23 January 2021

Find the new Bond Papers

 We've moved to edhollett.substack.com.

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Bond Papers by Ed Hollett.




03 January 2021

Time for a change #nlpoli

We’ve moved.

Starting Monday, you’ll find SRBP at edhollett.substack.com.

It’s January, the start of a new year.

And it’s also the 16th anniversary of The Sir Robert Bond Papers.

There’s a lot happening or about to happen in politics in Newfoundland and Labrador.

So there’s no better time to shake things up.

As in 2005, Bond Papers will still fill a niche on the local political scene, one that has grown to a chasm in some respects.

Someone said the other day that I was blogging before people knew what blogging was. A blog fit the need of the times. New demands or larger demands means finding a new way to fill the gaps in the political landscape.  And so the new approach will allow me to use new ways to deliver fresh information and fresh perspectives on local politics.

There’ll still be at least one new post a week, at 7:00 AM every Monday. Some Monday posts will be available to anyone each month. 

Through a subscription, you can support Bond Papers and see the new content you will help develop.  

There’ll be fresh analysis and commentary from me and from guest writers.

 There’ll be a podcast, periodic at first and then more regularly as things get rolling.

Substack makes it easy to offer live q and a sessions, so I’ll be adding that to the mix for subscribers. With an election looming and then a series of major announcements and a budget due over the next three months, there’ll be plenty of fuel for real-time discussions between a panel and the audience as we all try to figure out where things are going.   

I’ll be exploring ways to add video to the mix as well, whether via Substack or through another platform like Facebook.

As with the blog, I’ll try things to see what works best.

“In any thriving democracy,” the first SRBP post said 16 years ago, “sound public policy can only come through informed debate and discussion.”

That remains the philosophy around here even though we are far from a thriving democracy. By the way, Monday’s first Substack post - the working title is “Process” - will touch on the state of political affairs in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Whatever the format, Bond Papers will continue to be about stirring you up with information.  Challenging. Provocative. Saucy.   Put your own word on it.

That’s still what Bond Papers will be.

Just from a new location on the Internet, with your continued support.

28 December 2020

Mind the Gap #nlpoli


There is no shortage of gaps in politics in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Regular readers will be familiar with the Credibility Gap.  That’s the space between what a politician says and what the politician does.

Marketers forget that when it comes to reputation and hence lasting, reliable political support, actions speak far louder than words. They talk about brands and branding.  If you spend any time digging into brands and branding you will find really vague definitions that quickly lead you to the revelation that brands are for marketing what dependency theory and neo-liberalism are for left-wing academics.

True in civilian marketing. 

Doubly true in political marketing.

The gap between words and actions may not turn up right away but it does have an impact.

So take a look at the end of four months of Andrew Furey’s premiership at the number of times he has talked about “big, bold ideas”.

Now looked at his actions.

Nothing big or bold about them.

And the ideas are very familiar.  Pour government money into this hole or that.  Hold a government-issue dog and pony show to watch the politicians pouring public money into the hole.

Rinse.  Repeat.

21 December 2020

An evidence-based Alert system #nlpoli

 

Communication remains the single biggest chronic failure of the province’s COVID-19 response.

As regular readers of these e-scribbles know, that means it is really a management problem.

Government officials have a hard time explaining things clearly because they do not have a clear idea of what they are doing. 

You can see this problem most clearly in the “Alert” system announced last spring.  Many countries, states, and even cities use alert systems like this for emergencies.  They are easy to understand – when they are properly put together – and all the people who need to act can know what to do, when to do it, and why they are doing it.

In the case of a pandemic alert system, people reading it should be able to see what types of restrictions went with what level of risk. There’s an internal logic to the system:  a low risk goes with very low restrictions or rules.

 In Newfoundland and Labrador, the Alert system fails all the basics of a functional Alert system. That’s because it was never intended to be a proper staged system for easing or increasing restrictions in responses to changes in the risk of COVID.  The Chief Medical Officer cobbled it together in response to a political demand. 

18 December 2020

All around in circles 2 #nlpoli

December 17 is an auspicious day in Muskrat Falls history.

That was the date in 2012 when Kathy Dunderdale stood in front of a group of cheering supporters of the ludicrous megaproject and proclaimed that the government had formally approved its construction.

“It all begins here!” she shouted to the overjoyed throng. ““It all begins now!”

It didn’t start there of course.

Kathy had stood with Danny Williams two years earlier - 18 November to be precise - and announced a deal to build Muskrat Falls, the project the media hailed as the fulfillment of a dream to build the Lower Churchill and break the stranglehold Quebec had over our province.

That was a lie, to be sure. 

But still the reporters parroted Williams’ and Dunderdale’s lines just as they had 18 months before that - in April 2009 - when Williams said a deal to sell Churchill Falls electricity to Emera through Quebec had broken the stranglehold.

Arguably, though, Muskrat Falls started in May 2006 when Williams announced the province would go it alone to build the Lower Churchill.

The Clerk of the Executive Council at the time emailed the finance deputy minister and asked if anyone had checked with the deputy to see if the province could afford it.  He got no reply.

In April 2010, when a gaggle of politicians, bureaucrats, and Nalcor thugs decided to go ahead with Muskrat Falls first, they figured the local ratepayers and taxpayers would foot the entire bill out of their electricity rates.

By November 2010, when Williams announced the crowning achievement of his career, the cost of the project had grown to the point that the impact on electricity prices would make people unhappy.  SRBP pointed out at the time the price would double from what it then was. 

And so the Muskrateers started to figure ways to lower the sticker shock – mitigate the initial rates.

Every single Premier since Danny Williams has promised to mitigate the project’s impact on rates.

On December 17, 2020, eight years to the day after Dunderdale whooped it up, Premier Andrew Furey became the latest one to promise rate mitigation.

07 December 2020

The Good Old Days #nlpoli



Danny Williams made the news last week.

Williams was locked in a battle with St. John’s city hall over whether or not Williams could put a big Christmas tree in a round-about in his development at Galway.

No one in the local news media noticed, though, that Thursday was the 10th anniversary of Williams departure from the Premier’s Office.

Back then, they couldn’t say enough good about him. 

The Telegram praised Williams as “The Fighter” – the title of the paper’s editorial the day after he announced he’d be leaving office – “a man of the people” whose popularity rating “hovered around 80%.”

That was true. 

Williams *was* an incredibly popular politician.

No question.

30 November 2020

Worry, fear, and the Zero Risk Bias #nlpoli

 Accepting that life is all about risk is the first cognitive step.

Mark Kingwell, On Risk (2020)


The reporter just wanted to confirm how many active cases there were in the province. 

The question at last Monday’s news conference was simple enough.

 It’s a figure the Chief Medical Officer’s staff releases every day when they update the government’s COVID 19 page.

Dr. Janice Fitzgerald chuckled. 

She didn’t know.

And what’s more, it’s not a number people in public health pay attention to, according to Fitzgerald. 

People talk about it publicly, Fitzgerald said, but what public health is “worried about” are “the cases we don’t know about.”

She said the same thing a couple of days later at the next news conference that started with her rattling off the total number of cases since March, the number recovered, and the number of active cases.

So if Fitzgerald worries - her word - about unknown cases and things like active cases don’t bother her, then why does she talk about them?

24 November 2020

Did Breen bungle federal bus cash offer? #nlpoli

The federal government offered the provincial government its share of about $19 billion in COVID aid delivered to provinces in July.

There was another chunk earmarked for municipal transit systems.

Buses.

CBC reported  at the time that "Newfoundland and Labrador did not apply for that [transit] money".  Apparently, "... the City of St. John's said any transit losses it experienced were minimal compared with larger cities."

"We wouldn't have a significant enough loss to make value of that," said [Mayor Danny] Breen.

Fast forward to November.

The city slashed the Metrobus budget by $800,000. As a result, the bus service will run through the winter on a reduced schedule and cut shifts for drivers.  Some will get papers to allow them to file for unemployment insurance.

Neither Breen nor any other councilors would do media interviews about the cuts. The city spokesperson sent out to shoo the media away offered no explanation for the politicians' sudden silence.

Maybe it had to do with the cash they turned down last summer.

-srbp-

23 November 2020

A pandemic of fear #nlpoli

 In Newfoundland and Labrador, politicians and public health bureaucrats are dealing more with a pandemic of fear than of disease. It is one they helped create.  It is one they sustain in the way they talk and act.  Let us hope that Monday’s news conference is not another of their super-spreader events.


On Saturday, the Deer Lake town council held an emergency meeting and decided to close the town hall and a local recreation centre for two weeks.  They also decided – apparently without consulting public health officials - to encourage all businesses in the community to shut for two weeks for all but essential sales and services. They’ve told people to stay home.  The local seniors home has stopped allowing any visitors.

Former Premier Dwight Ball tweeted a message from the town council Saturday evening (right).

There have been five new cases of COVID-19 in western Newfoundland, presumably Deer Lake.  They are all in the same household as the initial case, who brought the illness back from outside the province where he works.

The people of Deer Lake are afraid.  In that fear, they are like so many people across Newfoundland and Labrador. Their fear is not, as one might expect, the healthy respect of people who know a deadly disease when they see it.  Rather, their fear – like all fear - is borne of ignorance and suckled by misinformation, the most pernicious form of which comes from the provincial government on a steady basis.

16 November 2020

Policy Pixelation #nlpoli

The members of the House of Assembly voted unanimously at the end of October to set up a committee to decide how to give everyone in the province a cheque each month from government.

The motion started out with a few reasons why the members thought it was a good idea:  people across Canada didn’t all have the same income, people were getting such a cheque already from the federal government to cope with COVID, some people – no one indicated who they were – thought this was a good idea, and when people had more money they were generally better off.

When it came time to explain those things in greater detail, Jordan Brown, the New Democrat member who led the debate didn’t give a single bit of extra detail that showed he and his staff had done any research on it at all.

He just made flat, generic statements, including:

“There are a lot of geographical differences in regions throughout this country, too.”

“we do have very unique geographical challenges, we have a unique population. We have a lot of unique needs that make this province what it is.”

“A lot of the research that we've come across was actually Canadian research, Canadian led. As Canadians, we should be proud that we are actually looking at these things within our own country. We have a lot of the research and legwork already done here.”

“Just my observation of this province, we're a very societal province. We're very adapt. We're very caring. We seem to be a province that cares so deeply about everybody in it.

He mentioned five groups that signed a letter in favour of what they called a “basic income.”  Brown also added that a “Tory senator wrote a book on why we should do this as a country.” 

No details.  No evidence.  No specific information.

And most tellingly of all, not a single description of just what this universal basic income might look like.

13 November 2020

Sod off, Norm Doyle #nlpoli

Ex-Harper fart catcher
Norm Doyle
Veteran Connie hack Norm Doyle has finally aged off the public tit, on which he spent too much of his adult life.

Attention spans are so short in local politics these days that most people don't remember his stint as a fart catcher for Stephen Harper let alone his long time in provincial politics.

So let's refresh memories with a couple of examples.

Anyone who wants to get a more fullsome account of Norm's shallow and self-serving political career can use the search function in the upper left corner of these e-scribbles and enter "Norm Doyle".  

Lazy readers can click that link on Norm's name.

In his memoir published a few years ago,  Doyle whined about that time in 1989 when he and his crowd were turfed by voters into a batch of shitty offices in the Confederation Building.  

Your humble e-scribbler told the story more honestly than Norm ever would:

Doyle and his mates wound up in the western wing of the fifth floor in a part of the building they had not renovated since it was built in the 1950s. Sometimes water poured in when it rained. That’s the spot the Conservatives gave the Liberal opposition when, in their arrogance, the Conservatives figured that these offices were only ever going to occupied the Liberals or the New Democrats.  Doyle had never worked in the Opposition office  - despite the implication of one sentence in his book - and most of his colleagues couldn’t remember the time before 1972 when the Tories had won power from Smallwood and the Liberals.

By contrast, Doyle and his colleagues made sure their offices were well-appointed. They spared no public expense to fit themselves out in fine style.  Bear in mind that Doyle was part of a provincial government that was in very tough financial shape.  Among the Tories, only the Speaker worked in a place decorated in a style best described as a cross between a Turkish whorehouse and a set from Good Fells or Married to the Mob. The rest were lavish as lavish could be in a 1980s way.  Doyle doesn’t get into any of that but clearly, from the way Doyle describes the election episode, he still finds the whole thing painful a quarter of a century later.

10 November 2020

Bank of Canada ends provincial short-term debt backstop #nlpoli

The Bank of Canada will stop picking up provincial government debt effective 16 November, 2020, the Bank announced Monday.

The move reflects "the continued improvement in the functioning of short-term funding markets and financial markets more generally,” according to the announcement.

The last operation for the Provincial Money Market Purchase program will be 13 November 2020.

Under the PMMP, the Bank of Canada would purchase up to a set percentage of short-term debt (maturity less than 12 months) offered by any Canadian province.  The program began in March 2020 with a maximum purchase of 40%.  The Bank of Canada revised the limit to 20% in July and 10% in September.

The Bank introduced a similar program to purchase provincial bonds in May.  Under the Provincial Bond Purchase Program, the Bank of Canada will purchase  up to 20% of an issuing province’s “eligible assets outstanding” on the secondary bond market.

“The Bank’s purchases will aim to reflect a reference portfolio based in equal weight on each province or territory’s share of eligible bonds outstanding and their share of Canadian GDP.”

“Each issuer’s eligible share will be recalculated on a monthly basis. Actual purchases will depend on what is offered through the tender offer process and may differ from the reference portfolio.”

“The program will hold up to a total of $50 billion par value of eligible assets.”

The PBPP will end on May 6, 2021.

-srbp-


09 November 2020

Paging Dr. Freud #nlpoli

Moya Greene, head of the Premier’s Economic Recovery Team, told municipal leaders last week that the provincial government spends almost $2.0 billion less on health care than it actually does.

Weird.

She said the government spent 25% of its budget on health care.  VOCM reported it: “Greene says healthcare is about 25 per cent of the province’s total expenditures, and that it is a conversation we have to have.”

The actual share in 2019 was 42% and the forecast share in 2020 in 37%. You can find the figures in the budget tabled in the House of Assembly at the end of September.

This is a really bizarro comment since Greene is already well into her job of sorting out both government overspending and re-organizing the economy.  She should have a handle on all numbers. 

After all, Greene and her provincial recovery team will deliver a preliminary report by the end of February. Sure she’s not due to have the whole thing finished until April, but the first deadline of February is really only about three months away, if you allow an interruption for Christmas.

But that’s not the only weirdness.