29 June 2012

And he is still wrong #nlpoli

The guy who helped create the monster called Nalcor thinks Muskrat Falls is a great idea.

But Lieutenant Governor John Crosbie backs it for a completely wrong reason.

28 June 2012

The Premier and her glass house #nlpoli

One of Kathy Dunderdale’s more obnoxious qualities is her love of insulting other people.

She couldn’t let the House close without doing it a few times just for good measure.

There’s nothing witty in Dunderdale’s insults.  Nor is there anything that could pass for clever in her jabs.  That’s part of what makes her comments obnoxious:  they are just crude.

There’s another part to it that, like her predecessor who loved the same sort of crap-talk,  Kathy is the Premier of the province.  When she carries on like that she winds up setting an abysmally low standard of behaviour for public officials.

It’s undignified. It’s degrading to the province and to the people she should be honoured to represent. 

Muskrat Falls Policy Shift: The Audio #nlpoli

You read the post.

Now listen to Tom Marshall.

-srbp-

Shifting from non-renewable to renewable #nlpoli

Scan through the official record for the House of Assembly for the spring 2012 session and you will find example after example after example of a variation on this theme:  “…our vision for a prosperous future is the use of our non-renewable resources to secure a renewable future.” 

St. John’s West MHA Dan Crummell said those specific words on May 8.  But over and over again, the provincial Conservatives in the legislature tied oil money to things like Muskrat Falls.

Steve Kent (Mount Pearl North) on May 8:

The returns from this non-renewable sector are actually being used to build a renewable energy future for Newfoundland and Labrador.

Wade Verge (Lewisporte), May 8:

That is one of the reasons that as a government we are looking at Muskrat Falls and we are looking at the Lower Churchill. We have a vision for the future. Muskrat Falls is one of those projects that will help us as we give up our reliance on non-renewable resources in the future.

Keith Russell (MHA Lake Melville), May 8:

By using our non-renewable resources, Mr. Speaker, as a means of catapulting us into a renewable resource-based economy, this will in effect liberate us from the dependence and exposures to the realities of oil and oil markets and pricing. This, Mr. Speaker, is what it takes to be successful.

But that flurry wasn’t the only time.  Just look at these examples:

Municipal affairs minister Kevin O’Brien, Hansard, March 6, 2012:

I heard the Leader of the Third Party yesterday, as well, and I took it as an endorsement of Muskrat Falls, because she talked about moving from a non-renewable to a renewable economy. That is exactly one part of Muskrat Falls. Even though we have said categorically, time after time, that project has to – has to – stand on its own, it moves us from that non-renewable economy to a renewable economy. That is exactly what it does.

Paul Lane, MHA for Mount Pearl South, Hansard, March 12, 2012:

I will not sit on the fence. Muskrat Falls certainly is a great project for our future. It ties in to the Province's energy plan of taking the non-renewable resources we have and investing them into renewable resources for the future, for our children, for our grandchildren. I am pleased to be part of that. Again, it ties in to the great leadership that this government has shown right throughout the whole process.

Natural resources minister Jerome Kennedy, Hansard, March 13, 2012:

What we are doing, Mr. Speaker, we are taking our non-renewable resource monies, our oil money, we are building schools, infrastructure and hospitals leading with Muskrat Falls and Gull Island, hopefully, to the development of a renewable resource economy.

Natural resources minister Jerome Kennedy, Hansard, March 15, 2012:

As we utilize our oil, the non-renewable energy is used to develop a renewable energy economy, Mr. Speaker, consistent with the energy plan.

Glen Littlejohn, MHA for Port de Grave, Hansard, June 6, 2012:

Mr. Speaker, one of the central commitments in our provincial Energy Plan is to reinvest the portion of our non-renewable energy money into our renewable energy developments. Mr. Speaker, doesn't that make sense? Doesn't that make sense to us, and doesn't that make sense to the people of Newfoundland and Labrador, that while we are reaping some of the best benefits we have, the resource we have now is non-renewable, so let's inject some of that non-renewable money into planning for the future and giving us clean, green, renewable energy, Mr. Speaker.

Still, for all those examples of what the Conservatives thought was their strategy, somewhere along the line they shifted their plan from using money from non-renewable resources to build Muskrat Falls to borrowing all that money.

Interesting.

-srbp-

27 June 2012

Major Policy Shift on Muskrat Falls, or Uncle Tom's Problem #nlpoli

Finance Minister Tom Marshall called VOCM Open Line on Wednesday morning to talk about Cabot Martin and the pile of cash Tom is sitting on.

Poor Tom.

He was so effercited and agimitated that he got lost in his own maze of cash, net debt, infrastructure spending, and efforts to claim that what exists doesn't exist and even if  it did exist, it isn't what it looks like, whatever that might be.  "Foolishness", Tom said at one point, and that is about the most accurate description of what he got on with:  foolishness.

Tom should have just read the SRBP post that lays it all out using the finance department's own information.

publicaccounts

Bottom line:  Cabot is right.  There is $2.77 billion in cash and temporary investments.  It comes from oil windfalls.

In addition to that pot of cash, there is money that is in the bank and that Tom and his friends will spend in this year's budget.  In the Public Accounts extract shown above, that is the amount called "Receivables".  Tom talked about this but he seemed to confuse it with the temporary investments.

Tom also mentioned to Randy something about equity in different Crown corporations.  That is actually another amount on top of the $2.77 billion.

Add it all together and at the end of March 2011, it came to nearly $5.0 billion.

Poor Tom.  It is hard to keep it all straight, evidently.

Now what is Tom planning to do with the cash and temporary investments?  

There's where it gets interesting.

Once upon a time, the Old Man and his friends wanted to use cash like that to build Muskrat Falls.  Remember they used to talk about converting revenues from a non-renewable resource into a renewable one.  Well, that was the scheme:  take the oil money and build a dam.

Tom told the Open Line audience that things have changed.  When they changed isn't clear.  On June 21, natural resources minister Jerome Kennedy told the House that "Our whole energy plan is based upon using our non-renewable resources to transition into a renewable resource economy."

Now that policy is apparently gone right out the window. This is a major policy shift for the provincial government with very serious financial implications for taxpayers.

Instead of that old plan,  Kathy, Tom and Jerome and Ed are thinking about borrowing the entire cost of Muskrat Falls.  Nalcor will do some of the borrowing directly and the "equity" portion the banks want Nalcor to find will come from you and me via Uncle Tom and another bunch of banks.  Rather than take that temporary cash laying about in case the arse drops out of Tom's oil revenue projections, Tom will now head to the banks and float a loan for three or four or five billion or whatever it winds up being.  Tom will then hand that money over to Ed Martin to build the dam.

We will know how much money Tom will borrow when we find out and not a moment before.

On top of that, Nalcor has to borrow some cash.  Now here's where it got a bit weird.  Tom tried to claim that this money would not show up on the provincial public debt because the federal government was going to guarantee it.  The accountants at the bond rating agencies might have something to say about that.  Safer, for now, would be to assume that the provincial taxpayers will be on the hook in the first instance for the whole thing, whether it is directly through Nalcor or through Uncle Tom's generosity with someone else's money.

If Muskrat costs a total of $8.0 billion, then Tom and Ed will borrow it all.  We can add all that to the current public debt of $13 billion and marvel at the record public debt of $21 billion.

And, in case you missed it, the only people paying it back will be you and all the rest of the ratepayers in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Plus interest.

Plus profit to the companies involved.

-srbp-

Garnishee Tom’s pension first #nlpoli

Spendthrift finance minister Tom Marshall is willing to spend your money and mine to keep the Corner Brook paper mill afloat. As CBC tells us, Tom is keeping the options open:

"It can be a loan, it could be cash, it could guarantees but you know that we've made it clear we are not going fund operational losses."

Well, you’ve got to admire a guy who is willing to spend public money to help out a bunch of people going through a hard time.

Not even close to a Heritage Fund #nlpoli

cabotmartinA few people likely read Cabot Martin’s opinion piece in the Telegram on Muskrat Falls this past weekend and scratched their heads.

Open Line show host Randy Simms certainly did.

Martin’s piece isn’t available online but here (right) is a screen cap of a chunk of it that had Randy baffled. Writes Cabot Martin:

“…we have the equivalent of a provincial 'Heritage Fund’ of over $2.7 billion built up from ‘excess’ oil revenues over the last four years”.

Well, the amount is right but this isn’t a Heritage Fund of any sort.

26 June 2012

Migrants and Migrant Labour #nlpoli

Russell Wangersky devotes his Tuesday column this week to migration and labour.  He starts out with a discussion of the recent quarterly population figures from Statistics Canada, notes that they run against the popular story that things are booming around here, and then segues neatly to a discussion of local labour shortages.

There is a feeling, at least in government, that Newfoundlanders and Labradorians away are somehow a sort of flexible employment pool, skilled workers who are willing to give up their stable, long-time Alberta or Saskatchewan careers to move their families back here at the drop of a job hat. 

Along the way, Wangersky hits a familiar point about how some people seem to think that the solution to our economic problems rests entirely with people who are supposedly ready to come home at any price.  They are homing pigeons, supposedly. Before you get too upset at that idea,  just remember that the Old Man Hisself once used that phrase.  Unfortunately, the CBC link in this old post is now dead but it does note that Danny Williams made the comment during a trip to Alberta sometime in 2007.  Maybe someone at the Mother Corp can dig out the link.

The other term that the word "migration" brings to mind is one of the solutions the current crowd running the place have used to cope with their stunning lack of success at economic development.  The term is  migrant labour.  Here's an excerpt from a post - "The Economics of Snuffleupagus" - that should give you a sense of how persistent the migration issue has been for the Conservatives:

It hit some new records in the best years of Danny Williams economic miracle.  That's right.  At a time when the economic miracle was taking hold people were flooding out of the Happy Province in near record numbers. The chart at left gives an idea of how big the problem has been.


There are parts of the province that are almost entirely dependent on migrant labour and remittance workers. 

In others - like Stephenville - the economic disaster of losing a pulp and paper mill on the Premier's watch didn't materialize solely because the workers there could find jobs in Alberta. 

But yes, you say, there has been more people coming back to the province since 2007, you say. 

And yes, that's true, but it isn't because of great economic opportunities in this province. 


Look around, especially outside the overpass.  All those enormous, job-creating projects that were supposedly luring people back don't actually exist.

-srbp- 

The Truth Hurts #nlpoli

For those of us who loved the West Wing, we can look forward to his latest effort, an HBO series about news media called The Newsroom. [video link to Episode 1]

And we can be sure that it will be a finely crafted and savagely accurate portrayal of the news business.

We can be sure because a gang of news types at the mighty Ceeb are shitting all over it from great heights.

25 June 2012

Alberta-bound #nlpoli

This graph will likely cause some people to scratch their chins or heads.  The reason is simple:  it isn’t the story they’ve been told, namely the one that holds that all our ills of outmigration and the like vanished after 2003.

In fact, if you look at it, outmigration from Newfoundland and Labrador to Alberta has been greatest over the last 10 years or so.

$#*! Jerome said: Hebron Benefits #nlpoli

Hear what comfortable words Jerome! sayeth, back when he was finance minister (December 9, 2008):

The $4 billion six-year plan is as much as we can handle right now along with the Vale Inco, Hebron, and then hopefully the Lower Churchill. So we are at capacity, there are not enough workers, and there is simply no way that we can do anything more with infrastructure right now.

-srbp-

More $#*! the Premier said: copper fastened Hebron Benefits #nlpoli

December 16, 2009

Mr. Speaker, their ignorance of this project is staggering, and what is frightening about it is they put this out like they are speaking the truth.

Mr. Speaker, we have commitments on a concrete gravity-based structure, a mechanical outfitting, 4.1 million person hours of work; topsides drilling support module; topsides drilling derrick; flare boom; helideck; lifeboat stations; structural steel riser components and assembly of offshore loading system components; riser bases; rigid risers; tie-in spools and buoys. We have 50,000 hours of GBS feed-phase engineering. We have detailed engineering. We have 1.2 million person hours of detailed engineering that have to be done here in the Province.

Mr. Speaker, the first time ever in a negotiation of an offshore project that these kinds of benefits have been negotiated and copper fastened to the benefit of the people of the Province.

Yeah. 

Right.

In hindsight, they must have been fastened with something other than copper.

-srbp-

$#*! the Premier said: Hebron Benefits #nlpoli

November 27, 2008:

One of the things that I am proudest of – I mean, the benefits that we negotiated under the Hebron agreement have never been seen in this Province before. They are so comprehensive and they are so detailed, but one of the things I am so proud of is the gender and diversity agreement. [Emphasis added]

In hindsight, that comment seems to be rather telling.

-srbp-

24 June 2012

How Irish are we: Serbian edition

 

It’s the Serbian accent that really makes it.

 

-srbp-

Caribou over Afghanistan

Your eyes are not playing tricks on you.

That’s a DHC-4 Caribou, known to Americans as a C-7, upgraded with turboprops. 

They are indeed 50 years old, but they still do the job dropping supplies to remote locations in Afghanistan. 

-srbp-

22 June 2012

444 Squadron: answers to questions #nlpoli

As a general background on 444 Squadron at Goose Bay, here is the text of a question posed in the House of Commons by member of parliament Marc Garneau and the reply from defence minister Peter MacKay dated June 19, 2012:

Marc Garneau Westmount—Ville-Marie, QC : With regard to 444 Combat Support Squadron: (a) how many aircraft were in the squadron on April 10, 2012; (b) how many aircraft were in the squadron on April 12, 2012; (c) is the aircraft which the Minister of National Defence references in his press release of April 12, 2012, an aircraft allocation which was not previously present at the squadron, or is it the restoration of an aircraft allocation which was previously seconded to other duties; (d) if the aircraft referenced in (c) was previously seconded to other duties, what were the nature and duration of those duties; (e) what is the mandate of the squadron; (f) in what orders, instructions, or other documents is that mandate set out; (g) what is the date or what are the dates of those orders, instructions, or other documents; and (h) did the mandate of 444 Squadron change at any point during the present calendar year, and if so, what was the nature and date of any such change in the mandate?

Peter MacKay Minister of National Defence: Mr. Speaker, with regard to (a), on April 10, 2012, 444 Squadron had two CH-146 Griffon aircraft on strength.

With regard to (b), on April 12, 2012, 444 Squadron had three CH-146 Griffon aircraft on strength.

With regard to (c), the aircraft that the Minister of National Defence references in his press release of April 12, 2012, has restored 444 Squadron to the full establishment of three helicopters for which it was originally created.

With regard to (d), in October 2005, a CH-146 Griffon was transferred from 444 Combat Support Squadron to 424 Transport and Rescue Squadron, 8 Wing Trenton. The Griffon referenced in (c) was transferred to 424 Squadron to support the CH-149 Cormorant search and rescue fleet when it was recognized that the Cormorant fleet was not able to sustain primary search and rescue operations at four main operating bases alone. CH-146 Griffons continue to be stationed at 424 Squadron to support search and rescue. The aircraft that is now being used to provide a third CH-146 Griffon to 444 Combat Support Squadron was provided by 438 Tactical Aviation Squadron, Saint-Hubert.

With regard to (e), (f) and (g), the mandate of 444 Combat Support Squadron is to provide support to air operations at 5 Wing Goose Bay. This role is set out in Canadian Forces Organization Order 7697, dated October 18, 2001, which superseded Canadian Forces Organization Order 2.2.5.2, dated May 15, 1993.

The roles, tasks and responsibilities of a combat support squadron are further defined by the operational document 3010-7, A3 Tactical Aviation Readiness, Concept of Operations--Combat Support Capability, dated March 25, 2002. This document provides that combat support squadron roles are as follows: primary role, to provide rapid search and rescue response to air emergencies resulting from local military flying operations; secondary role, to provide administrative and utility airlift in support of Wing operations; and tertiary role, to provide national secondary search and rescue and civil assistance capabilities.

In its tertiary role, a combat support squadron can be expected to respond within 12 hours of notification. However, within the context of the Canadian Forces search and rescue response, this does not imply a mandated response posture. Such secondary search and rescue resources are considered for assistance only when circumstances permit, and are not accountable to the search and rescue system for the provision of a dedicated resource.

With regard to (h), the mandate of 444 Combat Support Squadron has remained to provide support to air operations at 5 Wing Goose Bay.

-srbp-

Looking beyond the Hebron sandbox #nlpoli

ExxonMobil drew a line in the sand this morning, and the minister and I are here to draw another line in the sand, as far as this project is concerned.

Premier Kathy Dunderdale, 21 June 2012

Premier Kathy Dunderdale and natural resources minister Jerome Kennedy spent more than a half hour meeting with reporters on Thursday to talk about the provincial government’s position that a major module for the Hebron project must be built in the province.

Take a look at the scrum video.  There is a lot of talk.  There is a whole lot of talk.  Some of it tough-sounding.  There are threats.

But there is so much talk, and so much rambling, and so many threats that most of the talk is unconvincing.

A closer look at the history and the agreements pulls you toward the same conclusion.

21 June 2012

More to it than oil prices #nlpoli

Politicians spent a few hours this week harrumphing about the impact falling oil prices might have on the provincial budget this year.

The problem for the provincial government is not whether they got the price of oil right in their budget.  They’ve been underestimating for years.  This year might be an over-estimate.  In the short-term, they’ve still got lots of budget smoke and mirrors to cover off most of the likely outcomes. There’s no cause for panic, yet.

The problem for the provincial government is bigger than the current price of oil.  Most of this will be familiar to regular readers, but at times like this it is worth pulling it all together in one spot so that people can see the big picture.

20 June 2012

Dear Jack: Turn off your frackin’ phone #nlpoli #cdnpoli

Talk about making an arse of yourself in public. 

Here’s Jack Harris in the House of Commons:

-srbp-

No stinkin’ knowledge required #nlpoli

Say one thing for Kathy Dunderdale, she tells it just like it is.

In response to questions about the qualifications of four people the provincial government recently appointed to the board of directors at Nalcor, the Premier said they didn’t need to know anything about electricity, oil and gas or any of those other things that the provincial energy corporation is doing. 

Their job didn’t involve knowing anything.

Premature Budget Panic #nlpoli

Premier Kathy Dunderdale didn’t bring up crude oil prices at a scrum  after her speech to the offshore industry association.  Reporters did. [Link: CBC story and scrum video]

No harm.  No foul.  That’s the way these things work.

She accepted the way the reporters framed questions and went into her usual rant about fiscal responsibility and saying “no” and all that.  She repeated the old Tory lie   - and it is a lie - about the provincial government being bankrupt in 2003.

Not surprisingly, some media picked up on Dunderdale’s line about

"We are watching very carefully, and our deficit may end up at the end of the year larger than we forecasted .… We are keeping a very tight grip on the purse strings at the moment in terms of sanctioning spending that we announced in the budget,…”

No one should panic just yet.

19 June 2012

Shit the Premier says: dems da facts version #nlpoli

“When your first piece of information is wrong,” said Premier Kathy Dunderdale in the House of Assembly on Monday, “you can pretty much assume…that the rest of it is wrong as well.”

Truer words, Mr. Speaker, truer words.

In fact, the words are awfully familiar.

But anyway…

In her first reply to Lorraine Michael’s questions about Bill 29, Dunderdale said:
Newfoundland and Labrador was the first Province in this country to introduce legislation on access to information…
First piece of information out of her mouth.

Newfoundland and Labrador.

The first province to have access to information laws.

Yeah, well, no.

Both Nova Scotia and New Brunswick had freedom of information legislation before Newfoundland and Labrador. You can find a tidy summary of the key dates in access laws in the report of the federal Access to Information Review Task Force.

But you know, Kathy Dunderdale said it so well that it is fitting that we give her the last word on this as well.  She not only hoists herself with her own petard but she does it really, really well:
… all I can say to you…is wrong, wrong, wrong, and wrong. …  When your first piece of information is wrong, you can pretty much assume … that the rest of it is wrong as well.
So what are the odds Glenda will retweet this post?

Yeah, didn’t think so.
-srbp-

Shit the Premier says: law and democracy edition #nlpoli

Last week the gang at the Center for Law and Democracy were, in the words of justice minister Felix Collins, a “two-bit outfit.”

This week, things are different.

Now the Premier has decided that this two-bit outfit is peachy keen.  In the House of Assembly on Monday, she thought the Center’s rankings for the province were just wonderful:
Mr. Speaker, Newfoundland and Labrador was the first Province in this country to introduce legislation on access to information. We were rated number one in the country. The Centre for Law and Democracy does rankings of provinces that have this legislation, Mr. Speaker. Five provinces and the federal government have this legislation. Mr. Speaker, Newfoundland and Labrador is ranked second in the country, next to BC, on openness and access to information in this Province. [emphasis added]

Nalcor’s Dark Secret #nlpoli

Since its creation, Nalcor has existed in a perpetual conflict of interest of one kind or another. 

SRBP raised the issue of conflict of interest 2006 when Dean Macdonald – then chair of Nalcor’s board – accepted an appointment to the board of a company Nalcor was doing or was planning to do business with.

Nalcor has been in another sort of conflict of interest in it acted as lead negotiator for the provincial government and as an oil company at the same time.  On the one hand its interest should be in maximising benefits to the province while on the other hand, its interest should be to lower costs in order to maximise corporate profits. The two things cannot exist side-by-side as the Hebron agreement demonstrates.

Again, SRBP pointed this out in 2006 when the Hebron talks fell apart and on several occasions subsequently.

Time hasn’t changed much.

18 June 2012

Conflict of Interest and the Nalcor board appointments #nlpoli

2050 hrs – Mulligan Update – scroll to the end

Leo Abbass is the mayor of Happy Valley-Goose Bay.

He is a staunch of supporter of the Conservative Party.  He is such a staunch supporter of the Conservative Party – federal or provincial – that he can sometimes take on the appearance of the Pushme-Pullyou from Doctor Dolittle.

More background on the Twitter and ATIPPA #nlpoli

One Twitter exchange on Monday morning raised the possibility that Tory MHA Paul Lane was referring to something that happened during the debate last week on changes to the access to information bill and not details of access requests.

Could be.

But then again, there were a couple of other things that led your humble e-scribbler to think Lane was talking about specific access requests.

First, the Premier said something on Monday June 11 that suggested the Tories were ready or were getting ready to disclose details of requests:

PREMIER DUNDERDALE: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Mr. Speaker, somewhere in this process I will hopefully have the opportunity to demonstrate to people where their requests for information come from, and that is going to be very eye-opening to the people of the Province. Ordinary citizens who look to access information from this government do so readily, Mr. Speaker. They do it in record time, Mr. Speaker, at little or no cost. There are lots of vexatious requests for information, lots of phishing expeditions, Mr. Speaker, but they do not come from ordinary people here in the Province.
 
Second, a number of cabinet ministers talked about specific access requests during the debate. Some of them they might have known about because they came to their departments. Others they might not have. Since Hansard isn't available, your humble e-scribbler couldn't compile a complete list of mentions of specific requests. 

-srbp-

Tories involved in violation of privacy act #nlpoli

The temperature in the House of Assembly is not even cooled down and Tory legislator Paul Lane (Mount Pearl South) is likely to find himself in the middle of a controversy involving the disclosure of personal information that is supposed to be protected under the Access to Information and Protection of Personal Privacy Act.

17 June 2012

Some words for Lorraine, via Peter Cashin #nlpoli

Lorraine Michael should bear in mind that some very famous Newfoundland and Labrador politicians found themselves accused of defaming someone.

That’s really the essence of the current question of privilege Government House Leader Jerome Kennedy levelled against her last week.  Kennedy knows the law well enough to know that what she did is a matter that he or Felix Collins ought to have taken to a courtroom on Duckworth Street.  Kennedy likely also knows the law well enough to realise he stands virtually no hope of getting anything from a Supreme Court justice except the back of his or her hand.  That’s why he is trying to win in the kangaroo court where he controls a majority of the votes.

How tenuous a grip indeed #nlpoli

To some people the provincial Conservatives are in fine political shape.  They are so firmly entrenched in power that they can afford to piss people off, to polarise the electorate.

There is always time to recover.

Yeah well, when you humble e-scribbler started predicting that Danny Williams would not run for a third term, plenty of people thought that was crazy too, and said so.  18 months before the event it seemed impossible.  Even a few weeks and days in advance, the Old Man looked like he planned to stay until he died in office.

Funny how things change.

15 June 2012

Collins beats Kazakhstan #nlpoli

borat not collinsFrom a second rebuttal to justice minister Felix Collins, right (not exactly as illustrated) from the Center for Law and Democracy:

In a speech to the House of Assembly on 14 June 2012, Collins used derogatory terms to refer to CLD, and claimed we had financial motives in publicising our research. CLD is no stranger to working in difficult political environments. Over the past year, we have conducted projects in Kazakhstan, Myanmar, Somalia and many other countries that are known for being particularly hostile to democratising forces. However, this is the first time that the integrity and professionalism of our organisation have ever been directly attacked by a political leader. [Emphasis added]

 

-srbp-

Resolute to Indefinitely Idle Mersey Mill in Nova Scotia

From resolute Forest Products:

MONTREAL, June 15, 2012 /CNW Telbec/ - Resolute Forest Products (NYSE: RFP) (TSX: RFP) today announced that it will indefinitely idle the Mersey newsprint mill located in Brooklyn, Nova Scotia. The facility, owned by Bowater Mersey Paper Company Limited (BMPCL), is a joint venture between Resolute (51%) and the Washington Post (49%). The indefinite idling will be effective on Sunday, June 17, 2012. 
 
"The mill produces newsprint primarily for export markets and is unable to compete due to declining prices in those markets, caused mainly by unfavorable currency fluctuations, stated Richard Garneau, President and Chief Executive Officer of Resolute.  "The decision to indefinitely idle production at the facility was difficult as we are mindful of the impact it will have on affected employees and local communities. We have worked diligently with the provincial government, our employees, union leadership and other stakeholders but simply could not overcome the inherent challenges."
 
The Company remains committed to customer service and delivery of high-quality products and will work closely with customers to ensure a smooth transition.
 
This indefinite idling will reduce capacity by approximately 250,000 metric tons of newsprint. Approximately 320 employees at the Mersey paper mill, associated woodlands, Oakhill sawmill and Brooklyn Power Corporation will be affected by this action. Resolute will continue to work collaboratively with governments to ensure that impacted employees are provided support during this transition.
 
The Company is currently assessing the feasibility of selling all of its assets in Nova Scotia, including its private timberlands, the paper mill, sawmill and Brooklyn Power.
 
...
For further information:
Media and Others
Seth Kursman
Vice President, Corporate Communications, Sustainability and Government Affairs
514 394-2398
seth.kursman@resolutefp.com


 -srbp-

When rights are annoying #nlpoli

There’s something about this frivolous and vexatious thing that caught people’s attention right from the start.

Under the provincial Conservatives’ new secrecy laws, a cabinet minister can refuse to disclose information if he or she thinks the request is “frivolous or vexatious”. (sec. 43.1)

Leave aside the idea that a politician gets to decide on who gets information and who doesn’t.  As we learned from the Cameron Inquiry, Danny Williams and his political staff vetted access to information requests and blocked stuff they didn’t want to hand over or blocked people they didn’t want to give stuff to.  The law didn’t matter.  They refused.  They stonewalled.  They used every other trick in the book.

But that’s a whole other issue.

Let’s just look at this curious choice of words and see what they reveal.

14 June 2012

Your Law School called… #nlpoli

The more they talk, the worse it gets.

In the House of Assembly on Thursday, justice minister Felix Collins gave some examples of what he would consider "frivolous and vexatious” requests for information.

Now before we go any further, we should explain what those words usually mean to lawyers.  After all, Collins is a lawyer so he should understand the concept.

This definition is taken from a 2010 Ontario Court of Appeal decision in a case called Pickard v. London Police Services Board (canlii.org via Morton’s Musings):

[19]  A frivolous appeal is one readily recognizable as devoid of merit, as one having little prospect of success.  The reasons may vary.  A vexatious appeal is one taken to annoy or embarrass the opposite party, sometimes fuelled by the hope of financial recovery to relieve the respondent’s aggravation.

One of the examples, Collins gave was of a person who asked for copies of e-mails sent and received by seven people over the course of year.  Frivolous and vexatious harrumphed the law school graduate. And now under Bill 29 a cabinet minister can dismiss such a request out of hand and save time and money.

There are a few problems with Felix’s example. 

And that was the point, Felix #nlpoli

Justice minister Felix Collins and his colleagues are having a bad week.  Felix and his buds want to limit public access to government information. They want to make it harder for people to find out what they are doing with public money.

People don’t like it and they’ve been making that clear to them.

Felix and his friends got especially angry when an assessment of their new secrecy rules showed that what Felix and company were claiming wasn’t true.  far from being a model of openness, transparency and accountability, the Conservatives were taking massive steps backward.

So infuriated did the Conservatives get that they issued a statement late Wednesday night taking issue with the CBC report.  The statement.  It read, in part:

The Department of Justice has reviewed the global ranking of countries assembled by the centre. What the news story does not make clear is that most countries that ranked the highest or strongest on this list are third world countries. Many of these countries are listed on travel alert watch lists, have known human rights abuses and high crime rates.

So?

More oil, less democracy #nlpoli

“Oil and democracy do not easily mix,” wrote political scientist Michael Ross in The Oil Curse: How Petroleum Wealth Shapes the Development of Nations, his 2012 study of the impact that income from oil development has on governments around the world.

Regular readers will recall this idea from an earlier post.

Countries that are rich in petroleum generally have lower economic growth and less democracy that countries that don’t have oil revenues. Ross puts this down, in part, to a relationship that citizens see between government revenue and government spending. 

Citizens in oil-producing countries, though, cannot directly observe how much their government collects in oil revenues.  They must rely on the government and the media for their information.  If they live in a democracy, the information is probably available. 

Probably available.

That assumes, of course, that the media in those democracies can find out the information and publish it.

13 June 2012

The Vanished Records #nlpoli

Under changes to the province’s access to information law, briefing notes for cabinet ministers will be kept secret for five years.

bill29Sounds like it might make some sort of theoretical sense.  Wait five years and then you can get the briefing note a minister used.

That’s hardly too much to ask, especially if government officials are just too busy to handle all those troublesome requests for information.

Great.

Well, what if the records don’t last that long?

The Secrets Policeman’s Bollocks #nlpoli

CBC demolished the false claims a couple of Conservative cabinet ministers made in order to justify their efforts to destroy the public’s access to government information.

bill29Justice minister Felix Collins claimed that they had to cut down the number of information requests, which he said numbered in the thousands each year.  Service NL minister Paul Davis said in the House of Assembly: “"You know, they make countless and countless requests for information…”.

12 June 2012

The Stacked House Filibuster #nlpoli

Democracy is a beautiful thing. 

bill29The people of Newfoundland and Labrador are witnessing its full beauty in the filibuster against the Conservative government’s latest assault on openness, transparency and accountability. 

Seat counts – seats count: the map #nlpoli

Here’s a map showing the possible seat results for an election where the Tories wind up with 41% of the vote, the NDP get 38% and the Liberals get 20%.  That’s basically the next public opinion poll from CRA if the current trending continues.

You would fight against disclosure too… #nlpoli

bill29Rarely does one cabinet minister put on not one or two spectacular displays of incompetence in one session of the legislature, but justice minister Felix Collins has done that this spring in less than a month.

11 June 2012

Freedom from Information: the sorry Connie legacy #nlpoli

“We will amend the Access to Information legislation to enhance the transparency of government actions and decisions.”

Danny Williams, Leader of the Opposition, February 2003

bill29There truly is a greater fraud than a promise unkept.  That would be the promise that is consciously and deliberately broken.

In February 2003, the provincial Conservatives – then in opposition – pledged to increase public access to government information.  The latest round of changes to the provincial access to information law suggests they are continuing their practice of hiding as much information they can.

Here are some examples of the sorry provincial Connie legacy of Freedom from Information:

-srbp-

Seat Counts and seats count #nlpoli

Last Friday, your humble e-scribbler gazed into the old crystal ball and produced a possible poll result if the recent trends continued.

If you reported them the way Corporate Research Associates does, you’d get the Tories at 42%, NDP at 38% and Liberals at 20%.

Wonder what that might mean to seat counts if you had that as an election result?

The Incendiary End Game in Corner Brook #nlpoli

As a rule, when a cabinet minister speaks publicly about a private sector company’s significant financial problems, things are not good.

Natural resources minister Jerome Kennedy told the world on Friday and Saturday that Corner Brook Pulp and Paper Limited had a heavy bank debt and an unfunded pension liability of about $80 million.  Kennedy said the mill that hasn’t made money since at least 2006.

Things are so bad that Kennedy  that he expected Joe Kruger was coming for a meeting to tell the provincial government he was closing the west coast paper mill.

So why was Kennedy gabbing about stuff he’d known about for some time but kept to himself?

08 June 2012

So drop the writ, Nan #nlpoli

"I would go to an election tomorrow on these numbers," Premier Kathy Dunderdale told reporters on Thursday. "You know, these aren't bad numbers. Look where my opposition is."

Fair enough. They are pretty good.  It’s the trending that sucks.

But if Kathy Dunderdale is so confident in her strong public support and in the rightness of her Muskrat Falls cause, maybe she’d drop the writ and let the public settle the issue.

No experience preferred: energy corp pork edition #nlpoli


The provincial government announced the latest round of Pure Pork (TM)  patronage appointments on Friday.  They've stuck four people on the board of the provincial energy corporation.

Aside from Tory ties, the one thing the members of the board have in common is a complete lack of experience related to the operations of the energy corporation.

-srbp-

A sign of the problem #nlpoli

One of the reasons why the provincial Conservatives are in political trouble is that their communications are frigged up.

For those who are wondering, that is the relatively polite version of the technical term for it in the communications business.  Think of it like the B-52, one of the largest airplanes ever to fly.  The US Air Force used to say that the crews called it the BUFF:  big, ugly, fat fella.  Well, they didn't actually use the word "fella".  That's just the word the Air Force used so that prissy people wouldn't complain about hearing the word f**ker coming from someone in a light blue uniform.  For others, of another inclination, it's akin to why hippies used to refer to police as "pigs".

Anyway,  James McLeod has a thoughtful piece in his periodic blog over at the Telegram about something he and his colleagues in the Press Gallery have been having with government ministers for the past few months:  they won't talk about good news.

Basically it boils down to this:  ministers won't do media interviews until a bill hits second reading in the House.  Lately this has meant that the opposition and others are talking away about government initiatives days before the minister shows up for an obligatory, pro forma dog and pony show.

It can be a matter of days or weeks after it's been tabled before a piece of legislation makes it to the floor of the House of Assembly for second reading.
This interval is the crux of what we're talking about here today.

McLeod wanted an explanation so he went to Jerome Kennedy, the minister who is responsible for wrangling his team in the House.  Kennedy's response was that this was a time honoured practice going back before 2003.  The idea is that to talk about the bill before it was debated in the House would be an insult to the members of the House.

Well, Kennedy may think that's what is going on.  After all, that explanation is similar to what happens in court.

The truth is something far different. Your humble e-scribbler spent seven years dealing with the legislature in the early 1990s.  If that sort of thing was happening back then, your humble e-scribbler is drawing a complete blank in his old brain box about it.  You see, back in those days, sessions of the House lasted a long longer than they do these days.  Members got lots of time to prepare for debate.  They got the text of the bills well in advance and lots of people talked about one bill or another long before it got to the floor of the legislature.  Wide public debate is what everyone wanted, even when the government might have a bit of pain over things like the Lands Act in the early 1990s.

Somewhere along the line, the government party started to shorten up the time a bill got any discussion in the House.  Remember in the House of Assembly patronage scandal that some stuff went through the House in a day or two?  Yeah, well, this is part of the same thing.  What the government party used to do was try and jam the opposition up.  They'd keep a bill close to their chests until the last possible minute.  Then on the day the government decided to call second reading, they'd hold a media briefing in the morning, then have a briefing for the opposition, give them all the wording of the bill and call the thing for debate in the afternoon. 

The current crowd  - Jerome's crew after 2007 - were famous for it.  They took to the anti-democratic practice just like they loved another Tobin era practice called poll goosing.  The result was pure crap, of course.  The opposition got stampeded into going along with the government because they didn't have any information other than what they'd been fed.

If the House became dysfunctional in the process, to use Kathy and Danny's favourite word for it, it's because Kathy and Danny and some of the crowd before them made it that way.

It's also why they introduce big things like the access to information amendments in the last few days of a long session.  They want to limit discussion and get their way before anyone realises what is happening. 

Someone just said "coughexpropriationbillcough". 

Exactly.

So James does a fine job of highlighting a problem the current crowd are having.

And to go with it, there you have a bit more of the story.

The fact the current crowd are frigging themselves up apparently because of their misunderstanding just highlights why they are having basic political problems.

-srbp-

Poll Reporting #nlpoli


David Cochrane's report on the latest CRA poll is the tidiest one you will find.  He puts the whole thing in a context that anyone can understand even if some of the Tory twitterati will be apoplectic by the brute force logic of the poll and the trending.

Check out the Telegram story by James McLeod, which includes some commentary by a local political scientist.  

-srbp-

Describing the hole #nlpoli

“Premier Dunderdale has the highest personal popularity of all Atlantic Canadian Premiers” the Tory faithful tweeted and retweeted on Thursday night to help ward off the chill of recent polls.  It was the 21st century equivalent of clicking their ruby slippers together and whispering that there was no place like home.

Sadly for the darlings, they did not have Toto and this is not Kansas, anyway. 

The toll the Tories mentioned came from Angus-Reid. In it, 46% of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians approved of Kathy Dunderdale’s performance while 44% disapproved. She may score the highest of the Atlantic Premiers but with the population evenly divided on her, she is not doing all that well.  As your humble e-scribbler reminded them, what they were really saying is that their hero du jour just didn’t suck as much as Darrell Dexter. Big deal.

07 June 2012

Would you buy a hydro dam from these people? #nlpoli

Anyone who was wondering why the Tories ramped up the attacks on the NDP this week can now find the answer. The clue to the future is that the Tory attacks were pathetically weak and ineffective. Rather than deliver a killer virus, all the Tories did was help the NDP build up their immune system.

Bad move.

The news:  the provincial Conservatives had the support of 34% of respondents in the last Corporate Research Associates poll, about 11 percentage points ahead of the provincial New Democrats.

These are numbers you get if you take out the CRA skew of talking only about decideds.  Here’s a picture of the party choice numbers, including the undecideds since last year, just so we are all on the same page.

CRA 0512

That black line is the undecideds.

Now here’s what it all means.

Is he that starved for attention? #nlpoli

The best answer to the Old Man’s latest bullshit about his mine and Muskrat Falls is what he used to say to companies that wanted to get the province’s non-renewable resources at a bargain:

  • No more give-aways.

And on a related note, remember what he said to established Labrador miners in 2006/2007:

"By the same token, they also have to understand that we have to get a fair return for the people of this province."

Alderon should expect to pay the commercial rates for electricity set by the public utilities board using the current rate-setting approach,  not the taxpayer subsidised give-away Danny set up before he ran from office.

-srbp-

Emera waiting on Nalcor for numbers #nlpoli

Wonder no more, dear friends.

Stop  scratching your chin.

Now we know why Nalcor and Emera have not signed a deal now some four or five months after saying they were so close to finishing their negotiations that they didn’t need to set a new deadline.

06 June 2012

Poll math refresher #nlpoli

In advance of the latest Corporate Research Associates poll, check out the SRBP post on the February results.

Here’s the Tory voter choice number, over time, compared to actual vote results in 2003 and 2007 and in 2011.

CRA Q1-12[4]

 

-srbp-

HCCSJ operational review a decade later #nlpoli

Talk of financial problems at Eastern Health brought to mind an operational review of the former Health Care Corporation of St. John’s, completed by the Hay Group and released in May 2002.

Go back to the official record of the House of Assembly – Hansard – and you’ll quickly be struck by the similarity between the way the opposition approached the issue then and now.

Consider these comments by Ross Wiseman, the Liberal who crossed the floor to the Tories and later served as health minister:

The union says, once again nurses and other health professionals in this Province are holding their breath to see if their jobs are going to be lost.

Fear of lost jobs. Wiseman asking the minister if he will reject the report.

All too familiar.

The Precipice Looms #nlpoli

Not surprisingly, Kruger issued an ultimatum on Tuesday to workers at its Corner Brook mill. CBC quoted the message from the company to the union in an online story:

"The first step to go forward will be to obtain a firm committment [sic] from employees by achieving a satisfactory agreement that will allow CBPPL to be competitive in the market," said the Kruger statement.

"Given the critical situation of the mill, this collective agreement will have to be reached by June 15 so that we can quickly move on to the next crucial step, which will be to submit the pension plan funding relief measures to a second vote and hopefully be able to apply them before the mill’s situation deteriorates any further."

-srbp-

05 June 2012

The Kruger Nexus #nlpoli

As an astute reader pointed out in a n e-mail Tuesday morning, the Hebron-Muskrat Falls connection is not really as important these days as the the connection between the future of the Kruger mill at Corner Brook and the plan to develop the Lower Churchill.

Manitoba Hydro International noted that connection in their review of part of the Muskrat Falls project for the public utilities board. In instance, a relatively modest change in the project cost coupled with the closure of the Corner Brook mill, erased the Muskrat Falls advantage:

Also, should the existing pulp and paper mill cease operations, and its generation capacity be available for use on the system (approximately 880 GWh), and should the capital costs of both the Muskrat Falls Generating Station and Labrador-Island Link HVdc projects increase by 10%, the CPW for the two Options would be approximately equal.

Nalcor has no export markets for most of the electricity from Muskrat Falls.

The New Hebron-Muskrat Falls Connection #nlpoli

Natural resources minister Jerome Kennedy is right:

“There's obviously an obligation…on any member in this house when presenting a petition to ensure that accuracy, to ensure that statements made to this house are ones that can be relied on ... This is a very serious matter."

The obligation for accuracy doesn’t just apply to petitions.  It applies to everything a member of the legislature says.

And if the member of the House is also a cabinet minister or the Premier, then the obligation for accuracy goes up another few notches.

04 June 2012

The paper-mill-sized elephant in the room… #nlpoli

From the CBC online story about the meeting between a raft of grim-looking provincial politicians and Joe Kruger:
Dunderdale said she expected there would be a second vote on the pension restructuring plan.
Once those issues are resolved, she said, the government is committed to stepping in to ensure that the mill is sustainable.
So while the pols are laying on the tough talk in a fairly obvious effort to sway the mulligan vote, what the rest of us should wonder is how much public money the politicians plan to pour into the mill to keep it running.
-srbp-

Another call for an oil investment fund #nlpoli

In a column in the weekend Ottawa Citizen, Brian Lee Crowley of the Macdonald-Laurier Institute made a convincing argument for investing provincial government oil revenue in an investment fund:

Natural resource revenues, by contrast, gyrate wildly. The temptation, when prices are high, is to pretend those revenues will always exist, causing a cycle of booms and busts in public finances. Moreover if you acquire recurrent obligations on the basis of one-time asset sales, an inevitable day of reckoning comes. The natural resource is gone and you have a lot of public servants you can’t pay and a lot of people reliant on public services you can no longer afford.

This problem is resolved by using the money to pay off debt and then investing the rest and only spending the fund’s returns.

Ah yes, the temptation to spend irresponsibly – i.e. unsustainably - followed by the day of reckoning.

Sounds familiar.

-srbp-

The Bow-Wow Parliament lacks bark and bite #nlpoli

In the wake of the latest revelations of financial mismanagement in the provincial government, SRBP has been looking at some of the possible contributing developments over the past decade or more.

Last week, SRBP noted that it appears the provincial government broke up the treasury board secretariat around 2007.  They sent some of its bits off to one department and put the rump of its administration  – about the size it had been in 1968 -  under the finance department, as it had been before the 1973 reforms introduced by the Moores administration. 

At around the same time, the provincial cabinet started a series of massive annual increases in public spending that Premier Kathy Dunderdale admits is unsustainable.

And the same cabinet also ballooned the size of the provincial public service. Again, it’s something that Kathy Dunderdale admitted was something she and her colleagues now had to sort out.

These three things are connected. 

Even if the government loosened the constraints of its internal financial controls, there are other agencies that have a role to play in keeping an eye on the public treasury.

02 June 2012

Province sinks more into inflatable shelter company #nlpoli

The provincial government is giving $50,000 to a company in Grand bank that makes inflatable shelters for industrial and emergency use, according to a news release issued Friday.

Dynamic Air Shelters Ltd. will [use the money to] engage the services of Advanta Industrial Design Group Inc. to conduct staff training and improve the company’s design and production processes. The company will also upgrade its computer systems and drafting software program.

Since 2006, Dynamic Air Shelters has received more than $4.0 million from the provincial and federal government.

-srbp-

01 June 2012

NAFTA and Hebron #nlpoli

ExxonMobil and Murphy Oil have won a North American Free Trade Agreement appeal of a 2004 offshore board regulation that sets the amount of research and development money oil companies operating offshore must make in the province.

They filed the appeal in 2007

That means the oil companies will have to pay the much lower fixed amount for research and development accepted by the provincial government in the Hebron final agreement.

-srbp-

Dunderdale rejects Locke’s advice on Muskrat #nlpoli

Sometimes you agree with people.  Sometimes you don’t.

All it means is that you agree sometimes and disagree at others.

Premier Kathy Dunderdale didn’t seem to understand that point when she spoke to the St. John’s Board of Trade back in January:

Memorial University economist Dr. Wade Locke, has concluded Muskrat Falls is the least-cost option by a factor of 2.2 billion dollars.

It is interesting to me that the most vocal and ever predictable critics of the Muskrat Falls development were quick in their attempts to disparage the work of Dr. Locke – something they had not done previously when Dr. Locke has presented on, for example, the province’s financial position.

The Premier liked what Wade had to say because it matched what she wanted.  Well, these days, Kathy is in the same spot as the unnamed “most vocal and predictable critics” she found interesting six months ago.