Ches Cros­bie looks ahead to 2019 pro­vin­cial elec­tion

Tory leader tries to dis­tance party from Muskrat Falls legacy

The Aurora (Labrador City) - - Front Page - BY DAVID MA­HER

Ches Cros­bie is walk­ing a tightrope on his quest to claim the premier’s of­fice in 2019.

The new leader of the Pro­gres­sive Con­ser­va­tive Party of New­found­land and Labrador car­ries the name of ar­guably the most suc­cess­ful po­lit­i­cal dy­nasty in the prov­ince’s his­tory on his shoul­ders.

He also car­ries the bur­den of the $12.7-bil­lion boon­dog­gle that is the Muskrat Falls project around his neck as head of the party that sanc­tioned the project, whether he likes it or not.

“The Lib­er­als will be re­mind­ing the pub­lic of that of­ten in the fu­ture. So, the ques­tion is how do we ap­proach that and deal with it,” said Cros­bie.

“My re­sponse to that is, look, PCS are like ev­ery­body else in this world: we’re only hu­man. If mis­takes were made — and we’ll let the in­quiry tell us about that — we are only hu­man and we just have to take the ap­proach that that was then, and this is now.”

Cros­bie says his party made decisions based on the best in­for­ma­tion avail­able at the time.

“If it turns out to be wrong ad­vice, then all I can say is we acted in good faith,” he said.

At the Lib­eral con­ven­tion, Premier Dwight Ball called out Cros­bie by name, sug­gest­ing he’s play­ing things qui­etly, not let­ting peo­ple know his pol­icy po­si­tions.

“I don’t need to say much right now be­cause the peo­ple of the prov­ince — to use Dr. Hag­gie’s catch phrase — he told the con­ven­tion, ‘We have to hang to­gether or we’ll hang separately,’” said Cros­bie.

“The peo­ple of the prov­ince, judg­ing by the polls, think (the Lib­er­als) don’t have the right to hang separately. They will hang to­gether.”

Muskrat Falls is a po­lit­i­cal hot potato as 2019 draws ever closer. Cros­bie is keen to pass it off to Dwight Ball.

“They have as much re­spon­si­bil­ity as any pri­or­ity gov­ern­ment — no, they have more be­cause they knew more at the time when they came to power,” said Cros­bie.

“What they should have done was make sure a proper stopgo anal­y­sis was done as soon as they got into of­fice. They frit­tered that op­por­tu­nity away.”

In Nal­cor CEO Stan Mar­shall’s June 2016 cost and sched­ule up­date, he says it was too late at that point to halt the project, largely due to con­trac­tual obli­ga­tions that were al­ready in place.

When it comes to what so­lu­tions Cros­bie has to of­fer, Cros­bie says there’s still re­search left to do be­fore he can make com­mit­ments — par­tic­u­larly when it comes to sanc­tion­ing Gull Is­land.

“We have yet to work out how we’re go­ing to di­gest and sur­vive the Muskrat Falls project. It’s so far off the charts to be think­ing about Gull Is­land that it’s not worth wast­ing breathe on,” he said.

Cros­bie says gov­ern­ment spend­ing has to be ad­dressed, but did not get any more spe­cific than to ges­ture at gov­ern­ment waste as part of the prob­lem. He says healthcare spend­ing needs to go down, but he’s not sure ex­actly how much of a de­crease is pos­si­ble.

“What I can tell you, is that I don’t know what the an­swer is. I do know that we’re spend­ing too much. The prob­lem with gov­ern­ment spend­ing is that it’s proven to be sticky. It doesn’t go down when rev­enue goes down,” he said.

Pre­vi­ous PC govern­ments saw gov­ern­ment spend­ing in­crease as the oil rev­enues dra­mat­i­cally rose. In the 2008-09 bud­get, un­der Danny Wil­liams, for example, the prov­ince spent $6.4 bil­lion ($7.5 bil­lion, ad­justed for in­fla­tion). In 2015-16, the last year be­fore the Lib­er­als came to power, to­tal spend­ing was $7.9 bil­lion. In 2018-19, gov­ern­ment will spend $8.4 bil­lion.

Cros­bie says part of the spend­ing prob­lem could have been ad­dressed by cre­at­ing a legacy fund for the rainy days, rather than spend­ing the money when we had it. But he doesn’t lay blame at the feet of the Danny Wil­liams or Kathy Dun­derdale govern­ments, walk­ing an­other fine line.

“Their jus­ti­fi­ca­tion would be that we had a lot of de­ferred main­te­nance in the high­ways, is an easy thing to think of. Things that we had not been spend­ing money to main­tain prop­erly. We had to spend money just to keep things us­able,” said Cros­bie.

“Maybe we’ve learned a les­son from that now. If we’re for­tu­nate enough to have sur­plus funds, they should be dealt with in a dif­fer­ent fash­ion than we’ve seen in the past.”

The elec­toral his­tory of this prov­ince shows an al­most clock­work swing from Lib­eral to PC and back again. Ev­ery decade or so, one ma­jor­ity shifts to an­other — some­thing Cros­bie hopes to change for the first time in the prov­ince’s his­tory.

Cros­bie says the lines have been blurred be­tween the two par­ties, so it’s up to him to find the dif­fer­ence as Elec­tion Day draws ever nearer.

“We’ve tended in this prov­ince to be Twee­dle­dum and Twee­dledee: Lib­er­als and the Pro­gres­sive Con­ser­va­tives. Frankly, I think it’s to our ben­e­fit if we de­velop a def­i­ni­tion of our­selves as to how we do dif­fer from the Lib­er­als,” he said.

“That def­i­ni­tion will in­clude rec­og­niz­ing the fact, I be­lieve, that pros­per­ity comes from a vi­brant pri­vate sec­tor. How do you achieve a pri­vate sec­tor? Well cer­tainly you can’t load up the pri­vate sec­tor with taxes and reg­u­la­tions so they can barely breathe. You can’t load up con­sumers so that the cost of liv­ing drives peo­ple away.”

Cros­bie’s task is to de­fine his party sep­a­rate from the his­tory of pre­vi­ous ad­min­is­tra­tions. The peo­ple’s task will be to de­cide whether they trust the PCS enough to give them their vote.


Ches Cros­bie

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