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Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Where Will You Mark Your X on October 14th?

In January of 2006, just prior to the last federal election, I wrote an article outlining the responses of each party leader, to a letter written by Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Danny Williams, asking each what their position was on several key issues of importance to the province.

They say that in politics a day is like a week and a week can be a lifetime. They (politicians being they) also say that the public has a short attention span and an even shorter memory when it comes to issues. With this in mind, and with Premier Williams actively campaigning against the Harper Conservatives, I thought a look back at exactly what each party’s position on those issues was just a little over 2 years ago might be in order.

A note of caution:

Recall that at the time the Liberal party was led by Paul Martin so it may be a little unfair to tar the current leader, Stephane Dion, with the same brush on these issues. Then again many of the same old party faithful are still in place in Liberal land so there may be some comparisons to be drawn.

One might also want to take Jack Layton’s responses with a large grain of salt since, at the time anyway, he was clearly not in a position to become the Prime Minister or even the leader of the official opposition and as such knew he would never have to act on his promises.

That said, if Mr. Layton's tactic was to simply make promises he knew he wouldn’t have to keep, and I’m not saying it was, that would tell voters a lot about the true character of the man.

It seems that in this election the character of the leaders is about the only real issue being debated.

The history:

Just prior to the 2006 Federal election Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Danny Williams sent a letter to the leaders of the Liberal, Conservative and NDP parties identifying 17 key priorities for the province and asking each leader to respond with their level of support for each item.

The Responses:

As a disclaimer, my understanding of the content in each response is open to interpretation but having studied the precise wording, phrasing and tone of each response has led me to the following conclusions.

My analysis of course is no substitute for reading the details yourself (available at http://www.gov.nl.ca/) but if you’re not inclined to hunt the letters down and read them yourself here is the straight story. The Coles Notes version you might say.

Do you support cost sharing an early retirement program in fisheries workers:
Liberals – NO, Conservatives – NO, NDP – YES

Will provide a northern shrimp allocation to the Province:
Liberals – Evasive, C – Evasive, NDP – YES

Will you take Custodial Management on the Grand Banks and Flemish Cap:
Liberals – Evasive, Conservatives – Evasive, NDP – YES

Will you adopt the Northern Cod Strategy and not List cod as endangered:
Liberals – YES, Conservatives – YES, NDP –YES

Will you support a comprehensive federal/provincialAquaculture Agreement:
Liberals – Evasive, Conservatives – Evasive, NDP – Evasive

Will you assist with the Lower Churchill hydro development:
Liberals – Evasive, Conservatives – Evasive, NDP – Evasive

Will you sell the Federal share of Hibernia to NL:
Liberals – NO, Conservatives – NO, NDP – YES

Will you re-open Gander Weather Office:
Liberals – NO, Conservatives – YES, NDP – YES

Will you increase the Federal presence in Newfoundland and Labrador:
Liberals – YES, Conservatives – YES, NDP - YES

Will you undertake Equalization Reforms:
Liberals – Evasive, Conservatives - Evasive, NDP – YES

Will you cost share Trans Labrador Highway:
L – Evasive, Conservatives – YES, NDP – YES

Will you make 5 Wing Goose an operational requirement (with troops):
Liberals – NO, Conservatives – YES, NDP – Evasive

Will you create a reserve at Sheshatshiu by June of 2006:
Liberals – YES, Conservatives – Evasive, NDP – Evasive

Will you stabilize Marine Atlantic services and cut fees:
Liberals – Evasive, Conservatives – Evasive, NDP – Evasive

Do you support bilateral cost sharing for economic development:
Liberals – Evasive, C – Evasive, NDP – YES

Will you ensure federal contracts for Marystown and Bull Arm shipyards:
Liberals – NO, Conservatives – NO, NDP – YES

Will you participate in costing sharing of a waste management strategy:
Liberals – Evasive, Conservatives – Evasive, NDP – Evasive

Final Tally: Liberal: 5 NO, 3 YES and 9 Evasive
Final Tally: Conservative: 3 NO, 5 YES and 9 Evasive
Final Tally: NDP: 0 NO, 12 YES and 5 Evasive

Of course there’s a certain level of subtlety to each of the evasive answers that might allow them to be interpreted either a yes or a no, but I thought it best to simply label those as evasive and be done with it. We all know it doesn’t pay to read between the lines with political types and unless a promise is spelled out in great detail, and sometimes even if it is, what does it really mean anyway?

There’s nothing a politician loves more than a good loophole he or she can crawl through when the time comes to deliver the goods.

In all fairness, a few of the evasive answers may have been valid and perhaps the Premier himself should have been aware of potential problems prior asking the questions.

For example, how could anyone support a shrimp quota for a community until ensuring stock viability and availability prior to allocating it? I believe it was moves like handing out quotas willy-nilly that helped lead us to the sorry state of a fishery we have today.

In another response it would have been difficult for a government leader to promise contracts to a specific shipyard when a little annoyance like the public tendering act is in place.

Those realities lead to another interesting point. Some of the questions NDP leader Jack Layton responded affirmatively on should perhaps have elicited a more evasive answer than was given, including the aforementioned question of shrimp quotas.

So, what does all of this mean to the average voter today?I guess it means that when you get right down to it we all have to do some soul searching and hard thinking before we step into that ballot box on October 14th. How many promises were met and how many were broken, who stands for what and who deserves your support are all important questions.

Whether Stephen Harper, or any of the leaders for that matter, can be trusted will likely play a big part in the decision of where to mark your X, or at least it should.

In Newfoundland and Labrador in particular the impact of Williams' ABC (Anyone But Conservative) campaign and the string of broken promises left behind by the Harper government, as well as previous federal leaders, both locally and nationally will no doubt be on people’s minds as will the very structure of the Canadian parliamentary system and the province's lack of voice in it.

For those of you with the kind of short memory politicians love to talk about (and who are not yet tired of reading this lengthy review) here is a short list (certainly not all inclusive) of the broken promises given by the current Conservative government (some of which were given in writing).

Taxing Income Trusts after saying he wouldn’t tax them and in doing so encouraging thousands to invest and lose their savings.

Promising to remove of non-renewable resource revenues from the equalization calculation and then including them anyway.

Promising to station a 650 person rapid response battalion at 5 Wing Goose Bay and a military contingent in St. John’s and walking away from that promise. Nothing has been said about the issue since the 2006 election.

Passing a federal fixed election date law and setting the date of the next election for October of 2009, in an effort to prevent a ruling party from timing elections when it is most favorable to them politically, and then disregarding that law and calling an election anyway.

Campaigning on a platform that included plans for the election of senators and providing a government that would be truly accountable to the public. In his first days in office the PM appointed his campaign manager to the senate, and put him in charge of public works by making him cabinet minister, a cabinet minister who is not really accountable to the public since he does not have to face questions in the House of Commons.

And the list goes on…


The Lone Sailor said...

I have decided never to vote again as long as the party system we have severely changes. There is no difference between any of the parties. They all spout their plans and make promises but there is still no accountability for these people. They are going to do whatever they feel like doing once they have taken over the government offices, whichever party wins. Elections are not about issues which most people think, they are popularity contests, especially here in NFLD.

zeppo said...

The Conservatives have broken promises and so have the Liberals when they were in government. What has to be considered also is what will happen if they keep their major (nationwide) promises?

I think the Green Shift, the Liberal Party's major plank, will tax Newfoundland & Labrador, Alberta, and Saskatchewan on energy production and give the money to buy votes in Ontario and Quebec.

WJM said...

Couple of points:

Will you assist with the Lower Churchill hydro development:
Liberals – Evasive, Conservatives – Evasive, NDP – Evasive,

Interesting. That's not what Danny Williams said at the time. Back when he was still shilling for the federal Tories, he said, "The Conservative and NDP responses were very encouraging on several fronts, including support for a loan guarantee for the development of the lower Churchill"

I knew at the time - as did anyone who actually read the letter - that Danny was just "spinning". Do you take Danny's word for it, though, that Harper was "definitive" in his answer?


Will you sell the Federal share of Hibernia to NL:
Liberals – NO, Conservatives – NO, NDP – YES

I know you don't like "spin".

So why do you say that Danny asked for the federal share to be SOLD?

He asked for it to be "Transferred or sold".

Now, and for the past couple of years, he's even dropped the "s-word".