31 August 2009

The story that won’t go away, banner version

Some smart bunny or bunnies is buying advertising in the Grand Falls-Windsor weekly to remind locals how much money is being made from hydro assets the provincial government seized last December.

Run bi-weekly in the local Grand Falls-Windsor Advertiser under a banner that reads "Expropriation by the Numbers," the sparsely worded ads suggest the province has so far earned $28 million from the hydro facilities.

The ads say that's $1,100 for every citizen in the Exploits Valley, and question why more of that money isn't being spent in the region.

There’s a move afoot in central Newfoundland to get the money from the hydro assets to offset the loss of the Abitibi paper mill.

Thus far, the requests have fallen on deaf ears.

But the expropriation story just won’t stop bleeding all over the political landscape.  Not only are the crowd in central looking for cash but there’s a good chance the provincial government will wind up paying big time for the expropriation itself. 

This central story has got to be causing some hard political damage to the careers of people like Susan Sullivan, one of the local members of the provincial legislature.  Even a quickie elevation to cabinet hasn’t silenced the cries for government cash.

Then again, it’s not like the provincial government doesn’t have bags and bags of cash it doesn’t want to talk about, either. 

Odd then that they are resisting any kind of substantive move in central Newfoundland to deal with the ongoing political damage done by the hasty and evidently ill considered seizure back in December. The way this whole mess is unfolding, you’d almost think the whole expropriation was done at the spur of the moment without even a hint of a plan, let alone a second thought for any of the consequences.

N’ah.  Couldn’t be.

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Chiep basturds

If Quentin Tarantino wanted to shoot an homage to the political sign oeuvres of local municipal candidates, that’s what he’d call it.

So like how many city council incumbents are reusing campaign signs from at least one election ago?

Pretty well all of them.

Got pictures?

Send ‘em in and your humble e-scribbler will post ‘em.  bondpapers at hotmail dot com.

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Much at 25

Those were the days, back when JD was JD and not a newscaster named John.

Some are still out there. Others have gone on to different things or bigger things.

MuchMusic turns 25 today.

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30 August 2009

Freedom from Information: Whose briefing book is it anyway?

Health minister Paul Oram claimed he didn’t have any briefing notes when he took over the department.

Aural is moral, as the saying went.

Some local media outlets, like the Telegram, went looking for briefing notes and were told by officials they didn’t exist. 

Now, of course it’s not unusual for government officials to be less than truthful in answering media requests for documents.  Back then, the officials said one thing (no documents) but the politician involved – namely no less a personage than the Premier Hisself – said something different (sure we got ‘em).

But in this case, it is way freakin’ spooky that Oram told the Gander Beacon he had a couple of feet of files -  including briefing notes -  to go through  after the officials and Oram had said there was nada in the space marked briefing notes. 

The story now gets off into a whole new realm of bizarre:   Oram is now claiming there were briefing notes but that they weren’t prepared or him. 

And in Oram’s whack-o world, he has time to read through two feet of material prepared “for someone else” but if he had briefing notes with his name on him, he’d never have time to do anything but read briefing notes.

Huh?

Exactly the reaction one would expect for such an obvious bullshit claim:

There are a bunch of files, and there are a bunch of different issues that sit on my desk every single day. They may not be in the form of a briefing note, but everything is filed and documented - there' a paper trail for everything."

Briefing notes are sent through his department on a constant basis, but Minister Oram said they are not prepared for him.

"I didn't ask for somebody to give me a load of briefing notes so I would start going through them," he said. "If I had to do that, that's all I'd do - read. I just don't have the time to go read every single formal briefing note that there is. But I do have the time to sit and have someone explain to me what we have on right now, and then I go through the files we have there."

All of this is in aid of defending efforts by the Oral Majority – i.e. the cabinet – that appear to be designed to circumvent laws in the province aimed at making government information available to the public.  Oram’s been at this a while:  recall that he earlier denied that not putting things in writing was not a way of not putting things in writing.

And again, your heads are clearly twisting trying to make sense of the ministerial confusion over such a simple thing as whether or not there are briefing notes Oram is reading in order to get up to speed on his new responsibilities.

It’s not like we asked him to recount recent history or anything.

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Carry over

One of the great budgetary practices of the current administration is something called carry over.

Projects are budgeted and announced in one year and then they don’t get started, let alone finished.

Government gets multiple good news hits out the practice. 

First, they get the warm fuzzy media coverage from announcing the spending in the first place.  Sometimes they keep announcing the spending even though it hasn’t happened.  Second, if by some chance work does start, they can announce that and keep it up until the thing is finished.  it’s not unusual to see things started four years continue to appear  in releases as if it was part of current spending.

Like say a hospital in Corner Brook that was tossed into the “stimulus” counter-measure even though it was begun and should have been finished long before anyone even thought of a recession.

Now when the project doesn’t happen, there is never an announcement of the bad news.  Not likely.  The money budgeted but not spent becomes “surplus” and is part of the announcement of the record “surplus” in the spring.

Then the project is carried over into the new budget and re-announced.

If the delay has caused increased costs, this is not something to be chagrined about.  Not on your life.  Any politician worth his or her salt will trumpet the fact the same project will now cost even more because of the delay.  If any one of us mere mortals missed the chance for a good deal and had to pay 30% more for the same thing, we’d be kicking ourselves for being so stunned.  When politicians drop the ball; and it costs you 30% more for the same thing, that is a great investment in the local community.

And if it jumps 71%, as in the St. Alban’s aquaculture centre?  Well, that is just “stimulus”.

Carry over is very big in the current provincial government administration.  They carry over lots of things. 

Like in Labrador West, where a new hospital was promised just in time for a by-election in late 2006/early 2007 and the thing is still in the planning stages the better part of three years later.

Or a new campus for the College of the North Atlantic.  Tender went out on May 4 with a closing date of June 17.  (Well, the initial news release in early May said the thing was going to tender.  A “stimulus” announcement in June said the thing would be tendered in June.)

The tender was awarded three weeks ago – i.e. about a month or more after the tender closed – and as we slide easily into Labour Day, Jim Baker, the local MHA has no idea when the thing will get started. But Baker can assure residents of the area that the project costs have climbed from $18 million to $22 million and that no steel framework will be done this year.

None.

But they might get the site prepared and concrete poured.

Maybe.

So the campus project will be carried over until next year.

Just like the hospital.

or the aquaculture centre.

When was they supposed to be finished again?

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Unaccelerated

Remember that news release claiming that work on the Trans-Labrador Highway was being “accelerated” when it actually wasn’t.

Well, it wasn’t and now there is the excuse to go with it, courtesy of Jim Baker the Tory MHA for Labrador West:

"Given the time it got started, the preparation work that needed to be done and the time it took to get mobilized, I'm pleasantly surprised by how much has been done," he stated. "Next year obviously, when they get started, everything will be ready to move. All the crushing will be done, so all they'll have to do is lay out the blacktop."

And that blacktop will be laid next year as originally planned back in June when they let the first tender go.  Had they waited on the second tender until next year, the work would have been done…

wait for it…

next year.

As planned.

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All things to all people, NDP version

You gotta love the New Democrats. 

They want to get elected soooo badly that they are willing to saying anything to anyone if it means a chance of a vote.

The Sternest Daughter of the Voice of God, the quintessentially Canadian pile of self-righteousness is now the Whore of the North.

And right there at the top of a panel on a little brochure in your mailbox is the Dipper’s slogan for all this: 

New Democrats: Your only partner in Ottawa

Only partner, that is, unless you happen to be an Anglophone in Quebec or a Francophone anywhere else in Canada.

Then, you are on your own.

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Freedom from information: Talk about low-balling

Oil production in the first four months of fiscal 2009 is down about 23.5%  - on average - compared to the same period in 2008.

But Hibernia payout and current oil prices mean that the offshore oil patch is on track to deliver about the same revenue to the provincial coffers in 2009 as it did last year.

That’s $2.5 billion for those who are keeping score.

Compare that to the $1.2 billion in oil revenues forecast in Budget 2009.

That also means the provincial budget will be on balance overall.

Of course,  that also means the provincial government still has a couple of billion sitting in the bank doing nothing but collecting modest interest.

So why exactly is the provincial government still opposed to a setting up a sovereign wealth fund  - like Norway or Alberta - to ensure the people of the province get the maximum benefit from their resources?

When you think about it, that makes it hysterically funny  to see the federal Dippers trying to buy votes in the province by talking about “fairer” Equalization.  Are they promising Alberta Equalization hand-outs too?

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29 August 2009

Must be in the water or something

Not one, but two messages from different people suggesting your humble e-scribbler become Facebook fans of candidates in the next federal election.

One was the incumbent. 

Another the challenger.

Must be an election coming or something.

Like all those Dipper free mailers that show up every week.  The last one promised Newfoundland and Labrador something called “fairer” Equalization along with a raft of other things.

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28 August 2009

It’s not just a tall tale

The Great Sheaves Cove Chainsaw Massacre is all too real.

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Jabberwocky

Get a load of this little bit of ministerial bafflegab. It’s Ross Wiseman, lately the business minister talking about the issue of air service to the southeast coast of Labrador:

We were working on this overall strategy piece. Work has been pretty well advanced. What we do in Labrador is a response to the unique circumstance in Labrador, yes, but at the same time we do it in the context of a provincial strategy. It’s difficult sometimes to go into one region of our province and develop a policy framework, or develop a strategy, or provide a response, without giving some consideration to what impact that might have on an entire province, and how that might fit into a broader strategy, so we’re cognizant of what we’re trying to do in the bigger piece.

There’s something even stranger about this.

Wiseman is not the minister responsible for transportation, in whose lap this issue falls.

That would be Trevor Taylor.

Nor is he the minister of Labrador affairs.

That would be John “The Shoveller” Hickey.

Nor is Wiseman likely the alternative minister for any of those portfolios. Not only has Ross had no experience with them, there is no connection - logical or otherwise – among them.

Wiseman used to be the health minister. Now he is the minister responsible for figuring out how much money he should take from the most indebted taxpayers in Canada in order to give it to give some rich foreigner in order to get them to come here and make work.

So on the whole, Wiseman’s face on this story of a domestic company – Air Labrador – is peculiar.

It’s not even odd that the airline in question has let slip this little story long before they actually intend to cut the service.

And it’s not the least bit peculiar that the local member of the provincial legislature - Liberal leader Yvonne Jones - wants government to think about funnelling cash into this local private sector company. That’s what local MHAs do in Newfoundland and Labrador, regardless of any political affiliations involved.

Nor is it odd that Jones has no problem with pouring public cash into a local airline but doesn’t like pouring public cash into the oil and gas exploration business.

And it’s not odd that Jones wants to make sure there is good air medical service in the large Labrador, one of the services the airline provides. In fact, Air Labrador made $3.4 million in 2007-2008 flying medical patients around the nearby health region along the north shore of the St. Lawrence.

That would be the health region in Quebec, for those whose Labrador geography is a bit dodgy.

But that cash came for providing an essential service, not just for having planes flying into and out of a community carrying passengers or – as the company decision suggests not carrying passengers - just for the sake of saying there is a plane coming into the local airport.

That idea is as wacky as the utterings by the jabberwock about the whole issue in the first place.

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27 August 2009

Rumpole and Justice Delayed

 

There is no question that our system provides a great method for adjudicating questions of fact and law, but given the expenditure of public funds we are obliged to the people of Newfoundland and Labrador to provide the best possible system in terms of the efficiency of the process.

Report on of the Task Force on Criminal Justice Efficiencies, February 2008

Administrative changes recommended by a committee of lawyers and judges to improve the province’s justice system still haven’t been implemented over 18 months after they were made public.

In December 2007, newbie justice minister Jerome Kennedy appointed a task force that included deputy minister Chris Curran, then Chief Provincial Court Judge Reg Reid and Mark Pike, the current associate chief judge, among others.  They issued their report in February 2008 because they were specifically directed “to make recommendations and to meet any necessary budgetary deadlines for the ensuing fiscal year.”

The committee agreed that “with appropriate leadership, goodwill and resources, its recommendations could be fully implemented by the fall of 2008.”

Some 18 months and two budgets later there is still no sign of some of the major changes, including a new system for assigning court time.  Kennedy was replaced as justice minister in late 2008 in a sudden cabinet shuffle.

In its report, the panel noted that:

Court sitting times in St. John’s have been declining for the last two years. It is a fact that in 2007, on average, in St. John’s, only 31% of the available courtroom time was utilized. For 2006 and 2007, on average in St. John’s, some 40% of the judge’s available sitting time was lost primarily due to collapsed cases.

The panel recommended use of a  Case Assignment and Retrieval System (CAARS), appointment of part-time (per diem judges) and appointment of a trial co-ordinator to oversee the efficient scheduling of cases.

In May 2008, Kennedy described the system for the House of Assembly:

So this system would be called the Case Assignment and Retrieval System, or the CAAR system, and would allow for flexibility. Essentially, what happens in Provincial Court today, if a trial is commenced, if that trial does not finish in the two days allotted then it goes to the six or eight months in the roster down the road when it next comes up to court.

Consistent with the committee recommendation, Kennedy told the legislature the target date for implementing CAARS was the fall of 2008. 

However, as cases like the Walsh trial indicate, the system is apparently still not in place. A trial co-ordinator position, also recommended by the panel to manage court schedules apparently hasn’t been hired.

One thing recommended by the panel has been implemented and that is the creation of per diem judges.  Essentially these are part time judges who are available on call and only used as needed. 

But with four vacant seats on the Provincial Court bench  - three of which are in St. John’s – the per diem judges likely wouldn’t make much of a difference to solving the problems noted in 2006 and 2007.

While Kennedy indicated in the House that the section of the act creating part-time judges wouldn’t be proclaimed until CAARS is ready, the judge positions already exist without the new scheduling system.

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Keeping the Old Team Together

Deputy mayoral candidate Keith Coombs decided to build his campaign team around a trusted core.

The man who helped bring taxpayers the Wells-Coombs Memorial Money Pit -  a.k.a Mile One -  is using Lisa Neville as the media liaison for his election campaign.

Neville was unceremoniously turfed from her job as council and the Money Pit board tried to staunch the seemingly never-ending flow of red ink at St. John’s Sport and Entertainment. It remains mired in debt despite Neville’s commitment in 2006 to see the centre “debt free and subsidy free by 2010.”

In 2008, the Mile One crew claimed to have a surplus of $110,000.  However, when the increased taxpayer subsidy was taken into account, the red ink still totalled almost $2.0 million.

Since 2005, the city has increased its subsidy to the centre which has – nonetheless – continued to lose money each year. Way back then – when just by the purest of pure coincidences the stadium was a hot election issue -  there was even a claim the thing might make money in 2005. 

Of course, in the spirit of being responsible with taxpayers’ money,  at least one candidate has been known to endorse the red ink.  In December 2007, Ron Ellsworth apparently felt that bleeding taxpayers is okay since the centre pumps money into the pockets of local businesses:

"As a businessperson I certainly wouldn't take it on and run it as a business, because it wouldn't put money into my pocket as the owner," said Ellsworth, who represents the city on the board of St. John's Sports and Entertainment, which governs Mile One.

"Why the City of St. John's can do it, and why we are doing it, is that it's an economic development engine that's been created."

Talk about keeping the old team together.

Imagine Ron as mayor with Keith as his Number Two. 

Now that would be a dream team for someone.

But that someone wouldn’t be the average debt-burdened taxpayer.

 

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Cosby picks up Philips story

Bill Cosby is interested in turning the story of Lanier Philips into a film.

Philips was a black seaman on one of two US Navy ships wrecked in 1942 on the way to the naval base at Argentia Newfoundland. Philips has told the story of being rescued, expecting to be met with racism. Instead he was met with humanity and kindness that profoundly changed his life.

Philips tells part of the latest twist in the story in a CBC radio podcast with David Cochrane. An interview with Bill Cosby will turn up later today.

Cosby was a hospital corpsman at Argentia in the 1950s.

Update: The CBC online story.

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26 August 2009

The sincerest form of flattery…

2005

Simon Lono municipal campaign slogan:  Back to basics.

2008

Ron Ellsworth deputy mayoral campaign slogan:  Back to basics.

2008

Doc O’Keefe mayoral campaign slogan:  Leading a Great City.

2009

Ron Ellsworth mayoral campaign slogan:  Standing up for a Great City.

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Oh-cripes-it’s-worse-than-it-first-looked-update:  The news release announcing Ellsworth’s candidacy (thus far the only “news” on his website) is titled “Ready to Lead a Great City”.

Great Gambols with Public Money: Sprung Cukes 4

Cuke caper: Greenhouse fiasco rocks Newfoundland

The Ottawa Citizen, Sunday January 15, 1989

by: Michael Harris

Brian Peckford is Canada's first lame-cuke premier.

Peckford's Newfoundland government invested more than $18 million of  public  money into a futuristic cucumber operation. Three weeks ago, he announced that the province's adventure in high-tech farming had been laid low. The entire crop in its gigantic hydroponic greenhouse complex had mysteriously died.

Hydroponics is a process that grows plants without soil. The eight-acre complex into which Peckford poured Newfoundlanders' money was supposed to give them cheap, fresh vegetables year-round and create jobs and a profitable export market. So far, the province has got much bigger bills than it counted on, thousands of malnourished and deformed cucumbers, the prospect of an agricultural white elephant and loads of embarrassment.

The premier hinted darkly at foul play when he announced the crop failure. Hours later, the province's partner in the venture, Calgary businessman Philip Sprung, called in the RCMP. Claiming his project had been sabotaged, Sprung released a wild west-style Wanted Poster. He offered a $10,000 reward for the ''capture'' of a shadowy figure who was quickly dubbed ''The Cucumber Killer.''

Sprung brought in Richard Bonanno, an American horticultural academic who concluded in less than a day that sabotage was the likely cause of the crop failure. According to Bonanno, an associate professor at North Carolina State University who specializes in weeds, a triazine commonly known as Velpar was the culprit that triggered the total shutdown of the giant greenhouse complex.

''Dick Banana'' quickly became the darling of talk show callers as the Sprung controversy boiled over. Bonanno's speedy assessment was at first challenged and then dismissed by other experts. Scientists from Memorial University in St. John's said Velpar didn't have the ability to bring about the massive zinc shortages they found in leaf samples taken from cucumber plants in the Sprung greenhouse.

Last week, National Research Council scientists in Halifax flatly eliminated triazines such as Velpar as the cause of the massive crop failure. In ruling out Velpar, Roger Foxall, director of the NRC's Atlantic Laboratory, said that scientists may never know what caused the cucumbers to die on the vine.

Less than a week after the massive crop failure, Peckford gave the floundering project another $1,335,000 to tide Sprung over until a new crop could be planted. The money was immediately spent to cover Sprung's operating costs, leaving the province with the unpleasant prospect of forking over at least $2 million more to the greenhouse before the end of January. Faces around the premier's cabinet were turning as red as Sprung's bottom line.

Informed sources told the press that provincial finance minister Neil Windsor and others had argued in cabinet to close the project. Last Monday minister of agriculture Charlie Power, the man who for the last year has been line minister responsible for the high-tech greenhouse, resigned after 10 years in cabinet.

Power said he lacked ministerial authority to deal with the ''financial fiasco'' of the project. He said he had been treated like ''a Soviet spy'' by Philip Sprung whenever he tried to get information from the government's partner about what was going on at the greenhouse. Power said that the last straw for him was that even though nothing was growing at the greenhouse, the lights had been left on to melt snow off the roof.

''The average daily light bill for December was over $7,000,'' Power said. ''That is a rather expensive way to melt snow.''

When asked if he thought Sprung's sabotage theory was a red herring, the ex-minister offered a barnyard metaphor: ''There is a better description for it. It comes out of a certain end of an agricultural animal.''

Power's criticisms also touched the premier.

''For me to make statements to the press and then realize that the premier's office is fully aware of an entirely different set of circumstances has been both embarrassing and frustrating.''

He added: ''When I look back over the process, I really wonder how a government which recognized our history of Newfoundland getting taken by people from the outside... how we could have got ourselves into it.''

Power complained that he never once presented a cabinet paper on Sprung, that he was misinformed about the financial requirements of the project by the premier's office and that Finance Minister Windsor signed all the loan guarantees on behalf of the province.

''To be briefed after the fact is not, at least in my estimation, the way that the cabinet process or a minister's responsibilities should be done,'' he told reporters after his resignation.

Peckford called Power's resignation ''discourteous and painful.'' He accused his long-time cabinet minister of angling for the leadership of the PC party  - Peckford's job, but hotly rumored to soon be up for grabs. But Peckford has vowed that he intends to lead the party into the next election, so his accusation against Power was puzzling. [Peckford resigned in early 1989, shortly after this article appeared. ]

Power's resignation and the shut-down of the cucumber facility are the most dramatic setbacks in a continuing saga of woe. The Sprung project has been controversial since it was unveiled in May 1987.

Peckford announced that the province was going to be equal partners with Sprung in an $18.4-million hydroponic complex to be built on 25 acres owned by the province. Anxious to make Newfoundland the cucumber capital of North America, Peckford put the public's money where his mouth was and purchased Sprung's used hydroponic structure.

The province threw in a $1-million piece of land, a $7-million loan guarantee, $900,000 in sales tax exemptions and $2.5 million in cash up front. And if the project failed, the government would pick up the tab, while Sprung could walk away for $1.

Peckford said Sprung's revolutionary system would be a money-maker within a year. It was to catapult Newfoundland to the forefront of hydroponics. It was also supposed to provide year-round fresh vegetables at low prices to Newfoundlanders, long used to a limited selection of high-priced imports most of the year.

When the project ran into a seemingly endless string of troubles, the government coughed up $6 million more. Sprung continued to contribute his expertise rather than his money. So far, not a penny of the government's investment in Sprung has been spent with the approval of the legislature. (Total costs for the greenhouse have since ballooned to $25 million, $18 million of which has been picked up by the government.)

Philip Sprung had claimed from the start that he could grow seven million pounds of produce a year at the greenhouse while creating 150 full-time jobs. Other growers scoffed at his claims. Critics called the project ''Grow By Chance,'' a not-so-comic reference to Newfoundland's biggest bankruptcy - the Come By Chance oil refinery.  [Actually Canada’s biggest – ed.]

Oblivious to his critics, Sprung just kept on making claims for his hydroponic system.

''There really isn't anything we can't grow, from marijuana and hashish,'' he once joked to reporters. ''Actually we've never tried, but I'm sure we could do it.''

Sprung was less anxious to talk about the $18-million loss he ran up with the same hydroponic facility in Calgary, where he never produced the quantity of vegetables he claimed he could. When his plants began to die after nearly a year of operation in Calgary, Sprung cited gas emissions from the site of a defunct oil refinery as the cause and sued Imperial Oil and the city for $50 million.

Not long after Peckford's bubbly announcement, the troubles that dogged Sprung in Alberta began to show up in Newfoundland. Five days after the deal with the province was signed, Sprung had a dispute with the project's chief technical director of hydroponics, British Girocrop Ltd.

Girocrop's managing director, Michael Anselm, was replaced by Phil Sprung's daughter, Dawn.

Anselm said one reason he left was that Phil Sprung was more interested in selling hydroponic greenhouses than in the commercial production of vegetables. Dawn Sprung responded that Girocrop's technology had become ''antiquated.'' The irony was withering.

On the day the project was announced, Peckford described the same technology as being on ''the leading edge of a new and highly innovative technology.''

Vexed by questions about the failure of the project in Calgary, Peckford blew up at reporters during a 1987 press conference. He urged them to check out the facts about hydroponics before they criticized the greenhouse. He directed the media to a variety of sources he said would confirm his contention that Sprung's technology was proven and viable and that his deal was a good one.

But a canvass of the premier's sources cast further doubt on the controversial project. John Wiebe of the Alberta Department of Agriculture's Plant Industries Division, told the St. John's Sunday Express that he simply didn't believe Sprung's yield-claims were achievable and that they had never been independently verified.

''It's possible that Mr. Sprung is trying to sell units, not grow crops. There's a lot of hype attached to that operation... I ask people who are potential investors to personally and directly audit the yields. Don't take his word.''

Wiebe's reservations were echoed by Mirza Mohyduddin, a specialist in greenhouse crops with the Alberta government's Tree Nursery and Horticultural Centre.

''Genes are involved. Plants have a genetic limit and you cannot push a plant beyond its genetic limit,'' he said, pointing out that Sprung's yield claims in sunlight-starved Newfoundland were two times greater than growing results in Saudia Arabia, where there is 12 hours of sunlight year-round.

When questioned about the reservations of nearly two dozen scientists, government representatives, growers and marketing people, Peckford insisted that the province had documented proof that Sprung's yield claims were achievable and that markets were in place to make the project economically viable. The premier promised to make the studies public once the legal agreement between the government of Newfoundland and Sprung was executed. He later changed his mind, telling reporters that the information would give other cucumber producers a competitive advantage.

In fact, the only government study of the Sprung operation was carried out by a team of Newfoundland public servants, which visited the Calgary operation in January 1987.

The officials reported to government that Sprung could achieve a top yield of 2.7 million pounds of produce a year, less than half of what he was claiming. They expressed doubt that the marketplace would be willing to pay the $1.08 a pound that Sprung expected to get. The Sunday Express's [sic] freedom of information request for the report was denied, but the paper later published a leaked copy.

Faced with mounting criticism, Peckford put a news blackout on the greenhouse project in May 1988.

''We decided that we will make no further comment on day-to-day operational and marketing decisions of the greenhouse.''

But the bad news kept coming. Although Newfoundlanders had been promised cheaper vegetables from Sprung, it was revealed in June 1988 that local wholesalers were paying 75 cents for the same pound of  produce that was being sold in Boston for just 25 cents.

Public anger deepened when the greenhouse began giving truckloads of deformed and unmarketable cucumbers to local farmers as feed. The government arranged to have Prince Edward visit the greenhouse last June, hoping for some good publicity. Sprung billed the government $10,000 for the cost of white nylon jumpsuits and sneakers for the prince and his entourage.

Then came the accusation from other growers that Sprung was the greenhouse that stole Christmas: the perpetually-lit facility was ruining their poinsettias. The traditional Christmas flowers need a certain amount of darkness to develop their distinctive red coloring.

The Sprung complex's bright lights not only affected plant growth in neighboring areas, residents complained they could play cards or read in their yards at midnight.

Faced with a call from the political opposition for a judicial inquiry into the Sprung fiasco and demands for even more funding from the troubled facility on the short term, Peckford's 10-year-hold on Newfoundland politics has come down to a single decision: should he pour more public money into Sprung or close it and take the heat for a mega-blunder.

It's a problem that won't go away.

This is a white elephant that glows.

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Top qualities in a new PR practitioner

The always insightful Dave Fleet posted on 14 essential attributes for new public relations practitioners and – as one might expect – the thing has attracted huge amounts of attention and comment from people in the business.

It’s all good stuff.

Around these parts, your humble e-scribbler would point to the writing skills point.  This is gigantic.  Too many people have trouble with this in too many walks of life but in the public relations business not being able to write a clear, coherent sentence is deadly.

For newbies – to whom Fleet’s list is directed – this is a big one.

There are far too many who wind up in the PR business or who claim to be communications professionals who have basic problems with basic skills.

Your humble e-scribe would also had a characteristic or cluster of characteristics which is strangely absent from the list:  inquisitiveness and its cousin, scepticism.

One of things PR people do is explain stuff to others.  In order to do that effectively you have to understand the “stuff” first.  You gain understanding by being inquisitive, by being nosy.  Ask questions.  Learn how to find out stuff.

Related to that, be automatically sceptical of anything and everything.  Ask lots of questions. Allow nothing to go unchallenged.  Better to get to the bottom of something and expose all its facets before you wind up in public.

Inquisitiveness and scepticism will ensure there are no surprises once a bad news story goes public.  On the positive side, they may turn up an angle that no one thought of before.

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Craig, the new janesguide?

From the infamous towniebastard, this little bit at the end of a post about being recognised by blog readers:

However, the oddest thing by a mile is that another municipal candidate emailed me and asked for my endorsement. Seriously. And no, I'm not going to say who it is.

Look, I know how many people come and visit this blog. I'm mostly happy with the numbers but I'm under no illusions that I have a massive amount of influence with this forum. So I don't think my endorsement is really the kind of thing you can stick on a flier and convince a lot of people to vote for you. For example, I seriously doubt Simon is going to do up a pamphlet that says "Endorsed by Townie Bastard".

Any day now people will see little logos on the bottom of websites. Sorta like towniebastard meets everyone’s favourite porn rating site, complete with the little animated writer at about the halfway point of bashing himself to pieces holding up a sign that reads:

“Craig says I’m a bastard, too!”

Charge for the rating. 

Charge for the widget.

Laugh all the way to the bank.

Meanwhile others will try and figure out who the wanker is that’s running for city council who would solicit an endorsement.

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Water Street Fire Photos

A section of the downturn that burned recently was destroyed by fire last night.

The Telegram has some action photos of the fire and the response that are worth checking out. 

This is spot news.

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The Leading Edge Olds

The success of Twitter isn’t being driven by teenagers or even twentysomethings.

It’s being driven by adults.

The public nature of Twitter is particularly sensitive for the under-18 set, whether because they want to hide what they are doing from their parents or, more often, because their parents restrict their interaction with strangers on the Web.

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Edward Kennedy, 1932-2009

The New York Times obit piece.

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25 August 2009

Musical Interlude: Frente

1.   From early 1990s Australia,Accidentally Kelly Street” by Frente.

2.  Then Frente’s acoustic cover of New Order’s “Bizarre Love Triangle”:

3.  And to finish off, New Order with a recent live version:

Visions are nice…

ron Ron Ellsworth has a plan.

Well Ron claims he has a plan in slick little web ads that pop up on some Telegram pages.

Ron calls it The Ellsworth Essentials.

Ron says he has a vision.

A vision of Ron as mayor, apparently.

Ron thinks that this slick little campaign will serve to help Ron fulfill his vision.

It might.

But that doesn’t mean the city will be better off.

That’s because Ron doesn’t have a plan for the city itself.

Ron says the city needs a plan.

He’s right.

It needs a plan badly.

And Ron is ready to provide such a plan.

In fact, having a plan for the city is so important that Ron’s first plan is to develop a plan.

But not before the election.

He’ll develop the plan later.

When later?

After we’ve elected Ron and his vision to be mayor.

How long after that, then?

Ron won’t say.

But did I tell you Ron has a vision?

Oh.

I did.

Well, he does.

So while Ron has a vision and doesn’t have a plan, he does plan to get a plan.

Sometime.

Meanwhile, Ron will be doing other stuff.

Without the plan he should have now, before he gets elected.

Stuff  like spending your money.

How much money is a mystery.

Apparently telling you - the people of St. John’s  - how much of your money he wants to spend on his “essentials” is not essential to Ron’s vision.

Or his plan.

When he finally gets one.

Eventually.

Ron will spend your money on snow clearing, which, as part of Essential Number Three Ron assures us will be “better”. 

It will be “better” because Ron “will shorten plow [sic] routes to provide better snow clearing service for the city with intensified efforts to get to the curb the first time, thereby reducing the number of plow [sic] passes needed to get the job done right.”

Good, sez you. 

We need “better” snow clearing.

We do.

“Better” snow clearing sounds great.

It does.

Except for the few minor problems.

First, getting to the curb the first time is not a function of how long a route the snow plough has to travel.  It is a function of how much snow falls in a given period.

Very little snow and one plough can do the whole city the first time, right back to your doorstep, let alone the curb.  Tons of snow coupled with high winds and freezing rain – a typical St. John’s storm, he said on somewhat tongue in cheek - and the entire snow plough supply of Canada won’t get you to work in 15 minutes.

So Ron’s vision is – shall we say – just a little  fuzzy on this crucial point of how shortening the length of a route will make snow clearing “better.”

Second, we don’t know how many snow ploughs will Ron need to “get the job done right.” 

Ron doesn’t say.

Ron doesn’t say likely because Ron doesn’t know. 

Ron just has a vision.

So let’s just say  - for argument sake – that Ron thinks that in order to get the job done “right”, a snow plough route should be 11.5 kilometres long instead of the current 23 kilometres.

That would mean Ron needs twice as many trucks and twice as many employees as the city currently has.

This will not make snow clearing “better” because  the route length isn’t the key thing.

But let’s humour Ron.

Doubling how much you pay for snow clearing doesn’t work out to “better” snow clearing.

It just means you pay more.

Which brings us to point three:

How will Ron pay for all this?

Ron doesn’t know.

That’s something to be worked out.

Maybe.

because nowhere in Ron’s vision does Ron say he will ever figure out how much all this stuff will cost or how much he’ll get you to pay for it.

Meanwhile Ron is concerned about public debt.

He wants to be responsible “with your tax dollars.”

No plan.

Lots of promises.

That’s how taxpayers got the huge debt in the first place.

More of the same is not a vision.

It’s a nightmare.

So where will Ron find the money for snow clearing?

Look at your wallet.

That’s where Ron will get the money for his vision.

Keep looking at your wallet.

Ron has more ideas.

Remember the para-transit tax grab?

That’s just the beginning.

Now Ron thinks it is “essential” to put together buses, para-transit and – wait for it – commercially run taxi cabs –  in a single transportation system paid for, presumably, with your tax dollars.

Ron also wants more affordable housing.

Great idea. 

It’s a federal and provincial responsibility.  Let Danny and Steve figure it out. 

Let Danny and Steve tell Len to pay for it.

But if Ron gets together with Danny and Steve, those three won’t be footing the bill.

You will.

Ron Ellsworth has a vision.

No plan.

Just a vision.

Lots of people have visions.

Visions are nice.

But if Ron Ellsworth thinks he can reach into my pocket and suck out whatever cash is there to pay for stuff without a real plan, then Ron isn’t having a vision.

Ron is seeing things.

And hearing voices.

People who see things and hear voices don’t get to be mayor.

They should be under a doctor’s care.

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Lower tuition attracting Nova Scotians

Lower tuition is attracting Nova Scotians to do an undergraduate degree at Memorial University in large numbers. 

The tuition freeze – in place since the late 1990s and carried on by the current administration – makes Memorial particularly attractive given, on top of that, the calibre of instruction.

The growth in Nova Scotian enrolment is between 800 and 900 per cent higher today than it was a decade ago.

You can get a more details from Dale Kirby through an interview he did with what sounds like Information Boring at CBC Nova Scotia.

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24 August 2009

Two degrees of separation, masters of our domain version

Via nottawa, the curious connection between French president Nicolas Sarkozy,  seal bashing and a recent government decision to drop $20 million of public money on three onshore exploration licenses.

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Missing in Action: The Great Corner Brook University

The short history of a curious idea.

2007:  Promise to grant Sir Wilfred Grenfell College “more autonomy” regardless of cost implications among other things.

2008:   Promise legislation by fall;  fail to deliver.  Make (up) excuses.

2009:  Still no legislationDodge hard questions.

Maybe a problem with finding students – something your humble e-scribbler noted as a major deficiency in the original consultants’ report – is another reason for the inexplicable delay in the whole Grenfell autonomy “piece.”

There is no analysis of the possible student market.  This is a critical shortcoming since the report authors recommend doubling the size of the student population in short order, from a current enrolment of about 1,150 (not including 200 nursing students) to about 2,000.

In any event, just add Grenfell “autonomy’ as another government initiative on the MIA list.

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Can we get that in writing for the minister?

Education minister Darin King seemed a wee bit confused about his own department’s policies in a recent macleans.ca story on competition among Atlantic Canada universities for students.

Darin King, the minister of education in Newfoundland and Labrador, said his province already has a recruiting advantage over its regional competitors.

Since 2001, tuition fees in the province have been frozen. And earlier this month, the Newfoundland and Labrador government eliminated interest on provincial student loans - the first province in the country to do so - in a move that could make it a more attractive place to study.

"We're trying to do our best to offer a student aid package ... and enticing them to come to Newfoundland," King said.

Of course, eliminating interest on provincial government student loans wouldn’t entice students from outside Newfoundland and Labrador “to come to Newfoundland” since they wouldn’t be eligible for that assistance.

Interest elimination only applies to residents of the province who receive student loans from the province.  On top of that  – because of the peculiarities of something called geography – they wouldn’t have to be enticed to come to the place where they already live anyway.

So it seems that education minister King can’t really explain at all what sort of “recruiting advantage” post-secondary institutions in Newfoundland and Labrador have when it comes to “enticing [students] to come to Newfoundland.”

He also doesn’t know the name of the province he represents either, but that’s another issue.

Perhaps the next time King gets one of the now infamous oral briefings for ministers, he should try a novel approach and take notes.  That would be something he presumably learned to do as a student.  Either that or he can get his officials to prepare written briefing notes so he can refer back to them later on.  After all, notes are what students use to help them keep track of a wide range of information on a wide range of topics.

As education minister, Darin King should know the value of a written note even if some of his colleagues are more interested in  covering their asses than covering the material.

This interview certainly shows the importance of a cabinet mi9nister knowing what he is talking about.

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Rumpole and the Old, Old Story

The sorry tale of the Summer of Discontent in Gander turns out to be a much sorrier tale than first appeared.

At the end of a story entitled “One Judge Short” from last February (not online), The Beacon reported that then-provincial Court Chief Judge Reg Reid had “requested the minister fill the position [in Gander] as quickly as possible.” 

It seems that justice minister Tom Marshall could have used the same list of candidates from which he picked Don Singleton for a round of musical judicial chairs to also find a name to fill the vacancy in Gander.

When the Singleton appointment went sour, though, Marshall did nothing with either of the two vacancies.  Nor did he do anything with the list of candidates in front of him either – except flick it to one side - even though there were other names on it of people who not only met the bare minimums set out in the legislation but exceeded them. 

And that was six months ago.

In the meantime, not only are there still vacancies in Gander and St. John’s yet to be filled but two more have turned up.

Chief Judge Reg Reid retired in April.  That leaves newbie Judge Mark Pike in the role of assistant chief judge, a position that appears to have been created for him to fill but there is still a new vacancy in St. John’s.

On top of that, Judge Joe Woodrow – familiar to visitors to Courtroom Number Seven  - opted to retire in February and now sits on a per diem basis (as required).

There you have it:  three judges’ seats in St. John’s empty and one in Gander, all of which need to be filled.  Plus – and for some equally unfathomable reason – cabinet has not gotten around to appointing a replacement for Reid even though he’s been gone since April.  The chief judge’s job is a cabinet appointment, you see.

As a sign of how serious the problem is in Gander, consider that The Beacon reported last February the issue came up at a Gander town council meeting that month.

The chair of the town’s economic development committee wanted someone to have a chat with Hander member of the House of Assembly Kevin O’Brien.  The prospect of having cases directed to other towns caused some furrowed brows, it seems, since the people attending trials in Gander bring with them a certain benefit to the local innkeepers and restauranteurs. The slowdown in the courthouse meant a slowdown in the local economy.

Now this sort of dithering and delay is nothing new either for the justice department or the current administration as a whole.

Retired justice Bill Marshall (no relation) has been working on not one but two separate “reviews” one of which appears to have been underway since 2004.  Not a thing has come of either review and the government is also refusing to release any information about the status of either review.

Since 2003, a surprising number of senior public service positions have gone without a permanent appointment for periods of up to two years.  Some are appointed on an acting basis for extraordinarily long times and for no apparent reason. In other instances, legislation is passed but  not put into effect and in other instances, reports and promised policies have sat untended for two or three years.  It’s all part of the “missing in action” syndrome that befalls chunks of government these days.

Now part of the cause of all this might be that the appointments to the bench are supposed to be made  - ultimately - by the Lieutenant Governor-in-Council.  That’s legalese ease for cabinet.  And, if the practice with deputy ministers is any indication, “cabinet appointment” now means the picks are made by the Premier Himself and only the Premier.

And if he is pre-occupied with other things, no matter what those other things are, … well, that’s been pretty much the old, old story of this administration since Day One.

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23 August 2009

Old habits die hard: legislative expenses version

In the United Kingdom, an inquiry into the expenses scandal at Whitehall is running into members of parliament griping about their quality of life.  The MPs want improvements, so it seems, despite the excesses which have been revealed in the past few months.

Meanwhile, the Bow Wow parliament has a committee holding hearings before the committee submits recommendations on a new pay and allowances scheme for local politicians to the House of Assembly management committee. 

Ostensibly, the committee wants to get public input. So far only five people have turned up to offer views to the committee at hearings held across the province.

  That’s hardly surprising given that the committee is holding hearings during the time when most people in the province  - including most politicians - take a nice long break from the business of politics.

But here’s the question no one seems to have asked in Newfoundland and Labrador:  why is the committee out there in the first place?

The politicians will tell you they appointed the committee because it is in the Green bill, the legislation that came after the local spending scandal hit daylight. Now that is true, but there was considerable discretion available to the legislators. 

Since they got their salaries set in 2007 at the time of the last election, they could have amended the legislation so that the next salary committee wouldn’t be appointed until after the next general election 2011.   They also could have delayed appointing the current committee until some time in early 2011, thus giving members of the legislature a full four years at their old pay scheme before they would look at an increase.

Either of those approaches would have shown some restraint on the part of members.  This might have been prudent given that the public is more than a wee bit soured on them after listening to the litany of miss-spending and excuses for same that poured forth from the honorable members.

And it’s not like the poor darlings wouldn’t have seen any pay hikes in the meantime.  Under section 15(3) of the Green bill, they would have collected the same percentage increases the executive of the public got in any given year.  That’s not bad for a crowd making a hefty wage anyways and given that almost half of them or more are drawing extra pay allotments, members of the legislature can hardly claim they’ve been hard done by. 

Rather than do either of those things, the members of the legislature  - most or all of whom are members of the successor to the old internal economy commission - decided to go for a restructuring of their pay and allowances scheme in addition to the annual percentage hikes a mere two years after the system came into effect in the first place. 

They decided to do it at a time when the public are – for the most part – simply not paying attention to things political. The politicians discussed postponing things until the fall, incidentally,  but decided to carry on such that the bulk of the work was being done at the worst possible time of the year. 

Well, worst possible time if one was serious about getting public input.  The resolution appointing the committee went through the House in May.  The committee must report no later than the end of October. The hearings will be over and done – save for one – by the end of August. 

Their report will then find its way back to the House of Assembly where it will be passed, one expects, as quickly and as quietly as possible in what has become a notoriously lightweight and very short fall sitting of the House.

That’s pretty much how most things involving pay and allowances for members have been handled over the past decade.  Despite all the public furor, despite all the revelations of miss-spending, the members of the provincial legislature are carrying on much as they have always done when their pay and allowances are involved.

Old habits -  it seems -  die very hard indeed.

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The story that won’t go away

The seizure of assets belonging to three companies last December may have been popular but it could wind up being very costly:

According to Prof. [Russell] Williams and Vancouver-based trade expert Henri Alvarez of Fasken Martineau, Abitibi has a strong case: NAFTA’s Chapter 11 was designed explicitly to prevent these kinds of scenarios. In Prof. Williams’s [sic] view, the suit, if filed, could hit Ottawa with a big legal bill that will likely get passed on to Newfoundland.

Financial costs aren’t the only issue at stake here; there’s also the small matter of how foreign investors are likely to react. For now, government officials aren’t keen to discuss it. Williams’ government would not comment; neither would Trade Minister Stockwell Day. Department of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Laura Dalby said the fact that a notice of intent has been filed “does not establish the merits of a challenge.”

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Rumpole and Rorke’s drift

From the agreed statement of facts in R. v Aylward comes a description of the events on the night in question which might help readers appreciate the incident.

You may recall this as the case in which Judge John Rorke, as he then was, uttered his now infamous words about pots to piss in and the young accused having put both the judge and the Crown prosecutor in a jam.

Note that in reproducing the agreed statement of facts, your humble e-scribbler has reduced the names of  the young men involved in the sorry episode to initials, with the exception of the young man convicted by Judge Rorke.  Dates of birth for each have also been omitted as well as the street numbers in the addresses at which the incident took place. 

At the time of the incident, all but one of the young men present were over the age of 18 years and none was over the legal drinking age.  The one young man under age 18 was present but was not identified as playing a key role.

The name and age of the victim are  also not given in the version below.

Although this information is part of the public record and as such are readily available the information the information is not necessary to appreciate the incident and the sentence imposed initially as well as the change in sentence on appeal.

[Taken from: R. v. Aylward, [1998] N.J. No. 338, 170 Nfld. & P.E.I.R. 185, 22 C.R. (5th) 191, 40 W.C.B. (2d) 494 Docket: 98/117, the decision rendered on this case on the appeal by the Crown about the sentence imposed.]

On June 21, 1998, Jeffrey Aylward … attended a party hosted by MR …at his residence at …Paddy Dobbin Drive, St. John's, Newfoundland.  MR’s parents and younger brother were away on vacation at this time. Most of his guests departed by about 1:00 a.m. on June 22, 1998. Remaining at the residence were Jeffrey Aylward, MR, RR …, RL …, AH …, SM …, MJ …, and AH ... .

At about 1:30 a.m. someone suggested ordering a pizza. Since no one had any money to pay for the pizza, it was decided that it would be ordered anyway, and Jeffrey Aylward and RR would steal it from the delivery man. MR placed the order for the pizza with the local establishment "Pizza Pros". He ordered it to be delivered to … Paddy Dobbin Drive, a house two doors up the street, and made up a phone number. At the time of placing the order, MR knew that he was setting up the pizza delivery man. When the order was initially placed, the intent was to simply steal it; however, after the order was placed Jeffrey Aylward and RR decided that they did not want to confront the delivery man empty handed.

Alcohol was consumed that evening. Jeffrey Aylward believes he drank around twelve (12) beer; RR, eight (8); and MR, three (3).

Jeffrey Aylward and RR first asked MR for masks and then for weapons. M R gave Jeffrey Aylward a ski-mask and RR a "Freddy" Halloween mask. Jeffrey Aylward was given a "Tonfa", which is a wooden t-shaped baton designed for the sport of Kung Fu, and RR was given a wooden stick, about two and a half feet long. Since RR found the Halloween mask to be uncomfortable, he ended up not wearing it but replaced it with a t-shirt, which he wrapped around his head and face.

RC …, who works as a delivery man for "Pizza-Pros", arrived at … Paddy Dobbin Drive at approximately 2:25 a.m.. Since there were no lights on at the residence, RC proceeded to check the area. As he approached the house, he heard someone from behind say "we'll take that". RCs thought it was a prank and said, "You'll actually stealing a pizza"? The two men then said, "Give us the fucking pizza". At this point, RC realized the seriousness of the situation and handed the pizza over to Jeffrey Aylward and RR. Both RR and Jeffrey Aylward held their weapons in full view of RC. Although he was not injured in any way, RC felt threatened during this encounter. Jeffrey Aylward and RR then returned to … Paddy Dobbin Drive, and the pizza was eaten by all in the group except AH, who had since gone to bed.

The Royal Newfoundland Constabulary were notified at 2:25 a.m. of the robbery. With the use of a police dog, Jeffrey Aylward and RR were tracked to …  Paddy Dobbin Drive. The police approached the residence and asked to speak to the owner. MR came forward and agreed to let the officers look around. The weapons, masks, and pizza box were recovered. A warrant to search was executed at 7:35 a.m. and the masks, weapons, and pizza box were seized.

MR, RR, and Jeffrey Aylward gave cautioned statements to the police, admitting to their involvement. RL, AH, SM, MJ and AH also cooperated with the investigation by providing statements.

The appeal decision summarised the sentence as follows, at paragraph two:

2 In addition to the statutorily prescribed conditions, the respondent was ordered to,

-   Abstain from the taking or consumption of alcohol or other intoxicating substance.

-   Abstain from the taking or consumption of drugs except in accordance with a medical prescription.

-   Abstain from owning or carrying a weapon, ammunition or explosive substance.

-   Perform 200 hours of community service work over 12 months.

-   Attend and participate actively in such awareness or educational programs or counselling sessions to which you might be referred by your probation officer, and in particular any relating to alcohol, drug or substance abuse or addiction, and anger management and control.

-  Write a letter of apology to [RC].

On the appeal, the court decided in part:

11 Nevertheless, we are in full agreement with the Crown's second submission. It has been likewise expressed in all of the above cases that because a conditional sentence is "a sentence of imprisonment" (s. 742.1(a)) which is being served "in the community" (s. 742.1(b)), it is appropriate that there be some restrictions on the liberty of the offender during the period of such imprisonment. Otherwise, it obviously would not be imprisonment and would not be distinguishable from a probation order. In our view, while such a condition is not a mandatory condition under the legislation, only in the rarest of cases should there be no such restriction.  [Emphasis added]

12 As has already been stated, the offences of which the respondent had been convicted are most serious ones. The surrounding circumstances and, in particular, the transition of what appears to have started out as a drunken prank conceived on the spur of the moment by a bunch of 18 year olds, into a criminal offence, nevertheless justify a sentence of only one year's imprisonment, to be served in the community. However, the nature of that offence is not, in our view, properly reflected without a limitation on the liberty of the respondent and the trial judge was in error in not doing so. We therefore intend to additionally impose such a condition.

13 In the result therefore, leave to appeal is granted and the appeal is allowed in part in that, in addition to the conditions imposed by the trial judge, the respondent, for the remainder of the conditional sentence period, will be confined to his place of residence from 7:00 p.m. to 7:00 a.m., except where it is necessary to leave such residence for the purpose of compliance with other conditions imposed by the trial judge and this Court; to continue attending school; to have no contact with the other persons involved in the offence; and, to have no contact with the complainant or his place of business. Additionally, following the serving of the sentence prescribed herein, the respondent will be subject to a probation order for a period of two years. … [Emphasis added]

 

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21 August 2009

Irving company wins NL government ferry contract

A company from the Irving Group has won a government contract to design a ferry for the Newfoundland and Labrador  ferry system.

According to a provincial government news release, Fleetway Inc. came out on top in an expressions of interest process begun this past May.

The release is unusually brief, does not provide any details on the company and erroneously describes it as a Newfoundland and Labrador company.

The original news release announcing the process contained much the same information as the announcement that Fleetway got the job.

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Rumpole and the Summer of Discontent

There is disquiet in the sleepy hamlet of Gander.

The provincial courthouse is short one judge since Judge David Peddle was appointed to the Trials Division of the Supreme Court last December.

Justice Peddle’s former bench-mate  - Judge Bruce Short – is on something of a work-to-rule, as it seems, to protest the delay in appointing someone to help with the load of cases parading before him in the Gander courthouse.

Court is held only on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, with Judge Short repairing the rest of the time to his home, which is, it should be noted noted, more than the maximum 70 kilometres from his bench required by the statute.

not bruce short Judge Short is reportedly so peeved that he has told counsel appearing before him that they are free to call their members in the House of Assembly and impress upon the politicos the need to send a second judge out to share the burden in Gander.

One wonders what might happen if no one can rouse the appropriate authorities to fill the spot in Gander not to mention the other three seats on the provincial court bench that currently sit vacant. 

Perhaps Judge Short might be compelled to start tossing  cases out the door based on delays in hearing them and the resultant constitutional issues arising.

tom_marshall Perhaps justice minister Tom Marshall is holding off on any new appointments out of embarrassment over last winter’s Singleton fiasco. It’s not everyday someone turns down a judge’s appointment once details of his past emerge.

Bond Papers discussed this earlier in “Rumpole and the Blind Tasting”,  “Rumpole and the Minister’s Choice” and “Rumpole and the Doddering Old Man”.

The politicos tried to push the whole thing off as a failure of the selection committee, but that story turned out to be a bit of a nose puller.

Whatever the reason, Gander is experiencing a summer of discontent in 2009 with a very special cause. 

It will carry on, one suspects, until someone manages to get a few names in front of Tom Marshall the next time he comes into the office from his home in Corner Brook.

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Air Lab to axe southern Labrador service

Air Labrador will be cutting its service to the southern coast of Labrador shortly. 

The company will announce the cut within the next 30 days, including determining the date on which the service will end. 

That’s what Air Labrador’s Philip Earle told CBC in a broadcast interview.  Earle said the company couldn’t make a “business case” for continuing operations in the region.  The company will continue to provide medical evacuation service to the local health region under its current contract.

This is the second cut by Air Labrador in 2009.  In March, the company stopped flying Dash-8s and laid off 100 people.

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Rumpole and the Piss Pot

[Originally posted as "Strong language welcome...sometimes"]

Today he’s the interim child and youth advocate but a decade ago, then-Provincial Court Judge John Rorke was facing disciplinary action for remarks at a sentencing for armed robbery.

Justice Robert Wells - appointed to review the complaint - decided that Rorke’s language at the sentencing was “inappropriate”. As the Telegram reported it at the time,

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

Rorke also observed that the young man, who had robbed a pizza delivery man at a house on Paddy Dobbin Drive in the east end of St. John’s, had placed the Crown and the judge in a bind with respect to sentencing.

The young man was handed a 12 month conditional sentence, as opposed to the three years which Rorke said in his decision was more typical for the offence under the circumstances.

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

The young man at the original criminal trial was represented by Danny Williams and his law partner Steve Marshall.

Williams told the Telegram in 1999 he had no problem with Rorke’s language if it worked to “save a soul”. Williams did subsequently take umbrage at strong language from another judge in Ruelokke v. Newfoundland and Labrador aimed at actions to which Williams was a party.

Rorke was reprimanded by the disciplinary review.

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20 August 2009

What a picture shows

RE2009-0034-0011 Most people will see a nice campaign-style picture featuring the current Prime Minister.

What anyone seriously interested in defence of the north will see is:

1.  This exercise took place in August when four little old ladies with severe arthritis could operate fairly easily in the Arctic. 

Try working there in January, especially with a diesel electric submarine that needs air to breathe and the sea is clogging with thick ice.

2.   The aircraft are so far away from any fuel supplies they could only form up for this picture if each was carrying three additional fuel tanks.  As a result they are carrying shag-all in the way of ordnance.

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Happy Fire-Poll Season

Day One:  the observation.

Day Two:  the confirmation.

The whole thing couldn’t have been any funnier if your humble e-scribbler had advance knowledge of the government’s news release schedule.

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Public comment sought on draft southern strategic environmental assessment

From the Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board:

The Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board is inviting public comment on the draft Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) for the Southern Newfoundland area of the Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Area.

The Southern Newfoundland area is included in the C-NLOPB’s Call for Bids, and the bids for this area close on November 19. The results of the SEA will be considered in decisions relating to the potential issuance of exploration licences.

The Board is conducting the SEA for the Southern Newfoundland Offshore Area with the assistance of a working group with representatives from federal and provincial government departments and agencies, One Ocean, the Fish, Food and Allied Workers Union, local Regional Economic Development Boards, and non-governmental organizations, and has engaged an environmental consulting firm to prepare the associated SEA report. The Board has received a draft SEA report from the consultant and now is soliciting public comment on that document.

The draft SEA Report may be viewed on the Board’s Web site at www.cnlopb.nl.ca or by e-mailing a request to information@cnlopb.nl.ca.

Written public comments on the draft SEA report will be accepted by the Board until noon on September 16, 2009.

Comments can be sent to Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board, 5th Floor, TD Place, 140 Water Street, St. John's NL, A1C 6H6, 709-778-1400; or via email to ead@cnlopb.nl.ca.

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And just to make you feel really old…

Beloit College has just released its most recent edition of the Mindset List, that marvellous compendium of things the incoming class of university freshmen understand as having always been true.

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Lono calls for municipal auditor general

From the candidate’s website:

Councillor at Large candidate Simon Lono says
St. John's needs a Municipal Auditor General

St John’s  - Councillor at Large candidate Simon Lono says he would work to have a Municipal Auditor General (MAG) appointed for the City of St. Johns.

A municipal auditor general would perform independent reviews of city spending and operations and make recommendations on how to improve the way the city spends taxpayer's money. The office would also help make sure taxpayers know how city council is spending their money.

Lono said, “Our city, the city of St. Johns, is the largest public institution in the province still not subject to scrutiny by an autonomous auditor general. We need a MAG that is outside council control with the power of independent investigation and the mandate to share its findings with the citizens and tax-payers of St. Johns. It would go a long way to improve transparency and accountability at City Hall.”

There is a federal auditor general and a provincial auditor general, but there is no equivalent for the municipal level of government in this province.

Nova Scotia has recently instituted a province-wide system of municipal auditor generals. In Alberta, a bill is before the provincial legislature to create provincially funded offices. Responsible cities across Canada have taken the initiative to create their own office of MAGs , including Toronto.

“The capital city of a vibrant province with a growing economy needs a Municipal Auditor General, “ says Lono. “This is no time for council to be defensive and cling to old ways of operating. In the next 4 years, the St. Johns municipal budget will exceed $200 million a year. If we are a great city, let’s act like one and be open to an independent public sector audit. Let’s make sure that taxpayers get value for money and residents get the best possible service, the service they deserve.“

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19 August 2009

Great Gambols with Public Money: The Stunnel, Part Deux

The sort of collective insanity that leads people to support incredibly asinine ideas like the Stunnel isn’t confined to any one political party.

Consider these musings from Liberal leader Yvonne Jones in the Wednesday Telegram.  The story isn’t available online.

Jones, it should be noted, just happens to represent the electoral district into which the Stunnel would go to connect the island of Newfoundland with the continent.

That is a mere coincidence, though.

Meanwhile, Liberal Leader Yvonne Jones said while fixing Marine Atlantic's service has to be done in short order, the long term solution could be reopening a 2004 report on a fixed link between the  Northern Peninsula and Labrador.

"It's pretty much common knowledge that if you're going to have a  strong economy, a functional economy, you need to be able to have good  transportation and communication links to the rest of the world," she said.

"The realty is we are losing business because of the level of service that's being provided. People are turning away at the docks."

Whether it's a tunnel, bridge or some other link, Jones said transportation to the mainland cannot depend on someone else's schedule.

It’s pretty much common knowledge that Newfoundland and Labrador has a strong, functioning economy complete with diverse and very good transportation and other communications links to the rest of the world.

There is a very particular problem with one service that is provided by an agency that seems chronically unable to sort out the difficulties.

The solution to this particular problem is to sort out this particular problem, not peddle some completely lunatic idea to spend untold billions digging a hole through which trains would run. 

The solution isn’t even to dig a hole through which people might drive their cars at a cost of billions which will never – realistically – be repaid or otherwise recovered.

All that Jones has offered up here is just more of the same old ideas that haven’t worked to solve the Marine Atlantic problem before. 

One very plausible solution would be to end Marine Atlantic’s monopoly and allow competition on the run.  A similar idea would be to dispose of the Crown corporation altogether and let a private sector company enter the picture. 

After all, if there is that much business being lost – as Jones claims – there’s likely room for another carrier.

Maybe that other carrier can run between Halifax and the Port of St. John’s.  Maybe that carrier would run between Montreal – for argument sake – and Stephenville or Corner Brook.

But wait.

Even in the absence of a competitive ferry service, there is an alternative already.  There are other cargo ships that ply the waters between the island of Newfoundland and the mainland of the continent.  Tourists can fly into airports located conveniently near the major attractions.

Any of these are viable options to digging a hole in the ground and pouring public money in behind it.

On some level, though, the longer Marine Atlantic continues to screw up, the more it is just useful political fodder for everyone from provincial opposition politicians, to federal ones like Gerry Byrne to St. John’s city councillors. If Marine Atlantic stooped being a problem, they’d have to find something else to talk about.

Now to be fair to Sandy Hickman, he is just following on the time honoured tradition of St. John’s city politicians talking about anything but stuff they can do anything about or should be worried about.

The current mayor – Doc O’Keefe – rose to prominence by advocating for the province-wide gasoline price fixing scheme taxpayers in the province now pay for.

Wannabe deputy mayor Keith Coombs is a teacher who liked to use public money to run a hockey rink and failed entertainment operation, better known as the Wells-Coombs Memorial Money Pit.

You’d hear both of them on radio or television talking about that stuff long before you’d hear them talking about capital works plans or garbage collection.

At least Hickman offered up a half-ways sensible idea that might just work and at no cost to the taxpayers.

On that ground alone, he should get re-elected to city council. 

Heck, on that ground alone, he should enter provincial or federal politics.

At least his head is screwed on straight.

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Poll goosing: Can you say fire truck?

There are two bits of humour in the same post.

The first is this video of a child having some interesting trouble saying the words fire and truck together. 

It’s a wee bit predictable but still funny and cute.

Also predictable, funny and cute is the fact that the provincial government likes to announce and deliver fire trucks in a particular season of the year that just coincidentally is also the time the official provincial government pollster is on the go collecting his latest data for a government-sponsored poll.

Since 2007, the provincial government has consistently started announcing fire trucks with the bulk of the announcements coming just before and during Government Polling period.

July 11, 2007:  $108,000 dropped on the association representing firefighters.  Don’t forget that was also part of the pre-election Summer of Love spending frenzy.

August 9, 2007:  Government pollster Corporate Research Associates starts collecting data.

August 16, 2007:  A new fire truck for Conception Bay South,  “presented” by municipal affairs minister Jack Byrne with incumbents/candidates Terry French and Beth Marshall in tow.

August 16, 2007:  A news release listing off $1.7 million in emergency services spending, including a list of nine new fire trucks and other emergency vehicles for communities across the province.

August 17, 2007:  As if the announcement of the presentation on the 16th wasn’t enough, there’s a second news release on the fire truck in CBS. It includes three photos of people posing with the fire truck.

August 31, 2007:  CRA stops polling.

Other than one lone fire truck presentation in October, there’s no other fire truck activity in 2007.  By the way, that one in October was the presentation of a truck included in the August 16 release and it was presented in a town in the minister’s district.  He didn’t “present” any other trucks, at least with a news release going with it.

Skip ahead one year and you will find the next Fire Truck Season that – just by coincidence  - matches up to Government Polling Season.

July 15, 2008:  $130,000 in government cash for the firefighters association.

July 25, 2008:  New fire trucks for Badger and Whitbourne.

August 5, 2008:  New fire truck for St. Anthony

August 7, 2008:  New fire truck for Irishtown-Summerside.

Government pollster CRA polled from August 12 to 30, 2008.

There were three more vehicle presentations extending into October last year. Of course by the time the last one was done, the government pollster was getting ready to go back to the field in November for the last poll goosing foray of the year in November.  Lo and behold there was even the announcement of a new fire hall in that month, as well. 

Fire and polls really do go together.

The pattern has continued in 2009.

An announcement in January – covering a raft of new fire trucks -  in advance of the February poll goosing season and with plenty of time for the weekly newspapers to cover the stories.  Even more funding for the firefighters association in July 2009 and of course the August announcement. CRA’s been in the field since last week.

Now some of you might protest that these announcements don’t match up with polling time.

But if you think that you might be forgetting what no less an authority than the Premier himself said about the whole idea of poll-stacking when he was asked about it last year.   If he was going to poll goose, he’d be out there a week or two before polling started.

Oh, he knew exactly when CRA started polling, by the way.  Not exactly the sort of information you’d expect a busy Premier to have at his finger-tips.

Well, not unless he needed to be aware of it for some reason.

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