10 April 2013
For the first few years they seemed to be constantly plotting and manoevring, always one step ahead of their opponents at home and abroad.
Those days are gone, now, replaced by a surreal landscape of bizarre shapes and hideous shadows.
The Conservatives have already admitted to their continuing financial mismanagement of the province. They admitted in 2009 that what they spend of the public’s money every year is unsustainable. They continue to spend like that even though the public cannot afford it.
Yet these same profligates attack their political enemies with the accusations that the opponents are financially irresponsible. These same bankrupts defend recent cuts to education by pointing to their previous spending which they have admitted is unaffordable and which is the reason for the cuts. They censor public documents and at one and the same time, crown themselves most open government the province has ever seen.
This heady mixture now comes to slapstick comedy, courtesy of Trevor Taylor.
09 December 2011
Tories bums in the province must be a wee bit tighter than usual this week.
The province’s Dippers – new Democrats to the uninitiated – filed a lawsuit this week challenging the constitutional validity of a Troy law passed in 2007 that lets people vote when there are no elections.
You can tells Tory bums are tight. No, it’s not because of because of the agitated yelping of the local dogs who, alone among God’s creatures, can hear hypersonic flatulence.
Rather it is because of the number of Tories belching verbal flatulence against the New Democrats.
For starters, natural resources minister Jerome Kennedy told the Telegram that
“Ms. Michael’s about-face is disturbing on a number of fronts — first of all, her flip-flop on this matter shows a lack of principles and, secondly, rather than taking responsibility for her actions, she tried to blame her staff for not doing adequate research….”
An argument that starts by tossing aside a cabinet minister’s usual reluctance to comment on matters that are before the courts.
And then to start by impugning the personal integrity of one’s opponent. The vicious, petty ad hominem slur: there’s something you usually don’t hear from Tories in this province.
So sad are these comments: sad because Jerome Kennedy, the leading light of the administration, and one of the better cabinet ministers of the past couple of decades, has nothing of substance so he must instead rely on this sort of foolishness.
Sadder still are his words because Jerome knows that in the Tory version of the house of Assembly, opposition parties do not have the time to research bills properly and investigate them. the Tories won’t open the House or allow any time for such things.
More on that later.
Then there is another Tory who did a stint as the last caller on the morning open line show on Friday. He dismissed the lawsuit as being “particularly hypocritical” of NDP leader Lorraine Michael. Back in 2007, you see, the NDP leader voted for the Tory bill that made their special ballot foolishness the law of the land.
Said Tory claimed that if Michael was “legitimately concerned” then she would have used the “mechanisms available to her’ to suggest amendments to the election law.
Where might she do this?
Why, the House of Assembly, our Tory friend insisted.
This would be the same House of Assembly that has come to resemble a legislative house of ill repute under the Tories. They ram through a handful of bills through in the scarce number of days they let the place open. Parliamentary oversight committees don’t exist.
And even if all that weren’t true, the Tory on the radio knew full well that he and his colleagues would vote down any amendment any opposition politician came up with, just because.
Coming from these Tories, any talk of relying on the legislature would be disingenuous at best
These are the same Tories whose current leader has criticised the House for being useless when it comes to dealing with the truth where the real problem has been her own demonstrable distance from truthfulness in the past.
Their former Glorious Leader routinely made a mockery of accountability, himself, and once mused out loud that it might be time to get rid of free speech in the legislature once and for all.
The thing is, the Old Man wasn’t joking.
What is a bit of a joke though is that this whole onslaught of Tories is in defence of Clyde Jackman, the Tory who won his seat in the last general election by a handful of special ballots.
Where Jerome might be one of only a couple of high flyers in the current cabinet, Jackman is definitely at the other end of the scale. He might not be the most incompetent minister to hold office since 2003. The competition - Charlene Johnson, Kathy Dunderdale, Paul Oram, Dave Denine to name a few - has been extraordinarily stiff even in a province used to having some especially stunned-arse cabinet ministers. You’d be safe, though, if you suggested that Jackman would certainly be in the Top Three.
Jackman’s abilities are not the joke here, though. Rather, the joke is that the lawsuit against the special ballot voting provisions came as a result of the fact that Jackman won a tight race by relying on them, as it turned out.
He wound up in that tight spot as a result of some rather clumsy political manoeuvring by Jackman and his colleagues on the fishery and the Marystown fish plant, the Marystown shipyard and likely the government’s botched response to a hurricane or two.
Now his Tory colleagues are employing equally clumsy - embarrassingly clumsy - political claims to back him up.
And while that may not be particularly hypocritical, it is particularly funny.
- srbp -
01 December 2011
National Defence has had its fair share of total boobs who wind up appointed as minister.
Perhaps worst of all was the who mandated that all Canadian Forces kitchens should use real maple syrup. Of course, the maple syrup he mandated came from the part of Quebec he represented, but that was the extent of his concern.
Rare have been the ministers whose combination of intelligence and ability led to sound decisions and the sort of grown-up behaviour that the men and women of the Canadian Forces deserve.
The latest contestant in the “Biggest Dickwad of a Minister” sweepstakes would have to be Pete MacKay. As it turns out, a very senior officer in the air operations centre warned against using a search and rescue helicopter to winch the minister out of a vacation spot on the Gander River.
He’s a sample from The Star’s story on the military advice the minister’s political staff ignored:
“If we are tasked to do this we of course will comply,” Ploughman continued. “Given the potential for negative press though, I would likely recommend against it.”
The “Ploughman” in the quote is Bruce Ploughman, then a colonel and these days a brigadier general. Ploughman – originally from Newfoundland – is chief of staff for the military command responsible for deploying Canadian soldiers, sailors and aircrew around the globe.
According to his official biography, Brigadier General Ploughman is a highly experienced maritime helicopter pilot with tons of experience on the management end of the military. He’s also commanded the Canadian air wing in Afghanistan.
Someone you might listen to.
Listen to, that is, if you weren’t the defence minister or the staffers who insisted on using a helicopter for the minister’s personal business.
From the looks of the Star story, it seems that the experience air force staff officers tried a number options to see if a bit of delay or apparent difficult would lead the pols from finding another way to get Pete out of the woods.
If that’s the case, then the officers were much smarter than their political masters. The idiots insisted and – as a result – the whole mess has proven to be embarrassing for MacKay and the federal Conservatives.
- srbp -
22 June 2011
Having jacked expectations through the ceiling, Kathy Dunderdale better convince Stephen Harper to commit to halt the transfer of the jobs at the coast guard search and rescue co-ordination office in St. John’s to Halifax.
If she gets nothing, then she will bear responsibility for the failure.
The only worse outcome will be if harper takes Dunderdale’s commitment to have the provincial government pay for the federal operation.
Dunderdale and Harper will speak by telephone this evening, apparently but Dunderdale has already said she won’t be available to brief reporters on the call afterward.
Local media are hyping the crap out of it based on Dunderdale’s babbling in front of reporters on Tuesday.
- srbp -
29 October 2010
Newfoundlanders and Labradorians can be forgiven this week if they thought they’d entered the savage world of American politics complete with its intense and highly orchestrated personal attacks.
While the 2011 provincial election campaign has been underway since last spring, the provincial Conservatives went negative this week with a pre-emptive attack on the Liberal party. The pretext for the attack was the opposition office’s new communications director, Craig Westcott.
Conservative leader Danny Williams was characteristically blunt in justifying both the attack itself and the violation of the province’s privacy laws by the release of an e-mail Westcott wrote to the Premier’s office in February 2009.
I did feel it was important that the people of the province know who they’re dealing with and what they’re dealing with when this man is now an integral part of the official opposition in this province.
The task of leading the attack went to Kevin O’Brien, recently promoted from a low-level portfolio to the slightly more demanding job of municipal affairs. O’Brien noted the idea as well of letting people know what - supposedly - they could expect from the Liberals:
It's sad really to see the Opposition take that path because what I see is a fellow that can't even contain himself with regard to expressing that hatred."
These statements stand out because they characterise something that had not occurred. Both Williams and O’Brien drew attention to what they considered Westcott’s personal “hatred” for the Premier.
Westcott has been characteristically blunt in his criticism of Williams, but his comments have been typically not as personal as Williams presents them. And sure, Westcott made plain - before he started the job – that he was concerned about Williams’ impact on politics and the potential the Williams’ Conservatives could win all 48 seats in the provincial legislature. But at the point O’Brien mentioned the e-mail, the opposition itself hadn’t gone anywhere near negative.
Interestingly, Westcott described Williams accurately in 2007:
it's impossible to avoid being negative about a leader who is so negative himself, especially about his critics and some of the people who try to do business in this province.
And Williams and his crowd took great offense at anything and everything Westcott said. For his part, Westcott released a raft of e-mails with Williams’ communications director at a time when Westcott published a local newspaper and couldn’t get an interview with Williams. Westcott ran for the federal Conservatives in 2008, largely as a personal gesture in reaction to Williams’ anti-Harper crusade. One of the consequences is that CBC stopped using him as a commentator after the election.
That isn’t just background for the most recent shots in an ongoing personal feud, nor does it suggest that both sides are equally guilty of anything. Westcott started his new job on Monday morning. On Wednesday, the Conservatives launched the assault. Until then, there was nothing other than the known animosity between Westcott and Williams. The point to note is that the Conservatives characterised what Westcott and the Liberals would do in the future.
But that prediction – and all the negative implications – are entirely a fiction created by Williams’ Conservatives.
Going negative isn’t something new for Williams. He likes the ploy and has used it on everyone from Stephen Harper to a previously unknown lawyer named Mark Griffin. Around the same time Westcott sent the now infamous – and previously private – e-mail, Williams labelled Griffin a traitor. Williams also started a lengthy battle with the Globe and Mail over a column that speculated about Williams’ possible motives in expropriating assets from three private companies in central Newfoundland.
Nor is it the first time Williams has tried to put words into someone else’s mouth. in the most famous episode cabinet minister John Hickey sued then opposition leader Roger Grimes for defamation. The case quietly disappeared because Hickey sued Grimes not for what Grimes said but for what Williams attributed to Grimes.
The provincial Conservatives are a tough and effective political organization. They bring message discipline and zeal to the table. On top of that they have an army of enthusiastic sock puppets who will fill any Internet space and radio talk show with pre-programmed lines. Going nasty and negative is second nature to them.
The curious thing about the episode is that Williams could easily have waited until the first lump of mud came hurling his way.
But he didn’t.
He sent O’Brien out as his crap flinger, first.
Taking the first shot, going negative in this way, this early in a campaign would be a risky venture in any case in Newfoundland and Labrador. Most voters aren’t engaged in politics and the overwhelming majority aren’t thinking about the election yet. Local politics is anything but the highly competitive, ideologically-divided wasteland of the United States. People don’t like taking the battle-axe to the heads of their neighbours and friends.
Politics can be competitive, but heavily negative campaigning doesn’t bring any great benefits. Going negative early carries a risk of alienating people from the Conservatives and from politics generally. And it’s not like Williams has a surplus of voter support he can afford to tick off with negative campaigning. He won in 2003 and again in 2007 with about the same number of votes, about the same share of total eligible vote. That’s because Williams’ voters consist of a core of traditional Conservative supporters plus a group of voters who have voted for other parties, usually Liberal, in the past.
For someone with Williams’ reputation, however, there is the added danger that yet more relentless negativity will affect his own support. Voters may not be able to stomach a full year of his highly concentrated political bile on top of the seven years they’ve already witnessed. Even Conservatives have been known to revolt against Williams’ diktats. In 2008, Conservatives in St. John’s South-Mount Pearl voted heavily for the New Democratic Party, despite the fact that four prominent cabinet ministers campaigned for the Liberal. In other ridings, they just stayed home in response to Williams’ personal anti-Harper crusade.
There are signs that voters, generally, in some parts of the province are discontented if not slightly cranky. Williams’ Conservatives have already started trying to mollify concerns over some issues. Public money is flowing freely in announcements about spending for new outdoor basketball courts or cassettes for x-ray machines. A news conference heralding a new case of DVDs or a packet of screws can’t be far behind.
The provincial Conservatives have also telegraphed that they are worried about voter attitudes toward the party, generally. Maybe it wouldn’t take much to see the sort of rejection of the Conservatives that happened in the Straits and White Bay North spread to other districts along the northeast coast and other parts of central and western Newfoundland and into Labrador.
In a sense, going negative early suggests the Conservatives are particularly sensitive about any prospect that a resurgent Liberal Party might be able to capitalise on voter discontent. It reinforces the idea that Williams’ personal smear of Marystown mayor Sam Synyard had more to do with a fear of political rivals than anything else.
In the insider baseball world of political reporting in this province, this week’s drama about an e-mail and a communications director may looks like one thing to some people. But if you look more closely, another picture may appear.
No matter what, the next 12 months could bring some of the most interesting political developments in years.
- srbp -
Outside the Overpass Update: The Overpass is to Newfoundland and Labrador politics as the beltway is to American federal politics. In that light, consider this e-mail from the province’s other daily that puts the week’s game of insider baseball in perspective: “Get back to work”.
Going negative this early has its risks.
28 October 2010
What is interesting to people on the inside is often of no interest to people outside.
That idea, in a great many more eloquent words and with a bunch of other ideas, may be found in this 1988 article by Joan Didion.
Some people will get this.
Most will not.
- srbp -
28 September 2010
What better time to issue a news release noting that a whole bunch of volunteers are helping out after a disaster than four days into it and long before the thing is over?
The wording, of course, must have the ring of a rejected greeting card to increase the sincerity of the sentiment behind the release.
Oh yes: Don’t forget to plug your website and advertising campaign with the slogan that in no way is the subject of guffaws and derision across the province.
Finish with a snappy close that in absolutely no way came out of government-issued phrase generator. Like “to help ensure that [insert event type here] happens in the most safe and efficient way possible.”
The provincial government agency responsible for the volunteer sector – Dave Denine, minister - would never be so tacky.
- srbp -
09 May 2010
First, here’s Wakeham’s comment from his Saturday column:
The irony in all this is that Williams has absolutely no need to stoop to this thin-skinned foolishness, turning molehills into mountains, and portraying himself as a mannequin for diapers.
The premier is still immensely popular, has done more things right than wrong, and should keep his disgust with journalists like Gullage (and commentators like me) buried.
Perhaps it’s part of the addictive power trip.Now here’s a definition of irony:
Incongruity between what might be expected and what actually occurs.There is nothing about Williams’ action in the Gullage complaint that is different from what occurred before. So if one expected Williams not to moan, whine, bitch and complain, then one has not found irony, but blindness on the part of the observer.
Williams’ relentless negativity is legendary.
His capacity to slag off anyone, friend or foe, is equally legendary. Take friend George Baker, for example, who has nothing but Bill Rowe-like praise for the powerful Premier and his amazing awesomeness. The senator was not immune to Williams’ wild accusations, as labradore recently noted:
What about George Baker who got muzzled after they bought him off? What happened to him?George Baker: bought, i.e. corrupt as in bribed into silence.
Nothing could be further from the truth – to borrow one of Williams’ ironic phrases - and at the same time, nothing could be closer to Williams’ hyperbolic ranting.*
Nor is this the result of the supposedly usual addictive power trip that seduces Premiers. Wakeham tells a story about Clyde Wells complaining - legitimately - about Wakeham’s crowd, the ombudsman ruling and Wakeham ignoring.
Yes, folks, Bob’s balls are legendary, at least in his own mind even if, as it turns out, his memory isn’t. There was another episode in which the Ceeb buggered up a story about expenses. They thought that the amounts to be spent went up when - in fact – the administrative rules had changed on how much entertainment needed** pre-approval from treasury board.
That’s as arcane an issue as it gets but it was also a highly contentious one at a time when the government is hurting for cash and laid off workers.* And, in the case of the Ceeb, the story was totally wrong in the implication that cabinet ministers and senior executives were whining and dining better than ever before. They aired a nice correction to that once the ombudsman ruled.
The lesson there is not what Bob would like us to focus on. The story here is not of sameness but of differences.
For starters, the complaints to which Wakeham refers were ones where the issue was about specific incidents and actions by Wakeham’s crowd with specific details anyone could look at and judge. The complaint was not about Bob Wakeham but Williams’ bitch about Gullage seems to be characteristically personal in all its dimensions.
Then, the complaints to the ombudsman followed a series of calls and letters (no e-mail in those days) trying to resolve the disagreement in that way. One gets the sense the Gullage episode was basically a letter straight to the Big Gun.
Then, it was all perfectly normal stuff in the dance between politicians and government on the one side and news media on the other; pretty much indistinguishable from what happens between reporters and other people being reported on. No screams - necessarily - of “your mother wears army boots” or “you don’t have the balls for it”. Just disagreement, heated or otherwise. Not personal; just business.
And the most important distinction of all – it wasn’t Wells, if memory serves, who penned the missives and made the phone calls. He knew to leave decisions to the people he hired to do specific jobs. He had staff and in particular senior staff who were seasoned enough and capable enough to talk him out of doing the sorts of things that Williams is now famous for. Refuse to let him do the things that would damage his reputation in the community.
As much as something got up Wells’ nose, he – and they – appreciated that becoming the butt of jokes, even if confined to the newsroom, diminished not him but his entire administration and the people in it. Once you’ve become a mannequin for diapers, to borrow Wakeham’s phrase, it really doesn’t matter that you’ve “done more things right than wrong”.
They knew that if Wells spent huge chunks of his time and all that emotional energy chasing after every little thing, there’d be crap-loads of work that simply didn’t happen. There’d be projects delayed by years with all the cost over-runs - wasted public money - associated with the sluggishness. Legislation would get lost in the bureaucracy. Other laws would be passed but not enacted. Staff appointments would be delayed and at times there’d be an enormous turn-over in a short period.
And that was at a time when government wasn’t run, in detail, from the Premier’s own office.
Wakeham’s basically out to lunch on this one: Williams behaviour in going after Gullage is exactly what anyone who has watched the man for more than five minutes would expect. Everything about the episode is typical.
It isn’t confined to people of Gullage’s stature. Judges are a favourite target, usually because Williams has lost yet another legal case. Even a letter from Ordinary Joe to the Gulf News or some other of the weekly organs across the province can net an unhappy call from the Old Man.
At some point, mainstreamers like Wakeham will start noticing there’s much more to this than an addictive power trip: If Hisself is writing letters and making phone calls about this trivial stuff, what is it that he isn’t doing?
* Corrected wording to give correct meaning to the sentence.
** Fixed typo from “ended’ to “needed”.
01 May 2009
people call her Blunderdale.
Deputy premier Kathy Dunderdale has taken to answering opposition questions with an odd air of arrogance about her. She tries to taunt and put down the questioner in a way that…well.. doesn’t work.
Some people can carry on arrogantly and get away with it - sort of - because their abilities are far above that of others. Maybe their response is so witty that you just don’t see the arrogant jab.
Dunderdale ain’t one of those people by a long stretch.
MS DUNDERDALE: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Mr. Speaker, I am going to divulge the name of his source. It is the Leader of the Opposition, and I gave her that information in Estimates, earlier this week, that these actions had been taken. We told her that the report had been received, although I had not been briefed at this point in time.
She was responding to a question by the opposition house leader about an audit into the local chicken marketing board.
Problem for Dunderdale was Kelvin Parsons could simply rebut her asinine comment:
MR. KELVIN PARSONS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
The minister must surely have a problem with timelines because she did her Estimates on Monday night of this week with the Leader of the Opposition. My questions were asked in this House of the minister last December. That is the source to which I refer, that told us there was indeed a forensic audit being done, which you denied at the time and you said you would check it out and get back, which the minister failed to do, and has not done now until it was taken out of her and pried out of her in the Estimates Committees again.
Mr. Speaker, the people who contacted our office certainly believe - and this was back in December - the people who contacted our office and provided the information back in December had very good information that there were financial irregularities. These people made significant allegations.
I ask the minister: Can you confirm that anyone in your office was, in fact, dismissed as a result of what happened involving this matter?
Now this is not the first time Dunderdale has had a problem disclosing things factually in the House of Assembly. She got into serious trouble in late December 2006 when she wound up misleading the House – and by extension everyone else in the province – about details surrounding a public tendering controversy that had led ultimately to cabinet firing one of their political appointees: Joan Cleary.
So serious did Dunderdale Blunder that her boss had to slam the House closed noticeably early to avoid everyone realising what had happened and calling for the head of one his most faithful lapdogs.
Then there’s the time last December when she couldn’t accurately recall what she’d said the week before.
First Danny Williams appointed Tom Rideout to run the place on all those occasions when DW is not around.
Then he picked Kathy Dunderdale to be his Number Two.
Does anyone else see a pattern here?