Tuesday, March 6, 2012

RESTRAINT, DEBT REDUCTION AND A PROGRESSIVE SOCIAL AGENDA

 ________________________________
 "Whether we are talking about 30 
years from now, or two years from
 now, the future we reap will be
 determined by the seeds we sow
 — the choices we make — right
 here, right now"

THRONE SPEECH 2012

__________________________________


True to the belt-tighting agenda put forward at her Annual Board of Trade Address, Premier Kathy Dunderdale's first Throne Speech (as an elected Premier) stressed fiscal prudence.

Oil revenues are going to take a hit this year as the Sea Rose and the Terra Nova FPSO's have to disconnect for refits and maintenance. With two of the three offshore production facilities offline, the province will run consecutive deficits. A focus on restraint and debt reduction is a certainty.

Dunderdale appears to have been reborn in the spirit of fiscal conservatism that has not necessarily been a trade mark of the last two Progressive Conservative governments. She has laid out a couple of fiscal goals that are responsible, and perhaps overdue.

She will introduce a plan to to bring down Newfoundland and Labrador's  per capita debt — the highest in Canada — to the national average within 10 years.

As well, she has announced a program review of all government spending. She wants departments to trim spending.  The details of the spending review are scarce but the Premier stressed that the upcoming provincial budget will not offer drastic cuts. CBC is reporting that the government is asking departments to trim 3% from their expenditures.

The Premier also offered some hope to the province's struggling municipalities. The speech promised  "a new formula for municipal support which recognizes the contemporary nature of municipal governance and is equitable and transparent." Dunderdale is a former president of the Canadian Federation of Municipalities.

The challenge for Dunderdale will be in curbing costs while continuing to build on a progressive agenda that has made great strides in dealing with poverty, access to education, homelessness, skills training and other social issues.

Opposition Leader Dwight Ball's reply to the Speech from the Throne was crafted to be a  cautious mix of criticism and pragmatism. Ball delivered a good speech, hitting on many of the issues that both the Liberals and the NDP have been articulating in the long lead-up to the house re-opening.

In fact, I thought he did a crafty job of throwing NDP issues into the Liberal shopping cart in an attempt to touch on issues before the NDP had a chance too. This is a theme that I expect to see a lot of from the Liberals over this session.

Not that I think it will do much to erode the NDP's ability to generate media attention and gain headlines. In fact, the Liberals need to be careful that they do not end up softening the PC Ministers for a K.O. from the NDP. A question period full of short snappy questions from the Liberals may just act as an extended preamble for the NDP.

Sure political staffers and political types might get to thinking they have stung the NDP, but the real enemy, the people they need to displace are on the other side of the house. The average joe out there is not going to see the subtle play in the House of Assembly, and the media are still going to seek the NDP out in the scrums to talk to the issues.

Speaking of which, the stories on the wires and national news sites quote the NDP Leader Lorraine Michael for nailing the government for failing to meet child care, housing and other social needs. These issues were all raised by the Liberal Leader, but the media continue to give voice to the issues via the NDP.

Fighting on two fronts is not always wise. If you don't pick your battles wisely, you may end up failing at all of them, and ending up worse-off than you started. It is more advisable to deal with one issue before proceeding to the next to ensure success.



No comments: