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Wednesday 28 March 2012

For the Liberal Party of NL

I am a liberal. Both in the small l and the big L sense of the word. Not only did I run for the NL Liberals in the last election but I firmly believe that they should form the next Government of NL, and if I had my way I'd toss half the current Gov crowd out on their arses. Mind you, not because they're PC. But because they are not just useless, but they're actually damaging NL. But I digress, back to the Liberals.

It is commonly said that the Chinese word for crisis (weiji) also contains the word for opportunity. The NL Liberals should take heed that for them, there is both significant crisis and significant opportunity in their current predicament. Unfortunately for them the time to capitalize on that opportunity may be passing them by.

So from my humble armchair perspective I would like to offer some advice to the NL Liberal Party to help ensure that they take complete advantage of this opportunity and climb their way back to the top of the NL political mountain.

First the "Things to Do" list. These things will help the party attract supporters and prepare for eventually taking control of government. In no particular order:

  • Act like a government in waiting. In other words don't just criticize the current policies, develop sound public policy and advocate for it. Act as though you know what you're doing and then do it. The worst that could happen is that policies you develop could actually be accepted. The best scenario would see the current government deny your great ideas only to their own detriment, and then when you form a government you already have great policy ready to go!
  • Organize. One of the major holes in the campaign for 2011 was the lack of organization across the board. The political machine was broken, and it needs fixing. District associations were nearly nonexistent. 
  • Engage the public. People feel separate from the political process and some actually want to take part! Get them involved. Press releases are nearly useless, facebook and twitter are nice but there has to be an innovative approach to reaching out to people, putting a face on the party, and getting people involved in the conversation.
  • Support good ideas. Even when they aren't yours. Good ideas are good ideas so don't be afraid to admit it when you see one that isn't yours.
  • Be honest and bold. Be better then they are and inspire people. People need to know that you are in it for the right reasons, and that comes from integrity and honesty. 

Now for the "Things Not to Do" list. 
  • Don't get drawn in to every argument. There's no end to the issues that can be debated but you need to focus on what's really important. Calling for Ministers to resign every week simply depletes your political capital.    
  • Don't be vague. Offer specific detailed proposals and criticisms whenever possible. Being too vague just makes it look like you want wiggle room to change the rules when you form government. 
  • Don't let the NDP lead. They made significant gains in the 2011 election and they certainly bring a different and valuable perspective to some issues. They will struggle with growing pains and you must show that the Liberal Party is the next party to form government. 
  • Don't be afraid. The biggest challenge is to overcome the fear of doing something that might upset someone. Be bold and take stands on important files. You are bound to piss off some people anyway so it may as well be over something important. Hard decisions are a very important of government, so show people you are up to the challenge.  
I gladly admit that I'm no political genius. But I have been a candidate and I've long been a follower of the process and a voter. I want the best government possible, regardless of what political stripe the majority happen to be. Currently in NL the PC government has repeatedly shown that they are out of ideas and they are not up to the task of working in the best interests of the public. The provincial NDP will try to take greater control but they'll likely find that their policies are too far left, and weak on the financial side for NL. 

The Liberal Party offers the best blend of experience and potential for innovation. They can form the next government in NL. But only if they truly take advantage of the current opportunity to demonstrate to the public that they are ready to rise to the challenge. The election of 2011 was a huge opportunity that passed them by. If they fail to cease this current opportunity then they will fall victim to their own crisis.  

Tuesday 13 March 2012

They just don't get it.

Fiscal Framework. In the municipal community it was a buzzword a few years ago as the Gov of NL was on the verge of starting a process that would see a new funding arrangement for communities in the province. Guess what happened? Nothing. On the verge of the budget release municipalities found out that the province had decided it wasn't ready to start that work and it would be delayed just a little bit longer. And that was when the Gov of NL was flush with cash. 

Fast forward about 4 years and we still have no new strategy or fiscal arrangement for municipalities in NL. And it looks like they, and their provincial association MNL, have had about enough. MNL has said that communities are beyond cash strapped and are practically on the verge of collapse in some cases. They recently held a news conference requesting some action from the current administration. You know, the government that is bringing in austerity measures, cutting public sector jobs (unless you're John Noseworthy) and they can't seem to grasp the idea that communities are actually important and worth investing in.  MNL is getting some media coverage here and here

If you are a regular reader then you know how I feel about the underfunded communities in NL. I have visited many of them, spoken with their residents and their leaders, and they need help. Both financial and program wise. They need money for infrastructure and strategic investment but they also need help with training, setting priorities, attracting new staff, volunteers and councillors. They need a better grasp of strategic planning and proper economic development. They get some of this from MNL and a couple other organizations, but it's not enough. 

Both the Federal and Provincial levels of government have basically decided that their responsibility is to provide the very minimum of financial support, usually via infrastructure cash, and thats pretty much it. Last year I had a look at the federal platforms (1, 2, 3)  and provincial budget (here and here) with an eye to rural investments, and it's coming up on budget time again. This time around I'll look for those rural investments and you can bet they will be even more scarce then last year, as both conservative governments have moved into cost saving mode. 

Where does this leave the communities on NL? Not in any good place, thats for certain. The other levels of government just don't seem to get the fact that services delivered at the local level are often much more efficient and effective than those at the provincial and certainly the federal level. Yet both levels of government are incredibly reticent to relinquish control over their programs and their cash. 

I hope I'm wrong. I hope that the up coming provincial and federal budgets show foresight and courage and they provide communities with the funding and support that they need to provide healthy environments for the people of this province and this country. I hope...   

Friday 2 March 2012

The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly.

Unions protect workers rights. But as true as that statement may be it has become far more complicated then that simple tenant. Unions protect their members and they fight to uphold labour codes but at the same time some unions have been linked to organized crime in major cities, and many union leaders have been accused of corruption, or of taking large salaries while not defending the rank and file members. It's a complicated business and not all unions are the same. Some are focused and reasonable while others are unwieldily and ridiculous.

I have been a dues paying union member, and I've been middle management supervising union members and I've always had some thoughts that I occasionally shared with others, and today I'll share them with you.

The Good
There are those who will say that unions serve no positive purpose. Those who bash the idea of unions at every corner. They have obviously never seen workers abused, or they just don't care. Unions are largely responsible for current labour laws that protect employees from abusive employers. Unions often provide a voice to people who would otherwise have a very difficult time disputing issues with an employer. Having seen new, especially young, workers who are unaware of their rights as employees I truly understand how a union can provide much needed protection. And while the process of collective bargaining may not be perfect it does afford an opportunity to ensure that workers are being paid a reasonable wage for the work they provide. Well.... kind of.

The Bad
One of the issues that I have with unions is that it lumps everyone together and says they have the same skills and ability to do a given job. So lets say a union represents a group of network administrators. As long as their jobs share the same classification then they are treated as all the same, even if one of them is much more dedicated and skilled, or one of them is as lazy as the day is long. They are the same in the eyes on the union, and I've always felt that was kind of odd, and frankly insulting to the more dedicated and skilled workers.

Similarly, union protection has nothing to do with skill and is generally solely based on seniority or time spent with the company. So when protection is needed those who have been there the longest get it, while those who are new may not. The most recent example of this would be with the Corner Brook Fire Department, but it happens regularly. Skill and dedication should always play a factor in determining who maintains a job. Everyone has heard of an employee somewhere who is completely useless and actually a drain on the system and those who work around them but because they have been in the union for years they are protected and have no worries of ever losing their position.

Unions are built on the idea that it's "us" vs "them" and that generally leads to some unfortunate circumstances. Sometimes if you're not in the union and can't get in it then you're out of luck getting a job because you're one of "them". This occasionally happens in the skilled trades arena. It is this idea of "us" as a family against the word that can make for strong membership support but it can also lead to some very difficult times when contract negotiations fall through.

The Ugly
Strike. Just reading the word conjures up images of picket lines and protest signs. It happens when the collective bargaining process fails to produce a contract that employees and employer can agree upon. It can be a peaceful and rational expression of discontent, or it can be a violent mess and expression of hatred. I have never had to cross a picket line, and for that I'm happy. But if I was in a management role during a strike I very likely would. While there have been some nasty strikes that have made the news I'm certain that the worst stories are never really told.

Unions sometimes target middle management during strikes. The theory is that by applying pressure on those folks they will complain upwards and hopefully senior management will get the message. Unfortunately this is usually complete nonsense. Middle management have little to no decision making power, no job security and are generally in the worst position during a strike. They are required to work, sometimes doing the jobs of unionized employees, crossing picket lines, taking abuse from top and bottom and their only recourse is to quit. Sounds great doesn't it? So So So Solidarity!

I was unlucky enough to witness some of this nonsense while living in Labrador West during a time when both IOC and Wabush Mines were on strike at the same time. Tension was always in the air and it was not a happy time to be there. One group had their "Wall of shame" where they would post the names of management employees who crossed the picket lines to go to their jobs. It was disgusting.

Oh and then there are replacement workers. Oh pardon me, I meant Scabs. The venom, insults, name calling and vitriol spewed toward workers who replace unionized employees is beyond comprehension. It is the epitome of the "us" vs "them" mentality. There are examples of it everywhere but it is never pleasant to see or hear. I simply do not understand how you could treat another person that you don't know with such distain and hatred.

The Moral
I have little doubt that some will read this and claim that I am anti-union. Not so. I am simply against the things that make for poor working conditions all around. That includes the protection of people who don't deserve it and name calling and insulting fellow workers because they're not in your group. I believe in a workers right to collective bargaining, right to strike, reasonable job protection, safe working conditions, and a reasonable wage. It just seems that sometimes, just sometimes, things get taken a little too far.