Political observers in Newfoundland and Labrador have lately borne witness to a display of rather undesirable traits possesed by politicians — on both sides of the legislature.
Along with this so-called “flip-flopping” happening with alarming regularity, we have also been treated to other blatant political shenanigans, such as the seat reduction ploy of the governing party, the much criticized Bill 42, which has now cut our representatives’ seats in the legislature from 48 to 40. And on June 8, the House of Assembly received the Electoral Boundaries Commission’s Report.
The report made several changes to the proposed boundaries revealed in January, but the number cut remained unchanged. Bill 13 was debated and passed in the legislature on Wednesday, effectively legalizing the 40 districts — some entirely new.
Was this true democratic reform, as claimed by government members, or was it really political one-upmanship? CBC reported during the January Bill 42 legislative sitting that “PC insiders” revealed to the network that the impetus for the seat cut was to throw the Liberals off — to land a “knockout punch”.
So, we saw this government (and the Liberals, who struck a deal with them on the seat reduction) playing partisan games with a democratic institution.
Whether it is something minor and fleeting as often seen in the somewhat infamous Twitter #nlpoli vortex, or something far more significant like toying with our democratic machinery a la Bill 42, some of our elected representatives on both sides of the House cannot keep their positions straight.
A flip-flop is defined by Merriam-Webster as a reversal, typically regarding policy or strategy. We are seeing lots of reversal on political strategy here in the province as of late — but on policy? No party has given the electorate much in the way of the latter in this election year.
This rather unflattering term “flip-flop” gained considerable traction during the United States presidential election campaign of 2004, when the Republican Party successfully tagged then Democratic nominee John Kerry with it, even though George W. Bush was notorious for it himself. It was quite detrimental to Kerry’s credibility as a candidate and arguably a factor in his loss.
Meanwhile in this province, it is a favorite term of political opponents, and pundits, to level at Liberal Leader Dwight Ball for his consistent inconsistency regarding much of anything, really.
Here’s a typical example. Back in January during the Bill 42 legislative sitting, Ball said he was fine with the election being held after September. Then, a few short months later, he suddenly indicated a not-so-surprising change of tune.
However, Ball is not the only politico who says one thing at one moment in time and subsequently changes his position, typically in the interests of political expediency, but also sometimes because government simply doesn’t have the money right now.
The phantom hospitals
It appears now given our stark fiscal reality, clearly evidenced by the numbers in April’s budget, that real work on the hospital’s construction won’t be happening anytime soon.
The same sorry limbo goes for the new Waterford Hospital, regarding which fellow columnist Mark Gruchy masterfully articulated well-placed outrage. As Gruchy said, we were promised by successive health ministers that work would soon be getting started on the new Waterford.
Not so now.
As with the Corner Brook hospital and the $40 million spent on, what exactly, citizens of this province will have to wait many more years for the new Waterford because, according to Kent, we have no money right now.
“I’m certainly disappointed there were no funds to advance this project,” Kent said about the new Waterford in an interview with The Telegram. “The delay is disappointing for a number of people who share my passion, but we will get there just not as quickly as we had hoped. It is challenging times and we face many difficult decisions, but I can assure you when the province’s fiscal position improves, the work required to complete the design will be done, and we’ll be looking at ways to do it cheaper and faster.”
All very disappointing indeed.
Time to court votes
While it is concerning to hear the presumptive future Premier, Mr. Ball, flip-flop, these reversals of position in such a short timespan by those presently at the Cabinet table—like Mr. Kent—should concern us even more.
Considering the financial morass we find ourselves mired in right now and for at least the next six fiscal years, this lack of candor and resoluteness, this petulant political gamesmanship—even with our very democratic institutions—is frankly shocking.
It is one thing to flip-flop, play politics, and obfuscate when it comes to the standard partisan pugilism. But it is quite another when such behaviour impacts serious social needs like new hospitals. And perhaps more serious still, when it involves meddling with our very foundations of democracy.
These self-serving machinations instill little confidence in the very people whose votes these same politicians will be soon courting in the lead up to election day on November 30.
Though I somehow suspect that these same folks will be better behaved in the weeks and months to come before the writ is dropped, as they make the rounds of the summer barbecue circuit, glad-handing and taking endless selfies.