18 January 2016

Process Question #nlpoli

Finance minister Cathy Bennett told CBC that "everything is on the table and we have to make sure that we don't leave anything that potentially could help us move to the destination that we all want to get to...So, my answer would be everything is on the table."

Soooo, my question would be "where is that destination?"

 A plan is a description of how we get from heeeere to theeeeere.

 Well, with the provincial government's budget plan, we pretty much now where heeeere is.

But so far Cathy and Dwight Ball and the rest of the folks in government haven't told us where they think theeeeeere is.

And that's really the most important question at this point.

What we do to get to "there" depends pretty much on where "there" is.

Look at it this way.

The crowd that just finished running the place always thought "there" was a place where oil prices came back and no one had to worry about anything again.  That's why they just borrowed and borrowed and avoided any tough decisions.

If you believe that we aren't going to have much more than about $10,000 per person in income over the next decade, then you will need to cut spending by about $4,000 per person.  That would mean things like laying off the folks the Conservatives have hired since 2006 and all the other stuff Dwight Ball has already crossed off his list of stuff he wants to hear.

So if you think that oil is going to come back next year or the year after or - as Dwight Ball put it, the real deficit is only a few hundred million dollars -  then you would do something very different than if you thought the oil was gone, period, full stop, end of story.

Get it?

This sounds suspiciously like the conflict between Bennett and Ball that SRBP suggested would emerge.  Last Tuesday,  Ball and Bennett and Siobhan Coady they needed dialogue and engagement and conversation to save the planet from imminent destruction.

And then Dwight Ball quickly said he didn't want to hear tell of anything of a planet saving level of intensity.

Right there in the "discussion" document,  the politicians decided they don't actually want a discussion on everything:

"Natural attrition will be the primary and preferred means of workforce reduction"
Basic principle, as they called it.

Attrition only.

So everything isn't on the table, after all.

What's more,  that prohibition of any changes to the work force doesn't match with the call for innovation.  Basically,  if the provincial government wants to deliver services more efficiently and effectively than it does right now, odds are good that will involve a lot fewer people doing the work.  The reason is simple enough:  government is - as Dwight Ball's own figures suggest - carrying about 20% more employees in its core public service than it actually needs.

So while the politicians haven't told us their destination of this little exercise, we can guess that at least some of the people in the provincial government think the destination is a lot closer to where we are now than others do.

Folks have a good sense that the politicians are confused.  Within a day of announcing the "Great Dialogue" complete with the app that isn't an app at all, we were seeing a bunch of joke ideas.

Communist revolution, one wag posted.  The local media had a field day with that one.

Then there was the ribald and risque suggestion to put "Dildo" into "Broad" Cove.

Dildo into a broad.

Schoolboy jokes as public policy suggestions.

A bunch of other people wanted to shut down Muskrat Falls construction, something else Ball has said he doesn't want to hear.

Others wanted to jack up taxes massively, another idea Dwight Ball has said he wants no part of because it kills jobs.

Then there is the idea - as Cathy Bennett put it - that we must innovate because the economy is too dependent on oil.
The provincial economy was so focused on leveraging one resource line, that we neglected — and I think it's an example of mismanagement — we neglected to focus on areas where we can diversify our economy using other resources, and forestry, fisheries are two excellent examples of how we need to do that.
Well, errrr,  no.

The provincial government has a huge financial problem.

The economy?

Well, that's not the same as the provincial government, except to the extent that the politicians over the past couple of decades started to substitute more and more government spending for actual economic development.

If Cathy Bennett is confusing her budget problem with a wider economic problem, then you can now see why the politicians haven't been able to tell us where they want to go.  They are hung up on the point that the economy is heavily dependent on government spending.  The pols seem to hope they will be able to turn up the dial on the economy without actually reducing government spending all that much. That's basically just a variation of the fundamental strategic problem the Conservatives had.  In the abstract, they knew what was wrong: way too much government spending.  In the material,  they just couldn't bring themselves to do what they desperately needed to do:  cut government spending by about $2.0 billion

We are at a point in this province where we cannot just cycle through the same budget process and hope that this time we get the answer right.

We can't get the right answer on the budget without answering a fundamental question first.

It's the starting point of any plan.

Where do we want to go?