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Masque of the Blue Death

in Featured/To Each Their Own by

I love masquerades.

They often remind me of Christmas, and I went to a great one over the holidays. Is there anything better? Beautiful masques, exquisite dancing, delicious cheeses…

In some versions of the masquerade, the goal is to guess the identity of the person behind the masque. All the more reason to choose your masque wisely. (Although to be honest, a successful disguise doesn’t matter half as much to me as how well-stocked the cheese-board is.)

During the holidays, I came to the conclusion that our provincial government loves masquerades (and of course cheese) too. The problem is, they don’t quite grasp how it’s supposed to be done.

You see in masquerade, you wear one masque.

Our provincial government is trying to wear two.

One masque two masque red masque blue masque

There is, first of all, the masque they wear while they’re dancing with business partners and the media, and trying to pat themselves on the back. Let us call it the Red Masque. When they wear this red masque, everything is quite rosy. Employment is up, provincial revenues are up, corporate profits are up, everything is up – up up up! Hopes, dreams, Muskrat Falls transmission lines, harbour fences. Up!

Then there is, shall we call it, the Blue Masque. This is the masque they wear when they talk to the media about the upcoming budget, about social programs like pensions, about the public service.

“It’s all down,” they say, hearts drooping behind their mask. “Revenues are down, oil prices are down, projections are down.” And so, presumably, should be our expectations as a society for how many of its responsibilities our government can fulfill.

Well wearing two masques, each one for a different audience, is a bit of a clever idea, particularly for a masquerade party.

There’s just one problem.

YOU’RE NOT ALLOWED TO DO THAT!

Yes, you can wear one mask. Wear whichever one you want! Let the world be rosy, or let it all be blue. It’s either the beginning of an era or the end of the world. I don’t really care which. Take your choice. But make your choice and stick with it! Hearing lamentations at a time when all indications are that we’re experiencing unprecedented prosperity is sort of like wearing a raincoat on a bright summer’s day.

In short: unfashionable.

Hypocrisy is the refuge of the small-minded and the greedy, and we should expect neither quality from our government.

Plus it’s totally unacceptable at a masquerade ball!

Austerity? Don’t be talking

The reason the provincial government has no credibility when they preach cutbacks and austerity (in itself a recent phenomenon: are they simply copy-catting other, worse-run provinces like Ontario?) is because they don’t preach it with any consistency. They preach it to the unions and the hard-working average people of the province. But then they turn around and tell the media we ought to reduce taxes on the rich and oh, we can take out a multi-billion dollar loan to build grandiose power projects in the Labrador wilderness, no problem! In fact we’re so flush with wealth we don’t even need to let our regular oversight bodies review our plans!

You can’t have it both ways, Dunderadoes. You canNOT say the province can afford a grandiose Smallwood-era super-development scheme like Churchill Muskrat Falls, and then turn around and say that the government can’t afford simple defined benefit pension plans. That’s like saying “Oh, sorry, I can’t afford the fresh spinach, but I’ll take a couple dozen of those imported Italian amaretto truffles in dark chocolate ganache.”

No Amaretto truffles until you’ve eaten your spinach, Dunderteam!

Speaking of which, how exactly are those public sector negotiations going? Judging by the speed and fanaticism with which the provincial government dragged the province – kicking and screaming, in some cases – into a potentially $7 billion debt, I’m presuming that the provincial government will be equally quick to reassure the public they’re not expecting any concessions or reduction in benefits from our hard-working public employees. Doing so would raise the heights of hypocrisy to Everest-like levels unseen even in this province.

But the awkward silence from Confederation Building on the subject is ominous.

Which masque will it be this time?

Having a conversation

Of course, Christmas turned out not just to be about masques. Back in December, in the best tradition of a Grade 6 health teacher tasked to teach the children about the birds and the bees, Kathy Dunderdale announced “We need to have a conversation.”

“Nooooo!” screamed my inner soul, with flashbacks to a traumatized pre-adolescent self. “Not the conversation. Not…with Premier Dunderdale!”

As it turned out, however, it’s not so much the birds and the bees Kathy wanted to have a conversation about, as – equally soul-scarring – tax breaks for the wealthy.

“16% of the population pay 70% of the taxes!” she proclaimed to reporters, as though revealing the secret of life to an audience of rapt elementary students. “We need to have a conversation about that.”

Really?

We do?

That’s a conversation we need to have?

Seriously?

With pensions under threat, health care in chaos, internationally condemned access to information laws, and crumbling infrastructure, we need to have a conversation about letting millionaires get away with paying less taxes?

In what upside-down fantasy world full of unicorns and pixie-dust is this a conversation that anybody even remotely needs to have?

It’s as though, shortly after the Titanic hit an iceberg, the captain is informed:

“Captain! We’ve struck an iceberg and the ship is sinking!”

“Yes, but…I think we really ought to have a conversation about these chandeliers. Don’t you think?”

The fact is, if the discussion is about lowering taxes on the rich, that is absolutely the last conversation anybody needs to have. If somebody is lucky enough to be a millionaire in this province in this day and age, well they jolly well better ante up every last tax dollar to contribute their fair share back to the province. And for somebody lucky enough to be that rich, their fair share is way higher than the fair share of the average working person. And that’s precisely how it should be.

Of course, say something like that – as this math professor from Memorial recently did – and immediately ideologically-driven capitalist super-zombies from the 1940s claw their way to the surface to try to hunt you down and eat your socialist brain.

“But they’re wealth generators!” goes the buzz-for-brains. “It’s not fair to penalize them for making so much money!”

Penalize? Well, only in the sense that when you rack up a credit card bill, you’re penalized by having to pay it. Those who are rich in our society didn’t just snap their fingers and get there by the sweat of their brows (much as some of them would love for us to think they did). They got there because of all the advantages a nice civilized fairly egalitarian democratic society provided them – good schools, good health care, good infrastructure and roads, good legal and justice system to enforce their business dealings, etc etc. In other words, they got rich thanks to all the good things our government provides, paid for by taxes. (and a bit of luck) And so yes, they certainly pay back – in proportion to how well they do. Those who argue they shouldn’t, simply aren’t being rational, and it’s because they suffer from an ailment known to us in the business as “greed”.

Anyway, back to the masques (and cheese)

Alright, some closure lessons. Let me sum up with the following, which I might dub “Some basic advice for good governance and being a smash hit at the masquerade”:

In politics, as in masquerades, you are allowed one mask.
Choose it well. Wear it with pride. And don’t switch when nobody’s looking!

Eat your spinach before your amaretto truffles. Make sure your government can provide the basics – pensions, health care, schools – before you go dabbling in things like global energy speculation and billions of dollars in loans for fantasy ego projects.

There’s nothing wrong with fantasy super projects. Everybody deserves dreams and I love thinking big as much as the next person. But you don’t engage in them until you’ve taken care of the basic needs of your society. Can you imagine what would have happened if the Evil Galactic Empire had tried to build the Death Star, and then clawed back pensions on their stormtroopers?

There wouldn’t have been two awesome sequel-movies, I can tell you that much!

Even the Obama administration recognizes they’re in no position to build Death Stars.

But don’t tell that to the provincial government, or soon we’ll be seeing Tie Fighters at CFB Goose Bay.

Anyway, final lesson. Go to masquerades. But remember that like all good things, eventually the party ends and the masques come off.

And that’s when you really face the music.

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