08 December 2016

Poll numbers not very comforting #nlpoli

A little over a month ago,  only about 16 or 17 percent of respondents told pollsters they thought Dwight Ball was the best choice for Premier.

In November, 27% of respondents picked Ball above Paul Davis and Earle McCurdy in Corporate Research Associate's quarterly survey.

That's a big jump in 30 days.

The only thing that changed in those 30 days is that folks finally got the message Ball has been sending since July:  all those layoffs and cuts we had planned for the fall are off. If public perception of Ball is that closely tied to whether or not he carries an axe,  his political fortunes will rise or fall with the provincial government's financial state.

07 December 2016

Megawreck #nlpoli

Over the past couple of weeks, the people of Newfoundland and Labrador have been shown more and more the lunacy that is Muskrat Falls.

Nothing better exemplifies the crazy world of the Muskrateers than Dwight Ball's claim in interviews that he has wrestled the project back under control.  Not long after, we learned that problems with the cofferdam and the powerhouse go back to the summer and yet the public have only just learned about the cost over-runs that will continue on a project that is as far from under control as possible.

We don't need to review all of this because you can find posts about the decision-making failures at Muskrat Falls long before now.  In light of the recent revelations, it's worth going back tos ee how may of the problems turned up way before anyone started building.  So enjoy these posts from 2012 on decision-making.

Try not to cry.

"The past decade has shown that even the best owners and contractors have been largely unable to scope, define, plan, estimate and execute these mega-projects with any sort of predictability. Cost overruns of 100% or more have been widely reported, along with years of schedule delays. In fact, such experiences are so common there is even a word for it: a 'megawreck'." (Westney Consulting Group)
For fun, take a look at a post from February 2012 about the cost of Muskrat Falls and the impact on consumers.  When Danny Williams set us down this road,  Kathy Dunderdale said the thing would raise electricity prices to something like 17 cents a kilowatt hour.  

The most recent estimate - now long out of date  - was for about 21 cents a kilowatt hour.  When people talk about the new loan guarantee shaving off a bit of the cost, understand that the loan guarantee will only have an impact on future cost increases.  In other words,  we are still talking about consumer prices of at least 21 cents a kilowatt hour.  Remember that number.

In February 2012,  Nalcor calculated the cost of service price for Muskrat Falls electricity, including the approved rate of return was 21.4 cents per kilowatt hour. That's not the cost of electricity to consumers but even at that point,  Nalcor was talking about taking consumer prices from around 11 cents a kilowatt hour to 17 cents in order to cover off the cost of Muskrat Falls.

That 21.4 cents didn't include construction of the transmission facilities or any of the subsequent cost over-runs on the project. The cost of the project is roughly double what it was in February 2012.

Now do a bit of math.

Try not cry.


Faint hope #nlpoli

Nalcor won't be able to install a boom upstream from the powerhouse construction.  The result is that there will likely be damage to the dam construction, according to Nalcor boss Stan Marshall.

Well, likely if the winter is normal or colder.  But maybe not.

"It’s weather dependent,"  said Marshall. "So if we have a very mild winter, we probably won’t have any damage at all. If we have a severe winter, we’ll probably have substantial damage to the structure."

Local knowledge would put it a little differently.

A "mild" winter usually means thicker, harder, ice.  The thaw-freeze cycle of a "mild" winter puts about three additional feet of thick, solid, concrete-like ice on the bay and rivers and lakes as the surface melts, floods, refreezes, and repeats.


Mild winter.

Looks like there's another thing the geniuses at Nalcor got right about Muskrat Falls.


Get Knotted Doc O'Keefe #nlpoli

No one should be surprised that St. John's mayor Doc O'Keefe is huffing and puffing over comments by former mayor Andy Wells to the effect that O'Keefe's crowd had been doing things improperly if not illegally at city hall.

"You've got a council that's been profligate, wasteful, irresponsible and certainly immoral and possibly illegal," Wells told reporters outside Monday night's council meeting.  It's along the lines of Well's comments last September.

There's only one reason O'Keefe is pissed:  Wells is right.

And for the first time in a long while someone is calling out the arrogant, secretive O'Keefe on the shit-show he's been running in the city for the past five or six years.

06 December 2016

Policy and sausages #nlpoli

People like to think the world we live in is run by some sort of magically rational process and the folks in charge are all much smarter than the rest of us.

This brief sketch from an early Simon Pegg television series is actually much closer to the reality some times than any of us would care to admit.

So just enjoy the humour in it.

Under no circumstances should anyone imagine that similar conversations have happened over the past six years about things like frazzle ice, cofferdams, electricity prices, or the 1969 power contract.


Because that would involve both the minister and the official being complete dullards and everyone knows that could never happen.


05 December 2016

Mazel Tov Cocktails #nlpoli

Scottie Nell Hughes is one of the legion of ident-a-bots who turned up on news programs during the recent American election spouting lines from the Trump campaign. She's already famous as the one who gave us the mazel tov cocktail flub.  She grabbed some headlines last week for making the comment that there is no such thing as facts.

Specifically, Hughes said that "...one thing that has been interesting this entire campaign season to watch, is that people that say facts are facts—they're not really facts. Everybody has a way—it's kind of like looking at ratings, or looking at a glass of half-full water. Everybody has a way of interpreting them to be the truth, or not truth. There's no such thing, unfortunately, anymore as facts."

01 December 2016

Setting the agenda #nlpoli

In a set of media interviews this week, Premier Dwight Ball thought he would be talking about what's he learned in his first year in office, what motivates him, and the great plans he has for the future. The election was on November 30, 2015 and Ball took office on December 15.

As the result of  a tweet at 6:00 PM on Wednesday evening, everyone else will be talking about the fact Ball is already working on his third communications director after only 11 months in office.

Then they will wonder how long before Ball is starting in on his fourth... and then his fifth.


29 November 2016

Down due to illness - updated

Update (30 Nov 2016):  A trip to the doctor on Tuesday proved to be the best thing to do.  The cold is on the run and regular screeding will resume Monday morning.

Wait Times:  Trip to the doctor prompted a review of the file only to discover Eastern Health had not responded to a  rheumatology referral sent by the old scribbler's GP in May 2010 when the scribbler's arthritis reawakened after 30 years in remission.

6.5 years.

Nil response from Eastern Health.

Another close family member is well into the second year if not the third with no response on a rheumatology referral to Eastern Health.

Original Post (29 Nov 16):  A cold has sidelined your e-scribbler for a couple of days.  Regular screeds will resume shortly.


Waiting for Fidel #nlpoli #cdnpoli

From the National Film Board:

"This feature-length documentary from 1974 takes viewers inside Fidel Castro's Cuba. A movie-making threesome hope that Fidel himself will star in their film. The unusual crew consists of former Newfoundland premier Joseph Smallwood, radio and TV owner Geoff Stirling and NFB film director Michael Rubbo. What happens while the crew awaits its star shows a good deal of the new Cuba, and also of the three Canadians who chose to film the island."

28 November 2016

The graveyard of ambition #nlpoli

Think of it as an inside joke.

James McLeod interviewed Premier Dwight Ball about the horror show that has been Ball's first year in office.  "Ball also came under heavy fire,"  McLeod wrote, "for his handling of Nalcor Energy and perceived dishonesty about what he knew about outgoing CEO Ed Martin’s exorbitant severance package." McLeod quotes Ball:  "'I understand why people would suggest that, well, this guy, I can’t trust him, simply because of the HST or because of this or that.'"

This or that, of course, would be Ball's claim that he knew nothing of the plan to pay Ed Martin any form of severance although he'd quit as the head of Nalcor. That's the sort-of joke part. I can see, said Ball understatedly, how people might think I have some trouble telling them the straight story.  Subsequent evidence made it pretty clear Ball knew about severance payment Martin got, even if it was only to the extent he believed Martin was entitled to a severance payment under his employment contract and didn't know about the elaborate fraud perpetrated by the Tory-appointed Nalcor board.

25 November 2016

Fractured Fairy Tales: Jerry Earle edition #nlpoli

Via VOCM,  the reaction of NAPE boss Jerry Earle to a study that showed the provincial government is overloaded with provincial public servants compared to the situation in other provinces:
Earle says while that might be true, there are good reasons, given the province's geography and demographics. 
He says even comparing Newfoundland and Labrador to the rest of Atlantic Canada is not comparing "apples to apples."

Jerry is actually right.  And wrong.

24 November 2016

The future will be something #nlpoli

The association representing the province's offshore supply and service businesses paid a consultant from London to look at the potential for development of the oil located in very deep water offshore Newfoundland.

As CBC's Terry Roberts tells us,  the goal of the exercise was to help NOIA members get ready for a possible increase in deep water exploration.  Land sales offshore the past couple of years have been extremely good.  Companies bid huge amounts of money for the chance to explore offshore.

The offshore regulatory board offered 13 parcels this year.  They accepted proposals with a little over $500 million for exploration on about 1.5 million hectares.  In 2015,  the offshore board accepts proposals totalling $1.2 billion on 2.5 million hectares.

That looks really good.  The consultants said so.  Could be a massive boom in exploration, they said.

23 November 2016

Population density and just dense #nlpoli

The Government of Newfoundland and Labrador is in financial trouble.

It will spend this year about $3.0 billion more than it will take in.  In fact,  this year, as last year,  banks and other sources of borrowing will be the largest single source of income for the provincial government.

Newfoundland and Labrador is not a poor place, not by any stretch of anyone's imagination.  In absolute terms, the government will bring in more than twice as much than it did 25 years ago.  Inflation has not doubled in that same period.

Leave out the borrowing for a second. On a per person basis, the provincial government will bring in more revenue this than any other province in the country, bar none.

The problem we have is that government will spend so much more than it brings in.  That's what a deficit is:  spend more than you make.    Simple idea.

And yet so many people just keep trying to blame our problems on the federal government for not giving us handouts.

Unopen Government #nlpoli

The idea of open data has been around for a while.

In government, it means that government would make information like census data,  statistics,  licensing information easily and freely available for anyone to use, free of charge and any restrictions. It's a way of sparking creativity, crowd-sourcing new information, and basically spending less time and scarce resources in government trying to hide useful information the public should have anyway.

Officially, the provincial government here adopted the idea as official policy in 2014 but they have been typically very slow to put anything into action.

Case on point:  an access to information request for data collected from caribou monitoring collars.  The maps in the download are all stamped with a restriction that they are for the use of the original recipient only.  No one bothered to black them out, which would be the easiest thing to do... if the restriction didn't still apply.

More importantly, though,  the request was just for spot data shown on maps, as opposed to the actual latitude and longitude tracking information.  A government genuinely committed to open data would have just dumped this stuff into the public domain in the first place, in bulk. That would have saved the expense of converting it into maps into the first place for this request, no matter how small the dollar cost actually was.

There is soooo much that begs to be fixed in the provincial government's access to information world.


22 November 2016

un autre pet de cerveau de Jones #nlpoli

Labrador member of parliament Yvonne Jones got so effercited at the prospect of more hydro-electric development with Hydro-Quebec that she wanted to offer arctic and sub-arctic regions outside Labrador as potential customers for surplus Muskrat Falls power.


There are people in Labrador slaved to diesel generators.  Some of them can see the wires from Muskrat Falls headed off to the island.  No Muskrat juice for them, said Nalcor, because it wasn't cost effective.  And Jones knows this because the dweebs at Nalcor told her this when she was the member of the House of Assembly representing them.


School Board Elections #nlpoli

Some folks were a bit agitated over the weekend about how hard it is going to be  - supposedly - to vote in the school board election.

Voter turn-out may be down, according to Amanda Bittner, a  political science professor at Memorial University.  According to the Telegram, Bittner "said a lack of accessibility to voter information has made it hard even to figure out where to mark a ballot. After visiting the officialwebsite and scrolling through a 364-page PDF of polling stations, she was not convinced it did the process any favours."

Bittner said that “at first it took a while for me to figure out, well, how do I actually figure out who’s going to run? How do I figure out how it works if I could nominate somebody? Every single step along the way has been a bit confusing, and that’s definitely something we don’t want if we care about turnout...".

Problems with a website will keep voters from turning out?  

Well, no.

21 November 2016

Poor Russell's Almanack #nlpoli

​Pity Russell Wangersky.​

Somebody is telling Russell he is part of the elite and Russell doesn't like it.

Not me, writes Russell, in one of his columns last week.  

No elite here.  And to prove the point, he rattles off the mundane list of things that make up his typical day.

All wonderful stuff and all necessarily irrelevant since Russell is precisely what he denies being.

18 November 2016

Canadian war grave destroyed by illegal salvagers #nlpoli

A recent survey of the waters around Indonesia by researchers using three-dimensional sonar imaging has confirmed that illegal salvagers have decimated the graves of thousands of Allied sailors who died during the Second World War when their ships were sunk by enemy attacks.

One of the British ships was HMS Exeter,  a British cruiser sunk by the Japanese during the second Battle of the Java Sea.  Among the dead on March 1, 1942 was 19-year-old Able Seaman Michael Fleming, the son of Richard and Christine Fleming of St. John's.

Fleming,  right,  was a member of the eighth contingent of Royal Navy volunteers to leave Newfoundland during World War 2.

According to The Guardian, the British ministry of defence has expressed serious concern about the illegal salvage and asked the Indonesian government o investigate and "take appropriate action" to prevent further disturbance of British shipwrecks that are also the graves of British servicemen and women.

17 November 2016

Canadian soldier dies on Jordanian training mission

Major Scott Foote, a logistics officer with 1 Canadian Division in Kingston, Ontario, died on Thursday while on a training mission in Jordan.  Foote was found unconscious in a gymnasium and was pronounced dead when efforts to revive him failed. His death is not combat-related.

Foote was working in Jordan as a liaison officer within the Canadian Defence Attaché’s office. He was part of the Canadian Training Assessment Team supporting Operation IMPACT,  part of Canadian efforts to assist Jordan to strengthen security and stability in the region.

Originally from New Harbour,  Foote was a graduate of Memorial University and the Marine Institute. His career of more than 25 years  in the Canadian Army included a posting a staff officer in the headquarters of the Allied Rapid Reaction Corps.  

He leaves a wife and son, living in Kingston, Ontario. 


Political campaigns matter #nlpoli

bialik-turnout-nov15-1New information calls for a change in perspective.

Turns out that the drop in turnout identified by the initial vote results wasn't as big a drop from 2012 as initially reported.  The folks at fivethirtyeight.com have figured it out.

 About 58.1 % of eligible voters turned out,  down  from 58.6% in 2012. The turn-out in 2000 was about 54%. Contrary to the impression some folks have,  turnout in American elections is actually up lately. The recent election may wind up having a bigger turnout than any election between 1972 and 2000.

Ego and folly #nlpoli

“When the situation was manageable it was neglected, and now that it is thoroughly out of hand we apply too late the remedies which then might have effected a cure. There is nothing new in the story. It is as old as the sibylline books. It falls into that long, dismal catalogue of the fruitlessness of experience and the confirmed unteachability of mankind. Want of foresight, unwillingness to act when action would be simple and effective, lack of clear thinking, confusion of counsel until the emergency comes, until self-preservation strikes its jarring gong–these are the features which constitute the endless repetition of history.” 
Winston Churchill,  Hansard, 02 May 1935

"If there's a deal to be had that will benefit Newfoundlanders and Labradorians,"  Premier Dwight Ball in the House of Assembly on Wednesday, "the responsible thing to do is not ... [to] let our past inhibit and restrict where we could be in the future."

That's actually a clean version of the quote.  In the heat of the moment in the House, Ball injected another phrase - "we learned from our history" - in the bit taken up by the ellipsis (three dots).

Ball's performance in the House on Wednesday,  indeed the way he has approached rumours of talks that have been abundant since last spring, make plain that Ball is very much inhibited, bound, and restricted by the history of the Lower Churchill.  He is extremely sensitive about the politics and the history.  That is the only reason he would really be quite so ridiculous as to claim there are no discussions and then at the same time talk as though there are talks underway.