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.