it’s worth reading the first exchange in the House, as it went:

MR. A. PARSONS: Mr. Speaker, the Minister of Justice said on Thursday that he was not aware of an official Memorandum of Understanding between our police forces and the OPP, that he thought there was but that he would check.

I ask again: Is there an MOU between our RNC, RCMP, and the OPP, and will you table it?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Justice and Public Safety.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. KING: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I think actually what I said was, I was not aware if it was re-signed or not. I was certainly aware there had been an MOU, and, yes, there is currently an MOU in place.

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for Burgeo – La Poile.

MR. A. PARSONS: Mr. Speaker, I ask the minister: Will he table it?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Justice and Public Safety.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. KING: Thank you.

To clarify my previous remarks, I may have overlooked one part of your question. The MOU is with the RNC, not RCMP.

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for Burgeo – La Poile.

MR. A. PARSONS: Mr. Speaker, I ask: Will he table it?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Justice and Public Safety.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. KING: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Since the MOU is not a government document, I will certainly seek out to see if I have the authority to table that here. The MOU is actually between the police force, but I have no issue tabling it if there is no restriction around that. I will check it out and get back to you.

Who does Number Two work for?  said Parsons.  The whole thing couldn’t have been any more funny.

And it would be funny if it all weren’t so serious.

King wriggled.  King squirmed.  Parsons asked King about King’s own words in the House on Thursday:

“With respect to the ongoing investigation, we have been very clear, Mr. Speaker, that both police forces are engaged here in different pieces of an investigation. We will see that through. Upon conclusion of those investigations we will make a determination whether further actions are required.”  [Emphasis added]

King accused Parsons of distorting the truth.  The words are plain enough.  King either couldn’t remember what he said or didn’t even want to try.

Parsons tried other angles, all to get at King’s powers as minister with respect to the investigations.  The questions Parsons and others ultimately will  be asking may well not be about whether King  could get another force to run the investigation now but why King allowed the RCMP to investigate the shooting in the first place.  As it stands right now,  King doesn’t seem to know.  That’s why he is ducking and weaving so wildly in the House.

There’s no political profit for the Liberals in asking the Conservatives about things the Conservatives want to talk about.  Like the announcement on Monday morning.  Better for the Liberals to talk about stuff the Conservatives don’t want to talk about.

Like the Dunphy shooting investigation.

Or the story that broke Monday morning about problems with the province’s ferry building scheme.  A company that bid on the ferry contracts apparently wondered why the provincial government went with a competitive bid even though it was 25% higher than the one from the Chilean company.

Or the blatant patronage in having Ross Wiseman’s district association official take up yet another patronage gig dealing with the pension overpayments the government made to some seniors.

Talking about stuff the others don’t want to talk about. Talking about the stuff on which they are vulnerable. Talking about stuff you want to talk about.

That is strategy.

Talking about stuff that gives you nothing and gives the other guy time even more time to explain his ideas.

That isn’t strategy.

Monday was interesting.

Let’s see what Tuesday brings.