19 October 2020

Come by Chance and the Politics of Inertia #nlpoli

Is *this* the real El Dorado?

More than six months after they shut it down, the company that owns the Come by Chance oil refinery wants to sell it.

 And they want provincial taxpayers to pay.

According to Saltwire, “Glen Nolan, president of the United Steel Workers Local 9316 union, said that in recent conference calls officials of the province’s energy department indicated Silverpeak had floated” the idea that the provincial government would pay to keep the plant in hot idle mode.  

Between 150 and 175 workers have been laid off from the facility since February.  Another 60 or so are working to keep the plant ready to run.   

A deal with Irving – reported by Canadian Press and others as a done deal in late May – came apart for reasons that aren’t clear.

So while they are trying to sell the refinery Silverpeak wants the provincial government to pay to keep the refinery idled in a state where it could get back into production very quickly.  The alternative will be to mothball the refinery and lay off the remaining workers at the refinery.

The only company interested in buying the refinery – Origin International – doesn’t want to run it as a refinery.  But that hasn’t stopped the provincial government from talking it up and for representatives of the union at Come by Chance from being excited at the prospect.

It’s hard to imagine the provincial government won’t put up the cash.

13 October 2020

The state of news media in Newfoundland and Labrador - 1988 #nlpoli

Some observations on the state of the news media in Newfoundland and Labrador, circa 1988, from Dr. Susan McCorquodale,  "Newfoundland:  personality, party, and politics" in Gary Levy and Graham White, editors, Provincial and territorial legislatures in Canada, Toronto, University of Toronto Press, 1989)

Those who write about the relationship between politics and the press worry about such things as ownership concentration, or about the tendency of reporters to end up in comfortable public relations jobs with government.  For many years St John's was one of the few cities of its size to have two daily newspapers, both largely locally owned and operated. Today there is one daily, and it has been owned by the Thomson chain since 1970. It has become a newspaper which has gradually lost its 'bustle, resources and guts.'  Ironically, the author of this judgment, Michael Harris, is today editor-in-chief of a new weekly newspaper, locally owned, which has become a thorn in the side of the Peckford  administration to such a degree that the government has withdrawn all public advertisements from the paper and generally attempts to deny access to its reporters. In recent years regional weeklies have appeared, generally printed by one firm with feeds from the Telegram. For most of the media, news originates with the press release, the press conference, or the daily sittings of the House of Assembly. Generally, owners have not made the resources available for any sort of investigative reporting, and most journalists lack training and experience.


 As we have already noted, some twelve or thirteen of the cabinet ministers are authorized to hire press secretaries. The pay range is good, between $30,000 and $40,000*. Many of them are just out of journalism schools, and a few have been attracted away from the local media. The fear is that if the links become too close, the independence of the reporters is compromised by the possibility of civil service jobs. Added to this is some concern about the balance between the skills and resources of government and those of the local media. The journalists would seem to be on the weaker side.


*Roughly equivalent to $52,000 to $74,000 in 2020.  In 2019,  departmental directors of communication (comparable to 1980s-era press secretaries) earned between $78,000 and $102,000 with the Premier's Director of Communications drawing a salary of $121,000.

08 October 2020

How much is Churchill Falls worth? #nlpoli

 The public policy advantage of quantifying or estimating what the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador might get in revenue from Churchill Falls 21 years from now is that it takes discussions today from the world of fantasy and make-believe to something closer to reality.

Churchill Falls Generating Station

People talk about Churchill Falls as if it had magical powers.

It doesn’t.

But what’s it worth?

Well, since the subject relates to the recent Innu Nation lawsuit, Muskrat Falls mitigation, and what could be bone-idle curiosity for some people, here’s an answer.

This won’t tell you precisely what Churchill Falls electricity will be worth in 2041 but it will give an idea of what sort of revenue you could get.  If you aren’t comfortable imagining this is 21 years in the future, then imagine it is the numbers today – because that’s what they are – and the 1969 contract did not get renewed automatically in 2016.

All the information used here comes from sources that are publicly available in Canada and the United States.

Here goes.

07 October 2020

Innu Nation suing provincial government not HQ over Churchill Falls #nlpoli


Laws suits get filed in court.

Political claims for cash launch with a news conference, a website, and a deceptive news release that misidentifies the target of the action.

The Innu Nation statement of claim  filed in Newfoundland and Labrador  Tuesday is against the Churchill Falls (Labrador) Corporation as the first defendant in its claim for $4 billion in damages.  The provincial government owns 65% of CF(L)Co and Hydro-Quebec owns a minority interest (35%).

There’s no reason to sue HQ since it is a minor partner in the company that runs Churchill Falls and manages the reservoir built in the 1960s on land claim by Innu in Quebec and Labrador.  Whatever liability HQ might have would be through CF(L)Co.

Otherwise, Hydro-Quebec is just a customer for the power.  And if Innu Nation wanted to include the customers of the power, then it would have sued every single customer of CF(L)Co since 1971, which would include companies and towns in Labrador, Ontario, and the United States. 

There are lots of little clues in the claim that this is a political move, not a legal one.

05 October 2020

The New Colonialists #nlpoli

The New Colonialists
don't look like the old ones
The last day of September is known as Orange Shirt Day.

It is a day to remember residential schools for Indigenous people, which, as the national Truth and Reconciliation Commission said in its final report, “were a systematic, government-sponsored attempt to destroy Aboriginal cultures and languages and to assimilate Aboriginal peoples so that they no longer existed as distinct peoples.”

Across Newfoundland and Labrador, schools featured special events to tell the story of residential schools in Canada. CBC Newfoundland and Labrador ran two stories, one of which was written by a young journalist from Labrador whose grandmothers attended a residential school. His first sentence is both evocative and typical of the emotion that accompanies stories of residential schools.

“For years, the Lockwood School in Cartwright housed Indigenous children taken from their homes all in the name of "killing the Indian within the child."

Another of these “localizer” pieces – ones that give a local angle to a national or international story – explained that “[r]residential schools were established by the Canadian government in the 1800s, with a guiding policy that has been called ‘aggressive assimilation.’ The federal government sought to teach Indigenous children English and have them adopt Christianity and Canadian customs, and pass that — rather than Indigenous culture — down to their children.”  That one was written by a journalist from northern Ontario now living in St. John’s.

In 2017,  CBC reported on Justin Trudeau’s apology to Indigenous people in Labrador for the treatment they received in residential schools.   The CBC story at the time explained that “[b]etween 1949 and 1979, thousands of Indigenous children were taken from their communities to attend five residential schools that were run by the International Grenfell Association or Moravians.”

There’s only one problem with these stories: they aren’t about residential schools in Newfoundland and Labrador.

These stories are about Canadian residential schools imposed on something different, namely the schools in Newfoundland and Labrador.

The two are distinctly different.

28 September 2020

Policy confusion does no one any good #nlpoli

Last week, the Liberal governments in Ottawa and St. John’s unleashed a bold new innovation in political announcements.

Fridays used to be the day when governments buried announcements, they didn’t want anyone to notice.  They’d take out the trash, as the day came to be known, by slipping out a news release without any fanfare.

Not anymore.

A gigantic news conference featuring both the Premier and the provincial representative in the federal cabinet unleashed a pair of significant announcements.

Problem was there wasn’t enough detail for many people to make sense of it all.

Hence, the new concept:

For-Fuck-Sake Friday.

Because it left observers shouting, “For Fuck Sake!” in either bewilderment or exasperation as they tried to figure out what was going on.

Well, fear not, faithful readers.

As we have done for the past decade and a half, SRBP will blow away all the clouds of confusion furrowing brows across Newfoundland and Labrador and tell you what it all means.

No duff.

No guff.

21 September 2020

Rumpole and The Old Bull #nlpoli

Mr. Justice Don Burridge
(Not exactly as illustrated)

Supporters of the travel ban won a victory last week as Supreme Court Justice Don Burridge said it was okay to ban travel into the province during an emergency even though it violates the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

They might want to hold off on their celebrations.

In his ruling, Burridge adopted the provincial government’s wording for the travel ban, which lumps it together with other restrictions on travel. 

[4]            On 29 April 2020 the CMOH issued Special Measures Order (Amendment No. 11), to take effect on 4 May 2020, limiting entry to residents of Newfoundland and Labrador, asymptomatic workers, and those in extenuating circumstances.  On 5 May 2020, the CMOH issued Special Measures Order (Travel Exemption Order), expanding those circumstances when entry into the province would be permitted.  As neither Order served as an outright ban on all travel, I will henceforth collectively refer to these two special measures as the “travel restriction”.

The result - and even though he refers to both things as being distinct at different parts of his ruling - Burridge ignores the very important distinction between travel restrictions and the order than bans mainlanders from coming to the province. 

And that makes all the difference.

14 September 2020

The Husky Boys' Challenge #nlpoli

The Husky gambit last week presents the province’s leaders with a fundamental challenge.  Do we continue on the current path or do we change?  This is not just a question of oil development versus some nebulous, pseudo-intellectual gibberish called “decarbonization”.

It is the question from 1984:  who will control the Newfoundland and Labrador offshore and with it the future of the province itself? 


Husky is in such serious financial trouble that the company is thinking about walking away from established, profitable fields offshore Newfoundland and a project to expand one of them that is already more than halfway to first oil.

That is precisely what the company announced last week.

In a statement, the company said that delays in the West White Rose project caused by COVID-19 and what the company described as “market uncertainty” left it “no choice but to undertake a full review of the project and, by extension, our future operations in Atlantic Canada.”

What is most striking about the statement is that Husky acknowledges all the reasons why White Rose and the extension project are attractive financially now and in the future:  the field produces “light crude oil at low incremental cost and with lower greenhouse gas emissions intensity than other North American crude oil projects.”

In comments to media,  Husky CEO Rob Peabody said that the project’s fundamentals remained attractive.“

The common local reaction to this news was, in every respect, predictable.  The local oil industry association, headed these days by former finance minister Charlene Johnson, wants the federal and provincial governments to spend unlimited billions in tax incentives and bailouts to prop up the industry at the levels before the market down-turn that started before COVID hit. 

31 August 2020

Warning: Elephant Crossing #nlpoli

Lots of people are very worried and some are quite upset about the government's plan to re-open schools next week.

There's more than enough controversy,  way too much noise, and very little useful information to get into here, but there is one aspect of the way people are talking about this that fits with a pattern your humble e-scribbler has noted before.

It's the tendency for local opinion leaders - local elites - to talk about doing things here based on what is happening somewhere else. Back in June, all the enthusiasm for tearing down statues prompt the post called "Mimicry and pantomime" that described several examples of this behaviour that didn't involve racism.  By the way, notice that it was a very popular topic then but has vanished just as surely as it disappeared from CNN.

Anyone on Twitter this weekend would have seen a raft of comments from teachers across the province holding out Ontario government policy as the plan we should follow in this province.  If we were the same as Ontario, doing that would make sense.  But we aren't Ontario and are not likely to become Ontario any time soon.  

10 August 2020

Illusions of knowledge #nlpoli

Last week, testimony in the travel ban case by the province’s chief medical officer Dr. Janice Fitzgerald and epidemiologist Dr. Proton Rahman confirmed the extent to which decisions taken by the provincial government in the first wave of COVID-19 were *not* based on evidence and analysis.

This is extremely important reasons.  First, it is emphatically not what the public was told all along.  To the contrary, government officials – politicians and bureaucrats alike - insisted that they were acting based on evidence and sound information.

Second, the testimony confirms the SRBP post in June that government officials ignored available evidence in managing COVID-19.

What really nails the point about decisions made by government officials without evidence is a series of presentations made by Rahman. Tom Baird obtained them through an access to information request in late June.  

03 August 2020

The Walking Dead Duck

This evening Liberals will elect a new leader.

And about two weeks from now – likely Friday, August 14 – the new leader will take the oath of office and become the 38th first minister of Newfoundland and Labrador since it became self-governing (May 5, 1855) and the 14th Premier since Confederation in 1949.

Dwight Ball survived 1704 days.

That’s four years, seven months and 30 days.

55 months, 30 days.

Or barely more than a single term.

It is hard to remember a day of that very short tenure that Dwight Ball was not embroiled in a controversy.  The ones he did not make, he bungled, which made them far worse than they were.  The provincial government’s financial state is no better now that Ball is leaving than when he took office.  Arguably, it is worse.  

The House of Assembly is diminished in every respect compared to even the low point it was at when he took office and Ball leaves the Office of Premier itself diminished.  His was a spectacularly dysfunctional office from the start and it never got better.  Even single-celled organisms can learn but the relentless repetition of the same blunders in everything from staffing to how Ball and his office responded to events are the hallmark of Dwight Ball’s political career. Ball has been a zombie Premier, of sorts, one of the political walking dead.

27 July 2020

Dwight and Tom's legacy: more of the same #nlpoli

Herb Kitchen died last week.

He was the minister of finance in the early 1990s who brought down the difficult budgets, starting in 1991 that were part of a plan that turned the provincial government around.

The deficit at the time was about $300 million and the total budget called for spending of around $3.2 billion. 

Finance minister Tom Osborne announced on Friday that he will need to borrow $3.2 billion to close the gap between what the government will spend (about $8.9 billion, plus more money for Muskrat Falls) and its income.

Officially, Tom Osborne’s deficit of $2.1 billion for 2020 will be 25% of spending compared to less than 10 percent back in Herb’s day.  But if you wanted to compare apples to apples, then we should use that $3.2 billion cash figure, which works out to a deficit three and a half times the size of the one Herb Kitchen brought to the House of Assembly 29 years ago.

Thank God Herb didn't live to see what a mess the provincial deficit will actually be.

20 July 2020

Change versus more of the same: Summer 2020 edition #nlpoli

Spring 1994.

At the point Clyde Wells spoke to the graduating class of Memorial University’s business school that year, the administration he led had already started getting government spending under control and transforming the economy.  Wells goes through all of that with the class, why government was undertaking the changes, and what he hoped would be the outcome. 

Give the speech a listen.  It’s only 38 minutes and it is striking on a few levels.  First of all, think of the last time you heard a Premier speak to an audience in Newfoundland and Labrador this calmly, rationally, and with as much detail.  This is not a speech of clever quips or turns of phrase.  This is basic information.