Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Wilderness voices

I've got a few threads going on in this post, so bear with me as I work through it. Because I'm perplexed on a couple of Newfoundland political things.

First of all, I've read Rob Antle's articles and David Cochrane's speech on the current state of Newfoundland politics. Rob writes devastatingly about the IEC and Dave produces a nice, thoughtful piece on how the business community basically needs to grow a pair of balls. And so, for that matter, should the rest of the province.

By the way, this should nicely refute some sniping I've seen on other blogs about how toothless Newfoundland media is. Folks, reporting is like anything else. There are people who are good at it; there are people who are bad at it. The gifted ones, the ones who go after the story relentlessly, are subjected to the kind of sniping, second guessing, insulting and abuse that most people could not handle. It can be high stakes stuff to go after politicians – who normally have huge egos to begin with and don't take kindly to criticism. One government did its best to shut down the Sunday Express, and basically succeeded. Clyde Wells was famous for chewing out reporters. Brian Tobin tried to exile a CBC reporter for daring to ask questions about his wife. And I'm sure Danny Williams has engaged in similar intimidation tactics.

It's a hard job. I think most reporters do a good job given to what they're up against and the resources they possess. That's a great story Rob did. I wonder how long it took to write? It meant he likely wasn't available to do other stories. That probably put pressure on the editor to justify why one of his best reporters wasn't writing anything on a daily basis. Welcome to the business end of newspapers, where you won't have to strain too hard to hear sales people lament the waste of perfectly good ad space being taken up by news stories.

So let's give the reporters a bit of slack, shall we?

Anyway, I had a small moment of clarity when reading the pieces by Rob and Dave and stuff that I've read on other blogs. And that is commenting on how the pro-Danny forces come out and attack anytime when the government is criticized. That the open line shows are bombarded, that letters get written to newspapers, etc.

Fair enough. You couldn't pay me, literally, to listen to open line. In this case, the voice of the people sounds a little too much like they were dropped on their heads as babies. So I'm sure it's happening and I would hope the fact that it's so obvious and commented on would dampen some of its impact

But where is the Voice of the Government online? Where is it in local blogs? Because I can't think of more than a small few Newfoundland conservative bloggers online. And some of them, like Liam, clearly have issues with the way the current government is being run.

So where are they?

Yes, I know not every local blog is on NL Blogrolling. Yes, I know the number of people reading local blogs is relatively small compared to the number of people who listen to open line shows. But hey, apparently they get enough attention that the premier of the province apparently felt the urge to threaten to sue a couple of them. I would have thought that would be sufficient for swarms of people to come online and at least start leaving comments on the political blogs ripping anyone who speaks against Danny. And that pro-Danny blogs would spring forth.

And yet, no. Very odd. Thus the local political blogsphere, for the most part, remains anti-Danny. Not that I'm summoning forth the legions of Dannyites, you understand. I'm just wondering in a province that is supposedly 70 per cent in favour of the current government, why there aren't more people with blogs defending the actions of the current government.

You get the feeling that there is a slow resentment building up against Williams, but that it all remains bottled for the most part. And again, this comes only from what I'm observing online and not on the ground. So it's a very skewered observation. But I suspect if there was the right catalyst, the right person, or the right group out there, willing to speak up and say something that an avalanche might start to roll.

I don't know who or what that might be. The Liberals and NDP are effectively toothless and after the EIC scandal no one trusts them either. What you need is someone of prominence to stand up and say they're not running for office and they're affiliated with no party. They just want every politician in the House who was there previous to 2003 gone. Yes, you can argue the crowd from 2003-07 haven't been much better, but let's pick a nice clean number. Everyone before 2003 needs to go as punishment for the financial scandal.

That means voting against the incumbent, running against him or her for the party nomination or in the general election. An anti-2003 platform I think might work if the right person was driving it.

It probably won't happen. Danny has spin down pretty nicely at this point and has certainly mastered the art of the attack. And I do wish more people would show some balls in criticizing the government. There's still six months left. The quip in politics is that six months is a long time. And it is. But that's a pretty barren opposition landscape out there right now. If there is a voice crying out in the wilderness, then he or she might want to yell a bit louder. Time is running out.


Edward G. Hollett said...

Hopefully I sent you some traffic.

danabear said...

danny still hasn't responded to the valentine i sent him in the second-last issue of the scope, which i have reproduced here:

Dear Danny Williams, that was a great suit you wore to the opening
night of the Women's Film and Video Festival. Are you on myspace?
Love, Dana

get into the modern world, danny! myspace! add me! if you don't move on this, i may be forced to take matters into my own hands...

Liam O'Brien said...

Re "Pro-Danny bloggers."

Perhaps the way you put it points to part of the problem. While I've been willing to point out the potential and talent of one or another leader from time to time, I've never been one to frame my politics in terms of some undying loyalty to one or another contemporary individual. It's gotta be about ideas and policy, or at least principles. I think others feel the same. I know many who privately scratch their heads as they see departure from many long standing PC policy points and principles. I scratch my head publicly and it's framed only in the light of "critical of Danny," by the more blind loyalists.

I suspect it's a difficult thing for an independent blogger to do these days - be a "pro-danny" blogger. . . . Even somebody who is fairly supportive of the government at this time has to have, to borrow a politically incorrect Butchism, a skin as thick as an Apache's heel in order to stand the verbal reprisals from the absolutely cultish followers of the government (and every government from NL's past - grit and tory alike has had them) that come the instant they might decide to voice their disagreement with a point or two.

While I don't fully understand it, I find that some measure of independent thinking and an interest in policy and ideas is more common amongst the blogging political activists than others. That doesn't fit in well with the culture in the Confederation building these days.

Besides, the perfectly acceptable pro-Danny blogger would probably be writing releases for him or one of the ministers in jig time. . . it's happened before in past governments with commentators using different media.

I miss the PCs that talked about a phase-out of business subsidy (as they said in the platform of '99), that wanted the house finally reduced to 40 MHAs, that spoke about a more rational fishery but also spoke strongly about the need for joint management and everyone around one table, that called for gasoline tax cuts, that was very focused on promotion of and interest in our heritage, that talked about making govt more manageable and affordable through attrition and pairing down. . .

In the meantime, blogging for me continues as always -- I'll let them know when I agree and when I disagree. Not Rocket Science, but also not necessarily blindly loyal.

towniebastard said...

Well Ed, so far about 1/3 of the traffic to my blog today is courtesy of you. Which says something about either how much you get or how little I get...;) Thanks, regardless. And I imagine the role of journalists, pro or con, in NL is something worthy of more debate.

Dana, here's your problem. Of course Danny is crushing on you. From what I know, most people once they meet you or read your blog begin to crush on you (alas, I am married and therefore not allowed to crush on anyone other than my lovely wife. And Gillian Andrerson circa. 1999).

But Danny is, despite his faults, a smart guy. He likely went to myspace and quickly came to the conclusion that most smart people....that myspace sucks ass.

Clearly if you want the man in the expensive, tailored suits, myspace is not the way to go. Perhaps breaking into his house might work....

towniebastard said...

Liam, I've always respected your point of view because you're a conservative. You believe, from what I've read, in reduced taxes, reduced government ,less government interference in business and other basic conservative economic principles. I'm less certain if you're socially conservative, but that's fine.

And I also understand that many of your principles are not reflected in the current government. I deeply respect that you're sticking to yours rather than alter them to toe the line on what Danny is saying. In Newfoundland, it takes a measure of courage to do that.

Here's a question, and it might be for another blog post, but I am curious. How many conservatives (ie economic or social) are there in the current Conservative government?

Because really, it feels a touch too much like "these are the guys who are going to win, so I want to be a part of that party."

This isn't a shot straight at the Conservatives, by the way. Lord knows the Liberals were as bad under Tobin. Where people didn't necessarily have liberal social/economic beliefs, they just wanted a seat on the side of the House with the winners.

I've never understood why people talk about the complexity of Newfoundland politics. It really isn't. It's always been people being oportunitstic bandwagon jumpers until the government in power screws things up so badly that everyone bails at once. Repeat every 10 years or so....

Mark said...

"Fair enough. You couldn't pay me, literally, to listen to open line."

Bless you. Pass it on.

Liam O'Brien said...

Well Craig, for starters, I view most of the issues that get the tiny social conservative minority in this country all excited as little more than distractions. For someone like myself, it's painful to watch time that could be spent reforming the federation and dealing with economic policy spent instead going on and on about these sorts of things. I might be a policy wonk, but I could care less on most of those issues -- except insofar as how we deal with them -- I believe in respecting common law, democracy and parliament in how we as a society decide on our laws and definitions.

One of the few areas that would probably keep me out of the genuine "libertarian" camp might be justice. While I believe strongly in the need for due process, protection of fundamental rights (I keep the more eloquently worded real-ink Dief-autographed Bill of Rights in my office), habeus corpus and the rest, I'm also strong believer in taking a much tougher stand in sentencing laws on violent and other serious crimes.

To be clear too, I don't think that in the overall scene of the country or the world scene, I'd be seen to be "far right" or anything close to it. Here in NL, especially these days, it might be a different story on the perception. I've been called a lefty by guys like Daifallah and a right wing CIA agent by Frank Farmer and other dippers. LOL. Does that average-out to centrist?

Your analysis of both the Tobin and the Williams government is fairly accurate. Nobody understands issues even on a firey pro- con fight level anymore. In the early terms of Peckford's run, one can read and detect a certain level of consistency (still not perfect)on matters of federalism. On matters of budget, Clyde Wells had the tough job of getting us to take pills that we needed to take (even if much of what he started was later unravelled).

Now, and (as you pointed out it's cyclical in our history - touching both big parties) it's the cult of personality and the cult of "win win win." I wasn't supposed to bring up debt reduction at the PC convention because some folks figured it'd make us look like "right wing lunatics." Since when is it lunacy to want to start the long trudge away from total dependency and servitude to one's creditors? NDP govts on the Prairies and Liberal governments in BC and Quebec aren't right wing lunatic farms because they realize this.

Sometimes the answer I get for my troubles re the PCs in NL is "well, we're red Tories here in NL." Sorry, that's a non-answer. You see, I know real red Tories.

Wanna see a Red Tory? Talk to Lynn Verge or Hugh Segal or John Crosbie. I'm probably a shade or two bluer than these folks, but I had the honour of working on campaigns that involved these individuals. At times (nobody does it all the time sadly), they could articulate a view that was principled and distinct from the general Liberal or NDP political cultures - one that resonated with me and others. It wasn't much, but you could hang your hat on it and count on them to be open to the policy wonk's ramblings.

And on to your question -- Say what you will about the nature of his exit and his new incarnation (and I've said a bit myself), I think Loyola Sullivan was the closest thing we had in the government to a bona fide Conservative in the government. I suspect there were days when parts of our old platforms would be raised by him only to get knocked down by the rest. Other possibilities? Maybe Beth Marshall. I only hope the "force" is strong in that one, lol. Call Yoda.

WJM said...

It's gotta be about ideas and policy, or at least principles.

Which ideas, policies, and principles do you and Danny Williams have in common?

WJM said...

How many conservatives (ie economic or social) are there in the current Conservative government?

Round numbers? 0.

Liam O'Brien said...

Wally said:

"Which ideas, policies, and principles do you and Danny Williams have in common?"

Not a whole lot lately. Ever so slightly more than the "virtually zero" I have in common with the provincial Liberal and ND Parties.

a few examples:

- supported PWC Private Audit to expose the deficits hidden by previous Liberal/Tory governments.

- disagreed with the Gerry, Anna and Judy traveling "government is flused with cahs spend heaps and heaps and heaps more than was in the 2003-2006 budgets" roadshow.

- agreed with the demanding repayment from MHAs of amounts missed in AG investigation.

-agreed with lifting AG Ban.

- Supported campaign for new Accord arrangement to address clawback of offshore resources. (well, all right. All provincial political parties supported that one).

There are probably a few others.

But for the most part, on internal economic and budget matters, we're dealing with three annoying shades of NDP.

Liam O'Brien said...

Wally said:
"Round numbers? 0."

vocal? I'd say you're pretty much correct.

I do hold out some faint hope for Beth.

Edward G. Hollett said...

It's always interesting to see Liam's thinking.

In his very short list of things he supports by the current administration came these:

"- supported PWC Private Audit to expose the deficits hidden by previous Liberal/Tory governments."

There were no hidden deficits by any party of any political stripe. Certainly there was nothing akin to what the Harris and Eves Connies did in Ontario.

The PWC audit revealed nothing that wasn't already in the public domain. What it did do was create the illusion that the arse was out of the province's economy (artifically low revenue projections).

The concept of these outside audits may be good but the practice - as in the PWc case - can be appalling for developing sound public policy. It was a real case of GIGO and I am surprised to see you backing garbage.

"- disagreed with the Gerry, Anna and Judy traveling "government is flused with cahs spend heaps and heaps and heaps more than was in the 2003-2006 budgets" roadshow."

In light of your later comment about the parties all being shades of NDp, this structure to your comment must mean that you rejected one version of spend, spend spend, in favour of the one implemented by the government.

In light of your supposed to commitment to being fiscally responsible, it's odd you'd actually support Williams on the budgets.

Then again, maybe you couldn't say you support his spend, spend, spend habits, so you elected to criticise some who wanted to spend (slightly) more. How many angels can dance on the head of a pin, Liam?

If we took that one away, we'd probably find that there really wasn't much of anything you support Williams on.

Liam O'Brien said...

Nice Revisionism, Ed. Whatever was in public domain, the finance ministers of the previous governments at various times decided to announce balanced books that were only balanced if one chose to ignore real and serious public debt and liabilities. PWC Audit put that back in the light and I'm glad it did -- even if none of the major political parties in NL has any guts to do what should be done about it.

As for revenue projections, I was tired of seeing them too rosy - as previous governments of both stripes had done. just as foolish was all the talk of "manageable deficits" from guys like Grimes and later, sadly, in the form of credit rating chatter from Mr. Sullivan.

Ed said:

"In light of your later comment about the parties all being shades of NDp, this structure to your comment must mean that you rejected one version of spend, spend spend, in favour of the one implemented by the government."

Not quite, and it's sad that you'd even try that piece of spin. I'm not in favour of much of any spending policies of any major party.

I just happen to still have the ability to evaluate the lesser of evils. One doesn't need to particularly care for the decisions made in a provincial budget to be even more concerned and more alarmed by and disgusted by those who think that even that budget isn't nearly spend-happy enough.

And this comment is pure Ed-style binary oversimplification and spin old-school:

"In light of your supposed to commitment to being fiscally responsible, it's odd you'd actually support Williams on the budgets."

I have made it clear that I very much disagree with many of the spending and budgetary decisions of the current government (and most governments before too).

It's amazing that you'd try to take some fairly specific assertions I made about my disagreement with your buddies in the provincial Liberal party who clearly thought Danny Williams needed to open up a few dozen more barrels of taxpayer money and spend like Al McEachen on crack as well as my support for PWC audit and assume that means I somehow must generally and always "support Williams on the budgets."

Ed said:
"Then again, maybe you couldn't say you support his spend, spend, spend habits,"

Wow. Detective Ed cracks the case after reviewing probably a dozen or more blogs and op eds and columns from me on the subject . .

Yes, Ed. I couldn't say it because I don't support those habits. I've made that extremely clear.

Ed said:
"so you elected to criticise some who wanted to spend (slightly) more. How many angels can dance on the head of a pin, Liam?"

"Slight"? I think you just balanced a few of your own with the addition of that word to the near blank cheque that Anna and Judy and Gerry seemed to want in their criticisms of a budget that went spend crazy for not going super spendcrazy.

Anyway, I realize it's not much to rest any decision on in the world of politics and policy. It's a depressing state of affairs in the political culture of our province these days.

Still, I was asked a question. I was asked the same question I've been asked many times in many ways -- what do I have in common with our premier? Other ways of asking it - why Williams over grits/dippers. I gave some examples to help illustrate the plight and my answer.

Of course, I'm often asked this question by people who, while intelligent and vocal on many important issues, are nowhere near as forthcoming with any sort of clear list of principles that matter to them or some sense of why they're inclined to support or oppose who they support or oppose.

Moreover, none to date have explained why they're so mystified by my response when - on the very issues and principles and matters that I have stated as important to me THE ONLY ALTERNATIVES ARE CLEARLY WORSE.

How does stating that object "x" is worse than object "y" mean you're praising or madly in love with object "y"? It doesn't. As such, all your prodding on these matters is really quite pointless, as it seems to rely on precisely that sort of false assumption. Alternatively, you know the difference and are just playing some cheap politics and looking to collect as many negative statements about a government you oppose as much on ground of the colour of the lawn signs as anything else in order to help a party who you either support because they helped you out at some point or because you were just born into it.

In contrast with what I would have suspected when I first met you guys, I suspect (and hope) it's the former, not the latter that's driving this.