29 February 2008

Maybe better planning would have helped...

Celebrations to mark the founding of Cupids, the first English colony in what is now Canada, are expected to generate $15 million of economic activity in the celebration year, 2010.

That's it.

$15 million.

And the nationalist-sounding, go-it-alone provincial government is willing to contribute the amazing sum of $2.0 million to the celebrations.


Yeah, Whoppee-ding.

Now, it seems that an event as significant as the 400th anniversary of the first English colony would be a fairly big deal not just locally but nationally.  The fact it happens to fall in an Olympic year doesn't bode particularly well for Cupids being the top tourist attraction in Canada that year, but it might make out all right.

It might make out if the provincial government actually paid any attention to the project.  For starters there's the tiny sum they've thrown into the planning for it.  When you are pulling in $2.0 billion in oil and mineral revenues and running billion dollar surpluses, $2.0 million bucks just doesn't say "serious".

And bear in mind that's not $2.0 million over each of the next two years.


That's $2.0 million, in total.

Doesn't sound very serious at all.

That's why it is getting tedious to listen to tourism minister Clyde Jackman rabbit on about how tremendously important these celebrations in Cupids are and why it is so important for the federal Conservative members of parliament to stand up for their province and wrestle federal funding for the whole thing.

It's tedious just writing a sentence that encapsulates the windy minister's windy complaint.

The whole thing would be a lot less tedious, though, if Jackman's boss would actually allow him to give some serious cash to match the serious level of whining coming from the provincial tourism minister.

And that's what it is:  whining.  That's all it is.

You see if the provincial government were that serious about Cupids, it would have tossed in more cash of its own up front. There'd have been great talk three years ago about the fantabulous festival in Cupids or some such.  We'd be Cupidsed to death just as we were cabotted in 1997 or impaled on Viking helmets another year.

And there'd have been cash.  Not two million in total, but two million a year to a maximum of eight or 10 or whatever the thing would cost. 

You see, Jackman made mention several times of the Quebec City celebrations marking the 400th anniversary of that city.  Jackman mentioned it in his talk radio calls today and in a news release that popped out late in the afternoon.  Jackman noted that the federal government had contributed $110 million to Quebec City but  - up to the time he spoke - the feds just hadn't come across with the seven million Danny had decided was the "ask" for Cupids.  Yeah, Jackman actually called it an "ask".

What Jackman didn't say is that the Quebec provincial government had ponied up $110 million of its own for the celebrations. They showed they were serious with hard currency.  They didn't look on the thing as a slip-and-fall injury settlement negotiation, complete with an "ask". The feds rose to the bait and put up their own cash to match, dollar for dollar.

Clyde Jackman can make as man calls to Bill Rowe as he wants.  He can send out as many "news" releases as he wants. The bottom is that if his boss was serious at all, he would have nodded to Clyde and let him spend provincial money on the Cupids celebrations. The feds would have followed suit.  Heck, a little bit of sweet talk and salesmanship might have stroked some more money from them in an election year.  Think about it.  If such a pathetic provincial outlay could generate $15 million, imagine what $14 million in total would do for the people of Cupids.

For some entirely unexplained reason, though, the provincial cabinet doesn't seem to want to spend any money on things like the Cupids celebrations or even on fixing up hospitals, for that matter.

Wonder where all the cash is going?


Mr. Premier, what are you trying to hide?

IP Freely made have had a point last August.

Turns out the provincial cabinet had a whole bunch of things they were hiding, even more things than the stacks of files shown in this video.

Like studies on the physical condition of hospitals in the St. John's area.

Done in 2005 and kept secret for three years from a government that campaigned last fall on being accountable, transparent and open.

Here, for your Friday viewing pleasure is the old IP Freely video that asks an ever-appropriate question, asked, as the Gods of Irony decreed, by the Premier himself.


The wheels on the bus...

are square, not round.

That would be the bus of a government that just won a stunning election victory and yet now seems mired in mess after mess after mess.

The latest one - hospitals in desperate need of fixing up, a government report kept secret for two and a half years - is taken apart by the Telegram's editorial.

But after you've done with the editorial, take a look below to some of the comments.  One comes from a fellow who says he's a manger with Eastern Health.  He makes some interesting observations.

But the point is:  he's making them, publicly.

Not so very long ago, public servants were deathly afraid of saying anything that did not conform to the tone from the top.

Heck.  Public servants?  Try just about anyone alive in the province.  Who needed the phone calls at all hours of the day or night in which the person on the other end of the phone was able to recount in detail a private and supposedly privileged conversation among some tiny group or a board or what have you.  There were times you'd have sworn the confessionals at the Basilica were bugged or the local priest was doing his patriotic duty by ratting out a dissident to the secular saviour's disciples.

Not so any more.

The news media are being a bit less wary in their remarks.  The reporting is still solid and professional but there's less tolerance of bullshit.

Take for example, David Cochrane's comments on Here & Now's political panel.  He pretty much stated it, as it was, right down to the comment about Wiseman burping up the existence of the report.  Where Cochrane or Craig Westcott might have been the few to  make observations openly that reflected less than positively on the current administration, the sharp stories are coming much more often and from others.

Things seem to be changing.  It might just be temporary, but then again, there might be reasons why the administration seems remarkably unable to pull off the amateur poll goosing and pitcher planting of the old days.

That sounds like a topic for a weekend post.


The Junk Merchant speaks, again

Andy Wells finished up his day job as mayor today.  He's heading off to new digs and much bigger salary as the guy running the provincial utility regulator.

Meanwhile, Ivan Morgan, the reporter who loves jam jams thought he'd give Andy a call and ask his view on having John Noseworthy audit the offshore regulatory board.  That's the one an independent panel determined someone other than Wells was better qualified to run, based on merit criteria approved by both the federal and provincial governments.

So anyway, Morgan, who now prefers to take potshots at politicos in his news pieces than in his opinion column, got Andy's viewpoint now that Andy is leaving the board for the utilities crew.

Andy sees no problem with having Noseworthy go in and audit the board in every dimension.

Andy would hardly be expected to do anything to support the board, would he?

Or for that matter hold a consistent opinion in his head.

After all this is the guy who thought it a waste of tax dollars to shift provincial public servants from St. John's to the nether regions of the province.

But when the chance came to shift some federal public servants to this province, Wells was all over it as a phenomenal idea.  You see, wells hopped on that bandwagon since it gave him a chance to toe the provincial Tory line and, if it worked, maybe hook up a few more bucks for his city's coffers.

See you can't keep pouring ever more money into Mile One without getting it from somewhere and a few high paying federal jobs would help keep the Wells-Coombs Memorial Money Pit going for a while longer.

Anyway, says Andy, bring John Noseworthy on in and let him have a go at the offshore board.

But last year, Wells had a different tune, at least when it came to the idea of having Noseworthy rotting around in Andy's fiefdom at city hall.

The auditor general (currently John Noseworthy) - whose reports annually shed an embarrassing light on the provincial government - could turn his attention to city hall if he wanted.

But Wells said there is no need, because the city already has an external audit process which produces reports annually.

No need.

Because there is already and external auditor.

Just like at the offshore board.

Makes you wonder if Wells had actually gotten the job at the offshore board, if Noseworthy would not have been told to piss off, in far less genteel a way than  "piss off". 

The guy who got the job Danny coveted for Andy never said Noseworthy couldn't come in and look the place over.

He just addressed the question, competently  - egad - consistently.


Is this the same announcement or more money?


Money from the provincial government.

Same department that gave $675,000 to SAC Mfg.

Announcement on Monday.

Is it the same money - again - or new money?


The lowest common denominator

If you have spare change in your pocket, it is sometimes amusing to pick up that upstart weekly newspaper, The Independent.

Paul Daly's photography is worth way more than a twonie so even if the rest of the paper doesn't enlighten or edify or stir up anything else besides a yawn, you can always be sure you have helped keep employed one of the finest news shooters on the planet.

This week, Ivan Morgan eschews his package of jam jams to take issue with Richard Raleigh, the new columnist at the Business Post. Raleigh, you may recall is the local writer who publishes Serious Business, a blog on local politics. The Business Post you may recall is the local paper owned and published and everything-elsed by Craig Westcott.

Seems that Ivan Morgan has some issues. Well, issues in this case with Raleigh who criticizes the Premier or his administration from behind the cloak of a pseudonym. This is apparently not on in Morgan's world and Morgan uses all the high moralizing dudgeon he can recall from his days as a New Democrat to curse Raleigh for his sins.

None of this should come as a surprise.  The Indy is full of not just holier-than-thou but holiest-of-all public onanism when it comes to journalism and ethics.  Its radio ads on VOCM always draw attention to the fact the paper is locally owned, as if that actually has any positive impact on the quality of the stuff on the pages. [Hint:  it doesn't.]  Indy editor Ryan Cleary likes to slag off the province's major daily, The Telegram, mostly about its being owned by a mainland company which therefore means  - to those who think that way - that the Telly's content is negatively affected.  [Hint:  it isn't.]

To add to the moral outrage at the Indy, Raleigh had the temerity to put his stuff in the Business Post.  Westcott, you may recall, left the Indy suddenly after a very short stint.  While the story may not be widely known, the parting wasn't necessarily the friendliest of all.  it didn't sink to the way Hydro Queen departed, but there weren't a lot of kisses and hugs going around.

Morgan claims his columns are superior because as a journalist he doesn't slag people off in an opinion piece and then go and try to interview them on another subject for a news piece.  That isn't what Raleigh does incidentally.  That's what editor Westcott has been accused of by those who felt that his being blackballed by the Premier's Office was okay because Westcott slagged the Premier in his opinion pieces and then wanted to interview the Premier on other subjects.

As you may have gathered, the ethical pedestal onto which Morgan climbs exists entirely in his own imagination. Raleigh isn't Westcott, as near as anyone can determine. Raleigh only writes his opinion pieces online and now in print.

Now he does use a pseudonym and around these parts, the view has been that if you are going to make a stand, then you should have the courage to stand behind your convictions.

That said, Raleigh is an equal opportunity slagger, taking the piss out of a wide variety of public figures and even himself on occasion. He writes well and his observations are forcefully presented.

It's a bit hard to take Morgan's attack seriously, though. As he well knows, people who do write critical opinion pieces and use their own name are also slagged off by the Indy.  For several weeks running last year, Morgan's paper tried to smear four individuals with nothing more than a bit of venom and some old fashioned personal innuendo. They did so in the opinion spaces where the defamation laws apply a little more loosely than otherwise. In other cases, the paper has slagged people off in its news stories not in the opinion spaces but on the basis of a minimal amount of research and damned little context.

More often than not, and for all the claims to the contrary one is more likely to see an homage to backside of the Premier and his cause du jour in the Indy's editorial and opinion spaces than not.  There's really no surprise in that. After all, his world view aligns with the world view of the Indy's editor.

So go figure.

Criticize Danny from behind a cloak and you get told off.  Criticize Danny without the cloak and you get personal smear and innuendo or the little jabs of the type we see in Morgan's latest column.

It's not hard to find the lowest common denominator in all that.

Update:  In which Mr. Raleigh himself turns his guns on Comic Book Guy, in detail.


28 February 2008

Public Policy Health Warning: virulent outbreak of Pinocchiosis Politica in NL

At least two provincial cabinet ministers have been stricken with advanced cases of pinocchiosis politica, a debilitating public policy disorder characterized by incredible or misleading statements, usually by politicians. 

Cabinet ministers are particularly susceptible to infection.

Ironically, health minister Ross Wiseman appears to have the most advanced case.

Wiseman, who has been parliamentary secretary to the health minister since 2003 and took on the ministerial job in 2007 called reporters on Wednesday to correct what he felt were media misstatements.

However, when Wiseman met with reporters in a scrum, he experienced a flare-up:

Asked by a reporter about problems at the Waterford, the minister referenced its “facility report.” He later backtracked, saying “there might be” such a report. But he declined comment on the Waterford situation, noting that he had not read it.

Wiseman later acknowledged Eastern Health had completed an evaluation of its facilities, including the Waterford.

The reports  - more than one - on all acute care facilities in St. John's, including the province's major health centre, were released later in the day. They chronicle $135 million in capital costs to address critical and potentially critical problems with the physical plant as well as a range of other problems and issues.

They were prepared in 2005 but kept secret until Wednesday.

Government thus far has not addressed the problems in the two year old report, beyond offering $500,000 to study the health infrastructure needs in the capital region.

In its 2007-08 budget submission to government, Eastern Health asked for $93 million to deal with critical or near-critical repairs.

The board received $3.6 million, according to [Keith] Bowden, [Eastern Health’s director of infrastructure support].

In December 2007, finance minister Tom Marshall announced the provincial budget would finish that fiscal year with a capital and current account surplus of more than $880 million,  In 2005 - the year the reports were received - the surplus on capital and current account was more than $500 million.

Marshall also appears to afflicted with pinocchiosis politica. On a radio call-in show Thursday, Marshall credited the Auditor General's annual report last year with bringing to his attention the provincial government's debt load and the need for a debt reduction program.

Marshall campaigned in 2003 on the public debt.  As a cabinet minister in 2003, he received a full briefing on the provincial government's financial state from government officials.  Along with the rest of cabinet, he received a detailed financial analysis by PriceWaterhouseCoopers.  Both included references to the high level of public debt.

In 2004, Marshall was part of a cabinet that implemented austerity measures based on the financial analysis it received from these two.

There is no known cure for pinocchiosis politica although the symptoms can be reduced through prolonged exposure of politicians to public scrutiny.  Sustained questioning in the legislature and elsewhere is the usual course of treatment. In extreme cases, treatment will require a public inquiry.

Effective treatment is often hampered by open resistance by the infected individuals to questions or to public inquiry .

Left untreated, pinocchiosis politica spreads and may result in public policy crises,  the destruction of individual political careers and ultimately in political defeat for the party with the greatest number of infected members.

Communities where legislatures are closed for extended periods are ripe for major outbreaks which infect not only cabinet ministers but government backbenchers, other politicians and senior public servants.

Long gaps between general elections and the opening of a legislature also present heightened risk for pinocchiosis politica infections. 

The presence of weak, ineffective or fawning news media promotes the development of the disorder and encourages its spread through the repetition of the incredible and/or misleading statements.

Update:  Several e-mails today shed new light on pinocchiosis politica.

As the correspondents noted, pinocchiosis politica is the general term for a family of disorders afflicting the political class.

Several specific local variants have been identified:

  • rideout toquePinocchiosis rideoutis has been thus far been identified in only one case.  It is an unusual variant in which patients present with obvious confusion about time (today is today, but tomorrow is actually four months from now) and confusion about buildings (a house is referred to as an office), although they appear completely unaware that what they are saying is pure nonsense. P. rideoutis patients sometimes display a preference for unusual headwear, right.


  • Pinocchiosis politica hickii seems to occur among politicians from northern climes. P. hickii presents as a belief by the patient that he or she has a signed agreement when in fact the agreements don't exist. P. hickii has also been known to manifest as a compulsion to submit expense claims over and over.
  • Pinocchiosis stephenvillia manifests with the patient making promises he or she cannot fulfill.  It is named for the Town of Stephenville.  Residents of the town were promised by a campaigning party leader that the major local employer, a paper mill,  "would not close on my watch".  The mill closed. [See Williams Syndrome]
  • Humber West Denial Virus, also known as Williams Syndrome, is characterized by the repeated used of certain words and phrases which have no real meaning or which have lost meaning through repeated use.  For example,  "Quite frankly", "nothing could be further from the truth", "you know" or "Steve".  Patients frequently display repetitive shrugs of the shoulders.  Often this physical action is accompanied by a persistent non-productive cough, particularly when in stressful situations such as when being questioned by reporters. While these are the common names for this manifestation, Williams Syndrome is in fact a variant of pinocchiosis known as P. willielmus.


The Williams Zone

You unlock this door with the Key of Confusion. Beyond it is another dimension - a dimension of sound, a dimension of fury, signifying nothing.  You're moving into a land of shadow, a world of obfuscation, where nothing is ever as it seems.  You've just crossed over into the Williams Zone.


The reports on the physical repairs and upgrades needed in four St. John's hospitals date back to 2005.

It took Ross Wiseman and his cabinet colleagues two years to get around to giving Eastern Health $500,000 to come up with a plan to figure out the future needs in the St. John's area for buildings.

In the meantime, the $135 million in capital repairs and upgrades didn't get done.

And there's no commitment from government that they will accept the recommendations - which aren't in yet apparently - when they finally come in.

Two years could easily become five or more by the time everything gets done that needs to be done.

By contrast, just three weeks ago Wiseman and his newbie cabinet colleague Dave Denine dropped the regulatory hammer on 22 personal care homes in the province for not installing sprinklers in their buildings despite having five years to do so.

Seems just a bit hypocritical given the government's own problems that they knew about at the time but the rest of us didn't.

Why didn't we know?

Because the open, accountable and transparent government never indicated they already had studies showing $135 million in deficiencies. 

They never said Word One about it at any time right up to last fall during the election when they promised to look at the hospital needs around St. John's as if it was a brand spanking new idea.

Little did we know they'd been diddling around for two years.

But this is not the first time the Premier and his cabinet have known something and didn't tell us.

Secret bonus payments in the House of Assembly, for example. 

That's just one example.

And ya know what's really galling?

It's not like saying 15 years ago when a government faced with a bill for $135 million could say, honestly and legitimately 'We don't have the money."


In Fiscal Year 2005, Danny Williams' administration finished the fiscal year up with a surplus of over $500 million on their capital and current account.  They only reported a little over $130 million on an accrual basis, which means they tossed the cash surplus up against the total liabilities to make it shrink.

But they still finished up with $524 million in cash left over.


That's almost four times the money needed to fix all the problems in those two linear feet of reports.

The ones they kept completely, totally secret.

While claiming to be open, transparent and accountable.

There was a chunky surplus in 2006, too.

And in 2007, the year they gave $500,000 for a study?

Well, that's the year where finance minister Tom Marshall forecast he will wind up with an extra $880 million at the end of the year he didn't expect.


That's six and one half times the money need to fix up all the existing hospitals in St. John's.

So that maybe the Health Sciences Centre wouldn't need to close its day surgery because of leaks in the roof.

So what's Tom Marshall been doing all the while he knew he had all this cash and knew - or should have know - he had all these problems in St. John's hospitals?

He's been running around the province clicking his debt clock asking us what we wanted to spend "our" money on.

And all the while he knew something really, really really important that we didn't.

Hardly fair is it?

Hardly, accountable, open and transparent, is it?


But it is what you get in the Williams Zone.


27 February 2008

His reach exceeds his grasp

"...Why would they not want me to come in?”

Auditor General John Noseworthy, quoted in The Telegram and The Western Star

Auditor General John Noseworthy could find an answer by looking at his sorry record over the past two years.  it is littered with far too many examples of serious factual errors, misleading statements, unsubstantiated claims and a general disregard for the fundamental principles of natural justice.

Search Noseworthy on this site and one can find evidence of them all.

In the case of his recent bizarre effort to dig into the operations of the board regulating the province's offshore industry, Noseworthy offers an eloquent case against his ever being allowed to enter the building housing the board's offices let alone have him run amok in the filing system. Let us forget for a moment that Noseworthy himself does not consider the board to be an entity subject to his audits.

The province's auditor general, you see, is not interested in the board's financial state or its overall operations, areas he might be entitled to review. That is,  he is not interested in any of the usual functions of an auditor general.

Noseworthy wishes to appoint himself to govern the offshore:

“CNLOPB has some significant responsibilities, including safety, environmental, industrial benefits, resource management,” Noseworthy said in an interview.

“So I wanted to look at those areas — for example, are the companies providing a safe environment for workers offshore? Have they identified all hazards and implemented appropriate measures to reduce risk? Those sorts of things.”

If the Government of Canada and the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador had thought that an accountant was the right person to ensure public safety, enforce environmental regulations and industrial benefits and to manage the exploitation of oil and gas reservoirs, then they would have assigned those responsibilities to the auditor general.

They did not.

They did not do so in the original memorandum of understanding on joint management of the offshore.

They did not do so in either the federal statute giving legal force to the agreement nor in the provincial one doing likewise.

The democratically elected representatives of the people of Canada decided to establish a regulatory agency comprising experts in each of these fields and others to determine whether or not "the companies are providing a safe environment for workers offshore", for example.

The men and women of the offshore board have done a thorough and professional job of safeguarding the public interest since 1985.  They have done so recently despite the unwarranted and unsubstantiated attacks upon their professionalism and competence by the Premier and most recently by the slimy innuendo of the Auditor General. 

In his most recent, and perhaps most bizarre public comments, John Noseworthy wants to overrule Parliament and the House of Assembly.  The will of parliament be damned, it seems. Noseworthy wishes to appoint himself the sole arbiter of issues not only that proper authorities have already assigned legally and properly to people properly qualified to do them but also issues that Noseworthy demonstrably knows absolutely nothing about.

Such a flagrant disregard for the laws passed legitimately by the elected representatives of the people is sufficient cause to stop Noseworthy in his tracks in this instance.

Coupled with a number of other incidents over the past two years, the House of Assembly would also be justified in ordering a thorough investigation into the operations of Noseworthy's office.

Noseworthy's reach has long exceeded his grasp of the law, the constitution or due process.  As an ordinary citizen,His wild claims would be entertaining and entitle him to a seat on city council.    

In an Auditor General, this failing strikes at the core of Noseworthy's ability to perform the duties of the office he holds.  His antics threaten the legitimacy of an extremely important public office. 

in the public interest and for the public good, it is time to send the auditors into the Auditor General's office.


That would be so cool, if it wasn't going to hurt us

Ross Wiseman.

A cabinet minister whose career clock today started winding down.


You can't screw up repeatedly, and in this case in such a laughable way, and expect to keep your job for very long.

Standing back a bit, one can almost hear the political staffers in government looking at Wiseman's cock-up and thinking of Ron Stoppable.

"That would be so cool if it wasn't going to hurt us."

Sitch Update:  Late this afternoon, Eastern Health started handing out reports on the physical condition of four acute care facilities in St. John's.

It wasn't just on the Waterford Hospital, as Wiseman's slip in the scrum might have suggested.

The reports take up about two feet of shelf space and come in four massive binders.

According to CBC News, the repairs would total upwards of $100 million.

So how long has government had the reports, one might wonder?

Sitch Update II:  Someone needs to let the comms people in the provincial government that when you have a scrum at 11:00 AM and the minister screws up really badly, it's not that good an idea to have him call Bill  Rowe in the afternoon pretending there's nothing wrong.

Hint:  The message track got changed in there when someone was photocopying the binders of reports the Minister wasn't sure existed or that he'd read so that you guys could release them.

And it's just incomprehensible to issue a news release at 5:00 PM which the minister rendered useless at 11:00 and 30 seconds.


26 February 2008

No access restriction: offshore board

The board regulating the province's offshore oil and gas industry hasn't restricted access to its financial records or other operational records.

The Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board issued a statement late Tuesday which contradicted claims made earlier in the day by provincial auditor general John Noseworthy:

As a public agency, the Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board has no objection to an audit and does not wish to restrict access. Our point is simply that, since the Board is a federal/provincial agency, any audit should be conducted jointly by the Auditors General of the Province and the Government of Canada.” It was also noted in the same letter that the Board is audited every year by an external auditor, and the results of that audit are in the public domain as part of our Annual Report. These Annual Reports are tabled in the House of Assembly of Newfoundland and Labrador, and the Parliament of Canada and are available on the Board’s website at www.cnlopb.nl.ca.

Noseworthy told news media today he wasn't interested as much in the board's financial operations but in the board's responsibilities to the Government of Canada and the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador for safety, industrial benefits and other areas.  His office has no in-house competence to review these areas. Noseworthy did not indicate how he proposed to evaluate areas beyond his professional competence as an accountant.

In his statements today, Noseworthy neglected to point out that his office has actually never considered the offshore board as an entity subject to audit by his office.

Noseworthy gave no explanation for his sudden change of opinion nor for his inexplicable interest in assessing issues beyond his professional competence.

Noseworthy apparently made no effort to contact federal auditor general Sheila Fraser, dismissing it as unnecessary. 

Instead, he filed a report making claims that are not substantiated by even a cursory examination of the facts of the matter.


NL AG hoist by petard of own misleading statements

Auditor General John Noseworthy is crying foul at supposedly being shut down in his efforts to audit the offshore regulatory board, not for financial issues but for safety, environmental and resource management issues.

Noseworthy issued a surprise report today.

Here are some quick observations:

1.   No statutory authority to audit offshore board. The AG website does not list the offshore board as being an entity subject to audit, even though Noseworthy now claims to have a legal opinion stating otherwise.

As such, Noseworthy's office has no legal right to demand access to the offshore board's operations. Neither the federal nor provincial enabling statutes for the Atlantic Accord (1985) give the provincial auditor general the right to audit the offshore board.

As further proof that Noseworthy himself does not consider the offshore board to fall under his jurisdiction, his 2007 report - issued three weeks ago - makes no mention of the offshore board and its financial statements for any year.

2.  AG fails to meet requirements of own legislation

Noseworthy cites supposed obligations under the Auditor General Act to report a failure by an entity subject to provincial audit to provide access to documents.  However, if Noseworthy's office doesn't believe the organization is subject to audit, he has no legal authority to conduct any review.

Beyond that, even if Noseworthy is right on his legal ability to audit the offshore board, he's failed completely in this case to demonstrate the requirements - set out in provincial law - necessary to conduct an audit of an entity whose financial statements are audited  - by law - by an external agency.

Under s. 14(3) of the Auditor General Act,

Where the auditor general is of the opinion that the information, explanation or document that is provided, made available or delivered to the auditor general by the auditor referred to in subsection (2) is insufficient to permit the auditor general to exercise his or her powers or duties under this Act, the auditor general may conduct or cause to be conducted an additional examination and investigation of the records and operations of the agency of the Crown or the Crown controlled corporation that the auditor general considers necessary.

By both federal and provincial legislation, the offshore board uses external auditors to produce its annual financial statements.

3.  AG ignores other entities under his jurisdiction In his 2007 report, Noseworthy noted that he had not received audited financial statements on four Crown corporations - Hydro's subsidiaries - for the year ended December 31, 2006. Aside from that mention, Noseworthy has not indicated publicly he has taken any action using his legal powers to deal with that problem.

To make it worse, this is not the first year Hydro's subsidiaries have failed to meet their legal requirements to provide audited statements to the AG. Noseworthy's website indicates that he has not received financial statements from the four corporations since February 2006:

Company                                                                 Year ending             Date rec'd

Churchill Falls (Labrador) Corporation Limited      31 December 2005    14 February 2006
Gull Island Power Company Limited                      31 December 2005      7 February 2006
Lower Churchill Development Corporation Ltd     31 December 2005       7 February 2006
Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro Electric Corp  31 December 2005 14 February 2006
Twin Falls Power Corporation Limited                   31 December 2005 7 February 2006

4.  Offshore board willing to have joint federal/provincial audit.  For all the posturing inherent in Noseworthy's public report, the offshore board still has refused to give the auditors access to the organizations financial and operational records.

In fact, Noseworthy's claim of being refused access is false:

This Report is submitted to the House of Assembly under the authority of Section 12(1) of
the Auditor General Act (the Act ) relating to the refusal of the Canada - Newfoundland and
Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board (CNLOPB) to provide my Office with unrestricted
access to information necessary to conduct a review of CNLOPB operations.

Noseworthy's own report gives the information that proves his office has not been refused access to the offshore boards records.  According to Noseworthy, the board repeated its view that “…any audit should be conducted jointly by the Auditors General of the Province and the Government of Canada.”

That's hardly a refusal by any definition of the word.

So if the Auditor General can't get his facts straight or abide by the law, what's the point of having him?


The Law of Diminishing Visitor Returns

Since taking office, the Williams administration has boosted the tourism advertising budget from $6 million to $11 million annually.

Now for most of us, a tourist is someone who doesn't live in a place but who goes there to see the sights. Tourists are good because they bring new money into the local economy and spend it on accommodations, attractions, travel, food and souvenirs.

The current provincial administration is proud of the results their efforts have produced. As Mount Pearl North MHA Steve Kent put it:

In the past four years, non-resident visitors to this province have increased by about 15 per cent, contributing approximately $365 million annually to the provincial coffers. The total resident and non-resident tourism industry contributes about $840 million to the provincial economy each year.

Yes, that's right, non-resident visitors, the people most of us would regard as tourists, actually contributed only 43% of the total economic activity generated by the province's tourism industry.


Doubled tourism advertising budget.

Tourists - let's call them non-resident visitors or NRVs - only produced 43% of the "tourism" dollars in the economy.

And that's after we've doubled the provincial tourism advertising budget, which, as Kent crowed, has won all sorts of awards.

Let's take a look at the returns we are getting on our investment. We'll use statistics gleaned from a couple of provincial sources. You may find the results startling.

For the first table, let's look at the number of non-resident visitors (NRV), the advertising budget, the increase in the budget from the previous year and the total amount spent by the visitors, in millions of dollars.

Table 1


Non-resident visitors



Tourism Advertising Budget
($ millions)


Budget increase from previous year

($ millions)


NRV Revenue

($ millions)






















469,200 (est)



not avail

For the second table, let's do some simple math. Let's look at how much each NRV generated in the economy. Let's also look at how much the provincial government spent in order to attract each NRV to the province. The third column looks at the incremental changes, that is how much each new visitor costs to attract.

Table 2


Adv Budget/NRV


NRV$/Adv Budget


Budget increase/NRV increase


$ per non-resident visitor

























Observations: As you can see from Table 2, Column A, the provincial tourism advertising spending per visitor has climbed steadily from $14.14 per non-resident visitor to $23.44 in 2007. That's the last year for which we have a fair bit of information.

However, as you can see from Column B in that same table, the return on advertising investment per visitor has actually dropped by over $13.00 per non-resident visitor.

Yes, that's right. We are spending more per visitor to attract them, but the return per visitor is diminishing. [Corrected statement.]

In Column C, you can compare the cost of each new non-resident visitor compared to non-resident visitors overall. Where it took $20 per visitor to attract them in 2006, for example, each "new" visitor that year cost four times as much.

Now, just to be clear, that doesn't mean the same people keep coming back. What we are looking at is the change between the number of visitors the year before and the number attracted in the current year. If there are more in the current year, then the difference is "new".

In Column D you can see the average dollars spent per visitor. You can see a fluctuation year to year. Each visitor spends more on average now than he or she did four years ago, but the spending in 2006 is just 4% above what it was in 2003.

Now there are a few caveats, or warnings here.

First, we don't have the 2007 visitor stats yet. The year is only just over and the provincial officials haven't finished tabulating them all. Note, though, that preliminary estimates have the non-resident visitor numbers down from 2006. If the general trend holds, the dollars they spent will be down accordingly.

Second, the decline in visitors between 2006 and 2007 is not the result of a decreased advertising and marketing effort, at least if we measure by the amount of money spent. There are other factors - like rising costs of travel and the higher Canadian dollar - that likely made Newfoundland and Labrador somewhat less attractive to non-resident visitors than in previous years.

Just be cautious though: the diminishing returns started in the very first year, before the dollar changes cut in.

Third, we don't know exactly how the province defines "non-resident visitors". It's possible that some of what has been captured here actually reflects ex-patriate Newfoundlanders or Labradorians coming back for a short visit.

Overall, though and taking a look at these figures, it's not surprising that the provincial tourism effort appears to be shifting away from non-resident visitors and toward having residents stay home. When the tourism industry talks about increasing activity in the off-seasons of spring and fall, they are clearly seeing the results among locals. That explains why 57% of the total economic activity attributed to "tourists" in the last hear for which we have complete figures actually comes from people whose permanent residence is within the province.

And to think all of this started with a VOCM report back in late December, which in turn inspired a Bond Papers post. Tourism minister Clyde Jackman was encouraging people of the province to spend their tourism dollars at home this year. According to VOCM, Jackman said that in 2007 "local tourists comprised nearly 90 percent of the tourism business.".

With a bit of information, a little analysis and a tip of the hat to the Dominion's finest statistician, we may actually have uncovered a largely ignored story with tremendous implications.

And Steve Kent?

He's still wrong.


Where will the money go? The Hebron - Hydro connection

Yes, you've read it at Bond Papers before:  Hebron money will head to Labrador to underwrite the Lower Churchill development.

And yes, Danny Williams has been trying to lower expectations for the Lower Churchill.

And finance minister Tom Marshall has suddenly discovered the provincial debt as a problem that must be addressed.

But if you want to know where the finance minister - and possibly his cabinet colleagues - are thinking of spending money from oil and gas, look no further than a report from the Gander Beacon on budget consultations held in the central Newfoundland town.

The story is titled "Where will the money go?"

"So, we have to use the resources we have now to change our economy," Minster Marshall said. "The oil and gas money we should use towards hydro, to provide an economy when the oil and gas is gone, because it will all be gone one day. Hopefully, it will be a long time, but it will be gone." [Emphasis added]

See?  The debt clock is not about putting the budget focus on the massive public debt, well, at least no so the provincial government can pay it down.


The debt clock is to discourage demands from the public to spend oil and gas money on things they might want to see it spent on.

That way, the provincial government can non-renewable resource revenues, all $2.0 billion of it this year alone, on things cabinet has already decided on.

Like using the cash from Hebron to pay for the Lower Churchill, even though there are no customers for the power, yet.

Bond Papers has been saying it for a while.

Just like Bond Papers pointed at the provincial debt and the lack of action from the current administration.

And once again, Tom Marshall has confirmed it.


25 February 2008

Steve Kent: pure crap

His letter to the editor defending tourism spending in the province isn't online, but let's have a look at Steve Kent's explanation (Amended:  by request, we've removed the Kent letter that appeared in the Sunday Telegram.  It isn't available online.) of why the current administration's tourism spending is right on.

First, says Kent, we must look at all the awards the marketing campaign has won. "The number of awards that the campaign has received to date is a strong indication that it is drawing positive attention to the province."

Well, the campaign has won awards for its creative merit but that doesn't mean that it has had an impact on tourism traffic.

In that context, Kent mentions the province's logo, which, it should be noted be refers to as a "brand signature."  That's industry speak for what they used to call a logo but Danny Williams thought was a brand.

Also, in November the province's brand signature won a prestigious silver award from the London International Advertising Awards. The short animated television spot featuring the province's new logo won a silver statue in the television category. It was also named a finalist in the animation category.

Well, Bond Papers has already explained that Kent's claim is false.  Completely, totally utterly false.  The logo didn't win the award. The video won the award. But even if it was true, as with the awards won by the campaign it's also irrelevant.

The provincial government spends tourism advertising money to bring new people to the province, not help ad agencies fill up the "I Love Me" cabinets.

Second, Kent mentions a bunch of references to the province by prominent travel publications.  All good stuff, of course, but its the bums in airplane seats and feet on the ground that counts.

Third - measured by number of paragraphs - and after all that, that's when we get to the actual tourism stats which, oddly enough, don't figure prominently in a letter from cabinet-minister-wannabe trying to score points with his team.

In the past four years, non-resident visitors to this province have increased by about 15 per cent, contributing approximately $365 million annually to the provincial coffers. The total resident and non-resident tourism industry contributes about $840 million to the provincial economy each year.

Bond Papers has also torn that little piece of misleading information to shreds as well back in December:

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.

Get it?  For all the money Kent is proud of spending, it really hasn't been all that successful at attracting people from outside the province to come here.  That's what most of us would expect a tourism campaign to do.  By far and away, the growth in tourism revenue in the province has come from people staying home, not from some massive increase - or even a reasonable increase - in new faces. 


The provincial government has doubled the advertising budget and succeeded in getting more people to stay home.

There's a successful tourism strategy for you.

No wonder Kent didn't say much about it.

Reading Kent's letter is like reading a redraft of the Parrot Shop sketch:  "beautiful plumage, squire."


But entirely irrelevant.




Williams lowers expectations for Lower Churchill...again

In an interview with The Telegram, Premier Danny Williams admits there are considerable hurdles to overcome in developing the Lower Churchill hydroelectric project. The story isn't available online.  [Amended;  by request, we've removed the article from the post. If it turns up online, we'll supply a link.]

Williams repeated his January estimate that the chances of the project going ahead are 50/50.

"Well, at best that would be late 2009," said Williams. "We're going through the environmental process. We're attempting to reach agreement with the Labrador Innu. I'm optimistic that can happen. (Then we'll
decide) what the nature of the project will be and get the financials in place and be ready to rock'n'roll."

Take that statement as being an admission the project is unlikely to proceed at all. The crucial element is project financing. If that isn't even being reviewed until 2009 - at the earliest - then it's a well as saying the project is not happening in the near future.

In the interview Williams exaggerates the development issues, referring to them as hurdles, and claiming that the hurdles are larger than on other mega-projects either under development or under consideration in the province. The other projects are all private sector ones.

The development issues aren't larger.

It all boils down to markets for the power and financing to make it happen.

In 2005, Williams rejected a joint project with Ontario and Quebec which would have seen both provinces purchase the power and assist in the financing and construction.

Williams rejected the proposal without explanation, inserting instead a so-called "go-it-alone" option which had not be evaluated by Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro or government officials before it was publicly announced. However, even in announcing his own idea of having the provincial government build project on its own, he left the door open to equity partners.

Shortly after he went to the federal government looking for a loan guarantee, still insisting the provincial government would build the Lower Churchill project - estimated to cost between $6.0 and $9.0 billion - on its own.

Despite receiving no such commitment from Stephen Harper, Williams insisted Harper promised a loan guarantee and used it as part of his political feud with his fellow Conservative first minister.

Williams has announced only two potential customers for Lower Churchill power. The State of Rhode Island and Nova Scotia's Emera have signed separate memoranda of understanding committing to explore the possibility of purchasing Lower Churchill power.

Beyond that, Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro has had no serious discussions with potential external customers for the project's estimated 2800 megawatts. Even the plan to sell power to eastern Newfoundland - covering at least $2.0 billion of the total project cost - is contingent on the project going forward. That idea, floated by natural resources minister Kathy Dunderdale just before last fall's provincial election seemed to confuse the radio host interviewing her at the time since she insisted the plan wouldn't increase electrical power rates on the Avalon peninsula.

The Lower Churchill project figured prominently in several campaign announcements both during last year's Summer of Love pre-election spending spree and in the energy plan campaign prop.

There are some factual errors in the Peter Walsh story. The Wells administration came close to a deal on the Lower Churchill in the early 1990s, however political issues at the time and changed economic circumstances scuttled the negotiations.

Brian Tobin used development on Churchill River as the start of a re-election campaign he started in 1998. Ultimately none of his promised development occurred.

Roger Grimes had a tentative deal to develop the Lower Churchill but it was scuttled by political opposition within his own caucus and cabinet, heightened by the dramatic resignation of Hydro chairman and Williams associate Dean Macdonald from the Hydro board.

Walsh also repeats a claim that the 1969 Churchill Falls deal has produced $19 billion in revenue for Hydro Quebec versus $1.0 billion for Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro. Those figures are not substantiated by any factual analysis. It is, however, a popular myth.


23 February 2008

Letter on student personal info leak contains misleading information

A draft letter Eastern School District plans to send parents of 28,000 children affected by a leaked of personal information contains at least one major factual error and includes misleading information.

The letter states:  "The computers are password protected, thus limiting the potential for unauthorized users to access this information."

Computer security experts have already said publicly that the passwords would provide a minor, temporary inconvenience to anyone wanting to find out what was behind the password.

As well, the letter repeats the contents of the news release issued earlier in the week by referring to the relatively low risk of someone using a student's personal information to access a student's medical file.

That really isn't the threat.  The potential exists for fraud against the medical care commission based on identity theft or of fraudulent prescriptions being passed in a student's name. The possibility of accessing a particular student's medical records remains relatively low.

The letter also refers to laptops being stolen for the hardware value, yet school district officials do not know who stole the computers in this case.  They are speculating.

The letter likely won't reach parents until Monday - eight days after the theft -  and four days after the letter was posted to the Internet by the school district.  It contains no new information and merely repeats the contents of the news release.

There's no explanation as to why it took the school district officials so long to cut and paste a letter to parents that contains nothing more than what had already been sent to hundreds of thousands of people unaffected by the incident, via the release.

In a release earlier this week, the district said it notified provincial government officials and the police about the theft and would begin notifying parents - at the end of the process - now that a news release had been issued and individuals and organizations, some of them not directly affected, had already been advised of the incident.


I knew Marilyn Monroe

marylin Marilyn Monroe was a friend of mine.

And you, Ms. Lohan, are no Marilyn Monroe.


Come by Chance refinery owner studying expansion options

Harvest Energy has engaged SNC Lavalin to review three options aimed at expanding production capacity at a 30 year old medium sour crude refinery (API 29-30, 2.2 to 2.5% sulphur) at Come by Chance, Newfoundland, according to Reuters

The refinery currently process 115,000 barrels per day.  The options, each reportedly costed at around US$1.0 billion, would bring the capacity to at least 155,000 barrels per day.

The project would be sanctioned by late 2008 with completion by 2010/2011.

According to Reuters, Harvest Energy:

... is studying a major expansion of processing capacity, a project to convert about 30,000 barrels a day of low-value residual fuel oil into more valuable low-sulphur diesel or gasoline, as well as installation of new equipment that would allow it to process heavier grades of crude oil.


The Saturday Morning Funnies

1.  nottawa, as usual, with few words but devastating impact: a bunch of short snappers on Connie patronage appoints, Ralph Nader and asymmetrical federalism.

2. labradore, as usual with a few more words, but equally devastating impact:  Danny Williams record for keeping the legislature closed.

3.  Almost immediate update:  The current provincial administration seems to have problems with two things:  keeping personal records and keeping personal records private.

This idea from google would be awesome.

Except that no one in the provincial government knows what google is.

It's a bit of a local, inside joke, but follow the links and you'll get it.


Staff working for office of the Chief Information Officer were baffled last week trying to figure out how they could possibly fit health records on every resident of the province into google, left.


A mixed reaction

On the one hand, it's an awesome local-boy-made good story whereby a  - well - local boy created the largest helicopter company in the world.

It's rags-to-riches.

It's all sorts of other stuff that is worth celebrating and holding out as an example of what can be done when you put your mind to it.

Then, after his death, his family sold it and made a mint.

The family contributed mightily to the community in many ways and selling the company is as sound a business decision as the family made in building it.  CHC stands as an example of what local entrepreneurs can do.

But then on the other hand, it's kinda hard not to notice that the guy heralded as a "patriot" packed up his company and relocated it out of Newfoundland and Labrador. As a result, he deprived the provincial treasury of  untold millions in corporate tax revenue, personal income taxes of the headquarters employees and likely a few other bits of miscellaneous revenue.

There was nary a boo about it from the provincial banker at the time, Loyola Sullivan.  Nor was there boo from Sullivan's boss. 


But when a supposedly evil telephone company, not previously owned by Danny Williams, did something supposedly evil to the provincial treasury, now that was another story.  Loyola Sullivan issued a news release about the impact Aliant's income trust restructure would have on the bank accounts of a province then only three years away from "have" status.

If we banned hypocrisy, some politicians would have nothing to say.

So bravo, progeny of Craig Dobbin and the share-holders of the now publicly traded CHC, for making a mint.

So bravo Craig for building a company up from nothing but a few provincial government contracts and parlaying it into being the largest helicopter outfit on the planet, bar none.

Look down from heaven and likely wince at the irony John Crosbie was right after all:  you can tell the Newfoundlanders in Heaven;  they're the only one's complaining what a crime it is they have to be "here" instead of "home". 

Yes, the hallmark of the great "patriot".  Discuss the glories of Newfoundland while you earn a living out west.

And as a last note in this rambling Saturday morning opener, let's try some trivia:

  1. What was the name of Craig Dobbin's helicopter company, the one that started it all?
  2. Where did he get the inspiration for the name?
  3. What's the connection between that name and the Danny Williams logo (which the provincial government still thinks is a "brand")?

There are no prizes, yet but we'll likely soon start a serious set of contests with bondpapers giveaways.


22 February 2008

T'Railway inspections completed; some bridges closed and re-opened over space of one to two days

The provincial environment department has finished inspections of 125 bridges and trestles along the former railway line and a number are closed until further notice.

Closed are:

  1. Glide Brook
  2. Middle Brook
  3. Barry Brook
  4. Fischells Brook
  5. Robinsons River East
  6. Robinsons River West
  7. Flat Bay
  8. Morris Brook
  9. Codroy North

Mary Anne Brook and Black Duck Brook, closed earlier in the week are being re-opened.

Morris Brook was identified by Transport Canada inspectors as "gone', meaning the bridge had collapsed or been removed.

Glide Brook was previously identified by the province as having passed inspection.

Here's a comparison of the final provincial list and the 18 bridges identified by Transport Canada:



Transport Canada



Robinson River East

Robinson River East

Closed by EnvCon


Robinson River West

Closed by EnvCon


Glide Brook

Closed by EnvCon, despite previously being inspected and cleared


Middle Brook

Middle Brook

Closed by EnvCon


Barry Brook

Barry Brook

Closed by EnvCon


Fischells Brook

Fischells Brook

Closed by EnvCon


Flat Bay

Closed by EnvCon


Morris Brook

Morris Brook

Closed by EnvCon

Noted as "gone" by TC


Codroy Branch North

Codroy Branch North

Closed by EnvCon

TC concerns on pipes and abutment;  opened by EnvCon


Codroy Branch South

Opened by EnvCon


Little River

Opened by EnvCon


Bear Cove (Old Bridge)

Opened by EnvCon


Robaires River East

Closed by EnvCon, 19 Feb 08

Opened by EnvCon, 20 Feb 08


Howley River

Closed by EnvCon, 19 Feb 08

Opened by EnvCon, 20 Feb 08


Mary Ann Brook

Closed by EnvCon, 19 Feb 08

Opened by EnvCon, 22 Feb 08


North Brook

Opened by EnvCon


Robinson Brook East

Opened by EnvCon


Main East

Opened by EnvCon


Journis Brook

Opened by EnvCon


Eel Brook -

TC- deck gone

Opened by EnvCon


Wolfe Brook –

TC- abutments

Opened by EnvCon


Black Duck Brook


Closed by EnvCon, 19 Feb 08
Opened by EnvCon, 22 Feb 08



Seal Cove-Indian Pond

Demolished by EnvCon following contact by TC, based on public complaint, summer 2007


Stephenville Main Gut

  Closed by provincial government, November 2006


The provincial government has not provided a clear reconciliation between the two and the series of releases this week have been confusing.  For example, the list of closed bridges issued on 22 February lists closed bridges in two different places.  Some bridges have been announced as closed by engineering inspection only to have the same bridges cleared and re-opened a day or two later by a "further assessment".

No explanation has been offered by the provincial government of the changes in engineering assessment of some structures over the space of one or two days.

At the same time, Transport Canada's list erroneously refers to Monis Brook, when it is actually Morris Brook.  TC's list also refers to Robinsons River East and Robinsons Brook East.

The provincial environment department still has to respond to Transport Canada's letter of 11 February which requested an action plan to deal with the 18 bridges it identified as being hazardous.  A Transport Canada spokesman told CBC Radio on Thursday that for some structures a signed clearance by a structural engineer will be required to clear the bridge under the Navigable Waters Protection Act.


Breast cancer numbers larger than previously announced

More than 1,000 women have been re-tested as part of the breast cancer testing scandal at Eastern Health and of those, 322 have died.

That's more than double the number previously announced.

The new figures come from a high-level government committee which was appointed last year to co-ordinate the provincial government's participation in the Cameron Inquiry.

Take a look at the scrum tape, posted with CBC's story on the government announcement.

Notice that reporters asked direct, relevant questions about the number deceased patients who were tested and what their test results showed. The reporters are asking more informed questions because they are more informed, but notice that neither health minister Ross Wiseman nor Eastern health's chief operations officer could answer the question.

Well, not that they couldn't answer the question.  They just wouldn't.  They decided that sorting out the answer to the commission to answer the reporters' question on a case by case basis.

Take a look at the terms of reference for the Cameron Inquiry, though and you won't see a direction to undertake such a detailed examination. Notice that when David Cochrane puts the hard question again about 12 minutes into the 15 minute session, Wiseman shifts his answer.  Now, Wiseman says, there is a process involved and that a certain update is being provided.  Additional detail will follow.

Those are two dramatically different answers.

One is that the information and analysis is for someone else to prepare.

The second is that we'll do that work next and there will be further updates as analysis is finished.

Bear in mind that this newser wasn't intended to release hard news about the revised death numbers.

Take a look at the official government news release.  As we've seen with the workers comp infosec leak, the news release is structured to bury hard information down the page. The news release wants to draw attention to the $2.3 million being spent to create organizations and policies that were - obviously - seriously flawed or previously didn't exist.

Watch Wiseman when he gets the question about patients.  He speaks about the impact on families and the desire to make sure that no one else goes through this kind of thing.

That it never happens again.

The standard Williams administration response once a problem is exposed.

You'd never know that Wiseman and his predecessors have been involved in this entire process since it was first discovered internally, let alone since it became public.

That's the conflict of interest that sits behind this newser and every other comment Wiseman makes about breast cancer screening. The Cameron Inquiry will be examining what Wiseman and his predecessors did in this matter.  He's being very careful about what he says publicly since he will likely have to deal with questions under oath at some point.  he's also likely to be deposed in the class action lawsuit that sits out there.

He's working to polish the public perception of him and the administration in advance of the legal work to come.  It's a nice - if a bit obvious - bit of litigation public relations.

And that Mr. Thompson they keep referring to in the scrum?  He's part of the issues management campaign as well.  The former top civil servant was sent in last May to run the health department and  - at the same time - to serve as secretary to cabinet for health issues management.

It's in that job - issues management related to Cameron and the breast cancer law suit - that led to the numbers released today.  Government is trying to figure out the extent of their liability.  And to some extent or other they are managing the flow of public information to put themselves in the best possible light.

Government has been kicked around a bit and they've started to counteract that.  There are new faces at Eastern Health, an old face returned from Environment and Conservation and a reportedly closer relationship between the top levels of government and Eastern Health's comms branch.  They've started to talk out radio interviews with sweet talk, for example, or inject the concern and compassionate face you saw Wiseman offering.  They want you to see Wiseman the fixer rather than the guy who bumbled his way through the announcement of the Cameron Inquiry by sticking Fred Kasirye out there as a sacrificial offering.

And it's that history of bumbling that makes you wonder:  has actually taken on outside counsel  - litigation or crisis PR experts - to help with the damage control.

You see, they might be doing this stuff on their own, but government's never shown an ability to polish a knob with quite this degree of subtlety.  They've usually resorted to shooting off a toe or two.


Just say no to another cable guy

Newbie councillor Ron Ellsworth wants to replace Doc O'Keefe as deputy mayor of St. John's.

Doc will be going after the mayor's chair to replace Andy Wells.


Doc is probably best known lately for the entirely childish game of trying to wring an apology out of Ellsworth for something that wasn't even worth mentioning.

When O'Keefe isn't chasing his tail, he's talking about stuff like gas prices - which city council can do nothing about - or flip flopping on snow clearing.

Ron Ellsworth would be a fine replacement for Doc O'Keefe. 'Round these parts, the opinion used to be different, but the longer Ellsworth been in public view, the less impressive he's turned out to be. His lame-assed excuses during the now infamous secret salary raise caper turned out to closer to real attitude to public money.

Thus far on council, the Ward 4 fellow has shown himself to be a less than stellar performer. For a guy who keeps trying to play at being a fiscally responsible councillor, he turned into an apologist for pouring millions of public money into the Wells-Coombs Memorial Money Pit, a.k.a Mile One.

Ellsworth said that as a businessman he wouldn't drop a dime on the thing since it will never turn a profit. But as a councillor he's willing to pour millions of your tax dollars and mine into the loser. CBC has it right, if by "fiscally minded" they mean that Ellsworth doesn't mind overburdening the fiscal capacity of taxpayers with wasteful spending, like Mile One.

On that count alone, Ellsworth would show himself to be a fitting replacement for Doc as deputy mayor.

That is, it would be enough if we didn't know that Ron commissioned a poll a while back testing the waters for his real goal: a run at the mayor's chair.

CBC radio asked Ron about the poll.

Ron denied knowing anything about it.

Then a couple of days later he recovered his memory and fessed up.

Interesting in hindsight that Ellsworth, who is reputedly tight with the Premier, commissioned the poll on his own political future - and then fibbed about it - around the same time that the Public Service Commission posted ads looking for new public utilities commissioners and a chief executive officer.

That's the competition that ultimately went in the dustbin.

Andy Wells was subsequently appointed to the PUB's top job, sans the conveniently halted competition.

Anyway, to make sure there is no misunderstanding:

There's just no way Ron Ellsworth deserves to be re-elected as a councillor let alone deputy mayor.

His performance over the last year or so as a councillor has shown he's just like the majority on council. They have managed to leave the city in a fiscally-sorry, undemocratic state. He's shown his willingness to continue the bad practices of the past and he hasn't made any positive changes at the same time.

Fibbing about the poll and his scripted media interviews don't help persuade that Ellsworth is anything other than packaged.

The city needs a substantive change.

Andy Wells' departure started it.

Electing Ron Ellsworth as deputy mayor - let alone the prospect of His Worship the Doc - would demolish any chance of improving city council.