Nfld. & Labrador

Stop the 'soft-sell:' Roger Grimes says Ball government should act now to reduce deficit

A former Liberal premier who took office 15 years ago says the Dwight Ball government should stop the "soft-sell" of a budget crisis, and act now to reduce spending.
Former Premier Roger Grimes is interviewed by St. John's Morning Show host Anthony Germain on the 15th anniversary of his Liberal leadership win. (CBC)

A former Liberal premier who took office 15 years ago this month says the Dwight Ball government should stop the "soft-sell" of a budget crisis, and act now to reduce spending. 

"If it was in your own home, you'd be doing something about it today, to stop it," said Roger Grimes.

Governing through lean years are familiar for Grimes, who narrowly won the leadership of the Liberal Party on Feb. 3, 2001, and was sworn in as premier two weeks later.

"We had run through a decade or more...where there was a persistent deficit of about 10 per cent of spending," Grimes told the St. John's Morning Show Wednesday.

"Every year we'd be roughly half-a-billion dollars short."

The Dwight Ball government of today has it much worse with a 25 per cent shortfall, he said, "which is scary, really."

According to Grimes, "It's a big hole to climb out of and it's a similar circumstance to what we had. You got to roll up your sleeves and deal with it."

Turbulent times

His own administration was dogged by economic and political turbulence. 

"We had a full decade before I became premier of wage freezes and we had layoffs, and so on. This happened annually," he said. 

The program review done by his predecessor, Brian Tobin, had reduced the size of the public service and even though Grimes offered a three-year wage hike, it wasn't enough.

"The whole public service went on strike right away, and that lasted a week or so," he said.

"We had the first and only doctors' strike in Newfoundland and Labrador …It showed that we were in a financial crisis, struggling to get things under control."

Roger Grimes and INCO CEO Scott Hand sign legal agreements for Voisey's Bay. (www.releases.gov.nl.ca)

Grimes said Hibernia oil and the Voisey's Bay nickel agreement brought new money into the province, allowing the Progressive Conservatives under Danny Williams to balance the budget and even run surpluses.

But he says the Williams government blew it — setting up the problems that Dwight Ball is now facing.

"They decided to take oil revenues, all of it, and invest in some infrastructure and I think the problem in my mind is the infrastructure they chose," he said. 

"Muskrat Falls in my view is a disaster in the making."

'Grab bull by the horns'

Grimes said the project is one reason why the province's credit rating was downgraded in late January, and he believes a review of the project, due in March, will identify problems.

"I'm still one of those hanging on by my fingernails, hoping they might even be able to cancel it or alter it significantly to stop this drain of money."

In the meantime, his advice to the Ball administration is to speak bluntly and act decisively.

Grimes says the Ball administration has to take decisive action to deal with a "really scary" deficit.

Grimes said the approach taken by Ball and Finance Minister Cathy Bennett has been "to soft-sell this financial issue, not really calling it a crisis," which he thinks is wrong.

"Right now they're looking a little bit hesitant — leave it with us, we'll work through it — well, I think they should grab the bull by the horns," he said. 

"The people will support them, knowing how severe it is," he said.

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Member

Join the conversation  Create account

Already have an account?

now