17 November 2015

The same sheet of paper #nlpoli

In all the elections in the 21st century, the three political parties in Newfoundland and Labrador have proposed what are essentially the same economic policies.

The differences are minor.

In 2003,  all three parties supported the creation of a massive new state-owned energy corporation to direct the development of provincial energy resources.

In 2011,  all three parties supported the Muskrat Falls project and spent an enormous amount of time during the election speaking about the project.

A new form of dependence

In 2015, all three parties agree that the provincial government must remain the key driver of the provincial economy.  All three would continue the current administration’s practice of spending far more than the government’s revenues annually. Instead of oil,  they will substitute borrowing for as long as they can
When asked about cuts to spending,  all three party leaders run from the idea as fast as they can. They are smart enough to know the government has an enormous financial problem  but they are also smart enough to know that the first one who says truthfully that the government must cut spending will also be the first one to die.

If you want to understand the power of this, look at Earle McCurdy.  All options must be on the table, says McCurdy in August. And as fast as he said,  McCurdy claims he didn’t.

Dwight Ball has said cuts might be necessary and on the day of the debate told reporters that Liberals “are not talking about cuts.”

Paul Davis and his Conservative predecessors have talked about cuts and fiscal responsibility but have done nothing to deal with the problem they created. Borrowing will likely be the single largest source of revenue for the provincial government in 2015,  greater even than oil.

There is nothing new in any of this.  We have known it for months, in detail. Government intends to increase spending by 12% in a year of supposed restraint.  It will borrow $2.1 billion, while it’s top three other sources of income will each be about half that:  oil $1.15 billion, personal income tax $1.2 billion, and sales tax at a teensy bit over $1.0 billion. That was forecast before the arse dropped even further out of oil royalties.

Diversity and other old chestnuts

In 2015, the provincial economy is more diverse than it has ever been All three parties talk about diversifying the economy as the solution for our economic problems. They talk about the need for innovation,  the need for more subsidies for industry.  In the fishery,  all three parties will retain the same level of government interference in the industry.  All three parties will look to Ottawa for more cash for everything from fisheries subsidies to a new prison.

The Liberals began a project to cut red tape as part of a long range economic policy announced in 1992.  The Conservative did the same thing after 2003 and now the Liberals are planning to do the same thing, again. 

The Conservatives bought votes in 2007 by giving women $1,200 for a year if they gave birth to a child.  The New Democrats promise to spend 10 times as much if they are elected in 2015.  Both parties say this will increase the population.  It will not. It really isn’t supposed to.  The parties just want to buy votes.

The price the New Democrats attach to a vote is driven by the party’s desperation, nothing more. The Liberals, meanwhile, will have a strategy and a plan for everything just as the Conservatives have.  The NDP would as well,  if they ever stood a chance of forming government.  So instead, they accuse the other two parties of being the same as the NDP talks about implementing the same policies as the other parties.

In this election, one party will clearly win and two others will clearly lose.  The partisans for the two parties who have been clearly marked as losers for a year or more accuse the likely winner of trying to sneak into power without revealing any details of their plans.  They accuse The One of having a hidden agenda.  The partisans of the two want us to attack the other one.  That is all they have because – fundamentally – all three are the same. 

Others, likely struggling for something insightful to say, repeat the same sorts of accusations.  They are funny accusations, funny because every single party has released exactly the same level of detail about exactly the same policies. 

The real agenda-hider

Premier Paul Davis is big on this fear agenda.  He says the Liberals have a secret agenda of cuts.  What Davis means is not that the Liberals have a hidden agenda but that government officials have already told the Conservatives of the cuts they need to make. Davis knows the size of the problem and the depth of the cuts.

Anyone seriously interested in details should ask Davis to release the advice cabinet received last year, the year before, and the year before that.  Ask Davis to release the most recent financial report on the budget. There is absolutely no reason why Davis, as the head of the government, could not release any information he wants.  Anything else is excuse.  Everything else is bullshit.

Davis and the Conservatives refused to take the advice.because they know it would be political suicide.  They know because when the Conservatives talked about running a responsible government twice already,  they suffered in the polls.  Danny Williams was afraid to do what needed to be done.  Kathy Dunderdale was afraid. Davis is afraid.  They were all afraid.  Are all afraid. Afraid of a drop in the polls. 
Ironically, the Conservatives are all going to die, anyway.  All of them.

Karma is a bitch.

Payback really is a motherf*cker.

Trust

You cannot really slide a sheet of paper between the political parties in Newfoundland and Labrador on most major subjects.  Inside the echo chamber of politics,  the partisans and their familiars imagine there are enormous differences. They fight over the differences, even though the differences are imaginary.

Outside the mental confines of the box,  voters see the parties are basically all saying the same thing. That is why voters can slide so effortlessly among the parties. Older voters are less likely to move but the opinion polls suggest that  voters have slipped from one party to another over the course of the elections in the 21st century. 

The prisoners in the echo chamber are addled with the sound of their own voices banging off the walls.  They yammer about policy.  Voters do not give two shits about policy.  What drives voters in Newfoundland and Labrador is a simple idea like trust. They will vote for someone who they can trust to look after everything. 

People think everything is wonderful.  They are looking for someone they can trust to keep everything wonderful.  Not surprisingly, the Conservatives’ pollster was in the field within minutes of the debate signoff on Monday night.  One of the questions specifically asked about trust.  Trust and the economy,  which everyone thinks is wonderful.

The problem for the Conservatives is that the public already made that choice two or three years ago.  They like things the way they are and the Liberals look like they can be trusted to keep it that way.  The yammering inside the echo chamber shrieks at the Liberals for not releasing policy or for having a hidden agenda.  This assumes the Liberals will not deliver precisely what voters want. Assumptions are always dangerous.

Even if – by some miracle – people liked the Conservatives enough to vote for them, the party is badly fractured.  They cannot even field a full slate of candidates. Things are so bad that deputy premier Steve Kent is running his own campaign complete with videos that talk of his personal agenda and commitments. Steve is desperate. Steve is losing. All of this reinforces the view that the Conservatives cannot be trusted to run the government.  Arrogance really isn’t enough.

Voters will pick the party they trust to run the province. Everything else is irrelevant. They see no need for an opposition because the opposition - regardless of who it is – serves no practical purpose in their mind. People liked the idea of cutting the House of Assembly because even the politicians do not see the value in the legislature.

The problem for the New Democrats is that they started out campaigning to be the opposition.  With the polls showing the Liberals set to sweep the whole House, Earle McCurdy on Monday night started talking about why it was important to have a New Democrat in the House. 

Not more.

“A”. 

Singular. 

Earle talked about Gerry Rogers and a resolution on mental health as if the resolution caused the other two parties to act.  It didn’t.  The NDP wants to advocate for specific issues or specific causes.  You do not need to be in the House to advocate.  Voters understand that even if the NDP activists do not.

Since the NDP do not want to form government – their lack of action confirms this – then voters can vote for a government and still let the NDP advocate from the street corner.

When the election is over there might be a few Conservatives and New Democrats in the House.  There might be none.  No one – least of all Paul Davis and Earle McCurdy  - doubt the Liberals will form the next government.  Whether there is one or 10 in the opposition or if the House was divided equally among the lot,  it wouldn’t matter to where the province is headed.  All the politicians sing from the same sheet of paper.

-srbp-