Showing posts with label patronage. Show all posts
Showing posts with label patronage. Show all posts

14 February 2014

Premier Tom and Uncle Joe #nlpoli

The provincial government announced on Thursday that it had directed the provincial energy corporation to build a new transmission line between Churchill Falls and western Labrador.

You’ve got to wonder why.

Not why they decided to build the line.  Apparently, there’s a need for the additional power.

Not even why it took them so long to announce it.

No.

You’ve got to wonder why this $300 million project needed a cabinet decision.

09 October 2013

Self-reliance versus Dependence #nlpoli

In both Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland and Labrador, the local media will report when a town gets a new fire truck.

The difference between the two ends there.

25 September 2013

The Beast #nlpoli

This week, people across Canada who are interested in the public right to access government information mark a thing called Right to Know Week.

It’s a time to “raise awareness of an individual’s right to access government information, while promoting freedom of information as essential to both democracy and good governance.”

People who are genuinely interested in a healthy democracy and in the effective operation of our federal, provincial, and municipal governments support freedom of information. 

It’s that simple.

23 May 2013

Beth and Expenses #nlpoli #cdnpoli

All this talk of Senator Beth Marshall and her hefty annual stipend for chairing a committee that has met once in two years brings to mind the good senator’s role in the House of Assembly patronage scam, a.k.a. the spending scandal.

Marshall is credited with first sniffing something was amiss when she went hunting for Paul Dick’s expenses in 2001-ish.  She was barred from the House by the legislature’s internal economy commission.  The members were Liberals and Tories and, as accounts have it, they unanimously wanted to keep Beth’s nose out of their files.

But if you go back and look, you’ll have a hard time finding any indication Beth thought something else was on the go.  While we didn’t know it at the time, subsequent information confirmed that members had been handing out public cash pretty generously by that point. Yet Marshall has never, ever indicated she felt something more than a few wine and art purchases might have been amiss.

That’s important because of Marshall’s record once she got into the House herself as a member in 2003.

22 January 2013

Verbiage Growth Strategy #nlpoli

Right on cue in the controversy over the population growth “strategy”,  a provincial cabinet minister issued a news release late on Monday and assured us that everything will be all right.

There is lots of bureaucratic jargon, like the trendy use of the word “inform”:

The Provincial Government has developed strategies focusing on youth, immigration, seniors and others. These efforts will help inform the development of the Population Growth Strategy.”

Aside from that, there’s very little of consequence in Joan Shea’s release. 

10 January 2013

High-Value Delivery #nlpoli

Two cabinet ministers trekked up the Southern Shore on Wednesday to hand over a cheque for some government cash to a local group of seniors.

Of course, they dragged their political staff with them.

The value of the cheque was $2,000.

05 November 2012

Kathy Dunderdale, give-aways, and the resource curse #nlpoli

Ontario has been interested in Gull Island since at least the 1990s.  We didn’t need Kathy Dunderdale to say that again as part of the advertising show she is mounting before finally admitting Muskrat Falls is a done deal.

As recently as 2005, Dunderdale and her friends turned up their noses at Ontario’s offer to help develop the Lower Churchill at no cost to local taxpayers.  The result: No development.

Instead of building the Lower Churchill for export  - profit for taxpayers -Dunderdale and her friends are forcing taxpayers to empty out their public bank accounts of billions in oil savings and then borrowing billions more in order to give cheap electricity to multi-billion dollar mining companies.

Then those same taxpayers will pay themselves back through their electricity rates over the course of 50 years.

Whoever could imagine such a ridiculous idea?  Especially in a province where the overwhelming majority of the population pays very little, if any, tax.  

15 June 2012

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.

08 June 2012

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-

06 April 2012

Patronage and seals… #nlpoli

Thursday’s announcement by fisheries minister Darin King should give you a pretty big reminder that the local political scene remains mired in the past.

The provincial government is giving a private sector company a $3.6 million.  They are calling it a loan.  In effect, the provincial government is going to pay a cash subsidy directly to fishermen to kill twice as many seals as the company involved could buy. That’s according to a company official at the news conference on Thursday. 

Interestingly enough, this is exactly the type of subsidy that helped to decimate the cod stocks since it encourages fishermen to over-harvest the resource.  The excuse for it is much the same as well:  it is supposedly just bridge financing to help the industry get through some difficult times now. Things will get better in the future.

There’s no truth in it of course.  There never has been.  Those are just the official excuses the politicians need to avoid the decisions that are tough but that would actually improve the fishery.

Even more interestingly, there’s a growing international effort to wipe out these subsidies. Yet while people around the world are trying to change the behaviour that led to the loss of our fish stocks, the locals are just carrying on as if everything was just peachy.

This looming change in the fishery and the fish markets is part of the story behind the more recent fisheries crisis, by the way, but that’s another issue. 

One sentence in the seal subsidy release leaped out.  it’s down towards the bottom. It’s vague and written in the passive voice, which likely means the person who wrote the release was just filling up space.  Here’s the claim:

The value of the industry to the provincial economy has been estimated at close to $100 million in total in recent years.

“has been estimated”.

By whom?

Well certainly not the provincial government.  The fisheries department website gives information for three years.  They are from a time before the most recent collapse of the markets:

The Sealing Industry contributed on average approximately $16 million to harvester’s income, and approximately $37 million to the provincial economy in the last three years:

  • 2006: approximately $30 million in landed value and approximately $55 million to the provincial economy.
  • 2007: approximately $11 million in landed value and approximately $32 million to the provincial economy.
  • 2008: approximately $7 million in landed value and approximately $24 million to the provincial economy.

From $30 million in landed value and $55 million in total in 2006 to a mere $7.0 million in landed value and $24 million total value two years later.

So $100 million in total value to the economy?  Only, if you add up a bunch of years and that doesn’t seem to be what they meant.

This province won’t have a viable, local fishing industry in the future as long as the provincial government sticks with bad policy ideas like doling out cash to fishermen and local companies as they did in the seal announcement on Thursday.

- srbp -

21 March 2012

Bennett’s telephone call “gendered violence” according to PACSW prez #nlpoli

Most of you likely missed it, but a sharp exchange in Twitter on Monday showed the way politics in this province rolls these days.

Dara Squires writes a blog called ReadilyAParent, She’s also syndicated in the Western Star and some of the TransCon weeklies.  Dara’s post on Sunday took up some recent local political events.  “False Feminists in Politics” is about feminism and women in politics. 

Here’s a taste of the broader argument:

And yet, in general, we swallow it hook, line and sinker when a woman rises to a position of power and declares herself a feminist. It's taken as both proof of the validity of the feminist promise and a victory of sorts when they do. But herein lies one of the largest dangers of false feminism, especially with regards to politics. For if some white, upper middle class women make their way into politics, or the heads of boardrooms, or CEOs of major companies, than we find ourselves facing the argument that the fight for equality is over. Wente is one of the white, upper-middle class elites who would have us believe this

Squires drew the whole thing down closer to home with a pretty sharp critique of Kathy Dunderdale. She made some particularly strong comments about the way government House leader Jerome Kennedy tied Jim Bennett’s telephone call and threat with violence against women:

Yeah, you read that right. Not only does he minimise the true extent of such violence by using it in comparison to a single, slightly threatening phonecall [call], he also shows an utter lack of awareness behind the real reasons for delayed reporting or not reporting sexual and domestic violence.

I can't believe that Dunderdale, who has been a member of women's status groups and worked as a social worker, would've not seen the significance of Kennedy's statements. The moment I read the transcript it was like a punch in the gut. But Dunderdale, leader of the party, Premier of the province, and supposed women's rights supporter, did nothing to halt Kennedy's ongoing attack against victims of violence.

Squires got some attention on Monday from some of the most powerful people in the province.  It’s hard to tell exactly how the Twitter discussion started and who got whom involved but before too long it involved not only Lana Payne – head of the federation of labour – but Glenda Power, the Premier’s communications director. 

You should go read the exchange;  just scroll back a couple of days or so and you can find the three contributions to the discussion.  It’s civilised, although tightly constrained by the 140 character limit. And you can expect that the Power didn’t accept for a moment that her boss might be anything but right.

What’s most interesting is that after Squires invited more substantive comment on her blog, she got it but not from Payne or Power but from Linda Ross.  The head of the Provincial Advisory Council on the Status of Women left not one but two comments with a title “Criticism without Merit.”  They are right at the bottom of the post linked above.

Now some of you will recognize that this is not the first time that Ross – a cabinet appointee – has entered a provincial political fray on behalf of her patron Kathy Dunderdale.  Last April she launched a pretty savage attack on then-opposition leader Yvonne Jones over what was entirely a fabrication on Ross’ part.

This time Ross has some much more interesting things to say.

For starters, there is nothing half-hearted in Ross’ support for the Premier:

“The record of Premier Dunderdale and her government in Newfoundland and Labrador on advancing the status of women and preventing violence against women and other vulnerable populations has been outstanding.”

Ross then lists a series of what Ross suggests are Dunderdale’s personal accomplishments.  In the classic fashion, they involve how much money government spends. Ross attributes things to Dunderdale that she didn’t do.  Well, certainly not as Premier, anyways, if she did them personally at all:

In addition to the above noted investments, under Premier's Dunderdale's leadership, we now have a 10% participation of women in trades in this Province, up from 3%. Such achievements are critical in advancing women's economic and social equality. Likewise, since 2003 approximately 50 percent of all new recruits to the RNC are now women and more women are appointed to Provincial boards, agencies and commissions.

The construction Ross employs isn’t accidental.  What Ross is employing is the traditional patron-centred politics that has come to epitomize the Williams and now Dunderdale Conservatives in power.  The patron gets personal credit from his or her clients for government policies and programs, as if they would not have occurred without the patron.

The overall discussion about Squires - even on Twitter - and the emphasis in the exchange on common successes runs directly contrary to Squires’ argument without actually refuting it.  But it does express the norm of provincial politics these days:  partisan differences are, in truth, superficial ones.  For the elites themselves, the connections among them are more important than ideological or partisan differences or ones based on different values. 

What the elites have in common is also more important – to them – than anything else.  You can see this is the similarity among the elections platforms last October.  But you can also see this in the way Ross unequivocally endorses the partisan attack on Jim Bennett:

“in reality this event was indeed a very real act of gendered violence.”

All acts of violence and abuse can be equally as damaging regardless of the type of violence and abuse and can have very serious long-term impacts on a woman’s life. Violence is violence, regardless of what form it takes. Minimizing a woman’s experience of violence because it does not fit into the old-school traditional definition of violence could, by many, be identified as a form of violence in and of itself. We as women and as feminists must never minimize or judge another woman’s lived reality.

Violence and abuse are best understood as a pattern of behaviour intended to establish power and maintain control over colleagues, intimate partners, or groups. The roots of all forms of violence and abuse are founded in the many types of inequality which continue to exist and grow in our society.

Yes, friends, Jim Bennett’s lone asinine phone call exists as part of a continuum of violence that is directed by men against women solely on the basis of the chromosomal structure of the two people involved. Bennett is scarcely better than a serial killer or rapists. serial killers and rapists. 

Of course, Ross’ argument is as patently absurd as it seems, on the face of it.  Ross has made equally absurd arguments before when both parties were female.  What is important to notice here is that Ross seldom makes public statements on anything.  When she does make them – as in Jones or Bennett - she is as prepared as any Tory backbencher to make a ridiculous argument in support of her patron.

Kennedy’s remarks are – according to Ross -  “totally within the Provincial Policy on this matter.”

But just so that you appreciate the extent to which Ross’ arguments  are not motivated by a general concern about violence in our society consistent with “Provincial Policy”  take note of her comments that criticise any of her patron’s associates that were as bad or worse than Bennett’s or Jones’ at any time since 2003.

Don’t waste your time.  You won’t find any.

Take a minute and let all that soak in.  There’s some pretty heavy ideas in there.

As for what this incident says about issues like equality and political power in the province, we’ll have to save that discussion for another day.

- srbp -

29 February 2012

And this surprises you because…? #nlpoli

Politics in Newfoundland and Labrador is about what the social scientists – like political scientists, for example -  would call clientelism.

You may have heard it called patronage.  Regardless of the word you use, the purpose is the same:

That isn’t just about giving party workers government jobs.  It’s basically one element of a system in which citizens trade their status as citizens for that of being the client of a particular patron.  The patron gets political power and the ability to dispense benefits of some kind.  In exchange, the client gives the patron support.

In healthy democracies, the people govern themselves.  They vote to elect some of their number to oversee the government.  The citizens expect those representatives to deliver public works and services fairly to all on the basis of need. There is no question that the representatives work for the citizens and must be accountable to them.

For people who don’t live in healthy democratic societies, elections are a game in which they can “lose their vote”.  What that means is that they could bet on the loser and as such not have any right to anything. People in those societies do not expect to see schools and hospitals built or roads paved in their area because it is their right to receive them.  They expect them only because they voted for the party that won the election.

And, implicitly, they expect to be punished when they lose their vote.

There are no ideological or philosophical differences between political parties.

Liberal, Conservative, New Democrat.

Red, Blue, Orange.

All the same.

Elections become little more than a case of auctioneering votes.  Danny Williams himself raised the sale of votes to a new level in his now infamous begging letters to Ottawa. And what he was doing, in a sense, would hardly have shocked politicians from the Quebec of old that Williams was so fond of bashing. It’s doubtful he ever got the joke in that.

Patronage is how things have been in this province for a very long time.  The only difference since 2003 is that the patronage is as unrelenting as the general indifference to it.

Road paving?  Decided by a political staffer in the Premier’s office, an approach termed “normal” by the Premier of the day.  The money was allocated in arbitrary amounts according to what way the electoral district had voted. Blue districts got one amount.  Red ones got less.

The Premier of the day loses a by-election and bitches because people were not grateful for all the pork he’d delivered to them.

Whether we are talking about fire trucks or backbenchers handing out cheques from government programs, it’s all part of the same political thinking that in its most naked form delivered us the House of Assembly pork barrel funding scheme. Tories, Grits and Dippers all swam in the trough.  Some of the newer ones elected after 2003 went at it worse than the crowd who’d been there a while. And they were unapologetic.

These sorts of societies thrive on the myth of the strong leader.  They cannot govern themselves, so the story goes and as a result, they need some strong man  - or woman – to do their thinking for them.

So prevalent is this sort of thinking in Newfoundland and Labrador that people don’t see it as odd at all. The news media seldom raise an editorial eyebrow.

So safely entrenched is this approach to politics that cabinet ministers these days can be pretty brazen about it.  Here’s how Fairity O’Brien put it before the last provincial election, defending the government against accusations of patronage spending:

okay, so the question here in my district is, and I am only speaking for myself, do you want four more years of what you’ve just experienced in the last eight, or do you want to sit in the Opposition, or whatever it may be…

Or if that wasn’t enough for you, here’s Darin King, as reported by the Great Oracle in the Valley:

A cabinet minister is unapologetic for the rash of pre-election spending announcements coming from the government. The MHA for Grand Bank, Darin King, announced some money for health care recently. There has been a steady stream of news releases, most announcing money that had already been allocated in the budget, over the past several months.

On VOCM Open Line with Randy Simms, King said he is dedicated to bringing in as much money as he can to his district.

No one should be surprised, therefore, if the patrons decide to slap a vassal that is getting a bit uppity. The provincial government secured the silence of many the “advocacy” group these past few years with dollops of public cash for this program or that one.  The FFAW was no exception.

Now that things have gotten a little tense in some circles and the FFAW and the NDP are playing rough, Darin King the fisheries minister has decided to stop the FFAW’s funding, as CBC reports.

And what’s more, Darin is pretty clear about why:

“It’s very, very tough to build a working relationship with a group that continues to criticize,” King said.

Now on one level this is just political sookiness from a gang of politicians who’ve never had to govern through a really tough period in their lives. Not that you’d know that, of course, for all the whining, moaning, bitching and complaining they and their Old Leader used to get on with.

But fundamentally, what King is displaying here is all the arrogant sense of entitlement to power, position and patronage that he and his colleagues have had since Day One. King is displaying the customary attitude of his party since 2003 to free speech.

They don’t like it.

The Telegram’s Russell Wangersky had a timely column, as it turned out, in the Tuesday edition of what was once the People’s Paper. He reproduces a relatively innocuous comment from a reader who wanted the letter published but only without a name attached to it.  The writer feared he would face some sort of payback.  As Wangersky put it:

The perception the letter-writer has, though, is clearly that reasoned debate is not without clearly perceived consequences in this province. Would there be retribution? I honestly don’t know. But there clearly should be a discussion about the fact that such a fear exists, if nothing else.

The provincial government admittedly has a long reach here: many are employed by it or have family members employed by it. Many businesses depend on the provincial government for some or even most of their business.

The fear of retribution is not new: whether it’s a reality or not is hard to know for sure. I know businessmen I’ve talked to in the province — and I’ve said this before — who are willing to talk a lot about Muskrat Falls in private, but who will never speak publicly.

Eight years of quisling hunts and savage personal attacks on “traitors” take their toll.  Don’t be surprised if some members of the legislature may well be finding that groups that once welcomed them to meetings and events are now routinely disinviting them.  They represent the wrong party.

So Darin King cut off the FFAW’s government funding because they’ve been too critical publicly.

If this surprises you then you are either a hypocrite or a very recent immigrant to the province.  This is old news.

- srbp -

02 November 2011

The value of nothing or Pater knows best, redux #nlpoli

Talk show host Randy Simms has a fine column in the most recent Saturday edition of the Telegram.

Our House of Assembly needs fixing, writes Simms.

It hardly sits.

It has no functioning committees.

Laws receive cursory discussion at best.

Simms quotes from an article by Memorial University professor Alex Marland that you can find in the latest issue of the Canadian Parliamentary Review.

Simms quotes:

The House is closed for 88 per cent of the year and talk radio has effectively replaced it as the people’s voice. Legislation is not sufficiently scrutinized. The committee of the whole is greatly overused, there are too few opposition MHAs to assess bills sufficiently and standing committees are embarrassingly underused to the point of being dysfunctional.

Simms notes in another spot that the last time a piece of legislation went off to a House committee for specific review was 2001. Note the date.

All true.

Russell Wangersky adds a couple of other details in a column of his own but  regular SRBP readers are familiar with these issues:

The problem with the current state of the legislature is not just that the members aren’t working as hard as those in other places or that they are among the highest paid in the country.

The problems now are the same one your humble e-scribbler has been raising all these years:

  • No one is holding the government to account in public as it should, and,
  • The government is making decisions that will affect the province for decades to come without disclosing what they are doing and why.

The most glaring example of the sort of mess the dysfunctional House can produce is the Abitibi expropriation.  But you can equally add the unsustainable growth in public spending since 2003, the Conservatives’ love affair with secrecy, dismantling of the access to information laws,  and the ongoing management problems that have beset the Williams and Dunderdale administrations.

The answer to the problem in Newfoundland and Labrador’s political culture is not to shut down the legislature and have a committee run around to see what others are doing.

The first step would be to acknowledge what the problem is, exactly.  if you missed it, read back a couple of paragraphs.

The second step would be for people to acknowledge it isn’t a problem with the legislature alone.  It’s much bigger and goes into the issues Wangersky points out.

The third step would be perhaps the hardest.  For that one, people would have to recognise that the legislature got the way it is because they placed a higher value on conformity or cheerleading than on democracy.

Danny didn’t do. 

Kathy didn’t do it.

Other people, including the two columnists now calling for reform,  allowed them to do it with comments like this:

“That being said, for the last seven years, Danny Williams has been the right choice to run this province, and, regardless of any number of complaints, he’s done it well.”

Rooting for Danny and/or and otherwise staying silent – even when what he was saying or doing was truly appalling in a civilised society – basically gave Williams and his associates free reign to dismantle the legislature and the rules by which we are all governed.

Kathy Dunderdale is just carrying on with the same approach.

Pater didn’t know best, after all.

- srbp -

25 October 2011

Tory snouts back in trough #nlpoli

In a characteristically display of arrogance and entitlement, Kathy Dunderdale today reappointed two of her key political hacks – Len Simms and Ross Reid – to their patronage jobs in the provincial public service.

What makes the whole sordid business that much more distasteful is that Dunderdale tried to make it sound as if the whole exercise was legitimate:

In keeping with Provincial Government policy, they had resigned from their respective positions to work on the October 11 election campaign.

The two buckos resigned their positions knowing full-well they’d get them back inside a month. 

Of course, if any other deputy ministers resigned in order to work for another political party, you can be damn sure Dunderdale would never have reappointed them at all, let alone do so as swiftly as she hooked her own two back up to the trough.

Those appointments got buried in another release on yet more changes to the senior public service.

The record-setting churn in senior management continues.

- srbp -

29 September 2011

Keith Russell: Panic! #nlpoli #nlvotes

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

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

Here’s how the Telegram reported his comments:

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

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

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

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

-srbp -

21 September 2011

Day 3: #pandermonium roundup #nlpoli #nlvotes

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

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

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

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

- srbp -

06 September 2011

Election 2011 and the Resource Curse

During the current provincial election you are going to hear a lot about natural resources and the need to spend the money that comes from it on all sorts of things.

The province’s New Democrats wasted no time in bitching that oil money isn’t being poured into rural Newfoundland and Labrador:

"We have to have a plan in rural Newfoundland to make sure that our fishery is maintained as the backbone of rural communities," she said.

The Dippers are also hopped up on spending the cash on education, mostly likely to help Nova Scotians get a cheaper education.

Of course, the province’s Conservatives have been on a spending spree these past couple of years.  They’ve dropping dropping money on everything anything from road paving to hockey rinks.

The provincial Liberals are on much the same sort of kick, especially for the fishery. All three parties want to take over federal responsibilities like the dozen or so jobs at a coast guard marine rescue call centre.  The local pols want to buy the jobs just to keep them in Newfoundland and Labrador.

In fact, if you look at most major issues in the province, the only disagreement among the three parties is how much is enough to spend.  On any given issue and any given day, the incumbent Tories will announce cash for something.  The other two parties will scream:  “not enough!”.

Getting value for money.  Spending wisely.  thinking of the long term.

All wonderful ideas the three parties will talk about.  They just won’t do  it. The incumbent Tories will even claim they’ve reduced the public debt, even though they haven’t.  And even in the Tory construction paying down the debt is just paving the way for racking it back up again.

Spend ‘em while ya got ‘em.

Efficiency is not in the cards.  Look, for example, at the spate of hockey rinks the incumbent Tories announced towards the end of their most recent orgy of political spending announcements. Two new arenas in the neighbouring communities of  Conception Bay South and Paradise

The arenas for Conception Bay South, Paradise and Harbour Grace will be 5,700 square metres and include a 200 by 85 foot ice surface. The arenas will also have change rooms with washrooms and showers, support facilities for minor hockey and figure skating, a walking track and a community meeting room. An ice-resurfacer room, canteen, first-aid room, public washrooms, ticket booth and facility support space will also be included.

Two new rinks with all the bits that go with it, including two separate freezing plants.  One building with two ice sheets  – strategically located – could meet the local needs more efficiently than two separate spaces.

And if the provincial government took the same sort of approach not just with recreation centres but with everything, they could actually get more out of the same money.  If they paid a bit more attention to planning and management, they might just not experience quite so may massive cost overruns as they do;  just last week, the Premier  announced a historical restoration project will now cost more than  $22 million when the original estimate was a mere $3.0 million just five years ago.

Anyone familiar with Newfoundland history will recognise the syndrome from the 1920s.  “Instead of dealing with economic causes”, wrote political scientist Sid Noel in 1971, “throughout the twenties, Newfoundland squandered her meagre resources on the treatment of symptoms.” 

That wasn’t just the idea in the 1920s.  In the decade before the Great War, Ned Morris made himself into a highly popular prime minister by building branch lines to the already economically dubious railway.  Railways were a sign of modernity so they had to be good.  The branch lines would stimulate new economic growth, Morris and his supporters argued. And in communities hit hard by a downturn in the fishery, the jobs came in very handy.

All very familiar stuff.

These days there is even a term for it.  The academics might call it the resource curse.  As Michael Ross noted,  a couple of studies done in the 1980s and early 1990s found that the “developing world’s leading hard-rock mineral exporters had a per capita GDP growth rate …half the growth rate of a control group of non-mineral states.”

What tends to happen is that the economy relies on the comparatively easy activity of digging rocks, drawing water and other basic extraction activities rather than develop manufacturing and other sectors of the economy and the trade patterns that go with them.  

More to the argument here,  though, another paper by three European academics found that:

(1) politicians tend to over-extract natural resources relative to the efficient extraction path because they discount the future too much, and

(2)  resource booms improve the efficiency of the extraction path.

However, (3) resource booms, by raising the value of being in power and by providing politicians with more resources which they can use to influence the outcome of elections, increase resource misallocation in the rest of the economy.

In other words, resource booms encourage companies and governments to get lots of minerals, oil and gas out of the ground to maximize the revenue.  That’s point (2).

But politicians encourage too much extraction because they tend to ignore future needs or become excessively and irrationally optimistic about the future. That’s point (1).

But the biggie is point (3).  Politicians in power and those wanting to be in power tend to increase the misallocation of resources.  They spend money wastefully, in other words, for short-term political gain.

As another trio put it:

Resource abundance increases the political benefits of buying votes through inefficient redistribution.

Inefficient redistribution can often mean increased reliance on public sector jobs. That tends to be especially true in societies like Newfoundland and Labrador where patronage is a foundation of the political culture. 

Anyone who has looked seriously at how the three political parties in this province operate in practice will recognise immediately the central role that patronage has in shaping the political system. Neither of the parties is a well-developed institution that runs according to a functioning constitution. 

Each is run – in effect – by influential groups of insiders who jockey among themselves for position.  As everyone saw most nakedly with the Conservative leadership earlier this year, the controlling group or groups of insiders will invent reasons to exclude people who they wish to exclude despite what the written party constitution says.

Anyone who listened to some of the commentary about a connection between government road-paving contracts and political contributions will see the easy acceptance of patronage:  that’s just how things are done around here, to paraphrase one radio host.

It is how things are done around here. This sort of behaviour  - connecting government work with a political benefactor - would be normal. After all that’s exactly how politicians demonstrate their value to voters, by measuring the pork they have brought.

Sometimes, though, it is worthwhile to look beyond normal to see what is really going on.

- srbp -

17 August 2011

A cause for grave concern #nlpoli

The Office of the Auditor General is an independent and reliable source of the objective, fact-based information that the House of Assembly needs to fulfill one of its most important roles: holding the provincial government accountable for its stewardship of public funds.

That’s a paraphrase of the description of the auditor general’s job found on the federal auditor general’s website.

Let’s add a bit of a twist to that description, though. The Auditor General’s office is not just an officer for the legislature alone; the AG office is one of the officers the public must trust to ensure that government spends your tax dollars and mine properly.

Aside from anything else, the people of Newfoundland and Labrador must have confidence that the person who serves as Auditor General is not a partisan for any political party and is functioning free of any favour or threat from the government itself.

John Noseworthy likely shattered that confidence for a good few people in the province on Tuesday when he became the second Auditor General in a row to leave office and enter politics.

In this case, Noseworthy announced his new political career a mere 16 days after leaving the job that he wants to run as a candidate for the ruling provincial Conservatives in the fall general election.

But that’s not the whole story.

Noseworthy had a year or more left  in his term when he announced last June that he was quitting to pursue “other professional opportunities.”  Asked about political ambitions at the time, Noseworthy merely told reporters he was ruling nothing out.

News reports on Tuesday mentioned his role in uncovering the House of Assembly spending scandal.  In interviews, Noseworthy was quick to call his own reports on government spending “scathing” and noted that he was critical of government.

That’s as maybe. The timing alone creates the impression of an unseemly haste to leave his job early in order to enter politics.   His comments appear self-serving and - in light of some of his actions over the past seven or eight years - dubious.

Noseworthy has been a bit of a media darling since 2006 and the spending scandal.  What that means is that local reporters have not questioned him even when there was good reason to doubt his comments, claims and conclusions.

For starters, Noseworthy has never accounted for millions of dollars of overspending that took place during the scandal period from 1996 to 2006.  Instead, he looked at other issues.

Nor has he explained why his own reports actually ignored the overspending. You’ll only find reference to the actual degree of overspending here at SRBP and in Chief Justice Derek Green’s report on the spending scandal.

In the parts he did report on, your humble e-scribbler raised questions about his public comments at the time and how he was conducting his reviews.  Chief Justice Green even recommended significant changes to sections of the law governing the Auditor General as a result of the inappropriate - and in some instances unfounded – accusations Noseworthy levelled at members of the legislature.

Then there’s the question of how both he and his old boss, now Tory Senator Elizabeth Marshall never made any comment on the level of overspending in the House of assembly accounts until 2006.  They may not have had access to the House books for a part of the scandal period but they did have access to the Comptroller General’s records for the whole time and he wrote all the cheques used to shell out the cash. And they never raised the issue once, except for the one time when Marshall’s attempt to investigate a single cabinet minister – Liberal as it turns out – got shut down.

Noseworthy’s also been known to polish his own knob and that of his future political associates.  In a 2009 report, Noseworthy actually made up a fictitious report recommendation and credited the government with following it.

A 2007 report claimed that the same agency produced a deficit and a surplus at the same time.

Nothing was quite as bizarre, though, as Noseworthy’s sudden decision to try and audit the offshore regulatory board.  At the time, Noseworthy’s office did not include the board in a list of government agencies the Ag felt he had the authority to audit. 

Noseworthy made quite the stink about getting inside the board offices, issuing a special report.

But once he got in, the whole thing vanished.

No subsequent reports.

No updates.

No letters.

Nothing.

Not until your humble e-scribbler brought up the question of the vanished Earth-shattering issue and reporters trotted off to Noseworthy’s office to see what gives.

Access problems, Noseworthy harrumphed.

But no word on his silence on the whole matter for the better part of two and a half years.

There was just a little cock-up in a story on the whole thing by one local radio station.

Funny thing in that little episode as it turns out. Natural resources minister Shawn Skinner wound up reminding everyone of the sweeping changes to provincial laws that wound up effectively shielding so much of Nalcor’s operations from public oversight.

Noseworthy didn’t say boo about any of that as it sailed through the legislature and it didn’t make any reference to it in any of his comments since June when he announced his retirement.

Maybe Noseworthy will be like his predecessor Beth Marshall who, after entering politics, didn’t find any problems with giving politicians access to bags of cash they could hand out to constituents, often without receipts.

Ah yes, old-fashioned patronage politics and the importance of having a member on the government side to dole out the goodies.

And, by gosh, didn’t John Noseworthy mention just that - having someone on the government side  - as he launched his career in politics.

Incompetence?

Normal practices?

Bias?

Whatever the cause, John Noseworthy’s announcement on Tuesday is the finest example yet of why our province desperately needs a fundamental, democratic revolution.

- srbp -

09 August 2011

Worshipping at the Trough

Patronage politics of the worst old-fashioned sort is alive and well in Newfoundland and Labrador.

VOCM posted a story online within the past 24 hours (hopefully it won’t be disappeared too soon) that makes it pretty clear:

A cabinet minister is unapologetic for the rash of pre-election spending announcements coming from the government. The MHA for Grand Bank, Darin King, announced some money for health care recently. There has been a steady stream of news releases, most announcing money that had already been allocated in the budget, over the past several months.

On VOCM Open Line with Randy Simms, King said he is dedicated to bringing in as much money as he can to his district.

Where patronage thrives, paternalism can’t be too far away.

- srbp -

26 July 2011

Paternalism in Pictures

People are talking about fire trucks, paving and other forms of patronage doled out by the provincial Conservatives for Election 2011.

The always acidic labradore has it in pictures, over time.

- srbp -