17 June 2019

Women in elected politics: is it a choice? #nlpoli

The number of women in elected office in Newfoundland and Labrador remains below the numbers one would expect based on changes in society over the past 40 years.  
Why is that? 
Maybe, it's a choice.
Luana Maroja is a biology professor at Williams College, a small liberal arts college in Massachusetts.

Maroja wrote recently in The Atlantic that for most of the decade that she’s taught evolutionary biology and genetics, “the only complaints I got from students were about grades. But that all changed after Donald Trump’s election as president. At that moment, political tensions were running high on our campus. And well-established scientific ideas that I’d been teaching for years suddenly met with stiff ideological resistance.”

The resistance she is getting is not from MAGA-hat wearing Trumpians. On the contrary, the criticism Maroja takes has come from those who would fancy themselves progressives. They reject evidence of the biological basis of some differences among humans based on ideological assumptions. 

When confronted with evidence that contradicts their assumptions, some “students push back against these phenomena not by using scientific arguments, but by employing an a priori moral commitment to equality, anti-racism, and anti-sexism. They resort to denialism to protect themselves from having to confront a worldview they reject—that certain differences between groups may be based partly on biology.” 

An example of the type of evidence to which Maroja pointed was a study published in Psychological Science.  It compared the percentage of women STEM graduates in a country with its Global Gender Gap Index.  Countries with the highest gender equality scores also had the lowest percentage of female graduates in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.

10 June 2019

The New SRBP

After a couple of years of irregular posting, SRBP has been back since the start of the year with at least one new post every Monday.

Some of you have likely noticed this already. 

What you may also have noticed is the appearance of  a longer form paper as well.  They are a return to the original idea for this space:  a series of detailed papers on major issues affecting the province.

From the production end of things, that's been the most significant development.  The longer papers allow for a bit more background and a bit more discussion of the conclusion.  That's important for people who want to better understand the issues involved and,  as in the paper on rate mitigation,  a better explanation of the proposed solution.

So far there has been one paper,  the one on rate mitigation.  There is another in the works on barriers to medical care, a subject the Atlantic region's governments have made a top priority.  This is one of those well-known problems that no one has come to grips with so far.  The SRBP paper will describe the scope of the problem and highlight some solutions to it.  The solutions are practical and workable.  They will only need a decision from those in authority since the problems - quite ridiculous once you see them laid out - are theirs to fix.

There's also one on reforming the provincial political system.  This is a bit different as the ways to achieve goals many people desire are not quite so easy to attain as some imagine.  All the same,  the paper should give anyone interested in the subject both a better understanding of how we got to the place we current find ourselves in and of the potential ways to get to the end goal.

There may be some other changes as the year progresses. 

Stay tuned to see what happens.

-srbp-

03 June 2019

Jack Harris: Good Bye and Good Night #nlpoli

From 2006 to early 2010,  Simon Lono wrote Offal News, a commentary on local politics, debating, and whatever caught Simon's eye.  
When Jack Harris quit as leader of the provincial New Democratic Party,  Simon turned his sharp eye to Harris' legacy. Simon respected differences of opinion but he had no time for anyone who fell below the high standards that Simon set for himself.  
Harris jumped to federal politics not long after and represented St. John's East until he was defeated by Nick Whelan in 2015.  Since Harris announced last week that he wanted to be the NDP candidate again, here's a second look at Simon's obituary for Harris' provincial political career.  

Jack Harris:  Good Bye and Good Night

by Simon Lono (April, 2006)

Like many of us of a certain age, I had the period in my life where the ideas of democratic socialism had a certain appeal. And why wouldn't they? They expressed some of the highest ideals of human generosity, belief of control over our destiny and the sense that all people deserve basic fairness. And further, it seemed that all those things were within the grasp of government to deliver.

But then as Aristide Briand said, "The man who is not a socialist at twenty has no heart, but if he is still a socialist at forty he has no head."

Jack Harris, I'm sorry to say, never found his head. Nor did he ever find his calling as the leader of a provincial political party. When you look as his record as a political leader and contributor to provincial public affairs, the best one can say is that he always demonstrated potential.

The problem was that he generally managed to perform way below his perceived potential. On occasion,  he surprised us all with occasional flashes of true political competence worthy of his inflated reputation. More often he just disappointed us all.

Let me give you just two examples:

31 May 2019

More beige than beige #nlpoli

The Premier had a carefully rehearsed message when reporters asked him on Thursday why he had appointed everyone in cabinet back to their old portfolios despite an election that had reduced his party to a minority government.

A cabinet of "experience, consistency, and stability,"  Dwight Ball called them.

He used the word "experienced" a couple of times and emphasised the word "stable" as he finished the answer to one question.  You can find a bit of Ball's scrum with reporters at about the 42 minute mark of CBC's Here and Now broadcast. NTV's story got the "stability" message loud and clear.

The election result was a shock to many people.  People can debate what it meant that voters didn't endorse any one party to have a majority in the legislature.

Ball has a political problem even if he is in heavy denial about it but all the talk about experience and stability wasn't about dealing with a political problem.  Voters aren't panicked by the minority government.

Ball was dealing with a financial problem.  His plans depend heavily on the ability to borrow a couple of billions dollars to make his budget work.  Ball will have a much harder time borrowing money if the bond-rating agencies take a dim view of his government's ability to manage public finances in the wake of the election.

29 May 2019

Deficit *is* higher than previously announced #nlpoli

The House of Assembly will have to deliver a budget that keeps access to new public debt for the foreseeable future. The politicians must satisfy the bond-rating agencies, not the voters. 
Parties don't matter.  Ideologies don't matter.  Voters don't matter.  
That is the essence of politics in Newfoundland and Labrador in the early 21st century.

Anyone who knows Dwight Ball knows that he does not make simple mistakes with numbers.

Yet, the official explanation is that he made a simple mistake with numbers on Sunday's Issues and Answers when he said the deficit for the current year is between $800 and $900 million dollars. SRBP pointed out his comments on Tuesday.

As NTV's Michael Connors reported first via Twitter and later on the NTV Evening News,  Premier's Office and finance department officials claim that the Premier's comments "were actually looking ahead to 2020-21, which has a projected deficit of $796 million."  The deficit projection for 2019 remains at $577 million, according to officials.

28 May 2019

Deficit $250 - $300 million higher than announced before election according to Premier #nlpoli

In the episode that aired on 26 May 2019, Premier Dwight Ball told NTV's Issues and Answers that the deficit for the current budget is between $800 - $900 million.

"Are you prepared to make any specific changes to the budget in order to get their support?" asked Mike Connors.

"I think this budget is the one we ran on... everyone understands this budget is between an 800 to 900 million dollar deficit..."

Minor problem.

When finance minister Tom Osborne delivered the budget on April 16,  he confirmed that the deficit in the budget the Liberals ran on was $575 million, once you took out the payments from the Hibernia Asset-Backed Dividend Agreement.  That's the figure finance officials gave during the budget lock-up to media and other groups.

27 May 2019

Simon Lono , 1963-2019

Simon Lono  - husband, father, grandfather, advocate, orator, writer, mentor, friend  - died Friday, May 24, 2019.  
He was 56.  
When our friends are alive, we do not spend time thinking about the past.  We do not think about how we met them, about all the things we did with them, or why it is that we like them.

When they are alive, we do not need to remember because they are there, every day.

We only feel a need to remember, once they are not there any more.

Simon Lono’s family and friends spent Saturday as they are likely to spend a lot of days from now on.  They thought about him, remembered when they first met him, all the things they had done together, why they loved him.

Simon is dead.

And so, we remember.

We recall.

Frantically.

As if the memories will make the hard truth go away.

As if the memories will replace all of the things that could have been or would have been.

But that will never be.

Because there is a hard truth.

Simon is dead.

Killed by a rare disease.

In itself, entirely fitting.

21 May 2019

The Lowest-Common Denominator Minority Legislature #nlpoli


An inherently unstable minority legislature where the parties have a history of finding political agreement through public spending is not exactly a recipe for tough decisions.
There is something seductively sweet about the idea that the minority government that resulted from last week’s general election has now solved all our problems Just get back to work, some people are saying.  And play nice, together.  No more of this bickering and name-calling.

Something seductively sweet but the sweetness reveals itself as bitter naïveté when one considers that we now have a fundamentally unstable legislature at the very time when both the government’s finances and the Muskrat Falls mess are coming together.

Make no mistake about it.  Minority legislatures are inherently unstable.  They tend not to last more than a couple of years. The one elected last week will get through six months or so without much chance of upheaval.  But once the opposition parties have sorted out their finances and, in all likelihood, the Tories have found a new leader, they will be ready to bring down the House.

Anyone who tells you that the public doesn’t want an election, either now or in the near future, simply has not been paying attention.  For the past three years, poll after poll gave the current administration very low marks.  Respondents consistently rated the Premier poorly.  The last poll before the lection and two during it all showed the same thing.

17 May 2019

The 1908 Election all over again #nlpoli

You will hear a lot of spin about Thursday’s election result.  

Doesn’t matter where it is coming from. 

 It is all spin and all spin is bullshit.

Thursday night’s election result has been coming for three years.  The polls have pointed to the public mood and their views of parties and leaders.  Only the blind ignored it.  Robocalls and dirty tricks did not produce the result.  No Blue Waves were involved.

The Forecast

On Thursday morning, SRBP posted a projection based on polling and information coming from all three parties directly and indirectly.

Here’s how it played out compared to the result at about 10:00 PM Thursday.


Lib
PC
NDP
Ind
Forecast
19
18
1
2
Range
+/- 2
+/- 3
+/- 1
- 1
Actual
20
15
3
2

The Liberal projection was almost bang on.  The Conservatives were within the range of the projection.  The Independent forecast was bang on.  Only the NDP exceeded expectations and that was by virtue of a good candidate who succeeded, in some respects, despite the deadweight of the Dipper crowd in town.

16 May 2019

Poor Ed's Almanac - a hot summer is coming #nlpoli

The prospect of a minority government coupled with the need to pass a budget in the legislature after the election could produce a long, hot summer of political manoeuvring.
Mainstreet Research released its poll on the Newfoundland and Labrador election.  It basically shows what Abacus and Forum showed, which is a slightly Conservative lead in overall vote intention.

With that and the election due tomorrow, here's a guess at a possible seat count. This is based on the polls, observation of the campaign, and a bit of guesswork. There is no right answer and this version could be off by a seat or two for the Liberals.  You might add an extra New Democrat to the mix but no more.  There might be one fewer Independent.

13 May 2019

Ego, Brain Farts, and Electoral Reform #nlpoli

Public ignorance of our political system is a scourge. Tackling that is the first step to meaningful electoral reform in Newfoundland and Labrador.  The second priority is to make sure the players do not set the rules for everyone, as they have done repeatedly, and disastrously, since 2003. Most of all, we need to get on with reform, as soon as possible.
While there are many good reasons for electoral reform in Newfoundland and Labrador, most of the recent talk of changes to how elections run in the province is from people who want to give an advantage to a party they like.

Take the decision in 2015 to slash public representation in the House.  The Conservatives who were behind the notion, figured it would be easier to win a majority of 20 seats instead of 48. They knew they couldn’t get 24 but hoped they could cling to power with 20 or 21.  Depending on how the count goes on Thursday, they might be right.

The Liberals who backed the cuts, like Dwight Ball, were concerned only that the idea appeared popular.  They thought that by siding with a popular initiative they would gain favour with voters. 

Lots of popular things don’t drive votes and this was one of them.  If they thought about the electoral math – and there’s no sign they did – then they likely hit on the same self-serving reason the Conservatives did.  Depending on how the count goes on Thursday, they might be as right or as wrong as the Conservatives when they last held power.

Then there’s the business of fixed election dates.

09 May 2019

The Abacus Poll for Election 2019 #nlpoli

The chart below looks like there has been a huge jump up and down in “no choice” and a corresponding big change in party choice but actually there is some consistency across the board.

Click to enlarge
As SRBP has been saying for a couple of months, the Conservatives and Liberals have basically been polling in the 20s for the past three years.  These results are within that 10-point spread, allowing with the odd leap above 30 or below 20.  The “no choice” option (green dotted line) has been consistently above 35 the whole time.  Abacus is an outlier in that sense but, there is an election campaign underway.

The Abacus poll – conducted between May 2 and May 5 – shows the Conservatives in the lead with the Liberals trailing.,  But here’s the thing,  the gap, even in the presentation of “decideds” or “committed” is really inside the bounds of possibilities covered by the margin of error.

Just to drive the point home.  Here is a sample of MQO and Abacus results over the past year or so.


Liberal
Conservative
New Democrat
No Choice
Abacus Feb-18
22
18
12
48
Abacus May-18
22
24
13
41
MQO Apr-19
25
20
06
47
Abacus May-19
29
33
12
21

08 May 2019

Election 2019 - First Poll #nlpoli

While the MQO poll shows the Liberals in the lead, a new poll from Abacus  - released with an hour of this appearing - will likely show that since the debate, the political landscape of the province has changed dramatically.
The latest poll from MQO showed that after a week and bit of campaigning, voters were almost precisely where they were at the end of March when MQO conducted a poll for NTV.

When asked which party they would vote for in an election, 47% made no choice compared to 56% in March.  More chose Liberals (25/21) than Conservatives (20/18) or New Democrats (6/4). One percent chose the NL Alliance and one percent chose the Green Party.  Neither registered support in March.

The gap between Liberals and Conservatives is within the margin of error.

Detailed poll data courtesy MQO Research
Click image to enlarge
The variation between March and April results is also within the margin of error for the poll (plus or minus four percentage points 19 times out of 20). The margin of error for the “decideds”-only sub-sample, widely reported by news media, would be higher since it based on only half the total sample.

NTV included a question in the MQO quarterly omnibus.  They asked which party people thought would win the election.  46% of respondents chose the Liberals, 21% the Conservatives and 30% made no choice. This is a useful question since research suggests the response to this question frequently closely matches the popular vote result in an election.

06 May 2019

The Financial Reality of Election 2019 #nlpoli

The financial reality confronting any administration after May 16 is the same regardless of which party wins the election. 
The government is unlikely to balance the budget in 2022, regardless of who wins the 2019 election. 

In 2019, as in 2015, the last government budget before the election did not accurately describe the government’s current or likely future financial position.  All three parties did not make this an election issue in 2015 and have ignored the government’s financial situation in 2019. 

The governing Liberals are running on their current budget, which is included in the campaign platform. They apparently have no new spending plans beyond the current budget. The Conservatives cost their plan at $254 million.  These promises must be assessed against the financial realities of the provincial government.

The Financial Situation

We can accept the government forecasts of revenue for what they are although there are some issues, as noted below.  We must add the following expenditures to the government's projected spending in 2020 and beyond.  These additional expenses are why it is highly unlikely the government will balance the books in 2022.