Gov­ern­ment’s lack of plan calls for far more than fret­ting

The Gulf News (Port aux Basques) - - Editorial - Rus­sell Wanger­sky Eastern Pas­sages Rus­sell Wanger­sky’s col­umn ap­pears in 36 SaltWire news­pa­pers and web­sites in At­lantic Canada. He can be reached at rus­sell.wanger­sky@thetele­gram.com — Twit­ter: @wanger­sky.

What is it?

Do our politi­cians think we just can’t han­dle the truth?

Or are they just al­ler­gic to telling it to us?

I am seething, prac­ti­cally foam­ing at the mouth, at the ex­pec­ta­tion by our cur­rent gov­ern­ment that they can pat us on the head and tell us that we shouldn’t worry our lit­tle heads about Muskrat Falls and the price of elec­tric­ity, and that we don’t need to know what it is they plan to do to mit­i­gate the im­pact of the project.

Think about it this way: isn’t telling us “ev­ery­thing will be all right” every bit as bad as telling us that there’s no way a hy­dro­elec­tric de­vel­op­ment can go over bud­get, and then ad­mit­ting later, as prom­i­nent pro­vin­cial Tories have done about Muskrat Falls, that they knew all along that the bud­get would be over­shot?

Both are, in their own ways, cre­at­ing false ex­pec­ta­tions to avoid un­palat­able truths.

Both are telling peo­ple what they want to hear, rather than what they need to hear.

We made a mis­take and we’re go­ing to have to pay for that mis­take. We elected a gov­ern­ment that was crit­i­cally mis­taken about how much power we would use, what oil would cost, what busi­ness would be like in the prov­ince.

Those mis­takes are in the midst of com­ing home to roost, tied up tight in le­gal agree­ments that are es­sen­tially im­pos­si­ble to break.

We can post­pone pay­ing for what we have done, but that will only in­crease the cost of our mis­take as a re­sult. In other words, we have op­tions, but those op­tions don’t make any of the fi­nan­cial dam­age dis­ap­pear.

Elec­tri­cal rates are vir­tu­ally guar­an­teed to in­crease, most likely dra­mat­i­cally, and if they are go­ing to do that, then we have to have time to pre­pare for what that will mean. And please, “don’t fret” to put it in Premier Dwight Ball’s own words?

I “fret” when the car’s in the shop and I don’t know what it’s go­ing to cost to fix what­ever its prob­lem is right now. I “fret” when the gro­cery bill is un­ex­pect­edly higher be­cause pro­duce has leapt up­wards.

But when it’s a fun­da­men­tal change in the cost of heat and light, I do a lot more than fret. An in­crease in power rates spi­der­webs out in all direc­tions: it in­creases mu­nic­i­pal taxes, it in­creases food prices, it is passed on to end users — con­sumers and tax­pay­ers — es­sen­tially 100 per cent of the time.

What is most re­veal­ing about the ac­tions of the cur­rent gov­ern­ment — the “don’t fret, be happy” folks — is that if they ac­tu­ally did have a so­lu­tion, they would be in a huge rush to trot it out pub­licly and take credit for their ac­tions. But they haven’t.

In­stead, we’re get­ting press con­fer­ences that tell us not to worry while they take an­other baby step, re­fer­ring and de­lay­ing and ob­fus­cat­ing.

The over­whelm­ing mes­sage is painfully ob­vi­ous at this point: the cur­rent gov­ern­ment does not ac­tu­ally have a plan. They do not ac­tu­ally have any plan, ex­cept to de­lay ev­ery­thing for long enough that they can ad­mit that lack of plan af­ter the next pro­vin­cial elec­tion.

They are not thought­fully pro­tect­ing us from the fis­cal folly of past gov­ern­ments, they are cal­lously pro­tect­ing their own po­lit­i­cal back­sides.

And that is every bit as de­ceit­ful as telling you that there was no way Muskrat Falls could fail. I’m not fret­ting. Fret­ting is way too gen­tle a term. I am ac­tively wor­ried about how the le­gacy of Muskrat Falls will be to pitch us even closer to bank­ruptcy. It will be a long, ex­pen­sive haul to pull us out of this mess, and glib talk about faux so­lu­tions will not cut it.

And I won’t stop be­ing deeply wor­ried about how any­one who isn’t well off is go­ing to make ends meet.

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