An election about nothing

We are missing the ballot question

This is an election about nothing.

We are going to the polls but neither of the three political parties has hit on the question that will help voters decide which party will get their support.

We’ve had tampons, tax cuts, and Alison Coffin in a hockey mask.

But no party has hit on the ballot question.

Even Premier Andrew Furey - the guy who decided we needed to vote now - has difficulty telling us what the election is about.

The day he announced the election, Furey said it was about redefining our collective future.

Last week, in his first media availability in St. John’s, Furey said he needed a mandate to negotiate with Ottawa and the oil companies.

“I’m sitting across from the federal government trying to renegotiate Muskrat Falls the fiscal deal with Muskrat Falls.  I think you need a mandate to do that.”

Furey said he wanted a deal on Muskrat Falls that doesn’t “unduly harm” Newfoundlanders and Labradorians.

The smart arses among you will wonder if it would be acceptable to duly harm them but that’s right before getting to the more important question of what Furey did last September.  That’s when he appointed his friend Brendan “Nalcor Jersey” Paddick to head up a provincial negotiating team to rejig Muskrat Falls financing *and* build Gull Island.

Or December, when Furey ran a little dog and pony show about Muskrat Falls to celebrate the appointment of a new federal negotiator.

Furey’s done so much on the mandate voters gave his party in 2015 and 2019, it’s a bit of a head scratcher why he needs another one.

Let’s not forget either that we don’t really know what Furey has been doing with Muskrat Falls already, anyway.  We have no idea what happened to the agreement worked out by Dwight Ball that seemed a year ago to be close to finished.  The apparent reset last September added Gull Island to the mix and in December, Furey pushed the deadline back to 2022 or so.

But details?

None.

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We don’t know what Furey has been doing about Muskrat Falls because he hasn’t told us. Yet, he promises transparency.  That contradiction is not good for him. The guy who says he wants to change things is as secretive as any of his predecessors going back to 2003. 

And this idea that the Liberals need a mandate to negotiate with major oil players in the world comes from nowhere.

What will they be talking about?

No one knows what Furey meant because – frankly - last Thursday’s scrum was the first time anyone has heard mention of the idea.  Talks with the oil companies so far have been a one-sided affair.  They ask for hand-outs.  Furey coughs up as much as he can out of a bit of pocket change the federal government handed him. 

If there is a big picture to this, it is covered by a large drape.

Furey is right:  we need to reimagine government policy across the board, including energy, but so far, Furey and the Liberals have been doing what Ball and the Liberals did before and what Davis, Dunderdale, and Danny and the Tories did before that.

Redefine means change but so far, we have just seen more of the mind-numbing same, the same that we *know* from bitter experience does not work.

The talks with oil companies is as mystifying as the $800 million structural deficit Furey noted in passing.  Where did that number come from?  Again, not something Furey or finance minister Siobhan Coady have been talking about.

Furey did let slip that the Greene report is now not due until the end of May.  That’s another tidbit he’d forgotten to mention before now.  Everyone was working on the original timeline announced in October of a report due at the end of April.  The interim report is likely delayed as well since Moya Greene and her team are apparently not dealing with any “stakeholders” while the election is on.  Organizations trying to get a meeting found that out.

For a guy who wants the public to trust him that there are no secrets, Furey manages to keep lots of crucial information from ordinary Newfoundlanders and Labradorians.  It’s an example of the misalignment of words and deeds regular readers will know well. It isn’t good.

As the guy who called an election, Furey needs to hammer home the point that will make voters go to the polls and vote for him and his fellow Liberals.

He hasn’t done it.

Furey doesn’t have a point.

But by referring to talks with Ottawa as negotiations, Furey appears to have handed his opponent a classic Tory ballot question.

Ches Crosbie didn’t waste any time jumping at the opportunity.

On Friday, Crosbie issued a news release that noted the failure of five years of friendly talks with a federal government that has - to Crosbie’s way of thinking - always taken advantage of the province. He rattled off the classic grievances and promised action.

“There are tough negotiations in front of Newfoundland and Labrador to secure a stable future for our province. Who would you choose to negotiate on your behalf: an inexperienced doctor or a hardnosed, lawyer with a long track record of proven results?”

If Crosbie picks up this theme, Furey will have trouble with it. Liberal leaders never do well pretending to fight with Ottawa like Tories do.  Didn’t work for Roger Grimes in 2003.  Won’t work for Andrew Furey.  If Furey plays the “Justin’s my buddy” card, then people can look at Dwight Ball who said the same thing and produced nothing.

Not a good spot.

Crosbie might not pick up the line.  Furey can pray hard he doesn’t. After all, so far Crosbie has been – like Furey and Coffin – struggling to define what the election is about beyond more of the same.

Given *that* ballot proposition, voters might just send the lot of politicians back to the House of Assembly with a few new faces but with the same seat arrangement they left.

That would be a disaster for everyone, starting with Andrew Furey.


Some Housekeeping

Some technical issues are holding up the first podcast – an interview with Jerry Bannister – as well as the first election panel.

Those should be resolved in a couple of days.

During the election, all of this is available to everyone.

So, what’s the value of subscribing, besides supporting the project?

First, it’s about being part of the conversation. I’ll be opening comments.  Only paying subscribers will be able to comment on posts.  Adding more voices – your voice – is going to be an important part of the new Bond Papers.

Second, after the election, there’ll be more subscriber-only content.

You won’t want to miss out.