30 April 2007

Americans open new offshore leases

The United States interior department announced today it had open lease sales on 48 million acres of offshore land in the Gulf of Mexico, offshore Alaska and the central Atlantic continental shelf off Virginia.

Interior secretary Dirk Kempthorne said the 21 parcels could yield as much as 10 billion barrels of oil and 45 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.

The total estimated potential oil reserves offshore Newfoundland and Labrador is 10 billion barrels.

The official news release described the five year outer continental shelf exploration program as follows:

There is no leasing proposed within 125 miles of the Florida coast or east of the military mission line in the Eastern Gulf. The program includes a Central Gulf sale in 2007 that involves a portion of the Sale 181 area and, as mandated by the Gulf of Mexico Energy Security Act of 2006, one lease sale in the Eastern Gulf in 2008.

The Act, signed by President George W. Bush on December 20, 2006, requires oil and gas leasing in a portion of the area known as the “Sale 181 Area,” consisting of 2,574,823 million acres, of which 2,028,730 is in the Central Gulf and about 546,093 acres is in the Eastern Gulf of Mexico Planning Area. The proposed sale area “181 South” consists of 5,762,620 acres. The total of new areas in the Gulf offered under the proposed program is 8,337,443 acres.

The leasing program schedules eight sales in Alaska: two in the Beaufort Sea; three in the Chukchi Sea; up to two in Cook Inlet; and one in the North Aleutian Basin – in an area of about 5.6 million acres that was previously offered during Lease Sale 92 in 1985. There are currently no existing leases in the North Aleutian Basin. These areas would be subject to environmental reviews, including public comment, and extensive consultation with state and local governments and tribal organizations before any lease sale proceeds.
The release included a backgrounder and fact sheet.

While some of the areas included in the interior department program would be new to exploration, the Gulf of Mexico lands are adjacent to a well-established oil and gas producing region with considerable infrastructure. As well, the Gulf Of Mexico is close to some of the largest refineries in the United States.

All of this increases competition for exploration attention in comparison to the Newfoundland and Labrador offshore. The local offshore holds and estimated 0.4% of the world's estimated oil and gas reserves.

An analysis of global trends in exploration were linked in this post on Australian energy development. The new head of Chevron discusses his company's global plans in the story and the podcast linked from this post.

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March-ing toward oblivion

News that former ombudsman Fraser March might run for the Liberals in the next provincial general election should leave the party brass cold, especially in light of this story from Monday's Telegram.

Liberal Party president Danny Dumaresque is quoted in the Telegram saying, among other things, that polls don't bother him at all especially in light of the 1989 general election. He also claims there are a "number of prospective candidates of 'significant stature' who are coming forward for the next election".

Well, if Fraser March is an example of the candidates Dumaresque is turning up, better he focus his attention on something other than media calls. Apparently, the only thing Dumaresque has done so far is cause people to wonder who is actually leading the Liberals.

Normally, the party president is a back room job, a behind-the-scenes organizer. You know. The kind of thing a political party needs a scant five months before an election.

But Dumaresque appears on the airwaves and in the papers seemingly as often as party leader Gerry Reid. In the meantime, no star candidates have emerged. No prospects have been rumoured.

There's a convention coming up in June. So far little has been heard of it. Perhaps Dumaresque could have talked about that as another key step in the road to the fall election, rather than chat about the government's budget. Maybe there was something could have talked about instead of his skill at whistling past the graveyard.

Is March the sort of top notch candidate Dumaresque has in mind? Sadly, there isn't anybody else that Dumaresque has been able to offer up, so most voters will draw their own conclusions.

Bottom line is that Dumaresque talks a lot but his claims produce nothing good.

Results count.

Better for Danny Dumaresque to keep himself out of the news media. Better for him to stay in the back room and sort things out. Let results be the measure of his ability.

So far the combination of Dumaresque's unsubstantiated claims and stories like the March one make people wonder why we are even bothering to have an election in the fall anyway.

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Caped crusader considered for new Quebec LG

At least one report has it that Marcel Masse, a former Progressive Conservative defence minister under Brian Mulroney, has been kicked around as a potential candidate to take on the job of Quebec's Lieutenant Governor.

Masse was known for his love of maple syrup and opera music, as well as his penchant for wearing a cape to work on occasion.

Masse was the minister of national defence when a contract for more than a billion dollars was awarded to Bell Helicopter of Montreal for acquisition of the Griffon helicopter. Numerous, serious deficiencies in the purchase and in the helicopter were noted by the federal auditor general in a 1998 review.

Obviously, M. Masse would be an inspirational choice.

Sask NDP in expense claim flap

The Saskatchewan Party is calling for the resignation of a New Democrat cabinet minister amid allegations a caucus staffer admitted to inflating expense account claims 15 years ago.

NDP caucus chief of staff Jim Fodey resigned Saturday after admitting that he had given NDP House Leader Glenn Hagel incomplete and inaccurate information on the matter. An NDP caucus staffer was accused of pocketing $6,000 by altering expense claims. According to the Globe and Mail,

Mr. Hagel said last week that the party had turned over all of its information to police regarding the investigation.

But Regina Police Chief Cal Johnston says his department wasn't given important documents, such as the cheques or an alleged confession note, until 1994.

"It would appear from our files that we were told in 1992 that there was no cause for concern," Chief Johnston told a news conference Friday evening.

Adult sudden death syndrome?

Apparently it struck a judge being held in jail in China.

Hmmm.

Adult sudden death syndrome?

Bullet to the back of the skull.

Is that a cause, if not in this case then in others?

Falling down a flight of stairs, while handcuffed and shackled?

That would likely cause it, too.

Turns out ASDS is not an usual idea. But it usually manifests in young people and is linked to a previously undiagnosed cardiac condition.

Then again, ASDS could be a clever way of describing an old truism: it's not the flying through the air that kills someone falling off a building.

It's the sudden stop at the end.

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Budget Fibre Questions

Listed in the Estimates for Innovation, Trade and Rural Development (InTRD), is a $10 million line item to "provide for the purchase of fibre optic strands forming part of a new, fully redundant fibre optic telecommunications link along two diverse routes which will connect with national carriers in mainland Canada."

The original estimate for this project was $15 million "over the next two fiscal years", so this line item raises a few questions:

1. Has the amount been reduced to $10 million from the original $15 million? If so why? One of the points raised in the consultant's assessment for this project was that price quoted for the quantity of fibre-optic cable didn't seem to mesh with current market prices.

The consultant recommended increasing the amount of fibre. Buuuuut, the provincial government might have elected to reduce the quantity or bring the price paid in line with the quantity purchased. At the same time they might have opted to increase the quantity of fibre-optic cable being purchased.

2. Has the amount been raised so that the investment will be $10 million this year and an unknown amount next year?

3. Will there be a $5.0 million appropriation next year? It's likely the project is still on track with the original estimate, with two-thirds being committed the first year and the remainder in the last year.

With a tip of the hat to e-mailers

From today's Telegram editorial:
Cheers: to stacking the deck. Kudos to Internet blogger Ed Hollett, who spotted this Reuters story in April. "The Russian official whose role is to act as an impartial umpire in elections said in an interview published on Monday that President Vladimir Putin is always right. Kremlin critics have raised doubts about the impartiality of Vladimir Churov, a former colleague of Putin's who was last month chosen as chairman of the Central Election Commission. In his first major newspaper interview since he started his new job, Churov told the Kommersant daily that 'Churov's Law No. 1' is that Putin is always right. Asked by the newspaper what would happen if it turned out the Russian leader was mistaken on a certain issue, Churov said: 'How can Putin be wrong?' " That's certainly democracy at its best, and an honourable answer, indeed.
The original post is here.

A tip of the hat must go to the e-mailer who raised the subject in the first place.

FPI sold

Several news stories on Sunday and Monday report that Fishery Products International (FPI) is being sold. The Newfoundland assets are reportedly being sold to an arm of the Penney Group while a secondary processing facility and the American marketing arm are going to Nova Scotia-based High Liner Foods.

A new FPI Act was introduced in the House of Assembly last week, although details of the bill have not disclosed.

A continuous disclosure statement issued by Sanford Limited in mid-April stated:
Proposals to sell all the major assets in (15% owned) Fishery Products International Limited (TSX: FPL) in Canada are under final consideration by the FPL board. If these sales are concluded and approved by the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador the company will have a value well in excess of share trading prices over the last three years. Recent volume sales of shares in the company have occurred at C$15. This is well in excess of our present carrying value of C$7 per share and if this value is realised will result in a one-off gain of approximately NZ$20m.
Bond Papers has previously discussed Sanford Limited and FPI here, here and here.

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Another perspective on raises

This bit of silliness in political strategy and communications was apparently worth this much money to the Premier.

Political and public relations consultants in the province will be definitely revising their fee schedules as a result.

But here's another question: which of these people looks after the astroturf and the astroturfing?

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29 April 2007

Video round-up

1. Would Trevor give grants for this potential local industry? Making guns, by hand, in the Northwest Frontier.

2. Darwin Award nominee from Autonomous Quebec. It's a decade old but it's still hysterical. There is no truth to the rumour this guy is a failed ADQ candidate.

3. Evacuating an Airbus A380 in under a minute and a half.

(h/t to a retired barrister)

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The other Stephen Harper

Where did this Stephen Harper go?

"The broad lesson of history," he notes, "is that Canada's natural governing coalition always includes the federalist option in Quebec, not the nationalist one" -- as was true of the Liberals for much of the 20th century, and of the Conservatives in the 19th. The Alliance's Quebec strategy, in case anyone missed his point, should be to make itself "acceptable to a significant number of Liberal as well as anti-Liberal voters." Mr. Harper's leadership, then, would herald a historic shift -- not only in conservative politics but in the politics of the country.

...


And while generally rendering unto the provinces what the Constitution assigns to the provinces, he says he wants to see "a stronger federal government" within its own fields of jurisdiction. Is this just lip service? Mr. Harper drops this tantalizing hint: "Our economic union is too weak because Ottawa has failed to use the powers it has under the Constitution to ensure that goods and services can freely flow across provincial borders." Is Mr. Harper saying he would use those powers? Paris was worth a Mass. An economic union would be well worth a firewall.
(h/t Andrew Coyne)

Harper appeals to Quebec nationalists

In a speech to approximately 400 Conservative and Action democratique supporters on Saturday, Prime Minister Stephen Harper quoted former Quebec Premier Maurice Duplessis to call on Quebeckers to support Harper's Conservatives in the next federal election.
"Two parties is enough," the prime minister quoted Duplessis saying. "A good one and a bad one."

...

He said a re-elected Conservative government would lead a Canada that was "strong, united and free, with a Quebec (that was) autonomous and proud."
Harper appeared to align himself strongly with the conservative, ruralist Union Nationale which, under Duplessis, ruled Quebec for 15 years beginning in 1944.
"There is nothing more precious than the family farm, which represents so well all the values on which our country has been built,'' he said to rapturous applause.
From a 1956 speech archived by CBC, Duplessis describes Confederation as a pact between Quebec and English Canada.

28 April 2007

A reminder from Doug House

In light of the nationalist (populist) rhetoric in the recent throne speech, consider these words from Doug House on what's needed in Newfoundland and Labrador politics.

When you're done with the quote, go back to the post from a little over a year ago and consider the question posed at the time. The answer might be clearer today than it was 12 months ago.

Ever since it became self-governing in the mid-nineteenth century, political leadership in Newfoundland and Labrador has rotated between representatives of the dominant social class and populists who appeal directly to the "people" directly, with party labels meaning very little...

What Newfoundland and Labrador needs, however, is neither populist nor merchant. It needs a leader - or leadership if you include the whole of Cabinet [sic] - who can transcend both the exaggerated rhetoric of the populist and the restricted conservatism of the merchant. It needs men and women who exhibit statesmanship, by which I mean leadership that both transcends the interests of a single class and is grounded in a deep understanding of the issues, problems and potential rather than superficial rhetoric. [Italics in original]
J.D. [Doug] House, Against the tide: battling for economic renewal in Newfoundland and Labrador, (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1999), p. 239.

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Williams boosts political staff pay, some up to 16.8%

Staffers in the provincial Premier's Office will get raises in 2007 of between 8% and 16.8%.

Williams justified the increases, saying, among other things, that "They’re special staff. They’re a staff that are my senior advisers, that are running a $5-billion corporation, from my perspective."

Williams also acknowledged he needed to pay to retain people, particularly since he is a demanding boss. (All Premiers are.)

Has anyone been hearing any new nicknames for the Premier's Office aside from the old reliable the "8th Floor"?

Shrieking Shack, for example?

Incidentally, 8th Floor isn't like being one of the rings of hell from The Inferno. Rather it refers to the office's physical location. 8th Floor of an 11 Floor tower.

Funny and here everyone thought the province was run by the cabinet, assisted by senior public servants and overseen by the House of Assembly. Those senior public servants, by the way will only get a three per cent pay hike this year.

Williams also told the Telegram that while other public servants can expect salary increases in next year's collective bargaining rounds, the hikes won't be upwards of 8%. Guess 16% is out of the question, too.

But I digress.

Turns out it's actually all being run from the 8th Floor.

Highly centralized government indeed.

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Update: From the print version of the Telegram comes details of the salary hikes.

Chief of Staff: $131,050 from $121,180 (+ 8.1%)
Dir. of Communications: $101,896 from $89,546 (+ 13.8%)
Deputy chief of staff: $94,538 (new position)
Special advisor: $92,232 from $85,281 (+ 8.2%)
Principal assistant: $90,036 from $83,247 (+ 8.2%)
Director of operations: $81, 663 from $69,913 (+ 16.8%)
Manager, community outreach: $79,673 from $68,250 (+16.7%)

Rack of Confederation, the speech

Danny Williams will be speaking to the Economic Club of Toronto next week.

His topic: "his province's place within the federation now and in the future."

This sounds like the start of a road trip for the Premier. Just the topic to generate some headlines, what with the implication that Newfoundland and Labrador might not have a future within what Williams likes to call The Federation.

Williams will be in Toronto earlier next week for a meeting of the Federation council, seen in this artists' conception.

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Update: Early this morning, a draft for the Premier's Toronto speech turned up in Bond Papers' e-mail inbox. On closer examination, it seem authentic. Lots of hoary cliches. A quote lifted from someone else.

And in the middle of it, the following section that sounds, oddly familiar. Bonus points to anyone who can identify the original quote.


" Ladies and Gentlemen!

You have eyes, but you cannot see!

Galaxies…surround us!

Limitless vistas!

And yet, the Federation would have Newfoundlanders and Labradorians grovel away like some ANTS on some somewhat larger than usual anthill.

But I am not an insect.

I am...

Master of the Universe!

And I must claim my domain!"

Reasons for not having a spring election..Part I-lost-count

Yet another poll showing the federal Conservatives stuck below 40%.

The Liberals are at 31% and in Quebec the two parties are in a dead heat, behind the Bloc Quebecois.

Pressue mounts to dump Reynolds as electoral officer

Pressure continues to mount on Premier Danny Williams to shelve the appointment of a former president of Williams' party as the province's chief electoral officer.

Williams is defending the decision, and as this Telegram editorial notes, in the process misses the point that the CEO should not be a partisan in the first place.

27 April 2007

Joke em if they can't...the sequel

Premier Danny Williams repeatedly called the Prime Minister "Steve" Harper in a scrum today.

Williams wanted to show disdain for the Prime Minister comparable to the disdain Williams contends the Prime Minister displayed toward the province recently.

Such is the state of federal-provincial relations in the country.

Reportedly senior officials in the province's intergovernmental affairs secretariat are working on other options to deal with the federal government, including:

- stringing toilet paper in the trees at 24 Sussex;

- "egging" the Prime Minister's limousine;

- making it mandatory for all provincial officials to blow "raspberries" whenever anyone mentions the federal government at intergovernmental meetings;

- randomly calling the Prime Minister's office and asking if the PM's refrigerator is running;

- leaving messages for federal officials all over Canada that Mike Hunt from Newfoundland called. The automated answering system will put the caller into an endless loop of "if you are calling so-and-so press 2" options;

- ordering pizzas at all hours of the day and night having then sent to the Langevin Block;

- sneaking fart cushions into the Commons and randomly planting them on cabinet ministers' seats;

- having someone slip a dead skunk into the air conditioning system at Harrington Lake;

- when meeting their federal counterparts, provincial cabinet ministers are to do the fake-handshake-smooth-the-hair-instead-thing;

- putting plastic wrap across the toilet seats in the House of Commons washrooms;

- try to embarrass the PM by calling Frank magazine with a hot tip that the Prime Minister has a stylist on the office payroll;

- tell Loyola Hearn he can pull Danny's finger anytime but Danny is sooooooo pissed off Loyola won't even get a fart; and,

- Answer any future questions about the PM with: "Who? Never heard of him. He doesn't exist. So there. Neeener. Neener. Neener."

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Postscript:

Sadly, the first bit of this post was true: Danny is resorting to calling the Prime Minister Steve.

The rest?

Well, hopefully it's just a little Friday evening levity.

Sad part of it is that, with these guys, ya just never know when the province's representative in Ottawa will be sent to the House of Commons gallery with orders to sit and stare at the Prime Minister until he gives in.

Things are almost that silly.

But is the Premier going?

Natural resources minister Kathy Dunderdale is off to the Offshore Technology Conference (OTC) in Houston next week.

But there's no mention the Premier is going, as he has done in the past.

According to some industry sources, the Premier is going down for a conference pre-show but has to flip to Toronto for a Council of Federation meeting in Toronto.

So how come there's no public mention of it?

Bravo SWGC

Sir Wilfed Grenfell College is becoming a degree-granting university separate from Memorial University but sharing a common board of regents with the long-established St. John's institution.

That's one of the numerous high points in government's 2007 budget.

But for those of us with memories, there's a certain irony in the whole development.

In 1989, the Liberals under Clyde Wells proposed creating several universities in the province.

If memory serves, some - including the Progressive Conservatives under then-Premier Tom Rideout pooh poohed the idea.

Steps taken in the years since 1989 have helped to make this announcement a reality. All it shows is that sometimes, with a little vision and lots of perseverance, things can happen.

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Correction

An e-mail correspondent pointed out a glaring error on the part of your humble e-scribbler.

A post on one possible source of the government's recent nationalist rhetoric contained the comment: "His interpretation has been criticised by other historians, but it did serve as the inspiration for the entertaining but fictional movie Secret nation."

However, that proposition doesn't hold up since the movie was completed before the master's thesis referred to in the post.

The movie was released in 1992 and the masters degree awarded in 1992, according to this news release, but at most the two projects were in production at the same time and with no apparent crossover. The e-mail contained information that made this clear.

So there it is.

Secret Nation was not inspired by John Fitzgerald's MA thesis.

If it wasn't clear from the above comment, then let's make it clear now: the movie was a work of fiction. The MA wasn't. It's a thesis and as such has been subjected to whatever commentary and criticism is appropriate in an academic context. It stands on its own merits. Sadly, it has not been published for a wider audience to have a look at it.

The 1993 Montreal Gazette story linked here has a comment that makes it plain the movie was finished before the thesis appeared. Michael Jones is quoted as saying:
"It's always been in the air. Based on that, we did a certain amount of research, consulted with historians and that sort of thing before we made the film. But it was only after the film was finished that I read a brilliant thesis by John Fitzgerald, a young historian in St. John's, that was very supportive of the conclusions of the film - even though the film was a piece of fiction."
That's pretty clear and frankly there's no excuse for missing the point that Jones read the thesis after finishing the movie.

As for the rest of the comments Jones makes, well, only he can answer for the conversation.

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Update: See also this previous post for the same erroneous comment on the inspiration for the movie.

Joke 'em if they can't take a...

Update: See below

CBC News and others in Newfoundland and Labrador have one take on Stephen Harper's remarks yesterday in the House of Commons. Here's what he said:
"Sounds like a good Conservative budget to me. Also sounds like they're having awful rough treatment and they want it to continue."
The lede on the CBC story reads this way:
Prime Minister Stephen Harper helped himself to some of the credit for Newfoundland and Labrador's record-setting surplus budget.
Sarcasm apparently doesn't come across well for Harper.

Tax cuts, spending on a variety of new programs and deficit and debt fighting. That doesn't sound like Harper is taking credit for the Newfoundland and Labrador budget, just that the thing sounds like the one delivered by his finance leprechaun.

The second part is a fairly obvious dig aimed at Premier Danny Williams. After all, if the provincial government can boost spending to record levels, it is hard to believe that the loss of Equalization - because the provincial economy is doing so well - is such a problem.

Imagine if he'd said that Canadas New Government isn't afraid to inflict prosperity on Newfoundland and Labrador.

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For the record, here's the full exchange, from Hansard:

Mr. Scott Simms (Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, the most controlling Prime Minister in the history of Canada seems to be losing his grip on the Afghanistan mission and now the same is happening in his own caucus. Here is the latest.

A report last night from Radio-Canada says that his Atlantic colleagues are seeing the light, or perhaps feeling the heat. Now they are considering voting against the budget, the budget that is hammering them and is hammering Atlantic Canada.

What is the Prime Minister going to do to put out the fire in his own caucus?

Right Hon. Stephen Harper (Prime Minister, CPC): Mr. Speaker, I see that the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador has tabled a budget today that involves record spending, paying down the debt and decreasing taxes. It sounds like a good Conservative budget to me. It also sounds like it is having awful rough treatment and it wants it to continue.

Mr. Scott Simms (Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, the last thing the Conservatives did was break their promise. That is what the government prides itself on doing.

Recently, even the great Progressive Conservative, John Crosbie, says that he supports Premier Williams and admits that a promise was indeed broken.

This week we have learned the Prime Minister's need to cover up anything that may tarnish his sterling facade.

How will he cover up the fault lines in this budget that is opening up all over this country of Canada?

Ms. Diane Ablonczy (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance, CPC):

Mr. Speaker, this is wishful thinking on the part of opposition members. They seem to indulge in a lot of that and a lot of false allegations.

The fact is this is a good budget for Canada, a good budget for Newfoundland and Labrador, and we are proud to support it.

Mounties get lesson in constitutional law

Lawyers representing suspended Royal Canadian Mounted Police deputy commissioner Barbara George are seeking a federal court injunction to stop the federal police force from investigating their client for perjury.

Questions arose earlier in a parliamentary investigation into handling of the RCMP pension fund among other things. George's testimony was contradicted by other witnesses.

Well, it turns out that a parliamentary privilege of immunity dating back to at least the 17th century protects both members of parliament as well as witnesses in parliamentary proceedings.

While Federal Court Judge Daniele Trembley-Lamer hasn't handed down a ruling, a great many people will be watching the decision with interest. There may be an aspect of the law that would lift that exemption from legal proceedings in a case like this. Whatever happens it will be an important case to watch.

Local Bond Papers' readers will recall that Premier Danny Williams tossed around the idea of removing immunity in the House of Assembly. While the second article on the subject hasn't appeared yet, the first one noted that immunity would be an easy thing to remove, at least in Newfoundland and Labrador. It also made this point:
Freedom of speech is also widely held to be an important right of legislators for the wider public interest it serves. Members of the legislature are entitled to make whatever statements they wish in dealing with a public issue. The same privilege extends to those called before the legislature or its committees as witnesses. All may speak freely and openly without fear and without concern that comments ought to be proven true before they are made.
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Update: In an unrelated matter, a supreme court justice in Newfoundland and Labrador today dismissed a case involving a former ombudsman who was suing the provincial legislature over his firing last year.

The justice cited parliamentary immunity as the grounds for the dismissal.

Perhaps the Premier is reconsidering his remarks in February.

And speaking of elections

Senators are expected to pass a bill currently in the Ante-chamber to the Kingdom of Heaven that would fix the next federal election date as October 19, 2009.

That would fit with more than a few political timelines in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Fabulous Fabe

More than a few in Newfoundland and Labrador were surprised by this picture [Tom Hanson/Canadian Press].

Why?

Because instead of federal finance leprechaun John Flaherty sitting next to the Prime Minister, there was Avalon member of parliament Fabian Manning.

Normally a member doesn't get to sit on the treasury benches unless he or she is a member of cabinet. Yet, there's a nattily-dressed Manning, looking on as the much more sartorially splendid Prime Minister tackles questions during the daily Question Period.

Now Newfoundlanders and Labradorians weren't struck by the attire of the two men, although some will certainly note that Fabe looks good without high-priced help.

Nope, wags across the province were wondering why Manning is cuddling up to the Prime Minister during the fracas over Equalization promises. Some are even going so far as to add the Avalon MP to a list of fellows elected to parliament who seem to have turned their backs on their province. They wonder if Manning won't be getting his come-uppance at the polls for supposedly betraying the province.

It's a good question.

Except that the whole premise of the question is based on the belief that one can only be a good, proper, loyal and trustworthy Newfoundlander by backing the provincial government in the crise du jour.

Manning might pay, but by the time of the next federal election - anyone wanna bet on 2008? - odds are good that the ruckus with Harper will be forgotten and Manning will be re-elected handily. On top of that, Manning is the likely choice to replace Loyola Hearn should the province's current federal cabinet representative opt for retirement.

Odds are also good that Manning - ousted from the provincial Tory caucus in a dispute with Premier Danny Williams - will be taking advice from John Crosbie on how to conduct his business. Wouldn't that be an interesting development: Premier Danny Williams dealing with the guy he wouldn't have stay in his own caucus, and the fellow from the Southern Shore having his hand on bags of federal cash.

Talk about come-uppance.

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Update: A quick check of the Commons seating chart indicates that The Fabulous Fabe was actually sitting in the seat normally occupied by Lawrence Cannon, Minister of Transportation.

The finance leprechaun must have been absent that day or just not in the shot.

Another life outside your radio

A few weeks ago, your humble e-scribbler bumped into VOCM talk show host Linda Swain on a street in downtown St. John's.

It seemed strange to see the person in the flesh when usually she is just a voice coming out of the radio.

Swain is a real person, of course and she has a life beyond listening to people ranting about this that and the other.

Swain is also a visual artist, with a new exhibit of her work at the Pollyanna Gallery, Duckworth Street until May 29.

The Telegram's Joan Sullivan has a feature on Swain and her latest exhibition.

Budget 2007: a quick look at the numbers

The Government of Newfoundland and Labrador forecast record spending for 2007, at more than $5.5 billion.

Some quick observations based on a simple breakdown into the good, the bad and the ugly of the budget:

The Good

Tax cuts and increased program spending.

All good in an election year and make no mistake: this is an election budget.

People will be happy and the provincial government is certainly counting on people's immediate sense of contentment to see the current administration re-elected with an overwhelming majority.

No region of the province is untouched by extra cash. No person will be left out of the tax breaks or other benefits.

The source of the cash: all the supposedly bad deals signed before 2003 by previous administrations, Liberal and Conservative.

Windfalls from high oil prices produced the supposed miracle of deficit slaying. Everything in this budget, indeed every budget increase since 2003 has been based on high oil prices.

Thank you Brian Mulroney and Brian Peckford. Thanks to the administrations that developed Voisey's Bay and the offshore oil fields at Hibernia, Terra Nova and White Rose.

The latter field is expected to hit payout in FY 2007. As a result, royalties will jump to 30% on the price of each barrel.

The Bad

This budget forecasts a spending increase 5.6% from Fiscal Year (FY) 2006. It also projects increased spending of 4.7% and 4.2% over the subsequent two fiscal years.

That's bad since it exceeds the rate of inflation by more than double in FY 2007. The Bank of Canada forecasts inflation to run at 2.2% in 2007 and at 2.7% for each of the two years after.

Prudent fiscal management would hold spending to at most the projected inflation rate. That doesn't mean program spending would need to be curtailed in important areas, nor does it mean the provincial couldn't afford tax cuts to bring provincial rates in line with Atlantic Canada. Rather it would simply require the provincial government to make some clear choices in what it considers important, rather than fix every problem by more spending.

Even in FY 2004 when the current administration proclaimed the province to be in a financial mess, it still introduced a budget that increased spending from the previous year. Spending has increased every year since. That's not going to be sustainable given the absence of a major new development at Hebron, which would have achieved first oil as production from at least two of the other fields slackened.

As it stands currently - and unless there are supersecret talks on Hebron no one is talking about - Hebron won't be producing oil for another decade or more. In the interim, the impact of demographic changes throughout the province will increase pressure on the provincial treasury at a time when the province's coffers will not be seeing significant new cash flowing in.

The current and forecast spending increases are based on optimistic projections for the price of oil in the medium term. Any downward trend in commodity prices (oil, minerals etc) will quickly make the consistent spending increases since 2003 unsustainable. Fiscal reality in those circumstances - taking less money in than is flowing out - would require program cuts, job losses and/or tax increases to correct.

Our plan is to continue this responsible approach in the years that follow to ensure we are increasingly strong, less reliant on the whims of others and more reliant on
ourselves.
The whims referred to are likely those supposed whims of the Government of Canada. This budget - like all recent budgets - builds itself on the whims of international commodities markets. Which one is less reliable?

More bad. Per capita spending will be $10, 871 per person in the province, assuming a population of 512, 000. It will jump to $11, 878 per person in FY 2008 putting Newfoundland and Labrador on par with Alberta for per capita provincial government spending. Drop the population below 500,000 and Newfoundland and Labrador will be outspending Alberta, the richest province in the country.

The difference is that Alberta isn't carrying around the per capita debt Newfoundland and Labrador shoulders, which, as noted below using the finance minister's own words, limits the provincial government's options in dealing with any financial setbacks.

That level of per capita spending is unsustainable in the long run. As a recent Atlantic Institute for Market Studies assessment concluded:
If the province fails to reign in its whopping per capita government spending (about $8800/person [in FY 2006]) and super-size me civil service (96 provincial government employees /1000 people) it will quickly erode any gains from increased energy revenues.
The Ugly

As much as the provincial government talks about the large public sector debt, so far it hasn't done anything to deal with it.

Finance minister Tom Marshall described the issue accurately in the budget speech, saying:
The most significant fiscal challenge facing Newfoundland and Labrador is the burden of debt we inherited, the highest per capita net debt in Canada, more than double the national average. High debt loads mean high interest payments, whether for a family or for a government. Reducing debt frees up money to spend on programs and other priorities.
All government has done is produce a net reduction in the debt by a mere $70 million in FY 2006 and forecast a further reduction of $66 million in FY 2007. At that rate - i.e. $70 million per year - the province will be debt free in 2178.

If there is a budget surplus in FY 2007, as currently forecast, most if not all should be committed to reducing the public debt. Anything else is whistling past the graveyard.

Government's reported success in reducing the debt to GDP ratio has come not from strong fiscal management by government but in growth in GDP driven primarily by commodity prices. Lower the GDP - as in a drop in commodity prices - and those apparent gains will vanish.

There's another ugly element in the budget reporting and that is in the misleading presentation of revenue from the 2005 agreement with the Government of Canada. It will not produce additional cash for the treasury in FY 2007 despite the claim by the finance minister that "[w]ithout the 2005 Accord negotiated by our Premier, we would be receiving $305.7 million less than we are getting this year."

In reality, that cash has already been received and spent on shoring up the teachers' pension plan. That was sound financial decision, but the provincial finance minister cannot claim double credit for the money.

Statement I in the FY 2007 Estimates shows the reality. A modest $49 million surplus on current and capital account forecast for FY 2007 becomes a $255 million shortfall once the $305 million from the 2005 cash advance is deducted.


-30-

The Boss is Always Right

And if the Boss is wrong?

Well, in the case of the Russian chief electoral officer, that just isn't possible.

Reuters moved this story earlier in April:


Doubts over judgment of 'impartial' election official who claims Putin
always right


THE Russian official whose role is to act as an impartial umpire in elections has said in a published interview that president Vladimir Putin is always right.

Kremlin critics have raised doubts about the impartiality of Vladimir Churov, a former colleague of the president's who was last month chosen as chairman of the Central Election Commission.

In his first major newspaper interview since he started his new job, Mr Churov told the Kommersant newspaper yesterday that "Churov's Law No 1" is that Mr Putin is always right.

Asked by the newspaper what would happen if it turned out the Russian leader was mistaken on a certain issue, Mr Churov said: "How can Putin be wrong?"

Mr Churov worked alongside Mr Putin in the 1990s in the same local administration department in St Petersburg.

The new election chief has previously said he will treat all participants in elections fairly and equally.

Mr Churov will have a crucial role overseeing an election to the federal parliament in December and a presidential poll next March, when a replacement for Mr Putin is to be chosen.

In Russia, the election chief is often called on to adjudicate on allegations of vote violations, including claims bureaucrats have used their power to influence the outcome of elections.

Mr Churov replaced the independent-minded Alexander Veshnyakov at the helm of the election commission.

Analysts have interpreted the change of guard as part of a Kremlin plan to ensure a smooth transfer of power to Mr Putin's preferred candidate in the presidential poll.

Mr Putin, accused by critics of rolling back democracy, enjoys strong popularity after seven years of stable economic growth which brought relative prosperity for millions of Russians.

From a course report long ago?


DS: Soldiers will follow this officer if only out of idle curiosity. He should have a bright career in politics.

26 April 2007

Two degrees of separation: Couple scammed in DR

This story is making the national news, but it was circulating widely in Newfoundland and Labrador within a few hours of the couple making it back home.

When travelling in certain countries it is important to know the telephone number for the local Canadian embassy or consulate.

Local debater scores big

A St. John's youth has placed 6th in the world overall at the prestigious 2007 World Individual Debating and Public Speaking Championships recently held in Cape Town, South Africa.

Sam Greene, a Level 1 student at Holy Heart of Mary High School placed 3rd in the debating event, broke to the top ten in the Impromptu Speaking event and placed in the top 15 in the Interpretive Speaking and Persuasive Speaking events.

At 16, Sam was the youngest member of the Canadian delegation of 12 top debate and public speaking competitors from across Canada. This was only the third time in 25 years a student from this province has qualified to compete at the World Individual Debating and Public Speaking Championships. As a level 1 student, he is eligible to compete at this level for another two years.

He qualified for the international event at the CanWest National Public Speaking Championships in Winnipeg earlier this Spring, where he won first place in debating and placed 7th overall nationally.

On Wednesday, Sam along with two other local students, leaves for Ottawa to participate in the qualifying trials to select Team Canada for other upcoming international events. Members of this team of 9 students will represent Canada at the Pan-American Student Debate Championships, the European Student Debate Championships and ultimately the Worlds Schools Debate Championship.

Jonny Lomond (Holy Heart High School) and Kirsten Morry (Prince of Wales Collegiate) are the other two students participating at the qualifying trials to select Team Canada.

-30-

AG to get fibreoptic documents

After months of insisting that provincial law prevented cabinet from releasing cabinet documents to the Auditor General, cabinet has decided to give Auditor General John Noseworthy access to documents relevant to his review of a controversial fibreoptic cable deal between government and a private sector consortium.

No explanation for the change is included in the CBC story linked above, but the decision by cabinet is consistent with an idea advanced by Bond Papers before Christmas (first link above) that the Ag could be given access based on cabinet discretion.

The new Oldest Living Father of Confederation

One story for home. One for away.

It must be like a hockey team with a white shirt for home games and a dark one for away, except this one has a white shirt for both, depending on your perspective.

At home, Danny Williams is a fearless champion of Newfoundland nationalism. White shirt.

In Winnipeg, he's a fearless Canadian fighting the Newfoundland separatists. A different white shirt.

No joking.

From the Canadian Press post-throne speech coverage:
Premier Danny Williams says he's trying to quell separatist feelings within Newfoundland and Labrador, despite a throne speech that suggested the province should push for more autonomy from Ottawa.

"The fans of sovereignty are here. If anything, I've been trying to dampen those fires as much as I can," Williams said yesterday.

"Dampen those fires as much as I can"?

Uh huh.

Riiiiiight.

Update: There's a related story on cbc.ca/nl.


-30-

Throne speech: one view from away

In the National Post.

Short and to the point.

Reasons there's no spring election, number whatever

Sucky poll results.

Strategic Counsel's numbers for the Globe: CPC 36/LPC 30/NDP 13/BQ 39.

And that's on the heels of the Decima results as reported by Canadian Press. The Conservatives at 30 are virtually tied with the Liberals, showing at 29. Decima's poll a month ago showed the federal Conservatives at 39%.

25 April 2007

Details, please

Ministerial statements like this one are much more persuasive if they include concrete examples of accomplishments.

As it is, we just have a bunch of irrelevant numbers and a cabinet minister patting himself on the back.

This statement looks like every other release or statement on the same project: unconvincing.

Anyone can write down a number, set an arbitrary and unverifiable number and the en later claim to have made steady progress by simply printing different numbers.

Just because it comes in a government news release doesn't mean that it is inherently credible.

Terra Nova back in the cash

High oil prices mean that the Terra Nova oilfield has recovered recent refurbishment costs on the production platform and is now pumping higher royalties into provincial coffers, six weeks ahead of schedule.

The provincial government now receives 30% of the price of each barrel of oil produced under the royalty regime established with the provincial government.

Under the Atlantic Accord (1985), the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador sets royalty and other revenue rate for the offshore. It receives and retains 100% of the amount it sets. in addition, the provincial government continues to receive federal transfers for a fixed period under terms set out in the 1985 Accord and in a 2005 add-on deal between the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador and the Government of Canada.

Why there won't be a federal election this spring

1. Canada's New Government apparently has trouble with fax machines.

2. There is a brewing Afghanistan controversy that will hurt everywhere, but especially in Quebec.

The Throne Speech in perspective

From the Telegram.

24 April 2007

The Newfoundland Nationalist orthodoxy

Given the nationalist rhetoric permeating the latest provincial throne speech, it might be useful to examine the writings of another Newfoundland nationalist.

The following piece appeared in the St. John's Telegram in 1998 under the title "Confederation orthodoxy". It's author, John Fitzgerald, today serves as the provincial representative in Ottawa, or as it might seem to some "our man in a Blue Line cab."

While his doctoral thesis was on the Roman Catholic church in Newfoundland in the middle of the 19th century, Fitzgerald's master's thesis was titled The Confederation of Newfoundland with Canada, 1946-1949. His interpretation has been criticised by other historians, but it did serve as the inspiration for the entertaining but fictional movie Secret nation.

The film contended that Confederation was the result of a giant plot involving foreign powers that included falsifying the final referendum result. Fitzgerald's account below does not come to that conclusion, but there is no doubt that he leans heavily on a peculiar interpretation of selected information to attack what he views as Confederate mythology. It is all to common for self-proclaimed myth debunkers to propagate a few myths of their own and Fitzgerald is no exception. He recites neatly the townie anti-Confederate catechism.

For that reason, and given Fitzgerald's current position as a senior advisor to the Premier, here is Fitzgerald's 1998 view:

Confederation orthodoxy
John Fitzgerald
The Telegram
St. John's, NL
April 6, 1998
Page 6

The Telegram editorial of April 1, celebrating 49 years of Confederation as a "qualified success," claimed that Newfoundland would have been much worse off as an independent country than as a Canadian province, and that without Ottawa, Newfoundland might return to the "grinding poverty" of the 1930s. This is the same tired orthodoxy that The Telegram and Smallwood preached in 1948: Newfoundland would not survive without Confederation.

Newfoundland very likely could have prospered without Confederation. For nine of the 10 years before Confederation Newfoundland had a balanced budget. On the eve of Confederation, Newfoundland had two-per-cent unemployment and a per-capita debt which was one-tenth of Canada's. On the eve of Confederation, Newfoundland had an accumulated surplus on current account of $43 million and $12 million in interest-free loans to Britain. In 1998 dollars this would be close to $1 billion. Was this prosperity temporary? No. Newfoundland changed forever in the 1940s. If the absence of a House of Assembly at the time prevented Newfoundlanders from knowing it or doing anything about it, then Canada certainly did know the wealth and value of Newfoundland.

Confederation may have been an qualified success for Canada, but not so for Newfoundland. Canada feared that Newfoundland could have used its resources to survive and prosper independently. The Ottawa mandarins realized that Confederation would help extract the Americans from their bases in Newfoundland. Newfoundland also had two of the largest airports in the world, situated on the Great Circle air route.

Canada wanted them, and acquired them with Confederation. It then used the control of the airports and landing rights to force its own way into American markets which had previously excluded Canada. In 1946, Newfoundland had an estimated 300 million tons of iron ore in Labrador, which Canada was interested in exploiting. (In March 1996 the IOC blasted the one billionth ton of iron ore out of Labrador, while Newfoundland still collects revenues under the 1944 royalty regime established by the Commission of Government which allows Newfoundland five per cent of what the IOC tells us their profits are.) Ottawa knew that controlling Newfoundland's fisheries would eliminate Newfoundland from competing with Nova Scotia for markets for its fish. (Could Newfoundland have managed its cod stocks any worse than Canada has?)

On Oct. 17, 1946, the Canadian High Commissioner in Newfound land, Scott Macdonald, wrote Ottawa about the benefits Newfoundland would bring to Canada. Newfoundland had "very considerable mineral and forest resources as well as easy access to the finest fishing grounds in the world." Confederation "would solve, permanently, all questions of post-war military and civil aviation rights which are at present terminable after March 31, 1949, on 12 months' notice. It would make possible a common jurisdiction over North Atlantic fisheries. ..."

And would Newfoundland return to poverty? Not likely. "Moreover," Macdonald wrote, "(Newfoundland) is richer by the investment of at least $100 million by Canada and at least $300 million by the United States primarily for defence but much of which was spent on roads, wharfs (sic), telephone lines, warehouses, similar buildings, radio ranges, airfields, the training of Newfoundlanders in various technical jobs, etc. and has redounded to the general development of the country." In Macdonald's view, Newfoundland thus had the infrastructure to sustain prosperity.

For Canada, Newfoundland's Confederation was not about the welfare state or about helping Newfoundlanders "out of poverty" (for which, The Globe and Mail tells us, we must be eternally grateful). Rather, it was about acquiring valuable resources, eliminating competition, acquiring very valuable aspects of Newfoundland's sovereignty, and doing it all rather deeply [cheaply?]. After all, Smallwood's Confederation campaigns only cost CD Howe and the Liberal Party of Canada a cool half-million bucks.
-30-

Destiny, nationalism and a Speech from the Throne

Following is an extract from remarks by Premier Danny Williams in the House of Assembly following the throne speech.

The words are taken almost directly from the throne speech since, as convention dictates, it is the Premier who writes the speech.

Both for Newfoundlanders and Labradorians and for their fellow Canadians across Canada, the speech is an interesting clue to the thinking of the feisty first minister.

For example, note that in his speech, as in the throne speech, Williams refers to something called "Ottawa", as if it were a foreign capital.

Some people should also take note of a particular sentence, that "we cannot rely upon those elected to offices outside of this Province to deliver what is in our own best interest." This sentence, repeated in the throne speech and in the news release issued on Tuesday afternoon, should give pause to Stephane Dion, with whom the Premier met on Saturday.

It should surely give pause to all those incumbents federal members of parliament from this province and those likely candidates for it means clearly that Danny Williams does not and will not trust you. These words mean, unequivocally, that elected representatives of the people of Newfoundland and Labrador are not to be trusted merely because they represent the people of the province somewhere other than in the House of Assembly controlled utterly by the current provincial administration.

Scott? Walter? Paul? Peter? Siobhan? Fabian? Gerry? Loyola?

One wonders if they get the point.

Note as well, in the second last paragraph the number of claims that have no substance behind them. The current revenue wave which alone produced the economic miracle Williams claims credit for came as a direct result of the Atlantic Accord (1985).

This landmark in federal-provincial relations was achieved as a direct result of agreement between two strong governments and on the federal side is a direct consequence of efforts by John Crosbie. The negotiations were lengthy and difficult. The deal came close to failing but in the end, through the determination of both the federal and provincial governments, an historic agreement was achieved.

In the current context, a modern John Crosbie would likely get not a lick of support from Danny Williams merely because he was "elected to federal office outside the province". The truth is, that as a direct result of both the federal government and a capable federal minister from this province, Newfoundland and Labrador has never before been in such a position of strength. Nationalists will find that a bitter pill to swallow but it is far closer to reality that anything uttered by the Premier on the matter today.

In the current though, that agreement may be in some jeopardy. The federal government is seeking to amend the deal in direct violation of section 60 of the 1985 Accord. The provincial government - who should be guarding the Accord vigilantly - apparently did not notice that section and still ignores it some three weeks after finance minister Tom Marshall said that provincial lawyers were checking to see if the federal government could unilaterally amend the 1985 Accord.

Instead, the Premier makes much of the "broken promise". Should the federal government succeed in amending the Accord unilaterally, the joint management rights and/or the very revenues on which the Danny Williams miracle has taken place - not the added hand-outs, but the provincially determined direct revenues - might be in jeopardy.

Flowery rhetoric is a fine thing. Quoting William Jennings Bryan on destiny is a fine thing, but perhaps adapting another Bryan quote would be more useful in describing the Premier's speech(es): it seems to me it would be too exacting to confine the Premier to the facts; if he is not allowed to get away from the facts, what has he to deal with?

What does he have indeed?

__________________

Hansard, 24 April, 2007:

We are not prepared to tolerate a future of relying on others economically or having others manipulate us into selling ourselves short on resource benefits because we have all seen where that leads. Our people have learned that the best way to achieve self-reliance economically is to achieve self-reliance politically, by taking charge of our future as a people. I do not mean this in any separatist way. People should not read anything into that, because we are all strong nationalists and we are proud Canadians.

Political self-reliance simply means that we cannot rely upon those elected to offices outside of this Province to deliver what is in our own best interest. We must achieve that on our own. Self-reliance will not come by depending on others to achieve it for us. That is a lesson we have learned year after year, generation after generation. So we will harness the desire among Newfoundlanders and Labradorians to cultivate greater political, financial and moral autonomy vis-a-vis Ottawa. As a distinct people and as equal partners, Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal together, we will write a new future for Newfoundland and Labrador; a future of our own design, where mutual understanding, justice, equality, fairness and co-operation are the order of the day.

As the Throne Speech states, we will define our own future. We will strengthen our financial autonomy and our fiscal capacity to meet our own obligations by diversifying and growing our own economy; by reducing Newfoundland and Labrador’s burden of debt on our children; by pursuing a fair, fiscal balance between levels of government and by reducing our dependence on equalization payments.

We now have the ability to aspire to something better for Newfoundland and Labrador. We have the natural resources. We have the human resources and the opportunities that will enable us to achieve self-reliance on our own steam and on our own terms. Even though the federal government will not assist in the way they promised, we will continue to put the resource revenues we are permitted to keep to work for our people.

The truth is, that despite the federal government, never before have we been in a position of such strength. Revenues are strong. Our fiscal position is strong. Our record of expenditure growth has been responsible and strategic. Our standing before our credit rating agencies has never been better. Our resource portfolio is increasingly strong and very attractive to investors, and our collective political will as a people has never been stronger.

We have the financial leverage to accomplish things that are in our Province’s best interest and the fiscal means to stand firm before those who are pressuring us to sell ourselves short. We are negotiating from a position of strength. We can afford to say no to bad deals and hold out for agreements that will result in long-term gain for our Province, not just short-term band-aid solutions, Mr. Speaker.


-30-

The agenda revealed: Throne Speech 2007

We as Newfoundlanders and Labradorians aspire, not to perpetual subservience, but to self-sufficiency. Our people are not content to tolerate a future of relying on others economically. However, our people have now also learned that we will achieve self-reliance economically only by taking charge of our future as a people. To that end, My Government will harness the desire among Newfoundlanders and Labradorians to cultivate greater cultural, financial and moral autonomy vis-à-vis Ottawa. Our priority is the well-being of successive generations of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians, including those who live here now and those we welcome to join us from all over the world. My Government will affirm Newfoundland and Labrador’s status as a distinct people, not uniform in lineage but multi-cultural, one nation inclusive of many nations living in harmony together. [Emphasis added]
The goal is autonomy.

What that means and how to get there are not clearly defined.

From the Throne Speech

A curious claim given that on Hebron there are no talks and the province has yet to sign off on White Rose expansion. Hibernia South is still mired in "talks":
In Newfoundland and Labrador’s offshore oil and gas sector, massive energy opportunities are matched by My Government’s confidence that further activity will soon be occurring at Hibernia South, White Rose and Hebron-Ben Nevis as exploration proceeds in other basins. My Government also launched industry consultations to develop an offshore natural gas royalty regime that will provide clarity to industry. This should facilitate the development of our immense natural gas resource potential in a manner that provides a fair return to industry and the people of this province.
Maybe White Rose will get the nod, giving credence to John Lau's claims of having a great relationship with Danny Williams.

As for Hebron, maybe the truthiness of the statement depends on what ones' definition of "soon" is.

Raude heads south

Having finished at Great Barrisway F-66 in the Orphan basin, the drill rig Eirik Raude is off to the Gulf of Mexico to complete a drilling program there on behalf of ExxonMobil.

Before leaving Newfoundland waters, the rig will stop at Marystown where it will undergo inspections and recertification, a process required for drill rigs every five years.

The Eirik Raude is likely to return to the Orphan Basin in 2008 or 2009 to continue exploration. The Great Barrisway hole was drilled in 2,350 metres of water, deeper than any other well drilled so far offshore Newfoundland and Labrador.

Initial estimates were that the exploration well would cost $140 million based on an estimated four months drilling. As completed, the well took seven months.

On top of the harsh ocean environment offshore Newfoundland, the water depth in the Orphan Basin calls for cutting edge technology. Pressures at the depths involved can be as much as 200 times the atmospheric pressure at the ocean surface.

Great Barrisway F-66's water depth rivals those in the Gulf of Mexico. Chevron's Jack 2 field in the Gulf of Mexico was discovered at a water depth of 2100 metres and 6100 metres below the sea floor.
But drilling to such depths provides many daunting engineering challenges.

Such equipment, for example, must be built to handle tremendous weight.

"The way the drilling process works is that you put sections of pipe together one at a time as you run [the pipe] through the water and down into the earth," Hadden said. [Steve Hadden, senior vice president of exploration and production at Devon Energy in Oklahoma City, quoted in the National Geographic story linked above.]

"You keep adding to the drill string until you reach the total depth of the well. So [in this case] you've got a 30,000-foot-long [9,144-meter-long] string of pipe hanging off a floating rig," he added.

"You can imagine the weight requirements, and you have to have the ability to lift it to the surface to change the drill bit."

Twenty thousand feet (6,096 meters) of the large diameter pipe that encases the drill hole tops the scales at over a million pounds (453,000 kilograms).

The enormous pressures found in deep wells are another major hazard.

Too much pressure can make it difficult to control the drill bit. Or the pressure could collapse the hole altogether.

Drillers must therefore use seismic readings while drilling to predict how high pressures will be at future depths in order to keep the hole viable.

Danny and John get along well

From the Tuesday National Post, this article on the strong, positive relationship between Premier Danny Williams and Husky Energy's John Lau.
At Husky's annual meeting last week, for example, the Hong Kong-born accountant gushed that the premier has been "very helpful" to Husky and that his company, in return, is eager to "work with the government and share the upside."
The relationship between the Premier and the oil man stands out in light of other stories that there is tension between the Premier and the industry.
When asked about the secret of his relationship with Mr. Williams, Mr. Lau said Husky and the province are so transparent with each other it's resulted in a level of trust that is unusual "between a corporation and the government."

"We understand what the government wants, and the government understands what we want. We have no hidden agenda," Mr. Lau said, giving credit to his team in the province, led by East Coast vice-president Ruud Zoon.

Husky would not be averse to having the government as an equity partner as long as it doesn't affect its bottom line, Mr. Lau added.
The real clue to what makes this relationship work actually comes later in the piece. it has to do with the individual styles of the two men.
Some argue it's also a matter of style. Despite their vastly different backgrounds, the two leaders have kindred spirits: both see themselves as outsiders who don't get enough recognition, are highly successful, built organizations in their own image, are hands-own and hard to work for.
Fundamentally, though, Husky Energy is following a pretty standard approach to any relationship: the company is trying to find common ground, bearing in mind that whatever it might consider, including an equity position for the province, is governed by the corporate bottom line.

There are strong signals that Danny Williams is looking to change the perception of his policies if not the substance of the way he approaches relationships. In the confrontation with the federal government over Equalization, Williams has repeatedly stated he is not seeking confrontation for the sake of having a racket. He said much the same thing over the weekend following a meeting with federal Liberal leader Stephane Dion.

Ultimately, that's both factually accurate - he isn't really fighting for the sake of fighting - and a sign that Williams understands what is needed to foster mutually beneficial relationships. As Michael Harris said of Brian Peckford a quarter century ago, "dogma is no substitute for dialogue, and compromise no synonym for weakness."

23 April 2007

Danny loves Loyola, Update

A video featuring Danny Williams supporting Loyola Hearn in the 1989 provincial Progressive Conservative Party leadership contest is picking up more attention with each passing day.

The video is posted on youtube.com.

When Bond Papers posted the link on Friday, the total viewers was 91. That number hit 241 by mid-day Monday. The video was featured on CBC's Here and Now supperhour news show on Monday evening and as of 10: 45 Pm Monday night the hit counter had reached 369.

The politics of outrage runs aground

From today's Globe?

Nope.

Try February 23, 1983.

Following is a Michael Harris piece that originally appeared in the Globe and Mail in the aftermath of the first court case on offshore ownership (the one the nationalists like to forget).

The odd thing is that it doesn't take much adjustment to have this story apply equally well today. A feisty Premier, given to fighting anyone, anywhere, anytime in the best interests of Newfoundland and Labrador, and yet finding himself coming up short.

So to speak.

So for your reading enjoyment is this blast from the past, titled in the original as this post. Don't be confused by some of the references, by the way. Almost a quarter of a century ago, Jim Hodder was a Liberal member of the legislature. Hodder crossed the floor not long after this article appeared. He's like Tom Rideout, at least in that respect.

Leo Barry went on to lead the Liberal Party and was later appointed a justice of the Supreme Court. Brian Peckford is in British Columbia advising people out there about starting an oil and gas industry.

______________________________

"One cannot reasonably demand that discussions take place on the basis that it would constitute only additional obligations for one party and only benefits for the other."

- Rene Levesque to Brian Peckford on the
Upper Churchill Power question,
April 29, 1980.
There is a caveat to Rene Levesque's otherwise self-evident assessment of what constitutes meaningful negotiations - it is not applicable when dealing with Newfoundland.

For three years now, Premier Brian Peckford has practiced the politics of outrage on a range of arguably outrageous disputes in which Newfoundland has become embroiled.

In the two most celebrated quarrels - with Quebec over Labrador hydro-power and Ottawa over offshore resources - his strategy has been identical. Mr. Peckford has developed a quasi-moral position and then gone on to defend it with messianic zeal. ''Pre-conditions'' has become the buzz word when negotiating with Newfoundland. And if the notion of preconditions precluded meaningful negotiations, that was a problem for the other guy. Newfoundland would soldier on and eventually triumph because Newfoundland was in the right.

As political strategy, the approach has been a howling success - so far. Newfoundlanders unabashedly admire their battling Premier. So much so that the opposition Liberals were almost wiped out in last year's emotional provincial election. Securely wrapped in the provincial flag, Mr. Peckford rules his caucus with an iron hand and the House of Assembly with an iron tongue, much as Joey Smallwood did in his political prime.

But as a means of realizing Mr. Peckford's stated public policy goals, the feisty, inflexible approach has been an abject failure. The Upper Churchill Power Contract remains in full, ruinous force, depriving Newfoundland of $750-million a year to which the province feels entitled. And the vast oil resources off the province's southeast coast remain undeveloped.

Worse, politics as the art of being right has shifted both disputes to a forum where politicians are powerless to influence the outcome - the courts.

The stark reality of what that can mean was demonstrated last week when the Newfoundland Court of Appeal ruled that Ottawa owns resources on the continental shelf off Newfoundland. In a single stroke, the Newfoundland Petroleum Directorate became a legal fiction, the province's oil and gas regulations lost their force, and Mr. Peckford's bargaining position with Ottawa suffered a devastating blow. Ironically, Mr. Peckford must now appeal for his justice to the very court he has consistently described as the tribunal of central Canadians, the Supreme Court of Canada.

Predictably, the political opposition has argued that such epic blundering with the province's long-term future requires the supreme penalty - in the wake of last week's decision, Liberal MHA James Hodder has demanded Mr. Peckford's resignation. But the reaction of fellow Tories, particularly Newfoundland's former energy minister Leo Barry, is of far greater significance.

Mr. Barry has become the first Conservative to publicly criticize Brian Peckford since he became Premier in 1979. Two years ago, the Yale-trained lawyer and author of Newfoundland's oil and gas regulations resigned from the Peckford Cabinet over differences with the Premier on how offshore negotiations with Ottawa should be conducted. Now Mr. Barry is pointing out, ever so delicately, that the ownership question should never have been referred to the Newfoundland court in the first place and that the Newfoundland Government acted ''precipitously'' in so doing.

What makes Mr. Barry's comments all the more significant is the fact that he espouses the same goals as the Premier. Like Mr. Peckford, he too believes Newfoundland is entitled to ownership of offshore resources. But unlike the Premier, his formula for achieving ownership hinged on keeping negotiations with the federal side going and, if a deal couldn't be struck, waiting for a change of governments in Ottawa.

His reasoning was simple. Having already offered Newfoundland 100 per cent ownership of offshore resources in 1980, a Conservative government in Ottawa would have a hard time reneging on that offer if returned to power at some time in the future.

Against the backdrop of his defeat in the Newfoundland courts, and criticism from an prestigious member of his own caucus, Brian Peckford continues to talk tough. But his words are less important now than what happens in the Supreme Court of Canada in the coming weeks.

If the high court upholds the position taken by the provincial Supreme Court, as many legal observers believe it will, the Rowdyman of Newfoundland public life will have learned a harsh political lesson: dogma is no substitute for dialogue, and compromise no synonym for weakness.

Promise made, Promise MIA

From the much bally-hooed Blue Book from 2003:

* Approximately 40% of all government expenditures goes towards salaries and employee benefits. Over the next five years, approximately 25% of the public service will be eligible for retirement. A Progressive Conservative government will use this five-year period to reduce the size of the public sector through attrition.

...

* Strengthening the Public Tender Act. All government departments and agencies will be required to comply with a strengthened Public Tender Act with an aim to strengthening competition and eliminating costly lawsuits that occur as a result of violations to the Act.

...

* A Progressive Conservative government will restore the House of Assembly to it rightful place as the "People's House". Our aim is to create a system of government in which power is shared with the legislature and the people, instead of being concentrated in the office of the premier and cabinet. [Emphasis added.]

...

* The appointment of a special committee of the legislature that will ensure proper scrutiny and public discussion of federal proposals in areas of provincial concern.

And speaking of electoral reform...

There's the case of Rob Anders, as viewed by the National Post's Don Mills.

The eastern banana republic

When the cabinet seizes control of what is supposed to be a parliamentary democracy, you get an announcement that the government is appointing a "staunch Tory" to be chief electoral officer.

The root of the current problem goes back to the House of Assembly scandal when the Premier, not the Speaker, seized control of the issue and started to manage the whole thing from the Premier's Office. Contrary to his public protestations, the Premier has been running the show ever since.

In the current situation, if for some reason the House doesn't approve him, the staunch Tory will continue to serve in an acting capacity.

Why wasn't this supposedly non-partisan position recruited through a non-partisan process through the House of Assembly?

And by what authority will the "staunch Tory" get to keep his job even if the legislature finds him unsuitable?

Chuck Furey's appointment was bad enough.

This announcement completely destroys any pretense that the government is accountable to the House of Assembly in any manner whatsoever.

What's say we just skip the fall election and save a bundle of cash using the Yeltsin solution.

After all, when a "staunch Tory" is appointed by a Tory government to a supposedly non-partisan position overseeing an election, it really doesn't take much imagination to figure out that the whole democracy thing has become a sick joke.

The Northern Strategy for Labrador, dissected

With vigor, here and here.

22 April 2007

NS improves offshore competitiveness

The Canada-Nova Scotia Offshore Petroleum Board has introduced a new exploration license at a lower cost but with a shorter term.

An improbable feast

Geoff Meeker has an interesting post on the difference between the food pictured in commercial fast food advertising and what you actually get at the Arby's, Wendy's or PKF.

As Geoff points out, advertisers use food dressers to primp, spritz and do just about anything else to make the food look pretty much the opposite of what you get when you open the wrapper.

Of course, that just leads one to thinking of what another dresser has accomplished with her demonic arts, right.


Then, there's what you get when you open the greasy paper wrapper, left.

Dion: a man of integrity

From Canadian Press, via the Globe:
Liberal Leader Stéphane Dion is pledging to foster a relationship of co-operation with Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Danny Williams, who has a history of high-profile feuds with Ottawa.

Mr. Dion and Mr. Williams met Saturday in St. John's and discussed several issues, including equalization and the province's fisheries, after which Mr. Williams said Mr. Dion is a man he can trust.

The pair said they hadn't intended to reach any formal agreements, but rather open a dialogue that would continue if Mr. Dion is elected prime minister.

"We conclude with the most valuable gain that two human beings may have — mutual trust," Mr. Dion told a news conference following the meeting.

21 April 2007

A veritable GPS to the butts of the politically powerful

From the Telegram, Bill Rowe demonstrates once again that he is good at nothing else if not sucking up to autocrats.

Hence his successful service in both the Smallwood and Williams administrations, where he probably spoke truth to power daily using the vocabulary worthy of a Rhodes scholar:

"Yes, Mr. Premier, I do believe the obscurating clouds have now been successfully dissipated and the glorious solar orb is now once more emitting its miraculous benefit at full luminosity safe ensconced from between your nether cheeks".

Rowe endorses the idea of Sir Danny the Good leading a band of seven virtuous sons (and daughters) of The Cause on a Quest for the Holy Grail of More Hand-outs from Ottawa.

Rowe nominates Danny for the lead role. He genuflects so strenuously in doing so (even in writing) that one fears Rowe will poke out an eye or two if he does not calm down.

Andy Wells is cast as, one expects, Sir Lancelot. In true suck-arse fashion, Rowe credits Andy Wells - the other amigo in the little band - for calling this band the Bloc Newfoundland and Labrador. Since Rowe long since abandoned the party he once led - up to a sorry encounter with some brown envelopes - he likely forgets that credit for inventing the most ludicrous idea in Newfoundland political history since A.B. Morine as minister of justice goes to:

Roger Grimes. A Liberal leader who has not been left to claim merely that he was the guy who Brian Tobin used to work for.

Rowe himself?

Likely Bedevere from the Monty Python incarnation of the fairy tale: "and that my Liege is how we know the Earth to be banana-shaped...".

That's about the only way one can explain not only the farcical Bloc but lines like this, which Rowe types with all earnestness:
It would be a double whammy. One, Danny could punish Harper for his treachery by helping to deny him a majority government. Two, like Quebec, we’d have a solid group of MPs pulling on the same oar, dedicated solely to this province’s best interests.
Deny Harper a majority government.

Right.

Even the much-vaunted Bloc, which for all the praise it gets from people like Rowe has produced exactly what for Quebec from the Government of Canada...

Zip?

Nada?

Bupkis?

And outside of a few chuckles, that - s.f.a. - is what Bill's latest column is worth.

If the Bloc's 57 or 60 or whatever number they've achieved cannot produce one ounce of influence on anyone outside Quebec, then there is simply no means by which seven could do more.

Power rests in the cabinet, and particularly in the first minister's office. The Blocheads will never see the inside of either, and that is why a Bloc, whether from Quebec, Prince Edward Island or Dannystan would be as useless as, well, writing a book commentary without having read the book.

How odd that Rowe, who has shown himself to be a reliable compass needle for local political bum-smackers, could not figure out the location of the same power source in Ottawa.

Bill's needle is off on this Bloc one.

But, as it did 40 years ago, it still faithfully indicates the motherlode of Newfoundland political magnetism.