Friday, October 20, 2006

The Tories doth protest too much

Every time I see a comment from the Tory Opposition, which I don't think is at all comfortable in their new skin, it is full of disdain and irrational logic.

There are three constants in any and all comments from the Opposition.

1. "We won the popular vote, the Liberals have no mandate." There may or may not be merits to this argument but Bernard Lord himself pointed out that his hero Richard Hatfield won both the 1970 and 1974 elections while losing the popular vote and then lost seats when finally winning it in 1978 so he had no grounds on which to complain. Clearly he has forgotten that statement.

2. "The Liberals aren't prepared to govern." With all due respect, nearly a majority of New Brunswickers (over 44% in 2003 and over 47% in 2006) disagree for two elections in a row. This is democracy. The voters get to make that decision, not some bitter former ministers. Common sense requires that Tories should at least give the Liberals a chance before criticizing, lest they look like angry raving lunatics. Moreover, criticism of this announcement is the most ridiculous thing I have ever heard. The concept of every minister knowing every file in the government will make for a more proactive cabinet and innovative program thinking. It is a great idea. We have 19 ministers, 16 of whom have never been in the cabinet room before, obviously they need to brush up on their files. In a government backbench caucus or in opposition you may learn some things on files but you aren't allowed to get into the nitty gritty. This is not symptomatic of lack of preparedness, it is a sign of the humility to say "we are taking on a tremendous task, we don't have all of the answers but we are willing to learn and do our best". It is very refreshing. We have had perhaps the most arrogant government in history for the past 7 years and now we seem to have the most humble. Ministers working nights and weekends to make sure they know their files, and the Premier in the papers today saying he is letting Frank McKenna open doors to bring business to New Brunswick and he doesn't care who gets the credit so long as New Brunswick gets the jobs. Very refreshing. (Sorry for the rant)

3. The biggest issue with me is the constant comments from Jeannot Volpe, and now from Bernard Lord, about how the Liberals are going to have to go in the red to deliver on their promises. This is wholly untrue and, if the Liberals do end up in the red, it will be because the Tories have fudged the budget and misled as as to how the finances in New Brunswick truly are. This will be the primary subject of this post..

The Liberal promises are costed out at $200M in year one and $75M in every subsequent year.

This year's budget had a surplus of $22.2 million so at first glance you might say the Liberals are running head first into a $180m deficit. However, that is not true.

In March, Jeannot Volpé's budget forecasted $2.1 billion in transfer payments. However, the federal Finance Department numbers of August show we'll actually get $2.4 billion. So, presuming the rest of the books are sound. New Brunswick has a ~ $320 million surplus for 2006-2007. Add in the Liberal spending and we still have a $120 million surplus - enough left over to pay for year 2 and part of year 3's Liberal commitments.

So, now I put you on notice, if the Liberals run a deficit it will be because the Tories fudged the books. We'll have some indication of whether or not this has happened in December when the Liberals release the independent audit of the books.

However, the Tories do have a rich history of screwing the books. We have examples of the Auditor General catching them breaking their own rules and blatently lying about the budget being balanced when it was infact in the red by over $100m in an election year. Then last year, after cutting the winter road budget to balance the books, they blamed a bad winter (it was one of the warmest on record) for having been way over budget in that area.

The Liberal promises leave lots of room in the budget, unless the Tories didn't present accurate figures.


Anonymous said...

If you read Brent Taylor's latest blog, which was published in today's Miramichi Weekend newspaper, he is singing the same tune.

Anonymous said...

"..lest they look like angry raving lunatics." That is exactly who they are, especially Bernard Lord - a sore loser. May they find peace.

harrap said...

What do you think of the latest, the Tories criticizing the rough draft of the Liberals' election platform -- usually rough drafts (with revisions and consultations) is a good thing, isn't it?

Spinks said...

1 and 2, I agree wholeheartedly. That's our election system so c'est la vie. The Liberals are government so get used to it.

#3 not so much. I never agreed with the PC's spending what seemed like years blaming the Liberals for the books and I feel the same way if the Libs do the same. Parties have different priorities and move money around to reflect those priorities. A government can't do it all and has to prioritize within the money they take from taxpayers. The blame game gets old real fast. Prioritize within the money that's there, make sure the books balance and please don't raise our taxes.

nbpolitico said...

Spinks I agree I was mighty sick of the blame game but if the Tories actually did cook the books I think it is fair game in year one.

Spinks said...

"...cook the books." I remember the Tories saying that about the Liberals. I didn't believe it then either. I still think it's a matter of varying priorities although yes if they find the numbers don't add up, I'm with you nbpolitico that would be fair but I hope the blame game doesn't last as long as it did with the PC's.

Brent said...

I think criticising a platform draft is not going to connect with voters, and is really grasping, frankly (sorry buddies).

I do think that the Liberals are not really ready to govern, but that is not a surprise. No party, out of power for two terms, should be expected to call the house back into session within weeks of the return of the Writ.

The mandate given them by the voters will justify any orders-in-council they have to draft to pay the bills, and all we can hope for there is a decent debate and disclosure when the inevitable Special Appropriations Act is introduced.

That said, I do think it would have been a good idea to just call the house back to get the speaker thing fixed and get the committees appointed, but that's small potatoes.

As for the popular vote thing, its best use is to drive the Liberals nuts across the floor of the house. It matters little to anyone else.

I've already written on the issue of going into a deficit to keep the election promises, so I'll not rehash that here.

FWIW, I'm hearing good things about the new administration from within the bowels of government. They have made some positive early decisions, have shown confidence in the civil service, and the workers are feeling more love and purpose than they ever felt under the old administration.

I'm a little surprised by some of it, but I'm obligated to disclose that in the interests of fairness.

I think the honeymoon will persist, and the early returns will be positive.

Now, once the power generation issue and other issues hit hard next year, we'll see how long the glow stays on.

Anonymous said...


I'd love to see some of these thoughts in the Miramichi Leader.

Spinks said...

Don't give it to anon Brent. It will end up in Charles Leblanc's blog next time you run and the Tories are back in power to show you're a closet Liberal supppoter. LOL.

Anonymous said...

I am cynical of governments no matter who is in power. However, anyone is an improvement on Bernard Lord. That guy is a dead loss. He should give up politics. He just does not know how to govern. If he knew to govern then after 1999 win he should have been set for another 10 or 15 years instead he was almost booted out in 2003.

Anonymous said...

Excellent posting! You're right, the Tories had their chance. In the fine economic years, they had their opportunity ... and now they are back in the opposition, criticizing, which is what they do best. (And not even really that well.)