07 November 2016

Appearance #nlpoli

What you know of the world outside your immediate physical sensation - what you can touch, taste, feel and so on - is a mental construction.

It is a fiction.

That doesn't mean it is all false. All fiction has some element of the concrete amid its vapour. Nor does it mean that appearance is reality, as many mistakenly assume.

We share a lot of that fiction with everyone else. The thing is, we all run slightly different versions of the same story in our heads. From time to time, our fiction runs up against a different version of events.

That's when things get interesting.

James McLeod is one of the sharpest observers of the local political scene you will find.  His coverage of the Liberal convention this weekend noted that Premier Dwight Ball has been having a hard time since the spring.  "Ball has been riding a hot streak recently, though," McLeod wrote.  "He secured a landmark deal with indigenous leaders to get the beleaguered Muskrat Falls project back on track, and just days before the convention got word that Ottawa would extend an extra $2.9 billion loan guarantee to help cut down the cost of borrowing on the project’s budget overruns."

Look at this paragraph not as something that is right or wrong but just as the thing that it is:  a view of recent events.  Lots of the folks in Gander this past weekend would either already have that description of recent events in their heads or they would readily accept it.  The bit about the money from Ottawa is literally true:  Just days before the convention,  Dwight Ball "got word" from Ottawa that they would pony up another $2.9 billion to help cut down the cost of borrowing for Muskrat Falls.  

Not really much of a problem.

But what of that front end bit?  Riding a hot streak.  Then there's the idea that Dwight Ball "secured a landmark deal" with the folks protesting about methylmercury at Muskrat Falls.

People are likely to have some difficulty with those notions.  The reason is that they already have a story that they accept. What's more they have a view of that story that lines up with what others believe, more or less. Dwight Ball didn't broker anything with the aboriginal groups. They demanded. He agreed.

As for the idea Ball is riding a hot streak, well, that's just totally out of line with the more common view of the list of problems Ball has faced or caused.  That list would include, by the way, yet another poll that shows only 16% of the people in the province think Ball is the best choice to be Premier. Because the "hot streak" claim is out of line with what most people believe, no one is going to accept McLeod's characterization of it.

Understanding Twitter

Twitter is a wonderful political tool but during his convention speech, Dwight Ball took a shot at Twitter and the people who talk about politics using it.  Ball said his party is not made up of "Twitter addicts". Well, that's what he said according to NTV's Mike Connors on Twitter.  Drew Brown tweeted about Ball's comment slamming "late night Twitter addicts who get behind a keyboard believing they can lead the province from Twitter."

At best, the power of Twitter is often misunderstood by those using it.  The power of Twitter is most especially misunderstood by those like Ball who deny its power.  In that sense, Twitter is a metaphor for communication generally, which Ball himself clearly does not really understand on any level.  He shows this by consistently making the same mistakes over and over again.  

In this case,  though, Dwight is rejecting Twitter simply because it is a tool most closely associated with the party that ran government before now. Dwight wants to appear to be different. That's the same reason Ball talks about how open he is to new ideas and why he wants feedback and accountability. Last going off, the Conservatives were all about ignoring the public, according to some people. Certainly people got a very clear impression the Conservatives didn't care about public opinion when Cathy said that darknl was not a crisis. So Dwight is Mr. Consultation. Dwight mentions your opinions a lot, and how much he wants to hear about them.

Except that Ball really isn't about hearing people, which would be an important part of genuine consultation. People not only need to have a say, someone has to take their views into account. People who genuinely value feedback and public opinion don't sneer at people on Twitter because they "think they can run the government".  People who value feedback don't get sooky when they are criticised. They don't cut off a reporter's access because he's written some things that the politician doesn't like.

People talking about politics on Twitter are party activists, politicians, reporters who cover politics, and people who are keenly interested in what is going on in the world.  They are far more politically attuned than the average person.  In the case of trolls like Sandy Collins, they actually get paid to annoy the shit out of folks from other political parties.  They are not the sort of people the Premier should be getting annoyed enough about to take a potshot at them in public.

And they are also not people he should be ignoring. They can be an important guide to what a key segment of the population is talking about.  Some of the folks on there actually have an impact on what others think. They are people who influence others. Those are people Dwight Ball should be interested in. Dwight Ball doesn't give a toss about them at all.  Ball dismisses them because they criticise him about the way he is running the province.  Running the province is his job alone, not theirs.  Not anyone else's.

But Dwight is listening.

New Approach:  Proud Past.  Strong Future.  and what about Determined ...?

You know who else used to get upset about Twitter and reporters and stuff like that?

Kathy Dunderdale.

And before that Danny Williams used to get bent out of shape about the news media and how they were never giving his crowd a break.  Every year at the convention in Gander like clockwork.  Like a Republican presidential candidate for that matter.

They also had Paul Lane in common, who Ball took a potshot at in his speech Friday night at the Liberal convention.  Only two years ago,  Ball described Lane as a perfect fit with his Liberal Party.

That is kinda interesting for a guy who has position himself fairly strong against Twitter and for consultation based on public perceptions of the crowd that held power before now.  Not like them at all.  But then you see all this stuff that is the same.

On Saturday,  party president John Allan took the microphone in the main room to tell everyone that Dwight Ball wasn't just sorry, he was "pissed off" that he'd had to break his campaign promises. Blame the Tories,  Allan said. Don't blame Dwight, said Allan. Blame the Tories.

Ball said the same thing after he'd easily cleared the leadership vote on Saturday afternoon. The Tories squandered the oil wealth. Blame them. The medicine tastes bad but it is what it is. Not my fault. That's the same line Ball's been spinning since last spring, though.  His whole message about the budget was that everyone should blame the Tories not blame him.

But they did blame Dwight because Dwight's the guy who made the decision to hike taxes and delay any serious cuts to government spending.  Ball even tried to pretend that what he did was some sort of scientifically determined outcome like a treatment for a disease.  There's that whole "don't blame me" thing again.  Funny thing is, though, that what Ball has been doing - raise a bit of money and keep spending as much as you can get away with - is precisely what the Conservatives before him had done.

What's even more interesting  - given this Blame the Tories talk - is that Ball has not only taken their policies but he has also taken their slogans and adopted them for his own. Ball told Liberals that he and his party have a New Approach.  They said the same thing in the spring throne speech.  It isn't clear what this means by any stretch.  Even in his love of consultations,  Ball is merely doing precisely what the Conservatives did.

Uncle Ottawa

Danny Williams campaigned in 2003 on the promise of a New Approach.  Most of what he did initially was what the Liberals had been doing.  He claimed credit for their work.  And when Williams started doing his own thing after 2007,  the New Approach looked a lot like the old approach:  spend as much as you can get away with in order to buy support.  Williams' New Approach looked pretty old.  Like pre-Commission government old.

Another part was old, but not quite so.  Williams proudest moment, though, occurred right at the start of his administration.  He got a $2.0 billion hand-out from Ottawa.  Forget the arguments he offered in favour of the cash:  the provincial position was a lie.  The key thing is that Williams' goal was to secure a permanent federal transfer payment equal in value to oil revenues. The provincial government already got all the oil revenues.

Williams and the raft of people who think like him wanted even more money besides.  He kept up the same argument about Equalization reform and Williams only reluctantly embraced the label of being a "have" province because there was no way left that he could squeeze any more money out of the federal government.  God knows, they tried.  They even lied about the Harper Conservatives and a promise to exclude natural resource revenues from the Equalization calculation.  It's right there in the 2007 amendments but Williams - supported by his pet economist Wade Locke - claimed otherwise.

The Liberal Party slogan at the convention was "Proud Past. Strong Future." Danny Williams and the Conservatives used to say they were "Strong. Proud. Determined."  They either forgot to be determined or it is under development.  There's an homage to Danny - the proud past - and a familiar slogan tied together.  Brian Tobin ran in 1996 on the slogan "Ready for a Better Tomorrow".

One of the big things Tobin did in 1996 was talk the federal government into giving him a 20 year advance on payments the federal government was still making under Term 29 of the Terms of Union. The payments were supposed to start up again this year.  As it turns out,  the federal government is going to be shunting money this way to keep the provincial government afloat.

Almost $3.0 billion came through on Thursday as part of a revamped loan guarantee for Muskrat Falls. The province's federal cabinet representative, Judy Foote,  promised more.  A lot more. Foote told the cheering Liberal throng that the province was looking for "more than its fair share" and would get it, thanks to Uncle Justin, the new face of Uncle Ottawa.

This newest new New Approach looks awfully familiar.