31 December 2007

Consistently inconsistent finance minister

The man who only eight months pooh-poohed the idea of balanced budget legislation has now decided that  balanced budget legislation is a good thing.

In April, 2007, provincial finance minister Tom Marshall said:

"I don't know if I agree with balanced budget legislation," Marshall said.

"I certainly would agree with fiscal responsibility legislation … but I'm not prepared to be locked in automatically to a balanced budget every year," he said. [Emphasis added]

In December 2007, Marshall told his hometown newspaper:

“I would like to see us come forward with some fiscal responsibility legislation that would make it a commitment of every government to ensure that, as a principle, we budget for a balanced budget, recognizing it won’t be possible to always have a balanced budget,” said Marshall. “And, if we can’t balance the budget, there would be an obligation on the government to explain and disclose to the people of the province why it didn’t happen and to disclose a strategy to ensure we get back to a balanced budget over a certain period of time.” [Emphasis added]

Of course, this is the same fellow who in the spring budget felt that $55 million was a fine amount by which to reduce the provincial debt but who, by the fall, had decided it was a paltry sum.

One wonders what's next on the finance minister's agenda of policy flip flops.

-srbp-

The ghost of Ned Morris

There's something about the provincial government's grandiose plan to extend broadband Internet access to every nook and cranny of the island - Labrador will get it if there's federal funding to cover the cost - that sounds unsettlingly familiar.trevor_taylor

The whole thing is being spear-headed publicly by industry minister Trevor Taylor.

The project is not based on private sector investment.

The public will foot the bill.

Nor is it based on a sound strategic plan; there is no plan.

Since the idea was first floated that taxpayers should underwrite the private sector, government officials have struggled to figure out how to make the whole thing work. They've also struggled to hide what has been going on, but that is another sad part of the tale.

Their latest iteration of the idea is to have the provincial government continue to underwrite an expanded project. The costs are, essentially, unknown. What was originally a five million dollar investment quickly mushroomed to a total of $20 million and now will cost a figure the provincial government has yet to release.

Might it be the total to date but on an annual basis? Might it be higher? There's good reason to believe that the costs, like the supposed benefits are too phantasmagorical to even begin to contemplate them.

nat0016All of this sounds oddly like the railway of a century ago. Specifically, the so-called government broadband initiative looks like Ned Morris' branch lines.

In 1909 the People's Party of Sir Edward Morris was elected, having promised a program of branch line construction. The new branches, although popular in the older areas of settlement which they were to serve, did not open new areas or encourage new industries of note. The first new branch was an 88-mile line to Bonavista, which opened November 1911. The longest, at 104 miles, the Trepassey branch was constructed 1911-13, providing a rail connection to St. John's from the Southern Shore. Along the south side of Trinity Bay, the Heart's Content branch (42 miles, but incorporating parts of the original Harbour Grace line) was completed in 1915. Finally, the Carbonear branch was extended by a 48-mile line to Grates Cove-Bay de Verde in 1915. This extension was closed in 1930, however, the branch continued to operate to Carbonear until 1983.

With the onset of the Great War, the branch line program was halted before the last two lines were complete. The Fortune Bay line, intended to be a 57-mile link to the coastal steamer at Terrenceville, was abandoned in 1915, although 43 miles had been railed. The Bonne Bay branch, projected to run 35 miles north from Deer Lake, was abandoned with the line partly graded.

The new branches proved expensive to operate, carrying only passengers and occasional freight. After the government took over the railway in 1923 an effort was made to serve the less-travelled lines using trolley-like "day coaches" on the Bay de Verde, Trepassey and Heart's Content lines. The Bay de Verde and Trepassey lines were closed in winter, and in 1931 were closed altogether. As Heart's Content was a winter port for the A.N.D. Company that line continued sporadically until 1938. The Bonavista branch remained in operation through the summer of 1983.

Politically-motivated project, lacking a sound economic basis for which the public ultimately pays.

Yes, it sounds suspiciously familiar, but unlike the railway, the public costs of the fibreoptic deal have yet to be calculated, let alone seen by the people who are footing the bill.

Update: This CBC story does two things. First it makes plain that any fibreoptic project for labrador will likely have to be funded by the federal government, at least according to common provincial government thinking. After all, the project will cost an estimated $80 million.

Second, the figures for the current fibreoptic project were wrong at the time the story was printed and are even more wrong now. $52 million, as the story quotes was light by about $30 million based on the estimate given by the project proponents when the idea burst into public view in a calculated bit of spin-meistering.

Yes, that's $82 million, of which $20 million was provincial and another $5 million came from Uncle Ottawa. [You can find the links back to that bit of math in the original post.]

The fribreoptic project for Labrador will basically become like the Trans-Labrador highway: something the provincial government promises repeatedly - and in writing more than a few times - yet fails to deliver.

The only thing more predictable than flip flops on the finance minister is the treatment of Labradorians by the provincial government.

After all, if the Premier is still all fired up about a broken promise made by the current Prime Minister to this province, how should Labradorians feel about what his administration has been doing since 2003?

Perhaps they are already wishing for Carol Kane to pay a visit to a few cabinet ministers next Christmas Eve. [Hint: read the sign.]


-srbp-

30 December 2007

There's no better satire than self-satire

"We’re really the centre of the universe..."

Premier Danny Williams, in a year-end interview with The Telegram

Good evening, Newfoundlanders. Here is tonight's interesting fact, sent to us by a Miss Fielding, whose fascinating letter I will read in full: "Dear Mr. Barrelman: It has come to my attention that there are in the world a number of books – I am endeavouring to find out how many and will let you know when my research if complete – in which no mention whatsoever is made of Newfoundland."

... Miss Fielding further writes, "I am myself in possession of several such books, including 'A Guide Book to Chilean Songbirds,' the absence in which of the word Newfoundland is so inexplicable that I have written its publisher demanding an explanation."

From Wayne Johnson's Colony of unrequited dreams, described by a columnist for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer as being, in part, a satire on regionalism.

-srbp-

Prosperity and principle

For some time, observers of the local political scene have noted that the current administration is governed by one law:  the rules apply to everyone else but they don't apply to us.

The Telegram editorialist drives it home in the Saturday edition with a commentary titled "Ethics vs. the law".

So does that mean [Premier Danny] Williams was being disingenuous when he emphasized “the need for openness, honesty and integrity” for members [before 2003]? Perhaps it does — but that’s not illegal either.

Here's an online definition of 'disingenuous': "not straightforward or candid; giving a false appearance of frankness...".

Well, here's the thing:  he wasn't failing to be candid or giving a false appearance of frankness.  he meant exactly what he said.  The thing is, in the world he inhabits, it's a given that any actions he takes are virtuous, moral and...well,...perfect.  or perfectly justifiable.

It's the incarnation of the old joke about rule number one:  the boss is always right. Rule number two?  "If the boss is wrong, refer to rule number one."

The thing is in this case The Boss doesn't get the joke.

By his definition, the very instant he took the Premier's chair the need for "openness, honesty and integrity in government" had been met.  The other guys - onto whom all his smears and innuendo (remember the computer hacking fairy tale?) and vicious, personal attacks  ('You are pathetic...") had been heaped prior to 2003 - were gone.

Job done, supposedly.

Except that the job isn't done.

The job isn't being done.

The job - the job of building a fundamentally fair, open and democratic society in Newfoundland and Labrador - won't be done until the rules apply fairly and equitably to all.

That job - the most important job in our society - won't be done until our society functions on the basis of principles like fairness, openness, democracy, honesty and integrity.

That job can't be done when our politics functions on the basis of invented victimization, flatulent rhetoric, or self-serving rationalizations of the type described so adroitly by the Telegram editorialist.

The latter may be the principal methods of a particular group, of a particular administration, but that does not make these methods principles.

A truly prosperous society can only be built on principle.

The Telegram editorial reminds us of how truly far we are from even starting the job of prosperity.

-srbp-

28 December 2007

The joy of editing

Take a close listen to this audio clip included with a short news story at vocm.com about the Premier looking for a missing $10 billion.

Forget, for a second, the whole cash trumps principle thing and listen to the clip itself.

The heavily edited clip.

There are at least five or six really noticeable jumps in the clip that suggest someone at vocm.com did a lot of editing to fit the Premier's remarks into a small space.  The only thing is, you have to wonder if - in the process - the meaning of the comments were changed.

-srbp-

Tourism numbers don't add up

It doesn't happen very often, but vocm.com seems to revealed a provincial tourism strategy that draws more from the locals than it does from boosting visitors to the province. 

The revelation came in two stages, separated by a couple of days so unless you were paying close attention you may have missed it.

On Boxing Day, we learned that the tourism industry contributed about $840 million to the local economy in 2007. The province's tourism minister is quoted as saying that the tourism budget has doubled since 2003 and that, as a result, we are seeing more tourism into the province.

But then later this week, we find out something else:

Tourism Minister Clyde Jackman is encouraging people in the province to take a vacation at home next year.  Jackman says between the icebergs, the whales and the some 9000 plus kilometres of roadway in the province, there is lots to explore. Jackman says this year local tourists comprised nearly 90 percent of the tourism business.

Take a second look at that last sentence and read it again.

Even though the tourism budget has doubled since 2003, fully 90% of the tourism business in Newfoundland and Labrador last year came from people traveling within the province.  That's according to the province's newly appointed tourism minister.

Go back to the Boxing Day story and do the simple math to find that the province's "tourism" industry apparently took  $756 million out of local pockets.

That's astonishing, and while the numbers are somewhat startling, the whole focus on local cash versus visitors fits the tourism department's marketing strategy since 2006. While the  marketing plan that year continued the main focus on visitors, there was a section devoted to a new  "in-province" project. By 2007, the program even had a title, albeit one lifted from a well-known fantasy movie.

Some of the changes in departmental emphasis were subtle.  For example, in April 2005, tourism minister Tom Hedderson announced that the provincial government as extending the operating season for visitor information centres into the spring and fall. These are not times when one might expect visitors to come to the province but they do represent the so-called "shoulders" of the season where the local tourist operators went looking for cash.

Then there was the cheesy series of television ads featuring Tom Hedderson that aired in 2006.  They appeared only on Rogers within Newfoundland and Labrador and were remarkable only for their generally miserable quality. In hindsight, though, they represented a major emphasis in tourism advertising on keeping locals in the province.

The local retention project is not something one would really pick up by casual observation.  After all, the new minister trumpeted the overall success of the tourism industry in 2007, apparently without breaking down the numbers. Likewise, a departmental "flash sheet" of facts and statistics gives only data on people coming from outside the province.

The flash sheet, incidentally, includes cruise passengers, even though the Love Boat passengers typically come into port, run around for a day and then head off off to their next location.  They are all good people and we welcome their cash, but they don't represent the economic impact of say a family of four from Teaneck spending a week traveling the province in a rented car, resting at the various bed and breakfast establishments and visiting a wide variety of cultural, natural and historical sites. Cruise passengers dropped $1.9 million in the economy last year (2006) out of a total of $364 million contributed to the local economic by visitors.

Before we leave that document, notice that overall, the number of visitors to the province dropped 1.5% over 2006.

The reality of the tourism figures Jackman and his predecessors have been using becomes clear when one looks at the tourism department's backgrounder on overall tourism performance for 2006 with a forecast for 2007.  You won't find that document on the tourism department's website.  You have to go to the finance department's statistics agency to get the facts on tourism.

According to the 2006 analysis, visitors to the province accounted for an estimated $364 million in economic activity in the province out of a total of some $820 million overall, as described in the 2007 budget.

That's right.  Visitors accounted for 44% of tourism dollars in 2006.  The rest of the spending  - 56% - must have come from locals staying in the province.

vocm.com may well have misquoted the tourism minister and the 90% figure. There's no denying the provincial government's own figures though. The majority of what it classifies as "tourism" is actually generated by residents of the province.

The relative proportion of overall spending by locals has actually grown in the four years of the New Approach to tourism much faster than visitor spending.  In a May 2004 statement to the legislature,  former tourism minister and current Humber Valley resort general manager noted that visitors generated approximately $300 million in spending in 2003 out of total tourism spending in the province of $620 million.

In other words, over the four years from 2003 to 2006, overall "tourism" spending increased by $200 million but only $64 million  - 32% - of that new spending was related to visitors.  In the meantime, the tourism advertising budget  - supposedly aimed at bring new dollars into the economy through increased visitation- has increased from $6.0 million to $11.0 million.

No matter how you look at it though, the tourism department's media comments on its "tourism" strategy don't add up. Nor does the advertising strategy seem to be working, no matter how much additional cash has been added to the pile.

It's time for a genuine new approach, so it seems, rather than just creative presentation of information.

-srbp-

24 December 2007

Christmas Greetings from the men and women of the Canadian Forces

The views on these videos seem appallingly low. Let's see if we can boost them just a bit. If you happen to know some of the people in these short video greetings, or if you know someone who knows them, pass along the links. This holiday season let's all remember the men and women of the Canadian Forces as they do their duty far from the snows of home.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Switched on sovereign

The Royal family has a Royal Channel on youtube.com.

No embedding but you can find among the posts the first televised Christmas broadcast in 1957 as well as other historical footage and more recent ceremonial occasions.

Take this as a sterling example of how the latest technology can be used to communicate simply and effectively with an audience. It's controlled and careful, reflecting the image to be projected of the monarchy, while at the same time being considerably more open than many organizations and institutions in Newfoundland and Labrador.

An example to be studied and, one would hope, emulated by others in the months ahead.

-srbp-

Dobbin resigns from Newfound NV

Newfound NV announced today that Brian Dobbin is leaving the company effective December 31, 2007.

He will also be resigning his Newfound directorships in order to pursue unspecified
personal interests, according to a company news release.

Dobbin's shareholdings in the company are unaffected and existing restrictions on the disposal of shares remain in effect.

-srbp-

23 December 2007

Musical Merry Christmas from bondpapers

1.  The Boston Pops under John Williams with Leroy Anderson's Sleigh Ride.

2. Christmas Festival, another favourite by Leroy Anderson, made famous by the Pops but this time performed by the University of Iowa Philharmonia.

3. For aficionados of band music, Christmas Festival by the Rainbow City Band.

-srbp-

22 December 2007

The secret of their success: Roger Grimes

Polls is fun, as Pogo's official opinion survey guy used to say, and there are no polls with more fun in them than those available in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Professor Alex Marland, latterly at Memorial University and formerly a communications director with the Williams administration, uses Corporate Research Associates quarterly omnibus poll results as part of a paper published recently in the spanking-new journal, the Canadian Political Science Review. [Almost immediate update/clarification:  Marland was looking at the 2007 general election and used the poll results for context. What follows is purely the analysis from the Pogo Poll People.]

The figures are presently straightforwardly, except that Marland or his editors incorrectly state that the margin of error for the data is plus or minus 3.5% at the 95th confidence interval.  They aren't.  In the period since 2005, for example, all but two of the quarterly results have margins of error of plus or minus 4.9%.  CRA doesn't archive their new releases anymore back beyond early 2006 so there is no way of double-checking these sorts of details.

pc sptIn any event, while we may dispute the accuracy of the CRA polls, for the moment let's accept them as readily as they have been accepted publicly to date.
The results for polling conducted from the last quarter of 2003 to the first quarter of 2006 show one thing:  volatility.

Take a look at the table: up and down dramatically in very short spans of time.

The drop from the first post-election poll to the second is only a couple of months and already, the support for the progressive Conservatives dropped 16 points.  It fell another 11 in the next quarter, giving a cumulative drop of 27 points in basically less than six months.

No surprise, though given that Danny Williams first speech as Premier was the January 5 2004 debacle, followed immediately by the delivery of the budget to implement the speech's promise.

Once the budget was delivered and the world didn't end, there's a slight rebound.  The big jump in the last quarter coincides, not surprisingly with the October theatrics in which the Premier stormed out of a first ministers' meeting.  The trend is still upward, mind you, but notice that the climb out of the pit is not nearly as dramatic as the fall. 

Then in early 2005, there is the famous $2.0 billion transfer payment from Ottawa.  That's the one that has been hyped to death by any supporter of the current administration. Not surprisingly, the poll taken shortly afterward shows what was then a record level of party support.

Then look at what happens.

There's a drop of 20 percentage points in a single quarter. Quarterly increases of six percentage points, then 12 and 13 are followed by a single drop of 20. Not surprisingly, support for the other parties rises and falls in the same time, most noticeably for the Liberals. 

Notice though, that over the next three quarters, right up to early 2006 there is a steady climb in Progressive Conservative support and a corresponding decline in expressed Liberal support. The climb/decline is nowhere near as dramatic as the tumble in early 2005.  One year later, the Tories had not managed to climb back as high as they had been in that first quarter of 2005.

But go back and wonder what happened in early 2005?

In the absence of any major event, the sudden drop in early 2005 looks like a simple correction back to a norm.  The average PC party support over the previous quarters is 56.8%.  For the Liberals, the number is 28%.  In the second quarter of 2005, CRA polled 55% for the Tories and 31% for the Grits.

At the same time, though Roger Grimes resigned.  After that the support for the two major parties diverges. 

There are no dramatic increases or decreases, even allowing for the poll margin of error.  There's just a steady climb for the Tories until the numbers stabilise in the low to mid 70s. If you accept CRA numbers, that's basically where things stand today.

grimes2For all the effort, nothing has been able to secure the Progressive Conservative Party lead like Roger Grimes.  Take him out of the picture - and by extension generate the Liberal leadership issue - and voters make a clear choice.

Before that, while Grimes was still around, there was an evident willingness of respondents to support the Liberals and, perhaps more interestingly, to take their support away from the Progressive Conservatives quite dramatically.  They didn't give it back quite so enthusiastically.

So as you sip your hot beverage on a cold winter's evening, ponder this thought:  Roger Grimes is the secret to the Progressive Conservative electoral success.

The polls can't be wrong, can they?
-srbp-

Telegram story,editorial miss important changes in accountability law

A story and editorial in the Saturday Telegram both miss important aspects of the House of Assembly accountability legislation.
From the story:
But a law passed by his government this summer sets out special treatment for MHAs and House staff who may have improperly retained public money, and gags the auditor general from talking about such situations.
...
The new law passed this summer exempts MHAs and key House staffers from Section 15.
“Section 15 of the Auditor General Act does not apply to a member, the clerk, clerk assistant or staff of the House of Assembly service,” the law notes.
And from the editorial:
What does that mean? Well, for starters, that there’s clearly one law for MHAs, and a different law for everyone else in the provincial civil service.
It also means that we will probably never see another scandal like the one uncovered by the AG. 

Why? Because, among other reasons, if an AG finds such a scandal, he or she is now specifically forbidden to tell us about it.
That isn't correct. 

While the Green bill does include the provision cited by the Telegram, section 45 sets out a much wider disclosure requirement for the Auditor General in any instance where he or she "becomes aware of an improper retention or misappropriation of public money by a member, the clerk, the clerk assistant or staff of the House of Assembly service or the statutory offices or another activity that may constitute an offence under the Criminal Code or another Act of the province or of Canada...".

Section 15 of the Auditor General Act requires only that a report be made to the finance minister on behalf of the executive council.

Section 45 of the House accountability, integrity and administration legislation mandates that a report on such information be provided to the Speaker, the chair of the House audit committee, the Premier, the leader of the political party to which the member or members belong, the attorney general and the finance minister. In addition, the auditor general must disclose the report, in general terms, to the public through his or her annual report.

One minister or the entire executive council could bury a report under the Auditor General Act alone and the provisions of that Act already constrain the AG.  The Green bill specifically expands the offices that must be notified in order to preclude a report being buried and the requirement to include a report in the annual, public AG report makes it difficult to imagine how such a report into alleged impropriety could escape public detection.

Section 15 of the AG Act may not apply to the House, but section 45 of the House Integrity Act does and that's far better.

There is an extensive discussion of this section of the bill in the Green report at chapters five and eight.  In his report, Chief Justice Derek Green sets out the purposes of the new, more detailed disclosure rules that are intended, in part, to ensure that any such report cannot be hidden from public view.

It's worth reproducing an entire section of the Green report in which the Chief Justice notes the basis for his recommendations on the new disclosure requirements:
The [existing AG] legislation does not contemplate that a written report be issued to the public or the media, or that a news conference be held, or that interviews be given to the media amplifying what is in the report. This is as it should be. Undue publication of the information in a report at such an early stage - before decisions are taken to lay charges, or prosecute or seek reimbursement - risks interfering with important constitutional and other values. Given the relatively low threshold justifying the making of a report, even though its issuance may cause considerable damage to an individual’s reputation that may be difficult to repair if it is ultimately shown that there is an innocent explanation, one ought to be careful about bandying details about in the public domain. Furthermore, undue publication of the information with its implicit suggestion of impropriety or criminality may have an effect on a person’s constitutional right to a fair trial if charges are ultimately laid. 
As a general rule, therefore, the reporting function of the Auditor General should be limited to making the official reports to the Lieutenant-Governor in Council and the House as contemplated by section 15. I note that, as a general rule, even at the stage of the decision
to prosecute, where the threshold for acting is higher, the police do not make a habit of
making public announcements that charges have been laid. 
While I recognize that there is a possibility that the Lieutenant-Governor in Council might not do its duty on receipt of a report and disregard it, that risk is minimized by the fact that ultimately there has to be public disclosure - at least with respect to a “general description” - of the incident in the Auditor General’s annual report to the House. 
These observations, I believe, are all the more important when one comes to dealing with situations involving public figures such as MHAs. They are particularly vulnerable to attacks on their reputations. Allegations of impropriety - even if ultimately shown to be unfounded - may have the effect, given the tendency of the public to ascribe low motives to politicians, of making the MHA’s continuing job untenable, and may irrevocably affect reelection chances. Caution in the manner of dealing with such situations is called for. 
It is outside my mandate to make recommendations with respect to the continuing operation of section 15 generally. However, I believe it to be appropriate to address the matter with respect to matters involving MHAs. After all, it was the issuance of section 15 reports that became the catalyst for the current inquiry. 
In the first place, I believe it important - indeed a fundamental aspect of fairness - that in undertaking the analysis of whether the Auditor General should exercise his or her  discretion to issue a section 15 report, the Auditor General should make full disclosure to the Member concerned, give him or her an adequate opportunity to provide any additional information as well as an explanation for what has been found, and consider those responses as part of his or her discretionary decision making. 
Additionally, I believe the role of the Auditor General, at least when dealing with identified discrepancies involving Members, to be one of preparing and delivering to the appropriate officials a comprehensive report detailing the transactions being questioned, why he or she believes that a report is warranted, and containing any recommendations he or she considers appropriate to make. I do not believe it appropriate, however, to make the report to the Lieutenant-Governor in Council as section 15 now contemplates. The Auditor General is an officer of the House and provides his or her audit services to the House. The report should therefore be to the Speaker. In addition, however, the report should be given to other persons who have a vital stake in the information disclosed.
Green then lists the specific offices to which information should be released.

There are other sections of the report the deal with some problems with the release of information by the current Auditor General and the way he conducted his reviews.  For example, the new accountability bill requires the Auditor General to give the member or members involved complete information and the opportunity to respond to the Auditor General's accusations before the report is filed.  Sadly, that was seldom the case with Auditor General John Noseworthy's series of reports. 

There are two standards for the Auditor General to follow when making a report of alleged impropriety.  In the case of the Green bill, the standards are higher in relation to the House of Assembly and that's a good thing.  Many of the problems Chief Justice Green identified have already been seen and his revised procedures are designed to restore both transparency and integrity to a process that showed little of either.

If the public does not see another scandal in the House of Assembly it won't be because the Auditor General is gagged. He isn't and in fact the situation that exists today is as far from the one described by the Telegram as possible.

The only two things to lament here are these:

1.  That the Auditor General did not conduct his reviews with more thoroughness in the first place after the scandal broke  and did not exercise sufficient care in his public comments thereafter.  The public has seen enough of the unsubstantiated allegations, inconsistent information and insufficient information coming from AG reports.  We've seen the names of individuals dragged through the mud based on flimsy evidence and half-baked conclusions. 

We've also seen some allegations that have led to charges being laid but, there remains a question as to whether or not the problems with the AG's work will undermine the process in one way or another. The public should not be left to face the prospect that after all the revelations of inappropriate spending, little if anything will come of it save for the new Green bill. 

2.  That the Telegram managed to miss such a key part of the Green bill. The Telegram perhaps moreso than most local newsrooms has done yeoman public service in digging into this scandal and exposing details of it that otherwise may never have come to light. Such is not the case with this story.  Let's not dismiss the Telly's work for one gaffe.

It's become accepted wisdom that the Auditor General has done a great public service in unveiling the scandal. His work is marred by deficiencies and some of the issues arising from the AG reports and how they were handled have been corrected by the Green bill.

At the same time, it might be tempting to imagine that things haven't changed at the House of Assembly among the politicians. That's as maybe; Chief Justice Green left the members of the legislature little alternative but to change.  Try as they might, they haven't been able to escape public scrutiny thus far.

-srbp-

21 December 2007

Buzz kill

vocm.com, known to some as Voice of the Cabinet Minister, was suitably gushy: "The tide may be changing."

Sorry, dears, but one spot does not a trend make.

Others were more factual and straightforward in their reporting, like say cbc.ca/nl:

The population of Newfoundland and Labrador is seeing its biggest increase in 15 years, according to numbers released Wednesday by Statistics Canada, and it's all down to moving Albertans.

The Telegram relegated the story to a small sidebar.

The story is quarterly population statistics from Statistics Canada that shows the first quarter of net positive in-migration for the province since 2003.

Not surprisingly, labradore puts the thing into a different perspective, something that is sadly lacking from popular commentary and media coverage.

popchangeAt right is a chart showing the quarterly net population change figures for this province.

Take a good look at the numbers.

Continuing population decline every quarter, save for a few. The cause of the declines in the 1990s was undoubtedly the combined impact of the cod moratorium and the relative weakness of the rest of the provincial economy.

But take a notice of the point made at labradore.

The quarters preceding the latest one have been marked by net population drop. Some quarters were near the largest drops in the past 15 years.

The trend is still downward.

Overall, the population trends remain consistent with projections from the provincial government's own statistics analysis division and those trends have been forecast since the early 1990s. The trend will likely remain downward for some time.

Now for those into facile labelling of things, for those who find it comforting when everything fits into a pigeonhole - like say a few reporters and editors [read the comments sections] - this observation will be seen as further proof of things being "anti-Danny" or, oh horror, of being "negative."

Yes, Bond Papers is a buzz kill.

But that's really a bit like the guy in high school who had a theory. If he studied for the physics exam stoned and wrote it stoned, he should be a genius. Sadly, he got 12 pages of his own name. One of his buddies, who used the same theory, wound up with a line drawing of his family jewels that came from a cross between Grey's Anatomy and what we presumed was his own delusional self-image.

Those of us who pointed out the error in the deluded idea before they wrote the exam were well, fairly predictably labelled as "negative". Nothing we said killed the buzz as much as the mark the guys received for their efforts.

As Bond Papers has noted several times already over the past three years, the demographic changes in Newfoundland and Labrador have several components each of which poses policy challenges for the provincial government.

The population is growing progressive older, on average, for one. In relatively short order, the dependent part of the population - those under 15 years old and over 65 - will be larger than the workforce. That means, in part, that the economy has to be more productive; each worker must be more productive than it is today just to hold things steady. Incidentally, part of the basis for the 1992 Strategic Economic Plan was the understanding of these long-term trends, the state of the economy at the time and what needed to be done to meet the challenges coming up to 2012.

The older population - the changing mix of age cohorts - means that among other things spending priorities need to shift. Within health care, long-term care will become relatively more important than acute care. The school-age population will likely decline, meaning that we will have fewer students and hence a change in education spending. New schools will be needed in some places and in others, schools will be closing. Take a look around the province and see the number of communities where the average age is above 55 and there are simply no children and very few if any families of child-rearing age.

The population distribution is also changing within the province. People are moving away from smaller communities and towards the larger centres. Increased mobility hasn't changed that; people still travel to the larger centres to find key services. Where public services are located and where new ones will be needed will shift as the population changes.

The declining total population, the one that gets the most political attention is another one. But oddly enough, it's the one the provincial government can do the least about. Government doesn't create jobs; it creates a climate in which business develops and jobs are created or maintained.

The provincial government has lately focused on this one aspect - the gross total population - especially as it seems to involve the skilled workers needed for large construction projects. There are a couple of observations.

First, given the nature of a local economy built largely on natural resource production, the size of the population as significant an indicator of economic health as in other economies. Some of the wealthiest countries per capita on the planet have small populations. There simply isn't a magic number which indicates a 'good' population for Newfoundland and Labrador or anywhere else. So, without a number to aim for, there is nothing to know when any government efforts are succeeding or failing.

Second, the labour demand needed for constructing everything from offshore platforms to energy projects will be met by the private sector. Much of the work will have to be done in the province anyway, like say the gravity-base for Hebron. As for the other stuff, like say the topsides on that project, if the provincial government hasn't already given permission for the operators to do it somewhere else, the private sector will find the labour and control costs to deliver it. What can be done here will be done here.

Do a little reverse engineering for a moment. Faced with a labour shortage due to the hyper-demand of its economy, the Government of Alberta didn't launch an advertising campaign and talk about chartering jumbo jets to fly the Alberta wing of the diaspora home. Nope. The private sector tackled it. The private sector companies doing the work know their skill needs; they recruit based on the skill-sets the need and as long as the people are willing to come, have the qualifications and can do the work when needed, they get hired.

When you send a bus to pick up bodies what you get is a busload of bodies. And before anyone notes that obviously the recruiting will be done on a skills basis, bear in mind that the major focus of government energy on the population front has been to talk of bringing the homing pigeons back. It isn't about skilled trades at all; it's about people of the right ethnicity. It isn't at all obvious that any provincial government apparently focusing on ethnicity and population will suddenly realize that a lot of the ex-pats don't have the skills needed for industrial construction and won't be able to acquire them within the required time frame.

The surest buzz kill or buzz drag in the boom time around the corner will be having a provincial government that focuses on things it doesn't do well, can do little about, or isn't about creating the environment in which the private sector can thrive.

And for those who have doubts about the private sector and the oil industry, just look at what the local private sector has been able to do. Ask Rob, or Fraser or Jerry just to name a few.

-srbp-

20 December 2007

Beholder, beheld and beholden

It's always interesting to watch opinions evolve on spending in the House of Assembly prior to October of this year:

1. November 29, "Piggies at the trough"

2. December 17, "Telegram uncovers more special arrangements":

The House of Assembly has come along way in the past year. It is a shame that such a fundamental and common sense change could not have been adopted a long time ago.

3. December 19, "Personal responsibility" which reproduces the Telegram editorial in its entirety and ends with the comment:

It is fairly reflective of my opinion expressed back on November 29th.

Once again hats of to the Tely.

4. Then a mere 24 hours later, under the title "It's all in the eyes of the beholder" this:

If Deputy Premier Tom Rideout had permission from the House of Assembly, and thus a special arrangement, to claim for accommodations in Lewisporte, then what has he done wrong? The accommodations exist, permission was granted to claim a legitimate expense, and he has done nothing illegal.

Many things are in the eye of the beholder. Beauty for one, but there is little of beauty in the administration of the House of Assembly accounts between 1996 and 2006.

Things that were once clearly wrong to some people become perhaps a little less obviously wrong or maybe right and wrong or maybe something.

To quote from the Telegram a section that apparently missed the eye of at least one beholder:

House rules in effect at the time barred MHAs from charging taxpayers the cost of renting a home or apartment in their district — no matter who they rented it from.

Perhaps, though, this comment from a Telegram story prompted the sudden change of views:

From my own perspective, I’m not going to sit down and pass judgment on every single member — whether they’re NDP or Liberal or PC or anybody else — every single time the press decides that there’s a question here of whether this was proper spending of money or not.

Perhaps the caps lock was off on a couple of letters in that last post title.

-srbp-

Telegram: Rideout comment's "factually inaccurate"

From the Telegram online:

Deputy premier Tom Rideout defended his $53-a-day per-diem spending in an open line radio appearance today, saying the cash was for “meals and incidentals and stuff like that.”

The information he provided, however, was factually inaccurate.

...

Contacted by The Telegram, Rideout said he is not disputing Telegram reports that the $53 per diem was specifically for accommodations.

“I’m not disputing that part of it, and I want to make that abundantly clear,” Rideout said Thursday afternoon.

“In the discussion with Randy this morning — I don’t have the transcript in front of me, but I don’t dispute that what you said as a quote is accurate — all I’m saying is what I have said consistently from the beginning: when I went and spoke to the people in the House of Assembly about getting some accommodations in Lewisporte, I was told that, yes, I could do that, and also you can charge the same per-diem rates that you’re charging now.”

According to published spending rules in effect at the time, MHAs had a choice of two options.

They could claim $50 per day for meals without receipts, plus the cost of accommodations — like hotels — with receipts.

Alternatively, they could charge $103 per day for meals and accommodations without receipts.
Rideout generally opted for the latter option. He charged $103 per day — the $53 per diem for accommodations without receipts, plus the $50 per diem for meals.

The $53 per day did not cover meals, as he told VOCM.

The other $50, which Rideout claimed in addition to the $53 per day, covered meals.

Rideout made a minimum of 123 per-diem claims from the fiscal period of 2004-05 through 2006-07 alone.

More to follow in the Friday print edition of the Telegram.

-srbp-

19 December 2007

Nonsense spreads like rash

First the provincial government.  Now this.

Take for example, a news release from Hospitality Newfoundland and Labrador on the Marine Atlantic rate increases.

Now bear in mind that these increases - based on higher fuel costs and the dollar's exchange rate - have been going on for over a year.  And bear in mind that every single member of the hospitality association has been coping with the same issues, probably through lowering costs or cutting back services and staff levels or raising prices.

Bear in mind as well that despite rising fuel costs last year, "[i]n the height of our tourism season in 2007 Marine Atlantic could not handle the volume of vehicles, their on-time performance was below 50% and many visitors were left on the wharf."

With all that background, why would the hospitality association be slagging the ferry operator and the federal government and at the same time suggesting that the rate increases be rolled back?

Why pee on Marine Atlantic's shoes and call for a jihad against their efforts to meet rising costs - like any other business - when the hospitality tribe needs to be working positively with the ferry operator to improve service?

Anyone?

Anyone?

Buehler?

The sheer stupidity that characterises politics in this province seems to be spreading like a rash.

You see, if the ferry operator is already unable to met the burgeoning demand, slashing into their revenues (or pouring cash in subsidies versus into new capital construction) and slagging the crap out of them in public seems to be a counterproductive policy.

Here's the brilliant  - and highly original - idea from the hospitality crowd, to wit, more handouts and subsidies:

HNL requests that Newfoundland and Labrador’s Members of Parliament demand the Federal Government enhance its commitment to Marine Atlantic by eliminating its cap on funding and paying their fair share of the operating costs which include fuel.

Once more from the modest suggestion department:

The next time I book a stay at one of the fine hotels, motels, bed/breakfasts, the next time I take a meal at one of the province's many outstanding eating establishments or avail of some other service provided by Hospitality Newfoundland and Labrador members, I want the owners to lift their policy and charge me the cost only of providing the service.  They should pay their fair share of my entertainment. I resent that I am "unfairly being forced to bear the brunt of higher operational costs" through these service cuts and increased prices.

The tourists are being hard done by equally, since they have to pay to get here on some commercial carrier which likely expects its passengers to pay their fair share of costs and profit, just like the HNL members.

So, Bruce Sparkes, cut your profit margins, and stop your whining.  You too can contribute to fixing the problem, right along with the provincial government.

After all, as it stands, HNL wants my tax dollars and my custom at full cost to me plus profit paid by me as well.

Charity begins at home, Mr. Sparkes.

It's only fair.

When you put it in that perspective, one doubts Mr. Sparkes is quite as keen on his idea as he was when he signed off on the news release.

The silliness of his rash suggestions become painfully evident.

-srbp-

Speaking of snouts in troughs...

If the provincial government is so concerned at the high price of ferry tickets to and from Newfoundland (caused by high oil prices), perhaps they might consider a little arrangement.

Supply the federal Crown corporation out of the provincial government's private reserve of light sweet crude from White Rose. The subsidy wouldn't save the federal government anything, but it would do wonders for all the provincial businesses dependent on tourism.

Or, better still, rather than looking for yet another federal hand-out, perhaps the provincial government could chop the HST from hotels, motels, restaurants and from gasoline and diesel. That would definitely stimulate tourism and offset ferry and other transportation cost increases caused by rising fuel prices.

As the for the constitutional commitment, the provincial transportation minister speaks about, perhaps Diane Whelan could read the Terms of Union.

Term 32, section (1) reads:

Canada will maintain in accordance with the traffic offering a freight and passenger steamship service between North Sydney and Port aux Basques, which, on completion of a motor highway between Corner Brook and Port aux Basques, will include suitable provision for the carriage of motor vehicles...

Marine Atlantic's ferry service to and from Newfoundland is among the lowest cost services in the country, bar none on the basis of cost per kilometre travelled.

-srbp-

The politics of pork

Surely someone has noticed two things about the weather and the weather offices lately.

1. As this story notes, people are not happy in Goose Bay at getting their forecasts from Gander. Lack of timeliness, accuracy and similar matters are at issue.

2. To the legion of pork-chasers who pretended that returning the weather office to Gander was about public safety and accuracy in forecasting and not about stick noses into public troughs, did any of you notice the gross inaccuracy of last Monday's forecast in St. John's?

5 cm of snow morphed into 13.8.

Wow, they must have hired the provincial government deficit/surplus forecasters to do weather in their spare time.

Oh and while we are at it, has anyone who reported on the Great Pork Chasing Caper bothered to ask where marine forecasting is done for the Newfoundland and Labrador region?

And aviation?

Yes, it was all about public safety.

In a pig's eye.

-srbp-

Municipal choices

Cost of snow clearing for sidewalks;  $6.0 million

Total municipal financial commitment to Mile One Stadium:  at least $5.0 million.

Ron Ellsworth said that as a businessman he wouldn't buy Mile One because it wouldn't turn a profit, but as a councillor he'd sink public money into it because it brings business for restaurants,  hotels, taxis and other local businesses.

Ask a simple question: Does city council exist to provide basic services to residents or to subsidize local business?

-srbp-

18 December 2007

Dumb things said to reporters, the umpteenth edition

Federal fish minister Loyola Hearn got lost in his own metaphor in a scrum on Monday trying to explain something or other about the Premier and his anti-Harper crusade.

He said, in part,

It's something like demanding Santa give you what you want, when all you have to do, instead of standing on a chair and shouting up the chimney,'Santa, I want everything or I'll light the fire,' sit down and write a letter and make sure it gets to the right people, and you might get what you want," Hearn said. "That's providing you've been a good boy - if you haven't been a good boy, then it depends."

How many ways is this wrong? Just a few:

  1. Just as the war is over, Loyola takes a pointed shot at Danny.  Talk about blowing it just when your side won the war, Loyola. This sort of nonsense just enflames people needlessly.
  2. Comparing Ottawa to Santa.  Bad enough provincial premiers and others think of Uncle Ottawa in that sort of facile way already.  It's worse when a cabinet minister actively encourages people to think in terms of irresponsible "gimme,gimme,gimme" attitudes.
  3. santa steveComparing Stephen Harper to Santa.  Just not an image an adult should have in his or her head, let alone a picture to paint for a small child so close to Christmas.  Gets your attention, like say Debbie suddenly popping up in red leather anchoring the news, but in a totally creepy way.
  4. Danny did write a letter.  That's the problem. Danny wrote a letter.  Danny got a reply and not from those whack jobs who sneaked into the Canada Post elves department recently. He got a big fat promise. He played nice. He got ashes anyway.  That's why he's pissed.
  5. Warning: Small children, talk show listeners, members of the Privy Council and other easily led, impressionable types, turn away now...Seriously.  Go read something else. Adults.  Highlight to read beginning here...> Santa doesn't exist. Canadians just wish Harper didn't.

-srbp-

The Williams Standard of Ministerial Propriety

From The Telegram online edition:

Asked by The Telegram whether that means the standard for ministers is that, as long as their activity is not illegal, it’s fine, Williams said:

"We as a government will get involved (when there is) illegal activity. From my own perspective, I’m not going to sit down and pass judgment on every single member — whether they’re NDP or Liberal or PC or anybody else — every single time the press decides that there’s a question here of whether this was proper spending of money or not."

Was that a "yes"?

-srbp-

MacDonald leaves Hydro

Dean MacDonald left his job as chairman of the Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro board of directors. The reason for the departure was officially undisclosed in the news release.

The Premier revealed in a media scrum that MacDonald was concerned he would not be able to devote proper attention to his Hydro job given that he was spending increasing amounts of time working with a new venture capital company he'd started.

Williams also said there were some critical decisions on the Lower Churchill to be made in the next six months or so.

-srbp-

White Rose observations

The provincial government and the White Rose partners revealed some further detail of the White Rose expansion project on Monday.

Some observations/questions:

1. The bulk of the financial return to the provincial treasury is from the old generic royalty regime established in 1996.

2. There is no real discussion of the "equity ownership" and what it means.

With the exception of a few general references, there is no discussion at all of what is entailed in the "equity". There is no discussion of acquisition costs or other liabilities associated with it, nor is there any discussion of what - if any - management rights accrue to the energy corporation our of this stake.

There is a reference to a processing fee on "its", i.e. the energy corporation's, oil but no indication of what that means in general terms.

3. What is the "processing fee" for?

Under the agreement, the province’s energy corporation will pay a ‘processing fee’ of $3.50 a barrel on its oil.

This is essentially a fee to ensure processing capacity on the Sea Rose FPSO.

The floating production, storage and offloading vessel for the project has the capacity to handle production from the field at the approved rates. It can store and process at established rates. There is no obvious reason for the provincial government to pay a set fee per barrel to ensure capacity exists.

If this fee is one applied to all operators, then this is an operating cost, not a cost related to acquisition of an equity interest, it has been presented.

If it is an operating cost, it certainly isn't clear if the fee represents the total energy corporation share of operations or if it is a specific amount related to a certain aspect of operations. A "processing fee" of this type is sometimes applied on leased FPSOs where the vessel owner is actually reimbursed a lease rate and an additional amount for processing from the company renting the platform.

The fee may be related to a process of "deeming" what part of production belongs to the provincial government, even though the production is co-mingled with the total production. That appears to be the case, given the implication of the next sentence in the backgrounder: "To get the crude to market, there are a number of marketing arrangements already in place with existing facilities, and the province’s energy corporation will be able to tap into those."

Essentially, the energy corporation would receive the value of a quantity of oil less operating, capital and any other costs rather than receive a specific quantity of oil that it could then take to a refinery and market directly. The quantity of oil would be "deemed" or established based on a set of accounting rules.

There's nothing unusual or necessarily problematic about such an arrangement; it would just mean that the energy corporation could not necessarily load up a series of tankers and move the crude to a refinery of its choice.

So what is the fee really all about and what other fees and charges are being applied to the energy corporation?

3. There is no indication publicly of what the energy corporation will pay as part of ongoing operations expenditure or what share it will bear, if any, of phase-out or emergency response costs.

4. Will energy corp pay its portion of the provincial oil royalty on its assets? How will that be handled?

-srbp-

17 December 2007

Tom's ongoing expense claim travails

rideout toque
The Telegram's ongoing investigation into spending at the House of Assembly turned up another tidbit on deputy premier Tom Rideout, right, in Sunday's edition.

That's right on the heels of another expense claim story the Telly ran on Saturday starring Rideout.

Between 2004 and the middle of 2006, Rideout claimed travel outside his district of Lewisporte mostly to the west coast and to Baie Verte. in itself, that isn't unusual.

Members of the legislature will travel to parts of the province than their constituency on legitimate constituency business from time to time.  Some will do it quite a bit for legitimate reasons.

There are a couple of odd things about the travel Rideout claimed:

1.   Distances/costs don't match:  Rideout has a pretty simple explanation and apparently a standard charge for travel on a circuit.  You can see it set out with the same destinations and the same totals.

-  Except that Rideout's explanation covers a total bill of 1,050 kilometres per trip not the 3,000 plus billed per trip.

-  Except too that the one charge where the route would have been longer, the total claimed was less. That's the one that included a side trip to Bay de Verde, not the usual Baie Verte. The trip still took Rideout to Corner Brook.

2.  Odd claims:  The one in April 2006 where the information doesn't seem to add up/match up to the claim.

3.  Trips to Baie Verte. It's more than a bit unusual that Rideout found so much constituency business in his old neck of the woods.  After all, the guy is from Fleur de Lys and represented the Baie Verte-White Bay district from 1975 to 1991. Odd that he'd find so many trips to the Baie Verte peninsula and - if the Telly actually got all the claims for the period between 2004 and 2007 - nowhere else.

Now this travel and housing situation is most emphatically not a case of Rideout having some sort of special arrangement just like one that supposedly applied to Oliver Langdon. That argument offered by Kevin Aylward's former executive assistant misses the substance of the matter in order to come to a convenient conclusion in one example, and to a simplistic view in the second kick at it; namely things are so much better now that there are rules for everyone to follow.

Things have changed from the way they used to be. Yes, the house management committee meets in public whereas the one didn't let cameras in the room.

But one would be naive in the extreme or engaged in an effort to mislead the public if one tried to argue that, for example, the members of the committee didn't come to agreements on issues facing the committee before they get to the meeting.  The three government members of the commission surely met privately in advance of the most recent meeting and came to an agreement on how to respond to opposition party demands for more resources.  How else can one explain the similarity in their responses? 

In this specific case, though we have something else. Rideout's housing expenses clearly flouted the rules, and yes, ladies and gentlemen, despite the efforts to say otherwise, there were rules and guidelines before 2007 for expenses in the House of Assembly.

Rideout knew the rules or ought to have known them. After all, he sat on the House management committee that set the rules.  He sat next to Kevin Aylward, incidentally, the year that the committee approved the infamous rules that blocked Beth Marshall from auditing the legislature's books.

Rideout's travel, though, is another matter.  The same rules that applied to Oliver Langdon and Tom Rideout applied to every member of the legislature equally, like say Kevin Aylward. If Oliver and Tom didn't have to submit detailed claims for travel, Kevin didn't either.  There were no special arrangements on travel, at least as they have come to light so far.

In general, we can establish that it was acceptable for members of the legislature to claim expenses for constituency work done outside the specific district the member represented. Yet there are some curiosities in the Rideout claims, some variance from what one would expect to see in the claims to warrant some further digging. 

If the travel claims were all that turned up on Rideout, then the people of Newfoundland and Labrador would have nothing much to ponder.  There are so many questionable expense claims, though - large donations using public cash, holding donations from one fiscal year to the other, donating half his expense amount in a given fiscal year, renting a house from his district association vice president  - to warrant a more thorough review. 
Incidentally, Rideout's bravado - of the "I marched right down there and sorted this arrangement out myself" variety - doesn't really wash, heck it raises even more concerns.

You see, not only is Rideout a former premier and former opposition leader, he is today the deputy premier and the government house leader.  By any estimate, he is the senior government official on the House management committee overseeing how the rules are to be implemented.  he holds some of the most powerful and influential positions in the legislature and in the administration.

The range of questionable claims coupled with Rideout's apparent indifference to how serious the issues involved are suggest that Rideout is not up to the demands of the jobs he holds.  At the very least, Rideout ought to step down - or be removed - until a more thorough review of the matter can be conducted by an impartial third party.

After all, how can he sit in judgment of others with so many questions swirling around his own actions?

-srbp-


The Telegram
16 December 2007
Rideout defends travel claims
Deputy premier filed constituency charges outside home district
Jamie Baker; Rob Antle
Deputy premier Tom Rideout charged his taxpayer-funded constituency allowance with more than a dozen trips to the west coastin a 20-month period from 2004 to 2006, even though he represented the central Newfoundland district of Lewisporte at the time.
"My understanding of constituency allowance is that if I was invited to attend some function or be in some place as an MHA, then it didn't matter what district I represented - it would be a charge to my constituency allowance," Rideout told The Telegram.
"If I was invited to go to Baie Verte to take in their summer festival, if I chose to attend, that was a charge against the constituency allowance for Lewisporte."
At least eight of the trips took Rideout to Baie Verte, where he ran in the Oct. 9 provincial election.
Rideout stressed that there was no political aspect to those visits.
"Absolutely not. One was in October 2004 and I didn't run downthere until October 2007. (Then-Tory MHA) Paul Shelley was still the member when those expenses were charged, so I had no idea that Paul Shelley would have been resigning."
The MHA said there was no line on old expense claims for identifying the purpose of a trip.
After first being contacted by The Telegram, he matched up expense claims and his schedule. Rideout said he has explanationsfor all of the trips save two, but expects to have those shortly.
The purposes for those trips included:
Attending funerals;
Going to meetings in Corner Brook related to forestry matters,because the forestry office for the Lewisporte area is in Corner Brook;
Driving to Deer Lake from Lewisporte to catch flights to otherlocations for government business;
Some "co-mingling" of expenses with ministerial business. Rideout said he claimed mileage from Lewisporte and charged it to his constituency account and tagged airfare to ministerial meetings to his department's budget.
Rideout said he also attended Hockey Day in Canada in Stephenville on Jan. 7, 2006, because of local ties to the event.
The west coast trip claims abruptly stopped after Ed Byrne wasfired from cabinet in June 2006.
Byrne was the first casualty of Auditor General John Noseworthy's review of MHA constituency allowance spending.
But Rideout said there was no directive sent out to rein in out-of-district spending at the time.
"I don't recall that being the case," the deputy premier said."I don't think we were ever told that. I think that would be coincidental. I think in my case, you know, from the middle of 2006 on, if you were to look at my ministerial travel, I thinkyou would see I still had west coast travel but it would be easily defined as ministerial."
He cited an August aboriginal women's function as such an example.
Mileage claims
Most of Rideout's mileage claims were for set amounts that appeared to exceed the actual point-to-point distance.
For his west coast trips from the capital city, with a stop inhis district, Rideout generally claimed 3,086 kilometres - just about enough to drive from St. John's to Moncton, N.B., and back.
Rideout said most of his claims contained a good deal of "in-district" travel.
"I think I always put in a standard from St. John's to Lewisporte plus in-district travel of 1,050 kilometres," Rideout noted. "From St. John's to Lewisporte is about a four-hour drive (each way). In-district, if you're out there a few days, it's not much trouble to put a couple of hundred kilometres on goingfrom Lewisporte, Norris Arm, Birchy Bay to Boyd's Cove or whatever.
"The district one we used (was) pretty much a standard going back to 1999, and there was never any question by anybody who we submitted our claims to (at) the House of Assembly on that mileage standard."
On Saturday, The Telegram reported that Rideout spent $23,000 out of his constituency allowance to rent a house in Lewisporte from a local Tory party organizer for a 2-1/2 year period between late 2004 and early 2007.
House rules in effect at the time prohibited MHAs from charging taxpayers the cost of renting a home or apartment in their district - no matter who they rented it from.
Rideout justified the claims by saying his Lewisporte rental home contained an office - even though he also operated a rent-free constituency office in a government-owned building less than a kilometre down the road.
MHAs were permitted to claim a per diem of $53 without receipts for accommodations whenever they visited their constituency.
Rideout charged both - a monthly house rental of between $750 and $850, and $53 each day he stayed in Lewisporte.
He said he had permission to do so. But officials at the legislature told The Telegram they were unaware of the arrangement,and will address the issue with Rideout.
The Telegram obtained Rideout's constituency allowance claims for three fiscal years - 2004-05, 2005-06 and 2006-07 - under the province's access-to-information laws.
jbaker@thetelegram.com rantle@thetelegram.com
Box: TOM'S TRAVELS
Deputy Premier Tom Rideout represented the central Newfoundland district of Lewisporte between 1999 and October 2007.
But over a 20-month period - from October 2004 through June 2006 - Rideout charged his taxpayer-funded constituency allowance for more than a dozen trips to Corner Brook, Deer Lake and Baie Verte.
Those journeys took him hundreds of kilometres west of his district's boundaries.
Here is a listing of those trips:
Oct. 8-14, 2004 - 3,086 km. St. John's-Lewisporte-Baie Verte-Lewisporte-St. John's, plus in-district travel. Mileage claim: $972.09.
Dec. 30, 2004 to Jan. 9, 2005 - 3,086 km. St. John's-Lewisporte-Baie Verte-Lewisporte-St. John's, plus in-district travel. Mileage claim: $972.09.
March 23-31, 2005 - 3,086 km. St. John's-Lewisporte-Baie Verte-Corner Brook-Baie Verte-Lewisporte, plus in-district travel. Mileage claim: $972.09.
May 26 to June 6, 2005 - 3,086 km. St. John's-Lewisporte-Corner Brook-Baie Verte-Lewisporte-St. John's, plus in-district travel. Mileage claim: $972.09.
June 10-12, 2005 - 980 km. St. John's-Lewisporte-Corner Brook,plus in-district travel. June 17-19, 2005 - 860 km. Corner Brook-Lewisporte-Corner Brook, plus in-district travel. June 28-29, 2005 - 980 km. Corner Brook-Lewisporte-St. John's, plus in-district travel. Total - 2,820 km. Mileage claim: $888.30.
July 7-26, 2005 - 3,086 km. St. John's-Lewisporte-Grand-Falls-Windsor-Baie Verte-Corner Brook-St. John's, plus in-district travel. Total claim: $972.09.
Aug. 18-29, 2005 - 3,086 km. St. John's-Lewisporte-Corner Brook-Baie Verte-Lewisporte-St. John's, plus in-district travel. Mileage claim: $972.09.
Oct. 4-10, 2005 - 2,465 km. St. John's-Bay de Verde-Lewisporte- Corner Brook-Lewisporte-St. John's, plus in-district travel.Mileage claim: $876.48.
Dec. 23, 2005 to Jan. 8, 2006 - 3,240 km. St. John's-Lewisporte-Corner Brook-Lewisporte-Baie Verte-Corner Brook-Stephenville-Corner Brook-Lewisporte-St. John's. Mileage claim: $1,098.36.
Jan. 1-2, 2006 - flight from Deer Lake-St. John's-Deer Lake toattend a funeral. Total claim: $618.87.
April 12, 2006 - flight from St. John's to Deer Lake. Airfare travel claim: $423.97. Avis car rental, April 12-14, 2006. Total distance driven: 496 km. Rental claim: $148.04. This distance is not enough to take him to his district and back; there were also claims for a CanadianTire gas bar in Corner Brook, and the Baie Vista Inn in Baie Verte during the same time frame.
May 4-7, 2006 - flight from St. John's to Deer Lake to St. John's.
Airfare travel claim: $847.95. Avis car rental, May 4-7. Totalkilometres driven, 360 km. Rental claim: $222.07. This was notfor travel to his district; there is also a Holiday Inn chargein Stephenville for May 5-6. Hotel claim: $227.70.
June 1, 2006 - flight from St. John's to Deer Lake. June 7, 2006 - flight from Gander to St. John's. Airfare travel claim: $729.01. Avis car rental, Deer Lake to Gander. Rental cost: $675.41. Rideout also spent time in Corner Brook on this trip; there is a Canadian Tire gas bar receipt included in this time frame, although the exact date is illegible.
June 16-19, 2006 - Avis car rental, Deer Lake. 1,011 km. Rental cost: $222.07.
On June 21, 2006, Premier Danny Williams turfed Natural Resources Minister Ed Byrne from cabinet after the auditor general questioned Byrne's constituency claims.
There is only one subsequent claim made by Rideout for travel to or from the west coast - a July 6, 2006 flight to St. John's from Deer Lake for an emergency meeting of the Internal Economy Commission. That travel claim was specifically approved bythen-House Speaker Harvey Hodder.
Source: House of Assembly constituency allowance claims filed by MHA
Tom Rideout for fiscal years 2004-05, 2005-06 and 2006-07.

16 December 2007

Be it ever so humble...

rideout toque... there's no place like the home office, apparently, for deputy premier Tom Rideout, right.

An investigation by The Telegram revealed that Rideout claimed rental for a house in his constituency of Lewisporte and an additional claim for accommodations while in the district between 2004 and 2007. The story, which appeared in the Saturday edition of the St. John's daily, is not available online. A copy is reproduced below.

Rideout, whose 43-day term as premier was ended by the Liberal victory in the 1989 general election, rented the house from the vice-president of his district association.

Asked about the appropriateness of renting from his party's district vice-president, Rideout said he was not aware of Freake's position in the party.

"I don't know if was or if he wasn't (vice-president)," Rideout said. "I couldn't say."

Rex Freake is, in fact, listed as vice-president of the Lewisporte PC district association in the party's 2005 convention booklet - next to a large photo of Rideout.

During the same time period, Rideout operated a rent-free constituency office in a nearby government office building. At the time, House of Assembly rules prohibited members from charging taxpayers for the cost of renting a home or apratment in the constituency.

This is not the first controversy for Rideout related to the constituency spending scandal.

In June, 2007, Bond Papers revealed that key provisions of new legislation designed correct excesses revealed by the House spending scandal would not take effect until after the provincial election in October, despite comments from members of the legislature suggesting the entire Act had come into force in June. Rideout, who was a member of the Internal Economy Commission that barred the auditor general from reviewing the legislature's accounts in 2000, turned time and the English language in knots attempting to excuse the political misdirection:

Since Green didn't say the act comes into effect today, we, in consultation with him, said what can come into effect today comes into effect today, what needs time to come into effect tomorrow comes into effect tomorrow, and tomorrow is Oct. 9, 2007.

He said that in June.

In August, the Telegram reported that Rideout had made a $5,000 donation to a charity in his constituency, long after the controversy over the issue had surfaced. The donation was delivered in Fiscal year 2007 but had actually been held over from the previous fiscal year. The Telegram reported that Rideout used upwards of half of his constituency allowance in 2006 for donations of various kinds in his district.

-srbp-

The Telegram 


15 Dec 07


Rideout rental raises issues
Deputy premier claimed house rent, plus per diems

Rob Antle; Jamie Baker

Deputy premier Tom Rideout claimed more than $23,000 for "rental
accommodations" in his district of Lewisporte from late 2004 to early
2007, while tacking on an additional $53 per day for accommodations
whenever he stayed in the area.

Rideout acknowledged Friday he spent the $23,000 out of his
constituency allowance to rent a house in Lewisporte.

The landlord who received the cash was a key local Progressive
Conservative party organizer.

House rules in effect at the time barred MHAs from charging taxpayers
the cost of renting a home or apartment in their district - no matter
who they rented it from.

Rideout justified the claims by saying that his Lewisporte rental home
contained an office - even though he also operated a rent-free
constituency office in a government-owned building less than a
kilometre down the road.

MHAs were permitted to claim a per diem of $53 without receipts for
accommodations whenever they visited their constituency.

Rideout charged both - a monthly house rental of between $750 and $850,
and $53 each day he stayed in Lewisporte.

That amounted to a minimum of 123 per-diem claims from the fiscal
period of 2004-05 through 2006-07 alone. The MHA pocketed more than
$6,500 in per-diem claims for accommodations in Lewisporte during those
three years, while also charging taxpayers separately for his
Lewisporte house rental.

Arrangement approved

Rideout said the arrangement was approved by the House of Assembly.

"Before I rented property in Lewisporte, I went and sat down with the
staff at the House of Assembly, told them my situation, that I didn't
live in the district," Rideout told The Telegram on Friday.

"I was told I could rent a place that I could use as an office - with a
room in it to sleep in, that's fine too - and that rental would be
covered, and there was a per diem that goes with your travel. You
submitted that as part of your claim too. I went and sat down eyeball
to eyeball, face to face. I never sent an assistant to do it, I went
and did it myself."

Rideout said he met with House staff at the time, but didn't identify
who they were.

But officials at the legislature said Friday they were unaware Rideout
was living at the Lewisporte location he was claiming as his office,
until contacted by The Telegram.

In fact, Rideout's situation appeared to be unique, said William
MacKenzie, clerk of the House of Assembly.

"Office expenses were certainly eligible under the old rules,"
MacKenzie said. "I'm not aware of other instances where the office was
also used for personal accommodations."

MacKenzie said House officials would now review the matter with Rideout.

He suggested the per-diem claims by Rideout for accommodations may not
fall "within the spirit of those rules" in effect at the time.

"If the rental costs that the House was reimbursing for the office also
included private accommodations, it doesn't appear that the per diem
should have been claimed," MacKenzie said.

Under the old expense regime, MHAs could claim $53 without receipts for
accommodations away from their home or other residence. They could file
receipts for amounts greater than $53 - hotel bills, for example.

Rideout paid landlord Rex Freake - a two-time failed Tory candidate and
longtime party supporter - $750 a month for rental accommodations from
October 2004 through December 2005, according to constituency claims
filed by the MHA and obtained by The Telegram under the province's open-
records laws.

The monthly rent payment rose to $800 in January 2006, and again to
$850 in January 2007.

There are 30 monthly claims for rental charges from Freake over the
three fiscal years 2004-05 through 2006-07.

The claims totalled more than $23,000.

Rideout served as Lewisporte MHA from 1999 through October 2007, before
running successfully in Baie Verte-Springdale. The constituency
documents obtained by The Telegram only cover the three fiscal years
from April 2004 through March 2007.

Asked about the appropriateness of renting from his party's district
vice-president, Rideout said he was not aware of Freake's position in
the party.

"I don't know if was or if he wasn't (vice-president)," Rideout
said. "I couldn't say."

Rex Freake is, in fact, listed as vice-president of the Lewisporte PC
district association in the party's 2005 convention booklet - next to a
large photo of Rideout.

Freake is also a party fundraiser in the district. Wade Verge, the
newly-elected Tory MHA for Lewisporte, publicly thanked Freake for
helping with his October election victory. "This couldn't have been
done without fundraisers Don Manuel and Rex Freake as well as all the
financial supporters, poll captions, inside agents and the voters,"
Verge said in the Oct. 17 edition of the Lewisporte Pilot.

Rideout said he previously rented a basement apartment and another home
in Lewisporte before beginning his rental arrangement with Freake in
2004.

Freake could not be immediately reached for comment Friday. The
provincial PC office did not respond to phone calls inquiring about his
current status in the party.

Rideout said his constituency assistant operated out of a nearby
Department of Transportation office from 2004 to 2007.

The MHA said he did constituency work out of an office in his rental
home.

"I still continued to rent and I used part of the house as an office,
part of it to hang my hat in," Rideout said.

He said he is now looking for an office to rent in Baie Verte.