An inauspicious beginning to 2017
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.