Monthly Archives: January 2016

Your Criticism is Welcome but Please Spare Us the Condescension

After friendliness, the second most distinguishing characteristic of Newfoundlanders is their sensitivity to criticism. We haven’t forgiven the Globe and Mail for allegedly publishing some columns a couple decades ago that took a sceptical view of the federal government’s involvement in the Hibernia project. Rod Stewart went from our favourite international rock star to a pariah when he said that he didn’t wear that sealskin coat on purpose. I’ve always thought that the “everyone on the mainland is out to get us” mentality is a little overblown and we should stop being so touchy when it comes to criticism, so when I came across an article the other day in the National Post about how the solution to Atlantic Canada’s problems is for the rest of Canada to start telling us no, I really did approach it with an open mind.

This was without a doubt the single most condescending article I have ever read. It reinforced every negative stereotype of mainlanders who look at us as helpless beggars completely unable to look after ourselves without the benevolent guidance of Ottawa. It is interesting that one of the two co-authors is actually from PEI, because it shows how there really isn’t an Atlantic Canada. There is the Maritimes and there is Newfoundland and Labrador. We have more in common with Alberta than we do with New Brunswick, and people in the Maritimes can be as dismissive of this province as someone from Ontario.

It is too bad that the article was so condescending, because the authors did have some valid points to make. Our public sector is disproportionately large compared to our private sector and our government is spending more money than it takes in, but we already know that. We may not have a plan to deal with that at the moment, but our government has assured us they have a plan to come up with a plan to address that issue at some point in the not too distant future.

Any valid points made by these authors were completely overshadowed by their failure to acknowledge that Newfoundland and Labrador has not received any equalization payments in seven years while Ontario has been receiving equalization for the past six years. And since they were discussing subsidies, they probably should have at least acknowledged the huge tax breaks and subsidies that the auto sector has received in Ontario as well as the enormous economic subsidy that the province receives by having such a disproportionate number of federal government workers in Ontario. It would have also been nice if they could have made at least a passing reference to some of the high profile examples of corruption and mismanagement that has occurred in places like Quebec and Ontario in the past decade.

My point is not that people in the rest of Canada should stop writing anything critical about Newfoundland and Labrador. Criticism is good; it helps you get better. The best managed companies in the world hold all their managers accountable and expose them to constructive criticism. The key point though is that they use objective and constructive criticism. They realize that while frank criticism is healthy, condescending and insulting criticism is counterproductive. We are facing a lot of challenges in Newfoundland and Labrador these days, so feel free to offer any suggestions or criticisms you might have, but please, spare us the condescension.

Pre-Budget Consultations Are a Waste of Time

This week Dwight Ball announced that the Liberal government would be holding pre-budget consultations to solicit input on how to best address the massive deficit that Newfoundland and Labrador is currently facing. The concept of public consultations is nothing new as it has become common practice across the country as governments prepare budgets. Many cynics out there dismiss them as little more than cosmetic public relations to create an illusion that the government is actually listening to people’s concerns as they prepare the budget, but the fact is these consultations are a waste of time regardless of whether the government is sincere or not.

We just went through the most thorough and comprehensive public consultation possible; a province-wide general election. The deficit issue was well known when the election started, and every MHA spend weeks going door to door and meeting with various local groups. The leaders of the parties had televised debates in which they outlined their plans on how to deal with this challenge and then the entire adult population had the ability to cast their vote. On Election Day the people of this province decided to give the Liberals a clear mandate to guide the province through this difficult time.

In a general election, even one with low turnout like this past election, more than half of all voting age citizens cast ballots. Pre-budget consultations on the other hand attract only a miniscule percentage of the adult population. If 100 people show up to meeting in St. John’s and 90% of them said the government should spend more money in a particular area or cut money from another, what use would that be? Aside from being a tiny sample of the population, they are not randomly selected. Rather than providing valuable feedback they could be giving a false impression that their views are an accurate reflection prevailing opinion in the area, which may not be the case. These meetings are often overrepresented by people with an abundance of time on their hands. People busy with jobs and kids are far less likely to take the time to participate in such meetings.

Having just gone through a general election, I think the government should have received enough feedback to be able to start making some difficult decisions, but if they are really determined to get additional feedback they should hire a professional polling company that can reach out to a random sample of people. The polling company would be cheaper than the public consultations and if any citizen wants to share their ideas they are always free to call or write their local MHA.