31 August 2006

Beowulf it ain't

From vocm.com comes this update on the Saga of Danny Clench Jaw and Tom Shakey-Legs as they voyage eastward across the ocean from Vinland to Iceland, ancestral homeland of the Norsefoundlanders:
Given what he has seen so far, Williams says the possibilities for Newfoundland and Labrador are endless. He says Iceland is an island on the edge of the Arctic Circle and if it can be done there, it certainly can be done in this province. Williams says he'll be taking a close look at Iceland's energy model. Williams and Rideout are also visiting Norway for meetings with government officials and Norsk Hydro.
Now right off the bat, da byes are supposed to be heading back tomorrow so if they are actually still in Iceland they are gonna have to get a push on.

But anyway, if this little story is right Danny Williams is going to look at how Iceland generates energy since "if it can be done there, it can certainly be done in" Newfoundland and Labrador.

Minor problem.

Iceland happens to sit on some pretty special geological real estate such that they country has active hotsprings and a volcano that's been known to erupt every so often. 87% of the country's heating needs are supplied by geothermal energy. That's heat from the Earth to you and me.

So of course, not everything done there can be done here.

Clint Eastwood is shooting a movie based on the American invasion of Iwo Jima in the Second World War. He's going to Iceland because it is cheaper and easier to reach than Iwo and it just happens to have volcanic soil that looks a lot like the soil in Iwo.

Checking the map, we see no record of a volcano in Newfoundland or Labrador in recent times although we have had a couple of politicians with volcanic tempers.

Not the same thing.

Sadly it seems that as Clench Jaw and Shakey-Legs wander the eastern seas in search of political Valhalla, they are becalmed in the Sea of Hyperbole.

Perhaps they'll have better luck in Norway as the Saga continues.

[At right, Tom Shakey Legs models a traditional Norsefoundland helmet for his Icelandic breathren.]

He did the right thing

From Aurora Energy late yesterday comes the terse announcementt that Dean MacDonald resigned from the company's board about 48 hours after he took up the appointment.

You'll find the reasons for the resignation in Moira Baird's story on the front page of the business section in today's Telegram.

After a length claim about Hydro's extensive protections against conflict of interest, MacDonald said this:
"But, just on the basis there might be perceived issues, it's just not worth the hassle."
Later in the story, MacDonald is quoted again:
"Usually, everything that comes at me is a conflict and I have to turn it down. This one, I thought, was clean."
There were three potential conflicts or appearances of conflict in the appointment and these should have been blatantly obvious from the outset. At the very least, Aurora would have been coming to MacDonald's Hydro corporation to secure power in the event its uranium deposits are developed commercially.

Of course, if MacDonald had thought the thing through and concluded there was no conflict, he'd have stuck it out. Evidently someone saw it differently.

MacDonald can rest assured he has done the right thing by resigning. Now he can focus his energy on the Lower Churchill.

The media and the message

[This is the second of a three part series looking at public opinion polling and provincial government media relations. In the first installment - Playing the numbers - we looked at the broad issue of news releases output and content. In the second, we'll look at the media relations activity for the provincial government. In the last installment - The perils of polling - we'll pull the whole thing together and take a look at why government does what it does.]

All those news releases issued by government contain messages it wants you to receive. The messages are usually simple: All is well; there's a new school or hospital; another problem has been solved; the Premier is doing a marvelous job.

Simple messages are easier to retain and when they touch on strong emotions they are even more potent. It's no accident, for example, that in tackling the federal government over a few billion dollars in additional transfer payments, Danny Williams kept his core message simple: I am fighting for you to get what is rightfully yours; untrustworthy foreigners are trying to rob us once again.

Details were irrelevant and ultimately distracting from Williams' purpose. He simply wanted overwhelming popular support. Framing the entire discussion in strongly emotional terms designed to play on popular images of a province looted by evil foreigners ensured that he would command unquestioned and unquestioning support from virtually everyone in the province.

He got it. Public opinion polls done for the Williams' government, and later released only under duress, showed public support approaching every person in the province.

However, issuing news releases and framing simple messages are not enough. The messages have to be communicated to the audience.

If we wanted to sell widgets, we'd likely buy advertising and run as many ads as we could afford on television and radio and in print. The more people see of the same message the more likely they are to retain it, unless the message is a complete affront to their moral sensibilities.

Repetition is the key.

The impact of news media

While paid advertising works just fine to sell cars, for example, it lacks the inherent credibility to persuade the same car buyer that his or her government is doing a splendid job. No matter how many times people saw the television spot lauding the party of the moment, only the most hardcore of the party's supporters would swallow it unquestioningly.

News reporting, though, is different. According to some research, people get about 60 to 70% of their information about the world from news media and the electronic media, especially television, is by far the dominant information source. People tend to accept what they see reported as being factual and more often than not it is. So while a 30 second television spot announcing a new school would be largely ignored or treated with suspicion, having Fred Hutton report the same information would get an entirely different reaction.

The power of news is why advertisers desperately try to get their product featured in news coverage. For the typical marketer, public relations is code for unpaid media coverage and all the influence that brings. And for government, news releases are a way of communicating to their audiences using radio and television stations and newspapers. They are called news media because they are a medium - a conduit - through which information flows.

The limited local market

Over the past decade, the news media landscape has changed dramatically in Newfoundland and Labrador. Mergers, budget cuts and changes in how people take news have reduced the entire media environment to a handful of newsrooms.

There are only two dominant ones, the ones with the biggest daily audience: NTV and the four radio channels operated by Steele Communications as some part of the VOCM organization.

Coincidentally, those two outlets are also the ones that do very little - if any - investigative reporting. Both NTV and VOCM give the news with little interpretation or analysis. There's absolutely nothing wrong with their approach, but in a marketplace where they are the unquestioned behemoths, they are also uniquely useful to a government that would like to get its version of events to as many people as possible.

VOCM offers the added bonus of eight hours of free airtime through its talk-radio shows. As Bond Papers noted in April, the provincial government spends an inordinate amount of energy on what we derisively called "yack radio".

During polling periods there is a noticeable increase in the number of calls from government politicians, some of whom are heard from so seldom their pictures were likely to appear on a milk carton. They call, say their piece and, in the case of cabinet ministers, are likely to have their comments turned into news clips that will be repeated for the next 24 hours.

Repetition is the key.

Williams' approach: not all newsrooms are equal

One example from the last polling period indicate not only the value government politicians see in outlets like VOCM but also the varied way they treat news organizations based on audience share.

In the wake of the Ruelokke decision, Danny Williams was silent. However, Open Line host and veteran newsman Randy Simms observed that one news release from government was little more than nine paragraphs telling that a series of meetings had been held and that the major agreement was to continue meeting. There was no news at all in it and Simms pointed it out, honestly and fairly.

No sooner had he made the remarks than the Premier appeared on the line, interrupting what he himself described as an important meeting. Williams disputed Simms assertion but then found himself being asked about other issues, including Ruelokke. That was the first time we heard Williams criticize Mr. Justice Raymond Halley personally for his ruling.

Other media - whom Williams had been avoiding - were understandably annoyed. His response was to grant interviews on Ruelokke but how he handled them is revealing. Ordinarily a busy politician will handle reporters in a group, commonly known as a scrum. All get to ask questions and all share the results.

Williams broke up the requests. He granted The Telegram's Craig Jackson a telephone interview. CBC Radio and CBC television got a separate scrum in the lobby of Confederation Building. Mike Rossiter and Chris O'Neill-Yates pressed Williams with tough but fair questions, however their questions and Williams' replies would only be carried on their own outlets with their comparatively small audiences.

As for NTV, Williams went to the studio on Logy Bay Road for a sit-down interview and what amounted to five minutes of free airtime to the largest news audience in the province. The questions, from Mike Connors, were straightforward, professional and factual but nowhere near as challenging as the others.

Williams got to present his own messages clearly and unfiltered to the largest audiences. By handling the interviews separately he guaranteed that NTV and VOCM did not have access to his responses to questions they didn't ask, responses that came from questions that challenged his fundamental messages.

Drawing it together

Of all the organizations in Newfoundland and Labrador, the provincial government never has to struggle to make news. Money, power and celebrity all make news routinely.

In the first installment we demonstrated that there is a correlation between government news release output and polling periods and also a correlation between good news release and polling periods.

But a more detailed assessment suggests that the provincial government also varies its approach to news media based on each newsroom's ability not only to reach an audience but provide government with as much chance as possible of presenting its own messages. The current administration, like its predecessors back to 1996, issue news releases in a pattern related to CRA's polling and deploy supporters in a pattern designed to ensure that its messages are communicated to the largest audience possible with as little filtering as possible.

Repetition is the key to influencing opinion.

Beyond mere repetition, the example presented above shows the value the Premier places on VOCM as a means of influencing public opinion. His subsequent handling of other news media interviews on the Ruelokke case demonstrates an effort to manage the message flow.

The current administration has an advantage its immediate predecessor lacked: an impotent opposition that is unable to grasp what is being done and to deploy its own efforts to counteract the government's activities. It's politics, after all and they have every right to do that. Pointing out that the Premier is trying to goose polls is almost meaningless.

And if there is any lingering doubt about the Williams' administration efforts to influence polls, check for yourself. Listen to yack radio and see how many cabinet ministers are calling in this, the week after polling stopped. Take a look at the government website and notice how few releases are being issued compared to previous weeks.

Tomorrow, we'll wrap up the series with a look at the CRA polling itself and what impact the government's playing with numbers has on public policy and political dialogue in the province.

30 August 2006

Playing the numbers

[This is the first of a three part series looking at public opinion polling and provincial government media relations. In the first installment, we'll take a look at the broad issue of news releases output and content. In the second - The media and the message - we'll look at the other media relations activity for the provincial government. In the last installment, we'll pull the whole thing together and take a look at why government does what it does.]

Over the past decade, political watchers in Newfoundland and Labrador have come to accept the idea that the government party will adjust its media activity to coincide with polling periods.

The theory behind it is simple. Since there is only one pollster who collects data at regular, known and predictable periods, a flood of "good news" issued at the right time can reinforce positive feelings toward government or, at least, neutralize or counteract negative feelings.

Marketing researchers will do this routinely. In the wake of a flurry of advertising, they will conduct a short research program to see if the advertising had an impact on a randomly selected sample of the target audience. While marketers may have to establish a baseline - a survey or other research done before the advertising hits - political parties have the advantage of having a rolling baseline of regular polling done either privately for the party itself or publicly.

In Newfoundland and Labrador, only Corporate Research Associates (CRA) conducts quarterly polling. CRA's omnibus poll puts questions to random samples of the provincial population, on behalf of paying clients - including the provincial government - and includes a series of three standard questions on political attitudes.

Lately, CRA has taken to conducting two separate omnibus polls within the span of two to three weeks. The three political questions are CRA's own and are released shortly after the data is collected and analyzed. For them it is a simple marketing device to keep CRA's polling profile high. CRA's news releases are invariably picked up by media outlets in the province and Don Mills, CRA's president is readily available to provide some commentary and analysis.

There's absolutely nothing unusual about CRA's actions: it's just good business. Their questions are standard and, all other things being equal, they should pick up attitudes reliably.

The idea of politicians trying to influence polls got a special highlight during the most recent CRA data collection period (started 12 Aug, for about two weeks). The Liberal opposition issued a news release alleging the Progressive Conservatives were trying to goose the numbers. The Liberals should know since the practice of playing to the polls started under Brian Tobin.

For their part, the Progressive Conservatives dutifully denied any such activity. CBC reported that the Premier's Office stated that "the number of news releases issued recently is consistent with general distribution."

Don Mills defended his research work to CBC:
"It would be, in any case, a very difficult task, because people form impressions over a course or length of time on many issues," Mills said.

"[That's] not to say they couldn't be influenced by a string of good news announcements but, frankly, I doubt it."
Peaks match polling periods 11 out of 12 times

In order to examine the idea of government trying to issue a string of well-timed, "good news" releases, let's first take a look at the volume of releases coming from the provincial government.

If the volume was consistent with general distribution - whatever that is - we'd expect to see a fairly constant number of releases issued. There might be some identifiable peaks and troughs like at budget time, around Christmas and during the summer. Alternatively, we might see some random peaks and troughs driven solely by the operation of government itself. Again, we might see some identifiable peaks at times when there is a lot of news - budget time - or valleys when people are off for Christmas holidays.

CRA polls at predictable times each quarter of the year, usually varying the start and end times of its data collection by a day or two year to year. Government subscribes to CRA's omnibus so it would know well in advance when Don Mills' people will be hitting the phones. Therefore, if we have regular polling and random peaks and troughs of news release volume, we wouldn't expect to see much of a correlation between the polling periods and the news release output.

Figure 1, below, shows the number of news releases issued each week beginning in the fourth quarter of 2003 and continuing to the first part of August 2006 before recent polling started. It includes all types of news releases and media advisories on the provincial government's website.

Fig. 1. Government news releases, total by week
4th quarter 2003 to current. Green lines mark CRA polling periods.


In 11 of the 12 polling periods since the last quarter of 2003, government news release output peaks either immediately before or during the polling. In the one exception, the volume increases steadily during the period and peaks immediately after polling ended.

On the face of it, this suggests that government news releases are not being issued at random. They are not "consistent with general distribution". Rather, there is a fairly obvious connection between output and polling. Even more interesting is the fact that more often than not the peak output is immediately before polling starts.

If someone was trying to influence polling, the best time to peak "good news" would be immediately before data collection started. That way, there is the greatest likelihood that the good news will be fresh in public minds when the telephone calls start.

A little good news

Volume of news releases alone isn't proof of an effort to influence polling results, though. The results we've found so far just give ius a clue something is up that isn't random.

The next task is a content analysis - taking a look at what the releases say. The past three weeks are instructive. For the period 31 July to 06 August, government issued 27 news releases, followed by 34 the next week. During the two weeks when CRA was actively collecting data, government issued 27 releases each week.

August is normally a time when people take vacations. Yet, in the first week of the month, the provincial government announced $1.5 million in funding for the College of the North Atlantic; an expansion of family law services; changes to social assistance funding to give clients more money; almost $75, 00 in funding for the Association for New Canadians; $200,000 for silviculture projects; and, upgrading of a health care clinic in Baie d'Espoir, among other positive initiatives.

In the week immediately before polling started, the provincial government announced progress on funding for the Trans-Labrador highway; $7.0 million for a new school in Torbay; $78, 000 in violence prevention for aboriginal communities; $7500 and a speech from a cabinet to support a conference on rural development; $82 million in federal money for municipalities; $137, 000 for renovations to public housing; and, a $6.3 million sports centre in St. John's.

The provincial government also issued a news release on the proposed dismantling of the Stephenville mill. This story broke in a routine public advisory of projects needing environmental review.

Curiously, the very first release of the following week announced a successful resolution to a problem in Stephenville where used tires have been piling up as part of a problem-plagued provincial government program dating back to the Liberals. Even though government won't know until October if the solution even exists, they issued the release anyway.

Finance minister Loyola Sullivan issued a news release announcing that the provincial government's finances were in even better shape than previously announced. One of the many odd things about this release was that it contained information normally released in November once it had been reviewed by the Auditor General. Sullivan claimed he was announcing the news early, unauditted and to the general public so that government officials could have the latest information in managing their budgets.

The general pattern continued throughout the week, with the first release on Friday announcing $1.45 million for economic development in Stephenville. In the next week, the general trend continued, but this time included $5.5 million in funding for College of the North Atlantic in Goose Bay; increased fees for dentists (framed as improved dental care for children); and, new police officers in the crime intelligence field.

Conclusion

The provincial government news release output coincides with Corporate Research Associates' polling periods too frequently for it to be accidental.

The news release content tends toward "good news" moreso than one would expect to find if release content was random or than one would expect in a period like August when most people tend to be on vacation.

Even when bad news does appear - such as the routine Stephenville environmental notice - it was quickly counteracted with not one but two positive announcements.

There's no question it happens.

In the next installment, we'll look at why.

29 August 2006

Conflict of Interest: the Norwegian Model

Revised: 8:15 AM

If Danny Williams checks with the Norwegians on good standards of corporate governance, he will quickly realize just how bad an idea it is for his administration to have established so many conflicts of interest involving the Hydro Corporation, its board chairman, the Premier's Office and one local company.

As announced on Monday, the chairman of the Hydro Corporation now sits on the board of Aurora Energy. Dean MacDonald took the place of Brian Dalton, president of Altius Minerals, a company that is currently looking for an interest in Hydro's Lower Churchill project and which is also undertaking a refinery study as announced by the Premier in February. Altius established Aurora in 2003 and remains its second largest shareholder.

Norsk Hydro's policy makes it clear that such conflicts of interest cannot be tolerated.

6.4 Financial interests in other businesses

As a Hydro employee or Board Member, you should avoid having a personal ownership interest – directly or indirectly – in any other enterprise if it compromises or appears to compromise your loyalty to the Company. Before making an investment in a company that competes with the Company or does business with the Company (such as a supplier), other than acquiring less than one percent (1%) of a listed company, your immediate superior shall be consulted. Special attention should in all circumstances be given to potential conflicts of interest as described in
section 6.1.

6.5 Activities with a competitor, supplier or other business associates

Before engaging in any activity that may be perceived to advance the interests of a competitor or a supplier (or other business associates) at the expense of Hydro’s interests, including serving on the board of such company, you shall consult with your immediate superior.


The bit about consulting with a superior isn't important. In this instance, MacDonald likely accepted the Aurora appointment with the full knowledge and approval of Danny Williams.

The key part is that such a blatant set of conflicts of interest as evidenced by the MacDonald appointment should never have existed in the first place. If it turns out that the Premier did not know about the matter - remember Henley v. Cable Atlantic and Deano's penchant for not telling Danny stuff - then the episode suggests that Dean MacDonald exercised monumental bad judgment.

If Altius is pitching to Hydro as it is, then Dean MacDonald should categorically not be sitting on the board of a company in which Alitus is the second largest shareholder. If Altius is involved in a refinery project which would likely also fall under Hydro to exploit if government joins in, then Dean should absolutely, positively not be involved.

The same goes for Danny Williams involvement in announcing Altius' private-sector venture on the refinery.

Anyway you slice it, this situation causes problems.

It seems Danny Williams doesn't care about conflict of interest unless it involves someone he's ticked off with. Don't forget that he engineered a blatant conflict of interest to exist in his use of the Hydro president as lead negotiator on the Hebron file. Odds are good, he'll think nothing of further connecting Alitus and the provincial government. In his ongoing efforts to get control of the offshore regulatory board, Williams is trying to create the ultimate conflict of interest in the offshore oil governance game.

Danny Williams would do well to consult the Norwegians on good corporate governance. They can teach him a great deal.

The only problem might lie in the fact that implementing their advice would expose Danny Williams to a great deal of criticism for decisions he's already taken.

Two degrees of separation revisited

Revised: 29 Aug 06

A news release late on Monday from Aurora Energy announced the appointment of Angus Bruneau and Dean MacDonald to the company's board of directors.

Dr. Bruneau and Mr. MacDonald are replacing Mr. Brian Dalton and Mr. John Baker who have resigned from the Aurora Board. Mr. Dalton and Mr. Baker, directors of Altius Minerals Corporation, a significant shareholder of Aurora, have expressed the view that the Company [sic] would best be served at this time by their replacement with two fully independent and experienced new directors. The Company [sic] would like to thank Mr. Dalton and Mr. Baker for their valuable contribution in the successful launch of Aurora.

Dalton is president and chief executive officer of Altius Minerals, the second largest share-holder in Aurora. Baker is a director of Altius and a senior partner with White, Ottenheimer and Baker.

Update: Before you go another step take a look at the biogrpahical sketches for Bruneau and MacDonald. Bruneau - who founded Fortis in 1987 and has sat on the Voisey's bay board - fits with Aurora like a glove. MacDonald, whose private sector background is in stuff like cable television, looks like a square peg in the proverbial round hole.

Altius created Aurora Energy in 2003 with Fronteer Development Group to evaluate and explore uranium-rich deposits in central Labrador. Aurora recently completed a successful initial public offering.

In 2005, Altius submitted a proposal to create a royalty trust as a way of financing the Lower Churchill project, currently being pursued by Premier Danny Williams through Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro. MacDonald is the chairman of Hydro's board. According to Altius' website, the royalty trust proposal is still alive.

At the same time, Altius is also pursuing a feasibility study on a second refinery in the Come by Chance area. The study was announced in February by Premier Danny Williams and then-energy minister Ed Byrne. The announcement was highly unusual since government played no role in the entirely private venture.

In early August, Altius announced that Aurora had found significant results in its drilling on the Michelin property in Labrador.

28 August 2006

Better late than never

There's something about Danny Williams' trip to Iceland and Norway that doesn't add up.

First, there's the suddenness of it. No one has talked publicly about the need for a fact-finding trip, so one is naturally suspicious of the timing.

Second, it seems passing strange that the provincial government would be heading off to Iceland three years into the mandate to learn lessons from the small fishing nation. Surely someone could have taken a trip a couple of years ago before the situation got as bad as it is today.

Third, the trip to Norway ostensibly to learn about the Norwegian energy industry comes after the provincial government has made changes to organizations like Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro. The time to learn from the Norwegian model was a year or two ago. Instead, Williams has created a situation which is diametrically opposite to Norway's good governance practices. Of course, Williams can still learn something but if he does, it will mean a round of new legislation to undo or dramatically alter many of the changes already made.

Through it all, though one cannot help but notice one specific thing that is extremely odd about the make-up of the delegation from this province:

Missing from the contingent is Kathy Dunderdale, newly installed minister of natural resources.

She's most likely not taking the flights with Williams and deputy premier Tom Rideout because it will fall to Dunderdale to announce that the provincial government is acknowledging the appointment of Max Ruelokke as the chairman and chief executive officer of the Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board.

Williams will be wheels-up on Tuesday and Dunderdale can make the announcement - and take the flack - so Ruelokke starts work immediately after Labour Day.

In the meantime, Williams just might be able to learn a few things from the Icelanders and Norwegians. That would mean he will have to dramatically alter his current energy plans and relinquish direct control over organizations like Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro. It would also mean he and Rideout will have to abandon their current approach to fisheries issues. No one should be holding his or her breath on that one, though.

The trip might be a case of better late than never; but since the whole junket is likely nothing more than an excuse for Williams to skedaddle while his energy minister takes the flack over Ruelokke, the odds of Williams altering plans already laid would be pretty long ones.

Morning in America

While political campaigns have always used some form of mass communication, the use of advertising and modern advertising techniques only really took hold after the Second World War.

The American Museum of the Moving Image has compiled an archive of television commercials from American presidential campaigns beginning with the 1952 Eisenhower-Stephenson contest. The Living Room Candidate is a compelling collection of some of the most influential advertising ever created.

One of the most potent was "Prouder, Stronger, Better", for the Reagan-Bush re-election campaign in 1984. Over 20 years later it remains an emotionally striking 60 seconds of film. You don't need to recall the turmoil of the 1970-80 period when Reagan was first elected. Watch this and you'll be moved.

You can also find the famous Democratic spot from 1964 featuring a little girl and an atomic explosion and the Republican spot from 2004 featuring a flip-flopping John Kerry.

Prouder, Stronger, Better is more commonly known as "Morning in America", taken from the opening line of the 30 second version. The copy below is taken from youtube.com and while it isn't as good a copy as the one linked above, the effectiveness of the music, voice, images and script are still there.

This is the gold standard of political television spots.

27 August 2006

So what's with that?

So why is it that the former darling of both the Independent and VOCM's radio call-in shows can't seem to get arrested these days.

First, VOCM asked her to abide by the rules and call the shows one a week as opposed to once a day for each of three shows for a while.

The self-styled "hydro-queen" took her teddy and vowed to boycott the entire station for a year. (It lasted a few weeks. She still invades the radio every so often, but these days seems to spend most of her time posting scribbles in varied coloured fonts of ever increasing size over at her rant-fest on the Internet.)

Then, the Independent - suddenly and inexplicably - stopped running her columns. On top of that, the Indy printed a letter by a retired CBC journalist that attacked her pretty savagely. We are talking slagged, big time, with the focus on her lack of credibility.

Now you have to appreciate that "hydro-queen" used to be the darling of the Indy under editor Ryan Cleary. She helped him put together the farcial "balance sheet" on Confederation. "Hydro-queen" even worked on the story that garnered so much of Dan The Man's ire, the one that talked about the Premier's personal charity - but said nothing much at the end of it because the research sucked.

Hmmmmm.

Maybe we can explain the second one. And it isn't because the research suddenly sucked; that's a constant.

Dan The Man gets his knee-britches in a knot and boycotts the Indy over a piece Ryan's fountain of misinformation helped put together. (The boycott is only for Danny and his personal publicist; other ministers still talk to Ryan and the crew.)

But then the researcher gets the flick after Dan's tirade and certainly after the initial complaints about the charity piece.

And then last week, not one but two columns tried to plant the senior editorial lips at the Indy squarely back on Dan The man's hindmost regions. The subject? Why Max Ruelokke of course. What better way to ingratiate oneself with The Man at the moment.

From "The Fighting Newfoundlander":

"Just because it's the law doesn't make it right. Not from where Newfoundland and Labrador stands anyway..."

"That process was followed to the letter - at least according to Halley. Again, that doesn't make the law right..."

"Fight the ruling until either he [Williams] wins, the federal government backs down and allows Andy to serve beside Ruelokke or the law is changed to suit our purposes"

"I'm a fan of Danny boy, in case that wasn't obvious..."


If we didn't know any better, we'd swear the Indy was still getting copy e-mails from the Premier's publicity department; they couldn't have written that any better.

And actually, Ryan the depth of your affection for the prime ministerial posterior is painfully obvious, but the comment didn't fit in the middle of the Ruelokke piece unless someone was really smarting over being rejected by one's fantasy and wanted to suck up...again.

Then there's the entire column by Ivan Morgan on the same subject which is built in some places on pure fabrication. It struggles to kiss both cheeks on pure invention.

But - and this is the big but - they both fall lock-step into line behind Danny Williams.

And the source of all wisdom at the Indy?

She's persona non grata after Dan The Man took exception.

Apparently.

So what's up with that?

25 August 2006

Penn & Teller on polling

There is polling and then there is the stuff done by the guy featured in this excerpt from Penn & Teller's cable television show Bullshit!.

Be warned, the language in this piece is strong, but the guy at the focus of this piece is not so much a pollster as a fairly typical political consultant you come across in the United States.

And contrary to what he claims, it is manipulation.

Private Snafu

During the Second World War, both Disney and Warner Brothers produced animated films for public entertainment and training.

In addition to cartoons featuring the Warner Brothers stable of characters like Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck was a batch of 25 short films centred on a character named Private Snafu. Warner Brothers produced the shorts, but the Snafu character came from the fertile imagination of Theodore Geisel, known to generations of post-war kids as Dr. Seuss. Geisel spent the war working for the Armed Forces Motion Picture Unit under Colonel Frank Capra.

Snafu was a bumbling soldier who taught soldiers the right way of things by being so consistently wrong. He did it with humour and, as with the most famous American propaganda film Why we fight, they were effective. SNAFU is actually a well-known soldiers' acronym for military life. "It is short for "situation normal, all f**ked up." SNAFU is a close kin to FUBAR - "f**ked up beyond all recognition - and TARFU - Things are really f**ked up.


For your enjoyment on a summer Friday is Snafuperman, originally released in 1944:




And Spies, from 1943:

24 August 2006

Why so touchy Bill?

Local radio call-show host Bill Rowe seemed unduly sensitive this afternoon as local pundit-of-all-trades Simon Lono pointed out, among other things, that a current down-turn in the local housing market is directly attributable to the Premier's decision on Hebron.

Rowe, who worked for Danny Williams in Ottawa less than a year and a half ago, seemed genuinely uncomfortable with the remarks that obviously challenged the official line coming from the Premier's Office.

"So what's your point?" sneered Rowe is the unwarrantedly condescending way he has of treating some callers. Lono made the point several times. That included walking on Rowe several times as the Premier's former ambassador to OC-Transpo tried to butt in, in order to offer the view that everything was fine and that everyone supported Danny Williams knowing the financial repercussions.

But why was Bill so rattled by Lono? And why did the local callers orchestrated by the Premier's Office go into overdrive today specifically to attack Lono personally?

Well, the answer may lie in innovation minister Trevor Taylor's allusions earlier in the day to wannabe politicians on the airwaves.

Maybe the Danny machine is worried Lono will run in Signal Hill-Quidi Vidi and offer yet another candidate to run against the one Danny is trying to anoint. There's no secret that here at Bond Papers, we'd back the experienced, articulate Lono. His sharp tongue would make short media work of inexperienced, hand-picked candidates or even old hands at the bar for that matter. His frank talk would make a refreshing change from the orchestrated palaver - the word of the week - we get from politicians these days.

Danny-backers might want to be careful what they wish for.

Who loves ya, baby?

Well, at least who seems to be able to call it correctly for you?

While we are a long way from Telly Savalas, seems the shortage of follicles at Bond Papers allows for a clearer vision on some issues.

1. Thought there was something fishy about that guy:

The federal Conservative commitment on fisheries issues like custodial management. Now the whole idea may be a crock, anyway, but the current fish minister in Ottawa campaign long and hard about the whole issue before he went into cabinet.

While only some people were too busy riding the Connie campaign bus to notice Loyola Hearn's hypocrisy, regular readers of the Bond papers were given a simple set of reports - back in January - as Loyola Hearn's party and then Loyola himself abandoned his pre-election posture.

We did it during the election and we reminded you at every juncture since just how much Minister Hearn sounded like his predecessor.

2. Federal presence really means my presence in a federal ministers office.

How times change.

Public servants were griping about cuts to federal jobs in the province.

The Harris Centre at Memorial University issued a "study" on federal presence during the election and promised a second report in February 2006.

Loyola Hearn and Norm Doyle - indeed all the Connies - harped on about how the evil Liberals had taken away the province's fair share of federal and promised to do things differently.

Then the election came and Loyola went to cabinet.

Now, federal public servants are worried about job cuts.

There's no sign of the Harris Centre's second "study".

And Loyola?

Well, he said the day after the election that the whole thing about federal presence was a bit of a crock anyway.

3. Papers, please.

During the election Connie supporters - including the candidates themselves - dismissed comments that drew attention to the plank in their platform about rapid execution of deportation orders.

They chimed in to criticise the evil Liberals about the Portnoys.

Well, the rapid deportation order thing was real.

And, as for Loyola, he is still pussy-footing around, trying to line up a tango with his buddy Norm Doyle so they won't have to be seen to back their party - yet again - and go against what is politically popular in their ridings.

Now let's be clear. The Portnoys should be deported for a whole bunch of good reasons. And let's not forget that if it were not for political interference in the case by politicians from all parties, the poor family wouldn't be holed up in a church basement in Marystown.


So with those three examples under your belt, let's ask the question:

Who loves ya, baby?

Not the guys who constantly jerk you around saying one thing before an election and another thing afterward.

Fisheries Facts still around

The Usual Crowd have been bleating the past few days about a set of facts dealing with foreign overfishing that were on the federal fish department's website.

TUC was bothered because facts were being presented, versus the palaver they usually spread around on radio call-in shows.

Anyway, the piece - Overfishing Myths and Realities - is still on the site. It just got moved to the backgrounder archives.

You can find it by heading to dfo-mpo.gc.ca, clicking through to the English or French version of the site and then looking for "Archives" under the vertical banner on the right hand side that is headed "Find Info On...".

Nice to see the facts stay around and aren't being removed because of agitation by misinformed myth-mongers.

23 August 2006

Williams numbers dropping?

All joshing aside, Danny Williams' whining about the upcoming by-election in the St. John's district of Signal Hill-Quidi Vidi is one of those curious little things Dan-The-Man does every once in a while that makes people wonder what he is up to.

A bunch of things make the moaning about a by-election stand out from the usual government publicity palaver.

Of course, everyone knows we are in a polling period and so the publicity machine has been cranking out "good news" at a high speed. Stephenville is to get bags of cash, for example, including the announcement of a tire recycling project that won't even be worth announcing until October. There was a release that announced a bunch of meetings had been held and that the magical, splendiferous intergovernmental fisheries working group task force had reached the conclusion to continue meeting. It took 17 meetings of the main group and various sub-groups to arrive at that conclusion.

But this government this polling period seems a bit more testy than usual about the whole process. There was an extra-heavy round of denials last week when the otherwise lack-lustre Liberal opposition pointed out that the Premier's personal publicity machine was working to put happy faces on everything in sight.

On top of that, there's this complaint that somehow the province's New Democrats are gaining a "competitive advantage" in a seat soon to be vacated by the outgoing New Democrat leader, Jack Harris.

Here's the thing. In every by-election and election Danny Williams has been involved in since he took over the Progressive Conservative party in 2001, Williams has been all over the place meeting, campaigning, chatting, speechifying and doing just about anything he can to win. No stops have been left unpulled.

But that was when everything was on the upswing for Dan-The-Man. He could do no wrong; that job was for the evil Liberals. Now, there have been a string of bads news announcements, the odd out-right failure or two like Hebron. A spending scandal splashed across the news media , its tendrils reaching into the top levels of the Williams cabinet. And most recently, recently, the public has been treated to Williams' relentless pursuit of a pointless legal battle over who will run the offshore regulatory board. It's pointless because the process Williams agreed to - twice - picked someone other than the guy Danny supposedly wants in the job.

For a guy who apparently likes to gives new meaning to the word micromanage, it's easy to micromanage in good times. But when crap piles up - and it is piling up - things start to slip.

Like a by-election.

So while Dan-The-Man has been pre-occupied with every problem anywhere, anytime, he just hasn't been able to get into the by-election game. And since his party can't go to the bathroom without his written approval, the entire process just drags along.

For the first time, Danny just can't fight everyone, everywhere all the time. The Dippers have gotten the drop on him in Signal Hill.

But the intensity of the recent polling activity by government and the sheer lunacy of an incumbent government whining about a little by-election suggest there is just one more little aspect to the whole thing.

Danny knows his polling numbers are dropping.

He loves to poll. In the first months in office, he spent a small fortune on a poll almost every month. During the offshore racket with Ottawa his announcements were driven by polling: pull down the Canadian flags. Check it with a poll. When the poll shows overwhelming opposition, put the flags back up.

Once the Telegram started getting the poll results through the province's access to information, the Premier's personal ones appeared to stop; a good guess would be he started paying them out of some other fund. But poll-freaks are no different than any other addict.

All things considered in Signal Hill-Quidi Vidi, the whining coming from the Danny-boys could just be a sign not only of their frustration and annoyance and, dare we say, impotence. It could also be a sign of a big drop in their own private opinion polling.

Just thinking out loud.

Fisheries facts bust myths

Ignore the bumpf that google might show you.

Clean out your brain if you have been listening to advocates of the damn-fool fishery and other fisheries nonsense on radio call-in shows.

Check out the factual information from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.

You can even find it at overfishing.gc.ca.

Good stuff.

Factual.

Easy to read and look at.

Correct.

Breaking: Come by Chance sold

Harvest Energy Trust announced today that it has purchased the Come by Chance oil refinery from Vitol for a reported price of CDN$1.6 billion plus additional "working capital and certain other adjustments".

The release is available here from harvestenergy.ca.

Under the deal, harvest will operate the refinery and the retail divisions of North Atlantic Refining, while Vitol will continue to provide feedstock. Vitol's prime book-of-business is purchase and sale of feedstock for refining.

Oil's dark secret

While Danny Williams boasts of battling big oil, he is tackling a small fry, according to The Economist.

The leading business magazine noted in its August 12th issue that of the 20 biggest oil firms in the world, 16 are nationally-owned companies (NOCs). ExxonMobil is the 14th largest company by oil reserves. The top 13 are all NOCs. [Note: the link is to a condensed version of the special feature on state-owned oil enterprises. The full edition is still available in some local bookstores or online at economist.com]

The editorial accompanying the article notes the cost paid for such a concentration of oil wealth and the warning is worth noting in light of plans to turn the province's own electricity company into an oil company or, as the legislation provides, a hydra corporation able to get into any business approved by cabinet.

As The Economist puts it (p.11):
Few of the princes, politicians and strongmen who wield ultimate authority over these firms can resist the urge to meddle. At best, that leads to the sort of inefficiencies found at most state-owned firms: overstaffing, underinvestment and so on. At worst, business of pumping and selling oil is totally subsumed by politics, as in the case of Petroleos de Venezuela, one of the biggest NOCs. In either case, NOCs produce less oil, more expensively, than they should.
The approach being taken by the Williams administration is exactly contrary to the one proposed by The Economist, namely to privatise state-owned oil companies in whole or in part and reap the benefit: "The less bureaucrats interfere, after all, the more money their oil companies will generate for them to spend".

In Norway - Williams' supposed model - Statoil and Norsk Hydro operate essentially as private sector companies with the state owning, respectively 71% and 43% of the company's shares. The companies also do not have any special advantage over private companies when it comes to land sales and government regulation. The three elements - policy and taxation, regulation, and business enterprise - are run separately from one another.

In Newfoundland and Labrador, the effort seems to be to bring all entities under one single umbrella directed from the provincial cabinet room or worse, the Premier's Office. The initiative to turn Hydro into an oil and gas company did not come from its board of directors. The role was imposed on it by politicians. The entire affair proceeds bereft of a strategic plan or a business plan, two of the fundamental elements of sound private-sector business operations.

The relationship between government and its wannabe oil company is also in a fundamental conflict of interest when it comes to taxation. Bond Papers put it this way, in May 2006:
So close is the relationship that Hydro's chief executive officer served as the lead provincial negotiator with the Hebron consortium. The obvious conflict of interest in this situation was ignored by government, but not by the private sector companies in the Hebron group.
The third element to be joined into the morass is regulation. Danny Williams' efforts to appoint his own candidate to head the offshore regulatory board is hardly disguised. Williams' intention appears to be to gain effective control over the board or gain at the board an ally who will follow the general direction set by Williams.

Two of the three conflicts of interest have been realized. The third is being frustrated only by a handful of circumstances that we should hope and pray do not change.

As The Economist notes, the ultimate loser in this venture is the taxpayer. The publicly-owned oil and gas company will be run, as the electricity company is now, by bureaucrats and politicians. Even if, by some miracle, the current crop of politicians, bureaucrats and political-appointees do a half-decent job of running the Hydro corporation - and that would run contrary to experience locally and globally over decades - there is no guarantee the next crowd or the one after will be as good.

Even the current crowd have shown themselves likely to make dubious decisions. They have embarked on a Lower Churchill project without even the most basic business decision-making tools. If trends continue, Williams will commit the province to a project that has the potential to double the size of the provincial government debt.

In the same fashion, the Lower Churchill project office is run just as it has been since it was created when Brian Tobin was premier and Dean MacDonald sat as board chairman, just as he does now. The Hydro board voted the cash, the office reported to the premier and the entire affair was managed out of sight of any public scrutiny.

The Economist article is a timely warning, if one is inclined to heed it. If not, it should give more than a moment's pause. The decisions being taken today will have ramifications for generations to come.

They do not look good.

What do you do...

when you go from being a guy who liked to claim he fought The Man to being The Man himself?

Well, if you are Danny - The Manny - Williams, you bitch about the New Democrats for trying to fix up a selection process so their candidate could win.

Never mind that all Jack Harris and the New Democrats get to figure out here is when Jack will resign. Never mind that Jack already made it plain he will be resigning. Never mind that - contrary to what The Man said, it is routine for political parties to select candidates to run in a pending election even when the incumbent is still in place.

Meanwhile, The Man will decide the date of the by-election.

The Man will spend whatever public cash it takes to get The Man's man elected.

The Man will spend every waking minute knocking every door in the district to win because The Man wants every single seat.

The Man will send every one of his MHAs and cabinet ministers into the district to win.

Having The Man whine about some trying to rig a selection process is like Bill Gates moaning about someone with an abacus trying to muscle in on the high speed computer market.

To be quite frankly honest, the level of whining The Man is doing here is silly.

Quite honestly. Quite frankly. Frankly, Honestly. Quite honestly, frankly...

Suck it up there, Danny.

After all, you are The Man.

Act like it.

22 August 2006

Mobile labour force adapts to local downturns

From the Globe and Mail comes an article on Newfoundlanders and Labradorians working in other provinces - like Alberta - and returning home periodically.

The phenomenon of mobile labour is not a new one in the province. It has been happening in various ways for centuries. However, anecdotal reports from some areas of the province suggest that the migrant labour is now coming from communities in which the population was once stable and involves older workers.

The workers include former employees of Abitibi Consolidated's operation in Stephenville. When Abitibi closed their mill last year, the workers have quickly sought work in the forestry and related industries in other parts of Canada.

Other workers have skills needed in the Alberta oil industry. Collapse of talks to develop the Hebron field offshore Newfoundland in April meant that thousands of highly skilled construction workers have had to look outside the province for work. Many had looked forward to Hebron construction ramping up, having finished the Voisey's Bay nickel mine last year.

Newfoundland and Labrador's oil industry is generating considerable cash for the provincial government but production is not labour intensive. Except for a limited level of exploration, the industry appears to be settling into pumping oil from the three fields already in production.

The Hebron failure has also forced the province's local supply and service sector to look overseas for contracts.

-srbp-

Deciphering government spin: Why the Portnoys?

1. We are in a polling period and government wants every boost in popularity it can get.

2. The Portnoy case has lots of support on Open Line, the major source of information for the Premier and the Premier's Office. Put it in the Telly, he might miss it. Crap on him on Open Line and Danny will come out of a cabinet meeting to attack you and he'll do it before you hang up the line.

3. The Portnoys are holed up in a church basement in Marystown, which means they are a big issue in an area where the Premier is especially politically vulnerable: Marystown because of his Hebron failure; Fishery Products International etc.

Add it all together and you get a provincial government intervening in an immigration case that has been hanging around for years and is no more crucial now than it was months or years ago.

But it isn't the provincial government.

Notice the number of times in every single interview that an otherwise perfectly competent minister - John Ottenheimer - mentions that the Premier will be doing this and that the Premier will be throwing his support behind it and that the Premier approved this message.

Sound odd?

It is.

Ottenheimer is just using talking points approved if not written by Danny's personal publicity department.

So we wind up with Ottenheimer saying things likes this to CBC:

"There is a political role I can play — I plan to play that role," said Ottenheimer, adding he has the full support of Premier Danny Williams to assist the Portnoy family, who have been living since last October in a church basement in Marystown.


And those talking points make it clear Danny is to get the credit.

But why only the Portnoys?

There may be other cases which are far more compelling than a couple who entered the country illegally, were deported, came back in illegally and then started having children, one of whom was delivered if not conceived after the family started living in a church basement.

Heck, there are more compelling cases than the Portnoys.

They don't meet the criteria listed above - too bad for them - and that's why Ottenheimer is also quick to add in every interview that he is intervening in this case but not others.

21 August 2006

Strong language from judge okay

It depends on whose soul is being saved, obviously.

"Lawyer defends judge"
The Telegram (St. John's)
Thursday, October 14, 1999
Page: 1 / FRONT Section: News
Byline: Bonnie Belec The Telegram

A provincial court judge who was reprimanded by Newfoundland's Judicial Council shouldn't have had to go before the council in the first place, says veteran St. John's lawyer, Danny Williams.

Provincial Court Judge John Rorke appeared before the council in June to answer to a complaint concerning remarks he made during the sentencing of an armed robber last fall.

Newfoundland Supreme Court Justice Robert Wells filed his report recently and stated the council "is unanimously of the opinion that on the day in question Judge Rorke failed to meet the required standard of judicial expression."

Williams and Steve Marshall represented 18-year-old Jeffrey Aylward, who was sentenced to a 12-month conditional sentence for using a bat to rob a pizza from a delivery man. Williams said he was surprised to learn a complaint had been made to the council and that Rorke appeared at an inquiry concerning remarks he made during the sentencing.

"I sat there and I saw nothing way out of line that he did. As an experienced lawyer, I see absolutely no reason why he should have gone before the judicial council," said Williams, who has practiced law for almost 30 years.

He said while the public's view of the court is a concern, the emphasis should be on the person before the (judge), and the rehabilitation of the accused.

"And if he's able to save a soul by having to use words that might be a little bit beneath the dignity of the bench, if he accomplishes that rehabilitation, then I wish there were a lot more judges that would do it," Williams said.

The complaint was lodged with the council by a member of the public as a result of an article published in The Telegram Sept. 11, 1998.

The gist of the complaint was that the judge's remarks would cause public concern as to the fairness and impartiality of the judge and -- by implication -- the fairness and impartiality of the courts, read Wells' decision.

The complaint was spurred by a comment Rorke made to Aylward during his sentencing hearing: "I'm looking at a man who comes from the same strata of society that I do, whose friends come from the same strata of society as I do, and you're not supposed to be sitting there and I'm not supposed to be faced with the dilemma of dealing with a person who comes from an advantaged background."

Rorke continued: "Most of the people who get dragged through this particular courtroom haven't got a pot to piss in. They never had a chance, they never will have a chance, they're damaged goods, and they're acting in the way they are largely because they don't have any choice. The problem we got here, you see, is that this happens all the time. I had a guy here a couple of days ago, it was the second time he did it. I gave him seven years. Sentencing in this is normally three years."

Aylward had been attending a party on Paddy Dobbin Drive when the offence occurred. He and two other young men ordered a pizza but none of them had any money, so they stole it from the delivery man when he arrived, using wooden bats.

At the time of sentencing, Rorke said they did it because they were drunk.

"You say you had a dozen beer ... I've had a dozen beer in me, a good many times. When you got a dozen beer in you, you don't know what you're doing, and it's more good luck than good management if you don't get into a jam, but the fact of the matter is you took it upon yourself to rob a man with a club," Rorke said.

"And when a bunch of young fellas on a drunk in an executive house in a good part of town take it upon themselves to flog one of those people, it's a despicable act," said the judge.

"Now we got a situation here, where a bunch of rich boys did this. You may not think you're rich but I guarantee you compared to most of the guys that come through that door there, you are rich. Not just in money but in family and friends," Rorke said.

"So, the next guy I got to look at and say three years is going to throw back at me, 'Oh yeah, you let the rich boys go because they are your buddies, they are your friends. There's no justice here.' That's the jam you put me in. That's the jam you put the Crown in," he said.

In his 10-page decision, Wells wrote that the words used in the sentencing were "unfortunate and inappropriate and should not have been said."

Inappropriateness occurred at two levels, Wells wrote. "Firstly, a judge should not use unacceptable language in the course of judicial duties. Expressions such as 'haven't got a pot to piss in' are simply unacceptable when coming from a presiding judge, as are personal references such as 'I've had a dozen beer in me, a good many times.'"

Wells stated such language lowers the court in the eyes of the public generally, and by implication damages public perception of the administration of justice.

"We are also of the opinion that references to social classes and strata of society are inappropriate to the sentencing process ... the emphasis must be on law, justice and fairness in each case," read the decision.

During the inquiry, Rorke apologized and acknowledged the public had a right to be concerned about some of his remarks and the way in which he expressed them.

Wells noted Rorke's work in provincial court involves trying to "do justice in the face of hopelessness, belligerence, alcoholism, drug addiction, psychopathy and mental disorder."

Rorke told the council, "under these pressures, I lost my patience and became candid about the frustrations of modern judging. Much of what I said was irrelevant, and easily capable of being misunderstood.

"In approaching the situation as I did, I focused entirely on the dynamic in the courtroom, and overlooked for a moment that my words, intended for the ears of the accused and the lawyers present, were being placed on the public record," he told the inquiry.

"In today's pluralistic society, a judge is expected to strive always to speak only in terms incapable of confusing or offending anyone. On this occasion, I fell below that demanding standard. I have profoundly regretted this inappropriate loss of control since the moment it occurred," he said.

As far as Williams is concerned, Rorke presented an emotional judgement in a particular case to a young man who made a stupid mistake. Williams said if the council decided Rorke chose his words poorly, then in the eyes of council Rorke made a mistake, but in his eyes Rorke handled the case commendably.

"If he's able to get through to a young man and prevent him from being a recidivist, then I think he's accomplished something marvelous. And at the end of the day he had a major impact on that young man," Williams said.

Considering Rorke's 11 years of unblemished service, council concluded a reprimand is the appropriate course of action and no further sanction is necessary. The council also ordered that Rorke be compensated for his legal costs arising from the inquiry, to be taxed on a solicitor-and-client basis.

Bloglett's Familiar Quotations

Government should be accountable to the law, and to the people.

Danny Williams
April 7, 2001

No place for Duplessisme in Newfoundland and Labrador

By arguing against the rule of law, Peter Jackson's column in the Sunday Telegram gives Premier Danny Williams carte blanche to do as he pleases not merely with the offshore board but with anything and anyone else in the province.

Jackson must have hoped that his readers have not read Mr. Justice Halley's recent decision in Ruelokke v. Government of Newfoundland and Labrador and that they are generally ignorant of the issues involved in the offshore board. Certainly Jackson has not read the decision nor does he display much knowledge of the offshore board. (We'll leave aside his apparently naive view of governments and their actions being always in the best interests of the citizenry.)

Even a brief examination of its [the offshore board's] short-lived history unveils a litany of disappointments. The board has failed to show the same kind of vigilance in localizing job opportunities exhibited by its counterparts in the North Sea industry.
In the 20 year history of the Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board, it has done exactly what it was intended to do in the Atlantic Accord (1985). That is, the board has regulated the offshore industry.

Jackson does not see fit to provide a litany of of these supposed disappointments. He mentions only one - engineering jobs on the Terra Nova project and recites the story of Andy Wells and the FOGO group. However, when Jackson - and others - talk of benefits they conveniently forget that the negotiation of offshore benefits lies solely where it should: at the feet of politicians. If they have a problem with Terra Nova or any other project then they should be looking to politicians to deal with it. The decision on the engineering jobs was made not by the chairman of the offshore board but by Premier Brian Tobin and his energy minister. Jackson's entire argument on this point is nothing short of a fiction.

In the current matter, Jackson finds Mr. Justice Halley's decision troubling in this respect:
A decision earlier this month by Justice Raymond Halley confirmed Ruelokke's appointment, but it contained highly contemptuous language in describing the province's stand. And by straying off course and attacking Wells' credentials, Halley's decision took on an almost personal tone.
However, Halley did not "stray off course". His comments on Wells' lack of qualification essentiallyally an aside, a comment. The core of Halley's decision focused on the central issue. It details the process involved in Max Ruelokke's appointment and Halley makes his decision based entirely on the facts presented to him.

Halley's characterization of the treatment Ruelokke received, while strong, is entirely justified. Anyone who has read the decision - Jackson evidently not being one of them - could hardly fault Halley for his conclusion or for the powerful words he used to condemn the arbitrary and contradictory nature of the provincial government's position.

As for his concern over Wells' hurt feelings, Jackson would do well to remember that it was not Mr. Justice Halley but rather the three-member arbitration panel which determined Andy Wells was not qualified for the job at hand. They made the decision based on criteria established by the provincial government.

Jackson has built no case here akin to Ghandi's India or the American south in the 1960s. In fact, basis of his argument is nothing more than a recitation of the mythology of the Upper Churchill contract. According to Jackson, Danny Williams would be justified in subverting due process - the rule of law - because of the Upper Churchill demon. (For the record, Jackson misstates the issues involved in the reference and the Supreme Court's decision.) Something drooling under the bed, though, is no justification for the fundamentally undemocratic notion Peter Jackson proposes.

Simply put, Jackson is fundamentally wrong. Politics should never trump the law. The rule of law is the bedrock on which our society - our democracy - is built. Each of us - especially politicians and the government - must be bound by the law. This is the underpinning of Mr. Justice Halley's decision and the Premier would do well to abide the decision as he committed to do.

To do otherwise - to succumb to the facile arguments offered by editor Jackson - would be to return our province to the very darkest of times, when a single politician could rule by decree and few, including the Telegram's editor at the time, would dare challenge his autocratic regime.

Not since Duplessis' Quebec has a newspaper editor written such a spirited endorsement of dictatorship as Peter jackson offers. He should only hope that his morally bankrupt argument does not come back to haunt him and his employer. Jackson should only hope that on Monday morning his boss does not ask him to explain why he shouldn't have won a lawsuit against the provincial government a decade ago when he too found the actions of a provincial government intolerable.

As for the rest of us, we should hope that Jackson's views are not widely held. If they are, then our province is in for a very difficult - and undemocratic - time of things.

For the record, here is Jackson's column in its entirety:

The law is not always right

There are many instances in Newfoundland and Labrador's history where the rule of law has not represented the best interests of the province's citizens. This is particularly true when it comes to federal rulings on matters of provincial concern.

Perhaps the most glaring example of this is the Churchill Falls contract signed by Joey Smallwood in 1969. The benefits have been pouring across the border to Quebec ever since.

In the early 1980s, the province was defending in federal Supreme Court a recently passed water reversion act which, in effect, would have returned water rights and benefits of Churchill Falls to the province.

The province's argument - a convincing one, by any standards - was that the hydro contract violated the basic constitutional right of provinces to maintain control over their own natural resources.

In 1984, the Supreme Court overturned the act. The judges ruled that the province overstepped its jurisdiction because the intent of the act was to nullify an interprovincial contract with a federally registered company.

That this was the intent of the act could hardly be surprising; governments tend to act in the best interests of their constituents. What was surprising, however, was that the Supreme Court concluded a commercial contract took precedence over the fundamental constitutional principle of resource ownership. (I'd be remiss not to point out, yet again, that former Newfoundland premier Clyde Wells was a lawyer arguing against this province in that case.)

People in this province know the Churchill Falls deal is morally and politically repugnant, and many still believe its constitutionality is dubious. But we have had to put up and shut up for almost 40 years because the federal courts insist we must.

There is a similar scent of court-imposed oppression in the current kerfuffle over Max Ruelokke and his supposed iron-clad right to take the helm of the Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board (CNLOPB).

I'm sure Ruelokke is an intelligent, honourable man, and his credentials - on the surface, at least - seem to back up his selection by a third-party panel to lead the board.

Crucial role

But the CNLOPB plays a crucial regulatory role in the development of offshore oil, and it is therefore an agency over which the provincial government wants to exert as much influence as possible.

If this sounds like political interference, it's not. The CNLOPB is the very embodiment of the Atlantic Accord, which grants joint management of the offshore resource between the federal and provincial governments. And for too long, it seems to have had very little teeth when it comes to ensuring that the spirit of the Atlantic Accord - according maximum benefits to this province - is upheld.

Even a brief examination of its short-lived history unveils a litany of disappointments. The board has failed to show the same kind of vigilance in localizing job opportunities exhibited by its counterparts in the North Sea industry.

Premier Danny Williams has steadfastly insisted he wants to see St. John's Mayor Andy Wells take the board's top job - or at least share the job by splitting the CEO and chairman positions.

His rationale is obvious. Back in the late 1990s, Wells founded a lobby group called Friends of Gas Offshore (FOGO) which fought the transferring of 250 engineering jobs to England by the Terra Nova developers.

Over the ensuing years, FOGO lobbied to prevent a floating platform design for the White Rose project, even going so far as to launch legal action.

Given the CNLOPB's apparent impotence in defending the province's interests, Williams can hardly be blamed for wanting someone outspoken at the helm rather than another scion of the oil industry. (Ruelokke's only involvement in provincial politics was a stint as deputy minister of energy.)

A decision earlier this month by Justice Raymond Halley confirmed Ruelokke's appointment, but it contained highly contemptuous language in describing the province's stand. And by straying off course and attacking Wells' credentials, Halley's decision took on an almost personal tone.

Nonetheless, the courts - barring an appeal - have had the last word. It appears the Williams government, like many administrations before it, has little choice but to bow before the unbendable will of judicial impulse.

Sometimes, politics should trump the law.

Peter Jackson is The Telegram's features editor. He can be reached by e-mail at pjackson@thetelegram.com.

20 August 2006

Charities may be involved in political action

Despite a long-standing rule against involvement in direct or indirect political activity, some charities may be getting into politics and avoiding any sanction from Canada Revenue Agency.

Check this Canadian Press story at canoe.ca.

19 August 2006

Pack rats of the world unite!

From the Globe and Mail comes the story of a lifelong pack rat who, after he'd died of old age, left behind stuff stacked all over the house including a comic book collection worth an estimated US$2.5 million.

"Yes!" I shout. Vindicated at last in my hoarding ways.

Then from beyond the door of your humble e-scribbler's pack rat nest comes the voice of She Who Must Be Obeyed:

"Yes, nothing. No one in their right mind will pay 25 cents for that stack of ten year old Telegrams around you, will they. And that collection of every term paper you wrote twenty years ago won't even start a good bonfire."

Suitably brought back to reality, it's time to go lug rocks around the garden.

*Sigh*

Gov't drops gas prices by 9.6 cents per litre

Official reason: market correction due to events in the Middle East.

Real reason: we are in a polling period.

Otherwise, why would the petroleum pricing control nazis have issued an "urgent" and "emergency" notice to drop prices less than 24 hours after saying they didn't have any plans to drop prices?

Of course, gas price "regulation" is a fraud anyway. But as much as "regulation" is a silly thing, government will keep it for just such a polling contingency.

17 August 2006

Hydra Corp reinvents Lower Churchill wheel; markets want to talk price

The president and chief executive officer of Newfoundland and Labrador's Crown-owned Hydra corporation is in Toronto continuing work on the proposed Lower Churchill hydro-electric development by doing work that was already included in a proposal Premier Danny Williams rejected earlier this year.

Ed Martin is talking to Ontario officials about technical requirements of transmitting power from the Labrador site through Quebec and into Ontario. Under an application filed in July, Hydra corporation was seeking permission to ship power into Canada's largest province.

Under a proposal submitted by Quebec and Ontario in early 2005, cost of improving the connections between the two provinces would have been paid for by Ontario's Hydro One and Hydro Quebec. Martin's proposal would have the Newfoundland and Labrador Crown corporation pay for the upgrades. A similar requirement to expand the electricity grid in Quebec - also needed to get Lower Churchill power - was included in the Ontario/Quebec proposal but will now be paid for by Newfoundland and Labrador as part of what Danny Williams has termed the "go-it-alone" option.

In an interview with the Toronto Star [linked above] Martin said shipping power to market around Quebec is still under consideration by his company. Such a route would involve submarine cabling across the Strait of Belle Isle and the Gulf of St. Lawrence . The so-called Anglo-Saxon route has een estimated to add at least $1.5 to $2.0 billion to a Lower Churchill development already pegged in the $6.0 to $9.0 billion range. Every previous review of this option concluded that while it is technically feasible, the resulting cost of Lower Churchill power made it unsaleable.

A viable sale agreement for the Lower Churchill's estimated 3, 000 megawatts will be crucial to the project. Ontario energy minister Dwight Duncan told the Star:
"We are very interested in buying from them," Dwight Duncan, Ontario's energy minister, told the Star last week. "But I'm not going to put the ratepayers of Ontario at risk."

He said Newfoundland will have to get transmission guarantees from Quebec to make the deal possible, and ultimately any deal will come down to cost.

"The challenge Ontario has is we simply can't blindly enter into an agreement and pay whatever. You're looking at long-term arrangements that involve price-sensitivity. I don't want my grandchildren to look back in 20 years and say `what were they thinking.'"
In May 2006, Hydra vice-president Gilbert Bennett confirmed that financial issues will one of several major factors in determining whether the project is sanctioned.

Another factor will be competition from other projects already under development in Quebec, Ontario and Manitoba. The Lower Churchill project - about a year behind schedule - would require project sanction in 2009 with first power being generated in 2015. Martin is talking to Ontario officials several months after Hydro Quebec officials started talking potential purchase agreements, according to Globe and Mail's Konrad Yakabuski in a May 2006 column.

Ability to guarantee delivery will also influence any decision to buy power from a Lower Churchill project. As Yakabuski noted, "[t]he buyers will not choose their supplier based on price alone; since the contracts must be signed before the first shovel goes into the ground, the buyers must have the confidence, if not assurance, the seller can deliver the merchandise."

Martin's Hydra corporation has never completed a project as large, costly and complex as the Lower Churchill on its own, raising questions about the company's ability to deliver on time.

Concerns about completion plagued the now-infamous Upper Churchill development. Ultimately, investors' need for completion guarantees coupled with the weak financial position of proponent BRINCO led the Newfoundland and Labrador company to sign a deal that saw Quebec buy virtually all the power from the earlier project at rock-bottom prices for 65 years. In exchange, the Quebec Crown corporation guaranteed investors the project would be completed.

At $9.0 billion, the Lower Churchill project would double the size of Newfoundland and Labrador's provincial debt.

Premier thinks Halley is correct?

For all the puffing, posturing and self-massage, Danny Williams thinks that Mr. Justice William Halley made the correct ruling in Ruelokke v Government of Newfoundland and Labrador.

Or does he he?

In a scrum with CBC Wednesday - and played on CBC radio - Williams was asked about the ruling, his snide comments about the judge and about what he will do next. After saying at several points that he would appeal if there were legal grounds to do so, Williams said this:

"...if I have an opinion that says that in fact Judge Halley'’s judgment is correct, which it probably is, then we'’ll abide by that..."

Of course, that was in the midst of ranting about the decisions such that it is hard to believe the premier won't appeal and appeal again and possibly switch processes, yet again, just as he has done or caused ot be done on three occasions in the Ruelokke affair.

He has twice said he would abide by a decision of two separate processes and he has failed to live up to those commitments. Maybe this one is just smoke too.

Williams might also just drag this out as long as possible and then grudgingly acknowledge Ruelokke's appointment.

We'll know in mid-September.

The spectre of bad faith

There are a great many things troubling about Danny Williams and the Hebron/offshore board file.

As Williams continues to defy the law in his efforts to install St. John's mayor Andy Wells as the head of the board regulating the offshore, one of the most troubling things becomes concern that Williams may have been attempting to rig the entire Hebron negotiating process all along.

Williams accused the oil companies of negotiating in bad faith, back in April when the talks collapsed. He may have been referring to the slip-and-fall lawyer's definition of bad faith, namely an insurance company attempting to deny legitimate benefits detailed in a contract. He didn't state that, however, leaving only the accusation that the oil companies had acted dishonestly or had acted one way while intending to do something else.

But in the realm of contract negotiations, especially commercial contract negotiations, bad faith takes on another meaning, and that is a troubling implication. Article 2.15 of the Principles of International Commercial Contracts states that "[a] party is free to negotiate and is not liable for failure to reach an agreement."

Judge for yourself from Williams' own statements if the Hebron partners would not have been held liable for failing to reach an agreement on his terms, if Williams had his druthers. Judge for yourself - and this is the key implication - what legitimate company would do business with an administration under these circumstances.

We noted back in April the possibility that Williams' efforts to get Andy Wells at the offshore board may have been nothing more than an attempt to unduly stack the negotiating process in his favour.

Since Williams continues with his fight and since he is likely to launch a fight with the offshore board should it approve a recent development application at Hibernia, it is timely to revisit that earlier post, titled "Why Danny wanted Andy...At the offshore board."

The Premier and his supporters will insist that his motives are pure, that he only has the best interests of the province at heart. However, claims of being Robin Hood have long been rejected by courts as a defence for bad faith, for saying one thing and doing another.

In reality, such an argument, already offered up by Williams, is simply a trumped up version of the old argument that ends justifying means. That too has been widely rejected, especially for the when it is little more than an excuse for all manner of abuses of power against individuals and groups.

As often as Danny Williams trots out this defence of his noble intentions, it has surely worn through in the case of Max Ruelokke. Williams has publicly committed twice to abide by the results of a process. In late 2005, he committed to abide the decision of the panel he approved to select a new chairman and chief executive officer for the offshore board.

He did not.

Likewise in July, he committed to abide by a court decision that came about solely because Williams had failed to live up to his earlier commitment to abide by the first process.

He likely will not do so in this case either, claiming as he has that there is a process to be followed and that he is entitled to appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada if need be.

But truth be told even if the case finds itself in front of the learned nine in Ottawa and they too share Mr. Justice Halley's justifiably dim view of Danny Williams' actions respecting Ruelokke, no court can compel the Lieutenant Governor in Council to do anything. Ruelokke's appointment is made by the Council, after all and that is the black letter of the Atlantic Accord (1985).

Williams can simply fail to act for as long as he wants and that, sadly, is the process on which Williams may well ultimately rely. Williams may have mounted flimsy if not laughable arguments by proxy in front of Mr. Justice Halley but he is smart enough to know that ultimately his power on this matter is absolute.

That is a much larger spectre which hangs not merely over Max Ruelokke, but over us all.

16 August 2006

Danny's claims don't match the facts, Part 2

The first process to select a chairman and chief executive officer for the offshore regulatory was a group of public servants appointed by the federal and provincial governments, with Robertson Surette's St. John's office co-ordinating a selection process.

They used criteria approved by both governments that, among other things:

- required a single individual for a single position of chairman and CEO;

- included the criterion that the ideal candidate would have "extensive experience in the operational aspects of offshore petroleum activities..."

This process was interrupted at the point where approximately five candidates were selected for detailed interviews. Andy Wells was not on that list and, based on public information, had never previously been considered for the job.

As revealed in July 2005, the first process was interrupted in June 2005 when Danny Williams proposed it be scrapped and that Andy Wells be appointed to the single, combined position.

When Danny Williams claims he supported Andy Wells from the outset and that he was opposed to industry experience from the outset, his claims are directly opposite to the facts.

The second selection process was a committee, provided in the Atlantic Accord that was appointed by both the federal and provincial governments and chaired by well-known businessman Harry Steele. As agreed by both governments, the panel was given the mandate to select a single person.

Danny Williams claimed in an interview on Wednesday that:

When the panel came back and made a recommendation of Mr. Ruelokke, it was assured to me by the panel that there would be in fact be the recommendation, which did occur, that these two roles would be split. So therefore that Mr. Ruelokke could be the CEO and then of course Mr. Wells could step in as chairman of the board. That recommendation was not followed and therefore then I felt you know basically the process through which the panel had made the recommendation was flawed.
This could not have occurred, since the panel made no such decision. The Premier's memory is false or he is deliberately misrepresenting the situation.

As indicated in the statement of fact in the decision on Ruelokke v. Government of Newfoundland and Labrador and consistent with the evidence presented by both parties to the judge, the Steele panel made the appointment of a single individual for chairman and CEO as directed by the terms of reference established by the federal government and the provincial government.

The Premier is simply wrong when he refers to the Steele panel's decision as a "recommendation." Under the Accord provisions, the panel made a decision which was binding on both parties on the issue of who would fill the single job. Anything else it offered was an unsolicited and non-binding comment.

The first indication that the provincial government, i.e. Premier Williams, wanted to split the single job into two was in late December 2005, two weeks after the Steele panel reached its conclusion and fully six months after the Wells nomination had first been proposed.

When the panel offered an additional suggestion on splitting the job in two, it exceeded its mandate under the Accord implementation act and the wording of their comments in that regard are revealing:
During its discussions regarding the operation of the Board and in interviews
with candidates, the Panel concluded that in accordance with current board governance practices, the roles of Chair and Chief Executive Officer should be separated, with the Chair becoming a non-executive, part-time position. While this matter is outside the mandate of the Panel, we recommend that both governments consider taking this action.
Note that the panel clearly understood it was making a suggestion that was outside its mandate and as such it is distinctly different from what the Premier claimed.

Second, the recommendation is that the two orders of government should consider the approach of creating two jobs where one now exists. This suggests it was not a position the panel felt strongly about.

Third, this is a recommendation or suggestion. Under the Accord implementation act, the panel's choice of Ruelokke is binding on government. Williams' argument on this point was summarily dismissed by Mr. Justice Halley.

Fourthly, and most importantly, the Steele panel suggested the chairman position be reduced to a part-time, non-executive position. In other words, the chairman position under such an arrangement would be the lesser of the two positions in terms of influencing the board's overall operations. The reduced role of the part-time job would also be reflected in the salary which, as in the Nova Scotia board would be less than $15, 000 per year.

Again, as in so many instances on so many matters, the Premier's claims are at odds with the facts as already established.