Monday, April 18, 2016

Newfoundland Government: Defying My Rituals of Optimism

Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passions, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence. - John Adams

To be conscious that you are ignorant of the facts is a great step to knowledge. - Benjamin Disraeli

Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored. - Aldous Huxley

In the difficult world of complex, high-end strategy where I live professionally, I have developed a daily ritual with three key components that help my mind to stay focused, structured and optimistic.

My day begins with Quiet Hour, an hour of reflection, reading and learning (I have referenced this process many times in my blog as noted in these search results).  It takes place before I look at emails, SMS, news or any other distractions and I use it to frame my day in a positive manner.  After Quiet Hour, I scan the news and social media for items of interest.  My brain is absorbing but not yet analyzing.

The second ritual in my day is my morning shave.  While many guys are in a hurry to scrape their face with a lousy disposable cartridge and a can of propane and chemicals, I take my time.  My shaving brush soaks in distilled water as I shower.  After showering, I methodically lather my Castle Forbes shaving cream in my shaving mug, perform a four-pass shave with a beautiful razor like a Merkur Futur (or other one depending on my mood), rub my alum block over my face and then finish up with a luxurious balm such as the Castle Forbes 1445.

For those who like a 5-minute shave, this 30-minute ritual would seem like madness to them.  To a cerebral person, it is gold.  My brain is now in planning mode, prioritizing work for the day, mentally writing emails (or blogs), rehearsing presentations, playing out phone calls and such. 

Too many people are in a hurry to just execute randomly, haphazardly, reactively or without thought.

That is not my way.

And so as I executed my rituals this morning, my thoughts were on the Newfoundland and Labrador government, its recent budget and the great people the Government claims to serve.  A lot of people have been reaching out to me publicly and privately to get my thoughts on the budget but as in most things, I think about things in my own time and not based on someone else’s schedules and demands.

I smiled with bemusement as the dangerously sharp, double-edged blade slid across my throat and the Newfoundland government came to mind at the same moment. 

“Coincidence?”, I wondered.

The province of my youth has always been a great conundrum for me.

It is a place of unrivalled natural beauty.

Its 500+ year-old culture is rich, broad and deep.

Its people are rugged, hard-working, resilient, intelligent people who are known the world over for their work ethic and their humor (and for older generations, their wonderful accent).

And yet, the budget of 2016 demonstrates that another disaster is unfolding for this storied place.

Why is this?

Should this become the new slogan for the Province?

Hope: May not be warranted at this point.

Where Does One Begin?

I could ask why the great people of the Province spend more time complaining on call-in shows and in the local coffee shops than becoming informed voters about the complexities of government operations and the ignorance, incompetence and greed of many (not all) of those who run for office.

I could ask whether the merchant mentality that kept most of the Province financially oppressed for hundreds of years, rewarding the upper echelons of society, was still alive and well.  Observe who is still doing well in the Province – the answer will become obvious.

I could ask why projects like Muskrat Falls can go on for so long with budgets and timelines out of control while at the same time, the details of the project are withheld from the people by the Government who claims to work for the people and answer to them.  I’m not suggesting that the Muskrat Falls project is wrong – I’m saying that the execution of it is miserably abhorrent and thus demands transparent, intelligent attention immediately.  Heads should roll until competent people are “driving the bus” for the benefit of the people.

I could ask why analysis of the afore-mentioned project by a well known firm could cost $1.6 million dollars and yet produce a 20-page (15 pages if one removes the cover page and such) document that actually says nothing – Life on the government tit is profitable for those of you who haven’t experienced its incredible benefits.

I could ask why we allow people who are “as stunned as me arse” (to use a Newfoundland expression) to become ministers when the law allows the Government to select brilliant, competent, proven, unelected people to fill these ministerial slots.  Unfortunately, Newfoundlanders often don’t realize the benefits of this process and become suspicious when it is tried, believing that unelected officials are trying to rob them.

I could ask why many people who come into office promising unlimited abundance to the people leave the province worse off but yet, find their own world has just exploded in unlimited economic potential because of their time in government.  If one questions this too loudly, those same people intimidate “naysayers” using SLAPP (strategic lawsuit against public participation) suits to silence their critics.

I could ask why the cost of Newfoundland’s public sector is so high for the 500,000+ people who live there, with benefits and pensions that the people of the Province couldn’t dare dream of.  Unfortunately, merely asking such questions raises the ire of the loud and ignorant who shout down the people who dare to ask for dialog around solutions that make more financial sense for the Province.

I could laugh at the MHAs who reach out to me to criticize others while we both know that I have enough dirt on them to sink them.  Ego often blinds us to our own weaknesses and vulnerabilities.

I could ask why the Government wilfully lies to the people, ignoring the data of various industries when they wrap their financial viability around a few volatile industries such as oil and gas, calculate forecasts based on data-less projections (despite the advice of many of us in those industries) and then act surprised when things don’t work out.  Candy-coated denial is easier to sell than painful, transparent reality.

I could ask why governments have been predicting for decades that paradise is literally around the corner but yet it never materializes except for many of the government officials who move on to discover paradise in their post-government lives.

I could ask why voters always complain about these things, why they accept the same stale, recycled promises from every politician, why they fall for the same lines during every election and yet still lament when the same abuses are repeated by every generation of politicians. Voters believe that salvation is always just an election away and yet they are continuously and constantly disappointed when they fail to learn from their own history.

I could ask these and many more questions.

But my thinking ritual of the morning is only 30 minutes long and I ran out of time.

It reminds me of the joke where a doctor tells his patient that he has good news and bad news.  The patient asks for the bad news first and the doctor replies that the patient has only 6 months to live.  The patient reacts with alarm and demands to know what the good news could be if that is the bad news.  The doctor replies, “Did you see that cute receptionist outside my office?  I’m having sex with her.”

Both the Province and the Doctor have something in common – there is little good news for the people that they claim to be serving but there is plenty of personal good news.

Sadly, there is nothing funny for the people that either are serving.

The question is:

Is the Life of the Province about to be cut short by a terminal disease or is there some hope left that a cure remains for a better future?

The Bottom Line

I am an eternal optimist but I am also an informed, realistic one.

To the people who say that to point out issues or to question things is pessimistic, I point out to those people that to deny reality is ignorant.  If one is to fix the things that are broken in order to move towards a better future, a realistic outlook of where one stands is essential, otherwise the actions taken will be inappropriate or insufficient. Many misinformed, uninformed, ignorant people who point the finger of pessimism at others are in fact doing so to prevent a closer examination of the issues that are present (many of which are the responsibility of the people who accuse others of being pessimists).

Optimism is an essential belief structure but it has to be based on data, knowledge, wisdom and reality.  It must be based on solid strategic and tactical intentions that are wielded by self-less, transparent, competent, intelligent officials who serve the people.

Sadly, my strong optimism is fading for the Province that I proudly call home and believe me, it takes a lot to break my optimism for any given situation.

For all of the people I have spoken to inside Government over the years, almost none of them can use data to prove to me that they know how to fix the woes that the Province struggles with financially.  They won’t share all of the data but instead, use feel-good phrases to demonstrate that they “just know things will get better” and that they “know what they are doing”.  Such tactics are not only great at deflecting people away from seeing the problems and the inability for the problem owners to solve the problems but they are also very useful to get elected.

When I ask for proof to back their feel-good phrases (and to circumvent their deflection tactics), I am accused of being a pessimist.

To those people, I apologize.

I am a transparent realist who serves the people around me.

Many of the elected officials in government are not and that’s why things are not getting fixed and will never be fixed until either the people who run the government change or a Great Correction forces a change.

The former is much less painful.

The latter is much more painful but sadly is also much more likely.

If you disagree with me, spare me your opinions.

Send me your data and prove your point respectfully and intelligently.

Then we will have something to chew on to help the Province move towards a better future that benefits all the people and not just the people who claim to serve them.

In the meantime, we can all watch the Government consistently miss its over-opportunistic, idealistic forecasts designed to placate and not to inform, we can watch its public sector and public spending costs rise continuously and unnecessarily and we can watch the Government attempt to draw blood out of a stone as it raises taxes in an economy where the unemployment rate is more than 14% and is already overtaxed. Raising taxes for the overtaxed is short-sighted, not strategically or tactically astute and lacks ingenuity or creativity but it seems easy enough to do for those who can't think of anything better.

The upside is that the future does in fact have some good news that is constantly proven to be true. Unfortunately, it is for the few who govern and not the many who are governed.

As for my rituals, I mentioned 2 of my 3 daily rituals.

My third ritual is to close my day with quiet Scripture reading and with prayers for those who struggle. While some cultures around the world prefer human sacrifice as being more appropriate and effective than prayer in situations such as this, it is fortunate for some that our culture tends to look down on such ways as being too barbaric.

I’d pray for Newfoundland and Labrador, but as they say, the Lord helps those who help themselves.

Are the great people of that great Province willing and able to demand better from those who claim to serve them?

I’m not sure.

What do you think?

In service and servanthood,


Addendum - Another Opinion

Russell Wangersky wrote a powerful article about the budget for The Telegram, a newspaper in St. John's, Newfoundland. It speaks volumes, sadly.

The article is here - Get Out If You Can.

For fun, take a listen to then-Premier Danny Williams slam "pessimists" as he describes the paradise that will exist in 20 years.

Addendum 2 - A Liberal Insider Speaks ... and Resigns - April 20, 2016

Barry Wheeler, former President of the Humber-Bay of Islands Liberal Association in Newfoundland, made this observation yesterday:

Why did we have to increase spending by 12 per cent when it doesn't take a rocket scientist to realize that we've had a spending problem — and we've had a spending problem for the last 10 years?

He is 100% right but sadly, his comments will fall on deaf ears. The resignation of a passionate, insightful, committed member of the Liberal Party should send shock waves through the Party in the Province but as with many warnings, his warning will also go unnoticed and unheeded.

More news on his observations and resignation can be found here - Humber-Bay of Islands Liberal association president quits in disgust over budget (CBC).

Addendum 3 - Final Thoughts - April 28, 2016

As details of the budget become public, including closing half the libraries in the Province, adding a 10% tax to books, reducing some classrooms to multi-grade classrooms with no guidance or instruction to teachers as to the best way to accomplish it, etc., I have asked a number of MHAs to explain how a budget that negatively targets knowledge and education is supposed to be an investment in the future.

The few who have responded have demonstrated that they are not worthy of governing and in fact, have little understanding of practically anything.

How can the great people of such a great Province have any hope at all with such leadership (or demonstrated lack thereof)?


  1. Harry, it is always a pleasure to read your musings. I thank you for this - it makes me feel a little bit better in that I know I'm not losing my own sanity. My hope is fading but like you, I think that we can do better & have to do better. We have to demand better from those we elect. Thanks again.

    1. Hi Barry,

      Thank you for your kind words.

      I agree that we have to do better. However, unless we have data suggesting that others have the will to do better, it may be better to save yourself and your family rather than wait for something that never materializes.

      Is that defeatist or realistic? It depends on your perspective, I guess (as well as what kind of gambling man you are).

      Thanks again for sharing your thoughts, Barry.

      Create a great day,