03 September 2019

The Political Doldrums #nlpoli

Last week,  Newfoundlanders and Labradorians got a few reminders of the magnitude of the political problem they face in addition to the financial and economic problems already lurking.

The most obvious  was word that one of the longest-serving members of Dwight Ball’s inner circle has decided to leave for the private sector.  Joy Buckle is the third senior staffer to quit Ball’s office in as many months. Her departure will affect both Ball’s office and its ability to manage the day-to-day business of government.  It will also affect party election readiness, such as it is anyway.  

Buckle’s departure may be the most obvious indicator of how big a problem the province faces, but its significance is not.  Buckle continues a pattern of staff turn-over in Ball’s office and the senior ranks of the public service in the very short time he has been Premier.  

And in that respect,  Ball’s premiership has carried on the pattern of the Conservatives after 2010. A decade of political uncertainty – if not outright instability -  has meant that administration after administration has been unable to come to grips with the financial problems facing the province.  This is the reminder of how big is – how incredibly persistent is – the political problem in Newfoundland and Labrador.

What is worse, as with the Conservatives,  budgets continue to be little more than a political pantomime,  not  serious political and financial documents.  The most recent budget was a pile of nonsense, particularly with its claims that the government will achieve budget targets set in early 2016 and abandoned, in practice, the following year.  The recent decision by Moody’s to downgrade the province’s credit worthiness is a portent of similar action to come when – and it is purely a matter of when, not if  - the government’s 2019 budget is reduced to ashes by global financial reality.

The problem here is not with one party. The problem is with all three parties. 

Last week,  the Conservatives publicly reaffirmed their commitment to avoid an election at all costs.  That isn’t because the public aren’t looking for one.  The Conservatives don’t want an election because they do not want form government again.  Their leader was aggressive enough on election night but his guppy-gutted caucus do not want to run the risk they will have to take power except by accident.

The only job the opposition has in a hung parliament is to be ready to form a government.  As such, the crowd currently warming the official opposition benches are unable to do their job. They need to make a simple decision:  get ready to form a government or resign and let someone else in there. 

The same is true of the New Democrats, who remain the party of political irrelevance.  The best they could do last week was chase after a couple of nonsense stories fabricated by local media about the offshore board and access to government information.  You cannot lead a province by following people who decide their news lineup based on what is trending on Twitter and Facebook.

We have been in the political doldrums for a decade.  While most members of the dominant groups in Newfoundland and Labrador are content to drift,  there are people who want to change the direction in which the province is headed.  They have ideas.  They want to try rather than let the province drift onto the financial and political shoals.

Nothing can happen to change the course, however,  until Dwight Ball finally tires of the job and announces his retirement.

When that might happen is anyone's guess.