"We can't allow things that are inaccurate to stand." — The Word of Our Dan, February 19, 2008.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Responsible government

Morrison from Newfoundland makes an interesting point in a comment on Russell Wayne-Gretzky’s Tuesday column:
Nobody can argue that the price of oil, which had nothing to do with this government, helped the province right its finances immensely. However, before the price of oil soared, the PC's were in the process of trying there brand of fiscal responsibility (does anyone need to be reminded of the NAPE strike). Like it or lump it, moves such as those are also what this government is talking about when it refers to them straightening out our financial situation, and they have every right to do so, just as we have every right to debate it.
Morrison is partially right. High oil prices were a very big part of Danny Williams-Government’s “fiscal responsibility”.

As the Comedian in Chief said announcing the Hebron deal, quoting J. Paul Getty, ““the formula for success: Rise early, work hard, strike oil.”

That’s about the only fiscally responsible thing associated with Danny Williams’ premiership. Striking oil. (And large, viable, base metal deposits.)

The only problem is, Danny Williams didn’t strike any of those mineral motherlodes. Nor did he strike any of the revenue deals associated with them.

(Contrary to the popular myth, which He and His government have done everything to promulgate and nothing to dissuade, the Hebron deal has contributed not a penny towards the provincial treasury or the recent positive changes to the provincial balance sheet.)

The most recent of the above-named discoveries, Voisey’s Bay, was a decade and a half ago. The most recent of the associated revenue deals, also for Voisey’s Bay, was in 2002. It helped catapult him, with all his talk of “giveaways” and “loopholes” into the Premier’s job.

It has also, along with those earlier resource discoveries, balanced the books and created large surpluses. No real measures have been taken on the expenditure side of the ledger. Well, none to bring expenditures under control, anyway: DWG has taken many measures to keep shoveling money out the door as rapidly as it has, hitherto, been coming in.

It will be up to some future Premier – and the not-to-distant future, either – to make some very painful choices about public sector spending and employment. And that’s not only because of the profligate ways of Danny Williams-Government. The commodities boom has gone bust, meaning revenues are going south, and about to go even souther, even as expenditures are going north, and about to go even norther.

And the Danny Williams-Government plan for the provincial finances, on a go-forward basis? He laid it out in his recent TV interviews.

He tells Debbie Cooper of the CBC:
But, you know, the good thing is, is that all during this past period as we were having surpluses, we were paying down debt. And we were criticised at times, they’re saying, oh, you’re paying down debt you shouldn’t just put it, you know, on the account. But when you do that you, you increase your borrowing capacity because if you or I, you know, depleted our line of credit and paid it off, well, then we have the ability to draw back on that when we need it and that’s exactly where we are.
And Fred Hutton of NTV:
As you pay down the debt it also gives you the ability then to bring it back up. It’s no different than if you paid down your line of credit at the bank or pay off your car loan, it gives you the ability to go borrow a little more, take a little more if you need it. So, that money will be used, for example, that, that surplus that’s actually going on the debt, though, will also be used to fund, you know, the settlements with the unions.
Funding day-to-day government operations, on a go-forward basis, with new debt spending. And neither seasoned political interviewer so much as bats an eye.

In household terms, it’s like someone having paid off one line of credit, a student loan, and most of the car loan… just so that you can “afford” to put your weekly groceries on Visa. Hands up, everyone who’s seen this movie before.

This is not fiscal responsibility. It is fiscal madness. It is going to end very badly, and DWG is not likely going to stick around to face the consequences, or the wrath of the public, when (if?) they ever wake from the long, long, slumber. Just watch how casually he skips out of the House of Assembly when the nattering nabobs of negativity deign to start asking questions.

On September 7, 2001, Trinity North MHA Ross Wiseman woke up a member of the provincial Liberal caucus, and retired a member of the Danny Williams Team. In the press release he issued rationalizing his decision to engage in the Newfoundland national sport, Crossing the Floor, Wiseman said:
Our province is in desperate need of… greater financial accountability and fiscally responsible spending.

I am also very concerned about the serious fiscal problems facing our province and the growing expectation that the government will miss its financial target this year by a wide margin. It is becoming increasingly apparent that this year's budget rests on very shaky ground, and that worries me greatly.
Wiseman is no Winston Churchill, or even a Walter Carter; having ratted, and given his thoroughly dismal performance as a cabinet minister, he would never be able to pull off a re-rat.

But where are the reverse Ross Wisemans in the current government caucus? The Clyde Wellses, the John Crosbies?

Are there even any?

Is there not one of the forty-four lap-lackeys with the foresight to see what’s coming, and the fortitude to stand up and speak out now, instead of when it’s too late?

If it’s not too late already?


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