28 October 2016

Sunshine, lollipops, and fluffy kittens #nlpoli

Finance minister Cathy Bennett read words that tried to make the provincial government's financial situation sound better than it was forecast to be last spring.

For all the wonderful words in Bennett's scripted remarks, Bennett could not hide the truth. Her tone of voice was more sombre and depressed than if Premier Dwight Ball had been there himself - rather than in Ottawa for a Memorial University fund raising dinner - and had done his very best Eeyore impression. Bennett was so stiff and wooden in her delivery that it seemed like her motions were written down as well, in stage directions: "As you can see from the slide  [look at slide,  pause,  then look back at script]...".

Then there was the bizarre bit at the end where Bennett thanked people. The reference to her cabinet and caucus colleagues, in the back of the room, seemed like a very obvious attempt to make it appear that they were firmly behind the government's actions. It was so obvious though that it would have the opposite effect.

The reality of government's financial position is that they are firmly wedged in the muck up near the headwaters of Shit Creek. Things are so bad that even though the government crowd had already told us this statement would include news about the gasoline tax,  Bennett had none. The changes in the government's income are modest.

Ominous was a note that spending actually went up. The reason was a change in the government's cost of servicing its debt. That was ominous since the provincial government is headed off to the American markets to fund its spending in the future. This problem will only get worse in the future as the debt will have to paid in American dollars. Every time the Canadian dollar changes in value, the amount the government will have to pay back changes as well. Cathy Bennett did not say anything about that.

Everything else that Cathy Bennett talked about was trivial and inconsequential. People will make much of the fact that Bennett told reporters that government had not made up its mind about layoffs and then later had the government issue a news release that they had canned 15 assistant deputy ministers for a saving of $2.0 million.  They will make much of the contradiction.  What they should make note of is that the politicians think that such trivialities will make a difference.

To be sure,  for those 15 people and their families, this is far from trivial.  You have to have been in that spot sometime in your life to know how it feels.  You have to have been in that spot just once in your life to know the bowel-liquifying fear that has gripped the tens of thousands of public servants since last spring when Cathy Bennett and Dwight Ball first talked about sacking lots of folks at some unknown point in the future.

That threat still lurks out there despite Cathy Bennett's sort-of denials.  People do not trust the Liberals anymore just like they haven't trusted the Conservatives since 2012 or so and like they have never trusted the New Democrats. They are used to politicians who say one thing stiffly, Eeyorely, and apparently insincerely since they do something else five hours later or five days later.

Voters are not stupid, even if politicians think they are. People know that Dwight Ball's idea to gently rock the ship of state will not get the old gal out of the mud. They know something more drastic has to happen. They know that if something serious doesn't happen,  then it is only a matter of time before things get a whole lot worse for everyone.

Voters are not stupid.  They know that what Dwight and Cathy have been talking about is trivial in comparison to the size of the problem.  They get it that Dwight stayed in Florida rather than come back to deal with a political crisis.  Folks saw him at the airport in Toronto going down to Florida and they saw him on the way back. Word gets around.

But playing cutsie at the airport about where he's been? Saying that a marathon political meeting had nothing to do with protesters? Or insisting that firing 15 people will make the entire government more efficient as part of a vision of a glorious future?  Well pretending there everything is sunshine, lollipops, and fluffy kittens shows not just a disconnection from reality:  it shows a contempt for voters.

People get that message loud and clear and that's why Dwight and his party are sucking in the polls.