25 April 2016

More worrying wobbles #nlpoli

You have to get very seriously concerned when a cabinet minister can't or won't answer a simple question that has only one, simple, direct answer.

Next week,  the provincial government,  the province's access to information commissioner, and some agencies will appear in court to deal with an application from the teacher's union and the nurses' union to roll back the clock on the public's right to know. Bill 29 did not go far enough for them.

The law says what it has always said:  the public can find out the name of the person in a public service position, the position the person occupies, and the remuneration the person gets for doing the job.  It's a fundamental point and the words are written plainly, in black letters, in the current access to information law, just as they have been in every access law since the first one in 1981.

Asked about the challenge to public access to information from some public sector unions,  Siobhan Coady told the Telegram's James McLeod "I will talk to Justice on what their position is, and I’ll have to get back to you on Monday."

How exactly can the minister responsible for the public's right to know not know what the government position will be?


We get it that Coady has been preoccupied dealing with the consequences of the government's wobbliness on the energy corporation's leadership. Premier Dwight Ball and Coady - also the natural resources minister - have resisted getting to get to grips with a very serious problem with the corporation and its troubled and troubling Muskrat Falls project.

They only acted when the chief executive and board, all appointees of the former administration, resigned unexpectedly last week put Coady and her boss well up the creek. If Stan Marshall hadn't agreed to take on the task of sorting things out, Coady and her boss would have been royally shagged.

But the right to access is so crystal clear and the unions' position so nakedly self-interested and wrong that it is unfathomable that Coady did not have an answer ready to hand?

How could she not know the government policy?

Her reply should have been simple:  "The government will defend the public's right know as set down plainly in the House of Assembly on behalf of the people of Newfoundland and Labrador. The law says the public has a right know. That's what the government will defend."

After all, the public's right to know isn't just government policy.

It's the platform her party ran on in the general election

To make matters worse,  the best Coady could muster in response to yet another question from McLeod about the sunshine list was a "we'll get back to you" emailed out by the communications director for her department.  The email said the question was a priority and that there'd be a firm answer some time in May.

That's the same sort of non-answer the former administration used all the time.  Your concern is a number one priority for us and we'll get right on it.  Eventually.  With so many number one priorities, it's no wonder all they could do was spend like drunken sailors and then seek re-election on a pledge to drink more heavily.

Coady's wobbly answer to McLeod is problematic when you look at the strongly worded - but entirely ridiculous - commented offered by NAPE boss Jerry Earle*.  The government needs clear policy, Earle said,  and at a time when people are losing their jobs and government is hiking taxes, they are wasting public money fighting the unions in court on this.

Earle couldn't be more wrong.  But look at what he did.  Earle tied this court fight to the government's budget.  The imperative for a clear statement couldn't have been stronger even if McLeod hadn't spoken to Earle when he finally cornered Coady.

The government's current budget problems are a direct result of the wobbly way it has handled the budget.  The centrepiece of the wobbliness, though, has been the tone deaf way they dropped out a a massive tax increase on the public while doing nothing at all to constrain public spending.


The core of public unease and the Liberals' political problems are not the budget or even promises from the last election they haven;t kept.  At the point they made the promises, they arguable didn't have accurate information.  Things were radically different once they got the official briefings and saw just how much the former administration had hidden from the people of the province.

All that vanished once someone leaked highly confidential budget information to CBC.

At that point, the Liberals should have rebaselined, the jargony weasel-word Coady has been using a lot lately about Muskrat Falls. Everything is on the table,  they should have said, and all the promises we made will have to be looked at in light of this devastating truth deliberately hidden from the people of the province.

Dwight Ball didn't do that, though.  He said everything was on the table and then repeated all his old promises about no job cuts,  no HST hike and the rest.  On the table and then off again. Ball even went to Ottawa and had them cancel the HST hike.  The episode cost money to the business community and to the government at a time when the government obviously needed cash.

And it added to the confusion in the public about what was going on.

When the government introduced its budget,  the HST hike was back on, along with a raft of new fees and charges and other hikes.  There were cuts to the public service although they were extremely small compared to the enormous size of the financial problem government faces. All of that was made worse by the shock caused in no small measure by Ball's wobbliness.

Let's hope that the government lawyers appear in court next week and fight for the public's right to know.

Unfortunately, hope is all we will have when cabinet ministers wobble.


*Corrected attribution.