Hoping to be an agent of change

There’s no slowing down Alison Coffin as the energetic Memorial University economist continues her leadership bid for the provincial NDP.

Coffin paid a visit to the Conception Bay Area Chamber of Commerce headquarters last week for a round table discussion with members of the Conception Bay area business community. While the turnout was small, Coffin took the opportunity to air her concerns with the province’s fiscal situation, noting inefficiencies that she sees in the structure of the provincial government. Coffin was the lone provincial party leadership candidate to accept Chamber of Commerce Executive Director John Smith’s invitation to meet with Chamber members. Smith said that PC leadership candidate Tony Wakeham responded to a number of questions sent from Smith which outlined concerns from Chamber members. The chamber didn’t get replies from the other PC leadership hopeful, Ches Crosbie, or NDP leadership aspirant Gerry Rogers.

“Because people ask good questions and I think that they’re deserving of answers,” said Coffin when asked why she took the opportunity to attend the discussion.

Coffin noted her concerns with the recent status quo provincial budget which she feels did little to address issues such as the high and growing unemployment rate, aging population and out-migration.

“Rearranging how we’re spending our money to address these fundamental concerns would have been better,” said Coffin.

While the provincial NDP is a longshot in next year’s provincial election, Coffin said she is hoping to address the lack of support the party received in the last provincial election by increasing the party presence outside of St. John’s and moving into rural areas. Coffin said that focusing on identifying strong candidates from rural areas whose philosophies align with the NDP will be the key for the party to increase its presence in the House of Assembly after the next provincial election.

“There’s going to be a real search for that,” said Coffin. “They’re out there — there are real good, credible people out there who want to run, we just have to give them the right party to run for.”

Given her background, some may feel that Coffin would be better suited to a role as a provincial finance minister rather than the leader of a provincial party. However, Coffin said her high energy and ability to motivate people make her well-suited to a leadership role.

“I don’t think that there’s any issue with my leadership qualities,” said Coffin. “I think one thing that separates me from (my opponent), from the PC candidates and the current leader of the Liberals, is that I have a real tangible plan of how I want to change the way we make decisions; how I know our economy isn’t working and how I can change that. I think that’s something I haven’t seen in any leaders so far.”

Coffin’s plan is a detailed 10-year strategy which she outlined during the round table at Chamber headquarters. Coffin specified the need for democratic reform, and the need for a better framework for making policy decisions such as implementing a parliamentary budget officer and multi-year budgeting.

“Multi-year budgeting allows us to separate core expenditures from discretionary expenditures,” said Coffin. “Allowing that to happen changes what we expect from each of these budgets…It provides a layer of stability and accountability…people know what to expect.”

The economist argued that the province has a structural deficit in which government revenues don’t match expenditures. Coffin claimed the provincial government needs to make significant changes to both the way it makes money and spends its money in order to address this problem. The solution, according to Coffin, is a re-building of government finances — a re-build that she allows will take time, but is necessary in order to address the province’s financial crunch.

“Our revenues and expenditures need to match the way our economy is being run and match the needs of our people, said Coffin. “It’s a big job, but because we know what the problem is we can fix it.”

Coffin has developed policy and strategic plans for the provincial government as a consultant before and ran in the last provincial election, conceding defeat to now Finance Minister Tom Osborne in the District of Waterford Valley. Coffin said she was inspired to run for political office to move into a position where she could directly affect policy change.

“I got sick and tired of yelling at it from the outside,” said Coffin, who argued that issues like an aging population have been affecting the province for some time with little done to address them. “The way to change this (was) not to become a senior public bureaucrat…When you become an MHA you have the decision making authority—that’s where I want to be.”

For the NDP leadership hopeful, it was the recognition that government wasn’t working for her or for people she has spoken with that inspired her to seek a position where she can affect change.
“I have a vision as to how to make things better and I think the way to make that happen is to get in there and be able to make those decisions,” said Coffin.

By Kyle Reid

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