I do not envy your position at all. We had a number of conversations leading into the Fall with regards to provincial expenditures. I know that I am not an economist, but just following the quarterly charted banks quarterly reports, budget estimates and oil prices clearly indicated that the deficit was going to exceed $2 Billion. It was obvious that the next administration was going to have to make tough choices because the last one failed too.
The province really has limited choices - raise funds, borrow funds or reduce spending. Our current debt load severely impacts our borrowing. It is not rocket science but there is no real understanding in the public domain and the fact that spending was permitted to increase has created confusion.
While I have been vocally opposed to cuts in education - preferring a consultative approach - I agree that there is no alternative but to make decisions that may not be liked by all. It would be impossible to find a consensus option that would please everyone.
I have always been impressed by your listening and engagement skills, which is why I am confounded by the communication SNAFUs that plaque your administration. I believe you are truly empathetic to people but living in the bubble of political partisans who treat every bit of constructive criticism as treachery, resulting in a reactive bunker mentality. I am not one of those who think you should throw in the towel. I believe that you have an uphill battle to regain the credibility needed to wage this battle to reform government spending and deflate people’s expectations on how and where government services are provided.
I believe that frank conversations offering a clear vision of the light at the end of the austerity tunnel, picking one or two social sectors (i.e.. education, mental health) that you ensure are the best in Canada, despite financial situation will help clear the way. People need to know their personal sacrifices are worth it to the collective good. They also need to know that those they elect are making sacrifices as well.
I keep hearing from my political contacts, inside and outside of caucus, that one of the major issues you are facing is communications people left over from the last administration. While there is no doubt many of them were hired by the tories, I do not think replacing them with partisans solves anything. I do not share the opinion that you are being sabotaged from inside the bureaucracy rather I think you need to rethink those who helped you win the party leaderships ability to help you govern in these perilous times. You require a much different skill set. Governing does not have to be a zero-sum game.
In the dying days of the Grimes Government, we could not do anything right, despite the many positive initiatives brought forward on social and economic fronts. Without Voisey’s Bay or the Liberal offshore Development Agreements, I can not image where we would be today. For my part, I will never forget struggling to assist in getting candidates nominated, knowing in my heart that public opinion was not going to swing, as needed.
The real challenge is winning the respect of a public that are confused, scared and angry. That can only be accomplished by being more strategic in purpose and approach. The long term play is crucial to our very survival. You can not let the opposition and other groups define you, or capitalize on amateur, undisciplined and unnecessary mistakes.
I would suggest you need to pick the right tool for the job at hand. Choose the wrong one and the result may not be pretty. What is the core competency you need? All good intentions may not be good enough to overcome a lack of skill or ability.
You must be seen to be consistent, humble, in-touch, in-control and responsive. It is too easy for any group to vilify motives and actions when they do not have to defend their positions or face the scrutiny that government does. That is why it is so important to have people around you that are not only loyal, but honest, who can express opinions outside of the groupthink bubble without fear of being labelled as enemies or of not being team players.
This does not mean governing by the polls, it just means being smarter and reigning in the arrogance of political neophytes who have neither the political insight or ability to assist you with the delicate task ahead. They fail to see that this is not a game. Great leaders are not born, they are created by exceptional circumstances. I sincerely hope that you can turn this province around and earn the confidence of the 60% of the public that are not pure partisans.
I am very disappointed that we are not working together as partners in education but what unites is much greater than what divides us.