13 July 2020

The challenge of change #nlpoli

Change is hard.

 It's even harder when no one wants to change.

Our Former
Dear Premier
Some people outside the Liberal Party have been obsessed lately with the leadership contest currently going on.  They seem to think that one person can make all the difference in how the provincial government will tackle its considerable financial problems.

Well, the belief that the Premier is the strong man or woman responsible for everything is part of our post-Confederation political culture. The strongman myth – a local version of the Latin American caudillo or the Soviet/Russian personality cults - has only grown in strength since 2003 despite the ample evidence it simply isn’t true.  There are many factors that determine what the government does and those will affect the choices the next premier and the administration he leads will make.

Rather than look at the individuals who might wind up as Premier next month, let’s take a look at those other factors.

First, there’s The Consensus. That’s the view shared by opinion leaders in the province that we cannot change the course we are on. *Any* solutions to the province's financial problems that involve changing anything are bleak and politically unacceptable.

So right off the bat, anybody or any group that wants to change things will have to face all the vested interests and their supporters who want to continue the path we are on.  The only solution they will accept is for the federal government to bail the province out.

Second, there’s the political fashion these days for parties to only do what’s popular.  Liberal, Conservative, New Democrats or any of the fringe gaggles out there across the province will only do what is popular.  Last week, former Premier Clyde Wells talked about how he tried to persuade the public to support his actions.  It was a hard slog, but it worked, and the province was better off because of it.

Well, 30 years later, no politicians are in the persuasion business.  They won’t even try to change minds.  They will run from controversy like hippies from a barber.

Third, there’s the House of Assembly, which is full of noobs and rookies.  Abut 80% of the members in the legislature have been there only since 2015. That affects how they look at politics and what they can do alone or together.  They don’t have the background or the political will to dig into serious issues, so they talk about trivia and side issues.

That political fashion of not doing persuasion and only doing what is popular is overwhelming among them.  They also don’t have a particularly good understanding of what responsibilities they have to the people of the province.  They proved that unanimously voted to violate fundamental human rights during the recent pandemic.  Jim Dinn’s cavalier disregard for constitutional rights - although stunning ignorance would be a less generous but more accurate description of his comments - are just the tip of a very large and very dark iceberg that is the House of Assembly these days.

Fourth, there’s the Liberal caucus.  The current bunch are leaky and fractured and that won’t end just because there’s a new party leader.  John Abbott might find himself like Jim Bennett.  Then again, Andrew Furey might find himself channeling Roger Grimes, who emerged from the 2001 leadership owing everybody and not having enough seats or goodies to give everyone the prize they think they deserve.

Either Abbott or Furey will likely have to spend time managing caucus even after November when a bunch of them tick over the pension milestone so many of them are concerned about.  There’s always a possibility a few will cross the floor – or threaten to do so – and if Dwight Ball stays, then caucus management will become a constant distraction from the very big problems facing the province.  

Fifth, there’s the No Election commitment by both candidates, which will keep the House in tis current state for at least another year. Neither candidate will enter the Premier’s Office with the political capital needed to fight indecision and hand-wringing or just sheer obstinacy.  

That pretty much guarantees that in the near term, the provincial government will rack up even more debt and not have a plan to get back on track.  The Consensus and the style of politics we have these days will keep us on the current course for the foreseeable future.

Sixth, there’s the federal government.   The Consensus demands the feds pay for decisions the locals don’t want to make.  The feds won’t pay the billions needed annually to cover both annual deficits and the Muskrat Falls mess.   

The local politicians might band together to fight Ottawa for the show of it. Or the Tories and New Democrats might hammer away at the new Premier when he cannot deliver his promised mega-billions. (Both are committed to The Consensus in that respect)

In the meantime, the federal government will continue to underwrite local overspending and political indecision through the Bank of Canada.  The question is how long that will continue.

Change is hard.  It’s harder when no one wants to change. That’s why it is safer to expect more of the same, until the money runs out.