Outside of what must be a sharply dwindling Progressive Conservative base, I imagine there are not too many Newfoundlanders and Labradorians who will be casting their ballots for this uninspired, ragtag incarnation of the PC Government, who in barely more than a decade has squandered our unprecedented prosperity.
With vaulted lightweights Paul Davis and Steve Kent heading this tired and lacklustre group and doing nothing but continuing the arrogant governance we have seen these past 12 years, voters are now looking at what the Liberals and NDP have to offer as an alternative.
Those glory days
The current government has a caucus that no longer packs the political punch it once did with alpha leader Danny Williams at the helm — a caucus that included heavyweights like Tom Marshall, Jerome Kennedy, Kathy Dunderdale (not so much as premier, mind you), and other key cabinet ministers who have departed since that feverish Tory heyday.
It’s hard to fathom, from the standpoint of five or 10 years ago, how the Tory tide has so dramatically shifted. The PCs, sure to lose the upcoming election if the polls and general public sentiment are any indication, could realistically find themselves as the third party in the legislature. The last Abacus poll, released earlier this summer, found them in last place.
It would take something as monumental as Danny coming back to lead this woebegone crew to effect a reversal in its fortunes.
Back then, in those heady Danny Days (or Daze), there were billions and billions of oil dollars pouring into the treasury with oil prices hitting a record high of $147 a barrel in July 2008. And, at the same time, we saw billions and billions of dollars being spent at unsustainable levels.
A Feburary 2015 report by the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) on spending by the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador had this to say about our government’s spending:
From 2003 to 2014, the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador has generated revenue growth unprecedented in its history. However, related to that growth has been an increase in government spending. In this time period, the government has overspent by $11 billion. In 2014, provincial government overspending cost the Newfoundland and Labrador taxpayer $1.6 billion, or $3,120 per person.
But in the previous decade, everything was golden with an almost magical air to it all, and the Tories were riding high — especially Williams, whose own approval ratings were rather out of whack at about 80 per cent at times.
There appears to be a correlation between political popularity and spending billions of dollars. And no doubt the corollary rings true, judging by recent polls.
Hard fiscal realities
Alas, those romantic glory days are long behind us as we find ourselves saddled with quite the fiscal hangover from when our newfound oil wealth appeared to revitalize this place.
And it was the oil—not Danny Williams, and not the Tories—that was responsible for our economic good fortune.
Not only have the Tories shafted our finances, they have had to defer commitments that they had previously made to the people of the province.
Of course, that was when they had the money (and lots of it, remember).
One such commitment was to build a new hospital in Corner Brook, first promised by the Williams Government in 2007.
Eight years later, the people of Corner Brook essentially have a $40 million dog park. The same goes for the Waterford Hospital in St. John’s, a facility promised to us by this government the entire time they have been at the helm. They have us broke, remember, so no money for a modern, humane mental health facility for Newfoundlanders and Labradorians.
Talk about failing the people when it comes to basic social needs and basic human dignity.
One can surely say the same for Her Majesty’s Penitentiary, another deplorable 19th century relic. I thought we were supposed to see a new prison under construction by now, given it was announced two years ago.
This is yet another instance of needed infrastructure on hold because this government blew our money and, what’s more, has instead earmarked billions for that hydroelectric project in Labrador.
The monies allocated to Nalcor, primarily for this controversial dam (including $760 million this fiscal year), seem to be the monies that should have gone towards the three critical pieces of infrastructure noted here.
Where is the money going?
It is painfully evident that our money is not going toward critical infrastructure. And it is painfully evident that, despite running big deficits and increasing our debt instead of promising us a decade ago to tackle it, this government continues to designate huge sums of taxpayers’ money to Nalcor.
This government also has a history of being fond of corporate welfare, to the tune of many millions. For instance, in June, RSA Insurance received a $6.5 million forgivable loan from this government to assist them in creating jobs in the capital city.
While job creation is a positive, seeing this government hand out almost $7 million to a nationally successful insurance company as we bleed red ink everywhere is optically bad, at the very least. Perceptibly, RSA Insurance only came here—as there was competition for this new office—because our government had a forgivable loan to hand them.
Their corporate agenda—primarily their energy file—has been prioritized over the social needs of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians.
And in these lean fiscal times, this government has no shame in launching glossy ad campaigns, such as the current $500,000 “Home for Good” campaign, feel-good election-style ads encouraging us to stay in Newfoundland and Labrador.
This is part of their rather flimsy Population Growth Strategy, if not also part of their re-election bid.
As CBC reported in June, we are also seeing money allotted towards vague initiatives such as “promoting the province, encouraging families to stay in the province, and fostering a good environment for newcomers”. Is this the best use of the $30 million allocated for these “policies” and “plans”?
This government — past and present — has hardly shown fiscal prudence and responsible stewardship of our money, including our one-time oil revenues.
The people of this province need to be aware of just how precarious a fiscal state this Progressive Conservative Government has placed us in, under four premiers in only 12 years.
Their corporate agenda—primarily their energy file—has been prioritized over the social needs of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians. This is clear, and the numbers confirm it.
There is no more critical time for voters to recognize, if they have not already, the damage this PC Government has inflicted on our province. Surely, giving these folks another shot after wreaking such havoc on our finances is not something the people of this province are apt to do.
At least I hope not.