The province’s largest public sector union met last week in St. John’s for its annual convention. They started out their first day with a speech from recently-elected boss Jerry Earle. The militant guy promised the union would militantly oppose any plan to turn public sector services over to the private sector.
The province’s NDP leader – Earle McCurdy - spoke to delegates on Thursday. McCurdy said for umpteen thousandth time this year, that he and his friends in the union party would also steadfastly resist any effort to privatize public services.
Friday was the day the union let the other two provincial party leaders say a few words. What happened next was amazing..
Conservative leader Paul Davis delivered the speech McCurdy should have given,. Promising a campaign about leadership and hope, Davis then proceeded to employ some old-fashioned fear mongering. Fear Liberals, he said. They are sharpening their axes to slash public spending just like they did in the 1990s.
And if fear didn’t get the union activists, Davis was not above offering a bribe. Vote against the Liberals, said Davis, and “I will reward you fairly and quickly when we regain fiscal capacity.”
This is the sort of stuff Earle should have told his people on Thursday but didn’t. Instead, the leader of the party the NDP and the unions have backed for the past decade promised to do precisely what they had done before. Davis pledged to open the taps on public spending in order to win votes.
That, dear friends, is exactly how Danny Williams and the Conservatives got to be so popular back when they were popular. They opened the taps and spent every nickel in the treasury. And when that money ran out they started borrowing more. They have talked a lot about restraint but have done little of consequence.
That is how public finances got into their current state.
In election after election, NAPE, CUPE, and the union members voted for their party. They voted for the Conservatives. The union leadership in the province supported the Conservatives in every attack they made on democracy, in every dollar of new debt they piled on the public treasury, and in - most famously – the plan to force low and fixed income people in Newfoundland and Labrador to pay for an electricity project they did not need in order to give free electricity to private corporations.
In federal politics, provincial Conservatives shifted to the NDP in 2008 and 2011. The same people who cheered Danny Williams’ anti-Quebec, anti-Confederate negativity are the same folks who flocked to Ryan Cleary’s caricature of Williams.
Provincially in 2011, provincial Conservative voters in metro St. John’s moved from the Tories to the NDP. Now that shift didn’t last but look at the trend and you will see the basic connections. Voters themselves don;t see a huge difference between the two parties. There’s no reason for the party bosses to see a difference either.
New Democrats these days will say such things aren’t true. But those New Democrats are wrong. The truth is that the provincial Conservatives are not really Conservatives at all. They are closer in their way of thinking to provincial New Democrats. What you’d wind up with is a party that doesn;t look like many other parties across Canada. But at least it would put together a whole bunch of people who tend to think alike and who should be united in a common political cause.
What Davis’ speech also shows us is the extent to which the provincial Conservatives have no idea what they are doing. They are the incumbents but they are trying to run as if they are already the opposition. Davis promised to pay off public sector workers if they voted Conservative but at the same time told those workers they’d have to give up their jobs because the provincial government is in a financial bind. It is in a financial bind because the Conservatives paid off public sector workers.
It is every bit as surreal as the supposed social democratic party campaigning to defeat the federal Conservatives by shifting to the right of centre at a time when voters were clearly looking for an alternative to the right wing incumbent administration.. The provincial NDP are already there. Earle McCurdy told the NAPE delegates that he is opposed to austerity – that is, adamantly opposed to cutting the provincial budget – and yet he has already said that a provincial NDP government would have to cut spending and lay people off to deal with the current financial problems.
A merger of the NDP and provincial Conservatives makes sense.