Vanity Fare

Every leader in the province wants someone else to do the hard work

Initial reports about a speech coming Thursday night said it would be the Premier’s reaction to Moya Greene’s report.

But we got Furey’s reaction last week. 

Twice.

The first was in a scrum with reporters, where Furey said three things:

  1. Hate me all you want but someone has to deal with this.”

  2. Some parts of this we are just not going to do.

  3. We will see what parts of the rest are palatable.

VOCM pulled out the Kelly LeBrockish quote because it is the most important message.  It helps you understand the other two.

At the time Furey spoke to reporters, no one had said a word about him.  

Not a word.

He had not decided to do anything.

There would be no reason for people to criticize him.

Yet Furey’s most memorable comment, the one reporters noticed, made the whole thing about him.

And just to make sure you didn’t miss the point – although that likely wasn’t her intent - Furey’s communications director retweeted the VO story last Friday and added her own egocentric angle:

This is exactly why I left a job and coworkers I loved - because it's not about politics or background, it's about the province we love and the opportunities ahead.

His second reaction to the speech was last Friday.  Furey, Andrew Parsons, and few hangers-on hopped a junket to the Hibernia rig.  Only a couple of weeks earlier, Furey piously told the House of Assembly that the people of the province want politicians to put the best interests of the province first. Now here Furey was on a self-indulgent helicopter jaunt the day after people found out they owed not $16 billion or $30 billion but almost $50 billion.

Since 1997, no Prime Minister, no Premier, no cabinet minister, no apparatchik ever took a tour of any of the offshore platforms. Even spendthrift Danny Williams – who famously rolled from helicoptering over Hurricane Igor’s devastation to a guest shot on 22 Minutes – didn’t have the balls for a joyride to Hibernia.

The reason is simple:  there’s no need to go.   The trip is expensive.  Everyone needs hours of safety training for the flight.  And the few minutes the tourists spent walking around the platform adds absolutely nothing either to offshore production or the Premier’s or Minister’s ability to do their job.

Yet, Furey went.

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No one knows what Furey thought Thursday’s speech would do. Furey sounded like – as with the Chief Economic Officer - he was running with a brain fart from someone on Twitter. Someone said the consultations were a dodge:  just get on with the slashing.  Poof.  Furey is delivering a province-wide speech about just getting on with things. It hardly inspires confidence.

Whatever Furey was supposed to do, he failed.  

A province-wide address usually means a major statement on a big subject. Clyde Wells on Hydro privatization.  Danny Williams about the budget in January 2004.

Furey could have laid out a timeline for decisions and consultations. As good as it is, parts of Greene’s report isn’t ready to roll out, unchanged.  Some it would need adjustments. Some of the big spending items, like the green economy fund, don’t seem to be thought through. They are just more of the same ideas that got us into the mess we are in.

There are lots of things Furey *could* have done. What he did was talk. In part of the speech, Furey seemed to say – as he did last week – there’d be no consultation. Furey had made up his mind on everything. He rattled off a list as he had done during the election or after the last swearing-in of all the glorious things to come.

If it is true there’ll be no consultation, then Furey meant it when he told Siobhan Coady last fall to put Greene’s plan into action. But if this was a plan, then Furey lied during the election campaign when he said Greene’s ideas would just be recommendations. In the election, he said we’d figure what might be palatable, which was the word Furey used last week.

Furey said last year and up to the election that this budget wouldn’t be tough.  Not the time, Furey repeated.  In Thursday’s speech, Furey sounded like tax hikes and spending cuts would start in a couple of weeks.

Confusion.  Contradiction. The whole thing was weirdly familiar, not just for Furey since last August, but Furey sounding like Ball before the 2016 budget. 

People expected substance Thursday night.  What they got was wind.  What’s worse, Furey and his brain trust bungled the roll-out of his surprise announcement by needlessly restricting media access to the Premier.  This seems to be part of a long pattern for Furey and his staff, as one reporter recounted a tale of amateurism from the leadership campaign. It seems nothing has changed, despite Furey and his people having nine months of experience. The result is that both NTV and CBC refused to broadcast the speech unedited as apparently the 8th Floor hoped. They likely won’t be as friendly or forgiving in the future as they were in the past.

Some people criticized the news media.  Those people are wrong.  To get the reaction Furey’s office got from local media, they clearly must have pushed some decent, professional people way too far, for no good reason. That’s just incompetence. The decent folks pushed back, professionally and hard.  They were right to deny Furey a free platform.

But that just means Furey has yet another self-made problem of his own to fix on top of all the others. Furey lacks gravitas. He is politically weak. Furey’s communications problems have now gone from bad to worse. He says one thing and does another.  He says different things at different times about the same issue. Furey fumbled the election call and then bungled the response to the outbreak in the middle of it.  The Liberals ran a weak, disorganized campaign. Voters didn’t give him an endorsement last winter. Far from it.  Clouds still hang over the legitimacy of the election.  All of that puts Andrew Furey in a weak position as he faces union leaders and lots of others, like the people in his caucus, who will not like the hacking and slashing.

Then there are the problems the rest of us face, the ones Greene wrote about. People across the province know we have a problem. They are willing to do their part to help fix it. Unfortunately, none of our leaders – politicians, unions, and business alike – want to do anything.  They want someone else to do the job.

Furey is no different. His usual line is that Uncle Ottawa will solve everything.  He said something else Thursday night but that just comes across as a line someone copied from Greene’s report and plopped in Furey’s teleprompter. Every chance Furey had to make even simple decisions – like holding down the size of his cabinet - Furey did the opposite. He talks about accountability and transparency, yet he tries to control media access.  

If Furey doesn’t believe what he says, no one else will either, especially since his words and actions never match.  Just like every time he says he is up to making tough decisions, Furey sounds like he is trying to convince *himself* he is up to the job. Unfortunately, the more Furey talks about being up to the job, the less likely the rest of us are to believe it.


Looking ahead

On Monday, we’ll take a look at the details of the Greene report. Some of it is good as it is. Some needs tweaking. And some of it would just be more of the same.

There are more posts in the queue, some promised a few weeks ago. We’ll take a look at possible changes to the Elections Act, 1991.

Since the Greene Report starts with a discussion of government finances, the promised pre-election review will come with Monday’s column.