Saturday, February 15, 2014

Up Next On Wheel of Fortune–The Newfoundland Government

However glorious an action in itself, it ought not to pass for great if it be not the effect of wisdom and intention. - Francois de La Rochefoucauld

If the staff lacks policy guidance against which to test decisions, their decisions will be random. - Donald Rumsfeld

Watching the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador in action this week makes me wonder yet again if the results it is attempting to produce are as random as the results of a spin of the wheel on the popular television show Wheel of Fortune.

But before I explain why I feel this way, let’s roll the clock back a little first.

A few years ago, the Government was concerned about out-migration, the idea that many people were leaving the Province to seek their fortunes elsewhere.  When it reached high levels, the Government created all kinds of programs and promotions to prevent or at least stem the issue as they perceived it.

Unfortunately, they were treating a symptom and not a problem and ignored the voices of many who noted this.

Programs and promotions to get Newfoundlanders to stay “just because they should” could not compete with high levels of unemployment in the Province, education and healthcare systems that were lacking as compared to other locales, opportunities for growth and entertainment of the families of workers, etc.

People were leaving for real reasons such as the desire for themselves and their families to thrive and not merely survive.

However, rather than fix the root cause of the reason for departure, the Government treated a symptom and failed.  Their approach was analogous to treating a cancer patient by giving him painkillers and hoping for the best..

I remember that it was around this time also when I was attending a youth leadership conference on the Island and a Government official from one of the local development boards was touting the mantra “there was no reason for youth to leave the Island when there were plenty of $10-an-hour jobs for everyone”.

I don’t know about you but I’ll bet it’s pretty tricky to take out a mortgage, let alone build a dream Life, on a little over $20,000 a year.

In both situations, the Government attempted to treat a symptom and not the problem with a kneejerk, seemingly random response.

Returning to the present ….

The Conference Board of Canada produced some statistics last week indicating that the population of the Province will shrink significantly in the coming decades due to a number of reasons.  This shrinkage would in turn produce a strain on the tax infrastructure of the Province and thus represented a potentially significant problem.

There are a number of ways one can respond to this news.

Here is the Government’s method

The policy platform for the government offers this carefully thought out policy item (my bold emphasis added):

“We are committed to cultivating conditions that enable families and communities to grow.  We will develop a Newfoundland and Labrador population growth strategy focused on creating and improving conditions favourable to in-migration and an increased birth rate.

In regards to this increased birth rate plan, Advanced Education and Skills Minister Kevin O’Brien said that something should be coming soon.

There’s a joke here somewhere but I can’t quite put my hand on it.  Maybe it’s a fallacy to expect anything useful from them at all.

But alas, I digress.  I’ll come back to the birth rate concept in a moment.

Here is the mass media’s method

Members of the mass media asked former Premier and current businessman Danny Williams about the numbers and with his usual gusto and bravado that is typical of a confident entrepreneur, he said the numbers were “bullshit”.  Whether you like his answer and the fact that he responded without facts is one thing.  However, many of the media, including writers like Pam Frampton of the Telegram, Randy Simms and others skewered him for presenting an opinion when in fact he had been asked to provide one and so he obliged.

Here’s a tip:

If you don’t want someone to open their mouth, don’t ask for their opinion. You may not like it. And remember that it is merely one person’s opinion and not worthy of deep analysis. To expect anything else from this interaction is unprofessional at best and in fact is almost psychotic in nature.

Meanwhile, I don’t see the media critiquing the Government’s bizarre plan to increase the birth rate.  I guess a distracted media that goes after a salacious, meaningless sound bite is a useful tool for the Government.

When it comes to controlling birth rates, we have things like the rhythm method, the withdrawal method and the bucket and saucer method.  It appears that some people now want to reverse the effects of these with the random method.

Meanwhile …. back to the increased birth rate

The provincial unemployment rate at 12% is only 1.4% better than it was in 1976 (source: Newfoundland and Labrador government statistics).  Salaries, employment and family-centric opportunities are booming elsewhere and people will follow the money and the opportunities.

For a policy platform to focus on in-migration and an increased birth rate as a solution is ridiculous.  Address the real reasons why people leave and these symptoms of issues will resolve themselves.

In fairness to the people, it’s not for lack of trying.  In a popular survey quoted every year by local media, Newfoundland and Labrador is either first or second in terms of the provincial population most likely to “get it on” in Canada.

Wear it with pride, by’s.

For those of you not picking up the slack, I have planted a subliminal message within this blog post that should help.

The Bottom Line

Focusing on increasing the birth rate or in-migration (two distracting red herrings) are a sign of the continued inability of the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador to differentiate cause from effect and thus be able to create meaningful, measurable outcomes.

In other words, rather than focus on things like increasing the birth rate, they should stop screwing around since their actions haven’t produced many bundles of joy and the people have been left limp, spent, exhausted and sore.  They also shouldn’t bother asking afterwards “if it was good for you” because I think I know what the answer would be from most of the populace.

For some members of the mass media to analyze the opinions (not facts) as expressed by Danny Williams or others is also a waste of time and newsprint and feels more like a gossip column than an editorial.  It might sell newspapers but it doesn’t produce solutions.

It’s time to stop, think and address real issues in pragmatic, effective, strategic, fact-based ways instead of using a constant kneejerk, nonsensical, random approach to problem solving.  Complex problems or problems with many data points and demographic factors don’t respond well to off-the-cuff, random execution while ignoring the real underlying issues and their interdependencies.

In the meantime, I’m going to get a box of Tide detergent off in the mail to the Government to help them with another problem that they have – a bad case of ring around the collar.

My buddy Ken B. from Bell Island years ago would say that “ring around da collar was common for people who couldn’t get der head out of der arse”.

However, this is a family-friendly blog, so I will merely say “Clean up your act and stop making every action look like a random spin of the Wheel of Fortune wheel”.

Because eventually you land on bankrupt too many times and the game is over.

In service and servanthood,



For visitors to the Province in the coming months, if a Newfoundlander walks up to you and asks “How yer gettin’ on, me old cock?”, pause and choose your answer carefully, to make sure that you are hearing a common greeting and not being asked to sign up for a Government solution.  After all, the presence or lack of a comma (or pause) makes all the difference.

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