11 February 2020

Interesting news, buried under bull #nlpoli

There are two aspects to Monday’s announcement about Muskrat Falls and electricity rates:  political and practical items related to Muskrat Falls.  

Another set of decisions are actually related to the provincial government’s non-Muskrat Falls finances.

And then there’s a little tidbit about how far behind Muskrat Falls is.

Political - If this is how Dwight treats his friends…

Monday’s announcement was a political stunt pulled purely for the province's benefit apparently to cover over the fact that there was no agreement as Dwight Ball had promised before Christmas.

The announcement came front-end-loaded with the sort of ego stroking and puffery that is not merely unnecessary but tends to turn off audiences listening for a major announcement about arguably the most pressing public issue.

10 February 2020

The Rate Mitigation Circus of Horrors #nlpoli

Late Friday evening, the Muskrat Falls rate mitigation circus came to town.


Around 7:40 PM, long after everyone with sense had gone home for the day, natural resources minister Siobhan Coady released the last report from the Public Utilities Board review that started in 2018.

As expected, it told us nothing more than what we already knew.

That didn't stop people from getting upset, yet again, at the prospect of electricity rates twice what they are currently paying if no one does anything about it.

We got this reminder because the charter Dwight Ball gave the PUB was to repeat precisely what Ball knew his officials had already done in 2017.

It was like another pathetic re-run of the ploy from 2011 when Kathy Dunderdale – just as jammed up then as Dwight Ball was in 2018 – asked the PUB to look at Muskrat Falls using all the same assumptions and limitations that led the government to endorse the project in the first place.

In this case, Ball was in a pickle – and likely a rage - because he and his star by-election candidate at the time stood in front of a crowd during a by-election, promised everyone they wouldn’t have to pay for Muskrat Falls,  and then watched everyone burst out laughing since the two obviously had no idea what they were talking about.

So, someone in the political back room came up with the novel idea of bringing the PUB in to repeat exactly what the officials had already done.  When something works the first time, it is always smart to do it again. /sarcasmfont

You cannot make this shit up.

So here we are on Monday morning, precisely where we were before.

03 February 2020

Sliding by #nlpoli

Sliding b'ys.

During the recent emergency in eastern Newfoundland and Labrador, both the provincial government and the City of St. John’s denied the public access to basic information about the emergency.

Instead, they both preferred either self-serving political messages – “all is well.  We are doing great job” – or authoritarian edicts and directives -” stay off the roads”.

The City news release quoted in last week’s post typify this.

Supposedly it was about the lifting of some restrictions on the public. 

That’s what the headline said.

But the first sentence - supposedly the most important information in the release was a self-serving statement:

City of St. John’s snow clearing crews continue to work around the clock to clear streets for regular traffic.
The middle bit contained short statements about what stores could open for a few hours.

31 January 2020

City bungled emergency. Residents paid price. #nlpoli

EOCs bring key people together in one spot  with the
information needed to make crucial decisions
during an emergency.
Now we know why the City of St. John's emergency response was as disjointed and chaotic as SRBP described last Monday.

The City decided not to activate its emergency plan even though they declared a state of emergency.

Here's the way CBC described the decision in a comment buried way down in story on the disastrous disaster response:

The provincial government ran its own emergency centre, and while St. John's has its own emergency operations centre, Mayor Danny Breen said it wasn't activated because communication with various channels such as city staff and first responders was able to be done over the phone.
"If we had opened the emergency operation centre and sent everyone to one place, first of all we wouldn't be able to get them there, and the resources to get them there would have been taken away from what the problem was at hand," he said.
Breen's comments don't make sense given the City had a week's warning of the huge blizzard that swept eastern Newfoundland on January 17, 2020.

27 January 2020

The Emergency Response Disaster #nlpoli

Communities on the northeast Avalon recovered relatively quickly from the worst blizzard in the province’s recorded history. However, the recovery in the City of St. John’s was slower than that of the neighbouring municipalities.  Both the mayor and one media commentator have placed responsibility for this on the provincial government and out-of-date legislation.  However, the actual problems in the recovery in St. John’s stemmed from the City’s approach to recovery operations. Other issues that have not gained significant public notice persisted because of the province’s failure to intervene.

The General Situation

Residents of the northeast Avalon came through the largest blizzard in the province’s recorded history with relatively few fatalities and virtually no reported incidents of significant damage to property or infrastructure.  That is remarkable in itself given the storm and a smaller snowfall that followed on its dropped more than  100 centimetres on parts of the region and wind gusts hit between 1305 and 150 kilometres an hour during the peak of the blizzard. 

Of the roughly 250,000 affected by the storm, only about 10% - 27,000  - lost power during the storm and the bulk of those had their power restored within 48 hours of the last snow flake. This contrasts with 2014 when a series of events knocked out power to a significant portion of the island for several days. 

Two avalanches reported publicly damaged houses and caused people to leave their homes but without injury.  This is in contrast to a relatively minor blizzard in 1959 that caused an avalanche that The Battery in St John’s that killed nine people.

Municipalities in the region had cleared at least passable cuts on all streets within 48 to 72 hours after the storm subsided on Saturday and by Tuesday all major municipalities had begun to lift their states of emergency to one degree or another. The provincial government had also cleared the major highways to the city within two days of the storm.

13 January 2020

John Crosbie #nlpoli #cdnpoli

Left to Right:  Bill Doody,  Brian Peckford, John Crosbie, Jane Crosbie,
and Beth Crosbie at the 1983 federal PC leadership convention

The outpouring of praise in memory of John Crosbie, who died on Thursday, has been such a flood of cliché and, in some cases, fiction that it does a disservice to the memory of one of the most significant political figures from Newfoundland and Labrador in the 20th century.

Remarks by Edward Roberts,  Joe Clark, and Brian Mulroney were closer to the truth of the man than most. Roberts once noted that Crosbie wanted to be leader of anything he was ever involved with, starting with the Boy Scouts. Certainly, that is a testament to Crosbie’s ambition and determination, but in his interview last week, Roberts spoke plainly of Crosbie’s considerable intellectual talents that went with his ambition and determination.  

Likewise, Clark spoke of the respect that public servants and cabinet colleagues in Ottawa had for Crosbie both for his ability and for the professional way he dealt with them.  The politicians understood that Crosbie would be tough to deal with when he wanted to get his way, but they understood that Crosbie never failed to deploy the same fierceness in defence of the team when attacked from outside. The bureaucrats appreciated someone who understood their briefs, especially in portfolios like finance.

By contrast, Rex Murphy, so long removed from Newfoundland and Labrador physically and mentally that his writings on the province are a unique brand of safari journalism, gave the National Post his trademark overwrought prose.  He appears, as well, to have used an equally overwrought imagination to cover over the considerable gaps in his memory of what actually happened now almost a half century ago.  

The one thing Murphy got unmistakably right is to credit Jane Crosbie for her role in John’s political career.  Not to eulogise her before her time but Jane is as much the political force, and understood as such, as John ever was. People in Newfoundland and Labrador today who claim they want to get more women involved in politics – many of them people who know nothing of politics in the province and care even less about it – would do well to spend some time talking to Jane Crosbie and others like her. To say that “Jane was every bit his equal” may well sell Jane short, although the crucial part is that “the only difference [between the two] being she chose the off-stage role.”

06 January 2020

Patronage and pork #nlpoli

Think of it as classic political news in Newfoundland and Labrador.

VOCM headline: “Premier commits to fixing patronage issues in government”.

At the same time, some people in Western Labrador are  angry at the Premier for closing a small government office in Wabush.

In the VOCM news story, Premier Dwight Ball was referring to the controversy appointment he authorized at The Rooms. Many people consider that patronage because the person who got the appointment had previously been a political staffer in the Opposition office while Ball was Opposition leader.

What makes this a classic political story in Newfoundland and Labrador, though, is that no one sees the other job – the bureaucratic office in Labrador City – as patronage even though that’s what it is.

At the turn of the century, the provincial government relocated departments or bits of departments from St. John’s to other towns in Newfoundland and Labrador.  They called it “regionalization”.  The idea was to spread the “benefit” of government spending around the province instead of concentrating it in St. John’s.

We are not talking about putting a snow clearing depot for the west coast on the west coast.  We are talking about shifting the office of the fire commissioner with seven high paying jobs and putting them in Deer Lake, along with a bunch of people who run provincial parks. The aquaculture division of the fisheries department went to the coastal community of Grand Falls-Windsor, and the medical care commission offices – the folks who pay doctors for their services – went to GFW as well.

“You can do the work anywhere” was a common rationalization for the whole scheme and it certainly is true.  You *can* do these administrative jobs anywhere.  But it was more efficient in many cases to do them in St. John’s, which is, after all, the capital city and administrative centre of government. 

03 January 2020

15 years of The Sir Robert Bond Papers #nlpoli

Today marks the 15th anniversary of The Sir Robert Bond Papers.

The first post  - 03 January 2005 - described the atmosphere at its birth but, most importantly, gave the philosophy that remains its foundation:
In any thriving democracy, sound public policy can only come through informed debate and discussion. 
As long as SRBP continues,  it will provoke debate and confute myth-mongers based on research and evidence.

8200 posts.

More than six million words.

And more to come.


23 December 2019

SRBP on VOCM's On Target #nlpoli

For those who missed it, your humble e-scribbler appeared on VOCM's On Target with Linda Swain twice this year.

Here are links to the audio in case you missed the episodes.  It starts with December 20 and a chat about the top stories in politics during 2019.  The other episode was on November 29.  Just scroll down the list of episodes using the slider to find it.


18 December 2019

Borrowed Money and Borrowed Time #nlpoli

Tom Osborne was in Ottawa on Tuesday with his fellow finance ministers trying to squeeze some extra cash out of the federal government. 

The wealthiest provinces in Canada – Alberta,  Saskatchewan, and Newfoundland and Labrador – are looking for some changes to the Fiscal Stabilization Program that would give them extra cash.  They’ve given up on changes to the Equalization program since it is intended to help poorer provinces deliver essential services at roughly comparable levels of taxation. 

FSP “enables the federal government to provide financial assistance to any province faced with a year-over-year decline in its non-resource revenues greater than five per cent.”

Provinces may submit a claim to the Minister of Finance as late as 18 months after the end of the fiscal year in question or may also submit a claim for an advance payment based on as few as five months of data for the fiscal year.

The program doesn’t compensate provinces for losses due to changes in provincial taxation rates. A drop in resource revenues is taken into account only if and to the extent that the annual decline in revenue exceeds 50 per cent.

As Osborne’s financial update for 2019 indicates, though, a bit of extra federal cash won’t fix the problems Osborne has.

17 December 2019

Three books for Christmas #nlpoli

Where Once They Stood - Newfoundland's Rocky Road towards Confederation
Top Choice 

Where Once They Stood is arguably the most significant work on modern Newfoundland and Labrador political history in more than 30 years.

The fact that it has been largely ignored in popular conversation in this the 70th anniversary year of Confederation is an affirmation of its significance.

Raymond Blake and Melvin Baker Decisively repudiate decades of mythology about Confederation.  The show that voters fully understood the issues at stake in both the 1869 election and in the 1948 referenda.

Baker and Blake argue that women were instrumental in determining the outcome, in 1948, believing it provided the best opportunity for their children.

Invisible no more

James Candow's new history of the Royal Newfoundland Companies in the early and mid- 19th century fills an important gap in both the military and political history of Newfoundland at a crucial time in its history. 

The two histories are intertwined, culminating in the election riots of 1861 when members of the Royal Newfoundland Companies opened fire on a crowd of rioters, killing three and wounding others. The political compact that grew out of that election shaped Newfoundland politics and society into the twentieth century and continue to echo today.

"In The Invisibles, James E. Candow provides the fascinating back story of the Royal Newfoundland Companies while enhancing our understanding of the role they played in Newfoundland history and the lives of our communities."

The Invisibles is an inadvertent companion to Baker and Blake's examination of Confederation. 

A new Robert Bond biography 

Jim Hiller's biography of Robert Bond brings together elements of the story of Newfoundland's best known pre-Confederation prime minister that have been scattered through other works over the past four decades.

Hiller succeeds in his goal of placing Bond in the proper context of events during his political career while providing a fair assessment of the man and his performance.

Bond served in or led administrations through the 1890s and the first eight years of the 20th century. It was, as the ISER blurb describes it, "an era filled with challenges that still resonate today."    

Bond is most commonly associated with external affairs, primarly the struggle to negotiate free trade with the United States, to bring an end to the French Shore, and, generally, to deal successfully with imperial powers in London whose priorities could vary greatly from those in Newfoundland."

While we are still waiting for fresh eyes to look at Newfoundland's external relations from the 1890s through to the Great War and the early 1920s,  Hiller provides as thorough and fair treatment as one may find of one of the main figures in Newfoundland history and the time in which he lived.


16 December 2019

Lomond cleared by Citizen's Rep of wrongdoing in email deletion #nlpoli

In a report on his investigation, Citizen's Representative Barry Fleming said that while deputy minister Ted Lomond had directed the deletion of a single email related to Carla Foote's move from Executive Council to The Rooms, Lomond did so believing it was a transitory record that could be deleted under government records management rules. 
Fleming found that the email at The Rooms was not deleted.  He did not find there was a widespread practice of deleting emails in Lomond's department.

Ted Lomond
Citizen’s Representative Barry Fleming cleared deputy minister Ted Lomond of wrongdoing in the deletion of an email related to the transfer of Carla Foote from the position of associate secretary of cabinet for communications to the job of executive director of marketing at The Rooms.

The report into the investigation, dated 29 April 2019, said that,  while he concluded that Lomond directed that an email be deleted, Fleming could not “find that [Lomond’s] instruction or intention was to improperly delete [sic] that e-mail and letter.”
Fleming wrote that there “is enough evidence to suggest that [Lomond] considered the e-mail and letter to be a transitory record and therefore could be deleted.”  Fleming noted that “[we] found no evidence to suggest that the deletion of emails was a widespread practice.”
Under the Management of Information Act, "transitory record means a government record of temporary usefulness in any format or medium having no ongoing value beyond an immediate and minor transaction or the preparation of a subsequent record."
Section 5.4 of the MIA says that "transitory records may be disposed of when they are no longer of value, and shall only be disposed of through means which render them unreadable, including secure shredding or in the case of electronic records, secure electronic erasure."

The Office of the Chief Information Officer says that a transitory record would include the draft versions of records the signed version of which has been retained, as well as the electronic versions used to transmit the draft from one person to another."
In the report, Fleming said that the executive assistant to The Rooms CEO Dean Brinton had not deleted the email. “Indeed,  Brinton’s Executive Assistant indicated that this was the only time she had received an instruction from Mr. Lomond’s office to delete an e-mail.”
While Lomond’s EA did not recall specific details of what happened on June 15, 2018,  Fleming said she “did state that Mr. Lomond was a stickler for having all employees delete transitory records. She indicates that if she had communicated with Mr. Brinton's Executive Assistant to delete e-mails, it was a reference to ones which are transitory records. She doesn't recall Mr. Lomond ever directing her to delete substantive e-mails.”
Fleming noted that “Mr. Lomond’s evidence on this issue was quite candid. He stated that he knew the decision conveyed in the e-mail and attached letter might be controversial and subject to an access to information request. Having that in mind he wished to ensure that only proper e-mail remained. He states that he continually reminded staff to delete transitory records and that this process is in keeping with best practices for e-mail storage.”
Fleming said that the “professionalism exhibited by all public employees we encountered made the conduct of this investigation easier than it might otherwise have been.”
Fleming’s report on Christopher Mitchelmore, presented in the House of Assembly, contains a reference to another investigation into the deletion of an email without identifying Lomond as the subject of the investigation. 
Fleming investigated Lomond for the same five accusations as the ones contained in the Mitchelmore report. On the other four, Fleming accepted Lomond’s “evidence that during all relevant time he was conveying information from Executive Council and his Minister to the Chief Executive Officer and Board of Directors of the Rooms Corporation. Lt is clear that he was not the directing mind in any of the decisions that precipitated these allegations.”
“ A deputy minister who follows the instructions of his minister and central agencies of government cannot be said to have grossly mismanaged his executive responsibilities,”  Fleming wrote.
On Friday, CBC reporter Peter Cowan tweeted that after "the Mitchelmore report found that emails were deleted, I've asked the Information and Privacy Commissioner to investigate whether that broke the rules" based on an access to information request Cowan filed in October 2018.  
While Cowan's tweet incorrectly refers to emails (instead a single email) and that they had been deleted,  the CBC story on the request to Commissioner responsible for access to information appeals refers specifically to one email.  The email in the department was deleted but the one received by The Rooms was not. 

Note:  Fleming's report consistently presents the word as "e-mail" while SRBP uses "email".

11 December 2019

All three parties in NL gain in polls #nlpoli

The latest poll from Narrative Research shows the distorting effective of disregarding the "undecideds".

The number of people who didn't pick a political party dropped seven percentages points compared to August (35 to 28).

The Liberals and Conservatives picked up three points each and the New Democrats picked up a couple of points.  The changes don't add up exactly due to rounding and the slight inexactness of recalculating the original distribution from the numbers released by Narrative.

In the Narrative version, support for the parties stayed the same among "decided" respondents.

The pretty chart shows polling four the last four years all presented as a share of all responses. You can see the undecideds have been on an obvious and steady downward trend since earlier in 2019.  If you toss out the March UND number as an outlier,  there's still a drop from the time of the election. 

The fact that all three parties grew in the last quarter by the same amount  - more or less - is curious.  Choice for Premier has remained roughly the same for the past year as has satisfaction with government's performance.


10 December 2019

Transitory Records #nlpoli

In dealing with one aspect of the business of getting Carla Foote from Executive Council to The Rooms,  deputy minster Ted Lomond suggested to The Rooms CEO that he delete the email in which Lomond had forwarded a proposed draft of a letter.

cbc.ca/nl ran a story on it Monday based on the report from the Citizen's Representative into allegations against Lomond's minister, Chris Mitchelmore.  The CBC story included this quote:
"I talked to Mr. Brinton a number of times and I said to him that in light of everything that is happening, I would suggest you delete your transitory records," Lomond told the Office of the Citizens' Representative. 
Brinton said he knew their conversation would be subject to requests under the Access to Information and Privacy Protection Act [ATIPPA], and said he wanted to make sure his emails were in order.
"You knew this was going to get ATIPP'd," he told the citizen's rep. "So I would like to have my records neat and tidy, final versions lined up."
Transitory records are not described in ATIPPA.  They are covered in the law that governs how government maintains its records.  It's called the Management of Information Act. Anyone submitting requests for government documents under ATIPPA should know both pieces of legislation inside out.  For those who are interested,  the Office of the Chief Information Officer has a tidy little description of "transitory records".