31 May 2012

Mismanagement and Media Math #nlpoli

CBC’s online story takes a weird tack on the tale of recent financial and management problems at Eastern Health, the province’s largest regional health authority.

CBC headlines its story “Hospital Tim’s never came close to predict profit”.

That’s true but the full story is so much more interesting. While the profit may have been less than originally predicted, the facts are the outlet worked as intended for most of the time its been in operation:  it made money.

The losses, though, are spectacular and recent.

Hebron Development Approved #nlpoli #cdnpoli

From the Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board:

The Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board (C-NLOPB) announced today that the Hebron Development Application is approved.

At its April 27, 2012 meeting, the Board approved the Hebron Benefits Plan and Development Plan subject to the conditions outlined in Decision Report 2012.01. In its deliberation with respect to these plans the Board considered advice provided in the Benefits Plan and Development Plan staff analysis as well as recommendations resulting from the Report of the Hebron Public Review Commissioner.

Under the Atlantic Accord Implementation Acts, Fundamental Decisions of the Board must be ratified by both governments before they can be implemented. The Board’s Approval of the Hebron Development Plan was a Fundamental Decision. The approval of the Development Plan by both governments now enables ExxonMobil Canada Properties Limited to proceed with development of the Hebron Field, which is estimated to contain 707 million barrels of oil.

-srbp-

What she said… visionary leadership edition #nlpoli

Newly minted Premier Kathy Dunderdale from her 20 Questions interview in the Telegram, December 24, 2010:

Still, Dunderdale maintains being premier was never on her radar.

She says she’s not the kinds of person who envisions things 10 years down the road, but prefers to live in the now.

“If you live your life more in the moment, the rest of it will work its way out.”

-srbp-

The Root of the Problem #nlpoli

Mr. Speaker, if the members opposite think that the level of scrutiny that we do over a $3 billion expenditure in health care is to take every single health authority and work down line by line by line through every piece of that, I do not know what they are thinking over there.

Health and community services minister Susan Sullivan, House of Assembly, May 30, 2012

Let’s hope that health minister Susan Sullivan doesn’t sit on the treasury board. 

That’s a committee of cabinet created under the Financial Administration Act.  Passed by the House of Assembly in 1973,  the Financial Administration Act was one of several great reforms of public administration in the province introduced by the Conservatives after they defeated Joe Smallwood and the Liberals in the 1972 general election.

Every provincial government and the federal government has a treasury board.  It is typically the most important or one of the most important cabinet committee by virtue of its control over money and people within government. Treasury board is also the only cabinet committee whose existence is set down by law.

The treasury board’s main job is to oversee how the provincial government and its agencies spend public money. 

30 May 2012

The Provincial Public Debt…again #nlpoli

As often as they say it, the facts don’t bear out the claim some politician like to make about the provincial public debt.

The Premier did it again in the House of Assembly Tuesday evening.  We can all give her a bit of a break since she was on her feet and obvious her blood was up. 

But still, this is an old claim that is as false now as it was when the Tories first started using it a few years ago.  And frankly, Kathy Dunderdale should have a better grasp of the facts.  Otherwise what some people think is visionary leadership is just another delusional politician on a rant.  Heaven knows our province has been saddled with enough of those.

The Hard Road Ahead #nlpoli

If the provincial government can actually get control on its spending and head down the road to management reform along the lines that Eastern Health’s Vicki Kaminski talked about on Tuesday, then they are headed down the right road.

29 May 2012

What they said…Part Deux #nlpoli

Basic public relations problem.

Say one thing.

Say another thing.

A few weeks later, do something else, twice over.

For starters, here’s the what Premier Kathy Dunderdale said in the House of Assembly in March about job cuts and the provincial budget:

What they said… #nlpoli

Here’s what Premier Kathy Dunderdale said on March 6 about possible job cuts in the provincial public sector (emphasis added in all):

Mr. Speaker, we have not talked about cuts….Front-line health and education services will be exempted.

Here’s what education minister Clyde Jackman said on March 29:

I spoke at an NLTA meeting a little while ago; I said to them, we are looking at our budgets across departments, but the Premier said there will be no frontline cuts.

And then there’s what health minister Susan Sullivan said on May 28, the day before Eastern health’s planned announcement:

Mr. Speaker, our resolve has not changed. There will not be any cuts in programs and services. The announcement that you will hear tomorrow will lay out some particular initiatives that Eastern Health wishes to embark upon, but we have made our commitment firm to the people of Newfoundland and Labrador; there will not be cuts in programs and services, Mr. Speaker.

Do those words all mean the same thing?

-srbp-

Health Care Employment in NL #nlpoli

For those getting ready for this afternoon’s announcement by Eastern Health, here are some figures from Statistics Canada on employment in the health care sector in the province from October 2003 to December 2011.

health employment post 03

28 May 2012

The Premier and Open Line #nlpoli

Once upon a time,  premiers would spend time on radio talk shows every now and then taking calls from the punters.

Not so since 2003 and the New Approach.

Well, not so until Monday when Kathy Dunderdale spent two and a half hours with Randy Simms. regular readers of these e-scribbles were likely surprised at the number of times the Premier said exactly what SRBP's been saying for the past seven years on big topics like unsustainable public spending and the impact an aging population in the province will have on spending and the economy.  

As for the appearance, apparently, she thought it was just going to be a phone call.  Big difference.

Three take-aways:

  • The miscommunication about what she was doing could be a clue as to one of the problems the Premier and her staff are evidently having.  Among other things, she must have a light work day if she could look at her schedule and not notice the 2.5 hours blocked out for VOCM.
  • Something's up with Dunderdale's polling numbers.  The only time Danny ever changing his pattern was when his polls were off.
  • The past two premiers, the current finance minister, and another former cabinet minister agree with SRBP that the Tories' public spending has been and is unsustainable.  That should frig with a few Tory heads out there.
Bonus take-away:
  • Telling your political opponents to stop doing something is a guarantee they will keep doing it.  You really do have have to realise you are in a hole before you realise you need to stop digging.
-srbp-

Monday Potpourri #nlpoli

A new poll by CROP (via Paul Wells) shows that Quebeckers support having students at Quebec’s post-secondary colleges and universities pay more for their education. 

What’s more, they think that the law which tries to force protesting students back to class is a bad idea.

Take these results together and we begin to see the wisdom of crowds — not the ones in the street, necessarily, but of the whole population. Opinions are divided, but in the main, Quebecers:

• think it is more legitimate to ask students to contribute more to their education than to say they have paid enough.

• believe Law 78 asks for things a government should be able to ask of its citizens — i.e., that it’s a legitimate law;

• don’t think Law 78 will make student refuseniks more likely to cough up their tuition money — i.e., they don’t think it’s a pertinent law.

The Other Damn-Fool Fisheries Policy #nlpoli #cdnpoli

About 30 years ago, Kathy Dunderdale started out her political career fighting against fisheries reform.

Last December,  she scolded fish plant workers in Marystown for turning out 18 weeks work that would have qualified them for employment insurance and kept their plant open.

She continued her fight against fisheries reform over the weekend in a series of interviews with national media about the federal government’s proposed changes to the employment insurance system.

25 May 2012

All’s Not Fairity in Love and War #nlpoli

Premier Kathy Dunderdale should appoint municipal affairs minister Kevin “Fairity” O’Brien to handle intergovernmental affairs.

While Dunderdale is busily lobbing hand grenades at the federal government, Fairity is taking a very different attitude:

The Dunderdale-O’Brien Confusion #nlpoli

In a scrum on Wednesday, May 23, Premier Kathy Dunderdale said:

“What we are talking about, in fact, is a two hour window here.”

In the House of Assembly on Thursday, May 24, Premier Kathy Dunderdale said:

I have asked Minister MacKay for an explanation of the gap that occurred on January 30 in the search when there was a five-hour period that they were not engaged in the search. The answers are not satisfactory; the protocols need to be changed.

There is no five-hour period in the Burton Winters search that matches whatever Kathy Dunderdale is talking about in that exchange in the House of Assembly.  In fact, it’s pretty hard for anyone with even a sketchy knowledge of the events in Makkovik in late January and early February to figure out what Kathy Dunderdale is getting on with.

The Perfect Storm #nlpoli

“In the fishery of the very near future,” SRBP wrote in February, “fishing subsidies like federal employment insurance wage subsidies,  state-sponsored marketing schemes and the stalinist political control of the economy… will all go by the wayside. International trade talks are already laying the groundwork for massive change.”

The very near future arrived this week.

24 May 2012

Dare to be Stupid

-srbp-

And she believes this crap is brilliant #nlpoli

Arguments are so much more convincing when claims match with the evidence.

Otherwise you wind up with a credibility gap.  It’s bad enough for ordinary people, but when you are – for example – the Premier of a province, having people doubt that what you say is true, you are pretty much headed for disaster.

Now Kathy Dunderdale has had a problem with getting things straight before so, for many readers of these e-scribbles, this latest episode will come as no shock.  They can just look at this as more evidence of the problem the Premier has with figuring out a whole bunch of things lately.

Feds call Dunderdale’s bluff #nlpoli

In an interview with CBC’s David Cochrane, federal intergovernmental affairs minister Peter Penashue called Premier Kathy Dunderdale’s bluff about a public inquiry into the death of Burton Winters.

Penashue said:

"This is a legally initiated process and everyone would have to co-operate."

Dunderdale has criticised the federal government over Winters’ death.  That’s despite Dunderdale acknowledging – eventually – that provincial officials had responsibility for conducting the search for Winters when he went missing.  As recently as Tuesday, Dunderdale continued to try and smear Winters’ blood on federal officials.

23 May 2012

The Fairity of Regurgitation #nlpoli

Municipal affairs minister Kevin “Fairity” O’Brien stood in the House of Assembly on Wednesday “to highlight the continued progress in implementing the Provincial Waste Management Strategy in our province.”

Wonderful stuff it could have been.

The only problem is Fairity really didn’t provide an update.

Dumbed down or just clearer language? #nlpoli

Via Monkey Cage comes a link to a study that shows that the average speech comprehension level in the United States Congress has dropped a full grade level in the past seven years. It’s dropped to 10.6 from 11.5.

Over the past 16 years,  the Republicans and Democrats have traded places when it comes to scoring lower grade levels on the comprehension scale.  The party scores were never more than 0.2 or 0.4 apart, but since 2006, the Republicans score lower than the Democrats.

Grandmother, what big teeth you have #nlpoli #cdnpoli

Political leaders have a moral duty to the people they serve.

There are times for politicians to fight for their constituents.

And there are times when responsible political leaders must help a community to heal.  In the wake of the tragedy in Makkovik, Premier Kathy Dunderdale should be helping people to come to terms with a tragedy.  Instead, the Premier is abusing people who have put their trust in her to do the right thing.

Public debt and financial mismanagement #nlpoli

A few days ago, Stephen Taylor posted a table from a 2010 study that showed how big Quebec’s public debt is compared to that of countries around the world.

The results weren’t pretty.

A similar comparison for Newfoundland and Labrador isn’t pretty either.

22 May 2012

Fiscal conservative, you say? #nlpoli

One of the more curious comments from provincial Conservative supporters lately has been the claim that they support the current Connie administration provincially because they – the supporters – are fiscal conservatives.

labradore has already challenged one such claim with a look at the provincial labour force figures.  Here’s the chart from labradore’s post. It shows the public sector as a share of the total provincial work force:

Yes, friends, the “fiscally conservative” provincial government has produced a massive increase in the size of the provincial public service since 2007.  And, lest any of these “fiscal conservatives” try to justify the Connie actions with talk about the unions’ favour excuse – catch-up – notice that the chart shows that Newfoundland and Labrador had no catching up to do.

While you are at it recall that the current labour force in the province is the largest it has been for quite a while.  So the current “fiscally conservative” provincial Conservatives employ a larger percentage of a larger labour force in a very fiscally unconservative way.

But there’s more to it than that.

Making bad decisions: the Twitter edition #nlpoli

The Premier’s communications  - Glenda Power  - sent a couple of twitter messages to CBC’s Curtis Rumboldt on Friday.  She was apparently correcting him on the impact closing Corner Brook Pulp and Paper Limited would have on the Muskrat Falls project.

power-rumboldt

Simply put, that’s not true.

21 May 2012

It worked so well for Roger #nlpoli

Kathy Dunderdale is apparently off to Ottawa.  According to voice of the cabinet minister:

There's no word on when the Premier will be flying to Ottawa, but according to the MHA for Mount Pearl South [Paul Lane], it will be soon. Representatives from the Premier's office have confirmed that Dunderdale has requested to meet with the feds sometime in the near future.

Meanwhile the Fisheries Minister says he's making a separate visit. Darin King says he'll be meeting with his federal counterpart to express concerns over the continued cuts in Newfoundland and Labrador. King says the fishing industry, search and rescue, and everything attached to the sea is of importance. He says the fight is not over.

She needs to work out some “fustrations”, maybe.

More likely, she is trying on the “Fighting Newfoundlander” suit to see if it fits.  The fact she is trying it on – after explicitly rejecting it when she took over from Danny – is another symptom of the basic problem. If she had a plan, a set of priorities, an agenda, then she wouldn’t have the problems in the first place that are causing her frustrations.

Another Premier tried this once.

19 May 2012

Changes in Corner Brook #nlpoli

  1. You’ll get a very good sense of what is going on at Corner Brook Pulp and Paper Limited from Gary Kean’s piece in the Saturday edition of the Western Star.   As hard as it might seem to believe, some people thought the company was bluffing about the financial state of the mill.
  2. Meanwhile, political bums are very tight.  Would a mill closure – if it came – hasten Tom Marshall’s exit from politics or delay it?
  3. While all that is going on, Imperial Oil’s terminal at Corner brook is up for sale as a result of the company’s announced plans to shut its Dartmouth refinery.
  4. Update:  CBC has posted the raw video of natural resources minister Jerome Kennedy’s scrum on Friday about CBPPL. Find it here:  http://www.cbc.ca/video/#/News/Canada/NL/Featured/2169456094/ID=2236615293

-srbp-

18 May 2012

Death watch in Corner Brook for province’s last paper mill #nlpoli

Kruger, the owners of Corner Brook Pulp and Paper, are reassessing the viability of the mill in the west coast city on Friday after unions at the mill rejected a company proposal to restructure the company’s pension plans.

In a statement issued Friday, natural resources minister Jerome Kennedy said:

We are facing a grave situation, one which could potentially lead to the closure of Corner Brook Pulp and Paper Limited. Kruger is now reassessing the viability of its operations in Corner Brook. This obviously could have very serious ramifications for the employees and the entire Corner Brook area.

The provincial government wants the company and the unions to negotiate a settlement to the dispute.

Built in 1923, the mill at Corner Brook was the second paper making operation in Newfoundland after the Anglo-Newfoundland Development Corporation mill at Grand Falls.  AbitibiBowater announced that it would close the mill at Grand Falls in 2008.  The provincial government expropriated the mill and all of AbitibiBowater’s assets in the province before they could shut the mill.  Ab closed its Stephenville operation in 2005.

The Corner Brook mill is heavily subsidised by the provincial government.  It is the largest private sector employer on the west coast of the island.

-srbp-

The Federal-Provincial Puzzle #nlpoli

Premier Kathy Dunderdale is frustrated.

Extremely frustrated

“What is it that we have to do down here to get your attention?” she asked, rhetorically, on Thursday.

She expressed that frustration in the House of Assembly in response to questions from Liberal leader Dwight Ball and in a scrum with reporters.  Dunderdale aimed her barbs most especially at defence minister Peter MacKay.

If the Premier is having trouble getting her message through to the federal government, attacking an influential cabinet minister in public for something he didn’t do won’t help matters.

It just piles bad tactics on top of flawed strategies.

Stephen Harper’s Goose Bay promise #nlpoli #cdnpoli

 

-srbp-

17 May 2012

Household Division Band Rehearsal

This one is for all the musicians…band musicians, that is.

The bands of the guards regiments of the Household Division are among the best bands of their type, made up of the some of the finest musicians in the world.

Here’s a massed rehearsal recorded earlier this month and posted to youtube.  leaving the music to one side for a moment, it’s fascinating to watch the director and how he conducts the rehearsal.  Watch how the musicians respond to his direction and how they adjust and adapt.

-srbp-

Felix the Crap #nlpoli

Justice minister Felix Collins offered a spectacular example on Wednesday of how serious is the current administration’s political problem.

Collins makes a complete arse of himself trying to explain why he and his colleagues are refusing to act on a promise they made in 2007 to introduce legislation that would protect public servants who disclose information  - in the public interest - about wrongdoing in government.

The video of Collins’ scrum with reporters is worth watching

How’s that again, Jerome? #nlpoli

Natural resources minister Jerome Kennedy in the House of Assembly on Wednesday explaining some of the financial aspects of Muskrat Falls:

The one thing I need to make clear though to the people of this Province that any equity investment in Nalcor is on the basis of the project being sanctioned. The money stays in the Department of Natural Resources and is then disbursed to Nalcor as money is spent, Mr. Speaker. Also, it does not go to the net debt of the Province because it is a capital investment. In this particular case, Mr. Speaker, we have a revenue generating asset which can produce monies and revenues for this Province, along with hydroelectricity, for 100 years. [Emphasis added]

In the first bit he describes how the cash goes from the provincial government to Nalcor.  That would be the $2.9 billion they plan to spend on the dam itself. 

The problem comes with that bit in bold print.

Here we go again #nlpoli

Few people who pay attention to public life in this province will forget the abuse the provincial government  - particularly former Premier Danny Williams  - heaped upon Max Ruelokke for having the temerity to be a better candidate to head the offshore regulatory board than the guy the premier wanted to stuff in the job.

Ruelokke had to sue the provincial government to force them to do what the law directed.

So detestable was the provincial government’s – i.e. Danny’s  - behaviour that the judge who heard the case stated in his decision:

Having considered the above, I find that the conduct of the Respondent (in relation to the Applicant) has been callous and “reprehensible” and is deserving of “reproof and rebuke”.  Accordingly, I will exercise my discretion and award the Applicant his solicitor and own client costs.

We may be headed for the same mess again.

16 May 2012

Exit Problems

For those who remember the post from 2009 on problems some paratroops have had exiting the aircraft, here’s one that makes the old heart stop.

There is no audio so it is hard to tell exactly what happened.  In any event, the fellow dangling on the end of the fouled static line and parachute assembly eventually gets to live thanks to the Hung Up Parachutist Release Assembly

While the soldier is dangling, the crew in the back of the transport break out the HUPRA parachute rig and hook it onto him.  They eventually release him and the guy floats to the ground. You can see the red nylon of the HUPRA pack just as the guy floats downward.  His landing was likely a hard one, but at least he lived.

-srbp-

Significant Digits: 2016 #nlpoli

Four years from now, Churchill Falls (Labrador) Corporation and Hydro-Quebec will automatically renew the 1969 power contract for another 25 years.

Everyone knows that, surely.

What you may not recall, though, is that 2016 is the year that the federal government will renew its annual payment of $8.0 million to the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador under Term 29 of the Terms of Union.

In 1996, the provincial government negotiated an advance on the Term 29 payments totalling $130 million. Here’s the quote from the 1996 budget speech:

Under the Terms of Union, the Federal Government is committed to an $8 million annual payment to the Province in perpetuity. In light of our unique economic and financial circumstances, the federal government will advance amounts payable under Term 29 over the next three years, when the funds are needed most. The regular annual payments of $8 million will resume in 20 years.

We will receive $50 million of the advance this year. The federal government has agreed to provide us with another $80 million over the three year period.

Of course, while people call them Term 29 payments, they are actually the amount set by the commission appointed under Term 29 to study the financial position of the Newfoundland and Labrador government within the first decade after Confederation.

The commission was to recommend “the form and scale of additional financial assistance, if any, that may be required by the Government of the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador to enable it to continue public services at the levels and standards reached subsequent to the date of Union, without resorting to taxation more burdensome, having regard to capacity to pay, than that obtaining generally in the region comprising the Maritime Provinces of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Prince Edward Island.”

The legislative authority for the payment comes from the Newfoundland Additional Financial Assistance Act

-srbp-

15 May 2012

Don’t remind her, Tommy #nlpoli

The townie Tories are all a-twitter over federal Dipper leader Thomas Mulcair’s endorsement of Sheilagh O’Leary for mayor of Sin Jawns in the next municipal election.

On Monday, reporters asked Premier Kathy Dunderdale about Mulcair’s comments.  Here’s a bit of what she said, via CBC:

"I don't know how somebody who doesn't live here, is not on the ground, doesn't appreciate the demographics to start with and the particular issues, could be offering advice on who is best suited," said Dunderdale outside the House of Assembly Monday. [capitalization corrected]

“So the frig what?” would seem like a better, i.e. appropriately dismissive, response.  Instead Kath used a comment that begs for the retort that she does it all time:  talks about stuff when she doesn’t “appreciate the demographics” or understand what is going on.

The Old Wooden Guitar

An innovative cover of “Somebody that I used to know”…

And, the inevitable parody of the creative cover that is creative in a whole other way…

-srbp-

The Old Wooden Mace #nlpoli

The Telegram’s James McLeod took some time during a recent Estimates committee hearing on Monday to dash off a post at his blog about the ceremonial aspects of the legislature proceedings.

He mentions the number of items in the House of Assembly chamber that came as presents from other provinces after Confederation.  He finishes off with this bit:

Arguably the coolest gift of them all came from B.C. They gave us a massive gold mace. The mace is so cool, it actually gets a parade every day when the House is sitting - it's a small parade, just the Speaker, and a handful of other folks, but still, a parade! You can read more about the mace here, including the old wood one that sits outside the public galleries.

The wooden mace on display in the public gallery of the House of Assembly is the one used in the first parliament in Newfoundland in 1832. How it got there is a story in itself.

14 May 2012

The Zen of Political Disasters: Becoming A Hole #nlpoli

As SRBP noted in an earlier post, the first step in getting yourself out of a hard political spot is to recognise that you are in a hole.

What often happens – as seen in the provincial Conservatives and the Burton Winters tragedy up to now – is that they cannot see that they are in a hole in the first place.

On Monday, the local Connies took it a step further.

Nanny State 2: Yes, Kathy. You are in a hole. #nlpoli

When you are in a hole, the old political saying goes, you should stop digging.

That is wonderful advice.  Many the politician could have saved himself political grief by following it.

The only problem with such good advice is that it is not as easy to take as it seems.

12 May 2012

Workload Measurement #nlpoli #nspoli #cdnpoli

One of the most telling indicators of what government does is how much legislation they put in front of the legislature for approval.  After all government can only do what it is allowed to do by the House of Assembly.

Active governments that are doing lots of work usually have lots of new laws or amendments to existing ones.  They are called bills until they are approved by the members of the legislature.

Compare Newfoundland and Labrador with Nova Scotia and you can get a striking contrast between two neighbouring provinces

11 May 2012

The Nanny State #nlpoli

Premier Kathy Dunderdale refused to meet with Burton Winters’ family to talk about the boy’s tragic death last winter.

The explanation offered by both the Winters family and the Premier herself is that the family wanted to talk about details of the search effort.  As such, the Premier would not meet with the family.  She referred them, instead, to municipal affairs minister Kevin O’Brien who is also the minister responsible for fire and emergency services.

The Premier’s lingering political problem just got worse.

The Comprehension Constant #nlpoli

Premier Kathy Dunderdale seems to have a chronic problem of saying things that are not correct and also saying things she does not mean.

This is not just a poor imitation of George W. Bush.  Kathy Dunderdale is in a league of her own.

10 May 2012

How to make bad decisions: The Self-Delusion Problem #nlpoli

Politicians don’t set out to screw up but their good intentions are no proof against making bad decisions.

The Twitter Perspective #nlpoli

Tories on Twitter act like twits. Then they complain in the House of Assembly that other people are misbehaving.

Yes, they are hypocrites.

The Difference Between Their Dippers and our Tories #nlpoli

When it comes to transparency and accountability for megaprojects, the New Democratic government in Nova Scotia is light years ahead of the Progressive Conservatives in Newfoundland and Labrador

09 May 2012

The Poster Child for Useless #nlpoli

One of the rationales the provincial government has used to justify Muskrat Falls is the idea that the island will have electricity shortages starting in 2015 and by 2020 there’ll be blackouts, brownouts or some sort of unspecified catastrophe.

If you missed it, here is one official version, from The Economy, 2011:

After years of planning and analysis, Nalcor’s subsidiary, Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro (Hydro), determined that developing Muskrat Falls is the least-cost solution to a looming electricity shortage in the province, which is expected in the next five to 10 years.

In 2015, Newfoundland and Labrador will reach a capacity deficit when, at peak times, capacity needs may not be met. By 2019, the province will experience an electricity deficit, where the province’s overall electricity demand is greater than what is available.

It’s the worst kind of fear-mongering but it is what they’ve been saying. 

The solution to that looming crisis is pretty simple, according to the provincial government.  Again, here’s what The Economy 2011 lays out:

Hydro assessed the options for new generation sources to avoid the capacity and electricity deficits. The Muskrat Falls project, coupled with a transmission link project to the island, was determined to be the least-cost option.

So with all that as prologue, consider this question posed by Dean MacDonald stand-in Dwight Ball in the House of Assembly on Tuesday:

… what is the government’s plan to those energy blackouts that residents will experience between 2015 and 2018?

You can guess what the answer was from natural resources minister Jerome Kennedy.

Mr. Speaker, the answer to the question is quite simple. What will prevent the brownouts and the blackouts between 2015 and 2020? Muskrat Falls.

If you are not either banging your head against the table or crapping your pants with laughter at this point, then you are just not paying attention.

This is funny stuff.  You could not possible script a more ridiculous line of questioning at this point in the public debate over the hydro-electric megaproject.

You could not make this stuff up.

Given the Premier’s penchant for telling us that Nalcor is filled with geniuses of other-worldly origins, one might more sensibly ask how it could be that the rocket scientists at Nalcor managed to let the island get into the state where we are on the verge of catastrophe.

After all, that is the logic of their argument.  In 2010, they noticed that the power needle was flirting with the edge of the red zone and the Big E. 

How in the frack could they have missed so obvious a thing?   After all, it is their job to keep an eye on that stuff.  They are supposed to make sure the people who pay their bills have a stable, reliable and low cost supply of electricity.

Now, as a politician, you’d ask the aggressive question because it shows pretty clearly that what Kathy Dunderdale says about Nalcor and  their actual demonstrated managerial competence are two different things.  After all, an opposition political party is supposed to ensure that the government accounts fully “for the management of the public affairs of this province…”.

By contrast, Dwight Ball asked questions  on Tuesday that would normally come from a Tory backbencher sucking around for a promotion to cabinet. For the leader of the Opposition, the questions  were amateurish and reeked of incompetence.

The other questions that Ball asked on Tuesday, like pretty well everything he’s done so far this session, have shown Ball to be the poster child for everything that is politically useless and ineffective. With only one exception, the rest of his caucus have been no better.

Small wonder that the Tories spend all their political energy attacking the province’s New Democrats. The Tories know that the Liberals are more a political threat to themselves than they are to anyone else.

-srbp-

A river runs through it #nlpoli

Jerry Bannister’s paper “A river runs through it:  Churchill Falls and the end of Newfoundland history” is now available in the latest issue of Acadiensis.

“A new Sprung Greenhouse”: one year later #nlpoli

Since May 8 was the 25th anniversary of the announcement that the people of Newfoundland and Labrador were going into the cucumber business, it seemed fitting to give a link to a post of April 5, 2011.

The title of the old post was “A new Sprung greenhouse in the wilds of Labrador.” 

Note how little has changed in a year:  Kathy Dunderdale is still insulting people left and right.  The reasons for her reliance on endless personal digs remain the same.  That reflects badly on her even more now than it did then.

her grasp of economics and the economics of her pet project remain today as abysmal as they were then.

And yes, the goal is still to have the people of Quirpon and Flower Hill pay the full cost for the electricity.  Any others will get it free (Nova Scotians) or far below the cost of producing it.  That’s what Kathy Dunderdale meant when she said:

They are not going to buy it from us, Mr. Speaker, for 14.3, so we have to go into the market and sell at what the market can bear.

The markets in the United States and elsewhere in northeastern North America cannot bear Muskrat Falls electricity even at the artificially-deflated cost of seven cents a kilowatt hour.  That is without the cost of getting it from eastern Labrador down the thousands of kilometres of transmission lines to wherever the crowd at Nalcor might want to sell it. 

To put that in perspective and to explain the connection to the Sprung cucumber fiasco, consider the basic economics of the project as laid out by the Newfoundland and Labrador Heritage website:

A single Sprung cucumber cost $1.08 to produce, but sold for 63 cents in Atlantic Canada and just 25 cents (US) in Massachusetts.

That’s exactly the same concept as Muskrat Falls.  Well, exactly the same except that Sprung was actually able to sell product outside Newfoundland and Labrador.

And if you go back and look at all the controversy that swirled around the project and the defences of it mounted by the provincial government, you’ll likely start to feel decidedly uneasy.

It will all be too familiar.

- srbp -

Related:

08 May 2012

The politics of logic and history #nlpoli

“Government does not work on logic,” a wise man once told your humble e-scribbler.  “It works on the basis of history.”

When faced with a new problem, people tend to do what they did before, not what might make sense in the new circumstances.

You can see that the preference for history over logic in Kathy Dunderdale’s comments on Monday about what she and her colleagues would do for communities where the town fish plant had closed.

Mr. Speaker, we are doing the same thing for these workers, and will do for others the same thing we did in Stephenville, Grand Falls-Windsor, and Harbour Breton.

That would include moving in some provincial government jobs to stuff some cash into the local economy.  So if adding more provincial government employees is an integral part of Kathy Dunderdale’s response to the problems in these six communities, you can be damn sure she won’t be chopping any jobs.

Then again, regular readers of these scribbles already knew that claims to the contrary were bullshit.

The rest of Dunderdale’s comment are just routine political drivel:

We are committed to communities in this Province that find themselves in economic distress. We do not always have the answers at hand. There are not easy answers to be found by anybody, but we walk the walk with communities, Mr. Speaker. We do not just talk the talk.

And when she was done with drivel, she just popped out some truly vacuous bullshit:

Wherever the journey takes these people, their government will be there with them, and we do our best to diversify the economy and meet their needs in the meantime.

Diversify the economy.

Yeah.

Well, the economic development record of the current crowd is exactly zilch.  They spent so much time obsessing over polls and the Lower Churchill after 2003 that they simply didn’t do anything to diversify the economy.  And what they did try – giving away public cash by the bag-full – simply didn’t work. They haven’t been able to pay people to create jobs here.

Here’s how SRBP put it a couple of years ago comparing government spending in the mid-1990s with the current practice:

The province’s business development and economic diversification efforts – ITT then and INTRD and Business today – take less of a share of the budget now.  That’s despite government claims that it has a plan to expand the economy and that the plan is in place.

Mind you, the amounts spent have increased.  For example, the cost of operating the departments has gone from about $50 million for the Industry, Trade and technology department to about $66 million spread over Business and Innovation, Trade and Rural Development today.

The amount available for business investment is also up:  $18 million then compared to $29 million. Even then, though, the province’s business department -  the vehicle through which Danny Williams was once supposed to personally reinvigorate the provincial economy – actually doesn’t do very much with the cash in the budget.  Sure there are plenty of free gifts – like Rolls Royce – or the apparently endless supply of cash for inflatable shelters.

But as the Telegram discovered two years ago, the provincial government spent nothing at all of the $30 million budgeted for business development in 2007. And earlier this year the Telegram confirmed that in the past three years, less than one third of the $90 budgeted for business attraction was ever spent.

The result is that we have a very fragile economy.

Government does not work on the basis of logic.  They go with what they did before.

Like that has worked so well  for them so far.

-srbp-

Pots and Kettles #nlpoli

Pots and kettles are a staple of Newfoundland politics.

Premier Kathy Dunderdale in the House of Assembly on Monday, May 7:

We have had the Member for Torngat Mountains this morning on every media outlet in the Province talking about a cover-up of the Burton Winters tragedy, Mr. Speaker, in the face of the correction put out by the RCMP, propagating incorrectness for political advantage, I suggest, Mr. Speaker, instead of a pursuit for the truth. It is very offensive, Mr. Speaker, and then he wants an all-party committee.

Pay attention to those words:

“Propagating incorrectness for political advantage…instead of a pursuit for the truth.”

Okay?

Got the image?

Then there’s Kathy Dunderdale talking with Randy Simms about her Muskrat Falls megadebt project:

…the expertise that's at Nalcor, one of the finest companies, state-owned companies, in the world I would submit to you, the best brains, the expertise, built the Upper Churchill, running the Upper Churchill for 50 years without a hitch, …

None of the people at Nalcor built Churchill Falls.

None of them.

Not a one.

And strictly speaking Nalcor’s predecessor  - Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro – didn’t build it either.

So Dunderdale’s comment there would be pretty firmly in the category of “not true”.

It gets worse for her.

The Churchill Falls (Labrador) Corporation commissioned Churchill Falls in 1971. That would be 41 years ago. 

Not 50. 

The date people use for the purposes of the figuring out when the 1969 contract expires is 1976, though, which is, 36 years ago.

Again:  not 50.

And at the end of her little rant, Dunderdale said this about the people at Nalcor these days:

…these people just get dismissed...

That would be another entry in the “not true” category. 

People don’t dismiss the lovely people at Nalcor and all their expertise.  Some of us just don;t agree with them when they make certain unsubstantiated claims about Muskrat Falls .  There’s a none-too-subtle difference.

On the other hand, Kathy Dunderdale dismisses the opinions of people who disagree with her just because they disagree with her.

And, of course, she has a record of getting stuff wrong.  Call it “propagating incorrectness” if you wish.

Whether or not she does this stuff for political advantage, political gain, to support her political agenda or just because she thinks she is doing the right thing – like Randy Edmunds likely does – it all pretty much comes out to the same thing in the end.

-srbp-

07 May 2012

The Black Letter of the Law #nlpoli

You’d think that someone who approves laws, including this amendment to the Highway Traffic Act in 2010, would understand  what the words mean:

Cellular telephones and other communication devices

176.1 (1) A person shall not drive a motor vehicle on a highway while holding, or using a hand-held wireless communication device or other prescribed device that is capable of receiving or transmitting telephone communications, electronic data, email or text messages.

176

The penalty for a conviction under this section of the Highway Traffic Act is a minimum of $100 or two days in jail and a maximum of $400 and 14 days in jail.

Politicians elected since 2003 should be familiar with this offence since one of them was done for it in 2008, before they broadened the scope of the section.

- srbp -

More pork for the buck #nlpoli

The CBC’s John Gushue has a tidy analysis of Premier Kathy Dunderdale’s recent suggestion that government employees could work from home in the future as a way of cutting down on government real estate costs.

Gushue notes that people have been talking about “telework” for a couple of decades.  But where it was once an idea, today it is commonplace.

Unlike other employers that have looked to telework to improve productivity and employee lifestyle, Dunderdale’s interest in the concept is pretty simple and – for politicians in this province – typical and old-fashioned.  As Gushue notes:

She suggested reducing the cost of the public service ... not by dwindling its numbers, but by shrinking the footprint of its office space.

The reason the provincial government in Newfoundland and Labrador  costs more per capita than elsewhere in Canada is because provincial politicians use it for political purposes rather than just delivering government service to the people who pay the bills for the service.  It’s patronage.

Since taking office in 2003, the provincial Conservatives have done what the Liberals immediately before them have done.  Just as the Liberals transferred provincial paycheques to communities outside St. John’s, the Tories did the same thing in Grand Falls-Windsor and Stephenville when the local paper mill shut down. Overall, they swelled the provincial public service until it had become 25% of the provincial labour force.

Not surprisingly, the province’s public sector unions don’t like the idea of cuts to the number of people they represent.  In an interview last week, the head of the province’s largest public sector union claimed that the current size of the public service was the result of “rebuilding” after a period of cuts.  NAPE’s Carol Furlong said that “we really need to ensure that the people of this province have the services they need…”.

Of course, Furlong is full of crap.  The number of people represented by public sector unions has nothing to do with delivering the services the public needs.  There are plenty of ways to improve service delivery at a lower cost to taxpayers and with fewer members in Furlong’s union.

But, as you will see by looking at the Dunderdale and Furlong interviews, the politicians and the union leaders are in complete agreement on the question of the size of the provincial public service.  Neither of them wants to see it any smaller.

-srbp-

05 May 2012

Political Effectiveness #nlpoli

As these things go, George Murphy’s two days of news about compliance with the province’s ban on pesticides was a tidy and effective bit of political theatre.

The provincial government announced the ban in 2011.  They set May 1, 2012 as the day for the ban to take effective.

Like any enterprising politician, Murphy trucked off to a local store a day or two after the ban took effect.  He found some of the chemicals for sale.  He took some pictures and asked the environment minister about it in the House of Assembly.

The next day Murphy turned up on CBC.  The chemicals had disappeared from the first store but they were still available at one other store CBC featured by name.

“You know we have to see some action on this,” said Murphy. “If the government is going to do something, then go ahead and do it ...get to the job that's supposed to be done here, get these products off the shelves,” he told CBC News.

Simple message.

Effective delivery.

Backed with an example of a department that failed the simple task of doing what they said they would do.

For his part, environment minister Terry French looked like a slack-assed, slack-jawed goof. Here’s what he said in the House of Assembly in response to Murphy’s question:

I just want to remind the hon. member, he seems to have bought them recently. I hope they were not on the black market, Mr. Speaker. I also hope he does not use them, because if he uses them, he will be facing a significant fine.

What you don’t get there is the joking tone French had. It conveyed a sense that French didn’t take the issue seriously.  French came across dismissively, as if saying yeah, we banned it, frig off ya little twerp.

In itself, the story may be relatively small. 

Add enough of these hits together and they will have an impact.

- srbp -

04 May 2012

Something to look forward to… #nlpoli

Natural resources minister Jerome Kennedy in the House of Assembly on Thursday:

It breaks that geographical stranglehold of Quebec. I do not have time today to address Ed Hollett’s theory that we can send all our power through Quebec and get it back through Quebec, because that is just wrong.

This should be most interesting. 

We’ll all just have to wait and see what the minister says about the amazing appearing and disappearing stranglehold.

- srbp -

The Gathering Storm #nlpoli

Another week and another fish plant closes permanently.

This time it is one of the plants that should have been the basis of a vibrant fishery.  The Burin plant did mostly secondary processing rather than just basic processing turning fish into big frozen blocks for someone else to develop into a higher value product.

Those of us who warned that smashing Fishery Products International to pieces was stupid government policy take no comfort in this sort of development.

But there is no mistaking the pattern that the Burin closure continues.  it’s just the hurricane that will produce more dramatic change across Newfoundland than the 1992 cod moratorium ever did.

- srbp -

The Fairity Equation #nlpoli

It doesn’t matter if you are a Telegram editorial writer, a local blogger or even municipal affairs minister Kevin “Fairity” O’Brien on CBC’s St. John’s Morning Show (not online).  You can still get the details of O’Brien’s travel expenses  - things like purpose and amounts – just dead wrong.

So let’s just make sure we are all on the same page to start with.

The Public Cost of Kevin O’Brien

On Tuesday and Wednesday, CBC reported on the amount of money O’Brien’s department set aside to cover his travel and other expenses for the coming fiscal year.  Last year, the transportation and communications budget was set at $44,900 but the final spending was $92,900.  The 2012 budget is $44,900. 

In 2010, the budget was set at $44,900 and the final spending came in at $61,000. In 2008 and 2009 O’Brien wasn’t the minister.  The travel budget was $44,900 and the final tally was $44,100 and $35, 000.

You can see why people wondered what Kevin was doing.  O’Brien blamed the 2011 cost over-run on Air Canada, the friggers, and their evil mainland-conspiracy airfares.

Yeah, well, no.

The Cause of the Cost

As your humble e-scribbler pointed out on Thursday, O’Brien’s department spent about half its travel budget to cover the cost of shipping their minister from his house in Gander to the office in St. John’s. 

That’s the reason the travel bill was so high:  government expense rules allow ministers to live somewhere other than near the place their job is located.  Taxpayers foot the bill for the extra cost and that includes, among other things, these regular trips back and forth from his home to his main office to attend cabinet meetings and such.  To distinguish it from travel for departmental business, your humble e-scribbler called it commuting costs.  That’s what it is:  commuting to work.

The Comparison

O’Brien isn’t the only one who does this.  SRBP compared O’Brien’s expenses with those of Joan Burke, Tom Marshall, Patty Pottle and John Hickey for the period from December 2010 to November 2011.  In terms of total dollars, O’Brien’s commuting cost was the second largest amount  ($36,000) after Patty Pottle ($40,400).

As a percentage of total travel, Fairity was in the middle of the pack.  Pottle’s commuting was 63% of her ministerial travel expenses.  At 46%, Fairity was slightly below Burke (51%) and a dozen percentage points behind Marshall (58%)

But the key point is that none of that matters.  They all cost taxpayers more than ministers who lived near their workplace, as ministers have done for decades.

And then there’s the House of Assembly travel costs

In addition to the travel costs these politicians cost taxpayers out of their ministerial travel budgets, each of them also ran up travel and living expenses under the House of Assembly accounts.

Minister

01 Apr – 30 Sep 11

FY 2010

Joan Burke

$6,058 

$18,309 

John Hickey

7,384 

15,788 

Tom Marshall

7,221 

14,017 

Kevin O’Brien

9,742 

16,695 

Patty Pottle

14,012 

25,559 

Totalling the departmental commuting costs and the House travel bills are possible but it would take a bit of work.  The departmental accounts are reported out of sync with the government’s fiscal year.  The House of Assembly ones come at half way through the fiscal year and then with the whole year.

It would be even tougher to figure out how the two sets of travel claims relate to one another. The House lists huge amounts of detail, including specifically when the flights happened.  The departmental expenses have two dates only on each item.  it isn’t clear whether the first date is the date someone submitted the claim or the date they incurred the expense.

The Bottom Line

But even allowing for all that, you can see that Fairity’s annual cost to taxpayers for commuting would be something on the order of about $53,000  (36K +17K).  And to give a direct comparison for Fairity with a minister from central Newfoundland, look at what Susan Sullivan cost taxpayers.  Her departmental travel costs for the December 2010 to November 2011 time period was $26,068.  Her House travel cost for Fiscal Year 2010 was $14,200.  

In all these cases, the expenses don’t cover the costs of traveling to a meeting with a town council about a municipal grant or something directly related to the minister’s job.

Nope.

This is money that gets Kevin  and some of his colleagues from their homes to their jobs.  No other people on the public payroll get such a benefit.  Historically, ministers haven’t been able to get taxpayers to cover their commuting costs either.  This is a more recent invention, tied to the 2007 Green report and the way the Chief Justice structured House of Assembly allowances.

The cost to taxpayers is a good reason to review the whole thing and put it back on a basis that isn’t tied to where a politician lives.  In the system established in the early 1990s, the House travel budgets tied the amount available to the likely cost of travelling to and from the district.  That was never the problem in the House:  the problem was a scheme that let members use travel money for vote buying.  As such,  there was no reason to change it in 2007. 

Going back to a more practical system of setting House of Assembly travel budgets would disconnect ministerial travel from where a member of the House claimed a permanent residence. Since cabinet ministers’ jobs are at the government headquarters, they should live near by or cover the costs of getting to work themselves, like everyone else.

These costs wouldn’t matter if the provincial government had an unlimited supply of cash.  As we all know, the taxpayers don’t have an unlimited supply of cash.  If we have to cut back on expenses, then one of the logical places to start would be these sorts of discretionary – and entirely unnecessary costs. 

- srbp -

03 May 2012

Why we are Muskrat Fallsing #nlpoli

Natural resources minister Jerome Kennedy explained it all in the House of Assembly on Wednesday:

…let’s be clear on why we are developing Muskrat Falls, if we develop it. It is to satisfy our need at home; to allow for a link to Maritime and Eastern US markets; and to provide electricity for mining developments in Labrador. So, essentially, Mr. Speaker, what will happen is that we will use the energy we have available, until we need to recall, on the spot markets. We are not looking, Mr. Speaker, for power purchase arrangements. There is, by the way, as Mr. Weil said in the CBC interview, markets in the Maritime area.

Note the order of priority:

  1. “to satisfy our need at home;
  2. “to allow for a link to Maritime and Eastern US markets; and,
  3. “to provide electricity for mining developments in Labrador.”

On that last one, note that a year ago, Kathy Dunderdale wasn’t talking about using Muskrat Falls for Labrador development:

Now, Mr. Speaker, we have recall power from the Upper Churchill that is now available for industrial use in Labrador.

That was then. This is now. Stories change.

Then notice the added bit:

“…we will use the energy we have available, …, on the spot markets…”

Kennedy noted a wee bit after he said those words that Nalcor is selling power now to the United States through Quebec.  Funny how Jerome sometimes remembers that Labrador electricity isn’t blocked by Quebec.  Funnier how he forgot to mention that Nalcor loses money on the transaction any time it sells power in that wheeling deal..

Notice what we are not looking for:

We are not looking, …, for power purchase arrangements.

We are not looking for them because we cannot get them.  The only power purchase agreement Quebec has managed to sign lately was with Vermont for less than six cents per kilowatt hour.  Even allowing the Nalcor costing that pushes the cost of Muskrat to the distant future, Muskrat Falls will cost seven cents per kilowatt hour. 

And that is before you add on the cost of getting it through Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and however many American states before it gets to the customer.  If they can’t make money selling Churchill Falls power to the Americans, then they won’t make any money selling them juice from much more expensive project.

Kennedy understands this:

“There is a market, Mr. Speaker. The price is another thing because, remember, the Emera link gives us transmission access to the American markets without paying undue tariffs.”

There is a market.  Unfortunately, there are so many tariffs between Muskrat and the end user that Nalcor can’t sell power and make money at it.

The price is not another thing.

It is the only thing.

That’s why the only revenue Nalcor knows it will get for Muskrat Falls is what they will get from local rate payers.  Jerome knows it too.  Remember the first priority he listed.

- srbp -

Some NL cabinet ministers bill taxpayers for work commuting #nlpoli

Almost half the money (46%) spent on ministerial travel by the municipal affairs department between December 2010 and November 2011 went to cover travel by minister Kevin O’Brien from his home in Gander  to St. John’s for cabinet meetings and other government business.

O’Brien billed taxpayers for about $77,188 in travel and related expenses during the period.  About $36,000 of it was for travel between Gander and St. John’s.

The information is taken from expense reports posted by the provincial government on the government website.  CBC reported on Kevin O’Brien’s travel expenses on May 1 and 2 as a result of hearings by the House of Assembly estimates committee reviewing the 2012 budget. 

The CBC story erroneously labels the travel as being to O’Brien’s district  - it was from the district – and attributes the amount to Air Canada airfares. There’s more to it than that.

Provincial government  expense rules for cabinet ministers allow them to live outside the capital region and bill travel, accommodation and meal costs to the department when they have to travel to St. John’s for official business. The definition of “permanent residence” used in the cabinet policy is tied to the declaration ministers make to the House of Assembly to determine their allowances and entitlements under House of Assembly spending rules.

O’Brien isn’t alone in the billing practice.  For example, finance minister Tom Marshall’s commuting travel accounted for 67% of his departmental travel claims in the period.  Marshall billed taxpayers $23,400 in the period SRBP looked at for travel between his home in Corner Brook and his department’s head office in St. John’s.  Marshall’s total ministerial travel was $35,025.

Cabinet minister Joan Burke billed taxpayers more than $15,433 for commuting from December 2010 to November 2011. The total of her expenses listed on the provincial government website was $30,307.  That puts her commuting costs at 51% of her total ministerial expense bill. 

During his last year in politics, Labrador affairs minister John Hickey hit taxpayers for more than $27,682 for travel from his Goose Bay home to St. John’s for cabinet meetings and other government business.   Hickey’s bills that year included his share of two aircraft charters to bring him to St. John’s as well as two bills for long-term airport parking passes. His expenses total on the government website was $47,769.  That would make his commuting travel 58% of his ministerial travel costs

Aboriginal affairs minister Patty Pottle, billed the most of all for the home-to-work travel, though.  In her last year in office, Pottle billed taxpayers more than $40,400 for travel, meals and accommodations as she traveled from her home in Nain to St. John’s.  That represents 63% of the $64,300 in expenses listed for Pottle on the government website.

Pottle claimed a total of almost $35,000 in one six month period.Her travel to St. John’s on official business accounted for slightly more than $24,000 for the same six months.

Some ministers also claim car expenses under the ministerial expense rules.  They can either claim mileage or claim a car allowance plus operating costs incurred on government business.

The cabinet expense policy on the car allowance states:

The automobile allowance is $8,000 per year, prorated for the portion of the fiscal year for which the Minister serves in Cabinet (based on MC 90-1135).

Ministers will be reimbursed fuel expenses, consumable liquids and related expenses incurred while traveling on government business. Detailed original receipts indicating proof of payment must be provided.
Ministers receive the automobile allowance as a bi-weekly payment that coincides with the usual pay cycle.

The automobile allowance, fuel expenses, consumable liquids and related expenses will be issued on payroll cheques rather than General Account Cheques and is taxable in accordance with Canada Revenue Agency requirements.

In addition to his other commuting, Kevin O’Brien received more than $6,000 under the car allowance and operating expense policy between June and November 2011 alone. 

SRBP first noted the practice of commuting ministers in July and December 2008.  

From December 2010 to November 2011, O’Brien filed 36 expense claims for travel, meals and accommodations for travel between Gander and St. John’s.  The smallest claim was $231. The largest was $2,069.  Some of the claims may have related to the same travel.

O’Brien’s travel claims suggest his commuting was quite frequent at times.  His expense records for claims paid in December 2010 show claims for travel in October and November, 2010.  SRBP did not include them in the totals above since the travel took place outside the study period.

In those two months, O’Brien filed commuting claims for travel on October 13, 17, 29 and 31 and November 4, 14, 21 and 28. The total cost of those claims was approximately $9,952.

O’Brien also claimed for other ministerial travel besides the commuting.  For example, during the period examined for this post, he expensed travel, entertainment and related expenses totalling $985 for the presentation of a fire truck to the Town of Hampden in White Bay.

- srbp -

02 May 2012

Diversifying the economy and slowing things down #nlpoli

Paul Oram was a colourful politician.

Well, colourful in the sense that he flamed out very quickly.  Regular readers of these scribbles will remember him as the guy who had no idea what had happened in the province during his lifetime.  Not long after taking over the health department, Oram precipitated a huge political crisis.  Then he high-tailed it from politics altogether with some pretty damning comments about how his colleagues were spending public money. 

These days Paul turns up as the token Tory on CBC Radio’s West Coast Morning Show political panel. he is still colourful.

On Monday’s show, Oram said that Muskrat Falls was a wonderful thing because it diversifies the provincial economy.  He did not say how.  Oram just said that it would.  No one asked him to explain what he meant.

That’s a lucky break for Paul.  You see, Muskrat Falls will not diversify the provincial economy. It is a public utility project.  What’s more, it does not produce any revenue other than what the people of this province will be forced to pay.  In that respect it is less of a way to diversify the economy as it is a new kind of government tax on the local economy.

But that’s okay: Paul has usually had trouble understanding this whole economic development thing.  That’s probably why Danny put him in charge of economic development at one point.

After bashing that around, the panel switched to talking about the provincial budget and health care.  Bernice Hillier – the host – asked Paul about the money in the budget for planning the new Corner brook hospital. 

Not a problem, said Paul.  The hospital is important.  The government will build it.

It’s just that times are tough, according to Paul.  The government is just slowing things down a bit until they have the money to build the hospital.

Interesting idea Paul had there.

Interesting because it is something that Oram’s old colleagues have categorically denied. 

Don’t have the money to build it now?

“That is one of the stupidest things I’ve heard in a long time,” said finance minister Tom Marshall last week.   Here’s what health minister Susan Sullivan said in the House of Assembly on Monday:

What we had in the past was a replacement design. Mr. Speaker, we are much more progressive than that. We do not want a replacement of the Corner Brook hospital; we want a hospital that is going to see us into the future. Therefore, we have asked them to go back, and with this $1 million we will look at a hospital that will meet the needs of the future in terms of essential services that are going to be in that hospital, Mr. Speaker. When that is done, then we will move forward with a design concept for the facility itself.

Paul Oram was a colourful politician.

He still says some curious things. Makes you wonder what he is going to say next.

- srbp -

How to make bad decisions #nlpoli

Premier Kathy Dunderdale sounded genuinely exasperated last week when she chatted at length with Open Line show host Randy Simms about Muskrat Falls.

“Why,” she asked, “would a government want to develop a project that is not in the best interest of the province?”

No government would, of course.

No government ever has.

Not the current government, nor any in the past. Aside from a few naive people, the only ones who think otherwise are the nasty little partisan troll-shits who campaign with slogans like “no more give-aways” and actually believe their own propaganda.  

What goes around, comes around, as the saying goes. That seems to be why Kathy is so frustrated these days. having come to power on the basis of the “no more give-aways” propaganda, she is finding herself on the receiving end of the same sort of foolishness that she and her colleagues used to peddle about their predecessors in government.

Regular readers will recall the warning about this sort of idiocy in a post about the politics of history  in Newfoundland and Labrador:
In eight years time, they may find that many of the changes they hoped for, like massive new industries, will still be little more than the fodder for someone else's rhetoric.
Karma is a bitch, after all.

For all that, Kathy Dunderdale is convinced she is on the right track. As  she told NTV’s Issues and Answers in March, we “need to get to sanction.”  Nothing will persuade her to change her mind.
And that, of course, is one of the surest ways there is to make a bad decision. 

Go back to Kathy’s rhetorical question to Randy Simms.  It suggests that she has tied herself personally to the Muskrat Falls project. When you believe that fervently in your conclusion, you can do all sorts of things that can lead you astray

You can make a bad decision by only listening to people who agree with you.  Kathy Dunderdale has done this already:  she accepts as an expert conclusion the opinion of a lawyer with no experience other than what he’s gotten since taking up the appointment as “consumer advocate”  on the public utilities board.

And you can make a bad decision by dismissing people who don’t.  By contrast, Kathy Dunderdale suggested that former Premier Brian Peckford had very little involvement in energy policy during his 15 years in government serving both as energy minister and Premier.

You can make a bad decision by assuming you are smarter than everyone else.  Take a gander at unofficial Liberal party leader Dean MacDonald talking to CBC’s Debbie Cooper.  After slagging off the public utilities board as being nothing but disgruntled ex-Hydro employees, MacDonald notes that the people at Nalcor are among the smartest people in the world. They are the experts, according to MacDonald.  And by extension they’ve got to be right.

You can hear the same sort of thing in the way Kathy Dunderdale talks about the project:  all the experts and all the smart people back the project, according to Dunderdale.  How strange that Dean criticizes Kathy agree on everything, but yet they are perfect alignment when they talk about Muskrat Falls.  

You can make a bad decision by believing false information.  Kathy Dunderdale tied the two projects together in January in a speech to the St. John’s Board of Trade:
The gatekeepers of the natural transmission route through Quebec were denying us fair opportunity to get the power to market, and having been burnt once on the Upper Churchill, we were determined not to let that happen again.
Quebec does not have a stranglehold on Labrador development.  It’s that simple. 

You can make a bad decision by making a false connection between a current decision and the past one.  Muskrat Falls proponents love to talk about Muskrat falls in the context of the 1969 Churchill Falls contract. In that January speech, Kathy Dunderdale made the approval of the Muskrat Falls project proof that the people of the province have broken the Churchill Falls curse:
Failure to take the right course of action today would be no different than taking the wrong course of action a generation ago.
Rejecting Muskrat Falls – even if it made perfect sense for economic and rational reasons – would be an emotional failure according to Kathy Dunderdale’s construction. 

You can make a bad decision by jumping to a conclusion.  Kathy Dunderdale may like to say that Muskrat Falls is about meeting the island’s energy needs, but the truth is the project was a solution in search of a problem. The current provincial government committed to build something on the Lower Churchill in 2005.  Danny Williams tied his retirement to building the Lower Churchill.  After five years of trying, they couldn’t find any way to make it happen.

In 2010, they decided to build Muskrat Falls alone.  And everything since then has been a series of rationalisations to justify the conclusion they started with.  They did not examine alternatives before deciding to build Muskrat Falls.  They dismissed natural gas as being “purely hypothetical”.  They changed their story to claim they have looked at the alternatives and settled on Muskrat falls only after credible experts explained that natural gas from the local offshore is a viable, cheaper alternative to Muskrat Falls.

There are lots of ways to make a bad decision. 

Your intention to do the right thing may not matter at all.

- srbp -

01 May 2012

The Bullshit Vision Thing #nlpoli

Dean MacDonald, the undeclared leader of the provincial Liberal Party spoke to a crowd in Port de Grave district on Saturday night.  There’s an account of his speech in the Telegram’s Monday edition.

Dean crapped on the provincial Conservatives for all sorts of things.  Most of all, he seemed to think they lack what George Bush used to call the vision thing:

“I don’t think we have a vision, I don’t think we have a plan for the province. I don’t feel that we’re all on a team who all know where we’re headed,” MacDonald said. “The party that’s been in power too long believes their own bullshit, and the party that will sweep into power doesn’t, and that’s us.”

Contrary to what the Telegram reported, MacDonald didn’t seem to offer much of a vision himself during the speech. Well, certainly the Telly didn’t report any vision-like utterances and no one who attended the session seems to talk much about Dean’s vision. The Telly just included a few quotes confirming that the handful of people in the province who still support the Liberal Party see MacDonald as the Saviour

This is not news.

Nor is it any sort of vision.

MacDonald reportedly spoke for 30 minutes.  He shat on Kathy Dunderdale. He has done that before.  And just as surely as he has criticised Dunderdale before, we should all remember that Kathy Dunderdale is doing nothing except continuing the plan of her predecessor, complete with his vision and using all the same people that her predecessor picked for their jobs.  Kathy Dunderdale is following the agenda of Dannyism, right down to the hydro-electric project Danny Williams used as an excuse to retire.

In January 2008, Dean told the world  - via The Independent - that what the province needed was 20 more years of Dannyism.  There’s no sign Dean  has changed his mind at all about that.  In fact, after Dean criticised Dunderdale’s unsustainable spending in 2011, he quickly sucked it all back again

Go back and take another look at Dean’s interview with David Cochrane last fall.  You won’t be disappointed, which is more than you can say for some of the people who attended the fundraiser on Saturday night.  Those would be the people who didn’t leap to their feet in applause at the end of Dean’s speech.  That would even include the people who did stand and applaud but who did so slowly, after others had started.  Rumours of wild enthusiasm were -  like the depth of MacDonald’s insights – greatly exaggerated. You see lots of people – not just parties in power too long – believe their own bullshit.

-srbp-