30 June 2005

Reduction to absurdity I

Provincial Liberal leader Gerry Reid thinks there should be some type of gasoline tax freeze so that consumers can get some break from soaring gasoline prices. The news release on this is located here.

There are a couple of obvious problems with Reid's idea and his news release.

First of all, Reid claims the provincial government is making windfall profits from oil production on the order of $400 million this year due to high crude prices. As Reid puts it, "[m]edia reports this morning [29 June 05] indicate that the provincial government is making an extra $400 million in profits this year from increased offshore oil royalties."

That's dead wrong.

Those aren't profits, Gerry. They are the revenues from oil production due to the province under the agreements signed for production at Hibernia and Terra Nova.

Second, what he is proposing is far from clear. If what Reid notes is true, then 39 cents of every litre of gasoline is some type of government tax. But, he notes that the province collects 16.5 cents per litre in a fuel tax and a portion of the harmonized sales tax with the Government of Canada. In radio interviews, Reid suggested capping the tax take at a price to consumers of $1.00 per litre.

The provincial government can only change its own taxes by itself. Changes to the HST would require an agreement with the Government of Canada. As for the provincial tax he notes, it amounts to 16.5 cents on each litre. How would his proposal work?

Is he advocating a reduction of prices in the metropolitan St. John's region by a measly four cents per litre, something that could be done by dropping the provincial fuel tax? If that's what he is suggesting, then I will save the princely sum of a toonie the next time I fill up my 50 litre tank. In the meantime, the provincial government will still collect the better part of $8.25 from me, not to mention its slice of the HST.

I am overwhelmed at Gerry Reid's generosity.

Reid claims his idea is aimed at helping people who are having a hard time making ends meet. Well, for Reid's information, those people aren't using up huge amounts of gasoline filling their SUVs. Nope. Any break in prices will help people who can already afford to pay full price for their gasoline. Ordinary Shmoes like you and me will have to get by on the extra $2.00 Gerry wants to save on a fuel-up.

But the story got a little more interesting when Reid was doing interviews. His suggested $1.00 price cap actually produces a greater benefit for the people outside St. John's, in the mythical "rural" Newfoundland and Labrador where, coincidentally, the few remaining Liberals members of the House of Assembly are huddled dreading the next onslaught of the Williams election machine.

Reid's idea is really just a way of letting people outside St. John's continue to gas up with some modest break in prices. That's really the problem, the modesty of it, not any hidden idea he might look like he is standing up for his own constituents at the expense of others.

According to CBC, the highest gas price in the province is currently $1.17 per litre. Even if Reid managed to drop that by the full amount of the provincial fuel tax (i.e. $16.5 cents), people in the province would still be paying more than a loonie a litre. If that same approach were applied across the board and everybody's gas prices dropped by almost 17 cents a litre, St. John's drivers and those in other urban areas like Corner Brook would be still able to buy gasoline way cheaper than anyone else - 87 cents a litre. Guess where you are likely to find a honking great piles of gas wasting SUVs and trucks?

As for the provincial government, it would still be making out like a bandit with the HST and the oil revenues.

If Reid wants to take a run at the Liberal leader job full-time, he is going to have to come up with a better idea than monkeying around with gasoline prices in a way that likely wouldn't produce any real benefit at all to any consumer while government would still rake in the cash in buckets.

It seems like the Liberal opposition is reduced to foisting absurd ideas in place of solid ones.

That's based only on my quick look at Reid's notion. I haven't even gone to the lengths of at least one e-mail I received that reduced Reid's release to little more than vapour.

29 June 2005

Poll dancer - update

Update: a faithful reader sent me a quick e-mail to point out that Tom Rideout is actually a graduate of Ottawa U law school not the Halifax legal temple. I double checked Tom's online biography and yep, I goofed. Then I noticed Tom used to work in Fisheries and Oceans in the international directorate. Anyway, I corrected the law school mistake.

That just makes what I will post tomorrow all the more interesting.

For those with a passionate interest in access to government information, there is a curious story on the front page of today's Telegram. It's also online here.

For those who may not be able to access it, here's the complete text courtesy of The Telegram and reporter Rob Antle.

As someone who has dealt with access to information issues from boths sides in the course of my 16 year career, I have a few thoughts and observations on this story. I'll save them for tomorrow morning's post, along with some links to the legislation itself and the recent rulings by privacy commissioner and former finance deputy minister Phil Wall.

Transportation Minister Tom Rideout is quoted in the story that follows. he is currently acting justice minister. In a previous life, he was premier of the province, even if it was only 43 days in the spring of 1989. After leaving politics, Mr. Rideout went off to Ottawa U law school and was a practicing lawyer before he went back to politics again.

The only other thing I'll say here, before letting you get to the full story by Rob Antle, is that I'd be dumbfounded if The Telegram didn't take this one to the Supreme Court.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005
Page A1 (above the fold)

Polling data stays secret
by Rob Antle, The Telegram

Opinion polls are secret cabinet documents not to be released to the public, the Williams administration has decreed.

The decision overrules the findings of a report issued Tuesday by the province's information commissioner.

"We disagree with the interpretation that's been put on this by the information and privacy commissioner," said Tom Rideout, who is acting justice minister while Tom Marshall is out of the province.

"We don't feel that his interpretation is within the confines of the spirit and intent of the legislation. Š Based on that belief, we will not be releasing the information."

The province says releasing public-opinion polling commissioned over a 14-month period would reveal cabinet confidences.

Information Commissioner Phil Wall ruled Tuesday that the government should release the documents under new open-records laws, with some small exceptions.

"Quite simply, Section 18 of the ATIPPA cannot be treated as a 'blanket' exception to disclosure," Wall wrote, referring to the part of the act dealing with cabinet confidences.

"It specifically states that only those items which would reveal the substance of deliberations of cabinet can be severed from the record, and it gives examples of what such items might be, such as advice and recommendations."

Rideout said Wall is wrong.

"There are still certain protections for the system, and one of the protections has to do with the confidentiality of cabinet documents," he said.

"That's one of the underpinnings of our whole system, and we're certainly not prepared, at this stage of the game, based on what we think is an error in interpretation by the privacy commissioner, to undermine that process."

The commissioner has the ability to make recommendations to the government, but cannot force the province to act upon them.

In making his ruling, Wall cited case law and precedents in Ontario, Nova Scotia, British Columbia, Manitoba and Saskatchewan.

"We feel that case law is fairly clear in its conclusions," Sandy Hounsell, executive director of the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner, told The Telegram Tuesday.

Government officials now have 15 days to respond to Wall's report.

The only recourse after that is Newfoundland Supreme Court.

The information commissioner can decide to take the matter to court. The applicant - in this case, The Telegram - can also decide to do so.

"We will wait until we get formal representation from Executive Council on their position, and then make a decision as to what we will do with this particular report," Hounsell said.

That decision will likely be made within days of receiving the final response from the government, he said.

On Jan 18, a Telegram reporter requested a list of public-opinion polls done by, or on behalf of, Executive Council between November 2003 and January 2005.

Executive Council is the wing of the public service which oversees government policy and decision-making.

A month later, the province supplied a list of 12 polls, broken down by pollster and date.

However, the government refused to disclose the subject of the polls, or their content.

On March 10, the province decided to provide two of the polls in question.

Several weeks ago, after fighting for nearly five months, the province released two other polls. Both dealt specifically with the Atlantic Accord.

Wall had recommended the release of that information.

But the other eight polls must remain secret, the province maintains.

Comfortable with stand

Rideout said Tuesday the government is "very comfortable" with that position, even though Premier Danny Williams campaigned on a policy of openness and transparency in 2003.

"My government will provide real financial management, real transparency, and real accountability," Williams said in the Conservative pre-election "blueprint" of promises.

"Ours will be a new approach, and one which will benefit every Newfoundlander and Labradorian in a positive and powerful way."

The Tory campaign document said that "a comprehensive and effective freedom of information act is the best safeguard against the tendency of governments to descend into official secrecy and elitism."

In December 2004, the Williams administration tabled its "accountability and transparency agenda," updating laws governing lobbying, government purchasing and the tendering process.

"In our blueprint, we committed to set the bar on transparency and accountability much higher, so that government is truly open and transparent in decision-making and accountable to the people of Newfoundland and Labrador," Williams said in a statement issued Dec. 2.

In January 2005, the Williams administration finally enacted new open-records laws - laws which had languished on the books since 2002, and the days of the previous Grimes administration.

The premier's office steered inquiries about Tuesday's decision to Rideout.


Federal Accord communications support costs

St. John's based communications company First Contact Communications Inc. received $22, 500 from the federal Department of Finance in the last quarter of Fiscal Year 2004, according to the department's website.

The Finance website only indicates that the work was for "other professional services otherwise not contracted" and lasted for a period from 21 January 2005 to 25 February 2005.

While the website does not specify the nature of the professional services, it was apparently for communications support on the Atlantic Accord signing.

The province spent more than $100, 000 of its own on the signing ceremony and associated communications. That doesn't include any amounts spent on public opinion polling.

Under the federal government's proactive disclosure policy, expense claims for senior staff as well as all contracts valued at more than $10, 000 are posted to each department's website.

28 June 2005

In the land of the blind...

Radio call-in shows are the source of much misinformation, well-meant or not.

There's a news story over at VOCM based on comments to Randy Simms on Open Line from former cabinet minister Bill Callahan that Danny Williams vote against the Fishery Products bill may be illegal.

Nice try, Bill, but the only thing that would be odd, but not unconstitutional, would be for the father of the bill to vote against it. In this case there was a free vote, so every single member of the legislature had the same power on the vote as any other. They could even stay away from the House if they wanted, and a number did. It was the ultimate expression of the individual rights of members to vote their conscience.

Since a majority of members approved the bill, there is nothing to prevent the cabinet as a whole and the premier in particular from exercising their right to advise the lieutenant governor on the bill. Heck, the cabinet could theoretically advise the LG against signing it, even if the legislature passed it. Don't count on that happening, though. The elected representatives of the people have spoken.

Meanwhile, last night Sue decided to call Linda Swain on Nite Line and play false prophet with the Constitution. She selectively quoted a bit of the Terms of Union and then launched into a tirade about Ottawa paying up billions for their supposed destruction of the fishery.

Sadly for Sue, she was having an Emily Litella moment. The bit she mentioned- Term 31 - refers to the maintenance of bait stations and other similar measures. Since 1949, Ottawa has fulfilled its constitutional obligations for the "protection and encouragement" of the fishery in more ways than one. Her entire rant was just another one that was founded on a complete misrepresentation of the facts.

Then for good measure she said something to the effect that the provincial government would have to go beg Ottawa to allow an oil refinery to be built here. This myth, fabrication, canard - call it what you will - started about 20 years ago and it has been tossed around by a whole raft of people.

The problem: it is completely false. There is nothing written anywhere - including the Atlantic Accord (1985) - that prevents anyone from building a refinery in the province.

Ah well, at least they filled up some airtime in an otherwise slow day in the call-show racket.

27 June 2005

Evolution at work

Scroll down the right side of the blog and you'll see that I am now officially a Slithering Reptile in the TTLB ecosystem.

Basically, that means the blog is getting enough hits and more importantly enough links to qualify for an upgrade in its status. The counter system is one way of tracking readers.

So while some of my critics may consider me to be primordial ooze, I have managed to evolve, at least in one respect.

I owe it to the people who read these humble e-scribbles.


Furey to seek Liberal leadership

Yeah I know it hardly seems like news but since he is yakking it up to the Spindy, I thought I'd out him and see what happens.

There's a story on page 5 in which Furey talks about his travels around rural Newfoundland, how there are 10 seats the Liberals could pick up with hardly any work, blah blah blah, if only they used a radical new approach to revitalizing rural Newfoundland.

He then denies he has any plans "right now".

Uh huh.

That's a Tobinesque "right now".

Which is code for ask me in a few weeks right before my news conference.

So there it is.

Chuck Furey.

Chuck apparently doesn't see any difficulty with the fact that the bulk of his messages - deep as they are - are already in play from the government. That, of course, begs the question of why Chuck just doesn't join the Danny band-wagon. Apparently, he thinks there is just enough of a difference to warrant him looking at the Liberal leadership.

I'd be curious to poll the current members of caucus to see how they feel about the possibility of Fuhrer Furey.

Most if not all would recall the way Furey bailed in advance of his old buddy Brian Tobin and ran in a 2000 federal by-election, all in the insanely egotistical belief that his charm alone would turn hard-core Connies in the old riding of St. John's West into Liberal lovers.

He turned in one of the worst Liberal votes in recent memory in the riding.

Oh well.

There's plenty of time for someone else to announce; someone who would provide a genuinely fresh approach.

I live in hope.

10 better panelists for the Spindy

Sitting enjoying a relaxing afternoon and reading once again the Spindy's "Navigator" contest, I couldn't help but be struck by the names on the "panel of experts" who are going to vet the nominees and, most likely add a few of their own favourites.

Basically, the Spindy panel is all of their columnists, plus Ryan Cleary the managing editor, and John Fitzgerald.

While each of the panelists is no doubt a fine human being, I though there might be some others out there who might be just a tad better, having already distinguished themselves in their field. The panel is also dominated by white males, quite obviously. Before any Spindite comes forward to say they wanted to leave qualified people open to be nominated, let me say at least two of the panelists are worthy of nomination in their own right. I think the panel was chosen for expedience - they are all available to the Spindy staff already.

But, before we launch into any codgitating over who the greatest 10 Newfoundlanders and Labradorians might be, I thought I'd toss out the names of 10 better panelists than the ones they have:

1. Peter Neary. Author of the best history about Newfoundland in the two decades prior to Confederation and currently teaching at the University of Western Ontario. Neary wouldn't bring any pseudo-nationalist bias to the panel and would be able to judge our historical nominees with some measure of balance.

2. Rex Murphy. One of the most literate people ever to draw breath and come from this province, Murphy would likely be ready to surrender his own potential nomination for the chance to put forward other nominees.

3. Mary Walsh. To represent the arts community properly and give the panel a bit of spice and cynicism, who better than Mary Walsh? She's the bright spot in Hard Rock and Water solely because she gives Lisa Moore some genuine insights into this province for the piece Moore did with Barbara Doran only to have the two film-makers ignore the insights because they didn't fit into the preconceived spin the script already had.

Incidentally, Walsh is the only person to have appeared in two works of fiction using the same Ron Hynes song as the closing music. One was Secret Nation; the other was Hard Rock and Water. While people seem to think that both were documentaries, it is pretty clear that both used certain facts (like Confederation) as the centrepiece for an elaborate and entertaining bit of make-believe.

4. Donna Butt. Actor and driving force behind one of the most successful theatre companies in the province. She might find herself shit-baked, as she once said on national radio, but I doubt it.

5. Dean Oliver. Successful historian author and museum official. Plus he's a good buddy of mine. You may not know him, but you should. He is a local boy who has done very well for himself.

or if you don't like Dean, then try someone like Jim Wellman, a respected broadcaster.

6. Captain Sid Hynes. A sharp mind and blunt nature make Captain Hynes the kind of panelist who won't suffer any fools or foolish comments at all, let alone gladly.

7. George Baker. While I may disagree with him sometimes, there is no way anyone can find fault with George's breadth of experience and his insightful mind.

8. and 9. I am going to leave open a spot here for my Labradorian friends to nominate a couple of people who would add to the stature of this group.

10. Admittedly, I am stuck with too many other good nominees for the last spot. I can think of a bunch of women and men who have distinguished themselves at home and abroad in many fields. They'd all make excellent panelists.

Given how easy it has been for me to generate this list in the matter of about 30 minutes on a Sunday afternoon, it makes me wonder how much effort the Spindy put into making up a panel that consists of their ME, all their columnists and the guy they quote whenever they need a nationalist academic voice. Like I said, the panelists are all fine human beings; it's just that I can easily think of 10 people who could come up with a great list on their own.

"The Navigators" could actually increase awareness of our historical figures, like the first woman elected to the House of Assembly:

Hilda Squires. [Editor: D'oh!]

26 June 2005

The Sunday Papers

1. Over at the Telegram this fine overcast Sunday, you'll find a story confirming what readers of this blog have known for some time: The United States is not interested in putting a radar system in Goose Bay. You won't find the story online; just head over there and complaint about the lack of online content. Anyway, the story by Jaimie Baker quotes a spokesperson for the missile defence agency who notes that American ballistic missile defence is relying on upgraded systems at Thule, Greenland and at Fylingdales in the United Kingdom. Of course, regular readers of these e-scribbles already knew all about that.

The company in the news, Raytheon, has been in Goose Bay of course, but, building on a CBC story recently by Peter Gullage, my bet is they were merely scouting potential deployment sites for a mobile form of the X-band radar. It would show up in Goose if there was some problem with the main sites in Greenland and the UK. Raytheon, who is contracted to actually deploy and maintain the transportable system, would most likely fly in, fold out the tents, set up the trailers and then bugger off again with the whole thing once the job was done.

Anybody who has suggested otherwise was sadly misinformed.

2. Meanwhile the Spindependent is celebrating the last Sunday in June by continuing to foist a bullshit story about Halliburton and engineering jobs from last week's issue. There never was a trade-off of the Halliburton site in Mount Pearl for Terra Nova engineering and procurement jobs. The entire Spindy story from last week was based on the allegations of one individual - former Liberal cabinet minister Chuck Furey. Geez, why not quote Sue, guys. She has about as much cred on some issues as the guy who seems to be rebuilding his profile to take a run at Roger Grimes' old job.

Never mind that his story didn't make any sense - Halliburton was never in a position to trade anything related to Terra Nova development - the Spindy just wanted to run anything they could to give some vague support to publisher Brian Dobbin's lunatic column in which he claimed, among other things, that the feds never did anything to make Hibernia happen.

On those issues, Brian might want to talk to one of his columnists, namely John Crosbie, before he demonstrates yet again that really he is a guy with cash to pour into a failing newspaper, but not a heck of a lot of anything else.

My personal favourite Spindy piece this week was the front-page contest to find the top 10 Greatest Newfoundlanders and Labradorians of all time. Everywhere else, including the UK they settled on just one. I guess we are just so special, rare, unique and different - as the Spindy and the pseudo-nationalists keep telling us - that one is insufficient; we need . More likely, this is like Chuck Furey's favourite phrase when he was industry minister, namely "world-class". Anyone who says something is world-class is giving proof it isn't. The need for 10 "greatests" sounds just like that "world-class" crap: yet more pointless self-massage.

But as if the whole contest wasn't looking as lame as the "balance sheet" crap from last fall, seems the Spindy can't even get a few simple facts right. In the front-page story, they make reference to some possible nominees, like the first woman ever elected to the House of Assembly.

Problem? Of course there is, for the pseudo-nationalist rag. The Spindy calls her Hilda Squires. The first woman legislator in this province (when it was a proud country) was Lady Helena Squires, a fact easily checked in any of a number of reference books.

Ryan and the happy band at the Spindy must be looking for jobs over at the department of InTRD: a simple google search for "first woman legislator in Newfoundland" revealed a raft of hits, including this one from the National Library of Canada. There's a link in there to a bio of Lady Helena (her family pronounced the name hell-eena).

When you're done with that, have a read through Ivan Morgan's column in which he slags Bill Rowe for suggesting independence for Newfoundland might be the solution to all our ills. Ivan is absolutely correct in saying a columnist's first duty is to move papers. But his take on Bill is kinda funny on a number of levels. I've known Ivan for years and like his style; it fits with the Spindy's approach. But hey Ivan, a better way of tackling Rowe would have been to continue his "separation theme" - the cure for all our provincial ills would be to separate the northeast Avalon or maybe the whole Avalon from the rest of place island and let Labrador go separately as well. You'd have taken a much funnier poke at Rowe's inadvertently self-lampooning writing style, and moved a few more papers of your own.

Ah well, time to get some chores done.

Like checking to see if I have a spare alternator for a 1919 Vickers bomber in the basement.

24 June 2005

Update for Mike

One of my faithful readers has been burning up the phone lines around town trying to figure out who Sigfried and Shtarker are.

Seems that he thinks they are actually just code names for real people.

In the interests of saving the guy some more cell phone minutes and to make sure no one else is hunting for hidden codes, the whole KAOS thing was...a joke.

A few weeks ago, I posted some stuff about KAOS and Siegfried, who I discovered was the vice president of public relations and terrorism at the international organization of evil. Every time I make a bet or prediction, I say "I von ze pool" just like Shtarker did in the episode I mentioned.

Here's a link to "The Not-so-great Escape", parts 1 and 2. Max winds up imprisoned at KAO's POW camp, known as Camp Gitchee Goomee Noonee Wa Wa, located as the title screen indicated "Somewhere in New Jersey".

Shtarker had a bet on the time of the great escape the prisoners were planning.

We now resume our regular programming.

I von ze pool

Over at KAOS, the international organization of evil, they were running a pool on the Exploits by-election. I managed to beat out both Siegfried and Shtarker to earn the right to say, as Shtarker did in the famous Stalag episode of Get Smart: "I von ze pool."

By-elections are notorious for their relatively low turn-out, but then again, that isn't really much of an issue if any Liberals toss that out as a reason for their loss. Any election is a winner take all proposition and in this case, the Progressive Conservatives played for keeps and ran a solid campaign.

The Premier called it quickly, catching the Liberals in an organizational schlamozzle that had absolutely nothing to do with Roger Grimes' departure. Maybe the candidate had something to do with it; personally I'd point to the lack of organization on the Liberal side as the biggest factor.

Some Libs will also point to their hard financial situation as an excuse/explanation. I'll buy that up to a point. Part of the issue is how you spend your money. The Liberal campaign could have used a scientific opinion poll to give them some idea of the issues in the district and where the Liberals stood relative to the other parties. I keep hearing that a poll was rejected not just because of the cost (typically less than $5K) but because the Libs just didn't see the need of it.

By contrast, I'd bet a part of my anatomy that the PCs had a poll that identified the school issue as a big one. Once they took care of that one, they could just blitz the district with everyone they've got and it paid off. The PCs set the tone; the Liberals were all reaction and predictably they just took a big kick in the political goolies.

Flip over to the Liberal website and you'll be hard pressed to find too many releases that focused on the only game the Opposition had: winning Exploits. Maybe they were focusing their efforts in the district but hey guys, the party as a whole would have benefited by seeing you make a strong showing. I could be way off, but I don't recall hearing too many Liberal members of the House Liberal supporters, let alone the Leader blanketing the call-in shows (they're free) to pound away at any of a number of themes, including making Exploits a test for the Williams government.

I'd venture there are a few more sitting Lib MHAs who are thinking about retiring before the next election. Every single one of those by-elections will be fought by the Conservatives as hard as they fought this one. That should send a chill down some spines in the province.

Meanwhile, the party executive still hasn't set the date for the leadership convention. No one will declare until they know the date. In the interim, the party looks palid since no one is expressing a public interest. It gets even worse when in the absence of any other candidate or prospective candidate, rumours are starting to fly that Sue has returned to the call-in shows with a vengeance as a prelude to declaring her candidacy.

Oy vey!

It will be interesting to see what, if anything, this by-election spurs. The Progressive Conservatives are strengthened by this decisive win and good on them for a well-run, professional campaign.

On the other side, the loss of a seat will either spur renewal or hasten departures.

Maybe KAOS needs to start another pool.

23 June 2005

All trout live in trees

Blogging in the province seems to have evolved to the point where we can have raging disputes on our respective blogs.

Liam O'Brien, chief schpeeler at Responsible Government League has taken exception to my comments on Iceland and an independent Newfoundland and Labrador. Liam takes issue with what he assumes are my points on the matter, suggesting that I am defending the status quo and supporting what I guess he would characterize as the evil Canadians. Here's the link to the post itself.

While his post is lengthy and well written, it suffers from a fundamental flaw: it misses the point entirely.

As noted in previous posts on this subject, the syllogism Iceland = Independent = Successful Fishery//Newfoundland=Not Independent=Fisheries Disaster doesn't stand up to closer scrutiny.

The idea of an independent Newfoundland managing the fishery as Iceland rests on a series of unfounded assumptions. Specifically these are:

- that Newfoundland is the same as Iceland in political, economic and social terms;
- that when dealing with fisheries management issues, local elites in an independent Newfoundland would have done something radically different than what occurred within Confederation; and,
- the current situation is entirely the result of Confederation and particularly the "fact" that Ottawa controls the backbone of "our " economy.

Let us dispose of these as quickly as possible and thereby set the stage for dealing with the substantive issue, namely what policy ought to be in place for the fishery offshore Newfoundland and Labrador.

Newfoundland and Iceland are the same. On the face of it, this is a difficult proposition to sustain. Iceland is a relatively homogeneous society in which language and religion, for example, are the same. There is no history of internal factional fighting on any denominational or other lines. The country is also outward-looking and was particularly so from the 1940s onward.

While Newfoundlanders and Labradorians are predominantly local-born (the ratios now are the same as in 1911) and speak English primarily, the place has a long history of fractious internal disputes along ethnic and religious lines. These were managed primarily by a division of political administration and public services among adherents of particular denominations. In hiring decisions, for example, Newfoundland's prevailing social structure at the time of Confederation did not place emphasis on qualifications; it emphasized one's religious beliefs. Ability was less important than what church one attended.

An Independent Newfoundland government would have acted differently from the post-Confederation governments. While this is a subject that has undoubtedly entertained many a discussion among undergraduate historians at the Breezeway or Ben's, it is difficult to predict with any degree of accuracy what might have occurred in an independent Newfoundland.

However, we can look at what existed in 1949 and at some specific examples to see if there is any evidence at all that Confederation constrained Newfoundlanders in any meaningful way in matters of fisheries policy.

Newfoundland in 1949 was and remains to a large extent a society which is focused inward. As much as there is a tradition of international sea-trading, most Newfoundlanders up to the time of Confederation had little experience of the world outside their own community. There remains a powerful insular, if not tribal, sentiment and one which is distinctly collectivist. Ask Margaret Wente about that.

One of the major factors affecting Iceland's economic success has been its emphasis on education. In Newfoundland, our education system remained wasteful and in many respects deficient up until the 1990s. Confederation did not produce any significant in this area; in fact, Term 17 (Denominational Education) was specifically included in the Terms of Union as a way of mollifying clerical sentiment in the erstwhile province. The established interests were primarily concerned with maintaining the status quo.

The same can be said of the economy. Both the anti-Confederate forces and to a certain extent individuals such as Ches Crosbie on the Confederation delegation were concerned with perpetuating the economic status quo in Newfoundland. They sought a continuation of the quasi-feudal fisheries economy as well as the continuation of the prohibitive tariffs on imported goods to the extent they could be sustained. I have already noted elsewhere the extent to which pre-Confederation economic policies in Newfoundland favoured the business class in St. John's at the expense of the majority of the population.

As for the fishery, as Raymond Blake has noted in his worthwhile but largely ignored book Canadians at last: Canada integrates Newfoundland as a province,(Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1994) the fishery was ignored by the 1948 Newfoundland delegation to Canada. The only sections of the Terms dealing with fisheries issues continue the saltfish marketing board established by the Commission Government to flog a product that by the late 1940s was facing declining demand. [pp. 146-176]

Thus, at the time of Confederation, the economic and social elites were generally aimed at preserving the existing order in every respect. On the face of it, this is the antithesis of the situation proposed by the Newfoundland nationalists when using Iceland as "proof" of their argument against Confederation.

Again, as Blake notes (p. 147), "[i]f the governments [in Ottawa and St. John's] had pursued the policies recommended by [several inquiries and commissions into the fishery immediately after Confederation], they would have created a small corps of fishermen concentrated in a small number of communities engaged in both the salt and fresh-frozen fisheries from modern boats and trawlers with greatly increased capacity". However, by 1954 it was clear in Ottawa that there was no other work for the fishermen and their families who would have been displaced by such approaches.

For political reasons rooted in this province and in the Maritimes, Ottawa settled on some modest efforts at centralization of fishing efforts with improvements in living standards coming largely from income support programs. For those who argue that Ottawa ignored the Newfoundland fishery, be aware that the first post-Confederation fisheries development program was introduced by the Government of Canada on 05 May 1949, little more than a month after Union.

For his part, Smallwood initially hoped that his industrialization policies would give work to displaced fishermen. When his projects failed, as Blake puts it, "he turned his fury on the federal government, blaming it for the destruction of the fishery". How odd that O'Brien and others repeat the words of Joe Smallwood, their ancient nemesis. More importantly, though, the provincial government did not propose any significant alternatives to Ottawa's approach and, to add my own assessment to Blake, throughout the 1960s and into more recent decades, Newfoundland's own policies have largely been aimed at perpetuating the system of income supports from Ottawa first developed in the years immediately after Confederation.

Part of the nationalist "Iceland" argument contends that economic circumstances would have transformed, as if by magic, the insular, conservative - almost reactionary - social and political order in an independent Newfoundland into a bastion of self-confident entrepreneurship. In other words, those pesky federal social programs sapped local drive.

Sadly, there is little evidence to suggest a nationalist government in power behaved any differently than its predecessors. By the 1980s, the fishery was in crisis yet again and the Newfoundland government was nearly broke. It was also captained by an ardent Newfoundland nationalist, Brian Peckford whose chief lieutenant was to coin the phrase "the rack of Confederation" when describing the oil and gas ownership dispute. Despite the evidence from Iceland that was readily available at the time and a growing world move toward free trade and free markets, the political solution to the fishery offered by Newfoundland was strikingly familiar.

First, some fish processors were rescued from bankruptcy and reformed into Fishery Products International. The new company would be controlled by provincial legislation and, as it turned out, headed by a bureaucrat imbued with anything but an entrepreneurial trading objective. Fish prices were still set by collusion and the fish processing company focused its attention on supporting provincial social policy until the collapse of the cod stocks forced it to do otherwise.

Second, the government generally favoured a system which stuffed as many people into the fishery as the industry could manage. The situation described by the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies is the result of exactly a policy aimed at using the fishery to take any and all comers irrespective of the impact such approaches had on the economics of the fishery. As Peckford himself said, he would rather see 20, 000 fishermen making a pittance than see half that number earn a living wage from the fishery. The most nationalist of Newfoundland governments, like most before and after, viewed the fishery as a social program, not as a business.

What more need be said to appreciate that there is little substantive evidence to support the nationalist use of Iceland as a model for an independent Newfoundland with a thriving fishery.

Ottawa controls "our resource". In 1949, Newfoundland had control over fish within its three mile limit. At Confederation, Canada's jurisdiction applied as so Newfoundland obtained a 12 mile buffer in which it could fish exclusively. Until the 1970s, when international law recognized a 200 mile exclusive economic zone, everything beyond first three and then 12 miles was the high seas. The fish were there for whomever could catch them. They were never "our" fish from the outset. Legally and in every other meaningful sense, the fish resources of the Grand Banks and elsewhere offshore Newfoundland and Labrador remain a world resource as they were in 1949. Our economic success or failure derives from our own attitudes, not our ownership of anything.

Under the Constitution, Ottawa controls access to the offshore fisheries resources. However, the Newfoundland government controls the processing sector entirely. In any discussion of fish policy these two things need to be taken together or, to extrapolate as Blake's argument, it is important to recognize that federal fisheries policy is rooted in local political forces in Newfoundland as much as anything else.

Newfoundland-based fish harvesting interests have never had problem gaining access to fish; indeed, until nature forced John Crosbie to close the ground fish fishery, Ottawa bent relentlessly to pressure from the province (initially, government, industry and the wider public and then later from the latter two) to maintain cod quotas at the highest possible levels. Domestic fish harvesters highgraded and engaged in other illegal practices all of which contributed to the decimation of the codstocks. Only in the late 1980s did the provincial government begin to call for reduced cod quotas but they were ignored by the contrary advice of Newfoundland's federal cabinet minister whose riding depended heavily on the fishery.

Conclusion: The title of this post comes from a Monty Python sketch in which a logician is lamenting wife's inability to understand simple formulations. Given the major premise that all fish live in water and the minor premise that all trout are fish, the logician's wife will conclude either that trout live in trees or that "I do not love her any more." (Hint: the sketch is really about the logician's lack of sense.)

In the same fashion, Newfoundland nationalists point to Iceland for nothing other than their completely illogical conclusion that responsibility for every problem with the province's fisheries can be laid squarely in the lap of the Government of Canada.

Yet, pre-Confederation history - particularly, the broader social and political forces at work - as well as post-Confederation evidence suggests that Newfoundland's fisheries problems are more deeply rooted. Hence, they are more difficult to address.

At no point in its history, has the government at St. John's been incapable of taking an approach to fisheries management within its jurisdiction and advocating changes outside its power that mirrored the Icelandic model. There were no legal impediments; none.

The reason why the government has consistently failed to advocate Icelandic solutions must come from some other explanations, of the types I have suggested here.

Fundamentally, fisheries policy is not a problem to be solved by determining which bureaucrats - those in Ottawa or those in St. John's - have the most control. Rather, the long-term solution to the problem of making the local fishery economically and environmentally sustainable lies in giving genuine power to those who actually engage in the industry.

That will be the subject of the next major post: "Better fewer, but better".

Go ahead. Make my day.

I can appreciate the element of bravado and bluster in all this, but do the Connies really want to force an election when the Liberals are so far ahead in the polls, when the vultures are circling the political carcass of their leader AND on a issue that displays their antedeluvian policy platform?

Now what you have to ask yourself is do you feel lucky punk?

Well, do ya?

[Exeunt shaking head and chuckling in disbelief]

21 June 2005

Fisheries reports

The fishery in Newfoundland and Labrador has been studied of not to death then to the point of being in a coma.

1. Dunne report. Here's a link to the now infamous Dunne report completed over 18 months ago. Take time to read it. The report is interesting for its specific recommendations, the assessment of the fishing industry two years ago, and the way Dunne assesses issues. It's a classic case of thinking entirely inside a very small fish box. Then people wonder why we keep having the same problems over and over again. Try walking inside a box and see how often you keep coming back to the same place.

Considering the provincial government made frequent reference to this report during the recent crab quota confrontation, it is important to recognize that the Dunne report identified short-term prospects for the industry (i.e two years and less) as well as longer term projections. By the time government implemented a tiny aspect of this report, its short-term projection time-frame had already been spent.

There are also some interesting statistics on the decline of fish plant worker incomes in constant terms since the late 1990s as well as the decline in the number of fish plants. Dunne notes there were some 220 plants in 1990 compared to 122 when he completed the report. That's a little more than half the plants operating today that used to operate. Dunne also notes the problems in finding workers, the aging workforce of the existing plants and declining harvest levels.

These aspects should go hand-in-hand with increased automation and efficiency in the sector, but apparently they don't.

Note especially that the average fish plant worker in this province makes less than $10, 000 per year from labour. Almost 90% of the workers in this sector earn less than $15, 000 per year from labour. This alone should be a big clue to someone that the entire approach to the fishery needs to change.

Dunne's conclusions have been dissected elsewhere so there is no need for a lengthy review.

Suffice it to say that Dunne's recommendations do not call for a radical transformation of the fishing industry. Rather Dunne perpetuates all the existing levels of government (over-) regulation of the processing sector, albeit in slightly changed forms. Recommendation 8.1 actually advises the department to increase its regulation by taking all steps necessary to "defend and properly exercise its authorities [sic] to manage the fish processing sector".

The marketplace could do this far more effectively than Dunne's proposed inspection and ticketing regime.

2. Mike Kirby. Somewhere out there is the Kirby report from 1982. You can't find it online although there are plenty of references. Kirby was the father of enterprise allocations for harvesters which were a start toward the Icelandic approach of individual transferable quotas. I'll have to ferret out a copy and go through it again.

In the meantime, lest you think I was kidding about "studied to death", here's a partial bibliography covering a mere five years in the 1990s. The list was compiled by Memorial's Queen Elizabeth II library.

20 June 2005

Icelandic outmigration

An e-mail from the far off Persian Gulf prompted me to dig a bit more at the issue of Icelandic outmigration.

Here's a link that describes the internal resettlement that was significant in the 1940s and 1950s and which resumed in the period between 1987 and 1997.

Outmigration in this context is obviously not leaving Iceland - but, everyone should note that even the issue of movement within the province is seen as a huge problem among those who focus on the problem in "rural" Newfoundland.

One of the obstacles to external migration in Iceland may be language, but I'd bet that the economic boom in and around the capital is more than enough to absorb the unemployment in the outlying communities. That boom has been fueled, in part by economic policies that favour growth without placing restrictions on where the growth occurs.

Of course, migration out of Newfoundland has been an historic fact-of-life. Before Confederation economic migrants - people who left to find work - had to actually get the necessary paperwork to move to a foreign country. After Confederation, people looking for work could actually stay within their new country.

As much as people can cry about it, the fact is that staying within a country like Canada is a heck of a lot easier (and better) than having to meet the receiving country's immigration requirements.

As this link from Cape Breton notes, one of the foundations of Icelandic success has been a relentless commitment to international competitiveness. Compare that to the prevailing ethic in this province where local is always preferable to anything else, irrespective of whether or not "local" is actually also "the best". Xenophobia and cultural chauvinism aren't the same things as self-reliance and self-confidence.

While you're in the surfing mood, here's the text of a speech delivered by the Icelandic minister if industry and commerce at a conference at Strawberry Hill, Newfoundland in 2000. "The main political challenge that I am presently faced with is how to turn this development around. The conventional way of pouring more and more capital into these regions in order to support the local firms has no permanent value," said Valgerdur Sverrisdottir. Her comments might well bristle some people, but it the approach she describes is fundamental to the way Iceland has approached problems like regional economic development.

While I am at it, there is no point in ignoring that the Wells' administration economic strategy was aimed at improving educational opportunities across the province (restructuring wasn't just about saving cash)and at the same time generating new economic potential from new industries and businesses.

Sadly, the model that the Williams government has inherited from the Tobin and Grimes administrations is one that focuses on more traditional approaches in this province. The main goal is not to change. Premier Williams' recent comments on Harbour Breton and Fishery Products International fit into the historical approach taken in this province to the economic difficulties in the "rural" areas of Newfoundland and to a lesser extent Labrador.

While I am not typically a big fan of the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies (AIMS) you do have to pay close attention to the comments made in this article by AIMS president Brian Lee Crowley. He rightly points out that the local fishery here is run on the failed Soviet model. Having spent time studying the former Soviet Union, I can only agree that the analogy is apt.

While at the AIMS site, have a gander at this article as well on the number of fish plants and our fisheries policy. Note that in 2002 when this article was written there were something like 140 fish plants in the province all operating under the command-economy model straight out of the former Soviet Union. Nothing like modeling yourself on the winners of history. There is an excellent comparison between the Newfoundland pulp and paper industry and the fishing industry since the 1970s. From an economic standpoint, the comparison is enough to stop your heart.

But here's a simple question for you to consider: as a matter of economics, how many fish plants do there need to be in this province so that the total landings can be harvested and processed efficiently while providing meaningful work to those employed in the processing sector. (That is, so they can make their entire living out of the fishery).

AIMS suggests the figure in 2002 was something on the order of 30 to 50 plants. I'd suggest the figure might be a lot less than 10% of the current total.

Like I said, I am not a big fan of AIMS, but I do agree with their final statement in that fish plants article: rural Newfoundland deserves better than the policies it currently gets. It deserves a lot better than the ideas guys like Highgrade Etchegary are proposing.

The Iceland model

Predictably, the Open Line crowd and likely a few others are excited about the Icelandic model. They are thinking that if Newfoundland and Labrador had become an independent state again in 1949, things in the fishery would be different.

Unfortunately, proponents of the Icelandic model don't tell you all that you need to know to make up you mind.

There's another predictable thing.

One of the big differences between Iceland and here is that Iceland runs its fishery as a business, not a social program.

There is no state-run income support for fishery workers.

Iceland uses individual transferable quotas, meaning, among other things, that fish is not a common property resource. It is run as a professional business.

Here's a interesting set of slides comparing the two fisheries. Note, for example, that Icelanders have reduced the number of the people in the fishery. They started around 1900, i.e. 105 years ago. They also don't restrict fish processing - hence there would be no ability for the provincial government to fiddle around in the marketplace, a la FPI.

Notice as well that Iceland is experiencing heavy out-migration but there the government does not treat this as a national calamity meaning that the government spends billions holding people in low-wage poverty.

For a perspective a little closer to home, here's a piece from The Navigator, from 1999. It's short but worth the read.

An while you're at it, here's a comparison of Newfoundland, Iceland, and Norway co-written by three economists. One of them, Bill Shrank teaches economics at Memorial.

I dare any politician to follow the genuinely new approach to the fishery as practiced in Iceland for the past century.

In the meantime don't hold your breath waiting for Highgrade Etchegary to call an open line show and tell it like it is.

NOIA conference missing the feds

The Newfoundland Ocean Industries Association conference starts today.

Check out the agenda.

The only federal participation at all is from the Canadian Transportation Agency.

Does anyone else find that curious?

I wonder where all the federal government agencies are.

Why isn't there a federal government speaker on the agenda?

Maybe that full page ad was more expensive than people at NOIA originally thought.

A simple constitutional question

Since Danny Williams has no problem over-ruling a legal decision by a properly constituted school board, just because he has the power to do it, would he also feel the same way if the federal government started blocking his legislation using the disallowance powers under the constitution?

After all, if the people of some community can go over the school board's head to Danny, then maybe people around here can start going over Danny's head to Ottawa.

Hmmm. Bet that would be an interesting feeling, wouldn't it Danny?

A simple question

In the past week, Danny Williams has shown he is willing:

1. to overrule a school board for any reason whatsoever, despite having given the board complete authority to administer the school system within its jurisdiction (who knows better than the people on the ground?); and,

2. to commit any amount of money for any period to make sure that people won't move out of a community. (Harbour Breton; He refused to "let that community go down.")

So my first question is simple:

1. How much money is Danny Williams prepared to spend for how long a period in order to preserve every single community in the province exactly as it is right now, even if there is no work in the town?

My guess would be he is prepared to spend billions forever. That's the logical implication.

IOCC shuts down. No problem. Government will leap in and pay people to stay put.

Then when the adults hit 65, government will pay their kids to stay put as well.

so logically, I have to ask...

2. Where is he going to get all that money?

18 June 2005

More than a play - CBC Radio June 19

Here's a heads-up on a radio documentary some of you might find interesting.

It's by an old friend of mine who is a radio producer here in St. John's.

"More than a play" was written and produced by students at Gonzaga High School about a first world war soldier, and the connection they made with his family as a result.

The documentary airs in the second hour of The Sunday Edition at 10:30 AM Newfoundland and Labrador time, 10:00 AM in the rest of Canada, on CBC Radio One.

You can hear it again, in Newfoundland and Labrador, on Monday, June 20 on "On the Go", at 4:30 PM on CBC Radio One.

Heather Barrett produced the doc so give it a listen. Her stuff is always interesting and insightful.

Incidentally, you can also pick this up via the Internet by heading to www.cbc.ca/nl. Just hunt around for the link to the live streaming feed.

17 June 2005

Curious ship with a golf ball on top

Anyone driving on the waterfront in St. John's can see a vessel called Gulf Pacific, owned by Gulf Fleet, an offshore supply boat company.

Since these pictures were taken and posted to the Gulf Fleet website, someone installed a large radar dome on almost amidships.

The dome is curiously similar in size to the ones used to house missile tracking radars. It likely isn't anything too mysterious as missile tracking radars come in a set of different types.

It's still curious, though.

X-Band radars and Goose Bay - update

CBC Radio news is reporting this morning that there is continued interest in locating an X-band radar system at Goose Bay of what would inevitably be part of the American ballistic missile defence system.

Previous public discussion of this project suggested that the contractor (Raytheon) was likely to propose building a large, fixed installation at Goose Bay with a cost of about $500 million and a support crew of about 100 people.

The CBC story links to a news release by Raytheon on June 8 announcing that the company had received a US government contract to provide logistics support for three forward-deployed, transportable x-band radar systems (FBX-T).

Here are a few quick observations:

1. The FBX-T is deployable by air, sea or rail and is intended to be mobile.

2. FBX-T would be deployed to fill gaps or provide layered coverage in specific situations. It is not intended to be permanently located in one spot.

3. The US ballistic missile defence agency has already acquired one system and has plans to let contracts for the second and third systems in this fiscal year.

4. Under the June 8 contract, Raytheon would be responsible for all aspects of FBX-T deployment and support.

5. As this link notes, FBX-T is an integral part of the ballistic missile defence system. It would be owned an operated by an American firm but "Host Nation would provide Force Protection." That means the local military forces would be responsible for defending the installation.

6. If this is in fact what Raytheon is talking about deploying to Goose Bay, then there is potentially a major gap between their public comments and what the federal government is saying. FBX-T is definitely part of the BMD project. It would extremely difficult to argue that it is part of NORAD's aerospace sensors as if they were not connected to ballistic missile defence.

There'll be more as I get it.

16 June 2005

Negatively impacting on the brain housing group: Another D'oh for D'underdale!

Last year, no one in the provincial government managed to do a simple online search for information on Sino-Energy. One of the partners, a Chinese state-owned enterprise is under sanctions from the American government for selling military components to countries like North Korea.

Apparently no one also bothered to check with the Canadian Security Intelligence Service about Chinese intelligence agencies using their state-run businesses as cover for spying. There have been a couple of stories this week already about statements by former Chinese officials about the extent of Chinese espionage in Canada and Australia.

Then yesterday, we find out that no one bothered to check out American call-centre company Teletech using what Jack Harris has hilariously referred to as due diligence for dummies: the Internet search engine google.

Turns out there are class-action law suits in the US alleging unfair labour practices. No real surprise there since a friend flipped me a couple of hits from his google activities on Teletech. Now, my buddy was rotted that the provincial government wouldn't even give a ball-park estimate of how much money the province was going to pump into this company. Then he found out that this company doesn't even have contracts secured to support their new Mount Pearl operation. He rotted more, if that was possible.

Actually, a simple google search for "teletech + law" also turns up references to other alleged unfair labour practices like this one from Australia. There's also the obligatory MSN site where people can gripe about Teletech. There have been some copyright and trademark cases between similarly named companies in the United States.

My favourite is this economics exam from Washburn University. Take a look at the way the instructor has put together question five. Seems the people of Kansas are lazy and known to be so. Wage costs for Teletech would lower in Montana, according to the question preamble, but the Montanans are unreliable.

Question 5.c hits on one major aspect of the call centre business and Teletech is big on this one: how much of a subsidy will they need to make operating in Topeka worthwhile or words to that effect.

That's another aspect of the google search on Teletech. They like subsidies. Here's a release from 1996 when Teletech opened a call centre in Niagara Falls New York. In this release, then-Governor George Pataki listed off the cash being handed out to lure the company to New York. My question on some of these has to do with turn-over: does the company get cash for every employee up to a maximum period of time? If so, then check to see how many employee stay on the books after that period. Subsidies could be a perverse incentive to turn over huge numbers of employees, while maximizing company revenues. If you need to follow the logic, go back and re-read the Washburn economics question.

There's also a fair bit of positive stuff, too, on Teletech, just to make sure you know it isn't all bad.

But actually, none of that, while entertaining, is really the point.

The real problem here is that the provincial government appears to be completely incompetent when it comes to assessing fully companies looking to do business in the province with tax money. The government's "due diligence piece", as Innovation Trade and Rural Development minister Kathy Dunderdale calls it is far from diligent and there is no reasonable explanation for the repeated failures.

In a television interview last evening with CBC, the minister for the department with the apt acronym InTRD, said that the "due diligence piece" had been completed before these law suits were filed and that government had been in discussions with Teletech for about 18 months (early 2004).

Curiously, this decision before the American Labour Relations Board was handed down in December 2003 and found Teletech guilty of unfair labour practices. This site notes that one of the class action suits in the stuff the media talked about on Wednesday was filed in February 2004.

In another interview, the minister said that the outside companies hired to carry out the "due diligence piece" would not necessarily pick up these sorts of issues. So what were they looking for? Lint?

She also said this information turned up by reporters wouldn't have "negatively impacted" on government's decision, had it been known.

The problem, Kath is not that you might have acted differently if you knew. The point is you just didn't have all relevant information in front of you when you opened my chequebook to hand some American company some of my cash.

The problem is that we out here among the toiling masses don't know what else it is that you don't know before you make a decision.

Aside from anything else at that point in the interview, I just cringed at that abysmal use of the English language. Does the minister think the use of phrases like "negatively impacted" makes her sound smarter? If you can't say it in plain English, then you really have no idea what you are trying to say.

Maybe it is time the minister of business started talking in plain English.

Maybe she could get her officials to use some plain old common sense.

Maybe then she could actually get on with the job of being the minister of InTRD rather than the minister in t*rd.

15 June 2005

When you hear hoofbeats...

think horses, not zebras.

That's an old axiom used to teach doctors the simple logic of diagnosis. Go for the more obvious or most likely answer, not the exotic.

While people have frequently looked to Argentia as a site for contamination by everything from nuclear weapons to mysterious biological germ warfare bugs, everyone missed a really obvious point.

At all US-owned facilities in Canada, the Americans would have used a variety of pesticides and herbicides that today are known to be dangerous. The sites are scattered all over and include both the well-known bases and the lesser known PineTree Radar sites.

As far as I know, not a single individual has ever taken a hard look at used of pesticides and herbicides around former American bases in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Oh, by the way, this Gagetown Agent Orange story was covered in detail about 10 years ago when I was a DND public affairs officer. Curious that it has come back now with such a vengeance.

14 June 2005

Blogosphere Book Club

I was actually tagged on this one last Monday by Liam O'Brien over at Responsible Government League and since the Governor General herself has gotten into the act, I guess it is time for lowly ole me to get in on this latest cyberspace chain letter.

(Yes, Liam, while you didn't ask, I will add a link to you from my blog when I next update my right-hand menu bar. Actually I am going to breakdown the blog list into Newfoundland and Labrador blogs...and everyone else.)

Number of books that you own:

The rough count puts the number somewhere between 750 and 1,000. There are still some in boxes and on shelves at my parent's place. There are few circulating among friends who borrowed them but haven't returned them yet. There are a bunch more I have read and would love to own but just couldn't afford at the time.

Last book that you bought:

Frankly, I can't recall. It has been a while - maybe a few months - but whatever it was it is now mixed in among a pile of older stuff that I have been re-reading.

Last book that I read:

Since I have been teaching a course in public relations writing and a course in research methods, the most recent books I have been pouring over are the texts for those courses.

Somewhere in there I devoured Jeffrey Deaver's The vanished man, a clever novel by the author of The bone collector. An old friend loaned me that one and a collection of his short stories, which waits unread so far. If we count back to Christmas, I re-read Pierre Trudeau's Federalism and the French-Canadians, and Brinco: the story of Churchill Falls by Philip Smith.

Books that mean a lot to you:

This is perhaps the toughest question but here's a stab at it:

1. Gus Hasford's The short-timers. There's a link over on the right to a website maintained in his memory containing his three novels. The short-timers was the basis for Kubrick's Full Metal Jacket but there's a sequel which I had never found in a bookstore anywhere but the website. Print them off and read them back to back; you'll understand why FMJ is actually a pale version of what could have been one of the most powerful (anti-) war films ever made.

Hasford was a Marine Corps combat correspondent in Vietnam and later turned to writing to exorcise his demons. Dale Dye, who some of you may recognize from his work in Hollywood on movies like Platoon and Saving Private Ryan, was one of Hasford's buddies and served as the model for the character Daddy D.A. The short-timers is a relatively short book but it is intense, dark, funny in places and full of insights into the minds of men thrown into some of the most appalling situations imaginable.

I go back and read it often, if for no other reason than to rediscover that payback is a mother******.

2. Peter Neary's Newfoundland in the North Atlantic world. Those who know me understand that while I love this place dearly, I have never been a local nationalist. Neary's book was the first attempt to analyze the two decades before Confederation using all the insights of one of the province's best professional historians. The format is accessible for non-historians, meaning Neary doesn't use a lot of big words that mean nothing.

Next to it, I would put Ray Blake's Canadian's at last: Canada integrates Newfoundland as a province. It's too bad this book isn't on more reading lists but I keep plugging furiously whenever the chance arises. Ray is a Newfoundlander currently teaching history at U Sask.

3. Pierre Trudeau, Federalism and the French Canadians. Sadly long out of print, this collection of essays and articles from Cite libre had a profound affect on my understanding of issues affecting the country when I came of age in the 1970s and 1980s. This is still the template for a book on Newfoundland and Labrador waiting to be written.

4. Biographies and memoirs are a category of book I have grown increasingly fond of over time. There are too many favourites to mention. Shag the stuff by guys like Donald Trump; I prefer books by people who have risen, dropped and then risen again let alone actually accomplished something. As a rule, anyone who has no experience of genuine failure in life doesn't have to say worth hearing.

There are a few I'd recommend:

- Kimchi, asahi and rum by Robert Peacock. A young infantry officer during the last year of the Korean War, Peacock is an old friend of my father-in-law. The book is good stuff for a young person to read who may find himself or herself in the position of leading men and women through anything. Look past the military stuff and you will see some insights into leading people in any setting.

- Mud and green fields, by George Kitching. Another war memoir by a man of great ability and dignity even if the average Canadian wouldn't know him from a hole in the ground. This book took on a special meaning after I had met Kitching's son, while the fellow worked on a project we were both involved in. The fellow was genuinely astonished when I asked if he was any relation of Major General Kitching.

- Farley Mowat's The regiment and My father's son along with Spike Milligan's series of memoirs on the North African, Sicilian and Italian campaigns. I find these books especially hard to read as they manage to strike a strong emotional chord. They are intensely personal and on those two counts worth going through when one needs to come back to Earth.

5. My mother would be surprised to know that The Bible has influenced much of my attitude toward life, the world and my place in it, even if I seldom darken the door of a church. Spiritual beliefs are not something I am in the habit of discussing with people, but I would be remiss in not acknowledging it publicly. The Golden Rule, incidentally, is just a kinder expression of the payback thing Hasford talked about.

6. Others may be surprised to find that Robert Tucker's The Marx-Engels Reader and The Lenin Anthology have helped shape my analytical approaches to a great many things. Bill McGrath suffered through reading my papers during a few political science courses but the dialectical approach has a certain usefulness that has proven itself in the oddest of places.

7. In the same vein, Karl von Clausewitz's On war is one of those books people claim to have read when they actually didn't. I did read it, and again this is a book where how Clausewitz looked at his subject is more useful in certain cases than his dense prose or his over-quoted dictum that war is the continuation of policy by other means.

All of that has helped shape by approach to public relations, but that's really another post for another time.

8. Winkin, blinkin and nod. I shall always cherish and never be able to convey adequately the feelings that come from reading over and over again this charming little book to two precious children as they nod off to sleep. They are long past it now, but I am not. Heaven to me would be spending eternity putting the wee ones to bed.



Now I just have to go off an tag a few unsuspecting e-mail victims and see what they reply.

13 June 2005

The tragedy of common-place thinking

Take a look at The Independent this week and you'll see an interesting study in contrasts.

On the front page is a solid story by Stephanie Porter on the role of the media in covering criminal trials. It covers the subject thoroughly and quotes local reporters for print and television outlets here as well as news directors, all of whom refer to the need for factual accuracy and unbiased reporting in their news.

Flip over to the Indy editorial though and you see yet another example of the paper's editorial tendency to play fast and loose with the facts.

Back to that in a moment, but it is worthwhile recapping some of the Indy's other factually-challenged reporting, because it has become a fairly regular feature of the upstart little broadsheet.

Largest of all was the six-part "balance sheet" series. Their were numbers that appeared factual; problem is there were only some numbers. As many awards as the series garnered, it has not turned up as evidence in any reputable pieces elsewhere, save for this rather facile paper on the recent oil discussion printed in a mainland policy magazine. More often than not anyone with half a clue about federal-provincial financial relations look on the Indy piece as a second-rate effort at best. In these e-scribbles, I have suggested the conclusions was drawn and then bits of information were used to prop it up; anything that contradicted the pre-selected conclusion was discarded.

Then we have the clash with Royal Newfoundland Constabulary Chief Richard Deering over a recent investigation conducted by the Ontario Provincial Police at the chief's request. Fact is, the Indy got its facts dead wrong and may have based their front-page story on the information of one, evidently poorly informed, source. When they couldn't prove their original allegation - how could they? - they chose instead to lash the chief for his criticism and questioning of the reporter who wrote the story.

So too for its coverage of fisheries issues which often goes back for "evidence" in the comments by Gus Etchegary. Now a regular caller to radio talk shows, Etchegary is a former senior official at Fishery Products International (FPI) and chief spokesman for the "Blame the Foreigners for Everything and then Blame Ottawa for the Foreigners" school of fisheries management.

Etchegary might be a more credible witness for the prosecution against the foreigners and the mainlanders were it not for the fact that he worked at FPI in the days when the company gave orders to its skippers to "highgrade" their catches. Owen Myers, a former fisheries inspector has described the practice elsewhere, but essentially it involves tossing small but legal fish overboard in order to get a quota made up of only the biggest fish. In the process, thousands if not millions of tons of cod were dumped overboard by FPI trawlers over the years - dead as the proverbial doornail. "Highgrading" is another former of overfishing; it's illegal, in case you missed that point, and predictably when current FPI boss Derrick Rowe recently admitted his company doesn't have a lilly-white history on the subject, Etchegary speed-dialed any radio program out there to condemn Rowe.

That conveniently leads us back to the Indy editorial this week. Under the title "What is rightfully ours" the editorial discusses the current debate over the FPI proposal to sell a 40% interest in its American marketing division. To be fair, the editorial doesn't actually make a point, except that the whole vote is about "standing united as a people and protecting what is rightfully ours."

Along the way, though, it does manage to haul out some rather serious factual errors.

The simplest one has to do with the FPI proposal to sell interests totaling 40% in one of its divisions in order to raise $100 million that would invested in plants and equipment in the processing portion of the company.

The Indy seizes on this to note that in future "for example, Icelandic interests, which currently own 15% of FPI could buy out the entire 40% income trust and thereby owning a controlling interest in the company - and, consequently the Newfoundland and Labrador fishery."

Sheer nonsense.

A portion of the income trust is nothing more than a portion of a portion of the whole company, which is in turn owned by its shareholders. By law, no shareholder can own more than 15% of the company itself. These "Icelandic interests" can only hold 15% of the shares in the company as a whole and whatever bit of the income trust they eventually own - even if it is 100% - can never give them a controlling interest in the whole company nor can it give these interests "control" of the fishery offshore this province.

Simply put, the Indy didn't read the government information on this proposal, including a simple backgrounder on the FPI proposal nor did it ever read the Fishery Products International Limited Act. If anyone in the Harbour Drive offices did read these documents, they surely didn't understand the plain English in which they are written. The additional undertakings by the company, also expressly limit current shareholders from acquiring more than a defined percentage of the subsidiary. True the company agrees to secure such an undertaking from the Icelandic company, but even without it, what the Indy predicts simply can't happen. Period.

This is actually pretty simple stuff to read and understand; therefore the Indy's blatant error on these points is almost incomprehensible.

There are other errors of fact as well.

The editorial makes reference to "Ottawa's blatant mismanagement of the fish stocks" and then argues that this "fact" should, lead the federal government to pour money into the Harbour Breton plant.

When FPI was highgrading and fish plants churned out fillets, blocks and stamps, no one - not a single soul - ever accused Ottawa of mismanagement. That charge only emerged after 1992 when some people, especially those who had been involved deeply in the fishery in the 1980s, wanted to find a scapegoat.

The most basic factual error comes in another comment, and represents the false premise on which every fisheries argument the Indy has ever made is based:

"As a common property resource, the fish in the sea belongs [sic] to Newfoundlanders and Labradorians. Indeed, all Canadians. [sic]"

The fishery on the Grand Banks - the whole of it - is an international resource. Within the 200 mile exclusive economic zone the resources are managed by the government of Canada. They are not "owned" legally or morally by us or anyone else. Outside 200 miles, they are fished by countries from around the world based on whatever common agreement can be made. Some of those "foreign" fishermen are the umpteenth grandsons of the men who first dropped a hook into the waters over 500 years ago or the distant relatives of the men and women who the Indy claims now "own" the resources.

As side from that, though, the tragedy of the offshore fishery as it is approached from this province is indeed a tragedy of the commons. The resource is seen as belonging to everyone and therefore, it is there for everyone to prosecute. Remember teachers wetting a line and dropping a pot during the summer for a few extra dollars? The so-called food fishery is the result of this same approach - no one needs to fish in order to put a meal on his or her table except those who fish for a living. It is all a variation of the "spread" argument - spread the resource to whoever wants some of it until there is none left.

And in the end what might be left? The answer is very little. The tragedy of the commons is a simple one all are familiar with: when it - in this case fisheries conservation -is everyone's responsibility then it is no one's responsibility.

Today, there is a shortage of fish and an oversupply of people needing fish.

In the 1980s and the early 1990s, there were too many people chasing too few fish.

Same thing.

And unfortunately, the same thinking that created the problem twenty years ago still hobbles our thinking today.

Too bad the Indy doesn't actually exercise some independent thinking. If they did, they might well ponder which is more cruel:

- To close a fish plant and have people move to find other work within a year or two, while others might actually make a living from their fisheries work; or,

- To prop up the plant with cash and makework and purchased quotas and every few years go through a closure or closure scare for more than 20 years?

Which is more demeaning: A job with low wages propped up for the year by federal handouts or the chance to make a living from honest work alone?

Independent thought would require facts.

Too bad those are in short supply at the Indy.

11 June 2005

USS Connie-prise season ender (updated)

The Globe is reporting this morning that a recent poll for the Globe and CTV by The Strategic Counsel shows a further slide in Connie support and an especially noticeable increase in Stephen Harper's "negatives".

No surprise that; as noted here some time ago, it was inevitable that Harper would come under examination in the wake of his disastrous election "strategy". There has been some media comment on that in the past few days, unsurprisingly. Harper himself has been very quiet.

Meanwhile, CTV has got an interesting post about a blog called Buckets of Grewal. The name is a play on the similarity between the spelling of Grewal's name and that stuff people used to feed Oliver Twist.

A few things to notice:

1. Buckets has posted a slide show of the complete, revised transcripts of the conversations as posted to Grewal's site. BUT, and this is a big but, Buckets has highlighted all the additions and changes for most of the set. You can see now the extent of the deletions and omissions from the early versions.

This is one of the most damning aspects of this entire case - the shoddy presentation of evidence that leads to suspicion of tampering and withholding.

I had posted earlier about the wings flying off the Connie Express in an election. Well, it might just be that a few parts of the aircraft are starting to dislodge over this whole business as well.

2. Bucket's site is upsetting to the Connie bloggers. Well, actually, Grewal has been upsetting to them but like all good Connie paranoids they like to blame their own problems on other people. Hence, they have been attacking the media - Connies apparently only watch Fox News - and either the forensic experts who have questioned the validity of the taped versions or people like Buckets who have dissected Grewal with precision.

2.a Connie columnists like Coyne have been alarmingly silent. Face it, Andy, Gurmant is tainted. The whole thing was a fraud.

2.b Have a gander at this site: Blank out Times, written a la A.A. Milne. There's another site linked off the Bucket one put together by the same guys.

3. The CTV story makes it seem odd that bloggers fact-check. Lots of bloggers check their own facts and the facts of people they are debating and arguing with or about. They not all typically "Republicans" as the CTV story asserts, quoting Antonia Zerbisias from the Toronto broadsheet with a tabloid 'tude, The Star.

Anyone with some time on their hand can skim down through the few blogs linked from this site. Consider Wells, Spector, Coyne and Kinsella but then have a look at some of the others, especially the political stuff.

Then go have a look at Antonia's blog. Make your own judgement. Is media critic the new word for gossip columnist?

Anyway, Antonia should have been paying more attention over the past six months. This blog and others spent a lot of time discussing and debating facts related to the offshore deal, for example.

4. By contrast, take a wander through the Connie blog list. There are bits of everything here. Plus a lot of really angry, angry people. Some of them are as nasty a bunch as I have seen.

All of that anger and Grewal idiocy, my friends, is one of the reasons that Stephen Harper (likely in mint condition Jim Kirk uniform left over from his last Trekkie-Con) is hearing his chief engineer Peter "Scottie" MacKay on the USS Connie yelling "I canna hold 'er cap't'n."

And this time he ain't talking about the blonde.

10 June 2005

The Tragedy of FPI

Halfway through the debate on changes to legislation governing Fishery Products International Limited (FPI), the whole focus has shifted to Harbour Breton, the community where FPI has closed the town's major employment source.

Debate isn't really the word for it, though. The whole thing has become a sort of extortion racket. Politicians including Premier Danny Williams are insisting that FPI has to put something back in Harbour Breton, on the province's south coast as a price for their vote.

Someone tossed the extortion theme at me last night in a telephone call in which I listened to someone else rant. It was a pleasant change.

David Cochrane's debrief on The Fisheries Broadcast picked up the same idea, although I don't think he called it extortion. I think the word shakedown is closer to the truth.

Just to finish off the idea, here's a section from the Criminal Code of Canada that might potentially be applicable to some of the comments Premier Williams has been making. It is illegal, ladies and gentlemen to either entice a legislator to vote a certain way in exchange for something or to solicit such an inducement.

Under section 121 (1)(a)(ii), it is an offence for an official to demand or seek any benefit for himself or another person in exchange for the performance of his duties and responsibilities.

But underneath all that is a more significant issue highlighted in a CBC report also by David Cochrane on the whole FPI issue. That link requires RealPlayer, by the way.

In the report, Derrick Rowe points out that the whole of FPI has a stock market value of about $120 million. This makes it hard for the company to raise capital - i.e. cash - in order to rebuild the harvesting and processing sector.

FPI's plan to create an income trust and let new investors into the American marketing division will raise US$100 million. Rowe rightly points out that the secondary processing division is much more attractive to investors than a company that is burdened with all the political baggage FPI carries around.

The simple fact is that FPI is not a private sector company. It is a leftover exercise in social engineering; a social assistance program. It is, to be perfectly accurate, a Crown corporation in all but name only.

The reason why FPI continues to flounder and rural communities suffer has less to do with the closure of Harbour Breton and more with the political interference of successive governments since Brian Peckford that have prevented FPI from being a private sector company based in this province.

Rather than surging ahead as Fortis has done, FPI flops about like a Newfoundland Farm Products chicken simply because any decision taken by its board of directors for the benefit of the company can be over-ruled by any handful of people with the collective business experience of...well...a flounder. Worse still, even otherwise sensible politicians can be overwhelmed by the clouds of political gadflies that swarm around the carcass of thought called afternoon radio call-in shows.

Their motivation is little more than the classic Newfoundland one: spread what little there is of something as thinly as possible so that everyone gets a little bit of it, all the while blaming the Evil Ottawa for everything from the Plague of Locusts to the dismal writing on Hatching, Matching and Dispatching.

This evening that little bit may cost the province upwards of $10 million to buy an overvalued redfish quota so that an antiquated plant can crank up and make stamps.

There are too many fish plants for the total volume of landings. We don't need more. The result of this exercise will be to perpetuate a situation where people cannot make a decent living in rural Newfoundland without massive government subsidies. The whole place goes in the hole as a consequence and to what end?

In 20 years time - or more likely in five - the next Premier will be looking to prop up one or two or three more communities. Or like John Efford, he'll be handing out processing licenses to all comers. That wouldn't be so bad if the license went with a simple warning label: "sink or swim; you're on your own". Instead, though, every license comes backstopped by more and more subsidies and handouts and make-work projects.

No wonder the province is broke.

Rather than debating an amendment to the FPI bill, government should have repealed the damn thing.

Take control over a potentially very lucrative local company away from the legions of politicians and give to people who can make it into an international company that people are willing to invest in. Take a look at this link to see what can happen when a small country makes smart choices about its fishing industry. FPI could be every bit as successful globally as Sanford Limited - if only we could see beyond the end of the wharf.

As it stands now, all the provincial government has succeeded in doing is strangling another bit of life out of the very company everyone claims is the backbone of our provincial economy.

Oliver Langdon et al can point to unfulfilled promises as they vote against Derrick Rowe's proposal; truth is politicans can only blame themselves for the mess they perpetuate.

No matter what happens in the vote tomorrow, all we have succeeded in doing is making FPI a less valuable commodity in the eyes of investors. The company has less money and is less able to do what its board and managers want to do to be successful.

And five years from now we will still be fretting over the future of "rural" Newfoundland.

That is the real tragedy of the FPI debate.