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.

-srbp-

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".

09 December 2019

Political Foote Ball #nlpoli

Since 2003, the legislature has become more about political theatre than the public interest.  This past sitting of the House proves how much that is so.
Public discussion of policy issues in Newfoundland and Labrador takes place inside an echo chamber. It tends to stay inside arbitrary, artificial boundaries.  Participants  ride their hobby horses and ignore or try to shout down anything that contradicts their assumptions. often comments are not about what is actually going on.  They emphasise the trivial and superficial – the spats with Gerry Byrne and Tom Osborne – and ignore the  far more serious. Much of what they do is absurd:  they chase Chris Mitchelmore, knowing that Dwight Ball actually made the decision. 


Only the Premier can approve appointments
to the senior public service. 
You see them a lot.

New releases from the provincial government announcing changes to the senior public service in the province.  New people taking jobs.  People being moved from one job to another. A handful of retirements or people who left, implicitly to take up another job.

In October 2018, for example,  there was an announcement of a new appointment as associate secretary to cabinet for communications. There’s no mention of what happened to the person who used to have that job,  although the release for that earlier appointment came in January 2016.

The senior public service includes deputy ministers, associate and assistant deputy ministers, and executive directors.

There were 56 changes at that level in 2016, 60 in 2017, and only 16 in 2018. 

They don’t issue news releases for every one, any more.  Dwight Ball stopped announcing any appointments below the rank of deputy minister.  The high number of changes in the senior public service under Kathy Dunderdale became a major issue and an easy way to stop people finding out about the changes was to simply stop announcing some of them.

Fortunately for openness, transparency, and accountability, there’s a database online of orders-in-council that anyone can search.  Those are the legal documents that make each senior executive appointments official. 

03 December 2019

Chaulk and Cheese #nlpoli


If the members of the House of Assembly vote to accept the reports from two statutory officers as presented they will have to accept that Chris Mitchelmore committed an act that does not rise to any reasonable definition of gross mismanagement.   
If they accept that he has committed such an act, then they must accept he did it alone despite evidence that others are at the very least equally culpable. 
Then they must also accept that the punishment for such an offence is far below the standard one ought to expect. 
And in the process, they will endorse reports that are, by any reasonable measure, far below the standards that should come from an office as important as that of the Citizen’s Representative and that of the Commissioner of Legislative Standards.

The conventionally wise were conventionally outraged by two reports released on Monday about how Carla Foote got her job at The Rooms.

None of the reports told us anything of substance about the whole business that we didn’t know before.  Dwight Ball wanted Carla Foote in a new job and Chris Mitchelmore obliged by fixing up a spot at The Rooms.  That did not stop the Chorus from moaning, wailing, and bunching up their tighty whities at this unprecedently extreme, unusual, and hitherto unknown display of corruption unseen in this place before now.

Unknown, that is since the last crowd got punted from office in 2015.  Truth is, by example of politics in Newfoundland and Labrador between 2003 and 2015,  Mitchelmore ought to be ashamed at himself for falling so far short of the standard of corruption represented  by the appointments of cabinet ministers’ bedmates, hacks, and failed candidates to all manner of jobs far more influential than directing advertising for the provincial museum and art gallery.  In those heady days,  the legendary A.B. Morine, looking up from the warmer climes in which he is spending Eternity, could be heard on especially still nights slow-clapping his approval from the old House of Assembly as his heirs on The Hill bested his century-old record time and again.

Yes, Dwight Ball promised to stop this sort of thing, but so too did Danny Williams, gone from office now these nine years this week.  Williams’ parting act was to try and put his future wife onto the offshore board. He failed but not before a few people  - in and out of government - embarrassed themselves in some pretty spectacular ways.  Even Williams’ shag-ups are legendary.

And yes, they both deserved to be pummeled for making promises they knew or ought to have known they would not keep.

But the thing that people should be concerned about in this is more than hypocrisy.  They should read the two reports released on Monday and ask many more questions that are every bit as troubling as the way the Premier and his administration moved the Assistant Secretary to Cabinet to from one part of the public service to a Crown corporation.

02 December 2019

Setting minimum wage #nlpoli


The minimum wage should be tied to the economy, predictable, transparent, and removed from political interference.
One way of setting minimum wage that meets those criteria would be to take half the average hourly rate for non-unionised employees for the previous fiscal year and increase it by the annual provincial rate of inflation for that year.
Using that method, the 2019 minimum wage would have been $11.58 on April 1, 2019 instead of $11.40.

The current discussion about minimum wage in Newfoundland and Labrador is entirely a political debate between two groups overt the arbitrary number to be assigned as the minimum value for the labour of about 13,000 workers in the province.

That’s about five percent of the labour force in Newfoundland and Labrador but the amount could have a larger impact on the economy.  That’s not because, as proponents of a higher arbitrary number assert, more money in the pockets of workers boosts the economy, but because about 40% of the labour force makes less than the arbitrary number proposed by unions in the province.  Raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour gives them a powerful argument for hourly wage increases for *their* members who would magically become minimum wage workers. This would create pressure to raise those wages back to their former position above the minimum wage.

This is why the unions are concerned about the floor price for labour in the province at all.  They look after the interests of their members. They want to use the minimum valuation of labour as a means of achieving what they cannot through collective bargaining.

On the other side of the argument, groups representing employers oppose any increase in labour costs, understanding that the argument is not really about minimum wage employees but about the rest of the labour force.

Both sides employ evidence selected to support their pre-determined conclusion. Much of this “evidence” is produced by organizations tied financially and otherwise to one side or other of the debate over an arbitrary number. 

27 November 2019

A mouthful of burp #nlpoli


Not one mitigation scheme.

Not two mitigation schemes.

Three mitigation schemes.

Delivered by the end of January.

All wonderful grand and all believable if you have had the sense knocked out of you by the endless string of promises Dwight Ball has made about mitigating the impact of Muskrat Falls on electricity rates.

Promises made but not kept.

25 November 2019

The Rookies, the House, and the Orchestra Pit #nlpoli

What is reported is seldom what happened even though what happened is far more interesting than the stuff that falls into the orchestra pit.
Events in the House of Assembly are the result of decisions by members of all three parties.  Any analysis that ignores the simple realities of the House or robs the individual members and their parties of their agency is misleading.
_____________________ 

The biggest story from the House of Assembly’s latest session was Ches Crosbie’s call last Thursday for his party to hold a vote on his leadership next spring.

There’s no surprise in this.  Political parties usually dump leaders after a failed election and this time will be no exception for both the federal and provincial Conservatives.

The immediate impact of this, aside from what it means for the Conservatives, is that the Liberals will now have an easy ride getting their budget through the House no matter how bad it is.  The Conservatives won’t want to trigger an election in the midst of a leadership change.

And there *will* be a change.  The Ball-led Liberals are weak, and the polling numbers reflect that. Any reasonably competent opposition could unseat them in a general election.  After all, Crosbie’s incompetent crowd came within a hair’s breadth of unseating the Liberals and the Liberals have not gotten better six months later.  So, expect a new Conservative leadership hopeful to emerge after Christmas to lead a reinvigorated blue bunch.

Meanwhile on the Liberal side, Dwight Ball will also face a leadership review vote in the middle of 2020 at the party’s postponed annual conference.  The party executive skipped out the one for 2019 because it was an election year, but it must have a convention in June 2020 according to the party constitution. That’s not to say that party president and Dwight Ball loyalist John Allen isn’t trying to find some way to push the convention off to 2021.  Apparently, there is anxiety over the prospect that Ball wouldn’t survive the mandatory leadership review vote that comes with the next party convention.

But as big as Crosbie’s Thursday announcement and Ball’s situation are for the future of the province – there is that little provincial government financial mess sitting out there unaddressed – that wasn’t what the news media and the local political commentariat were yammering about last week.

No.

12 November 2019

The importance of what we care about #nlpoli


When we do not talk about the most vulnerable people in our society – sex workers and people in homeless shelters to name just two groups – we tell the world that our community does not care about them.  Last week’s spectacle in the House of Assembly showed the world that the 40 people who Newfoundlanders and Labradorians elected to represent them and run the province do not care about very much at all.

Alison Coffin and Ches Crosbie
talk to reporters on Friday about Gerry Byrne.
(Not exactly as illustrated)
A 23-year-old man lay on the pavement in downtown St. John’s last Tuesday night, the blood running out of him and mingling with the rain on the cold pavement.

He died outside a shelter for homeless people. The community learned very quickly that it was a shelter, that it was a rental property, and that police frequently visited the place to deal with disturbances among the people who came and went from the place with great frequency.

We learned that information because neighbours put it on social media, where the local conventional media – newspaper, television, and radio - picked it up and repeated it.  Before anyone knew who the young man was, or what had gone on, they had decided what the issues were in the story.

That morning, in the House of Assembly,  the opposition parties asked for the Premier’s opinion on the fact that provinces in Canada received transfer payments from the federal government because they  - unlike Newfoundland and Labrador – didn’t make enough money on their own to meet the national minimum government income standard.  There were questions about flooding in a district on the west coast, a couple of questions about specific constituents who needed government money, and about the deaths of a couple of million salmon in a fish farm a couple of months before.

There was only one question thread - about ferry service to northern Labrador - that stood out for its consistency and seriousness - and the only question about homelessness was about people with high paying jobs in western Labrador who had to couch surf.

The morning after the death,  the few questions related to the murder were generic:  “’What plan does the government have’  to deal with crime and homeless in St. John’s?” opposition leader Ches Crosbie led with.  His second question was about a growth in payments to temporary shelters run by landlords, not not-for-profits.  That story had been in the local media before and brought back because of the assumed connection in media reports between the for-profit shelters and the murder.

Attention then turned to a general discussion of health care.  By the time the official opposition was done, the New Democrat leader Alison Coffin’s question about homelessness was also generic: 
“APEC reports that despite growth in the oil industry, our province is struggling. Homelessness, addictions, cost of living, bankruptcies, gangs, unemployment, electricity rates, out-migration are all on the rise.

“I ask the Premier: Will Advance 2030 address these pressing issues, or will we continue to stumble forward?”

That was the lone NDP question before her colleague got back to the dead salmon.

04 November 2019

The New Welfare Bums #nlpoli #cdnpoli #ableg

Lunacy is always easier to spot in other people.

There is a Liberal conspiracy to rob Alberta of its precious fluids.
People in Newfoundland and Labrador got a taste of lunacy a few weeks ago when Albertans – including people originally from Newfoundland and Labrador – blasted them for returning six Liberal members of parliament in the general election.  Albertans took it personally since they believe there is a plot by the Liberals to rob the province of its precious fluids.

Albertans believe lots of crazy things.  Premier Jason Kenney shares the view of a raft of people in Alberta and other parts of Canada.  They think the rest of us across Canada are welfare bums. They claim that provinces that collect Equalization and other transfers from the federal government deliberately don’t develop their resources so they can sponge off Alberta and Ontario.  The money for Equalization, so this argument goes, comes from Alberta and Ontario.

Jason Kenney said it in a speech recently.  You can find examples of the same view from the Fraser Institute and the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies. They use other words for it – perverse incentives, Equalization discourages development  - but basically the message is the same.  Slash the federal handouts and the welfare bums will be forced to develop resources like Alberta did.

28 October 2019

Roger Grimes: the unlikely reactionary #nlpoli

What is happening in Newfoundland and Labrador is not merely polarization in public opinion.  Polarization implies that people are within the same community or see themselves as being within the same community.   
What we are seeing increasingly is the tendency to fragmentation. People do not listen to differing opinions.  They do not see or understand what is happening in their own province but identify with and frame their world in the context of what is going on elsewhere. 
If you think Roger Grimes is a reactionary, then we are in a far darker place as a society than anyone currently realises.
 Roger Grimes used to be head of the provincial teachers’ union. He got into politics after that, served in several cabinet posts, including natural resources and then wound up as Premier for three years.  This past summer, the provincial and federal governments appointed him as chair of the organization that regulates the offshore oil and gas industry.

Given his experience, Grimes is a logical choice.  In the new role, he chairs the board and that’s all.  The job used to be combined with the administrative head of the organization but the two governments who share management of the offshore through it decided it was a good idea to split the two jobs. That gives him a bit more latitude to speak his mind on subjects, something Grimes has never been afraid to do.

He spoke to an oil industry meeting on Thursday.  His message was simple:
“Don't ignore them [climate change activists].  Engage with them. Educate. Make sure that everybody understands — and I'll say it one more time — everybody needs to understand that it's not an either-or proposition.” 
“You can [develop oil and gas resources] and save the planet at the same time.”

23 October 2019

Politicians shirk their duty... again #nlpoli


If the Auditor General starts the investigation of wetlands capping as requested by the Public Accounts Committee, then she will be acting illegally.

The Auditor General has no authority to conduct a review requested by the Public Accounts Committee of the House of Assembly under any provincial statute,  regulation, or constitutional practise.

Section 16 of the Auditor General is explicit about the subjects that the Auditor General may review, if requested by either the Lieutenant Governor in Council,  the House of Assembly,  or the Public Accounts Committee.  They are:

  •         [matters] relating to the financial affairs of the province or to public property, or
  •      inquire into and report on a person or organisation  that has received financial aid from the government of the province, or   in respect of which financial aid from the government of the province is sought.

In August 2019, Crosbie asked the Public Accounts Committee of the legislature to look into why the environment department had not issued a permit for wetland capping.  Specifically, Crosbie asked for an investigation of a “breakdown in communication that resulted in the flooding of the Muskrat Falls reservoir in violation of an agreement between the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador and the Innu Nation, the Nunatsiavut Government, and the NunatuKavut Community Council to abide by the recommendations of the Independent Expert Advisory Committee, which directed that wetland capping must precede any such flooding. ”

There is no way that the plain English meaning of section 16 can be stretched to cover a “breakdown in communication” of any kind. Crosbie tried to make the issue a financial one by noting in his letter to the Public Accounts Committee that the government allocated $30 million for wetland capping and some it had been spent.

22 October 2019

The Difference between Then and Now #nlpoli


A few months ago, SRBP wrote a two-part piece that described the change in the way politicians, bureaucrats, and the public looked at management and control of offshore oil and gas resources.
It’s worth looking at this again in light of a couple of recent developments.

In broadest terms,  the provincial government’s original objectives in the negotiations that led to the Atlantic Accord – the one signed in 1985 – were: 
  • Provincial control and administration, 
  • Revenue that would end dependence on federal hand-outs, and
  • Local benefits.

Since 2003,  the provincial government has dropped provincial administration and control and local benefits from its list of expectations.  Revenue is the only concern left of the original ones and even that one has become simply money.  The notion that the revenue would disconnect the province from federal hand-outs has also gone by the boards.

The 2005 revenue transfer agreement between Ottawa and St. John’s – deliberately misnamed by the provincial government as the Atlantic Accord – was initially about a transfer similar to Equalization and equal to the amount of revenue the provincial government collected each year from the oil companies as royalties under the 1985 agreement.

The argument for the 2005 transfer was based on lies and misrepresentations.  For example, the provincial government sets the amount of revenue it collects from the offshore as if the resource was on land and within provincial jurisdiction. It gets all the money. Politicians and other people claimed that the provincial government only received as little as 15% of what it should get. 

That wasn’t true and, in the end, the 2005 arrangement did not change the Atlantic Accord at all.  Nor did it change the operations of the Equalization program.  The 2005 agreement simply transferred $2.6 billion to the provincial government from Ottawa.  The only connection to the 1985 agreement was that the federal and provincial government used oil royalties and Equalization as the means to calculate the amount.  

21 October 2019

Regional Parties from another Region #nlpoli


The 2019 federal election in Newfoundland and Labrador is the tale of one of the most uncompetitive elections in recent memory.

The advance poll numbers make the point.

Newfoundland and Labrador
Number of Electors
Electors
Percent
Avalon
7,024
86494
08
Bonavista–Burin–Trinity
3,185
74116
04
Coast of Bays–Central–Notre Dame
4,317
77680
5.5
Labrador
1,348
27197
05
Long Range Mountains
4,473
86553
05
St. John's East
9,187
85697
11
St. John's South–Mount Pearl
6,700
81979
08














Nationally, turn-out in the advance polls set a record.  That continued a trend over the past two elections that saw an increase in the number voters casting ballots earlier than the official polling day.   Not so in Newfoundland and Labrador. Elections Canada provided more opportunities to vote in advance so that could have produced higher turn-out across the province. But it didn’t.

All but one of the races in Newfoundland and Labrador saw fewer than 10% of eligible voters turn out in the advance polls.  The one race presumed to be highly competitive – St. John’s East – saw a turn-out of 11%, which is the same advance poll turn-out  in that same riding in 2015. In other ridings in the province, the turn-out was the same or lower than 2015.

St. John’s East may return Jack Harris as the member of parliament after rejecting him in 2015.  They may not.  The race is close but whether or not they return Harris to Ottawa, the real story in that riding is that the provincial New Democrats could not find another candidate except this 32-year veteran of provincial and federal politics.  There was no competition for the nomination. 

15 October 2019

No change in the weather? No change in we. #nlpoli

The problem we have is not a lack of options and opportunities to sort out the government finances ourselves.  The problem facing Newfoundland and Labrador is that the leading people of the province, not just the politicians but all the leading people,  don't have the stomach for making the kinds of decisions needed. They don't even want to talk about sensible things. They talk about foolishness like Equalization or fight against imaginary "austerity" instead.
SRBP, "Sovereignty",  January 2017

Lately, Alberta economist Jack Mintz likes to remind Canadians that Alberta is pissed off with the federal government.  The Alberta government is running massive deficits but Mintz thinks Ottawa is to blame, not, you know, the provincial politicians who actually made the decision to spend more provincial tax money than the provincial government takes in.

Mintz turned up in the Toronto Star and CBC Radio last week pushing Ottawa to bail out  Newfoundland and Labrador.  He’s hooked up with a shadowy new outfit calling itself the Schroeder Institute that also launched itself last week with a campaign to get Ottawa to funnel money to Newfoundland - as Schroeder’s Twitter feed keeps calling it – to stave off financial catastrophe in the province.

Then local musician and business owner Bob Hallett took 2,000 words on CBC’s local website to deliver the same message:  Newfoundland’s financial mess is Ottawa’s responsibility to clean up.

That’s a wonderful sentiment sure to get lots of support from people in Newfoundland and Labrador who are worried about their future.  Sadly for those people, Schroeder, Mintz, and Hallett rely on a string of old fairy tales that have been long debunked – not to mention stuff that is just wrong – to make their case. They also are a reminder that wisps of air and pixie dust are a piss-poor foundation for successful policy against very real problems.   That is, after all, how Newfoundland *and* Labrador got into its current mess in the first place.