Cros­bie con­fi­dent head­ing into 2019

PC leader fi­nally ex­presses his view of what has been learned at the Muskrat Falls In­quiry so far

The Gulf News (Port aux Basques) - - News - BY DAVID MA­HER SALTWIRE NET­WORK

If one is an ex­am­ple, two is a co­in­ci­dence, then three by­elec­tion vic­to­ries by the Pro­gres­sive Con­ser­va­tive party could rep­re­sent a trend head­ing into the 2019 gen­eral elec­tion.

PC Leader Ches Cros­bie, the vic­tor of the sec­ond by­elec­tion cam­paign — in Wind­sor Lake in Au­gust — says he fully ex­pects a PC vic­tory in Top­sail-par­adise, the dis­trict most re­cently held by for­mer premier Paul Davis.

“I’m just not ex­pect­ing that we will lose it,” Cros­bie said in a year-end in­ter­view with The Tele­gram.

“It’s im­por­tant to win it. It’s im­por­tant to have mo­men­tum. Once we get that done, I think we’ll get it done on the 24th of Jan­uary, we want to roll out nom­i­na­tions in other dis­tricts and cap­i­tal­ize on the mo­men­tum.”

Like the 2017 by­elec­tion in Mount Pearl North, Top sail par­adise is an area of the prov­ince that’s been vot­ing Con­ser­va­tive for a num­ber of years. Aside from now- con­cep­tion Bay South town coun­cil­lor Rex Hil­lier win­ning a by­elec­tion in Con­cep­tion Bay South in 2014 be­fore los­ing in 2015, the Con­cep­tion Bay South area has been vot­ing blue for al­most two decades.

But Cros­bie doesn’t have his sights set on Top­sail-par­adise. He has his sights set on Premier Dwight Ball.

But be­fore he can han­dle an elec­tion cam­paign, Cros­bie says, there’s a larger prob­lem fac­ing his party and the prov­ince as a whole: how can the pub­lic have their faith in gov­ern­ment re­stored?

“I think the junc­ture we’re in in New­found­land his­tory right now is that the vot­ers have lost faith in pol­i­tics. They’ve lost faith in politi­cians and in po­lit­i­cal par­ties to de­liver what they say they’re go­ing to do,” he said.

“They lump ev­ery­one to­gether and many peo­ple have sim­ply grown jaded and given up hope that the po­lit­i­cal sys­tem can ever rep­re­sent mean­ing­ful change in their lives.”

Cros­bie clearly has sup­port, given his by­elec­tion win turned a Lib­eral seat into a Tory seat, but it’s an iso­lated case.

“I have to find a way to mul­ti­ply those peo­ple, be­cause there aren’t enough of them right now,” he said.

“I think the way to do that is to present a suite of poli­cies that rep­re­sent a bold, marked and dra­matic de­par­ture from what peo­ple are used to.”

A glimpse of that de­par­ture came with Cros­bie’s own by­elec­tion cam­paign over the sum­mer. The three main planks were “hon­est gov­ern­ment, lower taxes and af­ford­able power rates.”

On lower taxes and af­ford­able power, Cros­bie says this prov­ince needs to get tough with Ot­tawa.

“In terms of liv­ing in a fed­er­a­tion, it’s my po­si­tion that we’re be­ing ripped off in re­la­tion to fed­eral trans­fer pro­grams – all of them, but in par­tic­u­lar equal­iza­tion,” he said.

“We re­mem­ber that Danny Williams went to war with Paul Mar­tin and we even­tu­ally came back with $2.3 bil­lion for hav­ing raised the is­sue vig­or­ously and ro­bustly with the prime min­is­ter.”

Cros­bie says he doesn’t think Ball can han­dle such a con­flict with Ot­tawa.

“Some­thing is bro­ken there and all you have to do is think about the fact … that Que­bec is go­ing to get $13.1 bil­lion in the

com­ing year, while we get noth­ing. I mean, Nova Sco­tia gets $2 bil­lion, New Brunswick gets $2 bil­lion – that’s a lot of money to us. Our bud­get is just over $8 bil­lion. There’s work to do there. Whether Mr. Ball can do the work there, the vot­ers will have to de­cide.”

Each of the cam­paign points Cros­bie in­tends to make is an open­ing for crit­i­cism of Tory gov­ern­ments of the past, all of which is un­fold­ing day af­ter day in the tes­ti­mony com­ing forth at the Muskrat Falls In­quiry.

“I can’t dis­so­ci­ate the PC party from what hap­pened in the past. But I’m mak­ing a bet that peo­ple are way more in­ter­ested in the fu­ture and what the so­lu­tion to the prob­lem of af­ford­able rates is,” he said.

“I’m not run­ning from the prob­lem of af­ford­able rates be­cause that’s in fact un­der the

three things I cam­paigned on and will con­tinue to cam­paign on.”

In fact, Cros­bie was hes­i­tant to dis­cuss any opin­ions he may have about the tes­ti­mony of his pre­de­ces­sors at the Muskrat Falls In­quiry.

“While you might be in­ter­ested in know­ing my opin­ions on what I think I’ve heard along the way, and your read­ers might be, I think they’re more in­ter­ested in know­ing what I plan to do about rates in the fu­ture,” he said.

“So, I’m just go­ing to let that dog sleep un­til later.”

But when pressed re­peat­edly dur­ing the in­ter­view, Cros­bie said there are les­sons to be learned about how the gov­ern­ment makes de­ci­sions and over­sees ma­jor projects.

“Muskrat Falls is more of a re­minder of some­thing that we all knew, I think. Which is that politi­cians can be over­taken by fevers. One thing that is a fairly neu­tral ob­ser­va­tion, gov­ern­ment has pretty close su­per­vi­sion over Eastern Health, let’s say,” he said.

“That didn’t seem to be hap­pen­ing with Nal­cor. Nal­cor was treated as a de­part­ment of gov­ern­ment when, clearly by their le­gal set-up and gov­er­nance struc­ture they weren’t. That seemed to be the mind­set. In re­la­tion to what Mr. (Ed) Mar­tin, the CEO of the day, might have been telling the premier or any­one else in gov­ern­ment about the risk of the project, there didn’t seem to be the ca­pac­ity within core gov­ern­ment to know what ques­tions to ask about it and to make sure that the politi­cians were get­ting the level of in­for­ma­tion and the kind of in­for­ma­tion that they needed to be get­ting. I’m not sure what kind of a deficit you call that, but that piece seemed to be miss­ing.”

Whether the Tories have learned their les­son and are ready for an­other crack at gov­ern­ment will be up to the peo­ple of New­found­land and Labrador.

DAVID MA­HER/THE TELE­GRAM

“Muskrat Falls is more of a re­minder of some­thing that we all knew, I think. Which is that politi­cians can be over­taken by fevers,” says Pro­gres­sive Con­ser­va­tive Leader Ches Cros­bie.

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