27 October 2015

Blackmail and the Conservative dysfunction #nlpoli

Paul Davis and his cabinet were all smiles and chuckles last week at the election of a new administration in Ottawa.

Optimistic for the future.

Looking forward to a new relationship and all that.

Then came the issue if the tariff on ships of a certain size built outside Canada.  The Conservatives are holding it out as a test of Justin Trudeau and his fellow Liberals.  Forgiving the tariff would be a sign that things had changed in Ottawa.

The major problem, of course, is that the tariff issue is a sign that things hadn’t changed in Newfoundland and Labrador.  Yet again the provincial Conservatives were looking for a federal handout.  In this case, it would be to subsidise the provincial government’s incompetent decision-making. The ferry project has been plagued by mismanagement since it started. The current tariff issue was entirely avoidable

Davis and transportation minister David Brazil are hoping that the seven federal members of parliament from Newfoundland and Labrador are idiot enough to lobby their leader to help Davis and Brazil.  Odds are that Davis and Brazil will be out of office before the feds get around to dealing with thins issue so it will fall to the new provincial Liberal administration that replaces them to pursue this issue or not.

Because we need a change of direction in Newfoundland and Labrador, here’s hoping the local Liberals will drop this request altogether along with the entire provincial Conservative approach to the federal government.

Since 2003, the provincial Conservatives have made up what has been arguably the most unsuccessful provincial administration since 1949 when it comes to dealing with the federal government.  In every sector, on every issue, they have been either spectacularly unsuccessful (the fishery generally) or have turned success into one gigantic and entirely unnecessary row after another. 

These days the federal government simply doesn’t pay any attention to whatever a provincial premier or minister says.  They have learned that – since you can’t deal logically, rationally, and maturely with these guys -  it is best not to deal with them at all beyond what you absolutely have to do. 

There is a popular image that the province has suffered in recent years.  That might be true as far as the list of nice-to-have things in any one of the begging letters Danny Williams or Paul Davis sent during a federal election would go.  That’s why Davis’ recent batch of letters had pretty much the same string of things in them that Danny Williams had in his first letter a decade earlier.  That’s certainly the measure by which you could say they have been spectacularly unsuccessful.

But from another perspective, the province has done quite well.  Prime Minister Paul Martin promised to help the provincial government financially in January 2004 and he delivered on the promise. Danny Williams tried to squeeze more out of the feds with a display of childishness and immaturity but it didn’t work. 

Ditto Equalization in 2006 to 2008.  In fact, on that one, the federal Conservatives delivered what the provincial bunch asked for in 2003.  The only problem is the provincial bunch changed their order in 2006.  They still got what they claimed they wanted even if Williams went on yet another tirade.

The Conservatives have consistently trade the provincial public interest for their own transitory political benefit.  Their tirades made them popular even if they were, essentially, ineffective when it came to sustaining a productive relationship with the federal government.

Take as a good example their approach to the European trade talks.  Initially Danny Williams refused to participate based on a flimsy excuse.  His successors relented and then engaged in a silly round of posturing of their own.

They scored a deal for a joint federal-provincial fund related to the European trade deal last year.  Not satisfied with what they had, the provincial geniuses tried to dramatically alter the agreement.  Then they publicly accused the federal government of reneging on the deal.  Correspondence the provincial government released actually didn’t support their claim but that didn’t stop the Tories from repeating their accusation.  Not surprisingly, the federal government balked at the provincial government’s cheesy attempt at political blackmail.

Then there is the curious handling of emergency response in two cases.  The provincial government could not respond adequately to the devastation caused by Hurricane Igor.  Provincial response focused on federal compensation on the one hand and political tourism of disaster areas on the other.  It took days for the province to accept federal offers of assistance from the Canadian Forces and even when it did finally request federal aid, provincial officials took pains to carefully limit the extent of federal assistance.  it seemed like the provincial politicians were more concerned with optics than assistance.

In the case of Burton Winters,  the provincial government was primarily responsible for all aspects of the search for the missing boy.   Provincial official requested federal help but it was unavailable due to adverse weather conditions.  Rather than describe events fairly and honestly, the provincial government and opposition politicians blamed the federal government for the boy’s tragic death.

The begging letters are a good example of what was wrong with the Conservatives’ approach.  A federal election is the occasion for voters of the province to elect a federal government. It is a matter between the individual voters and their federal government. 

The begging letters were almost entirely concerned with matters of concern primarily to the provincial government.  The premise of the letters was that the provincial government’s interest ought to stand in place of the individual interest of ordinary Newfoundlanders and Labradorians. The provincial government’s view ought to prevail over those of the individual residents of the province. 

The attitude is fundamentally paternalistic and, to that extent, anti-democratic.  After all, the premise of the Conservatives’ view was that the people of the province should only follow along behind their leaders.  Certainly one of the goals of the two great wars with federal politicians was to ensure that residents of the province ought to have no other political gods but Danny.  In 2004,  Williams was concerned to kill off John Efford.  In 2006 and afterward, it was Loyola Hearn and ultimately Stephen Harper himself.

In a  few weeks,  the crowd who have run the place for a bit more than a decade will be sent packing to the opposition benches.  A new bunch will take power. It will be very interesting to see how they approach their relationship to the federal government.  certainly, whatever they do, it cannot be as fundamentally screwed up as what we have seen since 2003.