Friday, November 16, 2007

NL in Policy Options

If you have any interest in public policy (and I know readers of Offal are very keen on the subject) then the magazine Policy Options is part of your reading list. As the country's premier public policy magazine, it encourages informed debate on the important current and future public policy issues.

A frequent contributor is MUN political science professor Dr. Christopher Dunn. Anyone who has passed through that department in the last 10 years or so will have been educated by him in the intricacies of public policy formation. He was also a consultant to Justice Green for his report on the House of Assembly spending scandal.

His most recent published article is called The Williams effect: election 2007 in Newfoundland and Labrador. It's a fascinating perspective on the events of the fall and concludes with:
With such a majority, one would think that the future belongs to Williams. In fact, that is what he said: “The future is ours,” read the PC election material, sounding a bit like Germany in the 1930s (“the future belongs to us”). However, it is a vague future. The Premier was the centre of the advertising material, but all it promised of a concrete nature was strategic planning and “greater control of our resources.”

There are many implications of the Williams effect. Megaprojects, schools and roads are likely to preoccupy him for the next four years — the politics of concrete.

But the future should not be taken for granted. Williams is unlikely to pay attention to a significant challenge facing him: support for the regime. What he should do is to establish another review, one that focuses on the quality of democracy in the legislature and in society. Because there is no significant opposition, the public should be encouraged to play this role. A multipurpose legislative amendments committee open to public hearings on most legislation, a committee on federal-provincial relations, a stance on e-democracy and a review of the electoral system should also be considered. Newfoundland’s legislature is under-developed, and democracy has suffered as a result. It doesn’t have to be that way. Despite the imbalance, there is still hope that there can be meaningful reform.
Of interest is another of his recent articles in Policy Options from February 2005 called Why Williams walked, why Martin balked: the Atlantic Accord dispute in perspective. The precis says:
In a province where no premier ever lost votes by standing up to Ottawa, Danny Williams has become the latest in a long line of provincialist champions from Newfoundland and Labrador. When he walked out of a First Ministers’ Meeting last October, he had carefully chosen his fight with Paul Martin over the Atlantic Accord, which allows Newfoundland and Labrador to keep 100 percent of its offshore revenues. Yet 70 percent of those revenues are clawed back by Ottawa under the equalization formula.
In the election campaign, both Stephen Harper and Jack Layton promised to end the clawback. Martin made a similar campaign promise, but balked when federal finance officials turned stingy. From St. John’s, Christopher Dunn appraises the political landscape, and fallout, from the Atlantic Accord disaccord, and finds Martin between the Rock and a hard place.
Both of these articles are available online in PDF form, convenient for downloading, printing and weekend reading.

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