24 August 2016

Wanna talk loopholes? #nlpoli

Regular readers shouldn't be surprised to discover the Liberals put a giant loophole in their independent appointments commission law that said, in essence, that they didn't have to use the commission if they didn't want to do so.

Danny Williams did exactly the same thing in 2004.

In fact,  the very first words in the fixed-election section of the House of Assembly Act say that nothing prevents the Lieutenant Governor from calling an election or proroguing the House of Assembly whenever he or she wants.  So election dates are fixed except when they are not fixed, which is all the time.

23 August 2016

The Headpiece of the Staff of Ra-Ra #nlpoli

The provincial New Democrats claim the Liberals broke their own independent appointments commission law when they appointed a bunch of folks to senior executive positions in the provincial public service last week.

Right off the bat, let's be clear:  the appointments didn't break the new Liberal signature law.

That's because the law has a gigantic loophole built into it.

Section 4 of the Independent Appointments Commission Act says that the lieutenant governor-in- council or the minister making an appointment "shall consider the recommendations of the commission in making an appointment."  The definition of an appointment is one made under another Act or to a position listed in the schedule at the end of the IAC Act.

Pretty clear.  This is the purpose of the new Act, right there.  Appointments get made based on recommendations of the new commission.

And having read that, the Dipper geniuses wrote their news release.

But this is like the headpiece of the Staff of Ra and the Dippers only had one side of the headpiece.

The very next section of the IAC Act is the loophole.  It's the bit where they take back everything the law said they had to do.

22 August 2016

Message Control #nlpoli

Memorial University professor Alex Marland has a new book on the market.  Brand Command is about political communications.  Marland interviewed a lot of people and did a lot of research for this very big book that lots of people should read.

One of the big ideas in the book is that politicians these days are very keen on something called message control.  They have a fetish for consistency so that everyone is singing the same things from the same hymn book, as the metaphor goes. It's an old idea and there are many reasons why politicians like to be consistent.  For one thing,  repetition across many means of communication increases the likelihood the message gets through.e gets through.

On another level, though,  consistent messaging means ultimately that actions match words.  In that sense,  message consistency is about credibility and values and trust. Politicians like to tell people what they believe in and  how they will make decisions. Voters don't spend a lot of time thinking about government so they want someone they can trust to make decisions they agree with or can generally trust are the right ones.  When political analysts talk about "connecting with voters"  that's what they are getting at.

Anything that attacks a politician's credibility is bad and when - as in Ball's case - the wounds are all self-inflicted, then you know there is a huge problem.

So why did Dwight Ball fire John Ottenheimer?

19 August 2016

Being from there #nlpoli

Some people are very agitated at the prospect that the next justice of the Supreme Court of Canada might not "represent" Atlantic Canada like Justice Thomas Cromwell does.

How exactly does one represent a region on a court or anywhere else for that matter?  Do you have to come from there, for argument sake?  Born there?

Well, Justice Cromwell is from Ontario.

Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond is touted by some as a sure bet to get the appointment.  From Saskatchewan. Taught law at Dalhousie,  University of Toronto,  Notre Dame and a few other places her bio doesn't mention.  Does that sort of thing count in her favour, seeing as she has experience living and working across the country?

The next person appointed to the Supreme Court of Canada should get the job based on merit that is related to the law and justice.  Everything else - including facility with French - should be secondary.


18 August 2016

The word is "curious" #nlpoli

B'y, it is really hard to call the changes announced on Wednesday as a "shake-up" of the public service or any kind of major change to anything really.

Aside from chucking a very small number of people out the door,  this change to the structure of government didn't do much of anything but leave you wondering what the point was.

There have been rumblings of these changes going back months.  Folks looking for some sort of massive shake-up in the fall might be disappointed to discover this was it.  Most likely the next big news we will get is in the budget next spring.

But let's run through Wednesday's head-shaker-upper-whatever.

17 August 2016

Cenotaphs and Veterans #nlpoli

The Town of Placentia has a new cenotaph.

Here's how the Southern Gazette writer described the new monument:  "The Cenotaph is a tribute to those from all the current and former communities of Placentia Bay who served in the First World War, Second World War, Korean War and peacekeeping missions."

Tribute is nice.

And it is a tribute to all the people who served in war and in peacekeeping operations.


The Oxford English Dictionary defines a cenotaph as "a monument to someone buried elsewhere, especially one commemorating people who died in a war."

Not served.


A cenotaph cannot honour veterans. The word comes from the Latin and Greek words for empty tomb. They survived a war or peacekeeping mission, by definition. 

While it is a really lovely idea to gather together a list of all the people from Placentia Bay who served in the military at some point, maybe there is a better way to recognise their service - not their death - than erecting a big slab of rock and calling it a cenotaph.


16 August 2016

Updated NL Public Service Numbers, 2003-2016 #nlpoli

A couple of access to information requests  - pdf 1  and pdf 2 - gave the world some new numbers on the growth in the core provincial public service from 2003 onward.

Here are the grand totals in a nice chart.  Each year is the total as of 31 December for that year.  The 2016 number is the figure on July 4.  The figures give changes in each department, excluding health care employees, the school boards and Crown agencies, boards, and corporations.  We'll look at the departmental figures in another post.  The Telegram's James McLeod apparently made the request wrote about someone else's access to information request,  just as your humble e-scribbler is doing, but it looks like he drew some erroneous conclusions in tracking the growth of specific parts of the public service.

The Big Picture numbers are useful, though.
There were 6851 public servants at the end of 2003.  That dropped to 6715 the following year and in 2006, the Conservatives started to hire.

They peaked in 2011 with 8952 public servants.  That's 33% larger from seven years earlier, in 2004.

Since then the public service has declined by slightly less than 1,000 positions, which is about a 10% reduction.

Sharp-eyed readers will note the differences in the figures supplied in a different access to information request in June.

The differences are small but they illustrate the difficulties you can run into some times.


15 August 2016

Policy Stagnation #nlpoli

The provincial government has been on its current course since about 2007.  

There were three elements to the Conservatives agenda under Danny Williams.  They changed somewhat over time but these are the elements that dominated from 2003 to 2015.

Above all else, Williams’ goal was to build the Lower Churchill.  That was to be his one, lasting accomplishment.  Williams would build what no one else had been able to build.  While it was rationalised as a provincial project with lasting significance, the way it finally rolled out confirmed the extent to which the Lower Churchill was intensely personal.

To build the Lower Churchill, Williams would turn Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro into an energy corporation to rival Hydro-Quebec. And to help fund it, Williams would acquire so-called equity stakes in offshore projects.

12 August 2016

The Supreme Court of Canada #nlpoli

When the Church Lady shows up,  you know your comment on the Internet has hit the mark.

The term comes from the self-righteous character made famous by Dana Carvey on Saturday Night Live and if there was a male equivalent, your humble e-scribbler would happily use it.  Church Lady comments are the ones where the person avoids the sharply-pointed substance of what you said in favour of scolding you for the way you said it.

Your humble e-scribbler scored two Church Lady responses on Twitter this week from two different on two different topics.


The one to start this post was about an opinion column by CBC's Peter Cowan about the federal government's decision to change the way it will solicit nominees for a vacancy on the Supreme Court.  There are three things about Cowan's column worth noting.

11 August 2016

The Price of Revanchism #nlpoli

Churchill Falls occupies a unique place in Newfoundland and Labrador's political culture.

Most of what people believe about Churchill Falls is just sheer nonsense.  Made up.  Never true. Completely ludicrous.  But accepted as fact and unshakeable truth all the same.  And that's where things get weird. People use all that foolishness nonsense to make decisions in the real world.

One of the enduring legends is that Newfoundland wanted a corridor to wheel electricity through Quebec,  went to the federal government in the 1960s to look for one, couldn't get it, and thus wound up a slave to Hydro-Quebec in 1969.  It's been a popular story since the 1970s,  after the Newfoundland government nationalised BRINCO.

There's never been any evidence that Joe Smallwood ever put the question to Lester Pearson although lots of people will swear to it and swear by the story as evidence of how Newfoundland has been shagged by whatever version of the foreign boogey-man they favour.  Danny Williams trotted the story out, indirectly, in November 2010 when he announced he had committed the provincial government to build Muskrat Falls.  Our electricity would never be stranded again.  We would never again be held hostage by Quebec.  The new, magnificent power corridor through Nova Scotia was the way that we would break Quebec's stranglehold over our magnificent future.

Yay!  Hooray! people screamed, including more than a few editors and columnists.

The only thing was that what Williams said wasn't true.

And he knew it.

10 August 2016

The Quebec Superior Court Decision #nlpoli


Water Rights, Muskrat Falls, and the Muskrat Falls Disaster #nlpoli

Forget everything else that you know about Muskrat Falls.

The entire project hinged on Nalcor's ability to control water flows on the Churchill River.  Nalcor's internal assessments showed that without the ability to control water flows, Nalcor's Lower Churchill project would reliably produce only about 17% of its nameplate capacity.  That means that Muskrat Falls would have a firm generating capacity of about 140 megawatts,  which is less than the free block of power Nalcor guaranteed Emera and Nova Scotia.

Nalcor gambled on a dubious interpretation of the 1969 power contract and lost.

The impact on Muskrat Falls will be devastating.

Here's why.

09 August 2016

OCI dumps troubled shrimp plant on taxpayers #nlpoli

Ocean Choice International is in better financial shape today, having successfully dumped a surplus shrimp processing facility on the people of Port Union.  The plant - seriously damaged in 2010 during Hurricane Igor still needs major renovations.

OCI put the plant on the market in 2012 but couldn't find buyers.  In 2012,  company president Blaine Sullivan said that even if the hurricane hadn't damaged the plant, OCI would have closed either Port Union or the company's other shrimp plant in Port aux Choix.  The company couldn't supply both profitably with declines in the shrimp quota.

A company with strong ties to the provincial and federal Conservatives, OCI picked up the Port Union plant and other assets after the former provincial Conservative administration hounded Fishery Products International into self-destruction.

Then-fisheries minister Tom Rideout  - right, precisely as illustrated,  - played a key role in the campaign to destroy FPI.

Neil King, the Liberal MHA for the district, posted on Facebook that he would "be working with the town to secure funding for renovations which will create jobs in the short term."  That money would come from taxpayers, of course, although King did say if he'd be looking to St. John's or Ottawa to help out.


Related:  The Walking Dead

08 August 2016

Afraid of a second moratorium #nlpoli

During the filibuster in the last session of the House of Assembly, education minister Dale Kirby reminded everyone of why the current administration is following its financial policy.

Didn't want to create a second moratorium,  Kirby said.  or words to that effect.

Significant cuts to government spending of the kind needed to cope with the government's financial problem would cause a second moratorium.  Kirby's point was that the current crowd were not gonna do that.

No way.

05 August 2016

Fernando 2: Liberals start Tory-style poll goosing #nlpoli

It's August and Corporate Research Associates is in the field.

On Tuesday, Ed Joyce told the people of Holyrood, Isles aux Morts, and Jackson's Arm that they would each be getting new fire trucks.

No, Ed didn't deliver a new fire truck to each community.  He held a news conference to announce that the three communities fire trucks were on order.


Why would anyone hold a big announcement to say that government had put money aside for a new fire truck for three towns?

Go back and read that first sentence again.

Yes folks.  The Liberals - tanking in the polls - are going to try and goose that CRA poll with some happy news.