I understand that there is a fair bit of anger around the blogosphere about the "$60 million bailout" for the Caisse in Shippigan and the Tories seem to be riding that wave.
According to T.J. Burke today was the eighth straight day he took questions on the subject - I'm surprised it was not much more.
Today it was all Shippigan all the time and every single question during the 30-minute period was about this issue. The theme today was that Burke should resign for prejudging the RCMP investigation into the accounting of the Caisse.
I'd like to point to some of the facts which seem to be misunderstood first before getting to the heart of the cry for resignation.
1) It was not a $60 million bailout. There was only $31.5 million for the Shippigan Caisse, the rest of the money was to top up the Caisse stabalization fund which had been underfunded by the Tories which was in part why $31.5m had to be handed out over and above the ordinary budget.
2) Spinks in particular likes to point out that the income tax increases bring in about as much revenue as this expenditure. That is an interesting coincidence but it is not fair to claim that is why taxes went up. This is a one time expenditure but tax revenue will be up in all subsequent years, we got lucky this year - and stand to continue being lucky for a few more years - thanks to high zinc and other resource prices. The reason taxes are going up is to be prudent in managing a growing budget which will inevitably go in to the red if revenue doesn't increase.
3) The Liberals are not being fiscally irresponsible by giving a grant instead of a loan. The non-partisan provincial comptroller - appointed by the Tories - told both the Lord and Graham governments that a loan could not be given. The Caisse was on the verge of bankruptcy and giving a loan to an institution that doesn't qualify under proper loaning practices would have done severe damage to the provincial credit rating. The Liberals had three options: a) do nothing and be on the hook for $90m of deposits thanks to Tory legislation protecting 100%; b) provide an irresponsible loan and damage the provincial credit rating causing the cost of interest on existing debt to go up; c) provide a grant as they've done which is the option costing the province the least in the long run.
Now to the heart of today's QP.
Apparently last week Burke told the press that they wouldn't be in this situation if the Tories had not been incompotent and had dealt with the issue at far lower cost in 2004 when they first became aware of it.
The Tories claim that this is prejudging the investigation by assigning blame to the previous government and that Burke should follow in the steps of his "very close friend" Andy Scott who resigned as Solicitor General of Canada in 1998 for prejudging an RCMP investigation into the pepper spraying of protesters at a demonstration at the APEC conference in Vancouver.
The Tory comparison is pretty weak and any claim they had to Burke needing to resign is shaken by it.
Let us compare the situations.
Scott was the minister responsible for the RCMP and there was an ongoing investigation on which Scott made statements indicating precisely what its conclusion would be.
Burke is not the minister responsible for the RCMP (for matters in which the RCMP is engaged as a provincial police force, such as this, Public Safety Minister John Foran is responsible) and he was commenting in general political terms about actions or inactions of the previous government which would not be the subject of an investigation, if one is pursued (currently there is a complaint, the RCMP have not decided to investigate) into accounting practices inside of the Caisse over which the government has no direct influence.
So the Tories think that because Burke - who made some theatricle political comments about a situation that will not be the subject of an investigation, if one is undertaken, by a force that Burke has no authority over - should resign because Scott - who made direct comments about a then ongoing investigation by a force over which he had final authority - did.
I mean, come on guys.