30 September 2011

More numbers #nlpoli #nlvotes

The results of this poll by the pollster for the provincial government’s energy corporation show numbers well within the margin of error for the poll and as such, don’t reliably show any change at all from the results the company released in the first week of the campaign.

The Tories lead with 44%, a change of 2% of last week. The NDP are at 27% up from 23%. The Liberals are at 11% 13% * down from 16% with undecideds at 18% down from 20%.

The margin of error for the poll remains ridiculously high at 4.6%.

Don’t expect the conventional media to report the connections between the pollster and Nalcor,  nor should anyone to report accurately on the figures and what they mean.

Instead, they’ll take the misleading approach favoured by CRA and MQO, pollsters for the provincial government and its energy corporation, and ones that fit a narrative they created before the campaign started.

- srbp -

*Copying error: 13% is the figure in the MQO news release as the percentage of decided respondents who chose Liberal. 

Breastfeeding: it’s what your tits are for #nlpoli

The first week of October is World Breastfeeding Week.

Check out babyfriendlynl.ca and you can find information on some of the activities going on across the province.

Regular readers of these e-scribbles will know that breastfeeding is the local cause of choice.  Some people questioned a sub-head on the blog that lasted for a long while last winter:  Breastfeeding: it’s what your bazongas are for.  Initially they took offence or thought it might be offensive. 

But after your humble e-scribbler explain where the slogan came from and that breastfeeding is the SRBP cause, they called off the lynching..

You can find a post from 2009 that sets what should be the provincial goal:  66 at 6 in 2.  Let’s to the point where 66% percent of new moms are breastfeeding six months after they’ve given birth.

Make it an election issue. 

And in the meantime, be inspired by this promotional video:

- srbp -

Coffee Day! #nlvotes #nlpoli

Thursday was International Coffee Day.

In a poll of American workers done by Dunkin Donuts and CareerBuilder, marketing and public relations professionals came out as the second most caffeinated class of workers in the United States.

Here’s the full list, via prdaily.com:

1. Scientist/lab technician
2. Marketing/public relations professional
3. Education administrator
4. Editor/writer
5. Healthcare administrator
6. Physician
7. Food preparer
8. Professor
9. Social worker
10. Financial professional
11. Personal caretaker
12. Human resources benefits coordinator
13. Nurse
14. Government professional
15. Skilled tradesperson (plumber, carpenter, etc)

- srbp -

Townies and Baymen #nlpoli #nlvotes

Some people were surprised the other night when Danny Dumaresque told the very small audience at a Board of Trade economic forum that:

I would have to say to the mayor of this great city that there are a hell of a lot more priorities outside the overpass that need to be addressed before we start forking more money over to the City of St. John's.

Some people thought his remarks were stupid.

Danny is anything but.

What Danny Dumaresque said won’t hurt him one bit in the Isles of Notre Dame and Danny knows it.

What’s more, what Danny said is true, at least for the people who currently dominate the Liberal Party.  About 12 years ago, they started shifting the party focus away from the province as a whole to one that idealises an imaginary one.

Ruralism started to bloom in the brief period Beaton Tulk served as Premier.  It’s not surprising that Kevin Aylward brought Tulk back to play a key role in the current campaign.

Ruralists believe – as the Liberals’ centrepiece policy for the current campaign states – that:

The fishery is our province’s defining narrative…Our fishery has been our past and the Liberal Party believes it will be our future.

It is not just the fishery, though.  Ruralism, for all its romantic, reactionary beliefs, holds the fishery as the foundation of an entire culture with social and economic components.

The Ruralists flourished after 2003 and their philosophy was firmly entrenched after 2007.  Despite Kevin Aylward’s fervent efforts to pretend otherwise during the debate Wednesday night,  the party he now leads has written off anything east of Goobies.

To be fair, the Liberals aren’t alone in their Ruralist beliefs.  The provincial Conservatives carried on with the Liberals’ Ruralist agenda.  They kept the Rural Secretariat and married its assumptions with Danny Williams’ peculiar version of nationalism.

Again, not surprisingly,  Kevin Aylward proudly declared himself a staunch nationalist shortly after he took over as Liberal leader.  

At its miserable heart, though, Ruralism is really nothing more than old fashioned paternalism and patronage.  Grit or Tory, all the Ruralists really want to do is use public money to keep people in some parts of the province dependent on political hand-outs and therefore firmly under political control.  It’s a miserable, cynical ploy.

To make it clear that patronage isn’t just a favourite ploy for one party, consider that Conservative candidate Keith Russell made it plain enough on Thursday when he said to voters in central Labrador (via the Telegram) that

we have to be on government’s side to access government coffers…

Conservative leader Kathy Dunderdale repeated basically the same line while campaigning on the south eastern coast of Labrador on Thursday.  CBC’s Chris O’Neill-Yates tweeted it:

patronagetweet

Abandoning the Avalon Peninsula doesn’t mean the Liberals are doomed as a political party.  They can still win plenty of seats and could well pick up a few this time around.  They’ll likely stay as the Official Opposition. What they can’t do, of course if form a government.  The Liberal strategy is as short-sighted in that respect as it is simplistic. 

Its narrow focus means the Ruralist Party, as it should now be named,  has had way more trouble than an opposition party normally would getting candidates in the last three elections.  In 2011, they’ve had to turn, once again, to dragooning political staffers to fill out the last remaining slots in the candidate roster.  The only thing Beaton Tulk didn’t do in his mad search for names for the ballots on the Avalon was hold a séance.

The Ruralist Party’s focus doesn’t mean they haven’t turned up some good candidates in the process.  George Joyce in St. John’s West is the best of the three candidates running in St. John’s West by a long way. 

In St. John’s Centre, newcomer Carly Bigelow has been kicking Shawn Skinner around. 

During an appearance on Out of the Fog, she popped Skinner’s eyes a bit when she reminded him that Tory policy is to keep public service pensioners on fixed incomes with no increases and then double their electricity rates.  He flipped but that pretty much sums up Skinner’s position. The truth really does hurt, as it turns out.

George and Carly could be easy choices St. John’s voters.  After all, a vindictive, patronage-addled Conservative administration can hardly shag the district for funds in retribution for voting the “wrong way”.  They don’t push pork into townie districts anyway, at least not like the do outside the capital city, so Sin Jawns voters have the opportunity to pick candidates on merit, rather than by party colour.

The Liberal Ruralists aren’t the only ones with problems in Capital City.

In St. John’s North, both the Conservative and New Democrat candidates  are running headlong into the problems with their platforms. 

An NTV profile of the district on Thursday evening’s news noted that the district has a very large percentage of people on fixed and low incomes.  Plenty of public service pensioners live there so incumbent Bob Ridgley must be having a hard time explaining Tom Marshall’s cavalier dismissal of their demands for a modest increase in pension payments now that the government has $4.0 billion in cash laying about.

Add to that the Tory plan to use the cash to double electricity rates instead and you have a very tough pill to shove down voters throats.  If you are a Tory that is.,

Meanwhile, Sin Jawns New Dem Dale Kirby is having an equally hard time.  His party backs the Dunderdale plan to force the people of St. John’s North to pay to ship discount electricity to Nova Scotians.

And then there’s the public sector pensions.

Not a peep in the NDP platform about it at all.

Kirby must be having a devil of a time explaining how the NDP party president and his colleagues didn’t think those pensions might be an issue. Talk about treating seniors with the respect they deserve.

Pensioners can take some cold comfort with the knowledge they weren’t the only thing Kirby and his colleagues didn’t know about.  They missed entirely the contracts that prevent them from introducing their new crude oil tax that was supposed to pay for some other campaign promises.

And if that wasn’t enough, there was another glaring Dipper gaffe in St. John’s.

Liberal Drew Brown is running an uphill fight in Signal Hill-Quidi Vidi  against  an entrenched NDP campaign that knows which way every blade of grass votes in the district. He’s another candidate who’d be far better than the incumbent.

But facing all that didn’t stop Brown from picking up on a glaring oversight in the NDP policy book: the party of supposed social responsibility has no platform plank on replacing the Dickensian-era HMP that happens to sit in Lorraine Michaels’ district:

“The existing infrastructure at Her Majesty’s Penitentiary is still abysmal, despite the findings of the 2008 ‘Decades of Darkness’ report on the state of the provincial corrections system,” Brown explained. “I find it really surprising that no one is talking about it in this election, especially considering the federal Conservatives’ forthcoming crime legislation is likely going to result in an increased number of prisoners going through the system.”

The Liberals plan to begin work on replacing the prison – and aggressively lobbying the federal government to cost-share the project – within weeks of forming the government.

“Without safe and effective prisons, our system of justice here in Newfoundland and Labrador is seriously weakened. Better conditions for the prisoners aside, the facility workers themselves deserve a safer workplace than the one they currently have,” Brown added. “It’s a government facility – the working conditions for employees at Her Majesty’s Penitentiary should be held to the same standard as any other government institution.”

Wowsers.

So at about the half-way point in the general election, one party  - the Liberals – have voluntarily surrendered  a huge chunk of the voting population to the other parties.  They’ve left some very good candidates to fend for themselves.

Another party has just missed the boat entirely on core issues in the one region of the province where they are supposed to have such amazing support and affinity.

this is not a townie versus bayman thing, as much as some people might like to paint it that way.

It’s really about political parties that operate with limited political vision.

- srbp -

29 September 2011

Keith Russell: Panic! #nlpoli #nlvotes

Tory candidate Keith Russell must be in a desperate battle to win his seat.

He’s trotted out the old patronage card in a bid to boost his chances.  The district better vote the right way, warns Russell or else no megaprojects for Labrador.

Here’s how the Telegram reported his comments:

we have to be on government’s side to access government coffers…

Candidates who trot out the truth of the way the Tories have been handling things like road paving over the past seven years usually get slapped down not for what they said but for saying it out loud.

Wonder what Kathy Dunderdale will do to Russell now that he has voiced the threat implicit in the Conservatives’ campaign pork-fest.

Incidentally, the Telegram notes that Russell – who used to work for the Innu nation – testified at the joint review panel hearings and raised concerns about the Muskrat Falls megadebt project.  The Telegram didn’t do Russell’s testimony justice, but that’s another story.

-srbp -

Own goals #nlvotes #nlpoli

Snappy comments help get news coverage.

Some people call them sound bites.

Like this one from the leader’s debate, highlighted by CBC:

She did, however, have a feisty comment for Aylward when he challenged her on the PCs' approach to the fishery.

"Your slogan is 'we can do better,' you can hardly do worse sir," said Dunderdale.

She’s right. 

The Liberals would be hard-pressed to do worse than the Tories when it came to managing the province’s fishery.

From the FPI fiasco to the idea of re-starting the Fisheries Give-Away Public Cash Board to keeping people splitting fish for Third World wages, you’d be hard pressed to do worse than the Tories have done.

That’s not what Dunderdale likely meant but it was the hapless politician said.

It’s typical of the sorts of basic cock-ups she makes a lot.

But in politics you only have to be better than the alternatives and in the debate she looked better.

The Liberals and NDP can hardly do worse than that, either.

- srbp -

It’s unanimous: more of the same… #nlpoli #nlvotes

So now you’ve either seen the debate or read some of the media coverage about it.

Here’s a question for you:

  • what was the ballot question for you as posed by each of the leaders?

While you’re thinking about that for a second, let’s just review a few things.

Elections are about choices.

Candidates want you to pick one among them.

The ballot question is why you should vote for that one candidate as opposed to the others. The question should be stated in a way that distinguishes one candidate from all the others.  Political campaigns ought to be structured to reinforce the basic choice – the ballot question – over and over.

If you are still wondering about this – and that would be a bad thing for the parties – let’s just begin by figuring out which parties want change and which parties want things to stay fundamentally the same.

After all, in an election where there is an incumbent, the basic question is change versus more of the same.

Take another few seconds, if you need to.

Okay.

Time’s up.

So what was the answer?

Let’s start with the easy one.  The Tory message is the classic incumbent one:  stay the course.  Kathy Dunderdale wants you to vote for the Conservatives because things are good and they will get better.  Tories made a change and now you need to stick with the course that brought the change. 

Kathy Dunderdale said it at the beginning of the debate and she said it at the end. her comments in between supported the proposition by pointing out the good things she and her friends have done and all the bad things the others did or would do if given the chance.

In her television spots, Kathy Dunderdale says she thinks every day about who put her in her current job. Well, it wasn’t ‘we”, but that didn’t stop her from using the magical persuasive construction of talking about joining with her:  “together, we…”

Plus, she respectfully asked for your vote.

She hit her marks every time.

So what about the other two?

Well, it’s a bit of a trick question really.

Parties other than the incumbent should be advocating change.

But if you thought that in this election you’d be dead wrong.

The NDP message was “it’s time.” 

Time for what?  We’ll, Lorraine wasn’t really sure.  it might have been it’s time to give the NDP a turn at the wheel but her heart really wasn’t in it. 

Lorraine Michael spent a lot of time in her opening remarks telling people what they  - the people  - thought. 

No need:  they already know.

She talked about how the NDP had listened and would do something.  people were looking to her for some idea where the NDP would go that was different from where things are.

But when things got going, Lorraine reverted to the default NDP mindset of being a supplicant.  Take the discussion about a seniors advocate. Lorraine talked about it as a nice idea. Kathy got away with saying:  we have no objection to that.  There was the implicit idea behind her comments that Lorraine should come talk to her after the election so the Premier could think about it.

And when Lorraine wasn’t doing that she was criticising the Tories.

Lorraine’s attitude and the general vagueness of her message confirmed that the NDP want the Tories to win.  They have already conceded that they don’t really want change.

Ryan Cleary was right.

And that brings us to Kevin Aylward and the Liberals.

His opening remarks were the first shot to make a simple, clean statement of the ballot question.  Instead, he spent two minutes talking about the other guys. He talked about their ideas and their actions.

And throughout, he spent his time criticising.

That’s what opposition politicians do.  They criticise.

They don’t push ideas of their own and force the other guys to respond on their terms.

They don’t set the agenda for discussion.

Neither Lorraine nor Kevin set the agenda.

They didn’t even try.

If you look at the election platforms of the parties you can see the same thing.  They don’t distinguish themselves.  They give you variations on a theme.

For voters, the message was clear:  better to stick with the crowd you do know than the ones who already told you that where the province is going is just fine.

And if you want to know the extent to which the Liberals and NDP love where the province is right now and what the Tories have been doing – with a few exceptions - consider which parties in this election want to talk about Danny Williams.

Kevin Aylward said the other day that Danny did some neato things.  Heck, Kevin Aylward loves Danny so much he was trying to get Liz Matthews to run for the Liberals in her father’s old seat of St. John’s North.

When confronted about their crude oil tax and tearing up agreements, Sin Jawns North New Dem and party president Dale Kirby invoked the sacred Old Man.  Lorraine would pull a Danny, sez Dale, and not stop until the job got done fighting Big Oil.

At the economic forum on Tuesday night, the Liberals, Conservatives and New Democrats actually spent more time agreeing than disagreeing on anything.

While the Dippers and Grits are talking about yesterday’s Old Man, Kathy Dunderdale accepted their premise that she will win the election. 

Dunderdale claimed the title of leader Kevin and Lorraine offered her and passed herself off as the agent of change during the debate even though what she is really talking about is more of the same, too.

The debate  - as it turned out - was nothing more than a continuation of the message track each of the parties has been following since Day One.

Funny thing, that.

- srbp -

28 September 2011

Disconnect #nlpoli #nlvotes

Kathy Dunderdale says:

"[Joan Burke]'s not intimidated by Mr. Aylward, nor should she be," Dunderdale said …

but then the sentence finishes with:

…during one of a series of stops in St. George's-Stephenville East.

Joan’s so not intimidated that the party leader made a series of visits to the district.

Kathy Dunderdale says she doesn’t see the need for a leader’s debate on Muskrat Falls:

We're not hearing it and our candidates are not hearing it door to door. It is not an issue…

And it is so much not an issue that the provincial government’s energy corporation has been flogging it anywhere and everywhere they can and it features prominently in the Conservative election platform.

The actions do not match the words.

Disconnect.

- srbp -

Commodity prices and economic recovery #nlpoli

From the Globe and Mail:

“If commodity prices were to fall back – apart from Canada, of course – it would be a pretty good thing for most of the world because it would put purchasing power back in consumers’ pockets,” Mr. [Roger] Bootle said Monday in an interview in Toronto before an annual conference organized by Capital Economics.

Commodity producers would be hurt by lower prices for their raw materials, but accelerating growth in Canada’s largest foreign market, the United States, would boost demand for exports of Canadian goods and services, he said. “You’ve got a bit of a two-way pull there.”

Bit like the trigger point, eh?

- srbp -

My work here is done #nlvotes #nlpoli

The Telegram quoted Kathy Dunderdale on Tuesday:

"We have to find the cheapest way," she said today while campaigning on the west coast.

"Muskrat Falls is that way unless somebody else is able to prove to us the analysis is flawed."

Someone send her the link to “Classical Gas” for starters.

- srbp -

Do debates matter? #nlpoli #nlvotes

Debates matter but not in the way some people think.

For starters they have nothing to do with knock-out blows.  That’s a media invention they use along with horse-race reporting in order to cover campaigns.  it’s a simple enough idea full of potential drama, but the fact is that debates are seldom if ever about the telling blow or the fatal wound to a campaign.

The evidence speaks for itself.  In the past four decades, only one American presidential debate produced a significant switch in a candidate’s polling numbers. 

In Canada, there have been a couple of points that stand out – Mulroney and Turner in the 1980s – but for the most part, people would be hard-pressed to find a debate moment that dramatically lifted one campaign or destroyed another in a national election.

Strategy is about deploying assets as part of a co-ordinated plan to reinforce your strengths and exploit your opponents’ weaknesses in order to win. 

Debates are part of the tools strategists in a campaign use.

Period.

Everything else is for the punters and for amateurs.

In Newfoundland and Labrador, the three political parties will take part on a raft of debates.  The parties will decide which to take part in and who to send on behalf of the party based on a bunch of factors. 

The leaders often don’t turn up for anything other than the NTV televised debate.  That is the major event that offers plenty of free advertising – via news coverage in the run-up and especially in the time afterward.  The debate gives the leader a chance to stream prepared messages and toss out a couple of lines that may snag some media attention.

These days debates like the NTV leaders’ gabfest are about as risky as breaking wind.  The parties spend so much time negotiating the rules in order to avoid running any risk that anyone can do anything.   The whole thing is theatre and campaigns work hard to agree upon a format that protects their main player from anything even vaguely approaching a campaign-losing gaffe or death blow by an opponent.

Risk?

Confrontation?

Nothing could be further from the truth.

Other debates offer similar value – for their advertising spinoffs – and unless the event has some sort of amazing potential previously unforeseen in the history of human civilization, major parties will send substitutes. 

A health care forum will get the party’s health care critic or rising star. One on the economy will get the finance critic or the development guru to give him or her the chance to score a bit of a profile.

The fact that Lorraine Michael is attending all the debates tells you, by the by, just exactly how thin the NDP candidate pool is and how important it is for them to get as much free media for Lorraine as they can.  Campaigns with cash and other resources don’t need to pack everything into the one candidate and a minivan.

As for Aylward and the Liberals you really have to wonder two things.  First, you have to wonder why the Liberals sent Aylward to debate health care when they have a couple of subject matter experts as candidates. Second, you have to wonder why the Liberal backroom gang left Aylward in the Board of Trade session until the last minute so that the last minute substitution of Dumaresque looked foolish.  Hint:  he didn’t pull out because he suddenly noticed Kathy wasn’t there.

If the number of debates proliferate in future campaigns, they will get to be like the begging letters from every special interest group on the planet.  They will become yet another incredible drain on resources that serves only to give the interest group some free publicity, convince their members the group is working, or both.

The punters and the media pay attention to them – think about Danny’s begging letters to Ottawa – but the letters usually get pro forma statements of the party platform rather than personalised attention.

In general, campaigns will send someone along to a debate unless the thing is a drain on resources and can be chopped without costing anything. Even the risk of a couple of hours of bad news stories can be worth it if the debate does not serve the campaign’s strategy.

Starting in 2003, the provincial Conservatives made it a policy to refuse to take part in any district debates, full stop. They did that largely because avoiding these small events cuts down on the potential that one of the lesser lights in the campaign firmament trips up in his or her own ego and takes the campaign off its pre-planned message track for a day or two.

And every other claim about debates is for the punters, the amateurs and people with airtime to fill.

It’s like the idea that somehow the election outcome is a foregone conclusion,  Kathy Dunderdale needs to stand pat and the debate is a big deal for Kevin Aylward and Lorraine Michael in the battle for second place.

The idea there is a race for second is entirely a media fiction.

It doesn’t exist. 

Never did.

The NDP got a huge boost from the media in the election run-up.  But the editors and producers were just looking for a convenient – read simple - narrative they could build a story thread around. 

They ate up the NDP’s federal election boost and then, when a couple of polls appeared to show a surge in NDP popularity provincially, off reporters went to the horse-race.

But look at what the NDP actually turned up with in the days since the campaign began. They obviously have no money.  Their radio spots are the stuff of a St. John’s municipal election campaign – done badly on the cheap -  not the usually polished and effective NDP provincial election fare.  The backdrop for the platform launch was a painted piece of sign board propped against a wall.

Lorraine Michael traveled outside St. John’s once so far.  That was to one of two seats outside Michael’s own seat where the Dippers stand a chance of any success.  She might make it to Labrador but the party simply lacks the money and organization to mount a campaign that threatens to do any more than grab headlines.

And don’t forget, the NDP are only polling around 18% – at best – in any of the recent polling.  That’s only slightly better than the 14% the NDP garnered in the late 1980s when they held two seats in the province.

Nothing points to any radical NDP anything, least of all the chance that Lorraine Michael might pull off a magical Jack Layton and vault into the opposition leader’s job.  Lorraine ain’t Jack by a long shot and the provincial NDP aren’t their federal cousins.

People say there is a race for second even where there isn’t one for the same reason some politicians talk about “a go forward basis” or “files” or “piece” this and “piece” that. They think it makes them sound like they know what they are talking about.

So when you watch the debate tonight, err, if you watch the debate tonight, ignore the political analysts.  If you hear words like “risk”, “race for second place” and so on blow raspberries at them and laugh.

Just watch the three leaders.  Notice what they say, how they say it and how often they say it. 

Then on Thursday, we can have a chat about the campaign strategies of the three parties and what is really going on out there in this dull-as-dishwater affray.

- srbp -

27 September 2011

The Twitter Conundrum #nlpoli #nlvotes

Kathy Dunderdale sends messages using Twitter.

Herself.

Using her own two hands.

Someone who has spent about 60 years in this province -  give or take – and who has been a prominent municipal and provincial politician before being yanked out of pseudo-retirement to become Premier should know how to spell  the names of places in the province.

We are not talking Quirpon here.

We are talking the lush agricultural valley on the province’s west coast or as Kathy tweeted it this morning:

dundertweet

Cod Roy.

Two words.

Maybe she thought she was logging into the multiplayer version of Call of Duty using Danny’s leftover screen ID.

Maybe she was so overcome by the beauty of that part of the island that she fancied herself a Scottish-Newfoundland freedom fighter.

Maybe she thought she was the king of the fish.

Or maybe – and we are just just spit ballin’ here – Kathy doesn’t write her own tweets.

Maybe she has someone following her around, Crackberry in hand ready to spit out something from her boss to make it look like the amazingly transformed KD herself is telling us about yet another “beautiful” place she has been in the “beautiful” province in order meet all the “great’ people after her morning “run”.

Yes, folks, it is the Twitter conundrum.

The brand new image the nice advertising people invented for you demands you send twitter messages even if you couldn’t be bothered and so the campaign or the Premier’s Office sticks some junior joe or jane with the job all the while praying that joe or jane doesn’t blow away the cool facade by tweeting garbage.

Either that or Kathy herself had to consciously insert a space and push the shift key a second time on her computer or Crackberry to transform “Codroy” into two words both starting with capitals. The simple typo would be the errant extra space, after all.  Whoever typed that thought it was two separate words.

Which is more likely?

You decide.

- srbp -

The Petroleum Trigger Point #nlpoli #nlvotes

West Texas Intermediate crude is hovering around a price that some analysts say puts some oil sands in doubt.

Meanwhile, North Sea Brent crude  - the price used to benchmark local crude -  is running about $25 a barrel higher.

Crude prices are tied to fears of a second recession following hot on the heels of the 2008 one. Regular readers of these e-scribblers will be familiar with that idea, plus the related notion that the American economy won’t recover with oil as high as it is. 

Notice a couple of things here. 

First of all, recognise the problems  any drop in oil prices will cause for the provincial Conservatives ongoing plans to spend and spend and spend.  Offshore production is headed downward anyway.  Provincial government revenues will go down as well and that will bring with it all sorts of other problems.

Second of all, notice the big difference between WTI and Brent.

Here’s a little thought likely no one had before. Recovery or no recovery, recession or no recession, we could see  a time in the not too distant future when WTI slips even further downward.

Like say, at or below US$50 a barrel.

That would be below the threshold for the so-called super-royalties that the provincial Conservatives stuck in a couple of offshore development deals.  They tied super-royalties to WTI even though local oil is sold based on Brent prices.

Forget that Brent would be trading well above that WTI price below US$50.  The provincial government would wind up losing out on huge gobs of cash in that scenario.

That’s one of the problems with linking what resource owners get for their resources with a single trigger point.  You get a set-up that only works when prices stay high.

And if they drop, as they likely will during a recovery or during a major recession, then the provincial government will have some very serious problems.

- srbp -

Taking your brain out of neutral #nlvotes #nlpoli

He said.

She said.

Claim.

Counter-claim.

Simple conflict.

Simple news story.

No problem?

Problem.

Well, maybe. 

You decide.

Jay Rosen is a journalism professor at New York University.  He doesn’t like “he said,she said journalism”.  In a recent post at his blog Pressthink Rosen writes about his recent experience with a complaint to National Public Radio (NPR) in Kansas about an NPR story on new state regulations for abortion clinics.

Clinic operators say the regulations are a form of harassment aimed specifically at abortion clinics with the intent to close down the few remaining ones in the state.

The state says the regulations are just part of the normal state government business of regulating things.

He said.

She said.

Rosen complained to the NPR ombudsman about the story.  He complained specifically about NPR’s failure to provide any additional information in the story that would help readers evaluate the contending claims. Rosen accused the NPR of using its style of reporting to shield the organization from attacks on a controversial subject, thereby doing its listeners a disservice.

NPR replied that to do what Rosen argued would be to take an editorial stance on the issue, to take sides.  And there’s just no way NPR would violate its professional ethics in that way. From NPR:

We forwarded Rosen’s criticism to the reporter, Kathy Lohr, who responded:

“I’ve covered the abortion issue for 20 years. My goal is to be fair and accurate.

“It would be inappropriate to take a position on an issue I’m covering. So, I don’t do that, with abortion or other issues.”

In another exchange with Rosen, Lohr made her point more emphatically;

Me [Rosen]: Why does NPR throw up its hands and tell its listeners: we have no idea who’s right? Is that really the best reporting you can do? Is that the excellence for which NPR is known?

Kathy Lohr: You want me to take a position on a public controversy. You want me to editorialize. To pick a side. What you don’t understand is: That’s not my job!

Rosen gives more detail in the post than he may have in the twitter and other short exchanges with the gang at NPR Kansas.  As Rosen points out in the post, he thinks that going a step beyond the mere reporting of the superficial controversy is actually part of the business of reporting, of informing the audience.

He bases that position on a set of bullet points he laid out at the front end of the post:

rosencap

The conflict that sits at the heart of the story goes unexplored even though evidence to evaluate the contending claims is readily available. As a result, the news organization remains – ostensibly – neutral.  in effect, people are invited to join the reporters in putting their brains in neutral.

You can see the same sort of he said, she said story in recent coverage of the Liberal’s idea of giving government pensioners a small increase in their pension every year.

The Liberals said, then CBC got the “she said” controversy going with the comment from the provincial finance department that seemed to criticise their idea. The provincial Conservatives chimed in to take up the criticism and so the thing carried on for a day or two.

At no point did CBC actually explain the pensions issue on any level at all.  They certainly didn’t explain what the Liberals were trying to do and then compare it to the idea of what Conservatives were driving at. Hunt around the CBC’s online election web space and you will find exactly squat on the pensions issue beyond what they covered at the first.  None of the other conventional media have stepped in to explain it either.

The evidence to evaluate the contending positions is readily available.  The provincial finance department officials could explain what they meant.  The Liberals could too.

Nobody asked either of them.

Interesting idea: you can have a news report that doesn’t actually inform anybody about anything beyond the fact that one side said one thing and another said something else.

Forget the limitations of the electronic media like television and the format that gives maybe a couple of minutes for a report.  There are plenty of ways to get at the issue, including a longer piece on the same television news casts that carried the first story.

Now CBC is not alone in this.  Look around and you’ll find plenty of news reports that follow this sort of approach.  What makes this one stand out is that the CBC story winds up fitting the Conservative political narrative about supposed Liberal fiscal irresponsibility now and in the past. While the “he said, she said” story format is supposedly neutral, this one didn’t turn out that way. 

The pensions story as CBC covered it did a disservice to the audience in another way, beyond leaving the substance unexplored or having CBC’s story effectively injected into the campaign.

Fundamentally, the pensions story is about the kind of basic policy choice that the wonks out there think political debate ought to be about.

The pension liability exists.  The provincial government must deal with it.  In effect, they are already dealing with it by paying what the provincial government owes.  They pay it out of current account funds, the cash the government has every year to pay all its usual bills.

What the Liberals proposed to do is add a small percentage to the spending every year.  The end result would be that what is now costing a little over $500 million this year would cost about $750 million 20 years from now.

The Conservatives hung their hat on the idea that the Liberal plan would increase the unfunded liability.  It would.

What they didn’t explain is that the notion of unfunded liability is basically an accounting calculation. It is based on how much money you’d have to salt away in order to cover the debts in the event the government stopped operating tomorrow.

No one expects the provincial government to stop operating tomorrow.  The government gets to chose what to do.  They can put cash away in investments and pay the pensions out of the interest or pay it out of current account money. 

Either way will work.

What any government might do depends, as much  as anything else, on what revenue forecasts look like.  If things are going to be good for a long while, it might be better to pay the liability out of annual budget money.

If the forecasts say times will be tough or unpredictable, then it would be prudent to salt cash away.

A couple of decades ago, the unfunded liability was roughly what it is today:  three maybe four billion.  The total provincial government income in any one year was the same number, or less. The total size of the economy – the gross domestic product – was about double the unfunded liability.

No one had a choice. about salting cash away because there was no leftover cash to bank.  Liberal and Conservative governments did exactly the same thing and they did it for exactly the same basic reasons.  When people like Shawn Skinner talk about Liberal fiscal irresponsibility, they are simply full of shit. They don’t know what they are talking about. 

These days, the provincial government has enough cash in the bank today to cover all the unfunded liability in one pop. You don’t even need to notice that the total unfunded liability – even with the Liberal extra bit – is less than 25% of the GDP.  It’s about half the total government annual budget.

So how come the provincial Conservatives haven’t done anything about the unfunded pension liability yet? 

Good question.

The good answer is that they did what all governments do:  they made a choice.

They decided it is better to commit years of windfall oil cash to a whole bunch of extra spending and hold pretty well all of extra cash in reserve to help pay for Muskrat Falls.

How many of you knew about the pile of cash the provincial government has today sitting in temporary investments? 

How many knew what they were planning to do with it?

Odds are, that number is pretty close to zero.  That isn’t surprising. Somebody decided not to tell you that.

Avoiding any debate today on the pensions issue and how to pay for it means that people won’t ask uncomfortable questions that people who made decisions in government don’t want to answer.

Notice the way the Conservatives have framed their idea on pensions, incidentally:

… Addressing public pension plan liabilities and other postretirement liabilities will be a priority.

  • We will develop a long-term plan to reduce
    our unfunded public pension plan liabilities
    in a responsible manner by making set
    periodic payments.
  • At least a third of any surplus will be
    invested in the pension funds

They promise that they whatever they do will happen in the future.

But you shouldn’t forget that they crossed their fingers a wee bit earlier in the campaign platform:

Implementation of our priorities will be phased, if necessary, to accommodate fiscal constraint.

In other words, if things go south financially, if there’s another recession, then all bets are off.

When governments of the past didn’t have a choice, they paid pensions out of the cash on hand.

When a government has cash, they elect to do something else with the money rather than reduce the unfunded pension liability. They criticise someone else for the unfunded liability and make a promise that they will do something in the future.

Maybe.

Or maybe not.

And in the meantime, very few voters have enough information   in the middle of an election to make an informed decision on which idea – the Liberal or the Conservative – is the way they want to go.

But they do have he said, she said.

- srbp -

26 September 2011

Potato, potato: legislative names version #nlvotes #nlpoli

The Telegram editorialist notes:

You have to like the title given to the new Conservative omnibus crime legislation by its authors. They went with the lovely title “The Safe Streets and Communities Act.” Sounds like a new, improved detergent.

Sounds a lot like the Safer Communities and Neighbourhoods Act, passed in 2007 in Newfoundland and Labrador as part of the provincial Conservatives’ campaign agenda. 

They haven’t put it into force, yet.

That get tough on crime thing isn’t just for Harperites. 

Potato. Potato.

Tory. Tory.

What’s the difference?

- srbp -

Whodathunkit #nlvotes #nlpoli

Former Tory premier Tom Rideout, also former member of the House of Assembly for Baie Verte told a west coast Morning Show audience early in September that the public mood in the province was shifting.

People weren’t that fussy about all the pork-barrel spending his colleagues were doing in the run up to the formal election campaign.

This weekend CBC ran a story that noted Liberal leader Kevin Aylward got a great reception in Baie Verte the other night:

Liberals on Newfoundland's Baie Verte Peninsula held a noisy rally Friday night for party leader Kevin Aylward, who said the event shows the tide is turning in the election.

Hmmmm.

This is the kinda stuff that makes you wonder what is going on out there.

- srbp -

Welcome to the Echo Chamber #nlpoli #nlvotes

Pretty simple idea, really.

Opinions, beliefs and ideas move around among like minded people in what is an essentially closed space. 

The effect can be amazingly powerful just as it can be amazingly deceptive and distorting.

President Barack Obama talked about the echo chamber in American political coverage in early 2010 during a meeting with Senate Democrats:

"Do you know what I think would actually make a difference.... If everybody here — excuse all the members of the press who are here — if everybody turned off your CNN, your Fox, just turn off the TV, MSNBC, blogs, and just go talk to folks out there, instead of being in this echo chamber where the topic is constantly politics. The topic is politics."

In the United States, the problem Obama is pointing out is not just the idea of people from different political perspectives focusing on politics exclusively all the time. 

This isn’t the Permanent Campaign* as all-consuming.

It’s about political polarization in the 100 channel universe. People chose what they want to pay attention to and, increasingly, that seems to be a matter of picking only the information  - websites, radio stations and television news programs  - that reinforce their existing beliefs.

Princeton University professor Cass Sunstein describes it this way in the 2001 digital book Echo Chambers:  Bush v Gore, Impeachment and Beyond,

Many of these vices involve the risk of fragmentation, as the increased power of individual choice allows people to sort themselves into innumerable homogeneous groups, which often results in amplifying their pre[-]existing views. Although millions of people are using the Internet to expand their horizons, many people are doing the opposite, creating a Daily Me that is specifically tailored to their own interests and prejudices. Whatever the exact numbers, it is important to realize that a well-functioning democracy—a republic—depends not just on freedom from censorship, but also on a set of common experiences and on unsought, unanticipated, and even unwanted exposures to diverse topics, people, and ideas. A system of “gated communities” is as unhealthy for cyberspace as it is for the real world.

Slightly north of the great republic, and in a much smaller place, there’s another kind of echo chamber.  The way it works may be slightly different but the concept is still the same.

The provincial government makes the noise.  Other provincial opinion leaders – other politicians, key interest groups and news media – reflect the noise back. 

The political parties themselves are semi-closed organizations dominated by self-selecting elites. The rules on who can get into the elites and how aren’t written down.  Sure both the Conservative and Liberal parties have constitutions that set out rules about how they are supposed to work.

But as first the Conservatives and the Liberals showed in 2011, their constitutions are fictions.  First the Conservatives twisted and turned before finally rejecting as illegitimate a candidate for leader of the party who followed exactly the same rules the party bosses themselves used.  Then the Liberals switched leaders.  The party executive may have created the process that ended with Kevin Aylward as leader, but what happened in the five weeks before that – secret offers to this one and that one – could only take place in a group where the written rules and the real rules are two different things.

And lest anyone thing the NDP is different consider the special role given to unions in its constitution.  A party with the word “democratic” in its name was hardly democratic at all.

To see how all this works, consider a couple of examples.

Start with the fishery in the current election to see insiders talking among themselves.

Earlier this year, CBC released the results of an opinion poll they commissioned from Corporate Research Associates. CBC found that:

… 60 per cent of the province believes the fishery should be concentrated in fewer locations to be more efficient.

Only 23 per cent say it is well managed and doesn't need change.

The majority opinion is that a smaller leaner fishery would be more profitable.

That isn’t as surprising as it would have been even five years ago. Times have really changed in the industry. And such a poll result isn’t surprising given that the industry leaders themselves agreed that they have to reduce the number of people and plants in the province.

What is surprising is that – even though a clear majority of people in the province support downsizing and the industry representatives themselves seem to agree - both the provincial Conservatives and Liberals want to create a new version of the Fisheries Loan Board in order to get more people into the industry. Both the Liberals and the Conservatives mentioned that this idea came from the union that represents plant workers and fishermen, incidentally.

Amazing, though, this fisheries policy might be, Muskrat Falls remains the finest example of the echo chamber of local politics and the interconnections among the groups inside the chamber that help to reinforce the messages.

Over the past 18 months, poll after poll done for the provincial government showed that only three or four percent of respondents thought it was the most urgent issue for the province.

Health care was at the top of peoples’ list of major issues, across the province hands down.  The economy and jobs came in second.

Nonetheless, Muskrat Falls has dominated provincial politics since Danny Williams announced his retirement deal in November 2010.

Muskrat Falls is the centre piece of the Conservatives’ re-election campaign.

The Liberals have a section of their platform devoted to hydro-electric development issues.

The New Democrats include it as well, although their comments are much more vague that the other two parties’ commitments.

A St. John’s Board of Trade panel selected the Lower Churchill overwhelmingly as the major issue for the election.

And lastly, a poll released last week shows that Muskrat Falls was a major issue for 13% of respondents.

But hang on a second.

As it turns out, the poll came from the firm that polls for the provincial government’s energy corporation. 

And that Board of Trade thingy.  Well, the panel had only four people on it.  While the BOT didn’t release the names of the panel members, M5 was so proud that Craig Tucker had made the cut, they tweeted about his work on the Board’s panel that put together some comments for the election.

Yes, gang, that Craig Tucker.  Co-chair of the 2003 Tory election campaign, former Tory-appointed director of Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro after 2003 and now the guy whose advertising firm is the agency of record for Nalcor.

Meanwhile, the CBC uses Nalcor’s lobbyist as an election commentator alongside their own provincial affairs reporter, as if the two were the same sort of independent political observers.  They didn’t even bother mention that the guy is Nalcor’s lobbyist in Ottawa.

What’s most amazing about CBC and those who reported the poll last week without noticing the Nalcor connections is that they didn’t feel the need to notice the Nalcor connections.

For people inside the echo chamber, that sort of detail might be so well known they didn’t feel like it was an issue.

But outside the circle of au courante types, out among the audience?

Not so much information that they’d readily have those details or even that they’d feel the need to go check. They trust the news media to give their all the relevant information, after all.

More than two decades ago, political scientist Susan McCorquodale wrote about the relationship between the media and politicians in this province.  She described it as '”symbiotic”, a close and long-term relationship that works to the benefit of both.

“News originates with the press release, the press conference or the daily sitting of the House of Assembly,” she wrote.  These days she might have added twitter, e-mail or the Blackberry message from a political source feeding tidbits to reporters.

McCorquodale noted the lack of investigative reporting, something else that remains little change these days.   And she also noted the “tendency of reporters to end up in comfortable PR jobs with government.”

What she could not have foreseen was the day when the president of the major commercial radio broadcasting firm would sit as a political appointee on the board of one of the provincial government’s energy companies.

Nor could McCorquodale have expected that this same fellow, so tight with the pols the could receive a patronage appointment, would call his own station to complain about media coverage of his patron’s health problems.

Politics in Newfoundland and Labrador occurs inside a large echo chamber.  While in the United States, there are separate political echo chambers for people with differing political views, in newfoundland and Labrador, the echo chamber tends to separates the opinion elites from the majority of society.

To see it work, you only have to look at the general election campaign.

 

- srbp -

25 September 2011

Dippers policy book implodes #nlpoli #nlvotes

Take this from CBC:

NDP Leader Lorraine Michael says she is not afraid to rip up a contract with the Hebron partners to deliver a three per cent surtax promised in her party's new election platform.

But, in an interview with On Point With David Cochrane, Michael admits that she is not sure how an NDP government would accomplish this, even though the Hebron agreement with the government specifically says the contract cannot be changed.

Understand, first of all, Lorraine and campaign team did not even know about the Hebron fiscal agreements limitation on adding new taxes until someone pointed it out.

Now their campaign platform a smouldering heap.  The financial responsibility thing they were shooting for is gone.

They have no answers.

If the NDP knew how to get around the problem, they’d tell you.  it should be very easy for them. But Lorraine and her gang are flummoxed because they don’t know what they are talking about.

So they fall back on the usual politician’s stock-in-trade.

Bluster, bluff and bullshit all start with the same letter because they are basically the same thing.  Lorraine Michael and the NDP have nothing but those three “B” words to offer now that their fiscally responsible election platform – coughbullshitcough – flaps in tatters in the wind.

And understand, second of all, that  the much bigger problem is the give-away in the Hebron deal itself, all thanks to Danny and Kathy.

Lorraine could have easily pointed that out to everyone.

But she didn’t.

Because she and her crew had no idea what was going on in the first place.

And they still don’t.

Bluff, bluster and bullshit produced the give-away in the first place.

Unfortunately, bluff, bluster and bullshit won’t make her huge credibility problems go away.

- srbp -

Negotiating with Quebec #nlpoli #nlvotes

Kevin Aylward says that, as Premier, he’d have no problem negotiating with Quebec about developing the Lower Churchill.

A New Liberal Government will direct Nalcor to recommence negotiations with Quebec, Ontario and the federal government to develop the entire Lower Churchill. It is not financially feasible to develop only part of the Lower Churchill.

Before 2003, Danny Williams used to talk about how he would only sign a deal with Quebec if it included redress for Churchill Falls.

Then after 2003, according to Kathy Dunderdale, she and Williams spent five years trying – secretly – to get Quebec to take an ownership stake in the Lower Churchill and sign a deal without redress.

Put Churchill Falls to one side is how Dunderdale described it.

And none of the daily conventional media have reported it since she spilled the beans in September 2009.

Well, it doesn’t matter.  Dunderdale’s comments are a matter of public record.

Someone should ask her about those five years of secret negotiations and the huge change in policy she and her predecessor kept from the people of Newfoundland and Labrador until after they’d failed and why the Conservatives pretended publicly to be at war with Quebec the whole time.

- srbp -

23 September 2011

Event Horizon

From December 2:

Well, in all likelihood,  he and his accomplishments will go the way of other politicians’, including those long-ago strongmen in whose ranks he clearly belongs. There is an inky abyss, a vacuum that awaits them all.  It is a cross between Limbo and Purgatory, a living death for the egotistical and the once-mighty.  Where once throngs sang their praises, there is only silence.

Five days after Williams announced his resignation, people still cry for his departure.  Five weeks from now, they’ll be more concerned about Christmas credit card bills and if politics excites them, they’ll be watching the race to replace him.  Five months from now and the province’s election campaign will be well under way.

Five years from now, people will struggle to remember that guy who parted his hair down the centre of his head.  The collective amnesia on which Danny Williams built his cult of personality will swallow him as surely as it swallowed his predecessors.

Who the gods would destroy, they would first make proud.

And as we near the end of September the following year, we are nearing the edge of the abyss.

- srbp -

A come-to-Jesus moment #nlpoli #nlvotes

The always deadly labradore tackles comparative public spending increases in a post called simply “Three things”.

Scroll down through the post and read it out loud.

It’s worth the effort.

At the end, he invents a new phrase that will catch on.

Bet on it.

- srbp -

Same old same old. #nlpoli

You will not be able to slide a sheet of paper, sez your humble e-scribbler, between the three parties in the general election.

They will be pandering for votes and promising an orgy of public spending.

And so far they are right on track.

The provincial Conservatives unleashed their Blue Book, likely named because it is starved of the oxygen of an original thought.

You can tell a party has been in power too long by the size of its campaign platform.  They run out of ideas.  They think that you can overwhelm people with verbiage and bullshit rather than stand behind a few ideas laid out plainly.

The Tories hit 75 pages, not counting the cover this time around.  Flip back and look at Roger Grimes’ monster manual that the Liberals produced in 2003 after 14 years in power.

Same idea.

It’s just taken the Tories seven years to exhaust their imagination reserve.

Now they are down to promises to think about doing something eventually.

Like public sector pensions:

• We will develop a long-term plan to reduce our unfunded public pension plan liabilities in a responsible manner by making set periodic payments.

Seven years in office and $4.0 billion in cash tied up in short-term investments and only now they will develop a plan – over an unspecified period of time – to try and fix the problem of unfunded pension liabilities.

Meanwhile they accuse the Liberals of being evil spenders for making a commitment to do something.

Interesting concept. 

You see government is already dealing with the unfunded liability right now.  They pay it out of general revenue, as the liabilities come due each year.  The Liberals proposed to do the same thing. Putting money into a fund to cover it off out of interest is one way of handling the pensions issue.  meeting it out of general revenue every year is another.

Meanwhile, the Conservatives promise to continue running things as they have.  That is hardly comforting to those who have paid attention to what they’ve done thus, as opposed to what they’ve claimed to do.

Meanwhile there are lots of plans to make plans. 

Wonderful stuff that since you cannot really hold any political party accountable for such vague and meaningless commitments as '"we will start working on writing down some ideas that we might implement if we ever have enough money…”.

And if there isn’t that, there’ll be stuff that adds up to precious little:

We will encourage schools to continue to draw attention to the successes and leadership of students and teachers at public assemblies and through other means in the school.

They forgot to say that they will do it now with New Energy!

The oil and gas section of the plan recycles old Tory commitments since 2003 and in one case – the natural gas royalty regime – carries one the Grits started in the late 1990s.

The fisheries section looks suspiciously familiar, right down to the pledge to create a fisheries loan board.  And like the Liberal commitment, the Tory one deliberately puts the words in lower case letters so that people might not confuse it with a Fisheries Loan Board.

Perhaps the funniest aspect of the Conservative platform – after the section on continuing a commitment to accountability – is the idea the whole thing will cost less than $200 million.

If the fisheries section is where the Tories and Grits are the same, then managing the money  is where the Tories and the Dippers share a common cause.

Any platform that includes the construction of a multi-billion megaproject and massive amounts of other capital spending by an administration that is notorious for its inability bring in anything on time and budget cannot deliver anything for a mere $137 million.

You cannot slide a sheet of paper in between the three parties in this election.  What differences there might be are purely a matter of degree and semantics.

No wonder so many people are frustrated and unmotivated to vote.

People want change and the parties are just offering four more years of the same old, same old.

- srbp -

22 September 2011

The Further Adventures of The ‘Stache #nlpoli

missingcaterpillerHe shaved it before.

SRBP lit up the missing caterpillar from his top lip.

Jerome Kennedy grew it back.

Earlier this year, he lopped it off again.

Well, he didn’t grow it back this time, folks. .

That’s a screen cap from Thursday’s launch of the Conservative Party’s campaign policy book.

Jerome was conspicuously close to the Conservatives’ interim leader.

Conspicuous.

Just like the Tories were conspicuously in a region of the province where their support is soft in order to unveil their platform.

Conspicuous, just like the Liberals are when decided to unveil their policy book in St. Anthony.  Almost as far away from the Avalon as you can get and still be on the island,  in an area where seats could change hands from Blue to Red and really close to Labrador where other seats can change hands.

Incidentally, anyone who doesn’t know where sinantny is can just ask Fairity O’Brien.

- srbp -

Some old habits must die really hard: Telly edition #nlpoli #nlvotes

In the last couple of days of the 1989 election, the Telegram featured a set of poll results done by a local company. 

The poll showed Tom Rideout’s Tories in front of the Clyde Wells Liberals by quite a margin.

Small problem of accuracy:  the Telegram didn’t mention that the polling firm was also the PC party pollster.

The company’s name was Omnifacts.

The Liberals issued a news release using their own rolling poll results that turned out to be way closer to the result than the Tory one. The title on the release was “Partisan polls should be identified”.

A version of the story turned up in a couple of Claire Hoy books and in both accounts Hoy’s supposed Liberal Party insider is someone who evidently didn’t understand how the Liberals were conducting their polls or what happened.  If the Liberals made up the numbers, as Hoy’s uninformed informant claimed, then they got the results pretty close to accurate.

Way more accurate say, than any given CRA poll over the past five years.  The Liberal poll showed the Libs on top by 3.5%.  In the end the popular vote was almost dead even, with the Tories slightly on top.  CRA missed the 2007 election by a country mile.

Anyway…

Fast forward 21 years and the latest iteration of the same firm – MQO or Market Quest Omnifacts – released another political poll this week.

In the Telegram story on page three of the Wednesday edition, the story starts out by referring to an “independent poll”.

That’s an interesting word choice.

MQO is part of a related group of companies that goes under the business name M5.

As Nalcor confirmed again for SRBP on Wednesday, the M5 Group is the agency of record for the provincial government’s energy corporation.

In effect, that would make MQO Nalcor’s pollster.

When asked by SRBP if MQO was doing work for the Tory Party or the provincial government or Nalcor, an MQO spokesperson said that “[w]hether or not the company currently has projects in play with the organizations you mentioned, I’m unaware.  It’s not something that MQO’s researcher’s would confirm for me due to client confidentiality.  In fact, the same is true for the entire group of m5 companies.”

 

- srbp -

The Hebron Give-Away #nlpoli #nlvotes

If the province’s New Democrats form the next provincial government, they’ll have to look somewhere else besides the Hebron oil project for their three percent surtax on crude oil.

Under the 2008 Hebron fiscal agreement, then Premier Danny Williams and his natural resources minister, Kathy Dunderdale agreed to a clause that prevents the government from introducing any new oil revenue charges besides royalties for the life of the Hebron agreement.

Clause 9.1 states that “no additional tax, levy, fee or charge shall be imposed by the Province solely on a Development Project or on the
Proponents solely in relation to their interest in the Lands.”

The term “development project” means:

(i) exploration, development and production of oil resources from the Lands;

(ii) ancillary thereto, the production of gas from the Lands for use solely for the purpose of production of oil from the Lands, not for commercial production and sale; and

(iii) the ownership, construction, operation, maintenance, decommissioning and abandonment of all the assets in which the Proponents hold an undivided interest in relation to such activities.

While Hibernia has a good few years left in it, Terra Nova and White Rose won’t last as long.  That means we can only count on having two oil fields in production offshore.  As revenues dwindle and government spending pressures mount, there might be a day when a future provincial government would need to look at how it taxes resources for the benefit of the people of the province.

Thanks to the provincial Conservatives the future government will be screwed over when it comes to Hebron.  They’ve  given away the provincial government’s power to adjust the way it collects rent on behalf of the resource owners – you and your humble e-scribbler – for this lucrative non-renewable resource.

That’s in addition to the royalty giveaway up the front end that the Conservatives attacked before they got into office and when oil prices were low and then gleefully agreed to once they had the power and oil prices skyrocketed.

And even that is in addition to the clause in the Hebron deal that compels the provincial government to side with the oil companies on any regulatory changes the companies think might hurt their interests offshore.

That one – incidentally – is a give-away of incalculable proportions.

Anyway, someone at the NDP office needs to get out the calculator and rework the financial part of their election platform.

While he or she is doing that, the rest of us can wonder what other details they missed entirely in their amazingly low cost platform document.

And some other people will start wondering what else Danny and Kathy gave away without telling us.

- srbp -

Liberal commitments for Labrador #nlpoli

From Yvonne Jones’ Facebook page, posted shortly after midnight:

Full Liberal Platform being released tomorrow. Includes a full section on Labrador. Highlighting the committment [sic] to pave the Labrador Highway, designate the Strait of Belle Isle Ferry service as essential and putting a new ferry in place to serve the people of Labrador year round. The liberals [sic] will look at a fixed link for the Island -Labrador crossing along with committing to 21st century communications, including high speed internet and cell phone coverage for Labradorians and much more. Labrador should be a priority for all political parties in this campaign, after all we are raking in the big bucks for the governments these days.

- srbp -

A culture of entitlement #nlpoli #cdnpoli

In 2010, defence minister Peter MacKay used a Cormorant search and rescue helicopter from 103 Search and Rescue Squadron to fly him out of a fishing lodge on the Gander River, according to CTV.

"After cancelling previous efforts to demonstrate their search-and-rescue capabilities to Minister MacKay over the course of three years, the opportunity for a simulated search and rescue exercise finally presented itself in July of 2010," a DND statement said.

"As such, Minister MacKay cut his personal trip to the area short to participate in this Cormorant exercise."

However, military sources say no search-and-rescue demonstration was planned until the very day MacKay's office made the request to pick him up.

- srbp -

21 September 2011

Day 3: #pandermonium roundup #nlpoli #nlvotes

Liberal leader Kevin Aylward promised Wednesday that as Premier he’d cave in and settle a class action lawsuit that is trying to pin financial responsibility for moose accidents on the provincial government.

The provincial Tories did their  pandering before the election with everything from fire trucks to moose fences.

NDP leader Lorraine Michael promised that her party would cut some tax on gasoline. The CBC story doesn’t make it clear which tax Michael was talking about. The NDP platform doesn’t make it clear either, referring only to the tax on tax.

But it sounds good and that’s really all old-fashioned pols like all the rest are looking for when it comes to the pure pandering parts of their platform.

- srbp -

The Public Sector Pensions thing explained #nlpoli #nlvotes

People can’t understand the racket over provincial pensions, what the Liberals proposed, what the CBC reported but hasn’t explained and what the provincial Conservatives are attacking the Liberals over.

Here’s a simple explanation of the math, the policy ideas and the problems with what’s happened.

The Background

The issue is about some retired provincial public servants whose pensions are not indexed to inflation and who continue to receive the same amount today they received up to two decades after they retired.

These pensioners have been pressing for a cost of living increase for most of the past 20 years.

Here’s what the Liberals proposed on Monday:

A New Liberal Government will provide a one-time 2.5%
increase to Public Sector Pensioners and subsequently, annual increases equivalent to CPI, to a maximum of 2%.

We will  establish an arms-length Review Commission to examine long term, just and equitable solutions following the principles of fairness and natural law. [Paragraphed for clarity]

That first bit is clear enough.  The second bit is important.  Keep it in mind for later.

On the day the Liberals announced that policy, CBC contacted the provincial finance department for an analysis and for some inexplicable reason, the department offered a comment on a political issue in the middle of an election campaign.

CBC reported that:

…the Department of Finance told CBC News that the Liberals' plan would add $1.2 billion in additional liabilities to the pension plan.

You can find links to two CBC stories at this recent SRBP post

By Wednesday, provincial Conservative leader Kathy Dunderdale was saying:

Premier Kathy Dunderdale calls the Liberal Party's plans to provide a one-time 2.5 per cent increase to public sector pensions, and annual increases up to 2 per cent, "frightening". Dunderdale questions Kevin Aylward's ability to balance the books. She says the full 2 per cent indexing would add about $1.8-billion to the unfunded liability.

That’s from VOCM.  The story might be disappeared within 24 hours of this post.

The Liberals counter that the proposal will cost an additional $13 million or so to the existing annual public sector pension spending or so the first year and an additional $10 million every year afterward, maximum until the to review commission reports and government acts on the recommendations.

Discussion

The major difference in the Liberal and Conservative argument is over annual cost versus total liability.

A check with the Liberal campaign found that they used the latest annual report of the provincial pension investment committee.

Then they looked at the total payment in 2010 of $532 million and change.  That’s right there on page four of the report.

Now right off the bat that includes administrative costs and refunds to people who’ve taken their cash and gone elsewhere. The Liberals actually started with a figure higher than the actual pension payments in 2010 of $494 million but let’s take $520 million which is the actual budgeted pension benefits payment this current year.

If you do simple math, you will find that 2.5% of $520 million is $13.0 million. In the first year, the Liberal pledge will cost the $520 million already committed plus another $13 million or $533 million.

In the worst case scenario, the maximum subsequent add-on will be 2% of the year before. The figure in the next year would be $533 plus  two percent of that ($533 + $10.66 million). 

One question to consider is how much that will cost over time.  Well, how long is a piece of string?

Let’s take 10 years as our length of time. 

If you work that out over 10 years, what is costing you $520 in 2011 will cost you roughly $636 million in 2021.  That’s $116 million more than today.

In 2031 – or 20 years from now - the annual price would be a little over $250 million more than the government is paging out today.

The Conservatives – and the finance department – refer to the public liability.

What they are doing is taking all the extra money, the 2.5% and the 2.0%, and then they are adding up all the extras over time to give you a number.  Their liability number is the extra spending added up over time.

Based on this example, their figure of $1.8 billion would be the cumulative total of the extra money in about Year 17.  Why they picked that number is a mystery because so far no one has explained anything.

Issues

What you have here is exactly what is supposed to occur during an election campaign.  One party is proposing something.  people are going to criticise it.

People need to look at this proposal and discuss it in all its merits or de-merits.  the people doing that should be the politicians and the general public.

Public servants shouldn’t be weighing in on this stuff. As a matter of principle, it is wrong. 

It gets particularly troubling when you consider that the comment officials gave to CBC deliberately chose to put forward a large – and therefore frightening – number when it becomes associated with words like liability and debt.

It becomes disingenuous when the finance officials failed to note – apparently – that you can do the same thing with any government spending.  total up the cumulative increase in anything and you can get a scary number.

The question is whether the people who are making the decisions have full, and accurate information in front of them so that they can make an informed chose.  What is in the public domain right now from CBC and the finance department is misinformation.

.And therein lies the second problem.

The CBC, like all news media, have a duty to inform their audience.

On this one, so far, no one has done anything to inform anyone about the pensions issue. Covering the “he said, she said” doesn’t cut it. 

And it really doesn’t cut it if the news media outlet went in search of a comment in the first place and – in the process – injected themselves into the political fray.  It’s one thing to observe and report about the game.  It’s another thing to throw a puck on the ice. 

What you’ve got now is not an informed discussion of the policy issue and its merits. You’ve got a confusing melee in which the ruling Conservatives are getting a free ride:  they haven’t had to explain themselves.  They can simply build off the implicitly objective third party critique coming via the CBC.

Meanwhile, has anyone asked the finance department to figure out the public finance liability in the NDP election platform?

- srbp -

Advertising group has Tory, Nalcor ties #nlpoli

MQO, the market research company that released an opinion poll on the second day of the provincial general election, is part of a group of marketing and advertising companies with ties to the provincial Conservatives and Nalcor, the provincial government’s energy company.

M5 is the agency of record for Nalcor, a spokesperson for Nalcor confirmed for SRBP on Tuesday.

Craig Tucker is listed as managing director of M5 on the company’s website.

In 2004, then premier Danny Williams announced Tucker’s appointment to the board of Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro. Hydro was the predecessor of Nalcor. It appears Tucker left the board when Hydro became Nalcor.

According to a 2005 CBC story, Tucker co-chaired the Conservative’s 2003 election campaign. That CBC story was about a $150,000 contract that M5 landed from the provincial government to promote the $2.0 billion transfer deal with Ottawa signed in January 2005.

M5 has also been an active contributor to the Progressive Conservative party in the province.  From 2003 to 2010, the company gave  $29,200 in political donations to the PC party according to information from the province’s chief electoral officer.

SRBP contacted Karen McCarthy, the media contact on the MQO news release, via Twitter and later e-mail.  McCarthy is president of M5PR and is listed on the M5 website as senior vice-president, communications.

SRBP asked:

Is M5 doing any work currently for Nalcor, the prov gov and/or the PC party. If so, what is it doing?

McCarthy replied:

MQO Research conducted the poll on the NL election over the past weekend independent of any other organization.  The company is a “research force” in the Atlantic Region and feels a responsibility to report on issues of interest to people in the four Atlantic provinces.  The company has done work for many governments, corporations and others throughout the region since its inception.  Whether or not the company currently has projects in play with the organizations you mentioned, I’m unaware.  It’s not something that MQO’s researcher’s would confirm for me due to client confidentiality.  In fact, the same is true for the entire group of m5 companies.  I can speak for the company of which I am President.  m5pr is not doing any work for the PC Party, Nalcor or the Province.

- srbp -

20 September 2011

Undisclosed risk: NDP version #nlpoli #nlvotes

Sometimes you have to read something over and over just to make sure you didn’t misunderstand.

Like say this line from CBC’s online story of the NDP election platform launch:

In total, New Democrats are promising $142 million in new spending — $74 million from what it  called "efficiencies" and $68 million from a petroleum royalty surtax of three per cent.

The Telegram version is not quite so emphatic that the entire NDP platform is so inexpensive. They make it clear the pledges cover the first year only.

And when you look at the New Democrat platform, that’s the one thing that leaps out at you:  they’ve only costed one year.

Then you notice that while they talk about five pledges, there are a crap load of other things in there that are apparently something other than pledges.

What they are – maybe statement of good intentions -  is another matter.

And what they cost is a mystery.

Some of them could wind being quite costly.

Like say the pledge to increase the presence of government services in communities.  That sounds suspiciously like the Liberals’ plan in the late 1990s to shift stuff into places other than St. John’s.  The Tories carried on the same idea. It’s been very costly in a number of ways, not the least of which has been the increased size of the public service beyond what is actually needed in a province this size.

Or how about:

Plan a universal, publicly-funded and administered homecare and long-term care program.

Sure it says “plan” but plans have a way of becoming more than that once people catch on to the idea. The plan is only limited to year one.  What happens in years two, three and four?

Then there’s the commitment to yet more hand-outs, bail-outs and policy cop-outs:

    • Introduce a provincial adjustment fund to assist employees and communities affected by industry downsizing or closures.
    • Partner with industry to expand shipbuilding in the province.
    • Assist in forest industry diversification for domestic and export markets.
    • Increase primary and value-added production of agrifoods for local and  export markets through aid to small-scale production, processing and marketing.

None of that will be cheap.

None of that is costed in the NDP promise book.

And then there’s the gem:

Ensure that development of Labrador’s resources, including Gull Island and Muskrat Falls, is economically viable, environmentally sustainable, and beneficial for the people of the province, especially the people of Labrador.

Muskrat is viable because the punters like you and me will pay full freight for it.  The NDP platform statement is a cleverly worded dodge.

Some of the NDP ideas are good ones. 

The pledge to undo the things Lorraine backed before that restricted public accountability and limited access?  Good thing.

Initiatives for people with disabilities, for newcomers?  Good and good.

The costs likely wouldn’t be high and the benefits are almost incalculable.

Other bits just show a lack of imagination:

Conduct a review to assess the need for electoral reform.

Anyone who has been even half asleep in this province the last couple of decades will know that one doesn’t need study.

It needs action.

You can likely put that vague statement about electoral reform down to the fact that the NDP’s financial backers aren’t keen on reforming things like the provincial political finance laws.  hard to imagine a political party with the word democratic in its name that is wishy-washy about electoral reform.

But there it is.

Just like the cost of electing an NDP government isn’t.

- srbp -