02 July 2008

Michael Temelini...

clearly knows nothing about local politics, as painfully evident from his stint with David Cochrane this morning.

We all know Tom Rideout's resignation is a story, Michael.  You don't need to spend the first couple of minutes of a short interview trying to convince us it is important to talk about it, even if it's just for a couple of days.

Then after some more useless comments, Cochrane had to throw Temelini a softball, a life ring, a "gimme" with his John Efford clue.

It was done professionally which is credit both to Cochrane's political savvy and his skills as an on air host. 

Well done, David.

But then - almost immediately -  Cochrane had to correct Temelini by noting that the reaction within the Liberal Party to the prospect of John Efford making a political comeback was decidedly "mixed". 


If "mixed" is a euphemism for "no way", but that's another issue.

The point here is that Temelini was clearly still clueless when he took the Efford thing and morphed that into a general criticism of the "Liberals" for "seriously thinking" about bringing Efford back.

Efford is thinking of bringing Efford back.  Well, Efford and a few friends and supporters.

Not some monolithic entity called the Liberal Party.

Surely to heavens there is someone out there who CBC can use to comment on local politics other than Michael Temelini.

One prerequisite for commentary and analysis  - other than on Open Line - is that you actually know what is going on.

That's pretty much the most basic one.  If you don't know what's going on, then you really can't do much else if you've been called on to talk about what's going on and why.

In this case, it was appalling to have the host/interviewer clearly better informed about the subject on an order of magnitude that staggers the imagination. 

Think funny, f'rinstance.

Then think Rick Mercer versus your aunt's latest boyfriend with a few beers in him.

And in between jokes he just sits on the couch singing old Culture Club.


And playing air drums on his thighs.

That kinda gap.

It's painful, man.

But surely to all that is merciful in the universe, CBC can find someone who can offer some decent comment on local politics.

We'll even take up a collection to buy the beer.

And for those who got through that rant looking for some political clues, here they are:

  1. Rideout looking at taking on Scott Simms in the next federal run.  (Mike, boy, the road spat was never the real issue in the Danny/Tommy racket.)
  2. John Efford is looking at running in Baie Verte, but then again you knew that already. 


Warm evening update:  Now that the early morning rant has passed away, let's take a more dispassionate look at the sayings of Professor Temelini, as reported by CBC News online.

Specifically let's take a look at this bit:

"People who don't like Danny Williams or his government are going to say, 'here's proof positive of this trend we're seeing that the premier is difficult to work with.'

"On the other hand, if Rideout did try to squeeze out more money, outside of the normal transparent process, maybe this is a victory for those who are opposed to pork-barrel politics."

Outside the normal transparent process.

Aside from the straw man Temelini builds here,  his second statement begins with an assumption that the process which existed  had Mr. Rideout played by the rules is not only the normal one but that this normal or usual process is "transparent."

He further qualifies his description of "transparent" by implying in the second half of the sentence that whatever Rideout did was "pork-barrel politics" and therefore worthy of scorn."

Now at this point we have to leave aside another rather huge problem with this entire presentation by Professor Temelini, namely that he has swallowed whole the position advanced by one of the parties in the situation without even a hint of inquiry, analysis, scepticism or thought.

And we can leave aside even that 800 pounds gorilla of problem to focus on the transparent process.

A transparent process, as the term implies, is one which can be seen not only by the people involved in it, but also by those on the outside looking in.  A transparent process usually has clearly defined rules which anyone can see and understand.  We might reasonably expect that a transparent process, especially one involving the expenditure of public funds in an area usually given to pork-barreling and other forms of patronage, would use a set of objective, technical criteria to establish merit. 

In other words, when it came time to hand out the road work, the individual cases would be assessed based on the condition of the roads.  The assessments would be done by experts, as opposed to politicians.  And, there'd be no extraneous considerations like what electoral district the road work was done in let alone what political party the member for that district belonged to.

Well, right off the bat Temelini's entire construction falls flat on its face.  In a transparent system, Rideout would not have been able to engage in the bullying he was accused of using.  He could not have employed any pressure.  He could not have coaxed, cajoled or demanded a penny.

A genuinely transparent system would not allow it.

If Rideout tried it, the whole thing would have been seen not just by the few people in the Premier's Office involved in making the decision but by reporters and everyone else.  Until Rideout resigned, no one outside a very small number of people likely could have told you how road work was decided let alone that there had been some fuss with Rideout over the allocation for his district.

So before we even get beyond the start, the whole thing falls apart based on nothing other than the generally agreed upon facts as presented by the Premier and by Mr. Rideout.

You can figure out that the position taken by both of them was a crock merely by examining simple facts and ignoring entirely ones emotional reaction to The Leader. Had Temelini done anything even vaguely approaching that, listening to him early in the morning might have seemed a lot less like an undergraduate lecture by the holder of the Mugabe Chair of Political Science at Harare U.


Blech said...
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Dale Kirby said...
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Edward G. Hollett said...

Uncritical commentary supportive of a particular political viewpoint, based on half-baked analysis or no analysis from a political science professor is the real disappointment here, Dale.

I could go much farther than that, but I won't.

I can't and won't apologise for that particular phrase, though, since it hits the point, albeit it in a really strong way. I would trust that reasonable people will appreciate that the comparison here is not Williams and Mugabe. In fact, I believe I made it clear in this post and in others that in this particular issue of Rideout and Williams there is a completely more significant story that no one has thus far discussed publicly.

Temelini had the chance to do something more substantive with this issue and he failed utterly. To make it worse, he simply took up one of the propaganda lines which, as I believe I noted simply doesn't stand up to 309 seconds of thought.

Three or four similar comparisons ran through my head at the same time, incidentally:

- Dubya Chair of Political Science at U Texas, Austin.

- Steve Harper Chair in Political Science at U Calgary.

- Danny Williams Chair in Political Science at Grenfell College.

All of them are loaded in one way or another, but the idea remains the same: you'd expect commentary not just friendly to a particular point of view but one which follows the same patterns of propaganda as the sponsor and in this case it seems that what we got.

The section of the CBC story is quoted frames the question around affection for a particular political leader. Affection is entirely irrelevant if one is trying to carry on a fair and well-grounded analysis.

Temelini's wasn't well-grounded in this case and, I must say, usually isn't.

Sorry you were disappointed but I trust you can look past that point and see the old point I made some time ago: there's something much more significant to this story if one thinks about it.

Too bad we didn't get some thought this morning from the interview.

WJM said...

Grenfell University, surely.

Or will it too be "rebranded"?


University of Williams?

Tommy D said...

What not just use the Hitler Chair of Poli Sci in Berlin? Surely that is justified for not being anti-Danny enough. Perhaps the Clyde Wells Chair of Neo-liberal theology??

Edward G. Hollett said...

Thanks Tommy for unflinchingly making the comment about a personality rather than the substance of it.

Did you and Wally co-ordinate the effort to miss the point?


DRT said...

Hmm ... Don't know who Wally is. My comment was more about Well's politics than personality -- to you ony a mild ribbing was intended. In case I post again you can know that I'm a sporadic NDP supporter, paying off mountains of student debt from the Wells and Tobin era.

To be fair though, while Temelini's comments did not make the critique you would have like to have seen, as a media consultant I'm sure you understand the business well enough not to expect too much from what makes it to air or print.

Surely a little fairness and charity of interpretation is in order. While I didn't post last time -- I admit I'm still relatively new to the blogging world -- I noticed your comment a while ago -- I think I was in France at the time re: the NL Nationalism article in the globe and mail from the same commentator.

While I didn't agree 100% with Temelini I thought he did a great job of placing it a national context -- and framed it in a way that scolars of nationalism talk about the issue (Charles Taylor, Will Kymlicka, etc.). I was living abroad on another nationalistic Island and thought it was pretty darn good. I'm not sure if you weren't aware of what he was trying to say, but it was again a little over zealous.

I'm not aware of the personal issues you may have with certain commentators-- again I'm still new to the blog world - but I often find some good stuff here, and while it's clear you don't like this particular professor, there's a fine line between hyperbole and exageration. Your commentary, which is often enjoyable, is weaker when that line is crossed. The world already has one Bill O'Reilly too many....

Tommy D

Edward G. Hollett said...

Tommy D, I put the smiley in there to indicate I can take and give a rub. I got your poke and it's all taken in the spirit in which it was offered. I am fully aware that some might well suggest i hold the Wells' chair in neo-liberalism or some other topic. fair enough. There's no point in dishing it out if you can't take it.

I appreciate your comments however, I don't feel my remarks were unfair. In the broader sense I guess I have run out of charity in this instance.

The interview in question for this post was aired live, hence there wasn't an issue with someone editting out bits.

The point here is not about my preference. That is to fall into the same trap as the interview, namely the focus on personality.(that was the bit about whether you like Danny or not).

Such an approach is facile and in this instance fits conveniently with the official (and misleading) interpretation of events on the Rideout resignation from cabinet.

If you reject the superficial and look a little deeper you find something far richer and far more interesting from a policy standpoint or from the standpoint of backroom politics in the province.

As for the one on nationalism from last year, I still have issues with it on a number of levels. If nothing else it relies on sweeping generalizations that are not supported in the piece and which are unsupportable. Far from helping those unfamiliar with the local scene to gain a better insight into it, the piece trafficked in illusions and stereotypes. In one sense, all it did is substitute one bunch of caricatures for another.

Sheena said...

"there is a completely more significant story that no one has thus far discussed publicly."

"look a little deeper you find something far richer and far more interesting"

So what is the real story you allude to? The inherent lack of transparency?

Edward G. Hollett said...


There were a couple of things that were fairly obvious from the beginning. I'll rattle them off as they come to me as I write:

1. Roadwork has always been controversial and it has also been highly politicized. See, for example, Smallwood as the most notorious example.

How was the roadwork decision made? After the initial story, we learned a great many things via Hansard.

For instance, roadwork decisions are made ultimately by a political staffer in the Premier's Office.

That's a gigantic change from pre-2003 and apparently it's a change from 2003-2007 practice.

Finding out that roadwork is decided politically is a huge political story in its own right even in a province where roadwork has been political. It's a story because you can undoubtedly find some commitment from the current crowd on openness, accountability and transparency that doesn't fit with the practice.

(BTW, that doesn't apply just to this crowd. The normal approach you'd expect from all the "outs" - media and opposition - is to compare what the "ins" promised versus what they did.)

It gets to be a much bigger story when you take the actual road announcements and analyse them. Wally Maclean's done and keeps on doing it. Anyone can replicate his work and see that what he is posting is factual and accurate.

Put the two things together and you have solid evidence that roadwork is being allocated on a political basis.

2. Weakassed ministers. If two cabinet ministers could be bullied by Tom Rideout - note the nature of the "bullying" was never established - then we have serious questions about the competence of two ministers.

It's a bigger problem given that Whelan is nominally responsible for allocating public works spending like roads.

3. Whelan clearly made a decision on how to allocate money within her own department. She should be able to do this.

Her decision was overruled by either political staff or by the Premier via his political staff. Either way that's a pretty significant issue from a standpoint of how cabinet works.

If the decision was made by political staff, then you have a story with bigger implications constitutionally: cabinet doesn't decide; unelected and hence unaccountable political staffers run the province. For a clue on this one go back and check what the Premier said in defending the raises for his staff.

4. Money is tight. One of the implciations of the intial story was that we had to be careful in our spending cause money is tight.

But this was only a million bucks. The roads budget is 73 million with a nominal 1.0 million continegency. The whole budget is 6.5 million and there is an anticpated surplus of 500 million.

They could have covered this off easily.

5. Why cause a such a huge political storm over $1.0 million? There was nothing in this story that suggsted why putting another million in roadwork would be such a big issue for either side (Rideout or Williams) such that it would have caused such a massive political meltdown.

- What was the issue really about:

- Rideout challenging the Premier's right to decide alone what happens? In other words, was this part of a challenge to Danny's effort to consolidate control internally after the election? Bear in mind there was a description of several methods that had been used to decide road work culminating in the one controlled by the 8th. Was Rideout fighting for another model of decision-making that kept some power and control with the ministers?

- Is there an internal problem in the party with Rideout being a catalyst for old-line Tories unhappy with Danny's style?

These are just possibilities but one thing was clear: cabinet ministers don't resign and Premiers don't savage a former colleagues character over a million bucks in paving tar.

You can take the superficial story and dismiss the rest as "conspiracy theories" or you can apply some of the gut you develop with experience and smell something bigger.

There are several threads, all of which warranted media attention initially. For a political scientists - especially a professor - all of these ideas and more should have been top of mind, not some horsecrap about the "normal, transparent process" especially since the process was neither normal nor transparent.