30 June 2010

Calamity Kath Dunderdale: the Miracle Max Ploy

Whoo-hoo-hoo, look who knows so much. It just so happens that your friend here is only *mostly* dead. There's a big difference between mostly dead and all dead. Mostly dead is slightly alive. With all dead, well, with all dead there's usually only one thing you can do.

On the one hand there is the CBC account of the latest Dunderdale-torqued version of  the Lott/Motion Invest proposal for Grand Falls-Windsor:

Despite several confusing twists and amidst accusations of 'confidentiality breaches' and 'misrepresentations' from a company seeking to revive a paper mill in central Newfoundland, the province's deputy premier says the deal may not be completely dead.

Then there is the version from the Telegram, straight from the company spokesperson:

“To be clear Motion Invests’ position has not changed since its release, and we have not communicated any message to any person in government which indicated otherwise,” the spokesman wrote in an e-mail to The Telegram.

Given Dunderdale’s propensity to shag things up so badly and blatantly, it’s amazing the Ceeb is still giving her the positive play on her obvious torque-ploys.

But when she starts channeling characters from the Princess Bride?

It’s just as well to go through the pockets and look for loose change.

Miracle Max knew what to do.

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Motion Invest’s statement on Grand Falls-Windsor project

“Date of Release : 28th June 2010

Motion Invest withdraws it's interests in the former Abitibi Bowater newsprint mill at Grand Falls-Windsor Canada

Motion Invest announced today that it has no longer any interest in the Abitibi Bowater newsprint mill at Grand Falls-Windsor Canada.

Motion Invest had been in confidential discussions to undertake a feasibility / viability study into creating a new non-newspaper print mill at Grand Falls-Windsor Canada.

However due to recent and wholly incorrect reports / statements that it was close to a deal to purchase the Abitibi Bowater newsprint mill in Grand Falls-Windsor Canada, Motion Invest has now decided to withdraw its interest.

At no time was Motion Invest ever close to preparing any offer for the Grand Falls-Windsor.  Its interest was wholly subject to the completion of a feasibility / viability study into moving production at the Grand Falls-Windsor mills away from newsprint production. 

Motion Invest has already spent over $ 75,000 conducting a preliminary review and site inspection of the mill regrets that the serious breach in the confidentiality and the misrepresentation of its interest in the mill makes the continuation of the project unviable.

Accordingly Motion Invest has been left with no option withdrawn its interest.”

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Mind-boggled Dunderdale continues to blunder

In an interview with CBC, natural resources minister Kathy Dunderdale misrepresented her own earlier comments on talks to re-activate the paper mill at Grand Falls-Windsor.

According to a story at cbc.ca/nl, Dunderdale said:

“We have said very little about it. My response was a reply to a direct question in the house of assembly [sic] when the leader of the Opposition [sic] asked had we received a proposal from this company."

But that’s only partially correct if one limits consideration to a fraction of what she said last week.

Dunderdale first discussed the interest in the mill in response to a question in the House of Assembly on May 25 from New Democratic Party leader Lorraine Michael.  She didn’t name the company but she did make it sound very up-beat and positive:

We are very hopeful about that prospect, Mr. Speaker.

The next day in the House she didn’t issue many notes of caution either.  Rather, Dunderdale was full of bluster about the ability of her party to negotiate with companies compared to the inability of the other crowd.  Then she added this bit:

Mr. Speaker, we have a very good company coming out of Germany that have expressed an interest in that fibre.

Dunderdale also told reporters that she expected to have further contact and that the visit to the mill was a sign of the seriousness with which the company – consistently identified as being a company with paper-making experience – was viewing the mill:

The indication of their seriousness, Mr. Speaker, is they sent somebody from Germany to have a look at this mill. When I asked him what his observations were, he told me quite frankly that it was exactly what he had expected to see. They have gone back to do some work. We expect to have some kind of a submission from them in the next month or so, Mr. Speaker, and based on that we will see where we go.

It’s likely no coincidence that Dunderdale raised the site visit and potential interest at the same time that the opposition was hammering Dunderdale and her cabinet colleagues over revelations about the botched mill expropriation.

Getting her facts wrong is nothing new for Dunderdale on this issue.

As recently as last week, Dunderdale continued to link the company to pulp and paper production, something now known to be wrong.

Dunderdale also indicated in the House of Assembly that the company had submitted a business plan that was being assessed by three government departments.  Outside the legislature, though, she told reporters government had received a detailed letter and expected to have a business plan from the company – identified as Lott – on Monday, June 28. [Report starts at 2:30.]

According to a news release sent to CBC on Tuesday June 29, and quoted online, the company – now identified as Motion Invest was withdrawing its expression of interest in the mill.  And the release also identifies the potential project as being about something other than making newsprint:

“Motion Invest had been in confidential discussions to undertake a feasibility-viability study into creating a new non-newspaper print mill. However, due to recent and wholly incorrect reports and statements that it was close to a deal to purchase, Motion Invest has now decided to withdraw its interest,"

In comments to CBC on Tuesday, Dunderdale also claims that she didn’t miss-speak when she identified the company interested in the mill as Lott, a company that is in bankruptcy protection, rather than Motion Invest.

Dunderdale is confirming the new information which is in the public domain:

"The first contact we had was from Bob Roche on behalf of Lott Paper. The investment was going to be made by Motion Invest," she said. "The principal who was interested in making this investment was a principle with Lott Paper who would be bringing the knowledge and experience from Lott Paper to Grand Falls-Windsor, even though the investment was coming from Motion Invest."

Dunderdale never once mentioned Motion Invest at all until the company issued its own news release to CBC.

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29 June 2010

Potential investor quits mill talks, accuses government of “overt politicization”: CBC

CBC’s David Cochrane reported this evening that the investment company that had expressed interest in the defunct Grand Falls-Windsor paper mill is withdrawing its offer. The first segment is at about 15:00 into the Here and Now broadcast.

Cochrane quoted from a statement issued by the company shortly after 1800 hrs Newfoundland Daylight Savings Time. 

According to the statement, Lott Feinpappen was never the company looking at the mill.  Instead it was a company called Motion Invest, in which an individual named Bob Roche was a principle.

Roche is quoted as saying that at no time was Motion Invest close to an offer for the mill.  There was an interest in doing a feasibility study on moving the mill away from what Cochrane described as unprofitable newsprint production.

In the statement as reported by CBC, Roche accuses the provincial government of a “serious breach of confidentiality of a commercial issue” of wholely incorrect statements and misrepresentations of Motion Invest’s intentions.

In the most recent session of the House, Dunderdale boasted about the ability of the current administration to negotiate successfully with companies.

The statement appeared to have been drafted in some haste, according to Cochrane, as it contained as many “broadsides” against the government as it did spelling mistakes.

Cochrane added to his report at about 49:00 with initial provincial government reaction.

According to Cochrane, natural resources minister Kathy Dunderdale found the Motion Invest comments to be “mindboggling” and “absolutely incorrect.”  The proposal went well beyond a feasibility study and included targets and timelines.  

The company was also looking for loans and loan guarantees totalling $52 million, according to Dunderdale. 

The provincial government may release documents within the next 24 hours but is currently consulting with justice department lawyers.

Dunderdale told reporters in St. John’s last week that the company was looking for financial assistance.  She did not specify what the amount was at the time.

The latest information is also significantly different from Dunderdale’s previous comments in which she consistently described the project as being about a pulp and paper operation of the type already in the defunct mill.  In late May, she said:

“It's a pulp and paper company that sees some opportunity because Abitibi is withdrawing from its markets in Europe.”

Dunderdale also initially rejected the idea of the government providing “big loan guarantees or big subsidies.” 

However, by last week she was more concerned to “understand clearly what they are looking for from us”.

Provincial government policy includes interest free loans and outright gifts of cash for companies.

Update:  Motion Investment’s brief statement

 

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In Alberta, they have problems too…

with a biased, incompetent Speaker in the provincial legislature.  As the Calgary Herald quoted recently:

In an unprecedented attack, she [Danielle Smith] went after legislature Speaker Ken Kowalski for twisting the rules to keep his party in power.

"The Speaker needs to remember that his job is to serve the interests of all Alberta," Smith said.

"Time and again he has failed in that role and failed Albertans. And make no mistake, it is Ed Stelmach who has given the Speaker permission to run roughshod over Alberta's democracy. . . ."

"I think Albertans are as shocked as we are by the behaviour of this government, having seen the games they play, having seen how they treat Albertans, having seen how they push around political leaders and bully their own caucus. . . . I don't recognize them as the party I once supported."

How many people in this province say the same sort of thing about the shenanigans that go on here?

Hint:  it’s a lot more than the freshie-gulpers would like you to believe.

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28 June 2010

Dunderdale still awaiting proposal from bankrupt company; spokesperson promises “due diligence”

According to cbc.ca/nl, natural resources minister Kathy Dunderdale is still expecting a business plan from a German company to take over the Grand Falls-Windsor paper mill.

An unnamed spokesperson in Dunderdale’s office promised that the department will conduct “due diligence” on the proposal.

But as Bond Papers readers learned on Sunday, the company – Lott Feinpappen – has been in bankruptcy protection since June 15.

CBC added more detail on Monday:

As well, a lawyer with the Achern firm of Schultze & Braun told CBC News that Lott does not have the cash to pursue ventures, and cannot do business in Canada because of its legal situation.

The lawyer told CBC News that Lott is currently in "deep trouble." The German state is covering workers' wages at Lott — which produces high-quality paperboard products, and which has been in business for more than a century — until the end of August.

Insolvency procedures are to start in Germany in September.

In a news release late Monday, opposition leader Yvonne Jones said that this new information on Lott “highlights [the] careless and superficial work by government in not learning and disclosing this information to the public.”

Jones said that the provincial government “likes to talk due diligence, but rarely performs it.”

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NL population up by estimated 96 people

Don’t worry.

You read that correctly.

Statistics Canada estimates the population in Newfoundland and Labrador went from an estimated 510,805 to estimated 510,901.

96 people.

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26 June 2010

Potential GFW mill buyer in German bankruptcy protection for second time in six years

The same week German papermaker Lott sent deputy premier and natural resources minister Kathy Dunderdale a detailed letter proposing to take over the former AbitibiBowater mill in Grand Falls-Windsor,  the company went into bankruptcy protection in Germany.

According to the Insolvenz Rategeber:

Über das Vermögen der  Lott Feinpappen GmbH & Co. KG in Achern wurde Insolvenzantrag gestellt. Der Antrag erfolgte durch eine Gläubigerin des Unternehmens. Betroffen sind 70 Mitarbeiter, deren Löhne für die kommenden drei Monate über das Insolvenzgeld abgesichert sind.

The company – which employs 70 people – previously sought bankruptcy protection in 2004.

The premier’s hand-picked deputy told the House of Assembly on Thursday that she had received a business plan from the company the week previously:

Mr. Speaker, late last week we received a business plan from this company. It is currently undergoing assessment by us, the Department of Finance and the Department of Business. We do not have anything further to report at this time, Mr. Speaker, until that analysis is completed.

Outside the House, she told reporters that she was waiting to receive the business plan. What the company had sent was a detailed letter.

According to euwid-papier.de, Lott sought bankruptcy protection on June.

Dunderdale told reporters on Thursday that the provincial government would study the proposal very carefully.  Dunderdale raised hopes in central Newfoundland in late May by announcing in the legislature that representatives of a then-unnamed company had toured the mill and were interested in re-opening it. Apparently, even though she assured people of the province that her officials would review any proposal carefully, no one had, up to that time, done a preliminary review of the company and its financial history.

This is not the first time the Premier’s carefully chosen right hand has run into problems with business proposals.  As Bond Papers noted in 2005:

Then yesterday, we find out that no one [in Dunderdale’s department]bothered to check out American call-centre company Teletech using what Jack Harris has hilariously referred to as due diligence for dummies: the Internet search engine google.

Dunderdale is well known for blunders.  Some have been laughable.  Some are just plain ridiculous. Some are far more serious.  The deputy premier misled the legislature in 2006 over public tender act violations by a former Tory candidate filling a pork-barrel appointment.

In 2009, the deputy premier told the legislature a memorandum of understanding with Rhode Island for Lower Churchill had fallen through because the state lacked the necessary legislative jurisdiction to handle some aspects of the deal.  Turns out that NALCOR just couldn’t get the power to the state at a competitive price.

Dunderdale has also been known to score the odd own-goal of a far more  significant nature.  In September 2009, she revealed that she and Danny Williams had tried unsuccessfully for five years to interest Hydro-Quebec in an ownership stake in the Lower Churchill.  The deal would have been without redress for the disastrous 19569 Churchill falls contracts.  Before 2003 Williams insisted any deal he signed on the Lower Churchill would have to include redress. 

The secret talks to sell a stake in the Lower Churchill remains the biggest story of the Williams administration which has still not be reported by any mainstream media.

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Traffic drivers: June 21-25

  1. A Crown corporation by any other name
  2. China and CSIS:  the naive and sentimental writers
  3. Today in history (Meech Lake)
  4. The Spleen (Bill Rowe)
  5. Government of Newfoundland and Labrador Hiring Test (Communication Directors)
  6. Rowe book due this fall. Why?
  7. Public money in inflatable shelter company now hits $4 million in four years
  8. The Money Program
  9. Suns News?  Ya gotta be kidding.
  10. Government Talking Points:  the oil spill will never reach the shore edition

Bonus:  Spleen Audio! Here’s Bill in all his call-us interruptus glory.

This is what people in the blog business call a bizarre week.

Why bizarre?  Because an old post about Bill Rowe eclipsed the one posted fresh this week.

More on that way below, but other than that the traffic drivers were pretty straight forward.

Clearly people are interested enough in a company getting huge wads of public cash in a short time.  Three top posts this week relate to Dynamic Air Shelters.

Meech Lake grabbed a bit of attention even though the topic isn’t at all obvious in the headline.

China/CSIS and Sun News were popular national stories so that pretty much makes sense.  Undoubtedly more than a few people were surprised to learn the current administration in Newfoundland and Labrador had signed a pretty generous  memorandum of understanding in 2004 with a company they should have been more cautious about. Then again, this would be the first time they’ve blundered into something anyone with basic google skills could have warned them about.

The hiring test is clearly humourous.  Some people make have mistakenly thought from the headline it might be real.  Hopefully, they enjoyed the chuckle.

Posted late in the week, the oilspill quotes clearly hit a chord, just eclipsing a post about Dipper candidate in St. John’s South-Mount Pearl Ryan Cleary and the discrepancies in his story about why he left voice of the cabinet minister as its late night talk show host.

If the problem with VOCM was that Cleary wanted to spend more time with the family, being a member of parliament would be more incompatible with that goal than spending five nights a week yacking to the locals about whatever is on their sometimes less-than-sober minds.

Usually, it is a bad idea to draw attention to your own major shag-ups.  In this case it turned out to be a really, really idea for PAP as the smear attempt backfired big-time. Anyone who clicked through to BP clearly loved that Cleary post plus the old stuff about Billy Rowe. 

Double own-goal!

Just like the IRA bomb-maker in Belfast who liked to shift the nitrogen fertilizer around on his concrete garage floor using a metal shovel.

They never did find all of him, let alone the shovel or the garage or chunks of the backyard.

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25 June 2010

US courts accept AbitibiBowater backstop commitment agreement

AbitibiBowater issued the following on Friday: US$ ABWTQ (OTC)

MONTREAL, June 25 /CNW Telbec/ - AbitibiBowater Inc. today announced that, in connection with its creditor protection proceedings and exit financing efforts, the Company has obtained approval of a backstop commitment agreement by the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the District of Delaware. On May 24, 2010, the Company had announced that it had secured a backstop commitment from certain unsecured note holders for a rights offering of up to $500 million. In this rights offering, AbitibiBowater would offer new convertible notes with a seven-year maturity from the date of closing to eligible unsecured creditors. Upon the effective date of the plan, the notes would be obtained upon exercise of the rights and convertible into common stock of the emerged company. Additional information on this rights offering has been disclosed in the Company's court filings, which are available at www.abitibibowater.com/restructuring.

"We are pleased with today's court approval which supports our exit financing efforts. This is another important step forward as we look ahead to the Company's ultimate emergence from credit protection scheduled for early this Fall," stated David J. Paterson, President and Chief Executive Officer. "The Company expects to emerge with a significantly improved financial position, resulting from its efforts to reduce costs, lower debt and mitigate the impact of ongoing market and currency fluctuations."

Before emerging from creditor protection, the Company must obtain adequate exit financing and complete efforts to address labor costs and pension issues, as well as satisfy other conditions set forth in the plans of reorganization. AbitibiBowater has commenced a process to obtain an exit financing package that will provide sufficient capital for the emerged company to manage business operations and execute its plans.

Ultimately, the Company's plans of reorganization will require creditor approval and confirmation by the courts. Affected unsecured creditors who are entitled to vote will receive the court-approved disclosure and voting materials, which are expected to be mailed in July subject to court approvals. More information about AbitibiBowater's restructuring process can be found at www.abitibibowater.com or by calling toll-free 888 266-9280. International callers should dial 503 597-7698.

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Government Talking Points: the oil will never reach shore edition #oilspill

Danny Williams, speaking in the House of Assembly in May 2010, as reported by CBC:

"As recently as this morning, we've looked at just exactly what the situations are in the North Atlantic," Williams said.

"It is a general understanding that because the offshore sites are significantly offshore and well east of the province that ... there's a lower likelihood that oil would actually come ashore in Newfoundland and Labrador."

From the Wall Street Journal, June 2010:

BP PLC and other big oil companies based their plans for responding to a big oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico on U.S. government projections that gave very low odds of oil hitting shore, even in the case of a spill much larger than the current one.

Natural resources minister Kathy Dunderdale, in the House of Assembly, June 2010, as quoted by the Telegram:

  Mr. Speaker, based on 40 to 50 years of wind study, it is shown that oil, because of the wave action and the coldness of the sea, Mr. Speaker, breaks up and disperses. ... Mr. Speaker, we had an oil spill in 2004 on the Terra Nova. Mr. Speaker, that oil dispersed, broke up, and went away. Ocean floor studies have been done, Mr. Speaker, there is no evidence of oil from that oil spill on the floor around our Terra Nova project.

The WSJ, again:

The government models, which oil companies are required to use but have not been updated since 2004, assumed that most of the oil would rapidly evaporate or get broken up by waves or weather.

 

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China and CSIS: the naive and sentimental writers

Richard Fadden, head of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service said something a few days ago that did not go down well with many people.

In an interview taped on Monday past with Peter Mansbridge, Fadden said:

“We're in fact a bit worried in a couple of provinces that we have an indication that there's some political figures who have developed quite an attachment to foreign countries."

In the days since CBC broadcast the interview, Fadden issued a public apology in which he retracted his statement that CSIS was discussing with the Privy Council Office how best to deal with the provincial government’s involved.

Some commentators have made a big deal out of the fact Fadden made the comments this week, in advance of the G8/G20 meetings.  Others have taken the apology as a sign that Fadden has been reckless and that he may well be  - or ought to be - replaced very soon.

Two things:

1.  In the context of the week’s events, an apology and retraction would be absolutely necessary if only to save the Prime Minister’s face with foreign leaders.  But no one should take that official retraction for anything other than that.  Canada plays in the big leagues and Fadden is too experienced a public servant to make comments that are as off-the-wall as the apology might suggest. 

Fadden’s comments may alarm the uninformed  - and there are evidently plenty of those out there - but for anyone even passingly familiar with CSIS publicly available intelligence assessments there is no surprise in anything Fadden said. China has long been mounting a campaign of economic and political espionage around the globe.  The country’s aggressive moves into the energy sector is well known.  The two things together suggest a need for wariness, if not increased vigilance.

Incidentally, you can include in the ill-informed list none other than Brian Mulroney’s former chief of staff, Norman Spector. The facts are at cbc.ca.

2.  Around these parts, no one should be surprised either at the Chinese presence  or the potential naiveté of some provincial administrations. 

In 2004, the Williams administration signed a memorandum of understanding for the potential development of the Lower Churchill. 

The company – Sino-Energy – was a consortium of companies that included a state-owned Chinese corporation that has been involved in questionable arms shipments.  The memorandum of understanding gave Sino-Energy complete access to NALCOR information, including details of the interconnection between Churchill Falls and the rest of the North American energy grid.

Bond Papers discussed the MOU issue - including the national security implications – in a 2005 post. No one has followed up on the story since Jeff Ducharme started it. 

The Williams administration might not be on CSIS’ watch list  - they might; China might not be the only foreign country of concern either - but that doesn’t mean they been known to make some amateurish shag-ups when it comes to signing secret deals like that memorandum of understanding with questionable foreign companies.

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24 June 2010

Public money in inflatable shelter company now hits $4 million in four years

With a dose of $249,978 research money from the provincial government’s research and development corporation, Dynamic Air Shelters has now received about $4.0 million in public cash since 2006.

The federal government dropped $300,000 on the company on Monday.

That was on top of nearly $3.5 million the company had received between 2006 and earlier this week.  Most the cash has come within the past 18 months.

Here’s how the official news release described the most recent cash infusion:

Dynamic Air Shelters Limited is a world leader in inflatable blast shelters. Dynamic has the lead in this market and must maintain it by demonstrating constant improvement and validating the improvement through rigorous and controlled testing. The goal of this R&D project is to prove the performance of a production-model prototype of a fully upgraded blast shelter system that includes components and assemblies not yet tested. Expanding the blast resistant market and repelling competition is the most critically important feature of this product development. The RDC’s investment is $249,978 of a total project cost in excess of $1 million.

Dynamic Air Shelters received the largest single batch of funding in the most recent announcement.

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23 June 2010

Rowe book due this fall. Why?

Danny Williams’ former personal envoy to Hy’s tossed out a few bon mots to those listening to the province’s Open Line show on a sunny Wednesday.

Someone else picked up on the rest of the chat but your humble e-scribbler chuckled at this bit:

There were a number of excerpts from the work in progress  that are now being compiled into a full length book.

Rowe thought he had something from his short stint in Ottawa that was worth putting to paper. It was a short time (six months), if memory serves, but Rowe apparently had great insights to offer.

So great were the insights that he quit his stint as a columnist at the Telegram to write the book.   Rowe claimed that writing a column every week for the largest circulation daily in the province would hinder his writing ability. Your humble e-scribbler had a great larf at that idea back when Rowe forecast his magnum opus was in the works.

So weighty were the burdens of a weekly column that Rowe took to writing a weekly column for the Spindy which would become the book. And of course, collectors of great local literature will recall Billy once edited a collection of his old Telegram columns together into a book as well.  Column-writing does indeed interfere with book-writing.

Don’t worry, folks.  This makes no more sense now that it did when Bill first penned his good-bye in the Telly.

And, as you may have noticed, those Indy columns were the works in progress now being compiled into a full-length book, not unlike the 1980s vintage compilation which also wound up in a full-length book. 

Just go with this for a second.

A full-length book would be in contrast to a half-length book or a three-quarter length one. 

Just take a book off the nearest bookshelf and see how many pages it is.  Now randomly pick another one – any book, any shelf – and preferably not from the same series or encyclopaedia.  Note that the number of pages is different from one to the other.  Pick another.  Same thing?

That’s because “book” is not a standard unit of measure.  There can be no full-length book since, by definition, every book is “book” length.

Yes, folks, Bill is a fountain of these sorts of idiotic remarks.

But anyway…

By now, those of you who haven’t clicked off to the old post from Bill’s last column at the Telly might be wondering how long this book  - covering a mere six months of time, don’t forget – has taken to cobble together.

Rowe started the Ottawa gig in 2004 and quit in the winter of 2005. Bill’s last column for the Telegram was in October 2007.  Presumably he was writing it then or had pulled together some bits and pieces to start work.

If this book appears in the fall of 2010, then we are talking six years from the time he started the gig, five and a half years or so from the time he quit the job and three years from the time he quit the Telly.

Even if we allow Billy boy finished bashing out the manuscript in late 2009, we are still talking two full years to document his recollections of events that took no more than six months to experience in real time.

And that’s allowing that he had three or four of the episodes published in the old Spindy.

So what’s so special about this fall for a book covering events that are already rapidly receding into the mists of time?

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Government of Newfoundland and Labrador Hiring Test (Communications Director)

The provincial government is looking for a few new communications directors.

Standards are high.  Not everyone can do the job.

The public service commission is under such pressure to find enough people to meet the stringent criteria set down by the Premier’s Office that they’ve had to simplify the qualifying exam.

Gone is the intensive two stage examine, including a written test, before the list was passed to the Eighth for selection.

According to the latest internal e-mail circulated last week – and obtained by your humble e-scribbler – public service commission examiners are to place two objects in front of the candidate.  They are not allowed to say anything. They must merely observe what the candidate does.

See if you can figure out how to pass the test.

Object 1:

Ball-Centre-Door-Knob

Object 2:

polishing cloth

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The Fragile Economy confirmed

BMO Capital Markets lays out the scope of the problem:

Newfoundland & Labrador [sic] saw a sharp 10.2% real GDP contraction in 2009, the worst performance in Canada. However, improvement in the mining sector and a reversal of some temporary factors will drive 4% growth in 2010 and solid 2.8% growth in 2011.

Problem? sez you, wiping the purple freshie from your lips. 

Growth returns. 

Here’s the problem:

However, the biggest economic driver in the province in the next two years will be construction activity. Government infrastructure spending will total about $1 bln in FY2010/11, helping boost total
capital spending an expected 23% in 2010. Provincial government infrastructure spending will amount to more than $5 bln over the next several years, keeping the economic fuel burning into 2011. At more than 3% of GDP, the Province’s infrastructure program is among
the largest in Canada relative to the size of the economy.

It is definitely not good when the public sector is driving the economy to such a degree.

And as for all the rosiness in BMO’s outlook. 

Well, let’s just say they obviously haven’t done any detailed analysis of the local economy especially if they think the recent population growth is driven by anything other than migrant labourers returning home from other parts of the country.

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The language of Shakespeare

On the one hand, you have the regular performances of Julius Caesar at Cupids, site of the of early 17th century English colony.

There is a tide in the affairs of men
Which taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;
Omitted, all the voyage of their life
Is bound in shallows and in miseries.

And on the other hand, you would scarcely recognise the language of Shakespeare some four centuries on, as it is spoken in the House of Assembly:

Staff members at the school say that the faces of the children light up as they eagerly access the food items each morning.

Yes, that’s what we all long to do with food:  access it.

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22 June 2010

Brazil to expand oil production

From UPI:

RIO DE JANEIRO, June 22 (UPI) -- Brazil will spend $224 billion in five years on doubling its capacity for oil production and export despite cautious business optimism on the future global outlook for crude prices.

State-run Petrobras oil giant unveiled the spending plans as Chief Executive Officer Sergio Gabrielli set out the company's strategy to build capacity in the run-up to 2020, when Brazil will have doubled its production to 5.4 million barrels a day from 2.7 million barrels a day at present.

[more]

Anti-Rubinesque Update:  Peak oil, Schmeak Oil:

But crude oil itself has already peaked – at least five times since 1950, Prof. Boyce says – without beginning to approach the demise of oil anticipated by peak oil theory’s famous Bell curve. Indeed, crude oil reserves have doubled roughly every 15 years since 1850 and the world now has more proven reserves than it has ever had in the ensuing 150 years.

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A Crown corporation by any other name

A company that has received almost $3.5 million in federal and provincial government money since 2006 is getting another $300,000 from the federal government to support its production.

Dynamic Air Shelters will receive another $300,000 for “research, and development, engineering and marketing initiatives.”

That’s in addition to the $575,000 the company has received over the past two years for research from the federal government.

Since 2008, the company has received more that $2.0 million in federal and provincial government money to support its business operations.

A Crown corporation by any other name would not  be sucking so much public money.

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Today in history

June 22, 1990.

The Meech Lake Accord died.

In Manitoba, Elijah Harper refused to give the consent needed to bring the Accord to the floor of the legislature for debate.

In Newfoundland and Labrador, and after a last-minute effort at further manipulation by the Mulroney administration in Ottawa, Clyde Wells spoke at length in the House of Assembly before adjourning debate on the Accord.

Some predicted the country would fall apart.

It didn’t.

The finger pointing continues to this day, as Deborah Coyne concluded her memoir of the affair: Roll of the diceBrian Mulroney’s 2007 memoir is full of vitriol and a unhealthy dose of misrepresentation about the Accord debate.

Jean-Francois Lisee used exactly the same sort of fabrications as Mulroney to begin his blog series on the 20th anniversary of the Accord’s demise. Then again, the premise of the Accord was a fabrication, a falsehood, a blatant lie so it’s really not all that surprisingly that some of its proponents still rely on falsehood to argue for their case.

Meanwhile, in another corner of the universe, Gil Remillard, Quebec’s intergovernmental affairs minister at the time thinks:

<<L'entente du lac Meech aura servi à préparer le terrain et 20 ans après, on se rend compte que maintenant, nous faisons beaucoup de choses comme on voulait que ça soit fait lorsqu'on a discuté de Meech.>>

For the most part, though, only a few people in the country have even noticed the anniversary slip by.

-srbp-

19 June 2010

Gulf #oilspill economic impact not what it seems

Crude is currently trading eight percent below where it was the day the BP rig in the Gulf of Mexico blew up.

CBC quotes a TD economist as saying that:

“It probably won't have a huge impact [on global oil production]. Deepwater drilling accounts for about seven per cent of global output right now.”

But the same online piece notes that Gulf of Mexico production accounts for 30% of American domestic output.

Now if there should happen to be a complete moratorium on new drilling and exploration in deep water as a result of the BP disaster, that could have interesting repercussions.  All those rigs currently being used in the southern US will be available for renewed exploration efforts in other parts of the world.  Like say offshore Brazil or offshore Newfoundland.

And hey, notice that the CBC article refers to tougher regulation.  That doesn’t mean something like a ban;  it just means Americans will start applying the same sorts of regulation that other countries take for granted and where exploration and production is going on as always.

-srbp-

Weekly Traffic Drivers, June 14-18

  1. Sun News?  Ya gotta be kidding
  2. Telling quotes:  Lower Churchill version 
  3. Eventually the other guys will lose (Newfoundland and Labrador political culture)
  4. Roger Fitzgerald’s bias (The Speaker of the House of Assembly is biased)
  5. NB Connies argue over pork
  6. We thought *you* had jobs for *us* – Russian version
  7. Opportunity for comment – Hebron project
  8. The Le Petomane School of Government (House of Assembly legislative agenda)
  9. One for Chuck (Takogo kak Putin)
  10. The World of the Psychic Economic Forecaster (crude oil price forecasts)

-srbp-

18 June 2010

Weather is here…Russian junket version

1. What a total waste of time!  What politician,  any time in the history of human civilization ever went on a lovely trip to a foreign land entirely at taxpayers’ expense and came back proclaiming that the junket was anything but “productive”?

2.  The St. Petersburg economic forum was about attracting investment to Russia.  Is the Lower Churchill underwater line now going to run to Murmansk, he asked facetiously?

3. Dear Ladies and Gentlemen of Facebook… As for anyone being invited, the SPIEF organizers extended the exclusive invitation to everyone on Facebook.  Find any mention of Canada – let alone Newfoundland and Labrador – on the official Twitter feed for SPIEF.

SPIEf invite

4.  The event ends tomorrow.  Wasn’t the release announcing the glorious events of the trip a wee bit premature?  Don’t anybody mention quotas of happy news.

-srbp-

International Can Opening: Gold hits new record

Gold is up again  - a record US$1,248 an ounce - based on economic problems in Europe and the United States.

Oh yeah.

Bring on the recovery baby.

-srbp-

The World of the Psychic Economic Forecaster

On the one hand Jeff Rubin is in St. John’s telling audience that oil will be back in triple digit pricing within six months and will stay there. It’s a line from his book, basically.

The recovery presumably is underway and is solid.

On the other hand, in another part of the globe someone notices that a key index of shipping tonnage is currently at about 2,784 compared to 11,793 points  - a record high – that it hit just before oil prices hung in the triple digits for a short period in 2008.

Followed of course by a massive collapse.

Jeff says oil prices caused the collapse.

Okay.

Sure.

And that runny nose you have?

It caused your cold.

Chest pains?

Caused your heart attack.

Jeff’s forecast and the indicators don’t quite seem to fit together, do they?

-srbp-

17 June 2010

Opportunity for comment – Hebron project

From the Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board:

“The public is invited to comment on the draft Comprehensive Study Report (CSR) for the Hebron Development Project being proposed by ExxonMobil Canada Properties on behalf of the Hebron Project Proponents: Chevron Canada Limited, Petro-Canada Hebron Partnership, Statoil Canada Ltd., and Nalcor Energy – Oil and Gas Inc.

The Hebron Project will include activities associated with installation, drilling and production, maintenance, and decommissioning of a concrete gravity-based structure (GBS) at the Hebron field, northeast Grand Banks. The Hebron Project will involve construction activities at two locations, the Hebron field and the Bull Arm marine facilities in Bull Arm, Trinity Bay. Construction activities are scheduled to commence in 2012, with petroleum production to begin in 2016 or 2017.

Before any petroleum-related activity can be undertaken in the Newfoundland & Labrador Offshore Area, a detailed and location-specific Environmental Assessment (EA) must be submitted to the Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board (C-NLOPB). In addition, this project is subject to the federal environmental assessment process pursuant to the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act. The CEA Act requirements indicate this environmental assessment must be reviewed using the comprehensive study process as the project involves the proposed construction or installation of a facility for the production of oil or gas, if the facility is located offshore.

Pursuant to Section 21(1) of the CEA Act, the C-NLOPB, on behalf of the responsible authorities for the federal environmental assessment of the project (C-NLOPB, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Transport Canada, Environment Canada and Industry Canada), is inviting the public to comment on the proposed draft CSR. The draft CSR was completed pursuant to the CEA Act and the Scoping Document prepared by the C-NLOPB and the other responsible authorities.

The Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency will provide an opportunity for public comment on the final CSR at a later date.

Comments must be received by the C-NLOPB no later than Wednesday August 11, 2010. Interested persons may submit their comments in the official language of their choice to information@cnlopb.nl.ca or to the following address:”

Public Comments – Hebron Development Project

Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board

5th Floor, TD Place

140 Water St., St. John’s, NL

A1C 6H6

(709) 778-1400

NB Connies argue over pork

New Brunswick Conservative member of parliament Greg Thompson – who isn’t planning on running for re-election – says that Conservative cabinet minister Keith Ashfield is sitting on pork announcements for New Brunswick in an effort to influence the provincial election in September.

Canwest is reporting:

"(Ashfield) stated very clearly, with his own lips to me, 'We're not going to be carrying the province on our backs to the next election.' And, of course, I took exception to that and I'm just wondering who he's attempting to punish," said Thompson, who says he is not running in the next federal election.

Thompson said he suspects Ashfield is defending his chief of staff Fred Nott, who suggested in an e-mail to hold off on approving funding in Thompson's riding until after Sept. 27, the date of the provincial election.

Hmmm.

A fight within the Conservative party?

A family feud as it were.

Sounds vaguely familiar.

Come to think of it, New Brunswick provincial Conservative leader David Alward might want to be careful about having what UNB political scientist David Desserud called “some of that Danny Williams magic” rub off.  Desserud made the comment after Alward took a taxpayer funded partisan campaign hop across to see the Old Man recently. 

Alward might well have been thinking how nice it would be to get the rumoured version of the Danny Williams effect.  But truth be told, the the real Danny Williams Effect can be a bit more like something you pick up on a planet in Star Trek: The Original Series.  You know:  the stuff that makes your hands all itchy and then Sulu comes at you with an epee right before some whack-job belts out another chorus of ‘I’ll take you home again Kathleen.”

Maybe poor Dave got the actual Danny political mojo instead of what he hoped for.

And then: poof!

Instant family feud.

Ouch.

That has got to hurt.

-srbp-

16 June 2010

We thought *you* had jobs for *us* - Russian version

The St. Petersburg International Economic Forum is about encouraging foreigners to invest in Russian development.

The focus of this year's forum will be Russia's modernization, which is captured in its slogan, "Laying the foundation for the future." There will be a special emphasis on making deals with energy and high-tech companies, as well as large financial corporations, Presidential Aide Arkady Dvorkovich said during a news briefing at RIA Novosti on June 15.

So why exactly is a Canadian politician desperately looking for investment in his own province headed all the way to the former Russian capital for a conference about expanding the Russian economy?

Good question, especially considering he is just another one of the thousands headed there as attendees.

Not a keynote speaker.

Not an organizer.

Just another nametag in the room.

The plan is to sign more agreements and memoranda with foreign partners at this year's forum than ever before, Mr. Dvorkovich said.

"We expect that you won't be able to count the signed investment agreements on even two hands," he said, adding that European investors plan to announce a "significant expansion" of investment in Russia.

Something says someone got confused about which St. Petersburg the forum was in.

This one isn’t conveniently close to home.

-srbp-

Related:

Sun News? Ya gotta be kidding

Think of it this way:

Less news.

More boobs.

-srbp-

The Le Petomane School of Government

“Work, work, work”

 

Among the bills passed or on track to be passed in the current sitting of the House of Assembly:

  • Making illegal what is already illegal: Changes to the Highway Traffic Act to make it illegal to send text messages while driving a car.  The Act currently prohibits the use of cellular telephones while driving.  Cell phones are the device people use to send text messages. 
  • And then exempting people from the cell phone ban:  The list of exemptions under the new version of the Act is as impressive as it is vague in places.  It includes police, fire and other emergency responders, people texting or calling someone about something that is allowed under regulations and a whole undefined class of people – like maybe politicians? - specifically allowed to talk on cellular telephones and do other similar things while driving that ordinary folks are barred from doing.
  • The Court Security Act 2010.  Repeats word for word the Court Security Act (passed in 2004 but never enacted) and includes two minor amendments that could have been done by amending the existing Act.
  • The Architects Act 2008, amendment bill:  makes minor amendments to an Act passed in 2008 but not yet in force. See?
  • Three separate bills  that change the Insurance Companies Act:  they could have been one bill or a complete revision of the old Act. Here’s the first amendment bill. 
  • A bill to postpone the date for a report on salaries and benefits for provincial court judges.
  • Two separate amendments to the Income Tax Act that could have been done in one bill.

hedley and BillIt’s like government by a bunch of people who learned everything they know from some online university in the States, like say the William J. Le Petomane School of Government, run by Dean Hedley Lamarr.

 

 

-srbp-

15 June 2010

Save the Jolly Rock Lighthouse

Is there a facebook group for this yet?

Should be.

-srbp-

Kremlinology 22: House sitting and bills passed

The current sitting of the House of Assembly is slated to finish next Tuesday – Wednesday at the latest – and by the time it rises the the House is on track to pass 33 bills.

When was the last time the House sat until the second or third week of June for the spring sitting and passed 33 bills?

2007.

Yep.

The spring sitting before the provincial general election.

In other years since 2003, the House has closed at the very latest on June 4.

Interesting.

-srbp-

Eventually the other guys will lose…

A couple of weeks ago, your humble e-scribbler picked up a story at the political science reunion.  It was about a bunch of university types who met with a political leader looking for some advice.

Do some polling, find out what people are looking for and develop a platform came the advice.  Then go out and work hard to persuade people to join you and vote for you.

No way, came the response.  We don’t need to do that: eventually the other guys will lose.

Telegram editorial page editor Russell Wangersky offered a thoughtful commentary on local politics last week:

Sitting on the government side has been a free ticket to talking down to whatever party's in opposition and just generally acting like God's gift to politics.

It also means a fundamental weakness in opposition - and never forget that the opposition has a crucial role in good government. The weakness is that no one runs to be a member of a strong opposition - instead, potentially strong candidates sit on their hands and wait for the right time to throw their hats in the ring. That time only comes when it looks like they can take the government - and until then, we tend to get leaders of the opposition who are seat-warmers, at best.

 

Wangersky hit on a major problem in local politics, but it isn’t one of majorities.  Nor is it the case that people don’t run to to be part of a strong opposition:  not a single politician has ever run in order to sit on the side of the House that doesn’t have power.

Rather, the problem has to do with the local political culture. 

For starters, politics is seen by many as nothing more than a game.  Voters don’t necessarily weigh policies;  they just make a guess early on which side is going to win and then park their vote with the winner.  That’s where this whole idea comes from about losing one’s vote. being on the winning side is the most important thing for many.

Second, consider that parties don’t divide up along any really well-founded ideological lines either. Take a look at the 1996 Tory platform, for example, and you’ll see basically policies that are similar to the Liberal platform at the time.  In 2003, Danny Williams’ platform included and entire chapter that was nothing more than a précis of the 1992 Strategic Economic Plan

On some issues in that election – like say the idea of a state-owned oil company – all three parties had exactly the same idea.  Just to give a sense of the absence of any ideological divide consider that the New Democrats look on it as if it was actually some kind of public ownership.  Lorraine Michael praises the hell out of it because it looks like something her peeps would like.

In practice, NALCOR is something the local New Democrats should be opposing vehemently.  It runs without adequate public oversight and can hide most of its financial workings from legislative scrutiny. NALCOR has received bags of public cash but produces no identifiable public benefit.

Even if all that weren’t true, somewhere along the line Lorraine missed the biggie clue that should tell her Danny is no advocate of public ownership of the kind New Democrats as social democrats would understand:  Williams has said in the legislature right in front of her that he’d flip the whole deal if the price was right.  New Democrats don’t usually advocate converting principles to cash.

To be sure, the current Williams crowd are viciously partisan in a way locals have seldom seen.  The truly hard core Danny-ites approach politics with the sort of closed-minded zeal that would make your average Fox News watcher green if only with envy.  But still,  what we are referring to in Newfoundland today is not an ideological division,  that is unless Chris Crocker-style hysterical celebrity worship is now a political belief system. 

And through it all, there’s the simple fact that since the Great Sectarian Accommodation of the mid-19th century, the Newfoundland establishment culture does accept open political debate and discussion as being legitimate.  To the contrary, local political culture explicitly divides the world into acceptable views and those which are treasonous, to use the popular freshie-gulper language.

You’ll see a fine example of this time-honoured approach in the comments on a post from 2009.  There’s a back and forth between your humble e-scribbler and a chap who wanted to offer some free advice.  part of the exchange included this::

Complaining about the tone of my comments or saying I am negative (there's a popular one) is really a code for identifying someone who is outside the range of accepted belief. It identifies someone who must conform or be ostracised.

It is a way of suppressing ideas and views which run contrary to that of the dominant authorities. Remember a couple of years ago when DW referred to some people in Stephenville as "dissidents"? Bit of an odd choice of words but, if you appreciate the wider context, it made perfect sense. How about the constant refrain that different ideas are "negative"?

As a last point, I will note that there is one thing I have seen fairly consistent[ly] over the past four or five years. The only people who criticise my tone (even with the little bit of sugar about it being a "nice" blog) or who suggested I am merely a partisan hack advancing something called "Liberal dogma", whatever the hell that is, come from a very particular ideological or partisan background themselves.

They are, in effect, using coded language in another way: to avoid dealing with conflict. They want to suppress some sort of conflict either between their ideas and ones they don't agree with or can't accept or - more typically with the person. In the latter case the sublimation comes from misperception that criticism of an idea is criticism of the person suggesting the idea. Either way it is unhealthy.

This isn’t just an abstraction or a left-over fear from another age. 

Once in power, political parties have been known to use their considerable economic might to punish those who speak publicly even if it simply doesn’t conform to the exact government line. Whether it is that economic punishment or merely the phone call asking if someone had actually meant to say something quoted in the news media, the message of suppression and the need for conformity gets through loudly and clearly.

No one should be surprised that, in such a culture, aspiring politicians often wait around hoping for the day the other guys lose.  Nor is it surprising given such a repressed political environment that in the 60-odd years since Confederation, there have been only three changes of governing political party in Newfoundland and Labrador:  1972, 1989 and 2003.

A healthy democracy requires more than a strong opposition in the legislature.  It requires a strong party system that accepts as legitimate both differences of view and the right to express those differences without fear of reprisal. That strong party system cannot take root in a place where conformity is demanded, where differences are actively suppressed and where politics is reduced to nothing more than a game.

-srbp-

14 June 2010

Telling quotes: Lower Churchill version

The Premier made a few telling comments in the House of Assembly today about the imaginary Lower Churchill project.

Asked about interest in a new American transmission line NALCOR is interested in,  the Premier had this to say:

Mr. Speaker, this Province is not prepared to enter into commitments unless it has actually something to go on. I think this is just the opposite of the question that the hon. member asked last week as to why we had not entered into certain contracts. We had not entered into them because at that point we did not have any power to sell. … [Emphasis added]

Didn’t enter into contracts because there was no power to sell.  Sounds a lot like what actually happened in Quebec.  Faced with the need under open access rules to option space on the lines for power – but having no Lower Churchill power to sell -  NALCOR decided to try and delay the process with administrative appeals.

There’s no point in buying transmission space for power that doesn’t exist.

Of course, that is exactly the opposite of what the Premier told a handful of people who turned up to hear his speech last week in Ottawa.  He told them that Quebec transmission requests sailed through the regulatory agency while NALCOR’s wound up in delays and appeals.  He just didn’t say why they wound up in delays and appeals. [Hint:  it had nothing to do with Hydro-Quebec’s involvement in any conspiracies.]

The Premier also said that:

This is the best, clean, green renewable energy project in North America and it will happen eventually.  [Emphasis added]

You have to listen to the way he added that word “eventually” in there. It was a softly. But it is there and it is also closer to the full story than anything else.  The project will happen eventually. And that’s pretty much what every Premier since Joe Smallwood has known.

The Lower Churchill just isn’t happening on the schedule the Premier promised.  In fact, the project doesn’t have a schedule any more.

Then there was the moment where he seemed a bit confused:

…we will pay for new transmission. There is a co-operative attitude. Your divide and conquer attitude, whether it happens to be Quebec or New Brunswick, simply does not work.

Divide and conquer in Quebec or New Brunswick?  He actually accused the opposition Liberals of trying to divide and conquer in Quebec and New Brunswick. Huh?  Don’t worry.  Anyone else reading the transcript is likely as confused as you are by these sorts of ludicrous claims.

Then again, since the project is off, ludicrous claims are all that remain.

-srbp-

The M-shaped recovery

You’ve heard of the W-shaped recession.

Now think about an M-shaped recovery in the middle. Rather than two dips and then a rise, this would be a rise, followed by a dip, then another rise followed by another big dip.

Regardless of what letter the graph looks like, the latest news suggests the global economy is not ready to go surging back to the world some pundits and speculators would have you believe.

Retail sales in the United States dropped in May, down 1.2 percent from April.  if consumer spending will drive the recovery, then that isn’t good news. Automobile sales and building supply sales were down as well.

Oh yes, and gasoline sales in the U.S. dropped as well.

In some other places, this all might be just another bit of news to skip over on the way to football scores.  But when you live in a province that is increasingly  dependent on exports to the United States, including oil exports, then this isn’t welcome news.

Nor is it welcome to find out that the Chinese have developed a way of producing  a low-cost version of nickel instead of the highly refined version currently in wide use to make stainless steel.  The Chinese output, called nickel pig iron,  is profitable at current world prices for nickel of US$8.50 a pound, according to the Globe and Mail. Compare to the 2007 price of US$24 a pound.

“It does put a cap on world nickel prices. If not in practical terms, at least in psychological terms,” concedes David Constable, vice-president of investor relations at Quadra FNX Mining Ltd., a Canadian company that began as a Sudbury nickel producer but has diversified its production to focus primarily on copper.

BHP Billiton Ltd., the world’s largest mining firm, has already turned bearish on nickel and sold some of its mines. The emergence of NPI was a key factor in the decision, analysts say. They expect the Chinese product’s impact to only get larger with time, as more producers enter the fray.

In Newfoundland and Labrador, Vale Inco workers are still striking against the company.  Production is still going on using replacement workers.  The provincial government recently encouraged both sides to settle the dispute, and with good reason. Government revenue from mining royalties is expected to drop yet again and having the Vale Inco mine at Voisey’s Bay anywhere but at peak production doesn’t help deal with a projected billion dollar cash shortfall. Every nickel counts.

A new low-cost way of producing nickel for steel-making also doesn’t improve the financial picture for the Vale Inco smelter project at Long Harbour.  That project remains the largest capital works project in the province. The provincial government is counting on Vale Inco to help boost the economy in the province both during the construction phase of the Long Harbour project and then with subsequent production of refined nickel.

-srbp-

13 June 2010

Roger Fitzgerald’s bias

Is Speaker Roger Fitzgerald biased?

The answer for any thinking person is unquestionably “yes”.

The most famous example of Fitzgerald’s bias in favour of his own political party is his vote against providing adequate financial resources to the official opposition.  An independent report did not prevent him from joining with his fellow Tories to single  out one opposition party for punishment.

Another example, perhaps a Freudian slip came after the Premier indicated what he thought ought to happen in response to the Cougar helicopter tragedy.  Fitzgerald said he would “do as you [the Premier] directed.”

No Speaker of any parliament anywhere in the Commonwealth other than those that have descended into petty local despotism would so meekly surrender his responsibilities. 

Well, except for Fitzgerald’s equally incompetent predecessor Harvey Hodder that is, but that is another story.

In the legislature this session, Fitzgerald has selectively applied the rules of the House on numerous occasions.  Over at labradore, there are legions of examples of government members and cabinet ministers breaking the simple rule against using names in the House. They do it to praise their master and Fitzgerald, knowing which way the very strong wind blows, lets them go on and on, as did his predecessor Harvey Hodder before him.

Each day, the House is a constant display of rudeness and crudity coming from the legion of government bobble-heads.  Some of the worst offenders are ministers like Kathy Dunderdale, Kevin O’Brien and the ever embarrassing John Hickey.

The heckling is confined largely to Question period which is, as most people know, the one time when the opposition can score any political points and get some news time compared to the government party.

Their political purpose in all this heckling is simple: intimidate the already small-in-numbers opposition.  Throw them off their game.  Break their stride. As the opposition has scored political points this session, as the government has screwed up, so too has the volume of the heckling and catcalls increased proportionately.

Fitzgerald has been deaf to it all.

Oh sure Fitzgerald has stood and cautioned members about their behaviour on a couple of occasions.  And sure, Hansard is full of his shouts of “order, order”.  But Fitzgerald selectively chooses who he disciplines and, as we have seen this week, how he acts.

This past week, Fitzgerald took aim at opposition leader Yvonne Jones.  Anyone listening to the audio version of the House will understand that Jones was not the most frequent cause of disorder nor was she the most vocal one. She also likely didn’t start any of it. Yet it was Jones whom Fitzgerald singled out.

Charlene Johnson was under fire.

She asked Fitzgerald to shut up the opposition leader specifically and he did so.

Fitzgerald did not merely ask for silence as he has done in the past.  He added a personal and revealing twist:

“Gone are the days that the Speaker is going to ask people to leave the Chamber. It is playing into the political hands of the people who are causing the disorder, but the people who are causing disorder will remain invisible to the Chair until there is an apology issued.”

He is referring, of course, to a couple of episodes in this session where opposition members refused to withdraw remarks and so were asked to leave the chamber.  Being named is a time-honoured form of protest, a nod to the rules and a slap at the same time.

For Fitzgerald to single the behaviour out with the words “playing into the political hands” suggests that he is sensitive not to the simple matter of order and decorum in the House but to the political points scored by the opposition. Truth be told, both Fitzgerald and his partisan associates seemed surprised when Marshall Dean made his stand on the sensitive air ambulance issue.

But note that Fitzgerald has made no such comment about the government members, especially those who have repeatedly violated the rules on using names in the legislature in order to score political points.

And an experienced member of the House like Fitzgerald knows full well that his new policy of ignoring certain members hurts only one group:  the opposition. It will not silence any of his political cronies nor will it stop them from doing their job of shouting down the tiny voices of dissent in the House of Assembly. john Hickey doesn’t rise to ask questions nor, thankfully, does he get to answer them very often.

No.

Fitzgerald had to know that his new rule would serve only muzzle the opposition.

And in that one moment, Fitzgerald both admitted his bias.  If this were any other parliament, Fitzgerald would already have resigned in disgrace.

For Fitzgerald to hide behind the claim, offered to CBC radio Morning Show this past Friday,  that he is a guardian of free speech for people in the House with weak voices is as hypocritical as it is an insult to the intelligence of the people of Newfoundland and Labrador.

Fitzgerald’s actions this past week make it plain he has the same disregard for free speech in the House as the fellow from whom he took direction during the Cougar tragedy.

Government House leader Joan Burke was quite right last Thursday when she quoted from parliamentary authorities on the need for impartiality in a Speaker.  She quoted Beauchesne:

"In order to ensure complete impartiality the Speaker has usually relinquished all affiliation with any parliamentary party. The Speaker does not attend any party caucus nor take part in any outside partisan political activity."

These last two points are not, as Burke contended,  “significant political sacrifices.”  They are requirements of the job.

But Burke is right to say that impartiality is important both to to the integrity and functioning of the House. It is so important, in fact, that parliamentary authorities like Beauchesne have for centuries singled out the Speaker for protection against unfounded and unwarranted attacks on his integrity.

Unfortunately not many people understand that, as a result of those protections set up by noted authorities, being Speaker does not give one a form of diplomatic immunity for all offences against proper behaviour, impartiality and the integrity of the office. It merely raises the bar for those who must deal with a Speaker who, as Fitzgerald has done, transgresses the rules of the House himself in such an egregious manner so regularly and apparently so blindly.

New Democrat leader Lorraine Michael missed this point when she recently refrained from commenting on Fitzgerald’s behaviour.  So too did the Telegram editorialist miss this bit in what was otherwise an excellent essay on the current mess which is the legislature.

Roger Fitzgerald’s behaviour as Speaker has undermined the integrity of the Speaker’s office, contributed to the loss of order in the House and generally helped to create as unhealthy a democratic environment in the legislature as one has seen anywhere in the centuries of parliamentary history. 

Unfortunately, Yvonne Jones made the mistake of speaking her mind without herself apparently understanding the correct action to take. She spoke out of evident frustration.  That correct action would have been to bring before the House a substantive motion of non-confidence in the Speaker.  Along with properly documented examples of his inappropriate rulings, the case against Fitzgerald could be well and easily made in the House.

It would actually not matter that Fitzgerald’s former caucus-mates would vote down the motion;  Jones’ case would be obvious for all to see. This would leave Fitzgerald in the embarrassing spot of trying to carry on having already been suitably tagged for what he is not just in this province but throughout the parliamentary world community.  Fitzgerald would be hard-pressed not to resign.

And if Fitzgerald tried to prevent the motion from coming to the floor, either alone or in concert with his political friends, or if he and his partisan associates piled on the petty revenge, then their actions would be plainly seen as well. 

As it is, the House is likely to remain saddled with yet another biased Speaker.  The House will remain managed not by the competent and impartial member of whom Beauchesne and others have spoken spoke but by the mob the current Speaker so obviously serves.

If Fitzgerald had any regard for the House he would either straight himself up and start acting like a proper Speaker or resign immediately. 

Experience suggests that nothing will change in the near term.  This will become yet another example of a party which has lost its sense of political direction.

That’s okay.  To paraphrase what one wise old political hand said in 2001, either the government party will change or the voters will change them.

-srbp-

11 June 2010

Paul Lane – bigger ambitions?

Is Mount Pearl city councillor Paul Lane  - described by the Telegram recently as a long-time Conservative  - going to seek the Conservative nod in the next federal election?

Might be.

He turned up on Crap Talk Thursday speaking as a concerned citizen.

His topic:

Lighthouses.

Clearly, this is a big issue in Mount Pearl.  They are afraid of losing their lighthouse on the wharf right next to the Rolls Royce marine engine repair facility.

All sarcasm aside – Mount Pearl is land-locked -  when a politico turns up talking about something not related to his current political office, odds are good he is laying the groundwork for a run at another office.

Since there is no provincial election coming up with an available seat, the only logical conclusion would be that he is looking for the Connie nod against Siobhan Coady in St. John’s South-Mount Pearl.

Now that might be interesting if – as it now seems –  the Old Man will not be waging a jihad against his fellow Conservatives next time. That means all the local Tories who voted for Ryan Cleary purely as a protest over the Family Feud can go safely back to voting for their federal cousins.

That could be interesting in that the race would then be between Coady and Lane with Ryan bringing up the rear.   Ditto in a race where another staunch Conservative, like say Tommy Osborne, decided to get some pensionable federal time.

And for those who doubt the wisdom of the mighty political oracle known as Bond, just remember that everyone laughed at the prediction that Steve Kent would switch to the provincial Tories having previously supported both the federal and provincial Liberals and – if memory serves – the federal proto-Connies at one point.

-srbp-

10 June 2010

Counter-spinning negativity – Jerome! version

So there’s Jerome! trying to spin the Ottawa speech to Randy Simms over at Open Line.  Big crowd.  Sceptical at first but then slowly realising the truth until a giant standing ovation at the end.

Uh huh.

Right.

Actually, the audience was small, according to reports from some in the room.  Tables packed but a small number of tables spread out in a relatively small room at a hotel where the Canadian Club of Ottawa has been known to jam the place to the rafters for speeches by other premiers from the Far East.

The audience include a bunch of federal politicians from Newfoundland and Labrador, the majority of whom have a track record of jumping when the Old Man barks. They had to show up.

But no giant groundswells of editorial opinion one way or t’other. The media coverage generally was pretty light:  Reuters Africa. roflmao.

What did get coverage?

A fake lake and some ludicrous claim by a couple of people about a political merger conversation that never was.

Face it:  if four inches of water and David Dingwall’s former political staffer make a bigger news hit than a speech by a provincial Premier claiming all sorts of hideous things about another provincial government, you have the definition of a complete public relations disaster.

That’s why Jerome! was torquing so desperately.

-srbp-

Gushue on blogs

Over at John Gushue’s Telegram column, you’ll find some wise advice and observations about blogs and blogging.

John’s been the force behind what may well be the province’s longest running and certainly the best blog: dot, dot,dot.  You’ll find John’s eclectic work in a link in the ‘Sir Robert Recommends’ pile on the left of by simply clicking here.  no one will be surprised to know that John is typically the most popular out-link from these parts.  People like to head from here to there and frankly, there really isn’t a finer place to go.

As John notes in the title of his post, blogging isn’t likely to be a source of income.  If you think blogging will make money or even bring in some business for you, that may depend on the market where you are.  Around these parts, blogging isn’t a money making proposition.

There are probably as many reasons for writing a blog as there are people writing.  Blogging is a personal thing, after all. John makes that point in several ways.

Take a look around the Internet and you can find a variety of blogs covering everything from hobbies to technology to politics.  If people are doing it or interested in it, then there is a blog out there somewhere about it.

That’s really the amazing thing about the Internet.  People can express themselves freely using whatever talents they have.  Some people may chose to be complete twits.  That’s fine: for every one of them, there is at least one like the people over there who Sir Robert Recommends.

If you’ve been thinking about blogging, just jump in.  The world can use more people like you online.

Just make sure you read John Gushue’s top-notch advice first.

-srbp-