28 September 2016

Through others' eyes #nlpoli

For Newfoundland's pseudo-intellectuals,  the Toronto Globe and Mail is a kind of one-handed reading material.  They use one hand to scroll down the Internet site looking at stuff.  They use the other to stroke the keys of their computer until it spurts indignation all over the screen about over something someone in the Globe said or didn't say about Newfoundland.

They are an easy bunch to click-bait, as the Globe editors showed this past weekend. The province's gaggle of celebrities took to the Internet to slag columnist Margaret Wente or Confederation.  Hans Rollman exploded in a ball of perpetual, fabricated victimhood. Ed Riche pretended he was above it all and, always one to spot a hot, if insubstantial, trend,  CBC produced an online piece about the negativity.

On Monday, the corp even got Wente to suffer through an interview about her recent trip to Fogo Island. "Do you understand how wrong you were?"  Grand Inquisitor Debbie asked the penitent mainlander. "Do you repent your sins?"

Yes, said Wente looking like she was going to tear-up any second. "I got Newfoundland wrong,"

Never, in the history of journalism, has so much been made by so many about so little.

27 September 2016

No help, not my department, and missing records #nlpoli

Starting a little over a hundred years ago,  the Government of Newfoundland  publishing a list of public servants by name, showing their job title, the department they worked for,  the annual salary,and the Christian denomination to which they belonged.

Since 1981 and the passage of the first freedom of information law in the province,  anyone in Newfoundland and Labrador has been able to request information about people employed by the provincial public service.  You can get the title of a position, the name of the person currently holding the job and the amount paid to the person for doing the job.  The House of Assembly reaffirmed that right in the 2002 version of the access to information law,  the infamous Bill 29 amendments, and in the current version, drafted in 2014 by an expert panel.

Telegram reporter James McLeod sent a series of requests last winter to government departments and agencies.  He asked for a list of positions in which people on the government payroll made more than $100,000.  McLeod was trying to put together his own version of a so-called Sunshine List. Most organizations answered McLeod's request and provided him with the list.  There was no legal reason to withhold the information.

What the English school district did was fascinating.

26 September 2016

Illegal deletions okay in NL: access commissioner #nlpoli

Shortly after he took office a month or so ago,  newly appointed information commissioner Donovan Molloy told CBC there had been a "substantial increase" in the number of access to information requests since 2015 when the House of Assembly passed a new access to information law.

True, said the always accurate labradore, but that was only in relation to the two years when Bill 29 seems to have reduced the number of requests. People had filed 343 access requests up to the first part of August. That would work out to about "800-and-some requests completed for the year," according to labradore, "which would be something of a surge compared to Bill 29 levels, and even, to a lesser degree, compared to pre-29 levels.*

"But, apart from a hypothetical surge during the balance of the fiscal year, the statistics do not support the Commissioner’s concerns. ... To the extent that there has been a surge in request volume since the 2015 unravelling of Bill 29, that may just as easily be accounted for by the fact that, in the post-Bill-29 era, the public is simply more aware of their right to access public records, and, thanks to the elimination of application fees and the praiseworthy creation of an online filing system, more able to exercise that right."

Those comments are a good starting point, though for a couple of posts on the current state of the province's access to information law.  What you will see in this two-part series is that there are  enormous obstacles to public access to government information.  The obstacles come from the way bureaucrats apply the law.  They produce their own problems and, in one of the most serious obstacles, illegal censorship gets the seal of approval from the province's information access watchdog.

23 September 2016

Reforming the way government works #nlpoli

Conservative and New Democrat goons are fapping themselves into a frenzy on Twitter over Bern Coffey's appointment as Clerk of the Executive Council.  Qualifications don't matter, they would have it.  Bern Coffey's appointment is partisan just because Coffey is a Liberal and therefore it is bad.  No Liberals should be appointed to anything.

Derpy Conservative David Brazil dismissed Coffey in an interview with NTV News because Coffey has no connection to the provincial public service. He's an "outsider" supposedly. The facts are irrelevant: Coffey spent a couple of decades as a highly successful Crown prosecutor before he set out on his own about 16 years ago.

Dipper boss Earle McCurdy thinks Coffey is "lacking the right qualifications" although McCurdy had no idea what the right qualifications would be other than, say, not being Liberal.

For his part,  Premier Dwight Ball told NTV that Coffey's job will now involve "challenging" the province's public servants so that the government has the best information possible when making decisions.

Such is the shallow nature of provincial politics these days.  Even Dwight Ball's comments don't accurately reflect what is going on.

22 September 2016

City assessed school property at sale price #nlpoli

City councillor Jonathan Galgay attacked the school board and the provincial government over the sale of IJ Samson school for $189,000 after the purchaser put the thing on the market for 10 times that much.

Galgay wrote to the provincial auditor general asking him to investigate the sale.

Two things.

First,  a property is worth what the market will pay for it.  Galgay can get as excited as he wants but the fact is that the bids demonstrated the value of the property in the current market.

Second, Galgay might want to check out the official city hall view of 50 Bennett Avenue.

St. John's municipal records show that the City of St. John's assessed the former junior high school as a business property with a value of... wait for it... $189,000.


Seems awfully convenient that the numbers matched up like that.  If Terry Paddon investigates this sale, he should expand his inquiry to include city hall.  Something smells awfully funny. Well, besides the stink from the budget Galgay brought in last year


-srbp-

21 September 2016

Not talking but talking about something #nlpoli

It took them a few days but the folks at Nalcor managed to put out a statement that addressed the possible talks with Hydro-Quebec about the Lower Churchill.

They didn't post it to the Nalcor website or anything but a few people were flicking it around on Tuesday.  They must have tweeted it out or something.*

Anyway, here is a picture of it.


Now we can see what it says, line by line.

20 September 2016

Grits and Cons play dodge-fact over Labrador hydro talks #nlpoli


"There are no discussions between this government and the  Quebec government."

That's part of a statement sent out by email to local reporters from natural resources minister Siobhan Coady's office.  You can't find it on the government website or the party website.  Coady was responding to a release from provincial Conservative leader Paul Davis challenging Dwight Ball to state the administration's plans for the province's hydro resources in Labrador.

Words matter. No one has suggested that the two governments were talking about anything.  The talks would take place between Nalcor and Hydro-Quebec and, whether we take Nalcor boss Stan Marshall's own words or the local scuttlebutt,  the talks are going on between the two companies.

19 September 2016

Worst possible time for HQ deal #nlpoli

If the rumblings from Labrador are correct, an opinion column in lapresse - "Why Quebec should regain Labrador" - this weekend both fits right in and provides a cautionary tale for us all.

Pierre Gingras  - right - spent 31 years with Hydro-Quebec (1966 to 1997) building large hydro-electric projects like Manicouagan and James Bay.

Gingras thinks the time is right to rescue tiny Newfoundland from itself and a very old injustice done to Quebec.  After all,  Gingras notes, people in Quebec should recall that, owing to what Gingras calls the "shenanigans of certain [but unnamed] financiers"  the Privy Council  in London tore Labrador from Quebec in 1927 and gave it to the British colony of Newfoundland without any protest from Canada.

16 September 2016

Changes in the fishery #nlpoli

Your humble e-scribbler was on The Broadcast with Jane Adey, discussing the campaign to split the inshore fishermen from the FFAW.  Give it a listen if you missed it: CBC podcast.

Three points:

First, there are a couple of conflicts of interest inherent in the union.  One is the conflict between the interests of inshore fishermen on the one hand and the plant workers on the other.  The other is the conflict between the unions job of representing the workers' interests to the provincial and federal government versus the union's practice of taking cash from government to run projects and programs.

Both of these have been around for a while. They have been controversial.  But this is the first time anyone has raised it as a major political issue.

15 September 2016

Prov gov finances headed south #nlpoli

The Government of Newfoundland and Labrador is offering its bonds on the American market, according to Bloomberg News.  VOCM reported it locally on Wednesday.

The provincial government hopes that its high interest rates will attract investors.  "We are providing some of the highest yields in the country among provincial borrowers,"  deputy finance minister Donna Brewer told an investors conference in New York a couple of days ago.

Now you know what Anne Squires sounded like after someone gave her Ron Ellsworth's telephone number.

14 September 2016

The cost of silence #nlpoli

The St. John's Board of Trade and the provincial Employers' Council aren't happy that the government has shelved its plans for a mini-budget in the fall.

The appropriately-acronymed BOT even held an emergency meeting of some of its members, after which BOT president said his members were in a "sombre mood."  Employers' Council executive director Richard Alexander said the changes to the budget plan were "quite scary."

Now flip back a few weeks.  Word that bankruptcies in the province were up led a bunch of people to blame last spring's budget.  Richard Alexander is in that Telegram story telling folks the government should have slashed spending instead of hiking fees and taxes. There's another comment in there from a local bankruptcy trustee who essentially pulls an "I told ya so".  Back in the spring, the same guy warned that the budget would drive up the number of bankruptcies in the province.

That's all nonsense, of course.

13 September 2016

A no-holds-barred review #nlpoli


Bill Rowe started out with a bright future.

Rhodes scholar.

Youngest cabinet minister in the province's history.

Leader of the Liberal party.

And then he imploded in a fireball fuelled by unfettered ego and spectacularly bad judgement.  Knowing they were stolen, Rowe took police reports on a fire investigation involving a provincial cabinet minister and passed them around to every newsroom in town.  Correctly identified as the source of the leaked reports by a judicial enquiry,  Rowe's political career was over.

12 September 2016

Million dollar baby #nlpoli

The provincial government has paid more than $830,000 to Wade Locke and companies with which he is associated since 2003, according to information released under the provincial access to information law. The information covers 22 contracts and contract renewals for the natural resources and finance departments as well as the provincial energy corporation.

More than $75,000 of that total has come since the Liberals took office in December 2015. Nalcor hired Locke in mid-2015 to provide the company with an assessment of the economic impact in the province of the company's operations.  The initial contract, started in June 2015, was valued at $87, 891. Nalcor renewed the contract in August and December 2015 and again in July 2016.   The total value of the four contracts is $176, 791.

10 September 2016

Best Choice for Premier #nlpoli

Premier Dwight Ball has the lowest leader choice numbers of any Premier in Newfoundland and Labrador since November 2000.

The chart shows the Corporate Research Associates numbers in every quarter for every Premier in that period.

To help situate you in the long sequence,  there are a couple of points marked out.  That first peak is November 2003.  There was a big drop right after as Danny Williams and the Conservatives tried to trim spending.

Notice that next higher peak.  It was February 2005, right after Williams left Ottawa with a cheque for $2.0 billion.