Friday, June 08, 2007

Editorialist, heal thyself

Today's column from Brian Jones is a peculiar one. For the first 7/8's or so, he excoriates the Liberal opposition, lambasting them not reforming their give-away mentality, most notably demonstrated through Voisey's Bay.

Oddly, he can't seem to provide any real evidence for that "giveaway" other than repeating the same old hoary Williams government unexamined claim that it is one.

He also conveniently ignores that all the millions upon millions of dollars flowing into the provincial treasury every year, the same millions which allow this government the financial cushion to turn their back on new projects, were negotiated under Liberal governments.

Are the Liberal taking the political hit in this new "No Giveaways" public environment? They certainly are. But the problem with this "No Giveaways" public environment is that it is unsustainable for the province.

First, the position is predicated on a negative. What government claims as their guiding principle is the equivalent of "We won't do stupid things." And that's great, as fine as it goes. Not doing stupid things is a fine and laudable goal. No government wants to do stupid things and no government comes into office planning to do stupid things (with rare exceptions like the Khmer Rouge or the Ontario NDP).

Second, there is only one way to not do stupid things and that's to do nothing at all. As long as official government policy is to fight fight fight no matter what, then there really is no chance of committing to anything stupid.

There is also no chance of committing to anything smart.

Third, as long as government is rewarded for the fight fight fight and enough people of the province feel no cost to that fight, then government will keep it up.

Finally, fighting is easy because it involves making no choices. While fighting makes you popular, making deals means give and take and choosing among what's the most important. Hibernia made the choice of balancing infrastructure development (Bull Arm) and jobs (gravity base) and put off royalties; Terra Nova chose higher and more immediate royalties and lower local job activity.

Voisey's Bay also entailed a delicate balance of choices.

It's too easy to assail Hibernia for low royalties while ignoring the development of world-class infrastructure and the thousands of jobs it created just as it's too easy to lambaste Terra Nova for the engineering jobs that never came while ignoring the steady flow of funds into the provincial treasury.

It's easy and it's cheap. And it happens all the time from people who should know better.

Fighting for everything at once means never having to choose. And making choices and balancing off rewards means spending political capital; and this government is a miserly one.

Mr. Jones ends his editorial with these lines:
The premier has achieved almost rock-star status, even though he's only half right in the ongoing Battle of the Atlantic Accord. Like too many others, the Liberals opted to become Williams' cheerleaders on that issue, instead of challenging him to produce some hard facts and numbers to support his case. They seem to be afraid to challenge the accord hysteria and Dannymania that has gripped the province.

Out of touch, and gutless to boot - it doesn't sound like a winning platform.
Of course Mr. Jones has already acted as a Williams cheerleader in virtually every paragraph in his piece up to that point. At no point does he ask any hard questions preferring instead to swallow the government bait whole.

And then he criticizes the opposition for doing the same and for refraining from issuing the challenge that Mr. Jones himself cannot issue?

The point missed is that as long as the public environment leans towards taking government at it's word without critical analysis and generating and reinforcing myths and revisionist history thereby creating an attitude which encourages a socially enforced consensus (speaking with one voice), opposition comes at a cost.

It's a political cost and it's a personal cost. After a while, even the strongest get fed up with speaking out with only bricks to the head for acknowledgement.

That doesn't mean that there should be no legitimate opposition and responsible alternative point of view. It just means that the province is not ready to listen to one yet.

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