28 February 2011

Noble gets deep water license in Gulf of Mexico

The United States Bureau of Ocean Energy Management Regulation and Enforcement has issued a license to Noble Energy to continue work on a well located 115 kilometres southeast of Venice, Louisiana, according to the Globe and Mail and other media outlets.

The company started drilling the exploratory well just before last year’s catastrophe.

The Wall Street Journal reports the well is in 6,500 feet of water.

There are six other permits for deep water drilling currently awaiting approval, according to the New York Times.

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CB city council by-election down to five

cornerbrooker.com has a great little piece on the west coast city’s municipal by-election.

This leaves five candidates competing for one City Council seat: June Alteen, Gary Kelly, Trent Quinton, Tarragh Shanahan, and Alton Whelan.

Aside from some lawn signs, most candidates have been fairly quiet so far, however I think that Gary Kelly is at least proving that he’s visible and willing to work for the position. You may have seen him marching up and down O’Connell Drive in all sorts of nasty weather, or standing outside hockey games at the Pepsi Centre with his bright yellow campaign sign, waving as the cars head down the hill.

They mention that Gary also has a website and is using Twitter and Facebook.  That’s not surprising for a guy who was an early adopter to blogging  and who ran one of the best little gems of a blog in the process. A lot of politicians in the province could learn a lot of lessons from Gary.

For what it’s worth, Gary has the Bond Papers endorsement. Corner Brook readers of these e-scribblers would be well served if they voted for Gary in the by-election.

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Provgov pollster seeds ground for bad news

Provincial government pollster Don Mills is in the Telegram on Monday getting people ready for yet a further decline in polling numbers for the province’s ruling Conservatives.

“[Premier Kathy Dunderdale’s popularity is] not going to be 75 per cent, I wouldn’t think,” he said. “To some extent, it will have nothing to do with Kathy Dunderdale at all. I think it’s just going to be people realizing that (Williams) was a pretty extraordinary personality that commanded support across party lines.”

As you can see, Mills wasn’t just contented to hint that the numbers would be down;  he also felt obliged to offer his opinion on the implications.  The basis for his opinion won’t ever be found in any of his polling numbers.  They are – like his seat projections in 2007 – based on something else.

Mills is talking about personality popularity – or even name recognition – but neither of those are directly connected to ballot results.  Danny Williams personal popularity soared after 2005 but in the 2007 general election, the Conservatives garnered the same share of eligible vote they had in 2003. 

A recent poll by NTV/Telelink puts the Conservatives under Kathy Dunderdale as the choice of  44% of eligible vote.  That continues a steady decline registered by Corporate Research over the third and fourth quarters of 2010.  If the implication of Mills’ comments are borne out, CRA’s poll that is just clueing up should confirm the NTV/Telelink numbers.

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A classic Telegram editorial, your humble e-scribbler once wrote, consists of a summary of an issue concluding with a blinding insight into the completely frigging obvious.

Such is the Saturday Telegram offering, this time on the latest fisheries report unveiled and summarily rejected on Friday by fisheries minister Clyde Jackman:

Something has to be done. It may end up being a half-measure, or even less.  But the sheer size of the problem is now abundantly clear.  And for the industry, it has to be terrifying.

Four phrases.

Four penetrating insights into what is obvious to even the most casual observer of the fishery over the past 30 years.

That closing paragraph is right up there with Clyde Jackman’s claim on Friday that the MOU process was not a waste as everyone now had a detailed description of how bad things are.

Who didn’t know that already?

Well, besides Clyde Jackman, evidently

To be fair to both Jackman and the Telegram editorialist, though, they really are just a reflection of the fundamental problem that has plagued the fishery in this province since 1949.  People know what needs to be done to turn the fishery into an industry that is sustainable and relatively prosperous.  People in the current cabinet know.  People in past cabinets have known. Those who know and who are willing to do it are hampered by those who know nothing and others who vigorously oppose any changes at all. 

In the meantime, the only people suffering are the people in the industry.  Eventually time will take care of them.  Clyde Jackman kept mentioning that last Friday.  He really didn’t need to.

Everyone knows it.

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27 February 2011

Irresponsibility of power: Dunderdale flip flops on Muskrat electricity rates

My, oh my what a little public angst over electricity bills will do for a government’s talking points.

The public angst has turned up in Labrador where a who mess of people are concerned they won’t get any of the benefits of the power and yet will wind up paying for it instead.

Premier Kathy Dunderdale zoomed into Happy Valley-Goose Bay late last week to reassure the unhappy valleyians on a few things.

Among the things she talked about was electricity pricing.   According to the Labradorian, Dunderdale said that Labradorians would not see rate increases once Muskrat is on line.

Fair enough.  They will still be getting powered by diesel along the coast since it is apparently too expensive to sling off lines to the coastal communities from the giant lines that will run right along the coast to get the power to Newfoundland.

“The responsibility of power will be charged to the people who use that power,” she said.

Garbled sentence to one side, that “responsibility of power” would not fall to Nova Scotians.  They’ll pay whatever Emera wants to charge them and Emera is getting its power from Muskrat for free if the final deal turns out to be the same as the one Danny Williams inked in order to catch his plane to retirement.

That “responsibility of power” would definitely be the people on the eastern end of Newfoundland. They are getting the power and will have to bear the full load of the cost and potentially more more besides even though they really don’t need it. 

And how much will they be responsible for?

That’s where Dunderdale went wobbly.

Last fall, natural resources minister Kathy Dunderdale, later morphed to be premier, was absolutely adamant that the Danny Williams Legacy Dam project was absolutely wonderful.  It was splendiferously necessary, sayeth Dunderdale, because by 2017, electricity prices in the provinces were going to skyrocket thanks to the price of oil. 

She even had a number she swore by:  120 American bucks a barrel, sustained, by 2017 and as much a 200 bucks a barrel within the next decade. And with crude running at those sorts of prices, it would be damn expensive to generate electricity at Holyrood. Enter Danny Williams Legacy Dam to save the day.

Some of you may recall her interview last November with CBC radio’s West Coast Morning Show.  Your humble e-scribbler even wrote about it for those who don’t normally tune in to the show:

Dunderdale claimed that electricity prices would increase an average of five percent each year from now until 2017. That’s the year Nalcor would supposedly bring Muskrat Falls on line. So electricity prices would be about 35% higher than they are now, according to Dunderdale.

And then on top of that you’d have to whack on the cost of Muskrat Falls power which Dunderdale estimated to be between 14.3 and 16.5 cents per kilowatt hour.

But with all the public concern over rate increases, Dunderdale is now not so sure about her projections.  As the Labradorian reported:

“The project is not advanced enough at this point to determine with that degree of accuracy what you are going to pay per kilowatt hour in 2017.”

She said at the average rate of increase of 5 percent per year, Newfoundlanders could expect to get about the same bill on current power in 2017 as they would under the Muskrat Falls hydropower with similar rates of increase.

Not advanced enough to determine with that degree of accuracy.


And yet last fall, Kathy had great confidence that the prices would be exactly as she described.  After all it was the absolutely concrete, cast-in-stone, sure-as-Danny-made-little-green-apples certainty of the energy price forecasts that justified upping the gross public debt by about 50% of its current level.

And now Dunderdale can’t be sure what domestic electricity prices will be when the dam is finished in 2017.

That’s a gigantic change in just a few short weeks.

Expect more changes if the public starts paying more attention to what Danny Williams Legacy Dam will cost them.

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25 February 2011

Offshore regulator opens environmental assessment on Old Harry drilling proposal

Edited version of the Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Board news release:

The public is invited to comment on the draft scoping document for the Environmental Assessment of an exploration well being proposed by Corridor Resources within Exploration License 1105 (the Old Harry Prospect) located in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, offshore Newfoundland and Labrador.

The proposed activity includes drilling one exploration well within EL 1105 using a mobile offshore drilling unit (MODU), that is,  semi-submersible drilling rig or drill ship, supply vessels, and offshore helicopters. Vertical seismic profiling (VSP) activities may also be conducted in conjunction with the drilling activities. Corridor Resources proposes to drill one exploration well between 2012 and 2014.

Before any petroleum-related activity can be undertaken in the Newfoundland and 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 (CEA Act).

Pursuant to paragraph 18(3) of the CEA Act, the C-NLOPB as the responsible authority for the federal environmental assessment of the project is inviting the public to comment on the proposed draft scoping document prepared by the C-NLOPB.

Comments must be received by the C-NLOPB no later than Monday, March 28, 2011. 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 – Old Harry Project

Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board

5th Floor, TD Place

140 Water St., St. John’s, NL A1C 6H6

(709) 778-1400

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Jackman runs from fisheries restructure report

Fisheries minister Clyde Jackman is running as fast as he can from a fisheries restructuring report that recommends restructuring the fishery.

This is not a surprise for a minister who appeared clueless on the issues in his own portfolio when he admitted first receiving the report.

This is not a surprise given that the current administration like pretty well all its predecessors of  either blue or red persuasion have run from meaningful fisheries reform as fast as their little legs could carry them.

The only change in the past year seems to be that the industry has gone from midway up sh**t creek to being pretty close to the headwaters.

Bottom line:  we are still in an election year with a Tory leadership out there waiting to get settled afterward.  No politician of any political stripe is going to advocate what needs to happen (the report would be a good starting point) under either of those circumstances. And for the Tories in power, they have a double reason to stay as short-sighted as they can.

Anyone still wonder why Danny left in such a gigantic hurry?

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The Four Horsemen and government finances

Don’t be surprised if the provincial government issues a statement in the near future trumpeting an accrual surplus of several hundred millions.

Sure Tom Marshall isn’t ready to acknowledge what is going on, but it’s pretty hard to avoid making tons of money when those pre-Danny Williams oil royalty regimes meet Brent crude prices that are soaring to more than US$105 million based on Muammar Khaddafi’s willingness to slaughter thousands of Libyans in order to stay in power.

Oil prices and production levels are actually at the level where the Conservatives in Newfoundland and Labrador might produce a cash account surplus as well for the first time in a couple of years. That’s a good thing if only because it means the public debt won’t increase to record levels as it has under the Conservatives since 2003.

The question one must ask as we get closer to a provincial budget for the new fiscal year is how much longer the provincial Conservatives will continue to base public spending on windfalls due to war, famine, pestilence and death?

The Conservative banshees will likely start their usual screeching in the comments section at this point but the facts are plain in anyone’s face.  The Conservatives’ financial “miracle” has resulted not one teensy bit from anything they have done.  The enormous cash flow over the past five years resulted to one extent or another from political instability, economic crisis and all manner of calamities around the globe that drove oil prices to unprecedented heights.  Run those oil prices through the royalty regimes delivered before the Conservatives took power in 2003 and you have more money than the spendthrift Conservatives could actually spend.

Since 2003, the provincial Conservatives, led by first Danny Williams and now Kathy Dunderdale, have deliberately avoided sound fiscal policies.  Finance minister Tom Marshall and his colleagues have refused to create a sovereign wealth fund or to restrain public spending.  They have, in fact, willingly boosted spending to levels even they’ve acknowledged are unsustainable. 

Gross public debt remains at historic levels and, if Marshall is to be believed, there is little willingness around the cabinet table to take the sort of measures any prudent government would be doing in the face of dwindling oil production.  In other words, there’ll be no investment fund of the type found in other, responsibly run places, at least, not until Tom takes a hike to enjoy his fat pension on a Bermuda beach somewhere.

Now none of this actually comes as a surprise to the Conservatives.  Premier Kathy Dunderdale is aware enough of declining oil production – and hence revenue – but that seems to be only when she is faced with a reporter’s question about spending public on something  - like municipal bus services – that she obviously isn’t keen on.

But on things she wants, like Muskrat Falls, there is evidently no limit to Dunderdale’s willingness to spend other people’s money by increasing public debt and doubling electricity rates in the province.

In a few weeks’ time, Newfoundlanders and Labradorians will find out what Kathy Dunderdale and her colleagues plan to do with public money for the foreseeable future. Let’s see if Kathy Dunderdale defines her premiership by changing the pattern of financial imprudence she and her colleagues have maintained until now.

Odds are against any change to fiscal responsibility by the provincial government.  For starters we are in a pre-election period. And when that is done, we will still have the unresolved Conservative leadership.  No one will be willing to take any steps to turn off the money spigots when votes are at stake.

Just think of political expediency in a patronage-riddled political culture as the fifth horseman.

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24 February 2011

Whiff and poof #nlpoli #cdnpoli

Labrador member of parliament Todd Russell is not popular among Conservatives in the province. The reason has more to do with Russell’s unwillingness to kiss the Old Man’s derriere since 2003 more so than the fact Russell is a Liberal.

Russell made the news in Newfoundland and Labrador on Thursday as a result a virtual town hall he held.  Basically it was an opportunity for Russell’s constituents to discuss the proposed Muskrat Falls project using a giant conference call.  This was a big call, according to Russell’s office, with dozens of people who got a chance to speak, dozens left on the line when time ran out and a couple or so thousand people participating overall.

Here’s how Russell summarised the views he’s been hearing to a reporter at the Telegram:
“They have expressed their opinions around environmental issues, about economic issues, social issues and cultural issues. The overriding concern that’s come to light is that no thought has been given to meet the needs and aspirations of the people who own this resource, the people of Labrador,” he said.
Not surprisingly, one-time Conservative party executive director Mark Whiffen took some time on Thursday to explain to CBC’s Peter Cowan what he thought of Russell and Russell’s concern to ensure the people of Labrador benefit from the project:
“if Todd Russell doesn't see the overall benefit then he isn't a good MP.” and “there will be long-term benefits to Labrador. They all may not be direct, but they'll be there.” and “also, Lab is benefiting from offshore oil - not off Lab's coast, but no one cares. It's 1 province. Shame an MP can't see that.”
Yadda, yadda, yadda.

It is so easy to spew out a bunch of talking points and Whiffen’s tweets are a fine example of the enthusiastic but decidedly insubstantial nature of the partisan talking point.   Someone else joined in the exchange at one point but the general thrust didn’t change much.

But just notice that not just accepting those benefits, especially the indirect and undefined ones, makes one a bad member of parliament.  Asking for more, presumably,  would be naughty.

Naughty, naughty, Todd.

Makes you wonder what a Conservative might say.  Well, a Conservative other than Whiffen who is not, quite evidently, either from Labrador or very familiar with the issues as seen from the perspective of someone who lives in the Big Land.

Why what about someone like John Hickey, currently drawing a cabinet minister’s pay and rumoured to be organizing a run for the federal Conservatives in the next federal election?

Back in 2002, Hickey took part in a massive anti-Lower Churchill rally organized by the guy who would one day deliver the starting bits for the Muskrat Falls project.

Here’s how the Telegram (December 4, 2002) reported Hickey’s comments at the rally:
He said they want to see a development fund set up for Labrador and a plan for long-term sustainable development attached to the project that will bring new industries to the region.
Hickey was even more forthright in his insistence – back then, of course – that not one megawatt of power should leave Labrador until local were met.  As the Globe reported 9 December 10, 2002:
Mr. Hickey said the community of Happy Valley-Goose Bay can only acquire 55 megawatts from Churchill Falls and has been stymied in its attempts to bring in industries such as an aluminum smelter because of uncertainty about the electrical supply. 
Mr. Hickey was one of several Labrador business and political leaders who met with Mr. Grimes two weeks ago and demanded that any Lower Churchill agreement contain a clause that would allow Labrador communities to obtain 500 megawatts of power for future industrial development.  
"I've got a message for Mr. Landry: 'you aren't going to get a megawatt of power out of Labrador until our needs are looked after,' " Mr. Hickey said.
That was then, of course.  Hickey’s been notoriously silent on the project and whether or not the existing proposal meets the standards Hickey set back in 2002.  (Hint:  it doesn’t). But if you look at Hickey’s view you can see it is pretty much along the same lines that Todd Russell is talking about today. There’s none of the vagueness of Whiffen’s comments.

So is the former Conservative party executive director going to be supporting John Hickey in the next federal election or is John already branded as a naughty boy in Conservative circles for expecting more for Labradorians than the island Conservatives are willing to cough up?

Hard to say at this point but this little exchange does go to show the problems that come when you only know the TPs and not the wider context. 

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Dippers fear Byrning In St. John’s East #cdnpoli #nlpoli

Your humble e-scribbler made a comment on Thursday in response to another comment by Conservative strategist Tim Powers about the potential Jerry Byrne had to give incumbent New Democrat Jack Harris a tough run:

W/ feud over, trad vote patterns spell tough fight for Harris if not defeat.

That garnered a pretty quick and pretty sharp retort from Sally Housser, the NDP press secretary that the comment was “categorically ridiculous.”  She followed up with a recitation of the vote percentage’s from the last federal election.

That would be wonderful if it actually mattered.

The vote results in the 2008 were an anomaly, a one-off.  That’s because Danny Williams and some of his fellow provincial Conservatives waged an effective campaign to suppress the Conservative vote or to drive it to Liberal or New Democratic party candidates.

In St. John’s South-Mount Pearl, the Connies actually defied Williams and voted New Democrat.  Now that might seem strange to some people but you have to appreciate the extent to which local Conservatives in St. John’s are basically Tory by anti-Confederate or anti-Smallwood heritage.  If they don’t vote Tory, they will vote New Democrat before they will vote rouge.

Meanwhile in St. John’s East, the New Democrats profited by running Danny Williams old law partner and they got a double-whammy bonus from the Liberal candidate whose campaign imploded based on his own baggage. It’s not surprising, therefore that Harris swept the seat with a gigantic percentage of the votes cast.

But what are the usual voting patterns in St,. John’s East, the ones more likely to come back now that the feud is over and all is well in the Conservative corner? Take a look at this chart from an earlier post on the 2008 election results.


Basically you can lop off about 15,000 votes from Jack’s vote for starters.  That reflects the people who voted Connie before but who switched in 2008 based on the conditions at the time.

Suddenly the race looks a wee bit different.

And Jack Harris’ personal support?

It might count for something but people who think that even half of that 31,000  went Dipper because people love Jack might want to give their heads a good shake. 

In other words, in that straight match-up Jack Harris would basically have a tight race and conceivably could lose. He’s going to face a very aggressive Conservative candidate in Jerry Byrne.  Byrne’s a successful local businessman with a reputation for being hyper- energetic.  He’s got deep roots in the provincial Conservative party.  He’ll have a strong locally-based machine that will ensure Conservative voters get to the polls. Add to that the likelihood that Byrne would be a natural cabinet selection in a future Conservative administration and you can see a tough fight shaping up in the East.

Now the one wild card here is the Liberal.  Just like Jack can’t count on local Conservative support next time, Jack Harris also can’t count on a Liberal candidate with a penchant for self-immolation.  There’s no Liberal candidate even rumoured at this point although Ignatieff major domo Paul Antle would have to cough up a candidate or run himself.  Antle did very well when he ran before and that too might pose a bit of a problem if he can bleed off any of the support from one side or the other.

As it stands right now, Jack Harris will have a fight to win re-election in the next federal election.  This is not to say Harris is already dead; it’s just to say that he will have to wage a hard fight to win.

The Dippers know that, by the way.  You can tell they know by just exactly how quickly their press secretary jumped on the suggestion Jack would have to campaign. The New Democrats are obviously afraid of getting Byrned in St. John’s East.

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Quebec interested in lunatic megaproject

Around these parts it’s known as the Stunnel.

As in Stunned Tunnel.

It makes absolutely no economic sense but people like to talk about it.

And now, as CBC is reporting, the Government of Quebec is interested in the idea, but apparently at the behest of the Conservatives ruling Newfoundland and Labrador.

Talk about a place sorely lacking in new ideas.

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Super-duper Mega UpdateThe Northern Pen two days ago -

The Pen can reveal Quebec’s minister for transport Norman MacMillan wrote to provincial counterpart Tom Hedderson on December 1 agreeing, in principle, to undergo a joint study into not only the 15km tunnel, but the completion of Route 138 on the Quebec side.

The letter proposes “conducting a large-scale socio-economic study to investigate the current status and the potential evolution of economic activity and demographics within the entire territory in question, and whether the existing transport infrastructure is adequate.”

There’s a Radio Canada report as well.

Just wondering about implications

Since safety is current the responsibility of the offshore regulatory board and since that came from both the 1985 Atlantic Accord (not to be confused with the one time transfer of federal cash in 2005) will the federal and provincial government’s have to amend the original agreement in order to create a separate offshore safety board?

And if they do that, will one of the parties want to change around some other details of the deal as well?

After all, cracking open the original deal is a bit like opening Pandora’s box.  You never know what would hop out.

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23 February 2011

Connies drop

So much for all those polls showing the Conservatives were on fire.

Ekos’ most recent poll puts the Connies at 32% with the Liberals at 27%. The pollsters at Ekos put it down to the usual pattern of Canadians getting queasy about the idea of a majority Conservative government.


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Noseworthiness, redux

Sometimes you do have to wonder if anybody – let alone Auditor General John Noseworthy himself - actually reads what his office spits out.

Take, for example, the most recent report on operations in government departments.  Page after page of the report contain sentences containing random spacing that one piece of software or another has added to text as someone cut and pasted it back and forth.

Your humble e-scribbler knows the problem all too well. There’s a huge difference, though,  between someone writing in his spare time and the province’s official accounting watchdog.

But perhaps the worst part of Noseworthy’s report is the shameless massaging of numbers to make his office look way more effective than it actually is.

No, we are not talking about a problem identified in previous reports: the AG actually made up recommendations he never originally made and then claimed departments had complied with the fake ones.

This is a case of basic math problems.

Previous reports contained a total of 193 recommendations according to Noseworthy’s most recent report.  In following up on them, he reported that 89.1% “had been acted upon”.

Nearly 90%?


That’s amazing.

Until you look at the detail.

Departments and agencies only fully accepted  79 of the 193 recommendations.

That’s 41%.

Departments only partially implemented another 79.

And they didn’t implement another 21 at all.

The remainder are less than partially implemented, whatever that means.

But think about it:  Noseworthy’s success rate is not 90% as his statement implies;  it’s really only 41%. 

Government departments either gave up implementing 60% of his recommendations fully or simply refused to implement them altogether.

So if the guy massages the numbers about his own office in order to make things look better than they actually are, what might he be doing with the other numbers?

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22 February 2011

Atlantic energy co-operation: where Lower is higher

Natural resources minister Shawn Skinner is in Halifax talking energy co-operation with his counterparts in the Maritime provinces.

Odd that the provincial government didn’t play it up more than issuing a few lines in a media advisory on Monday, the day the meetings started.

After all, New Brunswick energy minister Craig Leonard is interested in some of Skinner’s Lower Churchill electricity.  As Leonard told the Telegraph Journal:

"There will be a considerable amount of energy that's moving through the province," Leonard says.

"That's an opportunity for us. That's clean, renewable power that will be moving through our transmission system, whether it's en route to New England or we could utilize it ourselves."

Now as regular readers of these scribbles know, the Muskrat Falls proposal is a hugely expensive proposition that Premier Kathy Dunderdale and her Conservatives expect Newfoundland and Labrador residents to pay for. The cost to produce the power, according to Dunderdale back before Christmas will be at least 14.3 cents per kilowatt hour.

Now that is interesting given that the old NB Power deal with Hydro-Quebec was supposed to lower electricity rates in the near term. When the New Brunswick government unveiled the deal, consumer electricity rates were around 11 cents per kilowatt hour.  Hydro-Quebec had oodles of electricity, some of it from very low-cost operations and could have made a tidy sum off New Brunswick customers even at reduced current rates.

Leonard and his colleagues campaigned against the deal and if they now buy Muskrat Falls power, they’d be doing exactly the opposite from what the Shawn Graham deal would have delivered.

Maybe the crowd in Fredericton will just settle for making some cash off the power that Nalcor will wheel through to the United States.


That’s right.

There’s a power glut south of the border.

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21 February 2011

Layton will cave

Just a gut feeling.

Jack Layton will not trigger an election this spring.

Forget the tough talk.

Heard it before.

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20 February 2011

What it means to be an energy warehouse

Governors of New England states come to visit you looking for more juice.  In this case, Vermont’s top political leader took a two-day trip to Quebec to discuss power and transportation.  Governor Peter Shumlin wants to route a New York to Montreal high speed rail line through Vermont.  He also discussed electricity and natural gas pipelines.

"Everyone's trying to sell us power," Shumlin said. The New England market has excess generating capacity, and Vermont utilities have been approached with several offers, he said.

"It's a buyer's market," Shumlin said.

Let’s get that Muskrat Falls in production soon to take advantage of that buyer’s market.



So when are Pete and his buddies making a pilgrimage to sit at Kathy Dunderdale’s feet?

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19 February 2011

Connies torquing Bev Oda

The Globe and Mail carried an exceptionally well crafty effort by someone to counteract the fairly obvious problems federal cabinet minister Bev Oda created for herself recently.

It is not just spin, however.

It is beyond mere spin.

It is torque.

Pure torque.

It is such a heavy load of torque this piece should be accompanied by the whine of one of those wrenches they use in garages to change tire lugs.

Bev Oda is a former senior executive in the communications industry who, we are to believe, is now a “serious minded minister” who has one tragic flaw – she simply can’t explain what she means.  She cannot communicate effectively. 

Someone was so concerned to get that message that they made it the headline of the piece.

The lede then reframes the entire controversy and ascribes it to “sketchy paperwork”.

But here’s the simple truth:  Bev Oda lied to parliament.

The paperwork was not sketchy.  it’s there and plain and as Oda herself acknowledged she directed someone to insert the word “not” in a document and thereby change its meaning.

The lede of the Globe piece is factually incorrect.

It is, to use a simple word, untrue.

In case you missed it, the lede is based on an entirely false premise.

The rest of the article describes Oda’s desk piled high with papers and cases where decisions were left to the last minute.  The article refers to former staffers who attribute this to her penchant for reading each document thoroughly. Oda is, we are assured “a stickler for details and a pains-taking reader of files.”

Sure she is.

What the article describes is a person who actually appears to be overwhelmed by her responsibilities and who is working well above her ceiling.  Delay of this sort is not an attention to detail;  it is likely an avoidance of making a decision and that comes from only one source:  insecurity.

Ministers who are on top of their files, as the phrase goes and who are, at the same time, sticklers for detail tend to keep their desks cleared with an endless flurry of paper coming and going.

They do not hesitate to make decisions.

They are constantly making decisions.

They are the ones who, after a very long day,  take home a bunch of hundred page tomes and skip the one page briefing notes to dive into the detail.  The books comes back the next morning with hand-written notations on page after page in the middle.

Your humble e-scribbler can say this because he has worked for or with a bunch of them and knows a bunch more by reputation.

Oda served as a senior vice president at CTV but she is, according to the sources in this article, beset by a communications problem.

Again, a nose-puller of Mulroney-ego-esque proportions.

Bev Oda lied to parliament.

She should go.

And if the Prime Minister and his crew had half a clue they’d have punted this fairly obvious inept minister a long time ago.  Surely there’s a sinecure somewhere for her other than sitting in cabinet.

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Never heard that before

Memorial University’s political science department is undergoing a reinvigoration of the kind not seen in the department in nearly 40 years.

You can credit it to a crop of bright, aggressive and curious professors like Alex Marland and Matthew Kerby.

In the second part of a series on the department, the Telegram’s Dave Bartlett interviews Kerby and Marland and the pair discuss three myths that affect Newfoundland and Labrador politics.

Marland and Kerby also discussed some of the accepted — but not necessarily factual — beliefs in this province’s political culture, which they’ve discovered through their research and by observing local politics.

“What bothers me about Newfoundland politics is, the more I research … the more I realize that things (are) repeated, and it’s not necessarily always for good reasons,” said Marland.

And the three myths?

One, that the pro­vince would be better off if it didn’t join Canada in 1949. Two, the reason for the collapse of the fishery, and three, that it’s not the pro­vince’s fault it was ripped off by the Upper Churchill agreement.

Bond Papers readers will find this discussion fascinating if not just a wee frickin’ bit familiar.

Don’t expect some of this corner’s regular commenters to take too kindly to the professors’ ideas.

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Romantic Traffic

  1. Humber West post mortem
  2. From 61% to 44% since August:  NTV poll shows Tory support slides further
  3. Kremlinology 32:  the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre
  4. Signs of the Granterdannerung
  5. Think federal equity stake
  6. Dunderdale admin awards lucrative government legal work without tender
  7. Low Turn-out
  8. Kremlinology 31:  AG report on offshore board mysteriously vanishes
  9. Cheryl Gallant sinks
  10. Twitter or huckster:  the political uses of social media

- srbp -

18 February 2011

Low Turn-out

As the Telegram editorial pointed up on Thursday, the winners in a series of recent by-elections took what is ostensibly one of the province’s most important and prestigious jobs based on the endorsement of the less than 30% of the eligible voters in the districts involved.

The Telegram blames the voters for this problem:

If you couldn’t even get off your backside to vote, you have no right to complain about how lousy, venial or downright pathetic your representation turns out to be. Heck, if they steal from you (as some of our politicians recently did), you hardly have a right to complain; you took no part in picking them, so they hardly betrayed your trust.

With possibly one brief period, politics in Newfoundland and Labrador has never been based on mobilisation of voters around a common goal or agenda based on their fundamental equality and on their shared and equal right to determine the future of the province.

Typically politics in Newfoundland and Labrador is based on the idea that citizens surrender their power to the patron who will deliver such benefits to the district – in the form of jobs and public spending – as he might be able.  Typically that sort of idea is reinforced by the sort of politics we’ve seen in the recent by-election in Humber West. 

In his campaign foray, Danny Williams took pains to remind voters how good he and his colleagues had been to the region.  That’s none-too-subtle coded for “look how much pork we brought” and now pay us back with a vote for my guy.  That’s pretty much the same sort of thing he said after the embarrassing defeat in the Straits.  Williams famously expressed disdain that voters could be so ungrateful to him – perhaps personally – for not electing his candidate after all the money that Williams and his colleagues had delivered to the district.

That basic message in provincial politics is what lay at the heart of the spending scandal.  Individual politicians got to distribute pork to their districts or to withhold it as they saw fit.  No one pretended to distribute the money fairly.  No one, including a former auditor general, thought that government programs – administered impartially by departments – were the right way to handle health and social services assistance of the kind many politicians claimed to be delivering out of money meant to maintain constituency offices and the like.

The current Conservative administration isn’t doing anything radically new in comparison to most of their predecessors. Like poll goosing, they are just doing it more aggressively and much more blatantly.  Fighting public disclosure of information? Discouraging public debate?  Closing and restricting membership in a supposedly open party?  All reflect the basic attitude that the majority of citizens have no role to play in the political system except to obey and acquiesce.

It is hardly surprising in that sort of political environment that people don’t participate in by-elections:  they aren’t supposed to turn out, beyond the identified party faithful.  And beyond the incumbent party, it takes a certain level of courage to swim against the stream.  The shouts of quisling and traitor aren’t designed to encourage discussion and it isn’t surprising that this sort of thuggery and intimidation has been as prominent as it has been during one of the most paternalistic regimes in the province’s history.    

It’s also not surprising that the most recent general election produced one of the lowest participation rates in the province’s history, right in line with the last time a paternalistic and patronage riddled party ruled the province.

So perhaps the next time the telegram editorialist is penning a finger-wagger, he or she might explain how it is the voter’s fault for not being braver when  the local political culture discourages participation.

Well, discourages participation beyond tugging the forelock.

- srbp -

17 February 2011

From 61% to 44% since August: NTV poll shows Tory support slides further

For those who have lived by the provincial government’s polling as proof of how popular the governing Conservatives have been, the most recent provincial public opinion polls offer no comfort.

An NTV/Telelink poll released Wednesday [link to NTV report] shows support for the governing provincial Conservatives is currently at 44.3% with 37.9% undecided.

NTV is reporting those figures as being not much different from the last provincial government poll in November, but that’s not the case.

A straight comparison – using the Telelink approach – shows that support for the province’s Tories is down from 51.8% in the CRA poll.  Undecideds in the Corporate Research Associates poll conducted last November stood at 31% on the party support question.

Danny Williams didn’t announce his resignation until the end of CRA’s polling period and it is unlikely his departure significantly changed the poll results.  in other words, undecideds in November increased despite the fact Williams was still the premier at the time CRA conducted the poll.

And in case you missed the point,  support for the province’s Tories has plummeted in the past six months from 61.8% to 44.3%. 

While CRA polling has some very serious credibility problems, Telelink has been notoriously more accurate by comparison.  Their September 2007 poll nailed the Conservative share of eligible voters smack on the money. CRA was 20 percentage points off.  For those counting, CRA was out by something like 32 percent, not the margin of error cited in the poll at the time.  Telelink also got within seven percentage points of the undecided/will not vote (31% polled versus 38) while CRA was basically OTL (18% polled versus 38% actual)

What’s going on?  You can get a good sense of this by looking at the undecideds. Over the past 20 years or so, local polls tend to see a change in “undecideds” when people are unhappy with the incumbent party. They may not be so disgruntled that they switch to the major opposition party;  they may not see the opposition as a viable alternative at that moment.

In this survey, NTV/Telelink did something CRA never does:  they probed the undecideds and asked them which way they might be leaning.  The Tory number climbed but the undecideds were still around 25% according to the NTV report.

That’s still pretty high and it cannot be very encouraging for the Tories.

In Newfoundland and Labrador politics, there are cadres of dedicated party voters.  They turn out and vote the same way pretty well every time.  But the biggest chunk of voters are swing voters.  They are not ideological or overly wrapped up in one party affiliation or another and they are the prize for any party wanting power. When polling in the province changes significantly, odds are the swing voters are swinging. [new sentence added for clarity]

For those who accept CRA polls, you’d have to be worried about the change that showed up last November. This most recent change happened under Danny, the supposedly invincible. he’s gone and the slide is still there. Now the decided party support for the Tories is down again by about 18 percentage points.

Now look at the vote results in the by-elections off the Avalon since 2007. In Humber West, Tory support dropped about 24%, the largest percentage since 2003.  The Liberal vote climbed by a comparable percentage for a combined swing of 45%. That’s in the heart of the Tories’ west coast base.

Remember Danny Williams’ comments right before the by-election about how good Tories have been to the entire west coast?  Yeah, well here’s the payback on that investment.  In the Straits, they rejected the Tory candidate altogether and the Tories retaliated or appear to have retaliated with the air ambulance move.  That couldn’t have helped their overall position on the peninsula.

And in case you are wondering, the swing in Humber West was larger than the 2011 swing in the Straits and St. Barbe that heralded the rise of Danny Williams.

Take Humber West as the example of a trend.  Even when the Tories win, it’s getting pretty clear that they are losing some of their voters.  Some may be core Tories who are getting getting complacent.  Some might be Tories who are just tired of the internal war with their federal cousins.  More likely, they are losing independent or swing voters owing to nothing more radical than fatigue. 

Now consider that in the face of this fairly obvious weakening of Tory support, their most recent decision is to play all-defence with virtually no change in the fundamental direction of the party.  Premier Kathy Dunderdale told reporters in Corner Brook that there’s no change in the overall make-up of her administration until sometime after the fall election.

A defensive game might win.

However, that strategy depends very much on what the Liberals do.  it smacks of the same sort of conventional wisdom slash complacency that led them to count on Danny being around for another one and then some.  Shit happens, as they say.

If the Tories can hold it together, keep a lid on internal fractures, avoid making any controversial decisions, spend like drunken sailors and run a Humber West-style hide ‘em if ya got ‘em campaign, they might  hang on to most of the seats they currently hold.  

That assumes, though, that the Liberals just stumble their way along as they did in 2007.  If the Liberals shift their direction just a bit a lot can change.  Solid local candidates, for example, can make local races competitive in districts outside the metro St. John’s region.  There are plenty of districts that went barely blue in 2007 and there are undoubtedly plenty of polls within districts that reverted – as in Terra Nova – to their former, Liberal voting patterns. It doesn’t take much to swing a poll or a district as the Tories and those familiar with the province’s long electoral history should know.

In the current political environment, small changes can produce disproportionate results. There’s more than enough time between now and October for one change or a combination of changes to produce the sort of political upheavals that happened in the last week of November and the first week of December last year.

2011 could be one of the most interesting political years in Newfoundland and Labrador history.

- srbp -

16 February 2011

Barnes to tackle Tory incumbent

Former conservative member of parliament Rex Barnes announced today that he will be challenging Conservative incumbent Ray Hunter for the nomination in Grand falls-Windsor-Green Bay South.

Hunter will apparently seek the nomination again;  at the very least Hunter doesn’t look like he’s ready to pack it in.

Some observations:

  • Hunter’s never been tight with anyone in the Tory caucus.  Danny used to keep him by the door and that was not to guard it.
  • Barnes evidently has a good idea Ray is vulnerable and that his candidacy will garner some favour from the party backroom.
  • Don’t be surprised if Ray crosses the floor or that the backroom persuades him to retire.
  • Don’t be surprised if there are more challenges to incumbents or floor-crossing.

- srbp -

Humber West post mortem

Granter won. 

Watton lost.

Myers came a distant third.

Tories held the seat and they still do.

That’s the simple result and for the truly simple, that’s all they will see:  no change.

Take a deeper look, though, and  you have a really interesting set of results. The figures used in this post are from Elections Newfoundland and Labrador’s website.

Over the three Danny elections, he polled an average of 3728 votes.  In the 2001 by-election, Williams polled 3606.  In 2003, Williams polled 3823 and in 2007, he actually polled fewer votes:  3755.

Vaughn Granter polled 2109 votes.  That’s 56% of Danny’s average over three elections.  He took 63% of the turnout but consider that Granter left home almost one Tory vote for every Tory vote he got.

Of course, it wasn’t Granter who left them home although the results suggest this was not any great endorsement of the local high school principal.  This by-election was really about Tom Marshall, Danny’s West Coast organizer.  Marshall campaigned hard for Granter, right down to an attack on ACAP debate organizers and their integrity.  And then there was the curious decision to leave the Premier home and bring out Danny Williams for some last minute campaigning. 

But still, for all that the Tories only managed to get 56% of Danny’s vote to the polls.
Meanwhile, Liberal Mark Watton garnered 1097 votes in his first time out.  That’s actually larger than the three-election average of 1088. The Liberals turned out 79% of the average for 2001 and 2003, their best results during the Danny Williams period.

Turnout was also down, coming in at  slightly less than 40%.  Turnout in the two general elections and the 2001 were – chronologically – 53%, 61% and 60%.

So sure, on the surface things look the same now as they did last December as far as seat count goes.

Just below the surface, though, lots of things seem to be changing.

- srbp -

15 February 2011

Think federal equity stake

So the provincial Conservatives are still looking to Uncle Ottawa for a loan guarantee to build the Danny Williams Memorial Money Pit, a.k.a Muskrat Falls and a bunch of transmission lines. This is a really old story.

Danny Williams claimed he had a commitment at one point but for some reason the provincial Conservatives have to keep asking for it.

In the latest version, Kathy Dunderdale – Williams’ chosen heir – is asking again, and Prime Minister Stephen Harper is carefully examining the whole project that he supposedly already committed to fund.

Well, at least that’s what Kathy told us what Stephen said which is basically what happened before when Danny told us over an dover again that Stephen gave a loan guarantee which he apparently never did since Danny and Kathy have to keep asking for it.

Yes, yes, it is just more of the same but let’s just make this really simple.

Let’s remind everyone of what Stephen Harper said in 2006 when Danny Williams asked him to finance the Lower Churchill:

A Conservative government would welcome discussions on this initiative and would hope that the potential exists for it to proceed in the spirit of past successes such as the Hibernia project.

Hibernia project.


8.5% Equity stake.

How big a piece of the Muskrat Falls pie is Kathy willing to sell to Stephen Harper to build Danny Williams’ legacy?

- srbp -

14 February 2011

Kremlinology 32: the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre

Since 1949, not a single Premier has left office and then come back later to campaign on behalf of a by-election candidate for his party while his party was still in power.

Not one.

Once they resigned, they were gone.

They handed over the keys to the eight floor washroom and buggered off to the sun or the Wet Coast or whatever they were up to after quitting.

But not the Old Man.

In Humber West, the Conservatives under the curious leadership style of Kathy Dunderdale flew Danny Williams out to campaign for their hand-picked candidate.

Vaughn Granter seems to be having some tough sledding in the by-election in Williams’ old seat.  Granter is usually seen practically running from door to door, bundled up against the cold like some blue-clad moustachioed gnome.  CBC’s Doug Greer caught Granter on one portion of his frenzied campaign and heard yet again about Granter’s extensive experience in dealing with parents and students.  This is not surprising since Granter is a teacher but it does not logically follow that a high school principal is a natural community leader ready to step into the shoes vacated by one Danny Williams, Q.C (Quixotic Conservative).

Hisself’s sudden appearance smells of concern in the Connie bunker about Granter’s chances. Put that with Tom Marshall’s appearance on open line trying to claim the environmental debate his candidate buggered was somehow tainted.  Then add Tom’s unexplained cancellation of a budget consultation on polling day and you have some pretty solid clues that all is not well with Danny’s legacy in Corner Brook.

The fact that Danny tried to claim the seat is still his – he left it vacant on December 3 – seems all the more curious.  What really demolished any lingering doubts about Granter’s current status on the leaderboard was Danny’s use of The Phrase:  “Nothing could be further from the truth” to deny troubles for the provincial Tories in the mill town. More often than not that phrase used to signal that one could not be, in fact, any closer to the truth.

Danny’s sudden appearance in Humber West may do more than signal Vaughn Granter’s in trouble and may lose the by-election.

His appearance suggests Kathy is not up to the job or, much worse, that maybe she is merely the premier for show.  The real leader had to come out of hiding to finish the job for his ersatz replacement.  On the face of it, one can easily think that Dunderdale and her entire team can’t win a by-election in a supposedly safe seat without Danny.  You have to wonder why. 

One must also wonder why Kathy Dunderdale spent so little time campaigning in Corner brook.  Dunderdale did make a brief appearance in the campaign early on and a couple of cabinet ministers showed up.  For the most part, though, Kathy hasn’t been out running around with the candidate she wants in the House with her.  She hasn’t even been heard talking him up all that much.  What gives with that?

In a manner of speaking, Hisself’s sun-tanned appearance is a bit like taking a Tommy gun to Kathy Dunderdale’s leadership.  He’s shot it full of holes. 

If Mark Watton wins on polling day or even comes a decent second, people around the province will start to wonder about her her ability to lead the party and the province.  Sure the faithful and the pitcher plants will cheer and pretend all is well.  But  among the politicians and the politically inclined, the view may be decidedly different. 

There may well be questions about Dunderdale’s ability to do the job.  In a caucus where her leadership does not have deepest of deep support, there could be a move to replace her before she gets to wear the crown officially.  Political parties in Newfoundland and Labrador aren’t known for their internal stability when unfettered ambition smells the stink of weak, ineffectual leadership.

Just think of it this way:  unless Vaughn Granter blows Mark Watton into dust at the polls, Danny’s trip to Corner Brook will be seen as the St. Valentine’s Day massacre of Kathy Dunderdale’s political credibility and maybe her career.

- srbp -

Signs of the Granterdannerung #hwblxn

First Danny Williams emerges from his hiding place to campaign in Corner Brook on behalf of the hand-picked Conservative candidate in Humber West.

Then Tom Marshall suddenly  - and for no apparent reason – cancels his budget consultation in Goose Bay originally set for polling day in Humber West.

No weather excuses.

No real explanations at all.

- srbp -

Kremlinology 31: The Auditor General’s examination of the offshore board mysteriously vanishes

The year:  2008.

The case:  Auditor General John Noseworthy suddenly took it in his head that the offshore regulatory board fell within his jurisdiction.


Right out of the blue without any warning.

And it was odd too, because despite mounds of evidence that the board wasn’t subject to the provincial auditor general and that Noseworthy’s office didn’t think it had the legal right to audit the board (it has only recently been added to the list of entities subject to audit), Noseworthy threw a major-league tantrum. 

In the end, Noseworthy quietly started to review the board in 2009.

In early 2011 – three full years after the racket started – Noseworthy still hasn’t issued a report on the board nor has he indicated when - if ever -  it might appear.

How very odd.



Something about that year stands out.

What could it be?

Oh yes. 

That was the year of Danny Williams’ jihad against Stephen Harper if memory serves.


Maybe it was just a coincidence.

Wonder where John’s report is?

- srbp -

Dunderdale admin awards lucrative government legal work without tender

Danny Williams’ former law firm got potentially lucrative provincial government legal work without competing in any way. 

The information is in Telegram editor Russell Wangersky’s weekend column. The Telegram didn’t turn it into a news story.

Last week, the Dunderdale administration announced that Roebothan, Mackay and Marshall would head up a law suit against the tobacco industry.

According to Wangersky, there was “no tender call, request for proposals or other competition. As for whether other law firms were considered or offered a chance to bid on the work, the Justice Department replied:

The province felt Roebothan McKay Marshall was the local law firm that best met the requirements for this work. As well, a number of local firms are conflicted as they represent the tobacco industry.”

The Dunderdale administration also refused to disclose the financial aspects of the deal.  The provincial government has new contractual arrangements with both Roebothan, Mackay and Marshall and an American firm retained in 2001 to handle the litigation.

- srbp -

13 February 2011

Twitter or Huckster? Political uses of social media

Front page of the Telegram with a glorious picture. 

Way better advertising than he could ever buy with cash and Steve Kent nailed it.

Of course, Steve Kent is one thing above anything else:  a marketer.  He knows how to sell you something and the commodity he sells best his himself.  You can tell Steve Kent is good at it because he has done very well for himself in a relatively short period of time.

You can also tell because he uses the textbook lines to describe his interest in social media:

Twitter is really about having a dialogue. It’s about engaging people in conversation and it’s not just another approach to communicating messages in the traditional sense

The front page Telegram story would have you believe that Kent is a keen political trendsetter using social media like Twitter in order to “have ‘more human’ interactions with his constituents.”

Here is an example of those “more human” interactions, the dialogue, the conversations:

-  The Provincial Government is investing $2 million so schools across Newfoundland and Labrador can receive 1,450...

-  Storm has started, but dinner theatre is a go at Reid Centre for @mount_pearl Frosty Festival!

There’s some stuff about a pothole and a flat tire, lots of repeating of other people’s messages – called re-tweeting – and a few sports scores. Not very deep or detailed and all pretty pedestrian stuff.  If this is “more human”, then you’d hate to see the other “interactions.”

Still, good on Kent for going with this sort of thing.  He’s not alone;  he might be the only provincial politician to embrace twitter professionally but there are plenty of others out there.  Most locally tend to use Twitter this way:  very sterile and pretty much for putting on the official face.

Not all of them are like that, though.  Take Tony Clement, the federal cabinet minister.  this guy is on Twitter and he and his personality are right there.

And these guys are distinctly different from other high-profile people who are using Twitter.  News media types are especially notable for just putting themselves and their distinctive personalities out there for people to take or leave as they see fit. They don’t just tweet news or mundane lines teasing up a story on the conventional media for television or radio. Sports, movies, personal comments, jokes are all as much part of the twitter mix as something about what stories they are working on. Two that come easily to mind are Kady O’Malley from CBC Ottawa and David Cochrane, CBC’s provincial affairs reporter in  from Newfoundland and Labrador.

The contrast between the pols and the media is night and day.  One is carefully packaged and guarded, by and large, while the other is more natural.  Guess which one better reflects the online, social media world? 


It’s the news media types.  They have no less at risk than the pols but the ones who are using successfully have come to understand that a key part of their overall success is rooted in them being anything but a coif and a voice. Their personality and their personability has become part of the overall package that draws loyal followers. They aren’t “more human”, they are just human.

Authenticity, it seems, is like sincerity. If you can fake that, you’ve got it made in politics. Odd thing is, most politicians real don’t need to fake either.  Why some do remains a mystery.

Incidentally, it’s interesting to see how Twitter turns up in some election campaigns. In Humber West, Liberal Mark Watton has been using his Twitter feed to push out campaign-related information.  He’s tweeted at least once a day.  Conservative Vaughn Granter tweeted on Sunday but hadn’t done anything with Twitter since Tuesday of last week. The NDP candidate – Rosie Meyers – doesn’t appear to have a Twitter feed.

- srbp -

Canada’s SAR system: an insider view

Ottawa Citizen defence columnist David Pugliese posted this comment from a former Coast Guard employee on search and rescue.  Interesting to see the quote from the Ocean Ranger inquiry report.

Some people like to quote selectively from it to suit their purposes.  The helicopter basing discussion  - the St. John’s base recommendation from the report was supposedly not implemented - is a classic example of an issue that was essentially invented by someone based entirely on a misrepresentation (deliberate or otherwise) of that report.

Pugliese’s correspondent offers a useful and possibly provocative perspective.

- srbp -

11 February 2011

If only…

One of the most tragic and despicable beliefs to come out of the Cougar 491 crash in 2009 is that the outcome might have been different except for search and rescue service in Canada.

These days, politicians and others are latching onto is something they call “response time”.  Now we’ll get back to that term in a minute but let us establish right from the outset that the most recent version of the search and rescue belief, whether from a grieving family member or a politician, is rooted firmly in the claim that search and rescue helicopters made the difference or could have made or will in the future make all the difference,  “if only…”.

That basic idea has been there from the beginning:  if only a helicopter from the Canadian Forces had been in St. John’s then more people might have been saved that day. If only the squadron -  or a helicopter – had been in St. John’s, then more might have been saved.  If only search and rescue didn’t have two different response times, then things would have been different.

The Transportation Safety Board report issued Wednesday is the most thorough and technically proficient examination of the crash to date. It identifies 16 factors that contributed to the disaster.  Altering any one of them may have saved lives.

Not one of the factors identified was search and rescue “response” time or anything else related to search and rescue helicopters.

There’s a reason for that.

There is not now nor has there ever been a single shred of evidence that anything – absolutely anything -  related to search and rescue response would have made the slightest bit of difference in this case or one comparable to it.

This brings us back to the idea of response time.  People are using that term to mean the time it takes a helicopter crew to receive an order to go, to board the aircraft, warm up, do pre-flight checks and then launch the aircraft from the airport where it is. 

That’s really “launch time”.  Right now 103 Squadron in Gander launches within 30 minutes during daytime working hours and up to 120 minutes at other times.  In practice, the launch time is much lower during “off hours”.

What people with the SAR fixation need to realise is that in order to deliver a response time of 30 minutes (as they are demanding), Canada would have to spend every penny of public money and even then there’d be no guarantee it could deliver that response time in all cases at all times.

You see, response time is really about the distance from the helicopter or ship to the incident. 

Take a look at any map of Canada and the surrounding ocean and you’ll get an idea of the magnitude of that demand and why it is ludicrous. Just think how many ships, helicopters and crews would it take to have someone ready at any given location with 30 minutes of a crash, all day long, all year long.

That’s what a 30 minute response time means.

And if you want to talk about 30 minute launch time you can understand that the Canadian Forces currently hits that time to launch helicopters more often than not.  Even after normal working hours, the sorts of launch times are not – apparently – trending toward that extreme time of 120 minutes.

Families whose loved ones died in a tragedy can be understood for their beliefs and their actions both as a natural part of grief and out of a human desire to ensure no one else feels the sort of soul-wrenching pain they have endured. Theirs is tragic belief in ever sense of the word tragedy

But for others, for the politicians and journalists, the ones who, even inadvertently, feed the belief in falsehood despite all the evidence, it isn’t so easy to find any generosity for them.

And the men and women who provide search and rescue service across Canada when the rest of us are fat and happy in our cozy beds?

They can only look in amazement at the ignorant critics, shake their heads and mutter how much better off we’d all be “if only…” as they head back to do their duty.

- srbp -


10 February 2011

Cheryl Gallant sinks

Youtube is a deadly instrument.

- srbp -

Kremlinology 30: The Vanishing ‘Stache

Jerome’s shaved off his moustache.



Last time the province’s health minister went out in public sans ‘stache, he came up with some explanation for it and grew the thing back.

After your humble e-scribbler pointed it out and someone asked him about it, of course.

So what happened this time?


- srbp -

TSB issues S-92 crash report, recommends major changes to civil helo safety regime

A complex series of events involving 16 significant factors contributed to the crash of Cougar Helicopters Flight 491 in early 2009 and the loss of 17 souls according to the Transportation Safety Board released Wednesday after a two year investigation.

The complete report is available here:  S-92 investigation report.  It is comprehensive and covers all relevant factors from crew backgrounds to key operating systems to passenger injuries and safety equipment.

The TSB investigation made four recommendations:

  • The Federal Aviation Administration, Transport Canada and the European Aviation Safety Agency remove the "extremely remote" provision from the rule requiring 30 minutes of safe operation following the loss of main gearbox lubricant for all newly constructed Category A transport helicopters and, after a phase-in period, for all existing ones.
  • The Federal Aviation Administration assess the adequacy of the 30 minute main gearbox run dry requirement for Category A transport helicopters.
  • Transport Canada prohibit commercial operation of Category A transport helicopters over water when the sea state will not permit safe ditching and successful evacuation.
  • Transport Canada require that supplemental underwater breathing apparatus be mandatory for all occupants of helicopters involved in overwater flights who are required to wear a Passenger Transportation Suit System.

- srbp -

09 February 2011

Humber West: Mark Watton on CBC Morning Show

The audio is now available online. [mp3]

CBC set this up correctly:  in-studio interviews so that none of the candidates can hear the others’ interviews and then airing them by random draw.  Watton wound up on first.

Mark got the chance to highlight his considerable experience dealing with issues that are important to Newfoundland and Labrador and talk up his connection to the district. 

Then he turned to dealing with issues he’s getting on the doorstep:  housing, concern about pensions and retirement.  The housing one is particularly striking since, as Mark points out, the city is experiencing a housing shortage despite growth. 

Mark nails a number of hard critiques of the current administration  - if housing is so important for the Conservatives it is odd they’ve never raised it in the legislature  - and then and delivers his ballot question cleanly:  do you want a member who speaks for the government or one who speaks for you?

No one can say that voters don’t have a clear choice in Humber West.

- srbp -

Who’s the Boss, again?

Now it can be stuck in someone’s head like Level 42 has been haunting your humble e-scribbler for a week now.

- srbp -

Will the fake Premier Dunderdale please stand up?

Seriously, gang…

Is it more disturbing that someone started an obviously fake Twitter account for Kathy Dunderdale in the general style of a dozen humourous fake accounts, including one during her predecessor’s term of office?

Or that she was so shit-baked people couldn’t tell the difference between the real Kathy and the fake Kathy that she sent out a media advisory proclaiming she doesn’t have a Twitter account?

- srbp -

Imagine if they were fiscally responsible

Feast your eyes on labradore’s latest offering about public debt in Newfoundland and Labrador.

The only people left who think the current administration (since 2003) acted and are acting in a fiscally responsible manner are those who just refuse to see the obvious.

Labradore offers this projection of the provincial net debt if a quarter of oil revenues had gone to actually paying off debt over the past few years.  The light coloured bits are what would have disappeared.  The dark green are what would have remained. The two together are what the Conservatives actual record looks like from basically doing nothing except paying off what came due.

Never Read Stuff Late at Night Update and Correction:  The charts are based on the assumption of taking 25% of the windfall oil revenues for spending and 75% for debt reduction. That's what happens sometimes when you read things late at night.

It actually doesn't change the overall thrust of this post or labradore's original, though since the charts illustrate what an aggressive debt reduction approach could have achieved while at the same time fueling significant increases in public spending.

Consider this to be the complete opposite of the Williams and Marshall approach in which they basically did shag all to reduce the province's debt burden to any meaningful degree.

*original continues*

And the share of the public debt borne by each man, woman and child in the province?

In the cleverly colour-coded chart you can see the blue line – what the Tories did – and the red line representing what might have been, had the current administration done as labradore and a few other brave souls recommended.

Odds are pretty good that a government with the fiscal track record shown in this chart could actually raise the cash on its own to build a viable Lower Churchill project.  On its own, that is, which would be in contrast to going cap in hand to Uncle Ottawa looking for a gigantic multi-billion dollar handout. Like say both Danny Williams and his hand-picked successor have been doing.

There’s a provincial government that is genuine in its aspirations and one that can be legitimately proud of the efforts it has made to ensure Newfoundlanders and Labradorians live in a province that is strong and fiscally sound.

And then there are the people who talk about legitimate aspirations but who fail repeatedly to embody them, let alone achieve them.

Just for good measure, let’s give labradore the final words on this.  They are all too accurate:
There was, of course, nothing responsible or prudent about Danny Williams’ tenure as Premier, and nothing, other than name, that was conservative about it. He chose a different track. 
That is why a government that collected over $9-billion in oil revenues during its tenure still presides over a $9-billion net provincial debt. 
And that is why the provincial net debt per capita this fiscal year was over $17,000 and rising, when in the alternative universe it would have been $7,000 and falling, and falling fast.
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Abuse and power

Last fall when the provincial government debated a resolution to appoint the current child advocate, the minister then responsible for the department of child, youth and family services - Joan Burke  - reminded everyone that the advocate’s position came from a recommendation by some very thoughtful members of the House of Assembly.

They comprised a Select Committee on Children’s Interests created by the House of Assembly in 1994.  Their report, issued in 1996 after two years of study and consultation recommended a number of actions designed to change fundamentally the way the provincial government approached children's’ issues

Those thoughtful members, interestingly enough, specifically rejected the very idea Burke embodied as minister, namely the creation of a separate department to deal with children, youth and family issues within government. They were concerned that such an approach was unnecessarily costly, may serve to marginalize family issues with government and would not encourage the fundamental change in attitudes to children and family issues they felt families and children in the province needed:

It seems contrary to Committee members, therefore, to isolate the needs of children and youth into a single ministry. It is the fear of the Committee that issues affecting children and youth would be "marginalized" into a junior ministry. The goal of government, however, should be to educate and involve all departments and levels of government in designing and implementing appropriate social programs and policy.

The purpose of the child advocate was to speak for the interests of specific children and children generally.  The select committee recommended and Roger Grimes’ administration established the position as an officer of the House of Assembly, separate from the government. In that way, the advocate’s office was supposed to speak for children and families to those with power.

This is a crucial point.  It’s hard to imagine anyone in our society with less power than children. Families are often not much better off, especially when dealing with government.  Just as children are the least powerful of our society, it is equally hard to imagine anyone more powerful than the provincial government armed with all the legal means to accomplish whatever purposes it wants.  The advocate was supposed to provide some balance, largely by making much louder the weakened voice of the child.

All that background is what makes the child advocate’s intervention in most recent story of child protection in the province troubling in the extreme.

Carol Chafe is responding, in largest part, to a complaint brought by a minister of the Crown against the news media and the parents of two children taken into custody by officials of the minister’s department. The parents complained to the news media and the news media dutifully reported the story.

The minister, for her own reasons, decided to try and use the child advocate’s office to a purpose for which it was clearly never intended:  namely as an agent acting on behalf of the most powerful authority in the province. 

Note that Chafe did not make any public comment – as she should have – when the story first broke.  Neither she nor any of her officials appear to have made any efforts to intervene in the case, to deal with the media or the family.

Not until now, that is. 

After Charlene Johnson lodged her complaint.

In a very poorly written statement, Chafe acknowledges that people have a right to know certain things and that the media ought to report.  Then comes the “but” and it is a big one:

However, when children are the central part of the story their right to confidentiality, privacy and safety must trump all other interests.

Asked by CBC’s Ted Blades in an interview on Tuesday to balance the need to discuss a significant issue with the trump card, Chafe couldn’t do it. That isn’t really surprising.  This story carried on for a week.  if Chafe genuinely understood her role and was convinced that the children’s interests “trumped all other interests” she’d have been on this before Charlene Johnson called her in.

Chafe didn’t need anyone’s approval to get in on the case. She has a wide scope of action under the act that governs her office.

Well, the correct phrase is actually had a wide range of powers.

Under changes made to the child advocate’s act in 2008, an entirely new clause (15.2) inserted in 2008 gives a cabinet minister the right to order the advocate to cease an investigation based on the very vague claim that an investigation is not in the public interest. There is no requirement for proof nor does the advocate have any right to appeal the decision to a third party. One letter from the minister and the investigation stops.


On the face of it, what the people of Newfoundland and Labrador are seeing here is yet another example of how the current administration has steadily reduced, muzzled or eliminated any means by which someone may question its decisions.  The process, as Carol Chafe likes to talk about, has been one of erosion. 

Piece by piece.


Almost imperceptibly.

But once they emerge into the light, as with Carol Chafe’s intervention a handful of months into her new job, there can be no mistake about the result.

Power, once appropriately constrained, has its hands free.

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08 February 2011

Here’s to hoping…

That all those cabinet ministers and political staffers working hard to take Humber West for Grantered and the Conservatives are not campaigning on the public dime. 

Annual leave or leave without pay.

But campaigning on the public payroll?

Not on.

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Rio Tinto capex of US$277 million for Phase 2 expansion at Labrador mine

From a Rio Tinto news release issued Tuesday:

“Rio Tinto has given the go-ahead to a further US$277 million investment (Rio Tinto share US$163 million) in the next phase of a project that will ultimately raise the Iron Ore Company of Canada’s (IOC) concentrate production capacity by 40 per cent to 26 million tonnes per year (Mt/a).  

This is the second phase of a three stage expansion that was announced in May 2010 with a US$400 million investment (Rio Tinto share US$235 million) to raise production capacity from 18 Mt/a to 22 Mt/a. 

Phase two of the project will increase IOC’s spiral and magnetite concentrate production capacity by an average of 1.3 Mt/a to 23.3 Mt/a from 2013.

Recent studies have highlighted an opportunity to improve time to market through
bringing forward some capital items from the third stage, resulting in higher level of
production earlier. The third stage of the planned expansion to 26 Mt/a is currently under study and a final investment decision is expected by 2012. 

Rio Tinto chief executive, Iron ore and Australia, Sam Walsh said the project was an
important development in increasing IOC’s production at a time when global demand is escalating.

“Global seaborne iron ore demand is projected to increase substantially over the next decade, and IOC’s concentrate is well placed to complement the increasing use of lower quality ore to meet that demand,” he said.

“With high iron content and very low levels of impurities, IOC’s concentrate provides
significant value to steel producers as ore grades from direct shipping mines continue to decline.” 

The project’s construction is set to start immediately to capitalise on the brief Labrador summer construction season and will be fully commissioned by the end of 2012.”

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