Sunday, October 16, 2011

POST ELECTION THOUGHTS: THE VACATING OF THE POLITICAL CENTRE


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Alas, it doesn’t suffice to blame the
politicians alone for a century and a 
half of  misdeeds, misdemeanours and
malfeasance. No, much of the culpability 
rests with us Newfoundlanders ourselves. 
If we can’t offer up a better class of 
politician than one that buys us with 
our own money, then the adage is true: 
We get the kind of government that we deserve.

Craig Westcott
The Business Post

_____________________________________________

THE VACATING OF THE POLITICAL CENTRE
by Craig Westcott

If Tuesday’s election results prove anything it is that the centre of the political spectrum in this province has been abandoned.

That should be troubling to anyone who runs a businesses, or for that matter, hopes to retire in comfort here in Newfoundland and Labrador.

It’s not just the tremendous growth in popular support for the New Democratic Party and the attendant plummet in popularity of the Liberals that signals a substantial shift to the left. The re-election of Kathy Dunderdale’s Progressive Conservatives is affirmation too that most Newfoundlanders now support big government and big government spending.

Examine the record if you’re in doubt that the provincial Tories have shifted several leagues to the left. Since taking office under Danny Williams in 2003, the current administration has grown the cost of government by 82 per cent in eight years. Most of the growth occurred in the last six years. In February 2010, Statistics Canada reported that the provincial government had 54,761 people on the payroll. That includes nurses, teachers, wardens and police officers, along with the direct line civil servants at Confederation Building. The number has increased substantially since then.

In a province with a fit and willing workforce of just over 150,000, a civil service of that size is clearly not sustainable. But add to that figure the demographic implosion already under way and the looming drop in oil production and the approaching crash promises to be potentially cataclysmic. In just nine years, 26 per cent of the population of Newfoundland and Labrador will be 65 years of age or older. That’s more than one quarter of our citizens who will be retired and needing increased levels of health care and social supports.

This graying of our citizenry is taking place after oil production has peaked and is already winding down. Essentially, the province has about 20 years of reserves left and they are declining. There will be a bump in production when Hebron comes on stream in six years time, but it will be short-lived. The trend of diminishing oil revenues for government coffers is clear for anyone who cares to look.
Unfortunately, very few among us, including leaders in the business community and the ouse of Assembly, have cared, or should that be dared, to look.

Economist Wade Locke has predicted a decade of provincial government deficits ranging between half a billion and a billion-and-a-half dollars annually starting next fiscal year.

What has our so-called ‘conservative’ government done to prepare for and mitigate the repercussions of this looming fiscal blow? Led first by Danny Williams and now Kathy Dunderdale, they have been shovelling oil dollars into the ever growing maw of government, all for the purpose of staying popular and getting re-elected. Until the ascendance last year of Jo Mark Zurel to the presidency of the St. John’s Board of Trade, the leaders of our local business community lustily cheered them on.

It’s not like the coming cliff-drop in oil revenues and explosion of seniors as the dominant segment of our society came out of nowhere. Given that they knew this was coming, the only words to describe the Progressive Conservatives’ stewardship of our government are reckless and irresponsible. Re-electing them is proof that a majority of Newfoundlanders think such incompetence and recklessness is fine.

But then, they had little choice. The alternatives were a New Democratic Party controlled by union leaders who don’t understand or care about deficits and debt, and a Liberal Party left in disarray for years and piloted at the last minute by a political lightweight from the past whose campaign consisted of promising everything to everybody.

Nearly every generation of Newfoundlanders have said it since we first obtained the franchise and the right to vote in the 1850s: We are cursed by rogues, ninnies and opportunists when it comes to politicians. That’s putting it a bit strongly perhaps. But then look at their record. This is a land where politicians’ bad choices have been legend. From the selection of a narrow gauge rail track over the more conventional standard gauge in the 1880s, which coupled with decades of corruption and vote buying led to our loss of self-government in the 1930s, through to the 1960s abdication of responsibility in letting Brinco give away the benefits of Churchill Falls to Quebec, us latter day citizens of Newfoundland have elected to repeat our mistakes yet again by supporting a party that wants to give away what’s left of the Churchill River to Nova Scotia.

Sadly, the party of socialists who are now charged with the responsibility of opposing them is one that never raised a question about Muskrat Falls in the legislature (this is being written on the weekend before election night under the assumption that the polls were right and the NDP forms the Official Opposition).

Alas, it doesn’t suffice to blame the politicians alone for a century and a half of  misdeeds, misdemeanours and malfeasance. No, much of the culpability rests with us Newfoundlanders ourselves. If we can’t offer up a better class of politician than one that buys us with our own money, then the adage is true: We get the kind of government that we deserve.

Now that the whole kit and kaboodle of our body politic has shifted leftwards, leaving the field to high living labour leaders and free-spending politicians to influence our fate, our descent should be ensured. Throwing the debt and high energy costs of Muskrat Falls on top of it will only hasten the decline and perhaps even lead to our government’s financial collapse less than a decade from now.

But a question arises: The last time our chickens came home to roost, Canada was there to pick up the pieces. Who will straighten us out when we fall on our faces this time?

Better to not risk putting our hope in someone else solving our problems again. The rest of the world seems to have enough of their own. It would be wiser for us Newfoundlanders as a people to smarten up and steer for the political centre before it’s too late. Moderation in everything, especially government spending, is the safer way to go.

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