30 September 2010

NL population drops in Q2 #cdnpoli

Newfoundland and Labrador was the only province to experience a population loss in the second quarter of 2010, according to figures released Wednesday by Statistics Canada. The cause is primarily net interprovincial outflows, in other words outmigration. That’s also the first drop since 2008.

While the provincial government issued a news released last quarter trumpeting the gain of a mere 96 people, you are unlikely to see a release like it this month talking about a drop three times the size.

Here’s what the past five years looks like, by quarter.

population Q2 2010

Now it could be nothing at all but a blip.  Then again, it could be a sign of things to come.  Note that for the last three quarters the rate of growth has dropped dramatically.  That suggests the steam was going out of things and that the Q1 results were the peak of the curve.

You can see that more clearly if you look at this chart:

population 2 Q2 2010 In less than a year, the province went from gaining 130 people in a quarter to losing 300.

And actually, this could also mean that the North American economy is on solid footing.  The change in migration patterns for Newfoundland and Labrador in Q3 2007 actually heralded the onset of the recession.  A long-term analysis of provincial population suggests that the population grows shortly before major recession.  Those are all people working elsewhere with relatively weak ties to the community who opt to come back to the province to weather the economic storm.  When things pick up, they head off again.

And as much as the province’s finance minister may like to believe otherwise, odds are that is what’s going on again.

Great news, wot?

Well, not really. The longer term demographic problems that come with that aren’t ones the current administration and its unsound financial and economic management are not ready to cope with.   Not by a long shot.

Don’t forget that in this pre-election and pre-leadership period, you can bet the government won’t be willing or able to do much to start adjusting to cope with the harsh reality of the economy and demographics.  In fact, the next 18 months are basically a write-off for serious government decisions to deal with the problem. 

On top of that you can forget the period between the election and whenever the new Premier arrives to replace the Old Man. And if that doesn’t wind up happening happen until a couple of years before the 2015 election you can almost write off dramatic policy shifts until that election is history as well.

Wow.

Not to worry sez you.  There’s oil.

Sure there is.

Unfortunately, production and royalties won’t be able to cope with the demand for added revenue.  There’s not much else going on to take up the slack and for good measure, the current administration plans to use oil money to fuel increases for education and health care and use exactly the same money to build the $14 billion Lower Churchill project.

Here’s lookin’ at you, kid…

…as you leave the province again.

At least we’ll always have Ottawa.

- srbp -

29 September 2010

24 French

Friday was a busy day for the province’s glorious leader.

Helicopter ride with Steve and Fabe out to visit places hit by Igor.

A bit of video fun somewhere in there.

24 french

For those who can’t read that, it says “vendredi, le 24 septembre 2010”.

Maybe if Mark Critch from This hour as 22 minutes knew about the helicopter ride long enough in advance, he could have had even more fun with the Premier’s French.

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When the status quo is not an option…

The newly elected premier of New Brunswick is promising to tackle a provincial budget deficit approaching a billion dollars by “holding the line” on taxes and eliminating “wasteful” spending.

Oh yes.

And he’ll balance the budget in four years.

It’s going to be very interesting to see how he manages to sort out New Brunswick’s financial mess, at the same time, promising no radical change.

The New Brunswick Tories have their work cut out for them.

A new Progressive Conservative government led by David Alward will:

  • Cancel future tax reductions f or the 1,300 richest New Brunswickers, who have an average income of $450,000, announced by Shawn Graham last year. This move will allow New Brunswickers to keep more than $120 million over the next four years to tackle the deficit and protect front line services, senior care and education for our children.
  • Target a two percent reduction in wasteful and unnecessary spending while protecting spending on priority programs in health, education and services to those in need. Under the leadership of a temporary Government Review Office, this action will result in savings of $150 million annually.
  • Create a “Taxpayers First” website for people to submit their ideas on where to save money in government to reduce the deficit and where to invest in better programs and services.
  • Hold the line on cutting corporate taxes to 10%, still the lowest rate in the country, preserving $25 million in annual funding for government programs.
  • Reduce by 50% the small business tax rate during our four-year term.
  • Require that the Auditor General produce a special report on the province’s finances 60 days before each fixed election date.
  • Propose new laws to start down the road to balanced budgets within four years.
  • Increase the frequency of financial reports so that New Brunswickers can judge our performance.
  • Propose new rules on how much the provincial government can spend in any one year, including a legislated cap on total spending that can only be exceeded under special circumstances.
  • Bring forward legislation requiring government to table a deficit reduction plan with every budget, and that the Auditor General verify the results annually.
  • Encourage more collaboration between government departments to promote efficiencies and share common services.

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For all the perception problems…

As Brigadier Tony Stack reminded everyone in an interview with CBC Radio on Tuesday [audio file] , the 1,000 members of the Canadian Forces at work on relief operations in Newfoundland are really just adding to a substantial effort already done by provincial government employees and volunteers.

The Town of Bonavista lifted its state of emergency on Tuesday.  That’s another milestone in what will be a long road to complete recovery.

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28 September 2010

Cringeworthy 2

Via Globe gossip columnist Jane Taber, what turns out to be a surprisingly perceptive appraisal of the Old Man’s latest foray into semi-pro television humour:

He also learned how to say a couple of other choice phrases in French: “Miss, miss,” the Premier says, waving his hand impatiently while his seatmate, a little boy, looks quizzically at him. “I’ve got a question. How, how do you say, ‘Quebec is getting away with highway robbery’ in French?”

In case you were wondering, this is a joke. Mr. Williams is a guest on CBC’s comedy show, 22 Minutes, Tuesday night. But it’s not very funny; it’s cringe-worthy.

Good thing the Old Man wasn’t thinking of a leap to federal politics when he finally hangs up the local crown.

Maybe by then Mark will be looking for a replacement.

- srbp -

Cringeworthy

What better time to issue a news release noting that a whole bunch of volunteers are helping out after a disaster than four days into it and long before the thing is over?

The wording, of course, must have the ring of a rejected greeting card to increase the sincerity of the sentiment behind the release.

Oh yes:  Don’t forget to plug your website and advertising campaign with the slogan that in no way is the subject of guffaws and derision across the province.

Finish with a snappy close that in absolutely no way came out of government-issued phrase generator.  Like “to help ensure that [insert event type here] happens in the most safe and efficient way possible.”

The provincial government agency responsible for the volunteer sector – Dave Denine, minister - would never be so tacky.

Would they?

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The politicisation of public emergencies

[Reposted with edits to correct spelling and improve readability.

CBC commentator Bob Wakeham [CBC Radio audio file observed Monday morning that:

Also last week the emergency measures organization seemed to keep a low profile.  perhaps its employees were doing what they were supposed to be doing, but some of my journalistic friends working this hurricane story told me EMO seemed more than willing to hand over visual and public responsibility to cabinet ministers, to talking heads all of whom one would think know little or nothing about these matters, certainly a lot less than officials with a specific mandate to deal with, as the name implies, emergencies.

Right after saying that, Wakeham noted that there did not seem last week to be a sense of immediacy to the emergency response.

These two elements are connected.

And they tie as well to an observation made later Monday morning by the host of the morning talk show in the province.  Randy Simms wondered if the province’s fire and emergency management agency had a communications plan and any people responsible for carrying it out. Simms likened the situation to a disaster in the United States or the cougar crash.  He wondered where were the daily  - or even more frequent - technical briefings that featured, front and centre, the people actually delivering the emergency service, telling the rest of us what they were doing.

What Simms is talking about is what one expect in any other part of North America. Effective public communications are an integral part of recovery operations. Priority should go to basic information – where to find shelter, contact numbers to report problems, etc. – so that people who need help can get it.

This is a basic communications principle:  give people the information they need.

Regular operational briefings allows the emergency managers to make sure that accurate information on the entire emergency gets to the public using news media.  A typical briefing would include maps showing local situations and the type of problems being dealt with.  People get information.  They can track progress.  As events develop they can gain confidence that things are getting better. They can also better assess their own situation and make sensible decisions about their own situation;  they may need to just hang tough and weather the discomfort.  Or they can seek help.  Either way, information helps people make the right decision and have confidence.

In the modern age, officials should be using websites, twitter and facebook to help push out detailed information. These can also be ways of feeding information into the emergency management room.  News media bring pictures.  E-mails and twitter posts can give clues to where problems and that will supplement the information coming to the operations centre from health, fire, emergency, roads and other officials who should be present in the command centre.

The competence of the recovery - readily displayed to the public - instils public confidence.

Now compare that to the provincial government’s efforts during this emergency.

The scope of the emergency was apparent by the middle of the afternoon on Tuesday, the day of the storm.  The Premier, emergency services minister Tom Hedderson, health minister Jerome Kennedy and MHA Paul Davis held a news conference at 4:00 PM. Kennedy and Hedderson talked about dealing with breaks in the roads around the region.

As the Telegram reported:

[Williams] said he would also personally deal with those affected.

“With regard to any claims – obviously that’s not the priority right now, but certainly it will be” he said. "Tomorrow we will be on the ground in the region in as many communities as we can – myself and ministers and members – to see what the needs are.”

Even though the scope of the emergency was pretty obvious on Tuesday, the fire and emergency management agency did not issue any news release on Wednesday, nor was [any information available on]  its website.

The first news release with an emergency services contact on it – at 10:55 AM [Wednesday] – was about the helicopter tours.  Line departments issued notices about building and road closures.

Nor did anyone from emergency services distribute information via news media on a shelter available in Clarenville for travelers stranded by the storm.  Many wound up sleeping in their cars at a local motel, a tale carried by local news media for several days after the storm.  Some, like a group of truckers parked at a shopping mall to ride out the storm, only found out about the shelter by happenstance.

At no point did government officials issue advisories on measures to take in areas where local drinking water supplies had been damaged, were suspect or cut off entirely. The issue of drinking water seemed to come up in one media briefing only as a hope that the military would not have to supply that, even though they came with water purification facilities on three ships and in the engineer detachment from Gagetown.

The second media release by emergency services – at 4:45 PM [Wednesday] -  discussed how to file claims for financial assistance.  It would be two days after the storm before the agency released public contact information and almost a week later before there was a single toll-free number for the public to call. Even then, the website at first contained little more than a chronological listing of news releases.

The next day  - September 23 - line departments issued updates about road closures and openings.  The emergency management agency issued no releases nor did it conduct any media briefings.

The first media briefing came on Friday, September 24, a full three days after the storm.  Scheduled for 3:00 PM, it actually took place an hour later.  As noted in another post, the federal aid the public knew about and the aid described by the minister were radically different. The briefing contained little in the way of concrete information about the scope of the disaster, what the problems were and what was being done to deal with them. The full picture of the disaster only became apparent on Thursday and Friday as news media from St. John’s fanned out to see for themselves what was going on.

In between all this, though, Hedderson and an assortment of cabinet ministers and backbench members of the government caucus did manage to call local open line shows and establish themselves as points of contact for emergency services. Remarks by the mayor of Lawn to CBC Radio’s Jeff Gilhooley on September 27 [audio link]  suggest that the way to get things done was to call ministers, not the emergency services officials.

What Wakeham and Simms are seeing is what the current government communications approach breeds.

The government party approaches everything in government as political, all the time. What people are seeing in the context of this emergency is nothing more than a carry-over from the sort of political communications described here in late 2006. [Permanent Campaign: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4]

In that light, it isn’t surprising that, as Wakeham suggested, emergency management officials handed over “visual and public responsibility to cabinet ministers.”  Nor is it astonishing that the most important government communications the day after what proved to be the worst disaster for the province in modern times was not information needed by people affected by the disaster. It was about a sight-seeing tour by politicians who were not  - or who ought not to have been - involved directly in managing the crisis.

This is not the result of a conscious and cynical effort nor is it a new phenomenon.  As noted here previously, the fundamental problem with government emergency management dates back at least a decade. The politicization of emergency response comes from two root causes.

First, the entire government is organized along lines that politicise everything.  It takes tendencies that existed before 2003 and exaggerates them to an extreme degree.  To get a sense of how the current administration operates, think about the controversy over fire inspections in which the political authorities silenced the acknowledged expert – the fire commissioner  - as the public spokesperson in favour of a cabinet minister who clearly knew very little about the subject.  In the current emergency, the entire system from top to bottom merely reverts to basic programming.

And that leads to the second point:  the absence of effective emergency management practices, particularly for communications. The current business plan and activity forecast for the fire and emergency services agency includes development of a communication plan as a priority of a new communications specialist hired only two years ago. This is the embodiment of the old axiom:  fail to plan; plan to fail. There are other factors, like training and experience, but the two noted here are the biggest contributors to what Simms and Wakeham are seeing.

The emergency in the aftermath of Hurricane Igor is bad enough.  The provincial government’s response has been hampered by weaknesses in the management of the response. There is reason to believe that some of the ministers involve recognise the problems in the current emergency response. These problems have been around for a while, but they only continue because politicians see a greater political value in taking over the public face of emergency response.

This emergency  - and the political risks associated with it - should be reason enough to ensure that whatever problems there are get sorted out before the next emergency, no matter how big or small it is.

- srbp -

Note:  The author is a public relations professional with more than 20 years senior management experience in the public and private sectors. That experience includes six years in the Premier’s office and six years as an army reserve public affairs officer.  In 1999/2000, the author was the Public Affairs Officer for Task Force Newfoundland and Labrador, part of the Department of National Defence’s preparation for the potential Y2K emergency.

St. John’s housing market feels national slowing trend

From RBC Economics:

Atlantic Canada’s housing market was not immune to the significant slowdown in activity that has swept across the country since spring. In the last few months, housing resales in the region fell back to the lows reached during the late 2008 to early 2009 downturn. The decline was felt across the board, including areas, such as St. John’s, which were on a tear earlier this year. The cooling in demand loosened up market conditions a little – they were very tight at the start of this year – and restrained home price increases.  In turn, this limited the rise in homeownership costs in the region. Depending on the housing type, RBC Housing Affordability Measures moved up between 1.1 and 1.5 percentage points in the second quarter and remain very close to long-term averages. Overall, housing affordability in Atlantic Canada
continues to be quite attractive and signals little in the way of undue
stress at this point.

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27 September 2010

NL only province to post jump in EI claims in July

The number of Employment Insurance claimants dropped in every province in Canada in July compared to June except in Newfoundland and Labrador.  The province saw an increase of 2.4% in EI claims in July, matching the increase seen in June from May.

Year over year, the number of claims is down 16.2%.

In June to July 2009, the number of EI claims went up by 6.5% but then dropped by 8.7% the next month. 

Over the past year, the number of claims has dropped each month, except for the past two.  Most months, the drops were modest, ranging from 0.0% to 1.3%.  Except for the July to August 2009 drop of 8.7%, the largest drop was 3.2% from October to November 2009.

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26 September 2010

Recovery effort continues #igornl

Via Trudy Lundrigan and Flickr, here are some photos of the impact Hurricane Igor had on Lawn, Newfoundland.

Lawn is currently out of gasoline.  A shipment of gasoline sent by ship to the southern part of the Burin Peninsula didn’t stretch far enough to cover the community.  CBC quotes the mayor of the town saying:

"We're waiting now. We've got no gas here whatsoever," said Mayor Bill Lockyer, before calling the decision that put his community in this position "brainless."

Lockyer said given the road conditions, Lawn residents have the longest drive to the Grand Bank hospital of any Burin town. And the community of almost 800 is home to at least three people who require dialysis treatment, Lockyer said.

The provincial government is using some of the government’s own ferries to move supplies across Placentia Bay to the communities on the southern part of the peninsula.  They are currently isolated by damaged bridges.  While repairs are underway, it is possible they may only be able to handled reduced traffic loads for the first while after they are back in service.

CBC also quotes one resident who is concerned about the current state of affairs:

"We haven't seen any help at all," [Jenny] Tarrant said.

Tarrant said apart from what she can find online, she's not hearing any plans for relief. She said until Lawn residents get some answers about when aid is coming, concern will continue to spread.

Assessment of roads continues but the widespread nature of the damage continues to hamper recovery efforts.  Canadian Forces engineers decided to postpone bridge installations on the Bonavista Peninsula Sunday pending an improvement in road conditions.  The existing state of roads prevents heavy trucks from moving equipment into position.

All areas of the province now have electricity.  Newfoundland Power crews completed the the job of reconnecting lines over the weekend and are now focused on dealing with individual homes and small clusters that have lost power due to tree damage to specific sections of the grid.

large A map released by the Government of Canada over the weekend gives some indication of the scope of the problem facing recovery teams. Towns marked in purple have declared states of emergency.  those in red have food shortages.  The map is current as of 1130 hours local time, Saturday 25 Sep 2010.

While roads damage is keeping some communities isolated, recovery teams have airlifted fuel into a number of towns and villages.

 

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Igor emergency and donation info #igornl

Via Rick Martin, an up-to-date pile of information related to Hurricane Igor emergency response and donations.

If you need contact info or want to assist by donations, this is the place to visit first.

Rick Martin’s Igor* Info

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* Freudian slip correction

25 September 2010

Comprehensive #igornl coverage

@cbcnl’s website gives the most comprehensive collection of Hurricane Igor coverage out there.

You’ll also find a decent site at The Telegram, @stjohnstelegram on Twitter. Some stunning photos on their story pages.  Hopefully they’ll collect them together in a special space.  The shots and the shooters deserve that recognition.

  • Read further, Twillick Update:  There are three photo slide shows on the Telly site.  Just scroll down to find them.
  • There is also a great collection of photos on the Packet website.  That’s the weekly in Clarenville.
  • The Southern Gazette is the weekly on the Burin peninsula, another area severely affected by Igor.

NTV News doesn’t have a separate Igor space but their website contains all their broadcast stories. Ditto VOCM, the largest private radio broadcaster in the province.

 

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Traffic Drivers, September 20-24, 2010

  1. Jane Taber – Twit
  2. Hurricane Igor:  Emergency Response TASFU
  3. Important Igor Emergency Information. Not Really.
  4. Katrina North:  the picture changes
  5. Economics as ideology or, The Other Dismal Science
  6. Full of sound and fury
  7. Ok Go’s latest video – White Knuckles
  8. Labour force indicators raise questions about economic health and competitiveness
  9. Court docket now online
  10. A campaign of pork and entitlement (reprint)

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24 September 2010

Canadian Forces backgrounders: #igornl

Update: 26 Sep 10:  Third ship is actually HMCS Montreal, another FFH, not HMCS Moncton as earlier indicated.

Elements of 4 ESR are involved in bridge construction and supplying potable water to communities where fresh water is unavailable, according to media reports. in addition to army water purification capability, the three FFHs have the capacity to produce drinking water.

HMC ships Fredericton and Montreal arrived from Halifax.  HMCS St. John’s at St. John’s during and immediately after IGOR.  The week before the ship had carried the Lieutenant-Governor on his annual tour to remote coastal communities.

- 30 -

Original Post (24 Sep 10):

For those who are interested, here are some links to background information on the units and equipment involved in the Canadian Forces’ disaster relief operation in Newfoundland:

The Regiment's primary operational task is the provision of sustainment engineering such as water supply, route maintenance and construction, vertical construction and the provision of utilities. The Regiment is also capable of performing traditional engineer tasks in the following areas: mobility and survivability.

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Harper/Williams disconnect #igornl

According to the Prime MInister, engineers from 4 Engineer Support Regiment in Gagetown are on their way to Newfoundland to assist in disaster relief.

As well, two or three ships – HMCS Fredericton, HMCS St. John’s and maybe HMCS Moncton – and helicopters on Fredericton and St. John’s are available for hurricane relief as well.

News media are reporting that. Here’s a Telegram story complete with a picture of Fredtown offshore Grand Bank.

Seems no one told the provincial government which delayed a newser Friday afternoon by a whole hour after the Prime Minister left town.

In addition, the Provincial Government has requested from the Government of Canada the provision of support from the Department of National Defense. [sic] The specific support being requested consists of Sea King helicopters and the ship-based naval support necessary to maintain operation of these helicopters, which have night flying and heavy lifting capabilities.

That release seems like the provincial government specifically wanted to limit the DND help available by asking only for helicopters.  And for the record, the helicopters don’t actually need ships.  The ships just happen to bring other capabilities with them, like water-purification units, medical facilities and other essential services needed during disaster relief operations.

Either the person who wrote that bit of the news release simply didn’t know what was going on or he or she wanted to minimise the scope of the help the provincial government needed.

Still no word on whether the engineers are coming or why the provincial government didn’t request help earlier.  Given the magnitude of the disaster it seems strange the provincial government would hesitate to take advantage of the considerable resources available even through the local reserve forces of the navy, army and air force.

Katrina North: the picture changes #igornl

Some four days after Hurricane Igor ripped through Newfoundland and Labrador, more and more people are calling local media to complain about the lack of provincial government action in the wake of the disaster.

On Friday afternoon, local media reports suggest that:

  1. despite knowing they had a huge disaster on their hands from the beginning, the provincial government never called for federal government assistance; and,
  2. for some reason the provincial government has still not requested federal assistance even as the Canadian Forces prepares to send elements of 4 Engineer Support Regiment from Gagetown, New Brunswick  and three ships from the Canadian navy to provide humanitarian assistance.

Make no mistake: responsibility for emergency response in the province sits squarely on the shoulders of the politicians who flitted around in helicopters for two days.  The federal government can only act once they get a request from the province. If the Canadian Forces aren’t in Newfoundland already it is simply because the provincial government didn’t ask for them.

In the days ahead, the provincial government may face some very difficult questions about its failure to seek help even when the magnitude of the disaster was well known.  Things were bad enough on the first day.  They were painfully obvious by the second.  By Friday – the fourth day – the scope was overwhelming.

Who knows why the provincial cabinet delayed asking for help as long as it did?  One thing is for sure, you can tell there are political consequences to the provincial government’s inaction.  Were it not so, the government’s political friends – like Bill Rowe – would not be trying so desperately to push responsibility for emergency response onto someone else’s shoulders.

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23 September 2010

Important #igornl Emergency Information. Not really.

Education minister Darin King called VOCM’s night time call-in show to take a pot-shot at people criticising government for its supposed lack of emergency communications.

He and his colleagues have been working hard on behalf of their constituents, Darin assured us all.  Darin and Clyde Jackman only took time away from their districts to go to a cabinet meeting in St. John’s.  Presumably, if they came to St. John’s, they flew there on a chartered helicopter but that will be another story.

Darin mentioned he has been pushing information out via his Facebook site, for example.  Okay, sez your humble e-scribbler, let’s check out the important storm and recovery info Darin is offering his constituents.

There are a couple of things on Darin’s website, as of 2130 hours Thursday night.  Like this tourism notice:

king1

The other thing is basically a report on his helicopter ride, issued September 23, which would be the day after his ride. Note that it doesn’t really contain any official emergency response information and what it does give is pretty vague. 

As for Facebook, there are 12 notes on Darin’s “wall” in the past two days.  Two of them contain information about road repairs.  He had to get the big giant head in there though, in case people might not recall where they found the information.  Maybe it is just there as a reminder that – as Darin said a couple of times during his call Thursday night – you have to check the source of the information:

king2

The other wall posts are essentially all pictures taken during the recent helicopter tour by the Premier and a few other bigwigs.

The comms assessment?  The noise to signal ratio is pretty high.  Lots of static:  very little useful information.

But the scarcity of solid information on Darin’s site suggests that even cabinet ministers aren’t getting good updates on what is going on. That reinforces the point that the provincial government’s emergency response system desperately needs a complete overhaul. If you take Darin’s helicopter ride “update” at face value, there’s no sign of the emergency services division at all. The whole thing seems rather haphazard.

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Hurricane #IGORNL Emergency Response: TASFU

One thing is becoming clear a couple of days after Hurricane Igor swept through eastern Newfoundland:  for all the weather and other emergencies in the province over the past decade, the province’s emergency response system – municipal and provincial – remains woefully ill-prepared and poorly organized.

All the same, it is nice to know that the province’s major daily newspaper and the provincial agency responsible for emergency response have their priorities in order.  As ordinary citizens in Clarenville arrange boatloads of supplies to help people in isolated communities on nearby Random Island, the Telegram and Fire and Emergency Services – Newfoundland and Labrador want to make sure people get their paperwork in order so that those claims for federal assistance or insurance coverage will flow easier.

It’s taken FES two whole days to post a web link to any Igor information and, chronologically,  the first release is the one linked:  document everything so you can file claims.  There’s not very much solid and up-to-date information road closures, power outages or what to do if there is a specific problem. That sort of thing, by the way, is being done in exemplary fashion by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police even though it isn’t their job. For the provincial government, it’s hard to find out any concrete information.

Like say you are in one of those isolated communities and need medical help.  Where do you go?  Well, apparently the best thing to do is call the local radio station.  The government’s ever-vigilant agents will pick up the call and get on the case to deliver a peachy response.

But what if you don’t have a phone?

Maybe you can flag down one of the government-chartered helicopters ferrying politicians hither and yon so these tourists can see for themselves the magnitude of the disaster. They talk to reporters about the sights, incidentally, as if they, themselves were either in it or doing anything substantive about it.  With rare exceptions, they aren’t.

In St. John’s, two days later, the city website has one thing about Igor issued after the storm hit. It’s an advisory on where to drop off tree bits. Never mind that people have been using those spots since they started cleaning up – 24 hours and more ago – and that this information is potentially the least important stuff of all the city is responsible to its citizens for. 

But still the average citizen cannot tell where the power in town is off and what traffic lights are functioning.  This is crucial safety information for those of us trying to get to work or get children to school.  None of that is available from the city but residents of the capital could hear a councilor this morning on radio talking up the great city emergency plan.

Then this politician issued the warning that because power is off at the bus depot, they can’t keep up with regular maintenance and might have to reduce service.  One wonders why they would take such a drastic measure if there are other city facilities with power and other spaces in the metro area where they might relocate bus maintenance temporarily.

Two mayors hit on the problem this morning while chatting on a local open line show.  One is the host of the show and the other called in to advise the world that his community is now officially out of gas at the local gas stations.  The only road is down and people are hoping the road will be fixed within 24 hours or so.  Other than that there is no plan – apparently – on how someone might get fuel for generators and such into the affected area.

The two mayors talked about lessons to be learned after things were all over.  They are absolutely right.  That’s the time to figure out what to do and what not to do next time based on experience in this event.

But then one of the mayor’s offered the view that maybe the emergency response  this time has not been as good as it should have been.

He’s absolutely right.

The provincial government spends more money today on emergency response than it ever did before.  There’s a whole division of government to handle central co-ordination where just a decade ago there only four people for the whole province.

And yet:  TASFU. 

Things are still fouled up.

The main reason is that for all the lessons readily evident from other emergencies, none have been learned.  People want you to believe that 9/11 was a success.  Provincially, it was a balls-up on many levels.  The official assessment doesn’t come close to noting that.  Ditto other, more recent, natural disasters.

Instead, the government system seems geared to the sort of knob polishing that infests sections of the Telegram. Frankly, the provincial municipal affairs minister today sounds much like his predecessor nine years ago.  Lots of kudos and vacuous verbiage but not much in the way of solid information that people need.  His hasty call to an open line show Thursday came with the breathless claim that he had to rush off to catch another sight-seeing helo-ride.  Big fat hairy deal.

Sure emergency response in the province works very well out where real people – road crews, police, fire, linemen, health care workers and so forth – do real jobs. Practicality and good will are the order of the day and that is what worked during 9/11.  If Newfoundland Power needs to get to a spot, they will sort it out with the local roads guys.  The result will be haphazard and uneven, but then again, that’s what happens when the entire provincial emergency “plan” relies in 2010, as it did in 2001, on people pulling it out of their ass on the day.

Meanwhile, back in the head-shed, in the place that is supposed to be co-ordinating the hockey bag of public and private agencies - assigning scarce resources to the places they will do the most good -  heads are just buried deep in the hockey bag.  Not much in the way of light is getting through. How else would one explain a political news conference the day of the storm called for exactly the same time as a technical report from Environment Canada and an official of the province’s emergency response division?

You can hear the same old excuses already bubbling up.  This was an unprecedented disaster, they are already saying.  Yes,  it was.  And so was the one before that and the one before that and the one before that.  We’ve heard it as an excuse for failures every time.

No one should doubt the sincerity of politicians in wanting to relieve the suffering of their fellow citizens.  But the time for their intervention is not now.  The time for that was last month, last year and five years ago when they should have been making sure the emergency response system worked.

They’ll get another chance to fix things when this current disaster is over, as two mayors suggested already. This time, though, everyone needs to face the things that didn’t work – yet again – and fix them.

Otherwise, when the next hurricane barrels through, we’ll just face the same old fumbled responses and the same “never saw this before” excuses.

The people of the province deserve better.

Let’s put an end to the emergency response TASFU.

- srbp -

Day-ja vue Update:  Nothing like a bit of perspective.

Via nottawa, a reminder that this same bullshit – send us your receipts and get your forms properly filled out – came around the last time Mother Nature roared through town on a bender. 

Back then of course, the local Reform-based Conservative Party  - as the Old man now likes to think of it - wasn’t speaking kindly of the federal Reform-based Conservative Party.  So it was Stock Day telling the Old Man to make sure his paperwork was done properly.

And yes, there was also the effort to turn disaster relief into some sort of infrastructure funding program, as if then or now the provincial government didn’t have the cash to fund improvements to roads, bridges and drainage systems. If Marystown mayor Sam Synyard, for example, wants to install bigger culverts on the local roads, then Sam could be and should be looking to the tourists in the helicopter for some cash.

Nottawa’s also got some other pithy observations on emergency response.

22 September 2010

Jane Taber - Twit

As shallow goes, the Globe’s gossip columnist always seemed like a wading pool.

As it turns out, there wasn’t even water in it.

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Ok Go’s latest video – White Knuckles

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21 September 2010

Creditors approve AbitibiBowater restructuring plan

The AbitibiBowater news release:

ABWTQ (OTC)

MONTREAL, Sept. 21 /CNW Telbec/ - AbitibiBowater is pleased to announce that the Company has received the necessary creditor approval for its plan of reorganization under chapter 11 of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code, except with respect to Bowater Canada Finance Corporation (BCFC), a special purpose company subsidiary with no operating assets, which has been excluded from the chapter 11 plan. The chapter 11 plan of reorganization received overwhelming support from creditors, both in dollar amount of claims and in number of claim holders who voted on the plan.

Having obtained the requisite votes from creditors, except with respect to BCFC, the Company and its subsidiaries will exclude BCFC from the process and proceed with plan confirmation. The Company does not believe that the exclusion of BCFC will affect the timing of its confirmation hearing that is scheduled to start on September 24, 2010, in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Delaware.

"We are pleased to have received approval by the vast majority of creditors under the U.S. Bankruptcy Code for our chapter 11 plan of reorganization," stated David J. Paterson, President and Chief Executive Officer. "We appreciate the support for our plans of reorganization as we work to create a more sustainable and competitive organization."

As previously announced, on September 14, 2010, the Company received approval for its plan of reorganization from affected creditors under the Canadian Companies' Creditors Arrangement Act in Canada, except with respect to BCFC.

Subject to the satisfaction of certain conditions provided for in the plans of reorganization, AbitibiBowater continues to expect emergence from creditor protection this fall.

Details of the voting results under the chapter 11 plan of reorganization, including votes on a class-by-class basis, will be available through www.abitibibowater.com/restructuring.

AbitibiBowater produces a wide range of newsprint, commercial printing and packaging papers, market pulp and wood products. It is the eighth largest publicly traded pulp and paper manufacturer in the world. AbitibiBowater owns or operates 19 pulp and paper facilities and 24 wood products facilities located in the United States, Canada and South Korea. Marketing its products in more than 70 countries, the Company is also among the world's largest recyclers of old newspapers and magazines, and has third-party certified 100% of its managed woodlands to sustainable forest management standards. AbitibiBowater's shares trade over-the-counter on the Pink Sheets and on the OTC Bulletin Board under the stock symbol ABWTQ.

For further information: Investors: Duane Owens, Vice President, Finance, 864 282-9488; Media and Others: Seth Kursman, Vice President, Public Affairs, Sustainability & Environment, 514 394-2398, seth.kursman@abitibibowater.com

- srbp -

Full of sound and fury

Public consultations on a strategy for “the inclusion of persons with disabilities” in society.

In the 21st century.

A strategy to include people with disabilities in society.

Another consultation to develop a strategy for early childhood education.

Novel idea.

41 cash announcements in the month of August alone, according to the Telegram editorial, a great many of which involved the announcement – yet again -  of earlier announcements.  In some others, announcements include money for new food carts in hospitals and nursing homes.

Announcement of a plan to install a new set of road scales in Labrador.

A gaggle of ministers and government members of the legislature visit a shipyard to look at construction of new ferries that have been in the works for most of the current administration’s tenure.

And then there’s the study of garbage.

This is a provincial government that talks more and more about less and less.

The reason is simple enough:  we are in a pre-election/pre-leadership period. We know that, all things being equal, there is an election in October 2011.  We also  know that Danny Williams will leave politics sometime over the next two to three years.

Now governments in either of those phases alone aren’t famous for doing much of anything new. Pre-election governments like to spend cash, as everyone in the province saw in 2007’s Summer of Love vote-buying orgy from the Reform-based Conservative Party currently running the local show.  Pre-leadership governments usually get caught up in the internal division as people jockey for position in the party leadership race.  And since they can’t get any agreement on any major initiative until someone winds up as leader, there is nothing knew likely to happen until the leadership issue is resolved. Well, nothing that is except spend money,

Governments in the double-whammy of pre-election and pre-leadership are rare.  But what they do is guarantee a unique kind of lowest-common-denominator politics.  Money is everywhere for everything.  In addition to that, you have the raft of consultations on things that are the sort motherhood issues not likely to raise controversy.  Inclusion?  Early childhood education?  These are hardly debatable subjects.

Even John Hickey  - seldom heard from any more - is getting in on the act. He’s got an information session scheduled for Churchill Falls.  Apparently there is something about the Northern Strategic Plan they haven’t heard yet.

You can tell these things are busy work, by the way.  First of all, there is that word strategy.  This is nothing more than the latest government cliche.  Second there is the schedule.  A good half of the consultations on childhood education take place in the afternoon, a time when the people most likely to be concerned about the subject are working.  As the video of the session from Mount Pearl showed, the room was nearly empty and two of those in the audience were cabinet minister Dave Denine and his executive assistant.

Added to this whirligig of deep thoughts are the early stages of a leadership racket.  Until lately, cabinet ministers seldom showed up to talk about anything substantial with anyone. Danny and Liz wouldn’t let them. But now education minister Darin King is on any radio station with a phone to discuss his early childhood education initiative.  Health minister Jerome! Kennedy is the face of health care spending.  Note the number of news stories about multiple sclerosis that described government spending as something Jerome! himself was doing personally.

Personally is the clue.  Cabinet government is normally collective government.  Sure there is a powerful front man, but cabinets wind up being committees that share the load of deciding on this problem or that one. Except of course, in the Danny Williams administration. It’s only natural that those who wish to replace The Old Man should work hard to be seen as the one person with an idea.

And while all of this consulting, and announcing and news conferencing is going on in public, not much else is happening.  No discussions about labour relations.  No talk about reforms to economic development policy, the fishery, a strategy to address problems in the labour force or anything else that might actually involve some serious discussion and tough choices that everyone in the province has a right to be involved in.

No.

That’s the sort of stuff that will have to wait until after the next election and Danny’s successor is firmly in place. Meanwhile, the people in government no one has heard much of in a while are busily sorting out the budget for 2011. 

That’s right. 

We are now half way through 2010 and it is usually around this time that government officials try and figure out what next year will look like.  For the past seven years that’s been pretty much Danny’s exclusive responsibility and odds are that’s where he’s been holed up lately.  He’ll work hard into the winter and make the big decisions well before sending old Tommy Marshall out for that biggest consultation farce, the one on the budget.

While the Old Man works quietly in the background on the stuff that involves real choices, government officials are wondering if you think that in 2010 we should find ways to allow people with disabilities to become fully contributing members of our society.

The busy-work will continue.  The number of news releases and consultations will only multiply as time goes by. It’s all part of an effort to make it seem like stuff is happening when, in truth, not much of consequence is. But it will certainly seem important, as only a Fernando Administration would allow. It is better, after all,  to look busy than to be busy.

And lest you doubt all this consider that coming soon to a motel meeting room or bingo hall near you, is a round table on that burning question on the minds of fish plant workers, and foresters and soccer moms everywhere -  puppy dogs: cute or what?

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20 September 2010

Labour force indicators raise questions about economic health and competitiveness

In a recent Fraser Institute study of labour markets in North America, Newfoundland and Labrador came in 49th out of 60 overall.  The study measured performance in five indicators:

  • average total employment growth,
  • average private-sector employment growth,
  • average unemployment rate,
  • average duration of unemployment, and,
  • average gross domestic product per worker.

The study also assessed the level of public sector employment, minimum wage rate, level of unionization, labour relations laws and what the study authors termed “other areas of concern”.

Here’s how Newfoundland and Labrador placed in nine of the categories for which there was a readily measurable score that compared jurisdictions straightforwardly.   

Some of these figures, like the private sector as a percentage of the labour force, will be very familiar to Bond Papers readers. Now there is some context for them that shows they are cause for concern not just in and of themselves but because they raise serious questions about the overall health of the economy and about the province’s competitiveness.

It should almost go with saying that anyone arguing for an increase in public sector employment is out of touch.

  1. Average total employment growth (2005-2009):  38th place with 0.1%.  That’s the weakest of the Canadian provinces.  The next weakest was Nova Scotia with 0.5%.
  2. Average private-sector employment growth (2005-2009):  34th place with 0.0%.
  3. Average unemployment rate (2005-2009):  60th place with 14.5%.
  4. Average duration of unemployment (2005-2009):  17th place with 14.9% of the unemployed being out of work for 27 weeks or longer.
  5. Average GDP per worker (2005-2009):  eighth place with $134,494.
  6. Average provincial public sector employment as share of total employment (2005-2009):  59th, with 24.8%.  Nevada and Pennsylvania topped the ranking with 9.4% and 9.5% respectively.  Only Saskatchewan beat out Newfoundland and Labrador for the bottom spot with 24.9%
  7. Average public sector employment (fed/prov/mun) as a share of total employment:  60th place with 28.2%
  8. Average minimum wage as percent of GDP per worker (2004-2008):  10th place, 12%.
  9. Unionized work force as a percentage of total work force (2005-2009):  59th, with 38%.  Quebec was the most unionised jurisdiction, at 39.9%.  North Carolina was the least with 4.3%.

Some of the other areas of concern are also interesting to note.  Newfoundland and Labrador showed the most days of work lost per 1,000 employees due to industrial disputes. (390 days, 2004-2008) That was three time the number of days of the second spot, British Columbia, with 127 days. Quebec – in third place – had a loss work days of 75 days.

And here are a couple of measures for just the past year:

  1. Average unemployment rate, July 2009- June 2010:  60th place with an average unemployment rate of 15.4%. 
  2. Average total employment growth, July 2009-June 2010:   tied for second place with 0.2% average growth.

- srbp -

19 September 2010

Economics as ideology, or, The Other Dismal Science

So at some point people thought that economists actually might be good at forecasting things.

No wait.

This is serious.

Apparently, some people actually believed that.

But only now is some mathematician figuring out there might be some doubt as to the ability of your average economist to forecast much of anything with any accuracy.

According to David Orrell:
Current economic theory is less a science than an ideology peculiar to a certain period of history, which may well be nearing an end…
All jokes aside, the Globe piece by Brian Milner is worth the time, if for no other reason than there is an audio excerpt of Orrell reading from his book, Economyths: 10 ways economists get it wrong.


While Orrell uses ideology in another sense, it is interesting that two of the economists who get the most popular attention in Newfoundland and Labrador seem to be more ideological or partisan than analytical.  To wit:
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17 September 2010

Looking for a mid-year update at mid-year

September marks the middle of the provincial government’s financial year.

Makes sense, then, that the provincial government should issue a mid-year financial update update in September or maybe October. But these days, when the administration led by Danny Williams doesn’t like to spend any time in the House of Assembly, it’s not unusual to see the mid-year update delivered in December.

Strange then that the newspaper covering the electoral districts held by both the Premier and the finance minister is asking to see that mid-year update now, when it ought to be delivered, instead of December when the finance minister will deliver it.

The people of this province are used to red ink when it comes to provincial budgets of the past but balanced budgets have also become commonplace in recent years.

This province managed better than most jurisdictions during the worldwide recession but the time has come to clean up the books and get back to paying our bills when they are due.

Finance Minister Tom Marshall should get his figures in order and tell taxpayers where we stand at the halfway mark and where we can expect to end up when the year is done.

Maybe they suspect something is amiss in Marshall’s books.

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16 September 2010

Prov Gov appoints mediator in Vale strike

The provincial government today announced the appointment of Bill Wells as a mediator in the ongoing labour dispute at Voisey’s Bay.

The best they’d been willing to do before is strongly encourage both sides to get back to the table.  The most recent example of that was in June, 2010.

So what happened recently for government to change its approach?

Money might be getting tighter as we come up on the half-way point in the fiscal year.

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15 September 2010

Hibernia 20

To mark the 20th anniversary of the development for the Hibernia project, cbc.ca/nl put together a special page of video clips from the time. It’s a great site and a great reminder of one of the most significant events in the province’s long history.

There are so many aspects to the Hibernia story (and the CBC vids) worth noting:

  • There’s the signing ceremony with all the Premiers since Confederation to that time in attendance.
  • There’s the caution from Clyde Wells that offshore oil and gas would not solve all the province’s economic problems. That one pissed off a lot of people in the oil industry but he was right.
  • There’s the warning from Wade Locke about the project would cost the province its precious Equalization hand-outs and as such would be a bad thing. Locke wasn’t alone in his pessimism and unfortunately the thirst for federal hand-outs proved to be a major policy initiative of the current administration.  Thankfully, Locke  and the others were and the provincial government is now off Equalization despite the best efforts of the current administration.  The Premiers who worked to bring the Hibernia project to the province got their wish instead.
  • The forecast was for $4.0 billion in revenue based on oil prices at the time.  Change oil prices and the amount coming from Hibernia will be more like nine times that amount.
  • By contrast, the equity stakes secured at great price by the current administration from Hebron, White Rose and Hibernia South will be only a tiny fraction of the royalties from that original project based on the royalty regime put in place in 1990 and revised in 2000. 
  • Construction on the project began almost immediately.  Construction on Hebron, by contrast, is not expected to begin until four years after the partners signed the development deal.

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14 September 2010

Unsecured creditors accept AbitibiBowater restructuring plan

News release issued by AbitibiBowater:

BWTQ (OTC)

MONTREAL, Sept. 14 /CNW Telbec/ - AbitibiBowater is pleased to announce that the Company has received approval for its plan of reorganization from unsecured creditors under the Companies' Creditors Arrangement Act (CCAA) in Canada. The plan of reorganization received overwhelming support from its unsecured creditors both in dollar amount of claims and in number of claim holders who voted on the plan. Having obtained the requisite votes in each class, except with respect to Bowater Canada Finance Corporation (BCFC), a special purpose company subsidiary with no operating assets, AbitibiBowater will seek a sanction order in respect of its CCAA plan other than in respect of BCFC, which is excluded from the CCAA plan. The Company does not believe that the exclusion of BCFC will affect the timing of the Company's sanction hearing by the Canadian Court nor does the Company expect it will materially delay AbitibiBowater's emergence from creditor protection slated for this fall.

Voting tabulations on the plan of reorganization under Chapter 11 of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code are expected on September 20, 2010. The Company will provide further information when the results become available.

"We appreciate the support given by the significant majority of our creditors under the CCAA process for our plan of reorganization," stated David J. Paterson, President and Chief Executive Officer. "We are confident our restructuring efforts have created a stronger foundation for a more sustainable and competitive company. We look forward to completing the restructuring process and emerging from creditor protection this fall."

Details of the voting results including votes on a class-by-class basis will be available at www.abitibibowater.com/restructuring.

The sanction hearing under the CCAA process is scheduled to occur on September 20, 2010 in the Quebec Superior Court and the confirmation hearing under the Chapter 11 process is scheduled to start on September 24, 2010 in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Delaware.

AbitibiBowater produces a wide range of newsprint, commercial printing and packaging papers, market pulp and wood products. It is the eighth largest publicly traded pulp and paper manufacturer in the world. AbitibiBowater owns or operates 19 pulp and paper facilities and 24 wood products facilities located in the United States, Canada and South Korea. Marketing its products in more than 70 countries, the Company is also among the world's largest recyclers of old newspapers and magazines, and has third-party certified 100% of its managed woodlands to sustainable forest management standards. AbitibiBowater's shares trade over-the-counter on the Pink Sheets and on the OTC Bulletin Board under the stock symbol ABWTQ.

For further information: Investors: Duane Owens, Vice President, Finance, 864 282-9488; Media and Others: Seth Kursman, Vice President, Public Affairs, Sustainability & Environment, 514 394-2398, seth.kursman@abitibibowater.com

- srbp-

A left wing Tea Bagger

Pity the poor federal New Democrats.

Just as they turn themselves in knots over a private members bill on the gun registry, along comes defence critic Jack Harris sounding like a left wing Tea Bagger but without Sarah’s Palin’s intellectual depth or subtlety of mind.

Harris managed to get himself standing before the offshore helicopter safety inquiry. The former provincial New Democratic Party leader decided that his closing remarks were a good time to launch another unfounded assault on the integrity of the men and women of the Canadian Forces who provide search and rescue service.

"As long as that Canadian Forces Response [sic] time is as slow as it is — and inadequate in my view — then there may have to be more severe restrictions on the use of helicopters to transport offshore," said Harris, MP for St. John’s East and defence critic for the federal NDP.

That’s the quote from a story carried by cbcnl.ca. Harris recommended that offshore helicopter flights be limited to daylight hours during the weekdays since, as the Telegram put it:

The Department of National Defence’s (DND) search and rescue response times are 30 minutes on weekdays from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., and two hours at all other times.

The only problem is that Harris knows the response is not slow, as he alleged, nor is it confined to certain hours during the day, as his comments suggest.  Harris knows the correct information that because of evidence presented at the inquiry.  The information is there.  Why he choses to ignore it remains a mystery.

The offshore helicopter inquiry, directed very ably by retired Supreme Court justice Robert Wells, has revealed a great many details of offshore helicopter safety and travel that many – likely including Harris  - did not know before. It is all information that should have led Harris to make other comments, ones that fit within the inquiry mandate.  That information was there as well.  Why he chose to ignore it and instead launch yet another attack against the men and women of the Canadian Forces remains a mystery.

But it is not the first time Harris has made comments contrary to the facts.  In an interview with CBC Radio, Harris called for an agency separate from the offshore regulatory board to set standards for offshore safety.  He made the comments while discussing safety standards set by Transport Canada, the agency separate from the offshore regulatory board that sets safety standards for the offshore.

On another occasion, Harris said that on the day of the Cougar incident, the Gander search and rescue squadron was “off station,” that is outside the province. They were not outside their operational area and, as evidence at the inquiry confirmed, the presence of all the region’s search and rescue aircraft in Sydney Nova Scotia for an exercise sped up some aspects of the response.

Harris has accused the Canadian Forces of failing to conduct a study of the Cougar incident out of fear of what might be revealed.  He had no basis for making the allegation  - yet another cheap shot - but yet he made it anyway.

Outside the bizarro world where Harris might be considered an expert in anything military, let alone search and rescue, it is hard to fathom why the New Democrat defence critic persists in sloganeering. Perhaps someone has told him that it plays well with the base.

Well, it is hard to imagine New Democrats being quite so stupid as Harris’ comments suppose. New Democrat voters are, in fact, considerably more intelligent than Harris’ remarks allow.  Nor are Harris’ comments consistent with what any Canadian would expect of a national party that is serious about wanting to form government.  But apparently, they do at least wish to pose as such a party.

Interestingly enough, though, when Harris had the chance to question Colonel Paul Drover at the Wells inquiry, he wasn’t quite as bold in his assertions.  Faced with someone who knew the facts, Harris would only cluck about the gold standard. In itself, that is revealing.

Harris’ anti-military comments reduce the New Democratic Party’s position to a caricature.  They diminish the men and women of the party.  What is worse, Jack Harris’ scurrilous comments attack the men and women who risk their lives to rescue others.

If Harris had the courage of his convictions, if he really is  - as some contend - some sort of an expert, he ought to do one simple thing:  go to Gander sometime soon and speak with the men and women of 103 Squadron and their families.  Not a private meeting, but one with media present.  Let Harris explain – in his expert opinion – how it is that 103 Squadron screwed up the Cougar response.  Let him point out why their response to search and rescue calls, generally,  is too slow and how they might do it better.

And then let Jack sit back and hear from the real experts. That would be something worth broadcasting in prime time.

Sadly, it will never happen.  But it won’t be because the men and women of the Canadian Forces are afraid of the results.

No.

It won’t happen for the same reason Jack says one thing to the media, but another thing when faced with a real expert.

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13 September 2010

And the survey says… maybe not much, really

The Canadian Payroll Association is getting a chunk of media attention for a poll they just released.

The stories are running something like this one from CBC:

Almost 60 per cent of Canadians live paycheque to paycheque and say they'd be in financial difficulty if their paycheque were a week late.

A new survey from the Canadian Payroll Association released Monday showed some troubling signs about Canadians' personal finances.

To its credit, CPA released a detailed research report. That’s where you will find some useful information when it comes to the survey.

For one thing, there’s no indication of how CPA or its research partner selected or contacted the respondents.  The report does give some demographic data but how CPA found these 2766-odd people could affect results.  If CPA depended on respondents to contact CPA then that might tend to skew the results toward people who were motivated for some reason. Since CPA represents the people who look after payrolls across the country, the responses might be skewed if the respondents knew the person from payroll was asking questions about their job security and personal finances.

These sorts of details matter when it comes to the results.

If you don’t think so, notice that one of the questions was about confidence that the person preparing the regular paycheque got it right. Forty-eight percent were extremely confident, 38% were very confident and 10% were confident.  That’s 96% incidentally.

And if you think that might not be important, notice that in most provinces the total number of respondents was very small.  Just 16 people answered the survey in Newfoundland and Labrador. 

That might not matter in a national poll designed to sample the opinion of all Canadians on a few general questions.  But on a political poll, it could matter quite a bit.

Even on a regional or provincial basis, you can get plenty of skewed results based on who gets surveyed.  A recent opinion article in Campaigns and Elections predicted that 2012 will be the last presidential election in which pollsters rely on landline telephones for collecting data.  Already 25% of Americans use cellular phones as their primary means of making telephone calls. The demographic that goes with that – young, African-American or Hispanic – is also an important one for some races or aspects of the bigger picture.

The situation is much the same in Canada.  Researchers are having a harder and harder time getting people to spend the 15 or 20 minutes to do a telephone survey.  A sample of 400 respondents might mean trying to contact over 6,000 people. And while cellular telephone usage might not be as significant in Canada as in the Untied States, other issues can affect results.  Even in a province like Newfoundland and Labrador, language, comprehension (literacy) levels and social and cultural factors can all have an impact on results.

So when you look at a news story about another poll, don’t just take the results at face value.  Go looking for more information about how the poll was conducted.  Sometimes you might turn up some details that affect your perception of the poll and the news story based on it.

- srbp -

A-ha! Update:  An excellent story in the Tuesday Telegram (not online) raises questions about this poll.  According to the article, the survey went to local payroll officers who sent it out to employees for response.

That accounts for the varied response rates (16 in NL, 193 in QC and 500 in ON) and, as the article acknowledges, likely would affected the ability to take attitudes about the economy and extrapolate them to regions.

Of course, it also explains why 86% think their payroll officer is doing a fine job, but that they just need to keep those cheques coming to avoid personal financial disaster.  Even if it wasn’t true, what else would you tell the person who makes sure you get paid?

12 September 2010

Conditioned Response

Political dog-whistling is something your humble e-scribbler has talked about before.

Basically it is using words that means certain things to certain segments of the population, usually things that touch on deeply held beliefs and core values. To others, those same words have little or no meaning beyond the plain English. in politics it is a way of saying two things at once as a way of mobilising different segments of the population without alienating one, both or others.

What it plays on are responses to certain prompts that each of us learns over time.  In its crudest form, this conditioned response we are talking about is the old example of teaching a dog to connect the ringing of a bell with food.  When the bell rings, the dog drools for the bowl of yummies it thinks is coming even if there is no food around.

Conditioned responses in humans bypass the parts of the brain involving conscious thought and effort. You’ll find that in any activity where seconds count or a moment of hesitation can have deadly consequences – like firefighting or some branches of the military - training usually works to build up a set of nearly automatic responses.  The training – the conditioning  - can be extremely effective.  After an incident, the individuals involved may not even remember what happened.

In politics, the people often remember exactly what is going on, but the disconnection from thought  - from critical analysis – is absolutely real.

Consider for example, anything connected to Quebec and Labrador hydro-electric power.  The responses are so strongly conditioned in huge numbers of people that they respond instinctively to any suggestion that some vague entity called “Quebec” is doing something evil:  people are ready to man the barricades.

There are two fine examples of conditioned response in the weekend Telegram. Two hard-nosed, hard-headed editors – neither of them lacking in the brains department – wrote on the same subject:  the Premier’s dog-whistle speech to the Board of Trade this past week.

Here’s Bob Wakeham:

So when Danny Williams lets Quebec have it square in the noggin for putting up still more obstacles to the Lower Churchill development, or continuing with its entrenchment on that disgraceful Upper Churchill contract, the Newfoundland sector of my skull calls for applause, while the journalistic neurons demand I let everyone know that the premier’s stance will play well in every nook and cranny of the province, that he’s abundantly aware that the we-against-them form of politicking will provide another feather in his cap of popularity.

Here’s Russell Wangersky:

But let’s get right to the nub of the argument.

Is it fair that a province with natural resources to sell — say, hydroelectricity or fish — should be held to ransom by another province because the producing province wants to get its product to a lucrative market? Should one province get to skim profits from the other, just because it can?

If you read both columns you will certainly have a very rich plate of ideas to devour.  Both make powerful points and both are conscious of the fact that politicians like the Premier use political issues to garner support.

But what we are talking about here is something a hair’s breadth below the surface of what both Wakeham and Wangersky are writing about.  Both writers accept that “Quebec” is “putting up still more obstacles”, to use Wakeham’s version or that “a province with natural resources to sell” is being “held ransom by another province” to take Wangersky’s.

In other words, even though they are conscious of the fact it is just a bell, they still accept the bell’s tinkling is tied to food.  They accept that what the Premier said last week about Quebec’s obstructionism was absolutely correct because, as we all know, that’s what Quebec and Labrador hydroelectricity is all about.

The point is not to slag off either Wakeham or Wangersky.  Take their columns, on this point, as evidence of just how deeply rooted, just how powerful is the basic political mythology about Labrador and Quebec built up over the course of 35 years of relentless effort by one politician after another. Even with mounds of evidence that the Premier’s latest tirade against the “Quebec” bogeyman is based on fiction, the two editors just carried on from the starting point of what every assumes to be true. 

On another level though, you can see the early stages of something else and that’s where the current administration needs to watch out.  Russell Wangersky ends his column with the warning that the story is getting boring to voters.  And Wakeham, who evidently loves Danny, despite wanting to needle the Old Man about his marital problems every now and again, knows full well that Danny the Politician is just blowing the whistle in order to put “another feather in his cap of popularity.”

Those acknowledgements mean that the conditioning is starting to lose its grip. As long as the current administration keeps blowing the same whistle, it’s really only a matter of time before fewer and fewer dogs drool on the carpet in anticipation of the Scoobie snacks that never ever show up. 

- srbp -

10 September 2010

RBC lowers NL GDP forecast for 2010

Highlights of the latest RBC Economics forecast for Newfoundland and Labrador in 2010:

  • Real GDP to grow at 3.3% for the year, down from the 4.1% forecast in June.
  • Offshore oil production down 3.2% year-to-date to June.
  • Non-residential capital construction to form basis of growth in medium term.
  • Oil royalties expected to reach 40% of provincial government revenues in 2010, potentially supporting increase in public sector employment.  RBC states that public sector represents 30% of employment in the province.
  • Real GDP growth of 3.3% forecast for 2011, up from previous forecast of 2.3%

And for the national comparison:

  • Saskatchewan will lead the country in real GDP growth with 2010 and 2011. 
  • NL is middle of the pack for 2010 and third in 2011 for GDP growth.
  • NL has recovered less than 60% of the jobs lost since the recession.  Quebec has recovered 140% and Nova Scotia has recovered about 100%.

- srbp -

Mayor dismisses impact on passengers; world cruise pax owed more than quarter million

While obviously out-of-touch St. John’s mayor Dennis “Doc” O’Keefe can blithely dismiss the impact of a recent cruise cancellation on the passengers affected, the passengers themselves tell a different story.

Here’s how local radio station VOCM reported O’Keefe’s comments in a story headlined “Cruise ship passengers never stranded”:

The Mayor of St. John's says the people reportedly left "stranded" in the capital city after the Cruise Boat they were traveling on was sold were taken care of by the cruise company. Dennis O'Keefe says given the situation, it all went pretty smoothly. O'Keefe says most passengers on board the ship were due to disembark and fly home. He says three or four passengers were supposed to continue on a world cruise. O'Keefe says these people were either given hotel rooms or sent home by the cruise company.

Evidently, Doc never heard of the Myers, the elderly couple from New Mexico who were already in Doc’s fair city when they found out they would have to pony up for unexpected hotel rooms and airfares to back home. Their efforts to contact the company were apparently fruitless in the first few days after the cruise line shut down.

Then there are the other passengers, scheduled on the circumnavigation.  As the Seattle Times reported:

Tammy Hinshaw, of Michigan, was aboard the ship on a series of cruises around the world. After a three-week break, she and her partner were scheduled for many more weeks of cruising beginning Oct. 3 — for which they paid Cruise West 10 days ago.

"Two other passengers were scheduled to be on board until Feb. 3, and one passenger was scheduled to arrive Oct. 3 and remain on board until Feb. 3," Hinshaw said. "To give you an idea of how much money is at stake, Cruise West owes these five passengers (including myself and my partner) well over a quarter of a million dollars."

Henshaw and her partner are out $50,000 and they’ve received no answers to their e-mails to the company. They paid by cheque based on Cruise West’s guarantee of a two percent discount for people who paid in cash.  As the Times reported:

"In retrospect it was an incredibly dumb thing to do ... but many of the other passengers who are owed substantial amounts of money also paid by check, for the same reason," Hinshaw said. She and her partner did not purchase travel insurance because of its high price, and they didn't know of Cruise West's financial woes.

The Times also reported the cruise company laid off 65 employees this past week.

- srbp -