06 November 2018

The MQO poll and Party Choice #nlpoli

MQO's quarterly omnibus poll shows some curious changes in public opinion about provincial political parties.  The province-wide numbers are not curious:  the changes in a couple of the regions are.

Let's take a look first at the provincial numbers.  As usual, SRBP presents the results as a share of all responses, including the refused/undecided/no answer folks.  That's why the numbers here are different from the ones used by MQO in its own release and reported by local news media.  Go to the end of the post for a brief discussion about the way the data is presented.

MQO kindly provided the data tables for this analysis free of charge.  The data collection methodology is theirs.  Interpretation of the data here is solely SRBP.  There is no business or other relationship between SRBP  and MQO to create a conflict of interest.

Contrary to media reports, support overall in the province for the governing Liberals didn't change in the last two quarters of 2018.  The Liberals had the support of 29 percent of respondents in Q3 and 28 percent in Q4.  Support for the Progressive Conservatives declined by four points - 25 to 21 - while support for the NDP went from 11 percent to nine percent.  The number of respondent who refused to answer,  were undecided, or planned not to vote grew by five points (from 36 to 41 percent of responses).

24 September 2018

The Windsor Lake By-Election and polling #nlpoli

Market research firm MQO released a poll on September 10 about the Windsor Lake by-election.

They'd surveyed 300 people about how they would likely vote and about who they thought would make the best Premier from among the provincial party leaders.

On their choice among the candidates, MQO reported that 41% of decided and leaning voters favoured Paul Antle,  37% favoured Ches Crosbie, and 22% favoured Kerri Claire Neil.

The result on September 20 saw Crosbie win with 43% of votes cast.  Antle got 38% and Neil garnered 19% of votes.

Pretty much the opposite of what MQO said.

So MQO got it wrong,  some will say.

Others will think that Antle's campaign collapsed and Crosbie surged ahead based on whatever factors they might like to pick.

Well, there are a few problems with either of those scenarios.

18 August 2018

The PUB, Exemptions, and Muskrat Falls #nlpoli #cdnpoli

Here’s some background on the issue of Muskrat Falls and Public Utilities Board exemptions. 

At the end you should know what an exemption is all about, how the exemptions – there are more than one – came about – and what that means for now and in the future as far as electricity rates go.  We’ll deal with mitigation in another brief post next week.

The information here is based on material in the public record plus additional research and information accumulated over 30 years working on public policy issues in the province. That includes the 15 years of SRBP, much of which wound up being about the Lower Churchill project.

Let’s start with what an exemption is.

27 July 2018

Bay du Nord and Equity #nlpoli

In a staged political event Thursday that was woefully short of basic details,  the provincial government and Equinor announced they will proceed with development of the Bay du Nord field in the Orphan Basin.  The news release for the event referred to a framework agreement only.

Bay du Nord is located approximately 500 kilometres east of St. John's,  in between 1.0 and 1.2 kilometres of water.  Equinor and its partner Husky Canada believe the field contains at least 300 million barrels of light crude.

The project will cost $6.8 billion to bring into production using a floating production storage and offloading vessel similar in concept to the FPSOs used for Terra Nova (1996)  and White Rose (2002).  The provincial government acquired 10% equity in the project in addition to royalties under the Offshore Oil  Royalty Regulations (2017).  The provincial government will therefore pay $90 million initially as well as $680 million during the construction phase.

Project sanction is expected in 2020 with first oil in 2025.

The following table shows a comparison of Terra Nova,  White Rose, and Bay du Nord, with all dollar amounts in 2018 dollars.

03 July 2018

Electricity prices, risk, and what the editors didn't say #nlpoli


What Muskrat Falls will do to electricity prices is not funny.

Never was.

But what *is* extremely funny are columns like Russell Wangersky's latest hand-wringer about the most recent round of electricity rates hikes.
Remember when we were told that Muskrat Falls was needed to stabilise electricity rates? 
Now, it’s pretty clear that it is destabilising them —- in a frightening fashion.
Let's review some information that has been in the public domain since the beginning of the project.  Russell has clearly either forgotten or chosen not to remember details because none of this stuff is new.

SRBP. "Fear and loathing on the energy campaign trail" from November 2010.

Note the date.

20 June 2018

Rumpole and the Bleak House #nlpoli #cdnpoli

A scan of the docket for the Supreme Court of Newfoundland and Labrador, General Division reveals that the Provincial Court Judges are having another whack at the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador over their ongoing and unresolved pay dispute.

Those who suffered through the tale of tardy judges will note that this is a new application.  The judge who heard the other application in the same dispute has yet to deliver a decision some 18 months later.

The Provincial Court Judges are serious about this.  They have retained an army of lawyers all named Susan Dawes.

Most likely to appear for the Crown will be Rolf "Change the regs" Pritchard.  He's the ace Crown attorney who first came to public attention during the Cameron Inquiry and who was most recently seen arguing with Bern Coffey  - who appeared behalf of a Corner Brook ophthalmologist - about whether people should get cataract surgery in a private clinic and have the taxpayers cover the bill through MCP.

The government's solution to the cataract dispute was to change the hospital insurance regulations.  Undoubtedly,  officials in the health department cracked open the spare bottle of sodastream water in the health department last Friday to celebrate the loophole they'd closed that allowed a doctor to think they could do that one procedure in their office while everything had to be done in a hospital.

They celebrated too soon.  The wording of the new regulations allows doctors to do everything MCP covers outside a hospital, paid for by the Crown,  *except* for cataracts.


Don't be surprised if ophthalmologists do everything but cataracts in their clinics and bill MCP for it.

And stand by for the cardiologists and all the other cutters to see what they can do in their private clinics as John Haggie foots the bill for the whole lot.

Meanwhile,  the judges in Provincial Court will just have to wait for yet another decision on yet another application in their ongoing dispute.  Perhaps they'd have a faster result by praying that someone from Health gets a job as assistant deputy minister in Justice. That might be the only way they will get their problems resolved quickly.  The wheels of justice grind exceedingly slowly in Newfoundland and Labrador.


11 June 2018

Rumpole and the Ticking Clock #nlpoli #cdnpoli

There are rules about how long a judge may take to issue a decision.

Now, now.

The lawyers among you are already spitting their morning coffee across the breakfast table at their long-suffering spouses but it is true.

There are rules.

25 May 2018

Nalcor contractor secrets still safe under revised law #nlpoli

Anyone who cracked out the champagne over the bill that would purportedly shed light on Nalcor's embedded contractors might want to spit some back in the bottle for another day.

Bill 19 went through second reading on Thursday,  putting it one step closer to becoming law by the end of next week.  It makes changes to the definitions in the Energy Corporation Act that would,  if you listen to the official explanation, prevent Nalcor from holding back the information on embedded contractors that caused such a fuss last year.  That's the only legislation changed by Bill 19.

The problem is that the Energy Corporation Act was only part of the legal argument Nalcor made in its decision to withhold financial details. Nalcor withheld the financial information for individual contractors on the basis it was "commercially sensitive information" under the ECA. You can see the whole thing neatly summarised in access and privacy commissioner Donovan Molloy's decision last year on an appeal about the Nalcor decision to withhold chunks of information.

Bill 19 deals with the ECA changes.

But Nalcor withheld other information - related to folks who were working through an intermediary company  -  using section 40 of the Access to Information and Protection of Personal Privacy Act.  Bill 19 doesn't do anything with that so the odds are good Nalcor could still hold back information people wanted.

But it gets worse.

Whoever drafted this bill might think the changes to the EPA were enough to cover the individual contractors.

Guess again.

The words in the ATIPPA might look like they say it is okay to release names, remuneration and other information for public employees but Justice Gillian Butler had other ideas.  In her outstandingly twisted and entirely ludicrous judgement in the Sunshine List case,  Butler turned out the lights on disclosure of precisely the sort of information contained in the original embedded contractor information requests.

If the law was never an ass before,  Gillian Butler gave it two sculpted cheeks and a well defined crack. Even though the words of the law say it is *not* an unreasonable invasion of privacy to disclose names and salaries,  Butler concluded that the legislature actually said that information should be be kept secret.  The sunshine list law that some people might think nullified Butler's decision only covered disclosure by the provincial government of some information for employees making more than a specific amount.  All the requests for information under ATIPPA are still covered by the Butler decision, no matter how much money the employee makes.

And Butler's judicial brain fart remains the law until a higher court overturns it or the legislature passes a law that says "Gillian Butler's nuttiness notwithstanding" this information will be made public.

All the information that folks wanted from Nalcor can stay secret.  Nalcor can justify it based on Butler's decision and the ATIPPA, 2015.

The funny thing about this sad tale is that the Premier and any minister of the Crown could have released all the information folks wanted back when the fuss was raging either at Nalcor or over the Sunshine List.  They could release the information based not on a request through ATIPPA but based on their own exercise of the Crown Prerogative. That's the basis on which Danny Williams gave the Auditor General access to documents in the fibre optic cable scandal, for example, even though Williams originally claimed he couldn't do it. 

Fuss as some of them might have,  there's nothing any of the contractors could have done about it since the Prerogative is not subject to judicial review.


22 May 2018

A cabinet, a caucus, and a legislature walk into a bar... #nlpoli

Don't feel bad.

Most people in Newfoundland and Labrador have no idea how our political system works.

Self-described experts.



Very often hopelessly lost when discussing even the most basic points about our political system.

The real problems start when the politicians and, as it turns out,  the public servants supporting the House, have no idea what they are talking about.

Like, say, the briefing note handed to the House of Assembly management committee last week that included these statements:

08 May 2018

First Wells ministry, 05 May 1989 #nlpoli

May 5, 1989 was a Friday. 

It only took the couple of weeks between the election on April 20 that year and May 5 for the government to change hands between political parties for only the second time since Confederation.  The House met before the end of the month was out and before that first session ended,  the province had a new budget.

Clyde Wells was the fifth Premier after Confederation.  He was preceded by Joe Smallwood,  Frank Moores, Brian Peckford, and Tom Rideout.  

In the first 40 years after confederation,  we had five Premiers.  Since 1999 - that is, in less than 20 years - we have had eight Premiers.  Dwight Ball is number 13 in the line, the majority of whom since 1999 have served for four years or less.  We might have a fourteenth, depending on how events turn out.

The habit after 2003 has been for a majority party elected in the fall to wait upwards of six months before opening the legislature.  The initial excuse was that there was a work to do in getting ready for the House.  In 2007 and 2011,  the government was re-elected and did the same thing.  

This is the official portrait of the cabinet sworn in May 1989 by Lieutenant Governor Jim McGrath.  The photo is courtesy of Rex Gibbons, who you can see standing on the extreme left. The photographer was Don Lane.

It was a relatively small cabinet at 15. The cabinets immediately before it had had upwards of 23 members. It was also a fairly well-educated cabinet: three of the people around the table had doctoral degrees (two in education and one in geology). There were a couple of lawyers, some teachers, business owners, and folks like Walter Carter who had spent all of his working life in elected public service.

Most of them carried on in cabinet for a while after or in the House and later still went back to their old careers or took on new adventures. Five of the members of that cabinet have passed away since.

The ministry consisted of:

Standing (left to right)
  • Rex Gibbons, Mines and Energy
  • Eric Gullage,  Municipal and Provincial Affairs
  • Walter Carter, Fisheries 
  • Chuck Furey, Development  (after 1992 - Industry, Trade, and Technology)
  • Dave Gilbert,  Works, Services, and Transportation
  • Jim Kelland,  Environment 
  • Paul Dicks,  Justice,  Attorney General
  • Chris Decker,  Health
  • Herb Kitchen,  Finance

Seated (left to right)
  • Graham Flight,  Forestry and Agriculture
  • Patt Cowan,  Employment and Labour Relations
  • Clyde Wells,  Premier,  Intergovernmental Affairs
  • His Honour, James McGrath,  Lieutenant Governor
  • Winston Baker,  President of the Executive Council,  President of Treasury Board
  • John Efford,  Social Services
  • Phil Warren,  Education

Corrected name of Furey's portfolio, 09 May 2018)

30 April 2018

Two solitudes - the pdf version #nlpoli

This is an article I wrote a couple of years ago for The Dorchester Review. (Volume 6, Number 1,  Spring/Summer 2016.  I posted about the piece when it came out but now you can buy buy the whole issue online,  subscribe, or download the pdf of "Two solitudes" at academia.edu)
"Newfoundland and Canada, separate countries for so long, exist as two solitudes within the bosom of a single country more than 65 years after Confederation. They do not understand each other very well. Canadians can be forgiven if they do not know much about Newfoundlanders beyond caricatures in popular media, let alone understand them. But Newfoundlanders do not know themselves. They must grapple daily with the gap between their own history as it was and the history as other Newfoundlanders tell it to them, wrongly, repeatedly."
For those who are interested,  I've got an article in the latest edition of The Dorchester Review on Newfoundland nationalism in an era of transformation. 


09 April 2018

Spin, bias, or just wrong? #nlpoli

If four media outlets all reported a story in precisely the same way despite some fairly obvious factual problems with their interpretation,  is it spin, bias, or just a mistake?

That's the logical question out of last week's post on the way local newsrooms had reported a recent political poll about premiers and popularity.

The answer is that it is more than a mistake.  It is less than spin.  There doesn't appear to be a deliberate misinterpretation.

Yet what happened is a form of bias, in the same sense that a research firm would look at bias as a source of error. 

The causes are not partisan.

They are systemic,  identifiable, and correctable.

But the story presented is incomplete and  therefore inaccurately describes what the poll results show.

02 April 2018

Conventional media bias #nlpoli

You know what "spin" is, right?

Spin is a biased interpretation of something to favour one side or the other.

You get spin when someone uses an interpretation of an event or information in order to modify the perception of an issue or event, particularly to either increase or decrease any negative impact on opinion.

Some people think it is only comes from public relations people.

Or maybe politicians.

But never the news media.

Spin happens in many places since you can find all sorts of people interpreting things in a way that favours their pet position or that harms an opponent.

Tek, for example the number of people - especially in politics - who have been running around the past few weeks saying that Dwight Ball is the third most popular premier in Canada. They are mostly Liberals and they have been furiously retweeting that idea.

But that's spin.  Pure and simple.

Except it didn't come from the Liberal Party.

Well, where did it come from then?

Well, there's a tale.

The information the idea is based on came from an Angus Reid poll.  The opinion research company asked a sample of Canadians in every province except Prince Edward Island what they thought about the local Premier.

In Newfoundland and Labrador,  42% gave Dwight Ball a favourable rating.  In a chart Angus Reid used to illustrate the story,  they showed the approval ratings from highest to lowest,  left to right.  

There's Dwight Ball,  third from the left, which is third from the top.

Third most popular.

Well,  no.

Angus Reid was careful to describe their results fairly and accurately.  After noting that only two Premiers actually had the support of a majority of those polled in their province,  Angus Reid said this about Dwight Ball and the rest of the Premiers who - take note - had a majority who *dis*-approved of their performance.
In a pack where the premiers with the best approval ratings aren’t exactly overwhelmingly endorsed by people in their respective provinces, the story for the rest of Canada’s premiers, even those with positive momentum, is hardly jubilant.
Just over two-in-five (42%) are pleased with the job Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Dwight Ball is doing. This represents a seven point increase for Ball, as his government announces plans for a new public health act in the forthcoming budget and implements a new policy to take on workplace harassment. This, in addition to the government’s inquiry into Nalcor Energy’s unpopular Muskrat Falls project, may be playing in Ball’s favour, as he rises for the second consecutive quarter.
Out of every five people surveyed by Angus Reid,  two approved of Dwight Ball's performance as Premier.

Only two.

Three did not. 

In fact, if you click on the link to get the full results from Angus Reid,  you find that 49% of respondents disapproved of Ball's performance and only 10% had no answer.

So where did this "third most popular" idea come from?

Conventional news media.

CBC ran a story that had as its headline "Dwight Ball 3rd most popular premier in Angus Reid poll."  The front end of the story focused on the change in Ball's approval over the past year, which is accurate,  but ended up with the "third-most-popular" claim. 

At the end of the story,  CBC tossed in a completely unrelated fact that in a Corporate Research Poll 41% of respondents said they would vote Liberal, as if the similarity of the two numbers was enough to connect two different questions (job approval versus party support).

In Newfoundland and Labrador, they are two very different questions, as CRA's polling has shown.  Support for Ball and the Liberals has not been tracking the same over time.  Ball's actually been behind his party in popular support for a chunk of the past year.  Didn't like the leader.  Would vote for the party.  Not an unusual response at all,  but the two things are not synchronised.  The leader and party questions are separate.  That's why it was a problem for CBC to muddle the two together.

Saltwire - that is, the Telegram and its family of papers - ran a headline that Ball had seen a jump in his approval, which is true,  and used the "third-most popular premier" as it's sub-head. The story quoted Angus Reid word-for-word on the bit about two-in-five respondents but you had to read down a way to get to that.  

NTV's story referred to Ball as the premier with the third-best rating.  Their report on the previous Angus Reid poll, in which Ball's position relative to other Premiers was identical,  notes merely that his position improved over time.  That poll-over-poll improvement is noted in all the stories and it is probably the most accurate way to describe the results.

VOCM also reported Ball was the "third most popular" Premier in the country. 

No one in either of the four newsrooms checked the full poll result. None of them even did the simple logical inference that if 42% approved of Ball,  then the rest didn't.  They certainly didn't notice that 42% was less than half.  

Instead, they just looked at the same chart they saw the last time from Angus Reid (below) and picked the "third-most popular" as their headline.

They also didn't notice the size of Dwight Ball's change is quite large and that it was large for the second time in a row.  look at Nova Scotia and New Brunswick and you will see similar big jumps in a relatively short span.  A 15 point jump in six months is pretty steep in a province where there's been no similar major shift in public opinion detected by any other polling firm.

Might be a problem with the poll.


Ball is third most popular.

Except Ball isn't popular.

Only two Premiers had a majority support and could be reasonably considered popular.

Seven Premiers all had more residents who didn't approve of their performance, which seems to be a bigger part of the overall story.  Angus Reid presented its information that way.

You could have reasonably focused on the fact Ball's rating had jumped again by a fairly hefty amount even if the back to back big jumps look dodgy.

But to say he is the third most popular is... well... wrong.

If you want to know how people are misinformed, there's a really fine case study.  No conspiracy.  No collusion.  Apparently, not even an organised effort by the government officials of the type we used to see in this province between 2003 and 2010 to control the flow of information, to influence media stories, and manipulate public opinion. 


Just a bunch of people who all got the story wrong in exactly the same way.

Some might would argue that spin has to be a deliberate choice but frankly, that's just spin. Truth is that spin is a form of bias.  There are all sorts of biases.  Something like a shared perspective among people doing the same sort of work in a small place can cause a wrong interpretation of events to reinforce itself.  After all, the folks in the local newsrooms all keep an eye on each other during the day. They talk among themselves.  Once the first story hit the air and the others heard the same general line, they would inevitably confirm their interpretation and get on to the next task.

Except, they all got it wrong.


*Revised 11:00 AM 02 Apr 18 to clarify sentences in the introduction

07 March 2018

No room for dissent? No time for silence. #nlpoli

The controversy about The Rooms' recent request for proposals is not about Muskrat Falls.

Maybe someone at The Rooms or within the provincial government thought that was the problem when Des Sullivan raised concerns about it.  After all, Des is well known as a critic of Muskrat Falls.  That might explain why Dean Brinton, The Rooms' chief executive,  issued a very short statement that apologized for using Muskrat Falls as an example when explaining the Crown corporation's policy about conflict of interest for advertising agencies responding to the proposal request.

Let us assume that Brinton made a really superficial mistake because otherwise  his response is insulting and condescending.  Any reasonable personal understood our ought to have understood that Sullivan was concerned about the implication that critics of the provincial government could not bid on government work.

Brinton didn't deal with that at all.