Tag Archives: Paul Davis

Dwight Ball’s “Read My Lips” Misstep

When George H. W. Bush was running for president in 1988 there was much debate about whether taxes would need to be raised to help reduce the growing government deficit. After his opponent Michael Dukakis acknowledged the possibility that taxes might need to be raised, Bush gave a speech where he categorically declared that he would never raise taxes and uttered the famous line “read my lips, no new taxes”. That speech helped him win the election, but is often cited as the main reason why he failed to win re-election against a young, little known governor of Arkansas. At the time, some members of the Bush team had lobbied against making such an unequivocal statement as it would severely limit his flexibility as president, but the decision was made to keep it in the speech and it was credited with helping him win the election.

In the 2015 Newfoundland and Labrador provincial election, Dwight Ball had his own “read my lips” moment when he boldly declared that he would reverse the PC’s increase in the HST, and put an exclamation point on his stance with an election photo with the words, “not on my watch”. One of his first actions upon becoming premier was to cancel the proposed increase, but only a few months later he backtracked and reinstated the increase as part of an overall gloomy budget. Needless to say much of the electorate is now irate with this broken promise.

When the first President Bush made his dubious promise not to raise taxes he was trailing in the polls to an opponent who had acknowledged that there was a possibility that taxes would need to be raised to deal with the country’s growing deficit at the time. That “read my lips” statement may have cost him his re-election, but without it he may have never become President to begin with, so even in hindsight it still probably made sense. Dwight Ball, on the other hand, did not need to make any bold promises to win the election.  

The PC Party that Mr. Ball was going up against was in disarray leading up to the election and was almost certain to lose power. The party had just revolted against its own Premier, and then when they had a leadership race all of the candidates either dropped out or were barred from running. When they had a second leadership race the person who had more votes than the other two candidates combined on the first ballot somehow lost on the second ballot. Even though the eventual winner of the PC Leadership, Paul Davis, performed surprisingly well during his brief time as leader, the consensus was that he was just fighting to reduce the size of the Liberals’ inevitable majority.

With the PC Party saddled with so much baggage, all Dwight Ball needed to say was that the PCs spent too much during the boom time and didn’t leave anything in the cupboard for when the boom ended. Voters, even those who enthusiastically supported all that spending and tax cutting, would have agreed with him and voted the Liberals into power. Had he avoided making any bold promises, he would have had the flexibility to raise taxes and lay people off while deflecting all of the blame towards the previous government.

Unfortunately for the Premier, even people who recognize that increasing taxes and cutting spending may be necessary can still justifiably attack him for breaking his election promises. Even if every decision the government makes in the next four years is the best one for the future of the province, the Liberals may find themselves the first government since confederation not to be elected to a second term because of some reckless and completely unnecessary promises made last November.

Can We Stop With the Political Appointments?

This week premier Paul Davis appointed John Ottenheimer, his former leadership rival, as the CEO of Newfoundland and Labrador Housing. Mr. Ottenheimer’s predecessor, was a former leader of the Progressive Conservative Party. I have been friends with several politicians and relatives of politicians, and I often hear such people lament how the general public often looks at politicians as solely interested in lining their pockets and those of their cronies. I understand that frustration. Most politicians across all parties work very hard and are never off duty, as they are always being approached by constituents with various issues. But if politicians want to change their public perception, the first thing they should do is put an end to political appointments.

The thought of a Premier appointing a fellow member of his party to a six figure salary job just reinforces every negative stereotype of politicians in the minds of the average voter. It doesn’t matter that the person may be highly qualified for the job; the fact that is that everyone believes that the qualifications are secondary to that person’s service to the governing party.

The ironic thing about John Ottenheimer is that he will likely make make a great CEO of Newfoundland and Labrador Housing. He is well educated, served in several cabinet positions in government, and is unusually non-partisan for such a prominent politician. During his campaign for the PC leadership, he was refreshingly candid about some of the Party’s recent shortcomings. Yet his appointment will nevertheless perpetuate the public perception of politicians looking after their own.

Liberal leader Dwight Ball has criticized the appointment and said that he would create an independent commission that would be in charge of appointing the heads of crown corporations and government controlled boards. Call me a cynic, but I will believe that when I see it. Having made the promise, he may feel compelled to create this commission, but I wouldn’t be shocked if the commission will be made up of 6 former Liberal fundraisers or cabinet ministers who will be paid a six figure salary.

Ending political appointments may not have any immediate impact on the finances or the performance of government, but they would reduce the public’s cynicism towards it. When cynicism towards government is allowed to grow over time, it eventually leads to the lowering of expectations, and inevitably, poorer performance on the part of our political leaders. I would be delighted if Mr. Ball were to surprise me and keep his promise should he become Premier Ball.