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RUSSELL WANGERSKY: Here they go again, campaigning on your dime

Premier Dwight Ball gets into a vehicle outside the Emera Innovation Exchange at Memorial University's Signal Hill Campus. Ball told reporters that the provincial election would occur before the school year ends on June 27.
Premier Dwight Ball won’t say when the provincial election will be held, exactly — just sometime before the school year ends on June 27. — Telegram file photo

I love elections. I hate elections.

I love them for the raw drama, for the possibility of change, for the visceral struggle for power. For good people trying hard to be able to serve the public — for the sight of career politicians desperate to keep their seats because they know no other way to find such a jammy paycheque and all-options pension.

 

Oh, and I may have mentioned this before: I hate them for the fact that our politicians are willing to coldly, calculatingly lie to win back their seats.

It’s bad enough when the campaigns really start and provincial candidates start promising you that everything under the sun is possible, and is most certainly in their red or green or whatever-colour book.

It’s something else again when the politicians currently in government reach into your wallet and take your money to fund their campaign without even asking.

On Wednesday, the provincial Liberals announced that they were planning a $200-million replacement for Her Majesty’s Penitentiary. The new prison would be in the White Hills in St. John’s, except not now. Not right away. Construction would start in 2022.

Now, the Liberals have had since the last election to actually move forward with a new prison. A new prison has been promised, on and off, for about as long as it would take to birth a child, put them through primary and secondary school, and to be ready to send them off to their second or third year of university.

But, beyond perennial studies, nothing has really happened. Lots of empty words, but little else.

Of course, all of that whole lot of nothing was before Premier Dwight Ball revealed an election is about to be called. Then, wow, it’s time to future-build.

Meanwhile, last week, shortly after announcing $129 million in funding for municipal projects next year, Ball was winging it to St. Anthony to announce eight new long-care treatment beds, along with a primary health-care team and two personal care attendant positions.

That was just part of the 11 announcements either actually announced, or else promised, on Wednesday alone, with the ministers involved with making those announcements funded for with your tax dollars — both for their salaries, and for any travel and expenses they might have, even though there is absolutely no way they can say at this point that they are not already actively campaigning. It will be chickens for every pot, and it will continue on your dime right up until the election is called.

…This is a Kabuki Theatre of governing, a highly stylized, ritual exaggeration of the facts, a world where a whole bunch of money is going to be spent on a budget that might not ever see full debate in the House of Assembly, let alone be passed and acted upon.

There is something unremittingly galling about realizing that a politician is quite happy to say, “I’m going to spend your money to ensure that you’ll vote for me, and I have absolutely not even one tiny compunction about doing exactly that. Because you are a bunch of chumps, and we already know we’re going to promise you a steak before the election, and flick you scraps afterwards.”

After all, we’ve already been told in so many words that the election is coming before the end of the school year. In the process, we’ve been told that the provincial budget, coming next week, is not even going to be close to being an authentic representation of the financial position of the province, or of the current government’s plans and priorities for the upcoming fiscal year.

No, this is a Kabuki Theatre of governing, a highly stylized, ritual exaggeration of the facts, a world where a whole bunch of money is going to be spent on a budget that might not ever see full debate in the House of Assembly, let alone be passed and acted upon.

This is a fictional budget, an exercise in bad faith, done callously enough that we should all be able to see right through it.

But chances are, we won’t.

Because if it didn’t work, if it actually hurt their chances of being elected, I can tell you that our politicians would change their style. Their very jobs depend on them getting their approach right; they feel comfortable applauding a sham budget because this kind of stunt has worked so well before.

Instead, we get a shadow early election campaign that we are literally forced to pay for, while our elected representatives trot around exclaiming “We’re not campaigning — we’re just governing, the way we were elected to do.”

That, my friends, is a bare-faced lie.

When someone lies to your face and takes your money, you usually find a way not to invite them back to your house again.

And yet they are counting on us, absolutely counting on us, to do exactly that.

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Russell Wangersky’s column appears in 36 SaltWire newspapers and websites in Atlantic Canada. He can be reached at russell.wangersky@thetelegram.com — Twitter: @wangersky.

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