Nfld. & Labrador·Weekend Briefing

That brutal budget a few years back? Dwight Ball wants you to forget about it entirely

The deficit reduction levy, a doubled gas tax, closed public libraries — they're all things that Tuesday's budget aims to purge from public memory, writes John Gushue.

Tuesday's budget is more about the next 4 weeks than the next 4 years

Newfoundland and Labrador premier Dwight Ball was all smiles as he announced the latest changes to the Atlantic Accord earlier this month. (Gary Locke/CBC)

Memories can be fickle in politics. When the budget comes down on Tuesday, Dwight Ball and co. would very much like yours to be as unreliable as possible.

Don't remember, please, that the Liberals campaigned in 2015 — even in the face of every fiscal shred of evidence — that things were not only going to be fine, they were going to cut taxes, not raise them.

Don't remember the deficit reduction levy. That was the hallmark of the 2016 budget, a proverbial "bad news budget" if there ever was one.

Don't remember Cathy Bennett, the former finance minister who understood that in a time of crisis, unpopular truths — but truths nonetheless — have to be said out loud. No one in cabinet is talking about a fiscal crisis in such plain language, however uncomfortable, anymore.

A grim-faced Cathy Bennett warned Newfoundland and Labrador was grappling with a ruinous financial situation when she brought down the 2016 budget. She later left cabinet, and politics. (CBC)

Don't remember the temporary gas tax, which doubled the provincial tax with an extra 16.5 cents a litre. It came into effect in June 2016; the Liberals need well over a year to phase it out, but for some reason they never mention it anymore.

Don't remember that at one point the government planned to close 54 of the province's 94 library branches.

Don't remember that tax hike on insurance premiums, or the extra costs of registering your vehicle and other services.

That's a lot to not remember, but it squares with the peculiarly sunny disposition of the provincial government over the last couple of years. Muskrat Falls may be a boondoggle that is turning our net debt into a mountain (watch for that figure on Tuesday), but the Liberals — who manage to find a way to use their slogan "The Way Forward" on pretty much everything the government touches — are all smiles.

A 4-month plan? More like 4 weeks

Budgets are always — by necessity — political documents. But this one will be especially so, because the pretext for it is out of place.

There is every possibility that the election call — according to a well-fed rumour mill — could come as early as Wednesday.

Yes, Wednesday.

Ball's Liberals have used the 'Way Forward' branding for many of the government's funding announcements. (Danny Arsenault/CBC)

In January, I wrote about how the political winds had a spring election in the air. Ball did not talk openly about the topic for a while, but eventually confirmed that, yup, that's where the government's head is on a vote. Sure, we have fixed-date legislation that puts the vote on the Tuesday after Thanksgiving, but the pending federal election (can't have two campaigns at once) opens the door for a move.

Ball has made it very clear — despite some amusing comments that his mind is not at all on the election — that winning the election is job 1.

As a colleague put it this week, this budget is not a plan for the next four years but rather for the next four weeks.

The campaign will be (excluding the day the writ drops and election day) at least 28 days long, which is longer than those tight campaigns that Brians Peckford and Tobin deployed for shock-and-awe stampedes over poorly organized oppositions.

The campaign, of course, could be even longer than 28 days. 

Here's a juicy bit of political gossip a colleague picked up this week. Rumour has it that the Liberals might stretch out the campaign … all the better to drain whatever funds Ches Crosbie and the Tories have. 

We picked that up before we learned that the Tories were going into the campaign with a considerable cash-in-the-bank disadvantage, so it makes sense for Liberal strategists to hit the Tories where it hurts: the pocketbook. 

For the rest of us, expect a light touch on your own finances — just as long as you don't look at the debt that will sooner or later have to be paid. 

Quote of the week

"Ms. Borden … was attempting to humiliate Ms. X and would have known that a significant number of individuals were likely to see what she had posted. This was not a mistake or an error in judgment. This was a wilful and purposeful act."

Judge Wayne Gorman, who decided to jail Felicia Borden for posting nude and sexually explicit photos of her ex-boyfriend's new partner online

Elsewhere this week

You can learn a lot in the course of a week. Including …

Pre-paid headstones and unmarked graves can make for a litigious mix.

Frank Kelly, centre, says if weren't for his staff and customers his store would be nothing. (Malone Mullin/CBC)

Up the line, end of the line: Jackman & Greene, a townie treasure, has been sold.

The same week that a ban on retail plastic bags got royal assent, The Broadcast told you about a potential solution involving an ingredient that may surprise you: fish guts

Steeplechase champ Julia Howley is an athlete to watch.

French-trained Liz Drover's pastries are spectaculaire.

One of the top prospects on the St. John's Growlers is 18, Russian and a fan of seafood. Yep, he's in a good place

Boil-ups are good for the soul. 

Daniel Downey has come a long way from the night he woke up, unable to move his legs. 

A chuckle for you 

To borrow a setup line from my colleague Sarah Smellie, it's hot, it's sizzling, it's lightly dusted in flour. 

It's a parody video from Not Quite. Apologies to E.L. James and her fans. 

CBC has teamed up with this group of video pranksters for a series of videos. Watch for them on Tuesdays at lunchtime on our Facebook page and website over the next few weeks. 

They say it's spring 

My pick for a photo this week comes from Winston Anstey, who noticed this solitary tree hanging in there. Not a metaphor at all! 

It can be lonely out there. Winston Anstey saw this tree keepin' on through the high winds blowing off the North Arm hills. Hang in there, little guy. (Submitted by Winston Anstey)

That's it for this week. We'll have full budget coverage on Tuesday … and we'll be covering the election campaign, whether it's unofficial or not, every step of the way, too. 

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador 

About the Author

John Gushue

CBC News

John Gushue is the digital senior producer with CBC News in St. John's.

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