24 November 2020

Did Breen bungle federal bus cash offer? #nlpoli

The federal government offered the provincial governments 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.

03 November 2020

Reality Control #nlpoli

The Memory Hole
Nineteen eighty-four is popular these days.

People think that the ideas in the book like the memory hole are modeled on communist or fascist dictatorships from the early part of the last century.

What those people forget is that George Orwell worked at the BBC during the Second World War.  As Dorian Lynskey noted in his recent history of the novel, Orwell thought that “radio, as it existed in the 1940s, [was] ‘inherently totalitarian.’”  

In Spain during the Civil War, he saw his first newspapers that “did not bear any relation to the facts, not even the relationship which is implied by an ordinary lie.” But it was in his exposure to radio during the Second World War that Orwell heard in all the propaganda on all sides very similar distortions of reality.

“This kind of thing is frightening to me," Orwell wrote in his 1943 essay Looking back on the Spanish war, “because it often gives me the feeling that the very concept of objective truth is fading out of the world.”

“After all, the chances are that those lies, or at any rate similar lies, will pass into history… Yet, after all, some kind of history will be written, and after those who actually remember the war are dead, it will be universally accepted. So, for all practical purposes the lie will have become the truth”.

This is only a small step to the slogan of the Party in Nineteen eighty-four:Who controls the past, controls the future: who controls the present controls the past.”

02 November 2020

The hard truth of reconciliation #nlpoli

Nick Youngson CC BY-SA 3.0 Alpha Stock Images
Reconciliation is a very popular word these days.

It comes out of the  commission appointed to investigate what happened to Indigenous people in Canada in residential schools run by the federal government.  The commission produced a lengthy list of actions needed to “advance the process of Canadian reconciliation.”

Leave aside the 94 specific actions the commission recommended.  There are really three key things that must form the basis of successful reconciliation.

The first is a willingness of the people involved to come to a mutual understanding.  Explicitly, they are going to be involved in something doesn’t just happen instantly.  It will take time. The people involved in reconciliation will need must *want* to reconcile if it is going to be successful.

The second is a desire to find truth.  That’s conveniently mentioned in the name of the commission:  truth and reconciliation.  But it is also important for people interested in reconciliation to come with the understanding that the truth to be found isn’t going to sit wholly on one side or the other. 

Third, reconciliation is going to take discussion.  Dialogue.  Communication.

On all three of those counts, events in Newfoundland and Labrador over the past few months have shown just how far we are – collectively -  from starting successful reconciliation.

27 October 2020

The importance of what we talk about #nlpoli

Nalcor will have to replace about 350 fibreglass beams used in the Labrador-Island Link because of a fault in their manufacture.

Nalcor discovered the fault during two incidents at Soldier’s Pond in August that caused the link to shut down on both occasions.

The public found out about the two incidents last week in a news report by allNewfoundlandLabrador.com on 21 October 2020.  They discovered the information in a report by Liberty Consulting to the Public Utilities Board filed 28 September 2020.

Nalcor chief Executive Stan Marshall - knowing about Liberty’s disclosure – held a news conference the same day to announce that the company had successfully generated power from the first turbine at Muskrat Falls. The news release, that is the thing most reporters relied on for their subsequent stories, Nalcor talked up the achievement of first power.

In his slide presentation, Marshall told reporters that there was no capital cost allowance for “replacement of fiberglass beams at SOP/MF (GE Grid’s responsibility)” along with three other items. 

But there was no context.

And so conventional media – like NTV – never mentioned the spectacular story.

So, you’d expect that a story about another management problem at Muskrat Falls combined with the failure of Nalcor to disclose it would give politicians something to talk about.

Opposition leader Ches Crosbie’s first question in the House of Assembly that day was about a young man who had gone missing in Vancouver.  His father is Crosbie’s constituent.

“Concerns have been raised, Crosbie began with the wonderful passive sentence that says nothing about who is raising concerns, “that the search was called off too soon and that clues have surfaced” about the young man’s disappearance.

 “I’d ask the minister if he’s spoken to his colleague in British Columbia to make the case for resumption of the search?”

 His second question was about pushing the government to bail out the West White Rose project.

26 October 2020

Husky and Come by Chance Updates #nlpoli

There is no good reason for governments to intervene in the oil sector even as much as they have.  It has nothing to do with the gibberish of "decarbonization" or whatever the greenies will yell down next to the peasants from the ivory tower.

It's just bad business. 

And bad business is the same as bad policy.

_________________________________________

When Husky shut down the West White Rose expansion, that should have been a clue the company was in serious financial difficulty.

SRBP pointed it out plainly.  Husky's financial statements confirm  it.  Announcement of the sale of Husky to Cenovus came as no surprise. 

It was also no surprise that the current owners of North Atlantic Refining are exploring the idea of turning the refinery into a tank farm.  Rumour around town was that Irving was more interest in the storage potential than in using the refinery for anything more than a tank farm.

Neither of these stories will lessen demands from the local oil patch, from companies, and from the politicians for the federal and provincial governments to prop up this company or that project.

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.

-srbp-

*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.