30 April 2006

John Kenneth Galbraith, 1908-2006

Internationally acclaimed economist John Kenneth Galbraith has died at the age of 97.

The Canadian-born Galbraith received an honorary doctorate from Memorial University in 1999. Here is a link to his biography that occasion, the oration delivered by Dr, Shane O'Dea and the text of Dr. Galbraith's remarks.

28 April 2006

Remain calm. All is well.

Hebron is but one project in an exciting industry. We have three oil and gas projects that are proceeding, natural gas development in front of us and we'’re excited about the future of the industry.
Natural resources minister Ed Byrne, quoted in The Telegram, Friday, April 28, 2006

There's optimism.

There's seeing the glass half full.

Then there's Ed Byrne.

Ed Byrne makes a pollyanna look suicidal.

One step closer and I'll blow my brains out

It's taken a while but the rumblings from some within the Liberal Party have finally emerged as the story that there are plans afoot to dump Jim Bennett as party leader after only a few weeks on the job.

Here's the VOCM version, although Craig Jackson of the Telegram broke the story yesterday.

Okay, so Bennett isn't the sharpest knife in the political drawer. Okay, so he doesn't have a group of close confidants and advisors helping out. Okay, so he doesn't consult much with caucus.

But here's the thing.

The rocket scientists in the Liberal Party who decided the party only needed a few months to get ready for the next election, who did sweet fanny adams to get rid of the party debt over the past two years and who didn't put forward a candidate of their own are likely the same diminutive ersatz Macchiavellis who now cook up this idea to dump Bennett and replace him with someone else all in even less time than the party got Bennett.

It's not like the Party hasn't had its fair share of leaders with little or no election potential or guys who got stuffed in as leader when they couldn't have won the job the proper way.

It's not like anyone on the planet expects the party to do anything of consequence as the Danny machine steamrolls over them in late 2007.

So let Bennett run the place for a while and then deal with whatever problems there are later on.

If nothing else, as David Cochrane has been pointing out over the past couple of days, a leadership review followed by a leadership contest will tap the available cash and likely bankrupt the party financially.

Think, people. Think.

There is plenty to keep everyone occupied over the next few years. The opportunity to make a contest out of 2007 was lost in the time wasted getting to the point where Jim Bennett was the only guy willing to take on the leader's job. The only person, full-stop. It's not like who is leading the Party will make a huge difference in 2007 anyway.

And that is at a time when the current administration is showing just how to run a province by the seat of one's pants. "Making it up as we go along" takes on a whole new meaning when watching Tom Rideout and Danny Williams in running about in complete disarray on files like FPI, Hebron and Abitibi. It would be a political opportunity of historic proportions if the past two years hadn't been spent doing nothing.

So, those strategic geniuses who want to oust Jim Bennett should just suck it up and deal with the problem as it is. The alternative is worse.

And besides, who do these anonymous party insiders have in mind for the job?


She's busy doing other things.


Been there. Done that. Tossed the brown envelope.

The machinators forget one thing: the last time the Liberal Party held an open audition for the role of leader, Jim Bennett was the only person who showed up.

If they punt Jim Bennett, these self-styled insiders might have to hold a seance to find someone to vote Liberal next election, let alone replace Bennett.

Better these long-time party conspirators devoted their energy to putting some cash in the bank - doing something useful for a change - than carrying on the business of back-biting a guy who at least was willing to take on a job no one else wanted.

The depths of PETA's ignorance

In their ongoing efforts to prove how looney they are, PETA recently took a swipe at the Inuit people of Canada who wound up as collateral damage in PETA's campaign against the busby's worn by the five regiments of Foot Guards in the United Kingdom. [Grenadier, Coldstream, Scots, Irish, and Welsh]

Seems PETA didn't know Inuit hunt polar bears when they suggested Inuit were "more likely to hunt Santa's elves" rather than bears.

Apparently too neither PETA nor the members of parliament understood where the bearskins for the busbys comes from. Ministry of Defence officials waded in at the end of the tussle to point out that the bearskins are acquired from a humane population-control policy in various Canadian provinces.

Of course, PETA didn't take notice of the fact that the army has been unable to find a synthetic alternative or that on average a busby last 40 years.

27 April 2006

Conflict, schmonflict

In a media scrum today, Premier Danny Williams said that finance minister Loyola Sullivan will no longer be part of any cabinet discussions with respect to Fishery Products International and the proposal by Barry Group to take over FPI's assets in the province.

Sullivan's brother is Karl Sullivan, a senior executive with Barry Group.

Apparently, the Premier suddenly noticed the relationship between his finance minister and the Barry Group. It doesn't appear to have been an issue when the government provided Barry group with loan guarantees, when Barry Group stepped into the Harbour Breton schlamozzle or, for that matter when the Premier and his fisheries minister pushed to get Barry's seal oil capsules back on the shelves at Costco.

No word today though on how the province will deal with any financial implications of the FPI mess since the finance minister has removed himself from the files.

But anyway, since the provincial government appears in the mood to address conflicts of interest when dealing with the Barry Group, what about the relationship between
fisheries minister Tom "Toque" Rideout and the same Karl Sullivan, brother of the finance minister?

Karl was chief of staff to Tom Rideout for the 43 days Rideout was premier. He also served Rideout as deputy minister of fisheries back in the 1980s.

Who gives a turbot's fingernails if Karl and Loyola share the same parents when the cabinet minister in charge of the FPI file - Tom Rideout - has a long-standing relationship with one the Barry Group's senior executives?

Maybe it's time for Danny Williams to find a new job for Tom Rideout too.

The German blog from here

An e-mail today advised that the Bond Papers have been added to a local blog maintained in German.


The blog is called Windrose and is written by Pia Banzhaf. As she describes it:
My blog is a what I'd call a micro-blog with a very small number of readers interested particularly in Newfoundland and Canada. (thirty-ish, I'd say, on a regular day - your international readers would just add a tiny fraction to your regular ones, I would guess.)

There seems to be an infatuation with Canada in many people in Europe, but the news headlines are dominated by the big neighbour to the south, as you can imagine. So, I write a bit about my personal impressions of actually living here, about things I gather from the press about politics and so on. Often I contrast the way similar issues are being dealt with in Canada/Newfoundland and Germany or other European countries, like the immigration/environmental /health care issues. And of course, as you have seen, I love taking photographs, because I enjoy discovering the beauty of the lines, shapes and colours everywhere around us, although I am not as accomplished in photography as I would like to be.
Now I speak German only if one considers being able to count to nine and grasp the basic German from Raiders of the lost Ark as having any ability at all in a foreign language. I picked up the word for rubber dummy - gummipuppen - from watching The longest day and that one stuck only because of the laughable reaction of the actors playing the Germans in the movie as they heard stories of rubber dummies that had been dropped to appear as though a massive drop of paratroops (fallschirmjaeger) had taken place behind the Normandy beaches on D-day.

When I answered Pia's original e-mail I mentioned something about her post in which she talked about the laundromat being out of order.

Turns out that had I googled geldautomat I would have seen in a couple of seconds she was talking about an instant-teller in one of her posts. Hopefully she got a good chuckle out of my ignorance...or pretentiousness.

One doesn't need to understand German, though, to appreciate Pia's artistic ability as a photographer. Her site is full of stunning photographs that show her love of, as she put it above, the beauty of lines, shape and colour.

So what brings a young German to Neufundland?
The usual story: The significant other got a hardly resistible offer for work. (Didn't work very well for me though, that's why you would find occasional sarcastic postings about Canadian immigration policy.)
The shortcomings of our immigration policy to one side, we are obviously richer for Pia's presence.

Her blog can be found here and there is a new link in the Top o' the pile section.

Wilkommen, Pia.

26 April 2006

Tom Rideout and the Tar-baby

For most of its term, the Williams administration has been treating Fishery Products International as a sort of tar-baby. They dance around and around without wanting to delve into the issue and resolve it.

Premier Danny Williams and fish minister Tom Rideout knew in December, 2005 of the need for an early retirement package for workers due to be laid off by FPI as the company works to deal with its financial mess. FPI officials briefed on the proposed restructuring.

Williams and Rideout did nothing, save for the torqued outburst by the toqued minister about charging the company for doing something he knew full-well his predecessor had approved.

Today, they still have done nothing except dance around an issue they seem incapable of grasping or at least unwilling to touch.

This time the government's merry jig includes a face familiar to the Premier and his fisheries minister and deputy premier. That face is Bill Barry. Most recently, Premier Williams and Tom Rideout poured the weight of the provincial government into putting one of Barry's products back on shelves from which they'd been removed due solely to poor sales.

Speaking to reporters, Rideout said he had received expressions of interest from two companies that want to purchase some of FPI's assets. One of those interested was apparently a company owned by Bill Barry.

The curious thing about this revelation is that Rideout is the one making it. FPI is a publicly traded company currently working to restructure and currently in negotiations with its workers. Rideout may be aware of certain offers but it is highly improper for him to be revealing details of discussions between two companies in public, highly improper indeed.

Given the history of this administration and FPI, one wonders what Rideout is up to.

What we do not need to wonder about, though, is the need to get politics and politicians out of the fishery. FPI's request - repeated yet again - for the government to repeal the FPI Act and put the company firmly in the private sector is one that should be heeded, just as it should have been heeded months and years ago.

The more that politicians muck about with the fishing industry - especially ones who carry with them out-moded ideas from the last time they held the fisheries portfolio - the more likely the rest of us are to get flung into a briar patch.

Dignified vs....something else

To add to the comments on changes to the federal government's website, consider the following.

The main web portal for the Government of the United States is located at firstgov.gov.

Note that it is devoid of partisan advertising since it is...the government website.

For those unschooled in the art of subtle but meaningful distinctions, i.e. the current administration in Ottawa, government is not the same as partisan.

In other words, just because the Republicans happen to be sitting in the White House, the entire United States federal government does not suddenly sprout elephants on it everywhere.

That's because American partisans, like more sophisticated Canadian politicos, realize that their party merely forms an administration in a government that isn't theirs to do with as they please.

The symbols and image of that government and the country are not things to be shagged about with. The President is still the President, after all. He walks like one and, more often than not acts like one. Try catching George showing up to a heads of government meeting in a hunting vest. You don't have to like the guy's politics, but he does know how to comport himself appropriately.

Then take a trip to the White House site. Now here we might reasonably expect to see the odd pachyderm; but we don't. Not a one. There is George Bush and plenty of him, but the site is low keyed and dignified. Again, that's because it is a government website, not the home of iheartgeorge.com.

Now visit the new home of the Government of Canada website.

And the prime minister's site.

The word dignified is not the first word that comes to mind here.

Nor is government.

But partisan leaps up there pretty fast. Notice the similarities between the Conservative Party's own site and new home for Steve Harper's leftover campaign photos.

To add to the contrast though, take a look at the Grand Old Party's political website ... clean and professional looking. It doesn't seem like it was designed by someone who last week built a site for a used car dealer and next week will be building a site to lure men into purchasing a monthly membership in a site where women do unusual things with parts of their anatomy.

The new Canadian government site is garish. Tawdry. Cheap.

Low-rent, as in using a line from our national anthem as an advertising tagline for the country.

Like we were missing a slogan or a catchy jingle to help us stand out in the crowded online world of porn hucksters and the guys who promise they have a miracle cure for brewer's droop that also works as a good car wax.

Imagine going to firstgov.gov and seeing this one:

United States of America
"and the rockets' red glare"

Somehow, there's no no way I could imagine that the Government of the United State's website - that is the Internet presence of the government of all Americans irrespective of race, creed, colour or partisan affiliation - could be turned into an assault on the world's eyeballs by a bunch of second-rate pitchmen.

But we have it Canada.

Another word that springs to mind about harpersthepm.ca is insecurity. It's a word that seems to come to mind quite often with Harper as the prime minister. Insecure. The media control issues, the gag orders, the flag business and now this website with Steve's picture every and the fact he's the prime minister on every page.

The Conservatives - or maybe just their boss - don't feel confident in running the country. So, they engage in petty displays of authority and, as in the case of the website redesign, take an opportunity to remind the world that Harper is the Prime Minister. That's Stephen Harper, the prime Minister. The guy with the five items on his agenda. The Stephen Harper agenda for a Stephen Harper Canada.

And in case you didn't notice, that was Stephen Harper. You know. The Prime Minister.

of Canada.

This is not a government administration in perpetual campaign mode, as some have suggested. These are guys who act like they don't think they belong where they are. So they need to keep reminding us, or, more accurately reminding themselves.

And that's the thing.

Even for those of us who didn't vote for Harper's crew, even for those of us who worked so they wouldn't get elected, some of us figured they would change a few things for the good. We figured there was a good chance they'd accomplish something - that they had a plan and by God-bless-Canada, they'd work to put it in place. Fresh-faced and eager, they'd work their butts off.

They'd do something.

We never expected what they would do is start mucking around with Canada's national symbols and treat the government of our country like it was the plaything the Liberals supposedly used it as when they were in power.

Colour me surprised.

Colour me embarrassed.

And for all those people who keep screaming that Stephen Harper is trying to be like George Bush:

We should be so lucky.

Will Danny be there this year?

Early next week, the North American oil and gas industry will be in Houston for the Offshore Technology Conference (OTC) .

It's always been a big deal for the local oil industry and this year is no exception. The provincial government-sponsored exhibit space is crammed with displays by the local oil and gas sector.

Technical panelists for some of the discussions include Steve Campbell of Trans Ocean Gas talking about ways of developing so-called stranded gas. Campbell's company has developed a new way of transporting gas at high pressure and low temperature inside containers made from composite materials.

Beyond that there are three sessions that will focus respectively on opportunities for development offshore India, Russia and Australia. There's plenty of discussion of the issues involved in drilling deep water.

Even Venezuelan energy minister Raphael Ramiriz Carreno is a luncheon speaker covering Venezuela's "strategy for the worldwide energy balance."

Last year, Premier Danny Williams issued a news release proclaiming that he was heading a delegation representing 47 local companies and organizations to OTC. He delivered a breakfast speech and did the rounds promoting the Newfoundland and Labrador offshore.
"I was pleased to have the opportunity to meet with top executives of Chevron to discuss how we can collectively move the Hebron project forward," said Premier Williams. "We had a very productive discussion about the challenges and opportunities of the Hebron project, and I was encouraged by what I heard. I also laid out very clearly the province's expectations in terms of the benefits we will expect for the people of Newfoundland and Labrador. We must work with industry to see this project progress; however, government will also be vigilant in ensuring proper and fair benefits for the people of the province."
The year before natural resources minister Ed Byrne led the local crowd to OTC.
"The further development of our oil and gas industry plays a very important part in government'’s agenda for success to generate new revenues and new jobs," said Minister Byrne. "We will aggressively pursue investors, encouraging them to establish and invest in Newfoundland and Labrador. Based on what we know about the discovered resources offshore, the oil and gas industry presents solid investment opportunities now and into the future. Events such as OTC provide us with the venue to reiterate that message."
Pretty well every year for the last decade or more the provincial delegation has been boosted by the support and presence of the Premier, the energy minister or both.

But here's the question:

Will either Danny Williams or Ed Byrne be in Houston for the 2006 offshore technology conference?

25 April 2006

Natural gas project under development in Newfoundland and Labrador

CBC news is reporting this evening that North Atlantic Pipeline Partners L.P. (NAPP) has purchased large tracts near Arnold's Cove with plans to development a liquefied natural gas (LNG) facility between the oil transshipment facility at Whiffen Head and the Vitol-owned refinery at Come by Chance.

In 1997, NAPP proposed construction of a 1500 mile pipeline to ship gas from offshore Newfoundland and Labrador to markets in the United States. This approach appears to have been superseded by the use of submerged loading/offloading bouys, at least for movement of gas between Newfoundland and the United States. The submerged bouy system eliminates the need for liquid natural gas ships to enter American ports or facilities near major population centres.

Since 2001, security experts have raised concerns about terrorists targeting liquid natural gas storage and transshipment facilities. The problem has been highlighted at Boston where an LNG facility at Dorchester offloads 33 million cubic feet of LNG.

Purchase of the land was noted privately as long ago as last fall but until today the identity of the land-owners had not been revealed. It is possible the provincial government has known about the NAPP proposal for some time. At around the same time as rumours of the land purchase began to circulate, Premier Danny Williams told the Telegram he would prefer not to see gas simply transported to market without some added value to Newfoundland and Labrador. Bringing gas ashore at Arnold's Cove would make gas available for any uses in eastern Newfoundland and Labrador. Natural gas is being considered by Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro as a replacement fuel for its generating plant at Holyrood.

Royal Newfoundland Regiment celebrates and commemorates

April 25th marks the 211th birthday of the Royal Newfoundland Regiment.

On this day in 1795, the first Royal Newfoundland Regiment was raised from residents of the then colony. It continued in existence until the 1860s when it was absorbed into the regiment manning the local garrison.

At the outbreak of war in 1914, the Newfoundland Regiment was formed and fought throughout the war in the Middle East and western Europe. The regiment's 1st battalion was almost wiped out at Beaumont Hamel July 1, 1916 and suffered heavy casualties at Monchy-le-Preux the following year. The regiment received the title "Royal" in 1917 after seeing action at Cambrai.

Disbanded in 1919, the regiment was reformed as a reserve infantry unit of the Canadian Army in 1949.

The Royal Newfoundland Regiment was the only North American unit to see action during the Gallipoli campaign (1915-1916). While the major Allied assault took place on April 25, 1915, the Newfoundlanders arrived on the peninsula the following September. It was at Gallipoli that the regiment suffered its first casualty in action. During the withdrawal in January 1916, the Newfoundland Regiment twice provided the covering force for Allied units.

April 25, also known as ANZAC Day, is also marked by the regiment in recognition of its part in the Gallipoli operation.

While acclimatizing in Egypt, members of the regiment earned the respect of Australian and New Zealand forces who were known for their rough and ready approach. Reportedly word soon spread after the Newfoundlanders' arrival that the ANZACs should watch out for the "guys with goats on their caps." This is a reference to the caribou emblem on the regimental capbadge, which under certain conditions could be mistaken for a goat.

Why columnists need editors

Bill Rowe's column in the Telegram on Saturday, April 22 offered some comment on the new biography of Pierre Trudeau, already out in French and due in English this June.

Based on the former prime minister's personal papers, the first of several volumes on Trudeau's life paints a curious and fascinating portrait of a young Quebecois, devout Roman Catholic and supporter of a future Quebecois nation on the shores of the St. Lawrence.

Bill made a few comments including these:
"It's from a new biography of Trudeau by two great friends and admirers. He had given them, Max and Monique Nemni, unfettered access to his personal papers and they staggered out of the archives, traumatized by the evidence they'd found, to produce this book..."
That sounds just a tad like this:
" Well, he didn't know Max and Monique Nemni, two energetic academics who carefully read all the material, and emerged stunned and horrified from their search. The Nemnis were actually Mr. Trudeau's personal friends and among his most unconditional admirers. "
Later on Rowe offers this sentence:
"Even at the age of 27, as a student in free-spirited Paris, he still felt constrained by orthodoxy, they say, to ask permission from the church to read books censured by the Vatican Index."
Now that definitely sounds familiar:
"Even at the age of 27, when he was a student in Paris, he would still ask the authorization of the church to read books that were a l'Index (condemned by the Vatican)."
Now here's the thing: while Rowe offered his own comments on Trudeau and the Nemnis' book, linking in his own support for Trudeau in 1968, there are a couple of sections of his column that sounded a bit too much like the column by Lysiane Gagnon of la presse. Gagnon's piece appeared in English in last Thursday's edition of the Globe and Mail.

I am reasonably certain that Lysiane Gagnon read the book whose title she gives as Trudeau: fils du Quebec, pere du Canada. She offers some general comment on the revelations in the book and the wider context of Quebec society in which Trudeau grew up.

For his part, Rowe does his usual job of piling on the unrestrained criticism once he gets past the summary of the Nemnis' book that one suspects was cribbed from Gagnon's work. "This prejudiced and politically stupid young man, this slavish conforming ideologue..." is typical of Rowe's over-the-top and dare one say inaccurate writing.

But I have a simple question: has Bill read the book yet?

Somehow, I doubt it very much. Certainly his column doesn't even contain the insight into the book's substance to be gleaned from reading an extract available online in L'actualite. Nor does it contain information that could be found in other places any time up to 10 days before Rowe published his column, places like la presse, le journal de Montreal, Radio Canada, le devoir, or Michel Vastel's column in l'actualitie. Oddly none contain the comments on the Nemnis that Gagnon's does - the bit about being shocked by their findings - and since Rowe took time off his political career to study French he should have enough facility with the language to have read more than the stuff in the Globe.

As a sign of the limited basis of his column, Rowe correctly translates the title as given in Gagnon's piece; but the full title -in l'actualite - includes the important words les annees du jeunesse: 1919-1944 - "The years of youth". of course, this is a key aspect of understanding how Trudeau changed from being a young man very much the product of the culture in which he was raised into a grown man of very different views.

The words are important to understanding how the Nemnis have portrayed the young man Trudeau before he left Quebec to study at Harvard and elsewhere outside Quebec. To do that, though, one would have had to have read more than Gagnon's column.

With additional information, Rowe might have been able to write more insightfully than he did; after all, his paragraphs on the 1968 federal leadership convention are throw-aways. Certainly nothing available so far in French or English suggests that this was, as Rowe describes it, a "tawdry story". Nor is it as secret a story as Rowe suggests. The anti-Semitic, corporatist politics of Quebec in the 1930s and 1940s is well known. It is surprising to see Trudeau engulfed in the ideology, but it is understandable. What Rowe gives us instead of insight is overly dramatic use of adjectives, perhaps to mask that he only knew what he'd gleaned from a column in Toronto's national newspaper.

What is remarkable in this emerging story - even with the revelations of Trudeau's beliefs as a child and young man - is that Trudeau preserved his papers and allowed someone to have unfettered access to them after his death. The transformation Rowe claims is remarkable - from collectivist to liberal - is actually less so. As Gagnon notes, some of the most virulent critics of Marxism are former Marxists. The more virulent critics of the church are former clerics. The willingness to let history, and others, judge from the original material, now that is astounding for any public figure.

This first volume suggests that the whole story of Pierre Trudeau to come from the Nemni's multi-volume work may prove much more compelling than whatever little Trudeau's supporters - like Rowe at the time - knew of him in 1968.

At the very least, though, an editor should have caught the bits of Bill's column that were a bit too close for comfort to something that appeared in the Globe. After all, we know the editors at the Telly read the Globe's editorial page faithfully. They might have even picked up on the possibility that Bill was riffing without enough information to make a decent column.

Bloggers do that sometimes; it's in the nature of the beast. But we can suck back our gaffes. Once they are in print, though, it's much harder to pull the words back, and that's why God invented editors.

Tim Powers: the importance of focus

On the Monday edition of Mike Duffy's panel of party strategists, the boys were discussing the Conservative policy of not lowering flags on Parliament Hill when Canadian Forces members are killed overseas.

In the middle of the chat, Duffy got word that in addition to the flag policy, the Conservatives were now also preventing media representatives from covering the return of military remains at Base Trenton as they have done in the recent past. That means that when the Airbus arrives from Afghanistan on Tuesday, news media won't be allowed to cover the arrival of the aircraft from inside the base perimeter and to have pictures of the caskets being received.

Then Tim Powers - the Newfoundlander representing the Conservatives - tossed in this nugget:
Absolutely. We know a thing or two about focus which you guys didn't but if I can get back to the issue of what Craig [Oliver] is reporting, I think there's also a matter here of sanctity and privacy which is important to the Prime Minister and I'm sure it's important to the families, and on the issue of the military.

I mean let's not forget to look at what these guys did. A lot of the challenges the military in Canada face in the field are from lack of equipment, lack of resources, and not enough personnel. That all happened on their [the Liberals] watch. I think a lot of this...I think a lot of this is distracting from the real challenges and I think our military are very supportive of our Prime Minister and respect the decisions he made. [Emphasis added]
Pardon me?

Mr. Powers is saying that these four soldiers were killed due to inadequate equipment, shortages of personnel and a general lack of resources. Then he adds that a discussion of proper respect for military deaths is somehow distracting from the real challenges faced by the military. Then he finishes with the flourish that the military are supportive of the prime minister and his decision, presumably about the flag.

It is unconscionable that Mr. Powers would somehow link the deaths of four soldiers in Afghanistan with the Conservative election talking point that the armed forces were starved of needed resources.

There is not a shred of evidence linking this incident with inadequate equipment, scarcity of resources or a shortage of personnel.

Not a jot or a tittle, to use a phrase John Crosbie loves.

To compound his offensive remarks, Mr. Powers then raises the issue of military support for the flag policy. The Canadian Forces, as the dutiful public servants its members are, will adhere to government policy. It is simply irrelevant whether or not the men and women of the Canadian Forces like the flag policy or loathe it. To claim that they support the Prime Minister politicizes the military in a way that is offensive; it is just as offensive for Mr. Powers to have also drawn attention to the fact that the Prime Minister's first overseas trip was to Afghanistan.

Mr. Powers' motivation is partisan, by the context of the remarks, and on both these aspects - the partisan claim about equipment and funding - and the partisan claim of support for the Harper administration by the military reduces not only the four dead soldiers but also the Canadian military to partisan pawns.

Such an approach was loathsome when Jean Chretien did it in 1993 and on subsequent occasions. It is loathsome when Mr. Harper's spokesman does it now.

Mr. Powers' talked of focus.

His focus was obviously, painfully wrong.

Rather than focusing on electioneering and the partisan defence of his party leader, Mr. Powers should have be focusing on the appropriate way of showing national respect for the men and women who each day risk their lives in the service of their country.

We have seen enough of this type posturing south of the border with President George Bush using the men and women of the American armed services as convenient campaign props.

Until now, this was the sort of crassness that Canadians had been spared.

Let us hope that Mr. Powers' remarks are not a sign of yet more tastelessness to come.

24 April 2006

Afghanistan on an April Monday

1. For a poignant memoir of one soldier killed over the weekend, read Christie Blatchford's front-pager in today's Globe and Mail.

2. The Conservative's flag policy is appropriate. Let people mourn in private. The flag doesn't change the grief and pulling the flag up and down the staff - not the mast - will serve to lessen people's sensitivity to it.

3. The new Conservative plan to ban news media from Base Trenton to cover the arrival in Canada of the remains of Canadian soldiers is not appropriate or sensible. If there are concerns about the families having private moments of grief, then there are appropriate limitations that can be placed on what news media can shoot for stills or television.

However, a blanket ban that has the shooters huddled outside the main gate to the base taking pictures of any vehicle that might contain a casket makes for a likely spectacle that is just not fitting.

If the feds are worried about public reaction to our war dead, the feds are ensuring they'll have no influence over how the story gets covered. The Bush policy on this was short-sighted.

4. Meanwhile, as the politicos busily make a mockery of the Afghan mission - Tim Powers' comments on Mike Duffy on Monday are a subject for another - the men and women of the Canadian Forces will be soldiering on.

They'll mourn the dead and then get back to the job of making a difference in the lives of people half a world from home.

"They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old,
Age shall not weary them nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun, and in the morning
We will remember them."

21 April 2006

This is just the one who will say it publicly

One local businessman is saying publicly what many others in the local oil and gas community are thinking or saying privately.
Instead, Hebron is on the shelf and the province will get no benefits at all, Harry Pride notes.

"It destroyed an industry that would give us 20, 25 years work," he said.

"We would have had 3,000 workers here -– they're all going somewhere else. People know that their career is going to be very short here, so now they're all on the Internet looking for a longer career, and they're welcomed like anything out west."

Pride said the province did not consider the repercussions of what would happen if it demanded too much.

Ellsworth big winner in city hall controversy

While former mayor Shannie Duff deserves credit for standing up to bullying mayor Andy Wells, the big winner in the whole controversy is newbie councillor Ron Ellsworth. [That's a RealPlayer link]

His comments on the issue of council operations have been thoughtful, sane and professional. Ellsworth is pushing his colleagues to do their homework before coming to meetings, to address issues not personalities and to stick to their plans like the city budget. He's also been willing to take a stand on issues without having to check to see which way the political wind is blowing.

If Wells doesn't stick around as mayor for any reason, Ellsworth should take a run at the city's top job. Much speculation around town has Ellsworth looking at provincial politics in 2007. There are plenty of good candidates in the St. John's area. Ellsworth's talents are needed to sort out the province's biggest city.

Ellsworth is still young. There's plenty of time for other things.

In the meantime, residents of St. John's will benefit from Ellsworth's common sense approach to governing. Let's hope he doesn't prematurely use his council seat as a springboard to provincial politics.

There's a job at city hall for him to do first.

Wells apologizes...sort of

Faced with overwhelming public condemnation for his bullying behaviour, St. John's mayor Andy Wells decided to apologize publicly to former mayor and current councillor Shannie Duff for remarks he made about her a couple of weeks ago.

Only a couple of days ago, Wells was unrepentant, insisting that politics is a rough game and he will always "call it like he sees it." In this case, calling it meant referring to Duff as "a stupid old woman" and an arrogant snob. Wells has called others "stupid", "moron" and a host of other epithets.

Duff wasn't the first to be on the receiving end of Wells' bully-boy behaviour in Wells' 27 years on city council.

She likely won't be the last. Wells' apology specifically referred to comments that have drawn province-wide condemnation and that have led many to say publicly Wells is unfit to take the position on the offshore oil and gas regulatory board Premier Danny Williams has been pushing Wells for.

According to VOCM.com, Wells said that "he has to take his fair share of responsibility, but that it's not a "one man show" at City Hall."

Note that Wells' never admitted his behaviour was wrong and that he won't do it again.

20 April 2006

Husky will wait on gas development until Williams makes policy clear

Husky Energy chief executive John Lau said on Wednesday that his company is interested in developing 2.3 trillion cubic feet of natural gas offshore Newfoundland but will put its plans on hold until the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador makes development rules clear.
"We will wait until the government spells all the tax issues, the royalty regime, the equity participation, and also the tenure of the leases," he said.
Lau said he is working with the provincial government to clarify the province's position but said the government needs "to look at their policy on how to facilitate employment and keep the people there, and more important, how to facilitate opportunity for business to do business in Newfoundland."

Lau's comments confirm concerns in the Newfoundland and Labrador oil industry that the collapse of talks to develop the Hebron Ben Nevis project will cause other oil companies to review their investment plans in the province.

In a recent interview with CBC television, Premier Danny Williams said that the provincial government will not have a gas royalty regime in place until the end of 2006.

Tenure of existing leases, such as the one held by Husky on the White Rose field has also come into question in light of Premier Williams' recent comments about the need for the province to have the legal power to revoke leases in certain cases.

Key issues in the recent Hebron talks included the province's demand for an equity stake in the multi-billion dollar project - something the companies could not agree on - and a so-called super-royalty tax on oil production based on oil selling for more than $50 per barrel. Neither of these issues was included in the province's basic royalty regime and were added to the Hebron talks by the provincial government once negotiations.

Offshore oil rigs and the terror threat

Rear Admiral Dan McNeil, commander of Joint Task Force Atlantic told a Halifax audience Wednesday that oil and gas production platforms offshore Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador are possible terrorist targets and that Canadian defence and security forces are developing plans to counter the threat.
McNeil said Ottawa has made preparing for such occurrences its top priority, despite the fact there are no perceived threats facing the nine rigs now sitting off Nova Scotia and Newfoundland.

The fear is that if terrorists go after the massive structures, they could cause widespread ecological harm, take many lives, and cost businesses and governments millions in damages and lost revenue.
David Harris, a former chief of strategic planning with the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) described the offshore production operations as "high value" targets for attack. He told Canadian Press that an attack on offshore production would have devastating economic consequences as well as a significant psychological impact.

JTF 2, Canada's military special forces, have conducted exercises on both the country's east and west coasts related to security threats against offshore rigs.

In 2003, JTF 2 conducted exercises in Halifax and Victoria related to shipping and offshore rigs. For eight days in August 1999, JTF 2 soldiers reportedly conducted an exercise on "a Hibernia oil rig" accompanied by members of Britain's Special Boat Service .

19 April 2006

Max Ruelokke: Definitely the right guy for the job

Grab a listen to Max Ruelokke, the designated chairman and chief executive officer of the board that regulates Newfoundland's offshore oil industry and you'll start to see he is the right guy for the job.

Ruelokke was interviewed for CBC Morning Show on Wednesday.

Among his key messages:

1. Ruelokke's appointment is not a recommendation of the Steele committee; it's an appointment in the plain language of the Atlantic Accord (1985).

2. Ruelokke has a letter from the federal minister confirming the appointment.

3. Ruelokke expects that the provincial government will confirm him and that, as good professionals, everyone will shake hands and play nicely together.

4. But Ruelokke's core message was perhaps the most devastating one for the provincial government, the one most likely to persuade them to move this issue forward: Ruelokke's appointment is set out clearly by the Accord. The Accord is the way that the province's offshore is regulated. If one of the two signatories openly flaunts the provisions Accord, that sends a bad signal to the industry.

That's the sort of simple, factual information that lays low any argument put forward as the provincial government stalls on this issue.

It's the kind of simple, sensible guidance you'd expect from a seasoned executive in the public and private sectors.

So let's get on with it already and get Max in the job.

Besides, if Danny just wants Andy involved "in some capacity" as Ed Byrne recently put it in an interview with The Telegram, then let Danny appoint Andy to the open provincial seat on the board. That doesn't require any federal agreement and the seat has been vacant since this whole Andy mess started last year.

Makes you wonder why Danny is hanging up the whole affair when he has had the means to end it at his disposal all along.

18 April 2006

Yack radio: the Newfoundland and Labrador phenomenon

Radio call-in shows are popular in Newfoundland and Labrador in a way that eclipses experience elsewhere in North America and, to a certain extent, defies understanding.

Unlike the conventional talk show format in Canada which they followed more than a decade ago, the three major shows in Newfoundland and Labrador do not feature guests anymore. Instead, callers discuss topics of their own choosing or pick up on topics suggested at the start of the program by the host.

Not so long ago, local talk radio on the commercial network featured everything from psychics to popular Irish music groups to people flogging their books. The whole thing was pure entertainment.

All that changed in 1996 with Brian Tobin. The new Premier started to call in to comment on major issues or to challenge his political opponents. Pretty soon he pushed his cabinet ministers onto the airwaves, followed by his backbenchers.

By the time Roger Grimes replaced Tobin, the government's focus on talk radio as its major communications effort was cemented. Cabinet ministers didn't just call to discuss major government announcements. Political staff were tasked to monitor the shows, organize political supporters to call and prepare talking points - prepared scripts with key messages that had to be used. Sometimes the results were unintentionally funny. On one day a group of planted callers all mentioned their support for Roger Grimes' vision for the province. After a few of these plants sprouted, one of the hosts asked a simple and obvious question: "What is Roger's vision?" They didn't have a reply; it wasn't in the script.

Today Open Line on the commercial network is a major part of provincial government communications. The Grimes approach with dedicated political staff has been expanded to include the government communications staff - the public servants. Equipped with cell phones and ready access to e-mails, government officials will now organize a response to critical callers almost immediately.

Not so very long ago, the sort of organized talk show effort mounted at public expense would only be used during political campaigns and then solely by the political parties. Today, carrying on the trend started with Brian Tobin, the Williams administration applies campaign communications techniques day in and day out.

The commercial talk shows have changed in response to the audience. Gone are the planned guests, the last gizmo pitchman and the Australian hypnotist. Where once there was one and then two programs there are three, occupying among them about eight hours of any day, everyday except Saturday.

The whole approach - government ministers calling talk shows - is so commonplace that while once a cabinet minister or the premier could call and get on the air right away, these days they are put on hold just like everyone else. And just like everyone else, they can wait there for three quarters of an hour or more for their turn to chat with the host.

Riffing on the call letters of the main commercial radio station - VOCM - one wag christened the whole thing voice of the cabinet minister where 20 years earlier the Open Line show host boasted it stood for voice of the common man.

On the surface, the situation looks egalitarian. Callers decide what gets talked about. The Premier of the province takes the time to call in and respond to this or that ordinary citizen or to explain the government's position on a major event without going through the filter of a reporter.

On the face of it, it looks like ordinary Newfoundlanders and Labradorians are not just on the same level as their elected leaders, they appear to be able to drive government action. A complaint about a dangerous intersection on a highway in eastern Newfoundland can get an intergovernmental affairs minister away from his other work to express his concern about the situation and assure everyone that something is being done.

Look a little deeper and the perspective changes a bit.

Government political communications of this type are aimed at influencing the opinion environment. Callers are organized to say the same or very similar things to give the appearance that the government enjoys widespread support. It's a psychological thing; people tend to conform to what they perceive as the majority view. Just think about it this way: how many people could you find on October 23rd - one day after the last provincial general election - who would admit they voted for Roger Grimes?

Repetition isn't enough. What gets repeated is important as well. That's the message - the main idea, expressed in simple language, that you want people to remember. The most common message of the Williams administration - whether it is Abitibi, Exxon or Paul Martin is that mainlanders are trying to rip us off and Danny Williams is putting a stop to it. There are all sorts of variations on the theme, but it all boils down to the same point.

That isn't a very complex idea, so it is easy to grasp. Talk to someone about the inner workings of federal-provincial fiscal relations and the distribution of offshore oil and gas revenues and you'll watch people fall asleep. Tell them Ottawa is shagging us - yet again - and that Danny is defending us and you will see their eyes come to life.

There's another part of the core message: it fits not only with the instinctive pride of Newfoundlanders in their identity, the whole victim interpretation has been pounded so relentlessly by some politicians for so long that it has become part of the local popular culture. Just mention "Upper Churchill" and instinctively people know the code word for "give-away".

Anyone who has listened to Open Line shows over the long haul will recognize that philosophy - call it the "pimple on the arse" school of Newfoundland history. Think about it for a second and you'll see that some of the most persistent callers reinforce the same core message, time after time.

This is not to say there are not other messages on other issues, but even those are complimentary. The province was in a financial mess. Danny Williams fixed it. The province was lost and without pride. Now we have it back, thanks to Danny Williams.

That message of pride is not the sort of thing that springs fullformed from the lips of people most of us run into on a daily basis at the local grocery store, Wal-Mart or over a cup of Tim's; but it's the main part of this year's throne speech and, curiously enough, the observation of a caller on Easter Monday who backed the Premier on the Hebron issue solely because it is a matter of pride. Hebron hasn't been a big topic on any of the call-in shows but that caller claimed the issue just wouldn't go away.

One can get into a chicken and egg relationship here. But if one understands the extent to which government political communications since 1996 has been driven by public opinion polling and it becomes clear that the whole package is designed to align government with familiar - primarily emotional - responses and to reinforce those responses.

That isn't to say that other ideas don't come up with Randy, Bill or Linda. Of course, they do. But when it comes to issues in which government is very concerned, they are organized to use radio call-in shows as a major way of getting their point across.

Sometimes it seems like the only way. Telegram managing editor Russell Wangersky related a story to CBC television recently about trying to get a telephone interview with the Premier. According to the Premier's staff, The Boss wasn't available. Yet he managed to call every single radio talk show that same day.

There are advantages for government to this approach as well. In being interviewed by a reporter, there is the chance the reporter can come prepared with questions - sometimes hard questions - that expose subtle nuances or major aspects of an issue that doesn't fit the government agenda. on a radio call-in show the politicians get to say what they want. The host is unprepared and even a newsroom veteran like Randy Simms often has a limited background knowledge of a subject to be able to penetrate beyond the prepared talking points the Premier or any other politician wants to deliver.

With CBC radio or television, the Telegram or NTV, the politician's interview becomes just part of an overall story in which the reporter's perspective on the whole story doesn't follow the government point of view. VOCM's emphasis on spot news, as legitimate an approach as that is, makes it all the more open to manipulation. If a minister makes an announcement on the air with Bill Rowe and it is guaranteed to be repeated throughout the day and maybe into the next, virtually unedited.

It's true that other media can be managed in a similar way. In the 1999 general election, Brian Tobin set the time to announce the election to coincide with both supper hour news casts. He got more than 13 minutes of uninterrupted time to send his election messages to as wide an audience he could on as influential a medium as he could get.

But that was an election. Talk radio is six days a week.

Aside from the 2004 offshore revenue fight with Ottawa, one of the best recent examples of the power of talk radio and message management is the coincidental timing of the Costco seal capsules story and the collapse of the Hebron talks. The Telegram carried a story on Friday March 31 claiming that Costco has pulled seal oil capsules from its shelves in response to pressure from anti-sealing activists. Oddly enough, that story turned out to be wrong. Dead wrong and for the Telegram, it was strange for a story to appear without having been subjected to simple fact checking.

The story developed legs when Randy Simms introduced it as a topic for his program at 9:00 AM. So intense was the popular reaction that before close of business, the Premier's Office issued a news release expressing the provincial government's disappointment with the supposed Costco decision and committing to gain a meeting for the deputy premier with Costco management.

As we learned subsequently, the Premier knew at that point that the Hebron talks were in jeopardy if not dead altogether.

On Monday morning, the Hebron partners announced that they were shelving the project. The Premier and his energy minister scrummed with local media. There was no written statement. Nor did the Premier make a ministerial statement in the legislature that afternoon even though such a public comment would be considered almost mandatory considering the collapse of talks about a deal worth about $15 billion to the local treasury and economy.

Curiously enough, though, there were virtually no callers to local radio shows that afternoon or evening. Bill Rowe, host of the afternoon show Back Talk, didn't mention the Hebron story as a possible topic. In fact, and astonishingly, there was no mention of Hebron at all until 45 minutes into the show. Even then a lone caller mentioned his support for the Premier in passing before going on to talk about another topic.

Had the provincial government wanted to deploy its message troops to reinforce the Premier's blaming ExxonMobil for the fiasco, it would have done so as easily as it has on previous occasions. Instead, there was an almost deafening silence. Except for the handful of callers who criticized the odd caller raising questions about the deal's collapse, Hebron was almost invisible on the radio talk shows.

Costco's decision to remove seal oil capsules, on the other hand, was everywhere. No accident that the core messages on seals were about pride, tradition and fighting the anti-seal hunt protesters and their lies, as Danny Williams has done consistently since early March. Hebron, which raised potential questions about the Premier's approach and might stir widespread political opposition from the government's business supporters, was tamped down.

A great deal has changed in Newfoundland and Labrador talk radio over the past 10 years. It isn't simple entertainment. It isn't the electronic version of Speaker's Corner in Hyde Park.

It also isn't a sinister plot aimed at mind control.

Rather it is perceived by some people responsible for government communications as being an effective vehicle for managing information flows, dominating the opinion environment and keeping public support for government as high as possible.

It is the epitome of what one wit referred to as Tobin's political philosophy: an announcement a week and a good poll.

But as Tobin himself set the trend, the package now includes regular calls to Bill, randy and Linda.

Goin' off road

Clark: Despite all the little problems it's fun isn't it?
Ellen Griswold: No. But with every new day there's fresh hope.
Take a look at the Tuesday editorial in The Telegram - "Danny vs. Goliath" - and you'll see the province's major daily newspaper decide to take a trip off the information highway and head straight into the boonies on the Hebron fiasco.

It's a bit like a scene from National Lampoon's Vacation, the first and funniest of the big studio movies written by the people who put together the popular counter-culture humour magazine of the 1970s and 1980s. Taking the family to Walley World in their brand new Family Truckster, patriarch Clark Griswold gets distracted and sends the car careening off the highway and into the Arizona desert.

The target of the editorial is ExxonMobil, the largest company in the world, which the Telly-torialist notes is in disputes with countries around the world over oil resources. The countries? Venezuela, Indonesia and Russia. They add a little tidbit of information that Exxon's retiring chief executive officer will get a retirement package valued at US$398 million. The Telly tells us that in Canadian dollars that amount is half the cost of supplying medical service to the province. Then they segue to an article from yesterday's Globe and Mail which the Telly dismisses as being "laudatory" of the oil giant, Exxon.

As with the Telegram's weekend editorial, it's worth going back and taking a look at what the Globe actually printed on its pages. What's there is the corporate strategy that has made Exxon the biggest of big companies. What's there is a pretty good insight into how one of the players in the failed Hebron project looks at the world and it's from that insight that we can get a wholely different picture than the one the Telegram puts across the windscreen of our local Family Truckster.
"The disciplined approach to pursuing and selecting the most attractive investment opportunities continues to distinguish ExxonMobil," [outgoing Exxon CEO Rex] Tillerson told analysts in New York last month. "We are long-term driven, and we're patient. And we're not opportunity constrained."
The focus is clearly on the most attractive investment opportunities - that means in simplest terms that Exxon is in business to make money and the current company leadership will look at global opportunities for the right place to invest its cash.

As much a penetrating insight into the flippin' obvious (PIFO) as those comments are, it's worth bearing in mind that Exxon is in business to deliver the maximum profit to its shareholders. Expect a hard bargain to be driven. Expect the company to want to make every project profitable in order to attract their capital. Expect them to at least ask for tax concessions - no one said Danny had to agree to them.

For another PIFO, take the reminder that capital is highly mobile these days. It isn't that companies write their own rules in the facile conclusion of the Telegram's editorialist. Rather, companies are doing what they do - make money - by putting their cash into the place where it gets the best return. And, as the Globe notes, there are more oil and gas development projects out there than ExxonMobil and the other oil companies can develop at one time. Competition is fierce.

And if there wasn't enough useful but obvious information in that small quote, remember that oil is a capital intense business. It takes deep pockets to find and develop oil, deep pockets the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador just doesn't have. They want our oil and we need their capital to develop our oil. Somewhere in there is a balance that works to the advantage of all. The same situation exists in places like Venezuela and while there is a hot dispute right now between its president and international oil companies, at some point that situation will change.

Flip down a bit further and one can see another relevant part of Exxon's strategy. Oil prices may be high now, but as in the 1980s that can change quickly.
"There is really no explanation for why oil trades where it does today at these prices," Mr. Tillerson said in a recent speech. "If you look to the long term, our view is that supply and demand fundamentals are going to return to levels that are reflective of prices that are more in line with historic prices than today."

As a result, Exxon is not opening the spigots to throw money at resource development.
Oil prices are high today. But they are likely to be lower tomorrow. The provincial government would do well to bear that in mind both on the Hebron file and on its own financial planning. It's not like we haven't been laid low in the past as our grandiose dreams of perpetual high oil prices met the harsh reality of the marketplace.

Take all of the Globe's piece and one finds some food for serious thought, not the sort of apology for Big Oil the Telegram editorialist seems to think.

What's most interesting about the Telly editorial, though is not its sarcasm about Big Oil and the Big Money that goes with it.

Rather, it's curious that the Telegram's editorial matches perfectly with Danny Williams' talking points on the Hebron file, right down to the "Danny vs. Goliath" headline.

This issue is supposedly about the Premier taking on an external demon, full of cash, that is bent on milking poor victim Newfoundland and Labrador. "Who will fight for you?" as his old law firm slogan used to ask. Danny will.

The Telegram also picks up the Premier's line on Exxon's giant profits and the richness of its executive pay schemes, as if that really had anything to do with the Hebron deal. Sure it's something the Premier and his supporters have tossed out but that really isn't the point: even if Exxon had bent on equity - as the premier originally contended they had done - or dropped their request for a tax concession that is small against the size of the Hebron project, the company would still be able to fork over hundreds of millions in executive pay to the people who helped make the company as successful as it is.

What the Premier has been doing since the Hebron deal collapsed is spread a mixture of miniscule nuggets of information and much in the way of distraction. The goal is to avoid having to answer publicly the sorts of questions people like Telegram reporters might normally put to him - if he returned their calls. The goal is to dominate the domestic information landscape such that no one can or will question what happened on the Hebron file. The strategy works: The Telegram has even admonished us to support the Premier unquestioningly, to "dance with the one what brung us".

Why the Telegram editorialist decided to back the Premier early on - long before details of the failed deal became public - and continues to do so without question will have to remain a mystery.

All that can be said with some certainty is that on our collective trip to Walley World, the Telegram is happy as we leave the information highway and go off road.

At least Ellen was skeptical of Clark's driving skills once in a while.

17 April 2006

Harold Horwood, 1923-2006

Newfoundland and Labrador author Harold Horwood passed away today at his home in Nova Scotia.

Horwood was born in St. John's, November 2, 1923. A former union organizer, Horwood became involved in the Confederate movement in Newfoundland during the National Convention (1946-1948). He was elected to the House of Assembly in 1949 but left politics in 1952 to take up writing full time. He penned a column, "Political Notebook" in The Evening Telegram and later served as the paper's editor.

Horwood's first published novel, Tomorrow will be Sunday, is widely regarded as one of the best works of fiction by a local author. He was the author of at least 25 works of fiction and non-fiction. In 1989, Horwood wrote a biography former premier Joe Smallwood and later published a collection of poetry by Gregory Power, another former colleague of Horwood's in both the Confederate movement and the House of Assembly. A walk in the dream time: growing up in old St. John's (1997) was Horwood's memoir of his life growing up in Newfoundland's capitol during the 1930s and 1940s.

One of his last interviews was with Stephanie Porter. As always, Porter's article is fine writing in its own right, capturing the career and character of Horwood in old age.

Horwood was one of the founders of the Writers' Alliance of Canada and served as writer-in-residence at the universities of Western Ontario and Waterloo.

Would harassment weigh against Wells' appointment to offshore board?

Despite a decision by the Steele panel and the subsequent agreement with it by the Government of Canada, the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador continues to push St. John's mayor Andy Wells as the best candidate to take on the job of chairman of the board that regulates the offshore oil and gas industry in the province.

Consider too that Wells is known to resort to a variety of abusive behaviours, as detailed in a recent story in The Telegram. Wells is quoted as referring to councillor and former mayor Shannie Duff as an arrogant snob and "a stupid old woman." The latter comment was made in front of councillors, staff and a consultant hired by city council.

According to the Telegram story:
Just in recent months, Wells has used words such as scoundrels, crooks, shameless, despicable, dumb, clowns, cowards and hypocrites to describe other members of council.

During a recent debate with Ward 4 Coun[cillor] Ron Ellsworth over city spending, Wells said the rookie councillor was "cracked."

Columnists and commentators have described Wells as abrasive, arrogant, bull-headed and overbearing, and his style of passionate debate often involves shouts and insults.
The offshore board is a joint federal-provincial agency. Just for curiosity sake, take a trip over to the federal treasury board site dealing with harassment in the federal public service.

Under federal policy, harassment is defined as any
"conduct by an individual, that is directed at and offensive to another person or persons in the workplace, and that the individual knew or ought reasonably to have known would cause offence or harm. It comprises any objectionable act, comment or display that demeans, belittles, or causes personal humiliation or embarrassment, and any act of intimidation or threat. It includes harassment within the meaning of the Canadian Human Rights Act."
That pretty much covers Wells' behaviour noted above. As the federal policy states: "Harassment affects workplace and individual well-being and will not be tolerated."

Government of Newfoundland and Labrador policy is similar. The 2001 Personal Harassment policy states, in part,:
All employees of the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador are entitled to pursue their duties in a respectful workplace. It is crucial that everyone, regardless of role or position in the organization conduct themselves in a respectful manner in the workplace.

The Employer will strive to create and maintain a work environment free from harassment and discrimination by the Employer, an agent of the employer, or by other employees. No form of harassment will be tolerated by the Employer. Where harassment has been determined to have occurred, disciplinary action, up to and including dismissal will be taken.

The Employer will also encourage and provide a means through which employees can seek resolution to harassing and/or discriminatory behaviour.
Under those circumstances, it is difficult to understand why the Williams administration continues to promote Wells as the ideal candidate to take responsibility for a major federal-provincial organization when his established pattern of behaviour so clearly violates both federal and provincial policies to combat harassment in the workplace.

Were Wells to have altered his behaviour in the past, this issue might not be so important a consideration. However, Wells' most recent outbursts are part of a pattern which has shown no signs of abating over a number of years.

The issue of Andy Wells' behaviour toward people he comes into contact with in the workplace is likely to have an adverse impact on whatever potential is left in his being appointed to the offshore regulatory board. Don't count on the federal government giving in to pressure from the provincial government on Andy Wells if they can reasonably expect administrative headaches to follow. The headlines in the Globe, the Citizen and the Post would not be pretty for a minority government.

If nothing else, were Wells to be appointed, it wouldn't be too much of a surprise if there were a series of harassment complaints filed shortly afterward, that is if a host of offshore board staff didn't just hand in their resignations and take more lucrative jobs in the private sector.

Wells might be able to get away with abusive behaviour at City Hall.

In the rest of the world, his actions just wouldn't be tolerated.

She deserved it?

Buried in the Telegram story about Shannie Duff finally speaking out against the personal abuse she has suffered at the hands of Mayor Andy Wells are these comments from unidentified councillors:
One councillor suggested Duff "sometimes brings it on herself," but added that Wells often crosses the line in his treatment of councillors.

One councillor wouldn'’t go so far as to characterize Wells' behaviour as harassment, but said he is "abusive."
We have to take it that these two comments come from different councillors.

But here's the thing: we now understand why Wells has been able to bully just about everyone in sight and get away with it time and time again for his entire time on council.

There are at least two councillors who either lack a functioning moral compass or lack the coglioni to be able to stand up to the reprehensible behaviour of our not-so-beloved mayor and help put a stop to it.

In what bizarre universe is "abuse" - either linguistic or physical - not considered harassment and something that should be stopped immediately, without further debate?

As for the other comment quoted above, one can only wonder in what dark place of the soul that councillor has been lurking for the past 30 years to say that, in effect, whatever abuse Shannie Duff has been suffering she somehow deserved it.


That's like the cops a half century ago who would respond to a domestic dispute and likely then tell the battered woman that if she hadn't pissed her husband off he wouldn't have had to give her a black eye and throw her down the stairs.

"Honey, ya brought it on yourself. Now be a good girl and don't give him an excuse to slap you around."

If there is any right left in the world, we will see the start of a public outcry against Andy Wells and his Neanderthal behaviour toward others. Maybe, just maybe, we can put a stop to his appalling behaviour. While we are at, let's also sort out the two councillors quoted above.

The best solution in this instance would be for Wells and his two supporters quoted above to hand in their resignations.

At the very least, the pair should put their names behind their comments so voters can know who they are.

That's a naive wish, of course.

If either had a cojone between them - let alone an ounce of common sense - Wells would have been out of business a long while ago.

Former cabinet minister dies tragically

vocm.com is reporting that former cabinet minister Rick Warford died over the weekend, apparently in a canoeing accident.

The bodies of Woodford and an unidentified woman companion were recovered from Birchy Lake yesterday. Autopsies are being performed to determine cause of death. The couple were reported overdue on Sunday afternoon and police began a search.

Woodford was first elected to the House of Assembly in 1985 as a Progressive Conservative. A former dairy farmer and sawmill operator in Cormack, Woodford was appointed minister of rural, agricultural and northern development in the short-lived administration of Tom Rideout.

Re-elected in 1989, 1993, 1996 and 1999, Woodford crossed the floor in 1996 to join Brian Tobin's Liberal administration. Woodford served as minister of works, services and transportation and later minister of forest resources and agriculture until 2003. He did not seek re-election in 2003.

Avoiding ruts on the information highway

On April 8, Telegram managing editor Russell Wangersky warned that the Internet is a valuable tool but one for which we collectively need to develop a way of separating valuable information from the mounds of inaccurate or wrong information contained on its electronic pages.

This is not a new issue and to those who use the Internet regularly, the warning contained in Wangersky's column rears its head daily.

Of course, the Internet was originally called the information superhighway reflecting the speed with which information - good and bad - can be spread. Humans have always had an information pathway of some kind and in the last century the arrival of first radio and later television news created a true information highway that matched the growth of automobile highways across the developed world.

Sophisticated information users - people who look to print and electronic media for information - have always known they need to be careful of what they see. Not all information in all media is accurate; sometimes it is completely false. Those sophisticated travelers developed their own ways of figuring out which media could be relied upon to portray the world around us accurately while others, either through carelessness or conscious manipulation, were closer to fiction than not.

In Newfoundland and Labrador lately, we have been well served by professional news organizations on our own information highways. Even while some short-lived publications have often resembled a cow path that ended in the rubbish tip of myth, outfits like the Telegram continue to pump out both factual information and commentary that is reliable and provocative, as need be.

That's why it is so odd that the Telegram editorial on Saturday April 15 seems to have gotten stuck in a rut of misperception and delivered its readers straight into a virtual pothole that makes Dotties Potties or Andy's Canyons look small in comparison.

"Globe puts us in our place - again" argues against an editorial in the Globe and Mail from the previous Thursday. According to the Telegram
[t]he overriding tone of almost all the criticism of Williams has taken the same general theme - that the premier who used a federal Liberal minority government to get a new resources deal is now just too big for his eastern britches.

The argument, unfortunately, is that Williams has no right to refuse to knuckle under in negotiations, and that he has no right to suggest that businesses should not be allowed to hold onto a public resource indefinitely, just because they aren't getting the deal they want.
The Telegram concludes:
But the endless argument that the government of a weak province has no right to stand up for itself wears particularly thin, especially coming from centrist media in a province whose huge economy has always ridden roughshod over its poorer cousins.

"Why, this is not how we do business," the Globe seems to want to harrumph.
That isn't what the Globe was talking about.

There was no suggestion anywhere in the Globe editorial that in negotiating Hebron, "Williams has gotten too uppity for his own good." That's the Telegram's interpretation and it seems to come from the rut of a mindset that has seen the Telegram backing the Premier wholeheartedly on this issue without actually knowing most of the details of the Hebron negotiation or even subjecting the Premier's comments to even the briefest of scrutiny.

What the Globe did note is that while Williams has a well-deserved reputation for fighting for what he believes in, including during his celebrated row with Paul Martin a year or so ago. But:
[h]aving ridden that particular horse to victory so many times before, Mr. Williams couldn't seem to resist saddling up and galloping into battle with the oil companies, too. ... The only problem, of course, is that Ottawa can't walk away from Newfoundland, while Chevron and its partners can, and apparently are.
The Globe editorialist makes the valid observation that by ramping up the rhetoric about forcing companies to develop fields, by talking about finding various ways to take a company out of a legitimate negotiation with government for nothing more than bargaining forcefully, "a response like the one from Mr. Williams (or Mr. Chavez) is almost certain to push a project down the list [of projects to be developed], if not off it completely."

"Wanting a fair share of the province's resources is a laudable goal. It would be a shame to see that put at risk because the Premier doesn't know when to climb down off his horse."

Perhaps the Globe's point was a bit too subtle for the Telegram editorialist to pick up. Perhaps he or she was looking for yet another Crosbie-esque warning against hand-biting of the kind we saw in 1990. That rut led to a completely erroneous set of comments and an equally faulty conclusion.

Don't just accept what is written here or in the Telegram, by the way; read the Globe editorial for oneself in its entirety and see the clear warning that this time, Premier Williams rhetoric may be entirely the wrong approach.

If we are to take Premier Williams' comments at face value he is prepared to leave a project undeveloped for a prize - the equity stake - that contained limited management rights and a cash value of only about 10% of the total value of the Hebron development to the provincial treasury and the province's oil and gas industry.

At the same time, the Premier insists that he is not prepared to leave the project undeveloped and is busily exploring all sorts of options to force the project into development on his own terms. He is actively pursuing purchase of ExxonMobil's 38% interest in the project, for example, either by the other Hebron partners or by the provincial government itself. Williams hasn't talked about taking over the project entirely but his remarks can easily be seen as being as close to that conclusion as one might get. After all, in another context he continues to pursue the Lower Churchill and appears prepared to "go it alone" there as well on a project the construction costs for which could be double the cost of putting Hebron into production.

Stuck in its perceptual rut, the Telegram misses a few couple of important questions of public policy brought to light by the Hebron failure. For starters, we might ask to see the plan on which the Premier's goal of transforming the hydro corporation into an oil and gas company is based. He has talked about this idea consistently since taking office yet going on three years later there is not a single policy document in the public domain that outlines the goals as well as the costs and the risks. It is public money in play here and public resources. Surely we have a right to know what is up. If nothing else, we surely have a right to know exactly why it was so important for the premier to have an equity stake that he was prepared to turn his back on a project worth 10 times what his equity position would have yielded.

Second, we might ask if having the provincial government invest in the capital-intensive oil and gas business is actually the best way to spend scarce public dollars. Our public debt remains at around $10 billion. While the Premier has speculated in the Financial Post he might be able to borrow money at good interest rates, this surely involves a level of risk about which the public has a right to be informed and about which its approval should be sought.

If oil revenues from the existing projects dwindle in five or so years, as some are predicting, it may be folly to borrow further billions - even at favourable interest rates - to spend on exploration or the development of a complex and challenging project like Hebron. The potential rewards are great, but as the Globe pointed out and the Telegram ignored, the risks are high as well.

Oil companies drill wells - offshore Newfoundland at a cost of $100 million a shot - without a guarantee of finding anything, let alone find oil or gas in commercially viable quantities. Even when they do find oil, as at Hebron-Ben Nevis, the oil may be commercially unviable. Some may speak of the companies sitting on this field for the better part of a quarter century; what they seem too willing to ignore is that for much of that time, the complexity of the fields and the relatively low price for oil rendered the project commercially non-viable.

Oil prices are projected to rise today, as they were when Hebron was discovered, but as we saw two decades ago, markets can change downward as easily as upward. For a province like Newfoundland and Labrador, its own financial position may make such high stakes gambling as offshore exploration and development completely foolish.

The Globe pointed to the Come by Chance refinery as an example of a supposedly good idea that wound up being a disaster. Heralded as another economic saviour of the province, complete with extensive public guarantees, the refinery ended up as one of the most spectacular bankruptcies in Canadian history. The refinery may be operating today - as the Telegram notes - but it might just as easily wound up as scrap metal; more to the point though, a goodly chunk of the $10 billion we carry on our collective books today came from that earlier fiasco. Not all risks pay off with the reward expected.

There are plenty of ruts along the information highway. Sometimes they appear in the most unlikely of places, in this instance, the Telegram's editorial page. Fortunately, there are more sources of information these days than its pages alone. Information seekers can take a look; they might just see the signs along the highway warning of danger ahead even if another traveler has his windscreen obscured.

16 April 2006

Newfoundland and Labrador Reading List

For those who might wish to gain a better understanding of Newfoundland and Labrador, its history and people, following are some suggested readings.

There is no particular order to the list and by no means is this first list an exhaustive compilation of basic books. It contains some 20th century history, particularly on the period up to and including confederation with Canada.

Added explanation: ***It would be easy to simply copy a list of every book out there and come up with 30 or more "recommendations". What follows is a list of readable works on specific topics that would give a reader unfamiliar with Newfoundland and Labrador a reliable overview of the place, its people and its history.

You will see the controversies, where they exist, but overall the histories cover the issue thoroughly and professionally. Check Responsible Government Leagues' list and you will find a great many books by anti-Confederates. Anyone wishing to delve into the anti-Confederate movement and its philosophy will be well-served by RGL's list. If one is looking for reliable accounts ,based on solid research, by someone without an axe to grind, then a book like Bren Walsh's More than a poor majority is not the way to go.

Similarly, John Crosbie's No holds barred is a heavily edited book that leaves out much of the detail and in its place substitutes precious little of substance. There is absolutely no discussion of the Atlantic Accord (1985), for example, and in the section on the Upper Churchill, Crosbie's comments are so sparse one would have difficulty appreciating the issues involved let alone his motivation in advocating the public purchase of a major load of debt. Throughout there are too many references to provincial politicians from Newfoundland and Labrador who, in Crosbie's opinion tried too often to "bite the hand that fed them".

Crosbie's book is more self-serving than most memoirs; it is therefore left off the list as is Brian Tobin's ultra-light weight All in good time. Tobin's ghost-written book contains little useful information. It also contains many fundamental errors; Tobin's researcher apparently could not figure out the correct name of people with whom Tobin worked closely. The book is also missing several important events. So bad were the omissions that when the book first appeared in time for the Christmas rush, CBC Radio held a contest for listeners to submit the titles of missing chapters. My entry was "Over the transom and under the door: a brown-envelope apprenticeship with Bill Rowe." Tens of thousands of copies wound up in the remainder bin at five bucks, except on the mainland where the same people that find Royal Canadian Air Farce "humourous" also found Tobin's error riddled cash grab "insightful".***

Over time, I will toss up some additions to this list.

Suggested additions are welcome, although not all will make it.

Newfoundland and Labrador Reading List

1. Peter Neary, Newfoundland in the North Atlantic World, 1929-1949.

From the Indigo blurb:
Tackling an overlooked period of Newfoundland history, Peter Neary examines the Commission of Government in Newfoundland from 1934 to 1949. Summarizing major developments before 1929, Neary recounts the chaos leading to the end of responsible self-government and establishment of the British-appointed commission. He details and evaluates the commission's major policies during hard times in the 1930s, the war boom and post-war adjustment. Newfoundland in the North Atlantic World also evaluates the 1949 decision to join Canada in light of developments during the commission's rule.
2. G.M. Story et al., editors, Dictionary of Newfoundland English.

3. Raymond Blake, Canadians at last: Canada integrates Newfoundland as a province.

From the publisher's blurb:
History provides some interesting case studies of what happens when trade barriers come down. Among them is the story told in this book of Newfoundland'Â’s integration into Canada in the aftermath of the province'Â’s 1948 referendum. Raymond B. Blake takes a refreshing approach to this episode in Canadian history, avoiding the old shibboleths of conspiracy and local nationalism, and instead making a down-to-earth study of economic and political events.

Canadians at Last explores the efforts of the many Canadians and Newfoundlanders who tried to make Confederation work. Blake argues that Canada wanted union, to remove any uncertainty in its dealings with Newfoundland over civil aviation, defence, and trade. Newfoundland opted for union largely because Canada'Â’s burgeoning social welfare system promised a more secure existence. Investigating the complex problems they encountered, Blake details changes in trade, fishing, and manufacturing and in the political process in Newfoundland. He also looks at the introduction and impact of social programs, and the terms of the US military presence there. Finally, he demonstrates that by 1957 Newfoundland'Â’s integration into Canada was essentially complete; it was being treated the same as the other provinces, subject to the terms of union.

By beginning with the 1949 Confederation rather than the activities leading up to it, and by thoroughly documenting areas of agreement, contention, and neglect, Blake writes a solid, contemporary history of Newfoundland'Â’s integration into Canada. Virtually the only complete academic treatment of this subject, Canadians at Last offers much basic information that so far has not been made available.
4. Gene Long, Suspended state. Long, a former New Democrat member of the provincial legislature examines the collapse of responsible government in 1933/34. This a short, accessible account of a subject which continues to be controversial over 60 years later. [Personal note: The cover photo (left) is a famous picture of the public riot at the Colonial Building in 1932. The man wearing the sousaphone at the centre front of the picture is one of my paternal great-grandfathers. Some of his sons, my great-uncles, also played in the Methodist Guards band which provided music at the riot.]

5. James Hiller and Michael Harrington, editors, Newfoundland National Convention, 1946-1949. In two volumes, this consists of the debates and papers of the national convention that preceded the famous referenda on Newfoundland's political future.

6. David Facey-Crowther, Lieutenant Owen William Steele of the Newfoundland Regiment. Facey-Crowther, a professor of history at Memorial University has edited the diary of a young infantry officer killed at the Battle of the Somme, 1916. Steele was a member of the Newfoundland Regiment, later the Royal Newfoundland Regiment, the Dominion's military contribution to the allied war effort in the World War, 1914-1918.

This volume includes an introductory essay by Facey-Crowther which places Steele's diary and letters in a wider context.

While the tragedy of the first day of the Somme offensive is widely known, the Great War produced lasting changes in Newfoundland society and politics which reverberate to this day.

7. Claire Hoy, Clyde Wells: a political biography. Until Wells' memoir appears, this remains the only concise book on Wells up to the early 1990s. It suffers from a number of shortcomings but remains a readable introduction to one of the more important political leaders in Newfoundland and Labrador's history. [Spare the e-mails. I am entitled to my bias on this one.] For those interested in the Meech Lake Accord, read Hoy along with Deborah Coyne's Roll of the dice.

8. J.D. [Doug] House. Against the tide: battling for economic renewal in Newfoundland and Labrador. House chaired an economic development commission under Brian Peckford and later headed the Economic Recovery Commission under Clyde Wells.

9. Philip Smith, Brinco: the story of Churchill Falls. More people should read this if for no other reason than to dispel the mythology which has grown up since the provincial government purchased the company in the early 1970s. It remains the only history of the Upper Churchill project to date. Undoubtedly someone will provide more of the story in due course.

Update I:

10. S.J.R. [Sid] Noel, Politics in Newfoundland. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1971. An elderly survey of Newfoundland politics from earliest colonial times to 1971, but still useful.

11. Ingeborg Marshall. An history and ethnography of the Beothuck. The only reliable account of the history of the aboriginal inhabitants of the island of Newfoundland.