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

Friday, May 27, 2016

The Oracle of Brunei

The former Minister of Finance has some ideas on how to address the mess that she played no small role in creating. From her Facebox feed:

Charlene Johnson
Yesterday at 2:35am · Kuala Belait, Brunei · 
There has been much discussion about the negative impacts of Budget 2016 and how it no where closely reflected the Government's election platform and there has been lots of blame tossed around. What I haven't heard a lot of - at least in the channels that I follow- are constructive ways to find savings to either reduce the deficit or undo some of the choices made in Budget 2016. In my view it would be great to hear more dialogue around that. I can start with a few suggestions. I know some people will say that I should reserve my comments because I left politics but my belief is if there is opportunity to highlight potential improvements from past experience then why not do just that. While I no longer live in NL I still care very much about it.
So here are a few of many suggestions that I have. Some will be unpopular -in fact perhaps very unpopular- but again this is only my opinion and if others weigh in perhaps we can build on these ideas and amend them to find suitable proposals to submit to government.  
1) End night sittings in the HOA. Air time is premium price at night and then there's the over time for staff. I don't know the exact figures (I was given an estimate years ago but don't recall) but it is significant and every dollar counts. Why not sit more weeks or even months if necessary. Besides the financial savings it would go a long way to attract more good people to politics in particular women. I remember doing a 43 hr session days before Christmas. It's not good for all involved- staff of the HOA, security staff, MHAs and especially their children. I offered wondered who was watching at 2am on Dec 21st anyway??  
2) Eliminate all business class/premium economy travel (if not already done) and limit the number of staff attending meetings,etc. This is not just for Ministers but for Boards and Agencies - Nalcor, Health Boards, CEOs, VPs, anyone paid by the taxpayer. The reasons for allowing business class - at least the ones that I heard- were that people needed to be rested and that others close by could see any documents you may be reading. My view - arrive a day earlier to rest and review as a hotel and meals are cheaper than a business class ticket and have your staff sit next to you so others can't see what you are reading. I used business class once paid for by government in my political career and only because it was advised medically that if I went I had to have my legs elevated due to being 7 and a half months pregnant (I had a very difficult pregnancy medically) and I was traveling to one of the territories. It was a meeting of Canadian ministers with the federal minister of environment regarding waste water regulations that would severely impact the province and I had worked on the file for some time and felt I had to put the provinces view forward. Most if not all Ministers were diligent with business class travel as far as I could tell but I passed by staff (not mine) in business class several times while I headed "to the back".  
3) Provide an allowance for accommodations and meals for MHAs from out of town. This was in place before but the changes in my view were overkill and some MHAs ended up charging significant amounts (figures need to be checked but my recollection of some examples was $30000) a year for hotels/per diems. This was within the rules but this needs to be revisited and common sense applied. I don't know how many staff are currently employed (worth checking) but when the new Green Rules came into effect my recollection is that there were upwards of 20 staff (needs verification) processing/checking/rechecking claims at a cost of $2M a year. While layoffs are never popular I believe this is an area for improved efficiency.

A Danny Williams Tory suggests further erosion of the House of Assembly and democratic oversight? Say it isn't so!

But set that aside for a minute. Yes, it's always worth looking at expenses, benefits, and perks, to see if there can't be some savings to find and some blubber to trim. Why the PCs spent a dozen years increasing the size and cost of government, instead of, y'know, delicately doing the opposite, is a mystery that will endure for generations.

But even if you cut out every dime of spending on the House of Assembly[1], even if you abolished it entirely[2], you have saved $16-million.

That is less than a single percentage point of at $2-billion annual deficit.

A fortiori, assuming you merely identify some "improvements" or "savings" within the legislature's financial habits, however laudable that goal might be, you are at most talking about hundreds or tenths of a percentage point of the $2-billion deficit that is due, in no small measure, to the profligate ways of Ms. Johnson, her predecessors, her successor, and her colleagues between 2004 and 2015.

If a former finance minister cannot grasp the true size of the fiscal problem; if a former finance minister cannot entertain the serious, and tough measures, that would have to be taken, short of a deus-ex-machine economic and fiscal surprise, to bring the public finances back into something resembling balance; if a former finance minister can only propose populist tinkering around the edges that results in cost-savings with less fiscal impact than a few cents' fluctuation in the price of Brent crude or the exchange rate, then what hope is there for the public at large?

[1] For a whole bunch of reasons, you can't do that.

[2] Seriously, you can't.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Blast from the past (II)

From the proceedings of the Bow-Wow Parliament on April 30, 2013, the wisdom of the former PC MHA for Lake Melville, Mr. Keith Russell:

MR. RUSSELL: It comes down to, I guess – we have heard it many times in this House about living within our means and when expenditures surpass our revenues we have to adjust. Of course, a lot of us in this House have felt the sting of cuts, of layoffs and things like that. Nobody is happy to make those decisions, but we walk a path on this side of the House, Mr. Speaker, where we are prepared to make the tough call, the hard decisions in the best interest of the people of the Province.

We could have taken the easy way out. We could have simply gone and spent spent, borrowed a little more and then went for the political favour that comes with that. I am sure that would have been reflected in the polls but, personally, I do not take too much stock in them anyway.

When it comes to living within our means and addressing our debt situation, Mr. Speaker, we have heard the Minister of Finance and many of our other hon. colleagues in this House get up and talk about the servicing cost of that debt, between $800 million and $880 million, almost a billion dollars to service the debt. There is a significant opportunity cost associated with that. It is as simple as this it is money that is not available for programs and services. This is something that has been addressed. I am proud to say we have addressed the debt to the tune of over $4 billion since we have taken office, Mr. Speaker, and that is no small feat indeed.

If you look at it very briefly, and I will just say if you had a credit card in your own personal household – to the people out home who are watching – if you rack that up, you max that out, you get to a point where you are paying on the interest. You do not hit the principle any more. You are simply not going to be able to do all the things in life that you want to do. You are going to have to make some sacrifices.

Those sacrifices either come in recreation, it either comes in entertainment. It comes in support of your children, their extracurricular activities. God forbid, it gets to a point where it comes down to the running of your household and you have to make decisions, which come down to things like the basic necessities, such as food and utilities.

We have to be responsible. This Province has to be run like a corporation that is responsible to its shareholders. In essence, we have to be responsible to the people, the taxpayers and the voters, those who we are servicing. This is their money. We have to make sure we do our very best in order to service the people who are all part of this.

When I talk about the debt, we have heard the NDP say many times they are not interested in taking surpluses and putting it on the debt. Mr. Speaker, we have done that time and time again. Yes, when it comes to all of the money we spent on the debt and the money we have spent in the past on infrastructure, those were necessary. You have to strike while the iron is hot. We had the money at that time.

We have all heard mention of the crumbling infrastructure we inherited as a government when we came in, in 2003. We have made gigantic strides in upping the quality of life for the people of this Province by our dedication to doing right by them and addressing the infrastructure needs, Mr. Speaker. I am certainly proud to be a part of that.

We have also heard of, I guess, the people from across the way and their methodology of how we would do all of those wonderful social things that they seem to want to have, such as the universal health care, the dental, housing for everybody. We have heard of chicken in every pot and thirteen in every dozen. Tax, tax, tax and spend, tax and spend. That would put us into a vicious cycle, Mr. Speaker, which basically, I do not think we would be able to recover from.

In getting up and saying that time and time again, they send a very dangerous message to the people out there in terms of having a sense of entitlement. In terms of everybody deserves all of this stuff. I say to the people of the Province, we are here as a government to foster development, industry, to get jobs for people, Mr. Speaker, to have megaprojects and smaller projects that are necessary in order to provide for the people of the Province. They have to meet us halfway.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Blast from the past (I)

From the proceedings of the Bow-Wow Parliament on May 8, 2012, the wisdom of former Kilbride MHA John Dinn:

MR. DINN: One of our members mentioned today, the Member for St. John's South, that we are saving about $250 million a year now in interest payments on our debt.

Over the last several months, I have been keeping an eye on what is going on in the rest of the world. I have been watching the economies in Europe and in the States. If you look at what is going on in Europe for example, countries in Europe have overspent for decades. They are now reaching a point where they are having very, very serious trouble.

I think it was only this past weekend in Greece they had an election. They could not even establish a government; they have to have another election. There are very serious problems in Greece. I can remember this past February watching TV and they were rioting in the streets of Greece because they were in a position where they had to get bailed out. They were in debt so much that they could not afford to go on any more.

In order to get bailout money, Germany and France and some of other banking agencies of the world said that Greece had to curtail their spending. They ended up laying off 15,000 public service workers and had to cut a lot of the programs that they had brought in the past. The people were very upset over that in Greece, they did not agree with it and they thought they should keep spending, spending, spending and spending, but it could not happen.

I saw a man on TV one night; he was a diplomat from Britain. He was interviewed on one of the American stations. He said that there has been very, very few private sector jobs created in Britain in the last eight or nine years. The reason he said that is because so many entitlements have been brought in for British people over the last number of years that people who own businesses will not hire them any more. If they have a store, they would rather close the store up for two or three days a week than hire extra people. He said if you hire them, you have to pay them all kinds of benefits, pay for all kinds of holidays, child care, daycare, all kinds of stuff. He said if you hire them, it is almost like you own them and their families, so they do not hire any more.

I was reading in the paper the other day that Spain is having a terrible time. Unemployment in Spain is 24.4 per cent. Youth employment, people who are under twenty-five years old, the employment rate for them is 52 per cent in Spain. Spain has to take a lot of drastic measures. Their economy is shrinking. They now see that taxes have to rise and wages are going to drop.

Anyway what is going on in Europe, I mentioned Greece, Britain, Ireland, Portugal, and Italy have all had their troubles. What they are doing, they have taken a fiscal path that is directly opposite of what we are doing. They are not paying down debt; they are accumulating debt. They are not looking at what is going on in the future. They brought in programs not even considering that they had to be sustainable sometime. One of the foundations of our economy, of the fiscal path we have put ourselves on, is sustainability. We do not want to bring in stuff that we cannot forward. We do not want to bring in programs that in two or three years' time, if the revenues drop, we are going to have to cut them out. It is better to take an opportunity to take your time and analyze them. Just because you are flush with cash now, does not mean that you should spend, spend, and spend.

One of the most interesting things that I see happening is what is happening in the United States. We talk about going in debt in Newfoundland – people are concerned about it – going in debt in Canada. Do you realize that the United States of America are going in debt $4 billion a day. Every man, woman, and child in the United States owes $46,000, and that is going up from $13 to $15 a day, every day. What they have done, they are spending without any control. They are putting themselves in a position where they too are going to have difficult times ahead. I think, as a government, we are on a path, economically, that is quite the opposite of the direction that these countries are going in.
We have heard in the House in the last few days about all-day kindergarten, universal child care, universal home care, and affordable housing. I can say this to you: This government, and no government, can provide the level of affordable housing for people in the future – nobody. You cannot expect governments to pick up the tab for housing. It cannot be done. If you do, you are going to have very, very few years of success. We have to take our time and make decisions that are sensible and sustainable.

One of the things we can say that is kind of traditional for Newfoundland is that we are hard workers. I can remember, for years, Newfoundlanders were known as hard workers. We cannot, Mr. Speaker, expect to get a share of the pie without working for it.

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

I remind the member his time for speaking has expired.

MR. DINN: I do not need too much leave, anyway. I am just about finished. I do not have time to go into Muskrat Falls.

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Thursday, May 05, 2016

Great ideas

Don Mills has another one of his brilliant ideas:
A pollster thinks it's time for Newfoundland and Labrador to take a hard look at the feasibility of continuing to provide services to its rural communities, and to consider consolidating those services into regional hubs.
Don Mills, CEO of Corporate Research Associates says a lot of the province's recent financial challenges could be mitigated if people in rural communities would be more open to commuting to larger centres, a change in thinking that he says may be inconvenient but is long overdue right across Atlantic Canada. 
"We promise Atlantic Canadians they have the right to live anywhere and expect the same amount of public services and economic opportunities. or that to be subsidized in that choice," he told CBC's On The Go .
Um, done?

Fully 90 percent of the provincial civil service jobs are located in one of just eleven cities and towns. In descending order, they are St John's (nearly 2/3 of the provincial total), Corner Brook, Grand Falls-Windsor, Happy Valley-Goose Bay, Gander, Clarenville, Stephenville, Carbonear, Whitbourne, Deer Lake, and Marystown.

With the exceptional case of Whitbourne, all of these communities, in the context of Newfoundland and Labrador's population distribution and structure, are "regional hubs" or "larger centres".

Tuesday, May 03, 2016

Total recall

Herewith, a compendium of every word ever uttered in debate in the House of Assembly by Steve Kent, or any PC MHA, or any MHA from any party, between 2007 and 2015, and since that time, and since 1991, on the subject of the idea of "recalling" an elected MHA: