Nfld. & Labrador·Analysis

N.L. budget blame game begins

Dwight Ball and his Liberals have started laying out blame for tough decisions that will culminate in Thursday's budget.
Premier Dwight Ball warns this year's budget will be filled with "tough" decisions that are not the fault of his government. (CBC)

The blame game has started for the 2016 provincial budget, due Thursday, a budget the premier has warned us will be filled with "tough" decisions and ones he's already framing as not being his fault.

During Question Period on Monday, the opposition raised concerns about what could be cut in the budget.

There is no choice based on the mismanagement we've seen from the members opposite for the last 12 years.- Dwight Ball

Opposition Leader Paul Davis asked about cutting civil servants and the premier threw the question back on him.

"Their budget of last year at this time, which was their first budget, didn't work.  It got this province into trouble, let's not forget that," said Dwight Ball.

"These are tough decisions that no one likes to have to make, but in order to protect the future of our province, there is no choice based on the mismanagement we've seen from the members opposite for the last 12 years."

It's a budget finance minister Cathy Bennett has already warned is "not something I'm going to celebrate," and the Liberals are already trying to deflect inevitable anger towards some of those unpopular decision back at the opposition.

No matter what budget question the opposition asked Monday, government answered with a "you made us do it" response.

"Right now the tolerance level that I have for what I've heard from some of the members opposite is very low these days because when you look at making tough decisions and punting them out, I would argue they did that for quite a number of years," Ball told reporters after question period.

"Pushing decisions out into the future is nothing new for those that are [asking] those questions, they've done it for quite some time."

Making tough choices

Political science professor Kelly Blidook says it's a strategy that he thinks will work with the public.

Kelly Blidook, associate professor of political science at MUN, thinks the governments' strategy will work with the public. (CBC)

"You can only put so much blame on someone who has just come in and now has to deal with circumstances," said Blidook.

If they can justify the decisions that they're making right now as the best decisions, I would cut them some slack for that.- Kelly Blidook

He says that shouldn't stop the opposition from being able to criticize individual policy decisions.

The criticism that he thinks the government should have to wear is around provincial election promises that they are now likely to break.

During last fall's campaign the Liberals repeatedly promised not to lay off workers, something they're no longer promising to keep.

But he says that shouldn't stop them from making the right decision, even if it goes against what they promised.

"If they can justify the decisions that they're making right now as the best decisions, I would cut them some slack for that," he said.

Politically it can also work well for a government to make the controversial decisions early on in its mandate.

Danny Williams made cuts when the Progressive Conservatives took power in 2003. He imposed a cost cutting contract on civil servants, one that was blasted at the time by unions, but four years later in 2007, the party was re-elected handily.

"This is definitely the time to make [unpopular decisions]," says Blidook. "You want to get the worst times out of the way early if you've got 4 years in which to convince people you're a good government and you should be re-elected."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Peter Cowan

CBC News

Peter Cowan is a St. John's-based reporter with CBC News.

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