An in­aus­pi­cious be­gin­ning to 2017

The Compass - - EDITORIAL - Pat Cullen Pat Cullen is a jour­nal­ist and com­mu­nity vol­un­teer who lives in Car­bon­ear. She can be reached at 596-1505 or cullen.pat1@ gmail.com.

Premier Dwight Ball has said he will re­turn the prov­ince to sur­plus by 2022 or 2023. This is noted in his party doc­u­ment “The Way For­ward.”

In a be­gin­ning-of-the-year in­ter­view with the St. John’s Morn­ing Show’s An­thony Ger­main, he was re­minded by Ger­main that he must “cut spend­ing by about $275 mil­lion a year for the next five years” to reach that goal.

Ball never con­tested Ger­main’s num­bers and said he had al­ready started to re­duce spend­ing by cut­ting deputy ministers, as­sis­tant deputy ministers and com­mu­ni­ca­tions peo­ple.

But chop­ping man­age­ment and then pay­ing huge sev­er­ance pack­ages to some, if not all, as well as the pay out of pen­sion ben­e­fits, won’t give him that fig­ure of $275 mil­lion yearly. Nei­ther will chop­ping from the bot­tom. But that may not stop him and his fi­nance min­is­ter, Cathy Ben­nett, from un­leash­ing more mis­ery on those least able to ab­sorb it.

And there is so much more they can un­leash.

They can make fur­ther cuts to the New­found­land and Labrador Pre­scrip­tion Drug Pro­gram by delist­ing some pre­scrip­tion drugs now sub­si­dized or partly sub­si­dized by gov­ern­ment, or make ad­di­tional cuts to the Den­tal Pro­gram so those other than in­di­gent se­niors and some work­ing poor will en­dure pain from rot­ting, in­fected teeth or be forced to chew and swal­low food with­out den­tures.

They can cut clinic hours and ser­vices, mak­ing it dif­fi­cult for those with­out ve­hi­cles and no money for taxis to ac­cess med­i­cal help.

Gov­ern­ment can can­cel the re­prieve which has kept over half the prov­ince’s li­braries open, deny­ing some the lux­ury of read­ing (the con­sult­ing firm EY was asked by gov­ern­ment to look into the eco­nomic fea­si­bil­ity of keep­ing 54 li­braries open and their re­port is ex­pected soon).

They could re­v­erse the de­ci­sion to keep open the four court­houses to be closed in last year’s bud­get, in­clud­ing the pro­vin­cial court at Har­bour Grace, forc­ing those with lit­tle money to travel fur­ther to find jus­tice.

Gov­ern­ment can in­crease wait times or make other changes at New­found­land and Labrador Hous­ing, so those stand­ing on rot­ting floors that could give way at any mo­ment will stand on them a while longer and hope for the best.

No mat­ter how much hard­ship they in­flict, they won’t find their $275 mil­lion here. It is a warped logic that sees merit in whit­tling away at the most vul­ner­a­ble, but logic nonethe­less, for busi­nesses don’t profit from those with lit­tle or no pur­chas­ing power.

What has al­ways been hard for me to ac­cept is why so many in the civil ser­vice and in agen­cies funded by gov­ern­ment are kept in jobs where you don’t re­ally know what they do, or if what they do war­rants a com­fort­able pay­cheque.

While Premier Ball has vowed to elim­i­nate waste, I sus­pect it de­pends on who’s do­ing the wast­ing.

No doubt these pay­cheques help drive the econ­omy, es­pe­cially in places where the ser­vice in­dus­try is the main in­dus­try. But surely it takes more than that to jus­tify such indulgence for one group and such cal­lous in­dif­fer­ence for an­other.

What then is Premier Ball’s plan to re­turn the prov­ince to sur­plus by 2022 or 2023? I doubt he has one. By then our un­prece­dented and abysmal fi­nan­cial sit­u­a­tion and the $11.7 bil­lion Muskrat Falls de­ba­cle which lies at its very core, will be some­one else’s problem.

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