31 March 2005

Kevin O'Brien for Health Minister

Tom Marshall must be some kind of bizarre two-legged homing pigeon. Either that or he is a binary traveler: St. Johns or Corner Brook.

How else to explain the story on VO's website today that the freshly minted acting health minister is out collecting information on cancer clinics by visiting Corner Brook?

He apparently said he is pleased with what he saw but thinks improvements will be needed in the future. Will that future be before or after changes in Grand Falls?

When is Tom headed to Grand Falls, anyway?

Winter availability

For just a little background on the winter availability deals between CFLCo and Hydro Quebec, flip to these two releases:

1. Issued By Natural Resources Minister Ed Byrne last year.

Skip down a bit from the Premier's comments about reselling the power "outside the province" and you can easily see that what follows in the second link is actually the truth of it.

2. Issued by Paul Dicks as Mines and Energy Minister in 2000.

As the release says: "The release of this information by Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro should put to rest, once and for all, the misleading and inaccurate statements made by the Leader of the Opposition," said Minister Dicks. "Mr. Byrne is just plain wrong and his deliberate misrepresentation of the truth is irresponsible and detrimental to the people of Newfoundland and Labrador."

Go down a little bit more in the older release and you find this:

"The minister noted that without the GWAC and Shareholders’ Agreement, both of which arose from the March 9, 1998 Framework Agreement with Hydro Quebec, CF(L)Co would have been in financial jeopardy. Indeed, in the absence of such arrangements, it would have been possible for Hydro Quebec to take greater ownership and control of CF(L)Co. These agreements protect Newfoundland and Labrador’s interests over the long term," said the minister." [Emphasis added]

"These agreements have been very beneficial to Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro and to the province as a whole. In fact, the GWAC and Shareholders’ Agreement, as well as the 130 mw Recall Block arrangement, will result in revenues of $2 billion over the life of the deals. These revenues will be used to develop hydro resources in the province, contributing to our economy, and will also provide substantial revenues to government to support social and economic programs as required."

Geez, Danny and Ed, I guess the Liberals did such a fine job of running the place into the ground you just kept on doing the same things.

By the way, where was Ed Byrne yesterday in government's initial response to the Ontario/Quebec proposal?

More Churchill Stuff

Here's some additional information and observations on the Churchill hydroelectric issues.

Tomorrow, I would hope to see from the provincial government a list of all the proposals received with the names of the various companies or consortia (groups) that have expressed an interest in developing the Lower Churchill. We know enough about one proposal. Let's see the same level of detail from the others.

As a matter of accountability, that is the least we should expect at this point.

1. To start let's correct something I posted earlier about the Tobin plans for the Upper Churchill.

The rivers involved did flow south into Quebec. Seems the plan was to dam them and buildup the water level to the point where they could be diverted back to the Upper Churchill system. The environmental impacts and political costs associated with it were deemed too high and so the plan was scrapped. Without the added water, there was no value in adding more turbines to the Upper Churchill.

2. It is interesting to see Ontario again involved in the Lower Churchill. Those with memories will recall that in the negotiations between 1989 and 1992, Ontario was a part of the discussions. In fact the first meeting of energy ministers and officials, as I understand it, was held in the Ontario energy minister's office.

Talks continued until 1992 when the downturn in the economy made the project less attract. Quebec simply didn't respond to the last Newfoundland and Labrador proposal, preferring to "lay it aside" for the time being given the circumstances.

Incidentally, Quebec had made it clear that they felt they would be able to use all the Lower Churchill Power. Nonetheless, Ontario remained interested in the development since they were and are interested in new sources of electrical power.

3. It was interesting to hear Fortis' Stan Marshall on CBC radio this morning talking about the Ontario/Quebec proposal. Fortis has developed considerable expertise in electricity production and distribution throughout North America and Marshall's insights and advice should be taken into account.

He made many of the same observations that people have made before on the prospect of a Lower Churchill deal involving Quebec. Basically, it boils down to this, and these are my words (not Marshall's) for it:

- The Upper Churchill deal is in the past.
- If a deal with Quebec is a good deal, then let's sign it. The odds are small that the province will make the same sort of mistake as Brinco made made almost 40 years ago.
- Ontario's involvement is worthwhile for a number of reasons, not the least of which is to make the public perception in this province much better. Marshall called it optics. The main benefit they bring to the table is the ability to raise capital based on guaranteed Ontario purchases over a long period.

4. Overall, I'd still point to a few issues that we need to keep in mind:

- I am not yet convinced that the Grimes deal was quite as bad as people say. Maybe it is just the fact that the thing became such a political football, but I can't help but look at all the associations of all the people who condemned it to leave me with some doubts about the public perception of the last Lower Churchill deal.

- The odds of renegotiating the Upper Churchill deal are nil. That said, Hydro Quebec has been willing to look at creative ways of addressing some of the financial issues though things such as the winter availability contract that ultimately do nothing so much as keep CFLCo solvent and therefore in Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro's hands. Marshall's comments this morning on the Ontario/Quebec offer are likely to be very similar to what the provincial government will say if this is the proposal that is accepted for negotiation.

- The default provisions of the Upper Churchill deal (forestalled by things like winter availability) are likely in any deal on the Lower Churchill in a situation where someone else is fronting the cash. Private sector or public sector developers are likely to insist on the same thing or something like it involving substantial cash penalties for failing to deliver the power.

- Newfoundland and Labrador (including Hydro) lacks the ability to raise the needed capital to develop this project on its own. Even with purchase agreements with Canadian or US customers to backstop a funding request to the banks, the provincial government would be courting other financial problems if it tried to assume the debt for such a large project.

- There is likely very little appetite in Ottawa for pushing more cash or appearing to push more cash to Newfoundland and Labrador in the he wake of the crass way the provincial government handled the offshore talks from October to December last year. Paul Shelley just got politely shown the door. The Churchill projects wouldn't be any different, especially since the provincial governments in Ontario and Quebec can handle raising the needed capital.

Another few hours to go and we'll know more about what is happening.

The Churchill Options

As much as Premier Danny Williams might like to open development of the Lower Churchill to the world and have it developed using creative thinking, the whole project really boils down to a handful of issues and options.

1. Increased demand, but think Canadian before American. There is a growing demand for "clean" electrical energy, both in Canada and in the US. Quebec is actually a net importer of electricity. Ontario has a pressing need for new sources of power to replace some current nuclear capability or planned nuclear plant capacity. Both provinces need power from sources that don't contribute to greenhouse gas emissions.

The same can be said of the US marketplace, particularly New York state.

The most likely markets for Labrador power are in Canada.

2. There are basically only two ways out of Labrador. As much as Premier Williams may like to talk of Labrador electrical power as being a "world-class" resource, no one is likely to figure out how to send Labrador power to the People's Republic of China. Since we are looking at North American markets, we can either ship to or through Quebec or go across the Straits of Belle Isle to Newfoundland and then on to the mainland again via Port aux Basques.

The most economical way out of Labrador is through Quebec. The other route has significant engineering and other technical challenges that remain as they were in the 1960s when they were first proposed: very expensive.

3. There are basically two options for building the Lower Churchill plants.

a. Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro builds them, raising all the capital itself or with loan guarantees from the province and/or the federal government; or,

b. Someone else builds them: either public sector (Hydro Quebec) or private sector.

4. Who pays? With a debt level reaching closer to $14.0 billion, Newfoundland and Labrador has a limited capacity to assume any further debt directly or indirectly considering that the provincial government plans to keep running massive deficits for the next five years or more.

The latest provincial government estimate is that the project will cost in the neighbourhood of CDN$3.3 billion. Consider that to be a low estimate since it doesn't include a range of costs that would have to be factored into the final tally.

It is tempting to talk of using the new offshore money and the provincial government may look seriously at that option. Using a combination of cash and borrowing, the provincial government may be able to raise the necessary capital directly or through Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro. The economics of this approach have to be considered carefully, given that the oil cash is one-time money and revenues from the sale of power will have to reimburse the costs of construction (pay off the debt) before it could be used for other things.

Consider as well that Hydro would likely only turn over some of its net earnings to government as a dividend so the potential for generating large amounts of cash for the provincial treasury may not be as high as people might think.

Revenues must be competitive, as well. If the project required construction of new transmission lines over longer distances (the fabled power corridor), then Hydro would have to deal with much greater costs. In the Upper Churchill case, one of the continuing problems in developing the project was getting the power to market at a competitive rate and recover initial investments. We can't just charge what we want for the power - the industry is competitive.

In any event, the $2.0 billion from oil was supposed to pay down the provincial debt. As it now appears, the debt will continue to spiral. The "We build it" option would likely produce little more than an increased debt load in exchange for a modest increase in long-term revenue. We would spend a lot to make a little.

In the other option, the capital costs are borne by the private sector, as with the original Churchill project. Then the private sector legitimately reaps the lion's share of the revenues as a reward.

The decision matrix on this one is pretty easy to draw. I'll be curious to see how many concrete proposals actually arrive in the mail at the Natural Resources Building by five o'clock tomorrow. My guess is the number of proposals won't be nearly as high as the number of companies who inquired.

5. Two Columbos

One more thing: Linda Calvert did a short piece on Canada Now Wednesday evening on Churchill Falls. She made a comment that the Upper Churchill capacity can't be increased because the company (Churchill Falls Labrador Corporation) is contractually obligated to deliver a set minimum amount of power to Quebec. Any increased generating capacity (more turbines) might jeopardize that obligation.


The way I heard it is that Tobin's big promise to add two more turbines at the Upper Churchill in 1998 foundered when surveyors discovered that the rivers they planned to divert actually flowed the wrong way. The expansion couldn't proceed because of a lack of added water to push the extra turbines.

And one more, one last thing: Premier Williams has said in the past he wanted to link a "redress" of the Upper Churchill contract to development of the Lower Churchill with Quebec as a prospective partner. Don't hold your breath too long waiting for that. Much like the shell game of the "recall power sales", there might be some accommodation. I suspect that if anything ever came of any "redress", it would be much like the offshore deal: a lot less than the hucksters and pitchmen would have you believe.

Hands up anybody reading this besides me who has actually ever seen the Upper Churchill contract?

The choice is ours - Goose Bay revisited

Since Thursday is turning out to be a Labrador day here at the Bond Papers, I thought I'd also reprint the text of a commentary done by your humble scribe for CBC Radio Morning Show last year.

As you can tell from the context, it was shortly after the provincial government hosted the American ambassador. The comments I made on the radar site are still valid: if the thing is built in Goose we are talking maybe 100 people plus their families. I still hold to the view that the Americans have no military interest in Goose Bay or Labrador generally as a site for their equipment. If an X-band radar winds up in Goose it will be built with Canadian money. But here again, I caution that National Defence has no operational interest in Goose Bay other than as a staging area. They don't need a base there.

Other than that, here's the commentary:

"US ambassador Paul Celucci didn’t go to Goose Bay last week to check out the training facilities. The American military already has bases that do everything Goose Bay can do or wants to do and more besides. The Americans, like the Germans, are closing bases at home and overseas. As the German ambassador keeps saying: how can you close bases at home and at the same time invest in new facilities at Canada?

In the modern context, that’s one of the reasons why pushing Goose Bay as a place to train pilots is like trying to grow cucumbers in Mount Pearl. Someone else can do it better and cheaper. What’s worse, the demand for pickles – in this case manned combat aircraft - is dropping. As a result, countries are changing their military forces to take advantage of new technology and lower their costs.

No small irony, then that the same week Celucci was being pitched on pilot training at Goose Bay, the Canadian Forces was testing a Predator remotely piloted vehicle from the same airport. Coupled with ground-based radar, like the surface wave system developed by Northern Radar of St. John’s and the American defence giant Raytheon, in the next five years, remotely piloted vehicles will do just about everything that needs to be done for coastal defence and security in Canada.

Count on it!

Ambassador Celucci is interested in Goose Bay as a possible site for part of the American ballistic missile defence system. For Goose Bay, though, being a BMD site won’t bring as many people to the community or as much money as people might think. That doesn’t mean Goose Bay won’t have military forces in its future. It’s just that the military options are limited. There may be better civilian opportunities for economic development in central Labrador, but for Goose Bay, the Cold War is finally over.

As for Premier Williams, he is really just making the same out-dated pitch his predecessors have used. Like Danny Williams now, Roger Grimes used to complain the federal government should be spending more money on Goose Bay.

That’s just misguided.

DND isn’t a regional economic subsidy program. The Canadian Forces do not train at Goose Bay now because they do not need Goose Bay. It is that simple. DND already spends too much on buildings it doesn’t need and doing jobs it just shouldn’t be doing.

Rather than gripe or chase old ideas, let’s look at something DND would be interested in – like strengthening the reserve forces here or basing Aurora patrol aircraft at Gander, both of which would actually improve Canadian defence capabilities.

The best defence-related economic potential for Newfoundland and Labrador isn’t in military bases at all. It’s in supplying goods and services. Northern Radar is one defence contractor in the province. Rutter, North Star, Stratos, GRI Simulations and others compete globally with the best and have produced thousands of jobs and millions of dollars in sales often without much meaningful support from the provincial government.

That needs to change, too.

As in Goose Bay last week, we can either reminisce about the good old days or be part of the future.

The choice is ours.

RAF Goose Bay: a fond farewell

Today is the last day for the Royal Air Force detachment at Goose Bay.

CBC keeps referring to it as the "British" Royal Air Force as if there was another one.

In honour of this event, ending decades of British presence at the Goose, I offer up a column I wrote for the old Independent last year at this time. The federal defence minister had announced a bunch of obvious things and the local concerned citizens committee was still flogging old ideas about training.

What has changed in a year? Not much, sadly. The locals have switched from more low level training to an X-band radar. Go back and check my archives for early March to see some posts that point out the radar idea is not much better than the old Goose Bay obsession.

When it is all added up, though, the government still hasn't bothered to find anyone who actually udnerstands defence and can develop a sensible policy to get what can be had for Goose Bay. At the very least someone with a clue can save everyone from chasing nonsensical ideas.

For what it is worth, here's the column:

The panic is on to save Goose Bay.

Anybody paying attention has known for a few years the allies are reducing their training at Goose Bay. Defence minister David Pratt’s announcement the other day didn’t tell us anything we didn’t already know: in 2006, the current training agreements expire, but in the meantime there will be some activity. Apparently, Canada is going to look into setting up a new training centre at Goose Bay that let’s pilots fly supersonic, drop live weapons and do just about anything they would do in wartime except kill people. To make sure training stays for those last two years, the federal government is prepared to charge Germany, Britain and a couple of others only for their gas and sandwiches. Everything else is free.

There aren’t many surprises in all that. NATO air forces have been changing in the past 10 years, in part to save money, and in part to keep up with the role of air power in the modern world. The changes have meant fewer aircraft, for the most part, and the mission profiles have seen the low altitude role reduced dramatically. There is also an even greater need for training with allies, especially the United States.

The Luftwaffe, for example, has reduced the number of aircraft it flies and consolidated training in New Mexico. Why New Mexico? Well for one thing, the weather lets them fly round the clock all year. Second, the desert terrain is more like the land they might be flying over operationally. Third, the German pilots get to train with their major ally, the Americans. Fourth, they can also consolidate a bunch of different training for the army and air force, thereby saving a ton of money. Fifth, they can use the existing facilities in the U.S. that cover everything they need to do – supersonic, chaff, live weapons. Costs are cheaper and they are available today – not after a lengthy, expensive and sometimes difficult political process needed to start building from scratch as we would do at Goose Bay. Existing facilities at New Mexico are such an attractive option for the Germans that they invested more than US$40 million of their own money to build new hangars and offices there in 2000.

The slow-down at Goose has been coming for years, not like a Stealth fighter, but like a B-36 throttling up at the end of the runway. You couldn’t miss it, even if you were dead.

Officials in Newfoundland and Labrador didn’t miss it; they just followed a historic local pattern of ignoring the opportunities until a crisis emerged. Defence spending brings a lot of money to this province. Hundreds of millions of dollars comes from bases like Goose Bay, or from the reserve forces in the province. The money they spend comes in the form of salaries and purchased goods and services from local companies. In addition, though, a growing number of businesses throughout the province are landing contracts manufacturing components for military equipment or supplying communications and other high technology services. They generate as much or more in the private sector than the federal government could ever spend here. Those companies work without the recognition and support they should be receiving from government.

It really is time to take a new approach to defence. One of the most productive things the Williams government could do is hire someone who knows defence issues. Get someone who speaks the language understood by defence officials in the public and private sectors. Set him or her to work securing what we already have and identifying new opportunities for increasing public and private sector investment. The amounts at stake here for the whole province are considerably more than the $100 million some say the Goose training program generates. That new approach would ensure we are acting before decisions are made, not like Goose Bay, nuclear submarines, coastal patrol vessels, the Gander base or the NATO air weapons training centre where we have never been on the leading edge.

In the usual panic with these things, we wind up losing money. We discount our services, as defence minister David Pratt announced last week and as the Goose Bay lobby endorses. Worse still, we wind up competing in areas where others have a big advantage. Odds are really good that in building new infrastructure like supersonic and live weapons ranges, the taxpayers of this province and Canada will wind up eating the costs. That is in stark contrast to New Mexico where the Germans invested their own money to train. Wow!

A couple of weeks ago, The Sunday Independent profiled a local defence contracting coalition, Northstar Network. Companies in that venture are working to get a piece of the multi-billion dollar defence business, something they have already shown they can do. Local companies can compete successfully against the best in the world. They have shown it already. They play to our strengths. They plan. They work. They reap the benefits in jobs and profits.

There’s an old military saying: fail to plan; plan to fail. In this province, we know the truth of that axiom in just about every sector of the economy. It’s time to learn from our mistakes.

30 March 2005

First Lower Churchill proposal unveiled

In a proposal unveiled today, Ontario and Quebec have partnered with the private sector engineering firm SNC-Lavalin to develop the Lower Churchill.

Actually Ontario and Quebec are making two proposals:

Option 1 would see the two provinces funding development of Gull Island and Muskrat Falls and lease the sites from Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro for 50 years. Both provinces would split ownership of a new joint venture company based on one-third for Ontario and two-thirds for Hydro Quebec.

Option 2 would involve Ontario and Quebec signing a power purchase agreement with Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro. In this version NL Hydro and the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador would have to raise the capital necessary to build the project and the distribution system to the Quebec border.

Under both versions, Ontario would purchase one third of the total power output (945 megawatts out of a total of 2, 824 megawatts) produced by the two sites.

Hydro Quebec will also build a new distribution connection to Ontario.

Short-listed proposals will have to undergo feasibility studies before the provincial government chooses one or any of the proposals expected to be received. As CBC is reporting, the Ontario/Quebec options would see construction start in 2006 with expected completion by 2011.

The news from Ontario and Quebec is of such importance that Premier Williams has issued a statement welcoming the proposal despite the fact he has been out of the country on vacation since last Thursday.

The only other interest in the Lower Churchill thus far has been the so-called Sino-Energy consortium which signed an agreement with the provincial government last year to gain access to all information on the Lower Churchill held by Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro and the provincial government. Signed in late May 2004, the existence of the disclosure agreement was kept secret until late July when Premier Williams revealed it in a media briefing. Details - like which companies were involved - were not made public until September.

Last October, the Telegram revealed that one of the partners in the consortium - CMEC from the People's Republic of China - was under sanction from the US government for arms sales to countries like Pakistan. The information - obtained through a simple google search - was apparently unknown to the provincial government; Premier Williams accused unnamed competitors from leaking the information despite the fact it was contained on US government websites.

The provincial government hired a Montreal-based legal firm to look into the sanctions but its report has not be released by the province.

The US will not import from a sanctioned company, thereby preventing from the Sino-Energy consortium from being involved in the production of Lower Churchill electricity that might be sold to US customers.

A prayer for John Ottenheimer

No matter how you feel about anything, say a quiet prayer for John Ottenheimer.

John Ottenheimer is one of those guys in politics whose sincerity makes up for all the other politicians on the planet who get know for something else. He is a good and decent man.

That's why it is especially distressing to hear about his health problems.

On a flight from Gander on Tuesday, the provincial health minister lost consciousness for an extended period (upwards of four minutes) and was reported by his executive assistant to have been experience some physical weakness after regaining consciousness and being shipped to the local hospital.

There was lots of spec yesterday that the flu story being pumped out was a cover. I found it odd that the EA used the word "episode" in his media interview; that's a term the med-types like to use in relation to cardiac problems.

Pretty well anyone with a history of cardiac problems in their family can sense that the sniffles don't usually send you out cold and leave you with weakness. No surprise therefore that CBC is reporting this morning that Ottenheimer has had a pacemaker installed and has been shipped back to St. John's for further treatment.

Here's a quiet prayer John is back on his feet very soon.

Surprise, surprise, surprise,

as Gomer Pyle used to say.

This CP story today confirms what many of us have been saying for days: The whole C-43 thing would blow over if it wasn't actually a complete scam from the outset.

There isn't a single party in Ottawa that genuinely wants an election right now. In fact, just about everyone would work not to have the writ drop.

So no surprise that Conservative leader Stephen Harper is suddenly backing this January deal and Jack Layton is going to be constructive with some new ideas. Both the NDP and Conservatives apparently are committed to vote against C-43 in its present form.

Here's a curious twist. According to CP, Harper wants the offshore bits of the bill put into a separate pile so he can vote for that and against the rest of C-43. Grandma's OAS cheque is left in there Stevie. Why not strip out the Kyoto bits that you and Jack have problems with and go tear that apart?

Closer to home, though, people should be looking more closely at Blarney the Dinosaur. While he will probably run around claiming victory, the simple fact is: there never was a crisis. It's an old political con to warn of something you know won't happen and then claim victory when it doesn't. This isn't the first time he's pulled it or raising issues that really aren't big issues.

At some point, even the Open Line guys will start wondering if Blarney is worth listening to any more.

New hope for old media hound

Terri Schiavo's parents can rest easy.

Jesse Jackson has now shown up before the cameras telling everyone he is on their side. See this story and the nice picture of Jesse.

This is proof positive that the Schindler's campaign to have a feeding tube reinserted in their daughter has now attained a critical mass of cameras. The Jesse-o-meter is the proof. He just doesn't show up for something without the right level of media attention.

Jackson, who must surely be cringing at the thought of setting foot in Florida - he once called New York a derogatory term because of so many Jews living there - is well known to Canadians as the guy who showed up at Oka offering to help resolve the stand-off. He demonstrated the accuracy of his intel by telling reporters at a scrum that two deaths were too many. Incredulous reporters - who knew only one person had been killed - took delight in embarrassing Jesse pretty badly. He got very testy when they didn't just stand their and record his blather for posterity or at oeast the US wire services.

On a related matter, go over and check Paul Wells' blog. He starts by riffing on Ottawa Sun columnist Earl MacRae through a link to a couple of other articulate blogs. It is worth following especially since the root of the riff is in MacRae's looney column on Terri Schiavo.

Here's one of my favourite lines from the guys looking to have the tube reinserted. They claim that Terri's husband has moved on with his life by marrying again and fathering two children. Minor problem: Schiavo didn't divorce his wife, Terri. He did not re-marry, nor did he marry another woman while at the same time being married to Terri. Yes, he is co-habitating and has fathered two children, but there is a big difference between that and the illegal acts he is alleged to have committed. It just goes to show that even the most basic of facts are irrelevant to some people when they get fired up with a righteous cause.

The only thing I can say with any conviction on this case is that were Terri Schiavo capable of uttering a single cluster of coherent syllables it would likely be something designed to get rid of the carrion-birds feasting off her body long before she is dead.

29 March 2005

You can hear the eyelids slamming shut...

After a few days of hype and what is euphemistically called speculation by serious journalists, there is a CBC national radio news story tonight from Caroline Dunn about the fuss over Bill C-43. (Sorry there's no link to it.)

While Caroline is very quick to point out there is nothing official yet, she does give two reliable quotes, one Liberal and one Conservative, that point to...wait for it... a deal on Bill C-43 that would allow the right bits of the bill to pass, the difficult ones to go somewhere else and for everyone to avoid an election this spring.

Scan back over these e-pages the past couple of days and you will likely find at least one spot where I either predicted this outcome or strongly suggested it as a sensible option. Certainly I never subscribed to the Great Evil Liberal Conspiracy being foisted by local worrywarts on radio-call-in shows here in Newfoundland and Labrador.

When you take a step back and look at the whole schlamozzle, first raised by Blarney The Dinosaur from The Southern Shore last Thursday or Friday there really never was much chance of an election anyway.

The Liberals may be in the best spot in months but they wouldn't be too anxious to force an election or appear to cause one to occur.

The Conservatives, for all their bluster, have some problems like everyone else in politics, so they weren't about to be seen to smash money for Nova Scotia and Newfoundland, plus cash for seniors, children and just about everyone else all over what they were saying early in the crisis was the word "toxic" being omitted from part of the bill. Even in the grander version, the Conservatives weren't about to be portrayed as electioneers by stomping on an environmental initiative...

at the expense of grandma's' OAS cheque.


Everyone knows that taking cash out of a voter's pocket is no way to start an election.

Anyone who was planning something else just blinked so loudly blind people could hear the eyelids slamming shut in Ottawa.

More offshore goings on - what is happening.

Flip around the net today and you'll see some stories on the offshore bill currently before parliament in Ottawa.

CBC Radio has Loyola Sullivan writing the feds, as noted in the Blarney post. This story also has Roger Grimes criticizing Danny Williams for not seeing this problem and negotiating a separate piece of federal legislation.

VOCM is quoting a number Bill Matthews encouraging his [former (?)] political soulmates Loyola Hearn and Norm Doyle to pressure their party to vote the right way on the offshore bill.

So what is it all about in as few words as possible?

1. On one level, the federal Opposition parties are flexing their muscle to see what they can get the government to do to make them happy. It is a cosmic game of chicken among the parties in Ottawa, the Libs included.

Even Jean LaPierre's musing about not wanting an election feeds into the game since it is possible the Opposition types would be dumb enough to defeat the government and head to the polls. Since the Liberals are on an upswing and all the Other Guys are not, it isn't the government that stands to lose. LaPierre's comments about losing seats in Quebec is almost laughable; the Blocheads know full well they are about at their peak - they have to wonder if it's worth gambling their huge winnings last time on picking up a handful of new seats next time.

Contrary to appearances, the Cons still have some deep internal divisions, especially here in Newfoundland and Labrador. Everyone might blunder into an election, but no one should feel smug about the outcome. Expect the Martinites to fight a slightly better campaign than their last one.

2. On another level, the federal Conservatives are playing to their money base with the play against Kyoto. Irony of ironies, even though the provincial government here doesn't like some aspects of Kyoto either, the local take on this pits oil money against oil interests and oil interests are losing in popular opinion. The Harperites might be emboldeneed by some internal polling and their supposed convention bounce; personally if I were a Con strategist, I'd count on a few policy meltdowns on the trail. That is, unless you manage to dump every single one of your old Reform/Alliance members of parliament.

3. The Libs are trying to hide their Kyoto tardiness. Big announcement, but so far no plan and no progress. The measures in C-43 are little bits of Kyoto that look like action without being substantive moves forward. They will play well across the country, except in some segments of Alberta opinion. Truth is, health care is more important to Albertans than Kyoto. Ask any polling firm. The Martinites are looking strong on health and toher key issues.

4. On an individual level, Loyola Hearn is using this for his own purposes, aided and abetted by his buddy Loyola Sullivan and the letter to John Efford. They are identifying the wrong problem (it isn't the government, guys) and the jabs at Efford suggest the Loyola Twins are still setting one or both of the pair up for a run at federal politics next time out. It's a pretty crass game, boys. Be ashamed.

5. The provincial government stopped working before the fight was over. I had some government sources telling me a few months ago that no one on The Hill had bothered to do a count and see if the offshore bill would pass. They took it for granted; I was floored. Now we have the proof that the provincial government wanted to declare victory and start the floor show long before the job was actually done.

6. Roger Grimes scores big on other issues; flubs the offshore. Despite a strong and effective performance in the budget aftermath, especially on the Grand Falls cancer clinic, Grimes is just throwing something at the wall when he talks about negotiating some kind of deal beforehand on how the bill would proceed.

No government is going to stand for having its running of the House a subject for negotiation with the outside world. I don't tell you how to speak to your wife at breakfast, Roger. There are some things that are just none of anyone's business. If someone had suggested to Roger the format for government legislation, I would hope Roger would have told them to sod off.

More to the point, though: Look up, Roger, at point 4, and see a stronger argument.

7. Efford is shocked; Who cares? The CBC Radio story says Efford is shocked at this situation - that's their starting comment. Who cares how you feel John? Make a substantive comment. Too many politicians, Efford and Grimes included, like to start their media comments with phrases like "shocked", "dismayed" or "appalled" as in 'The politician in question is shocked at recent media reports..."

Short answer from the news rooms of the world: who gives a flying toss about your mental state? If you are feeling something try taking a pill, getting some exercise or seeing a psychiatrist. Your moods aren't news. Give me some substantive comment or get lost.

8. Efford may be sleeping. As I have noted, in Nova Scotia, their federal cabinet rep took the lead on the story. Here it was Blarney, the Dinosaur. Efford was unseen and unheard until a couple of days into the story. John needs to revamp his office in a big way. Start with yourself. When it comes to any staff changes, just make sure you hand out the pink slips correctly the first time, John.

9. Last but not least, VOCM needs new talk show hosts who actually understand current events. If Open Nite Line is actually pure entertainment, then by all means replace the current talking heads with actors and other performers. Brian Tobin is looking for work. Maybe you can cut a deal with Rogers to borrow their Out of the Fog team now that they have a stronger call-in show on Sunday nights to handle news and current events.

Blarney - the Green Dinosaur from the Southern Shore

The ongoing whining about Bill C-43 reached a predictable pitch over the past 24 hours as more news media picked up the story and the Open Line shows displayed yet again that anyone can call and say anything without the hosts being able to correct misinformation and sometimes sheer bull****.

The spin, especially the Open Line spin, has been that the dastardly Liberals are jeopardizing the offshore revenue deals by lumping them with a bunch of other bits of controversial legislation. Loyola Sullivan, provincial finance minister and close ally of the future candidate for the federal riding of Avalon (i.e. the Whiner from Renews Loyola Hearn) has written to the federal government seeking reassurances that the offshore money bill deal will pass.

Well, let's just look at a few things:

1. Last year, like every year, the Official Opposition voted against the government budget bills. What would be different if they did the same thing this year?

2. Last year, Loyola Hearn voted against a government bill that changed the Atlantic Accord so that Newfoundland and Labrador would always be able to chose the offset mechanism that gave it the most cash. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, the Whiner voted against Newfoundlanders and Labradorians.

3. In a minority parliament, the Opposition parties actually have to make principled decisions, not reflexively vote the party line. Hence their quandary this time. As I noted before, Hearn's real complaint is two fold: first, he knows his party doesn't support the offshore revenue deal so that after an election, a Tory government would kill the cash. Second, in the short-term, Loyola Hearn lacks the political power to ensure his colleagues vote the right way on Bill C-43.

4. Rather than reflexively supporting his Tory Twin, the local Loyola should be writing to his federal leader, one Mr. Stephen Harper seeking his assurances that the federal Cons will support the provincial Tories and vote to pass C-43. Hint for the Loyolas: the Liberals are already behind this bill.

5. The dastardly bill C-43 includes 24 sections. Parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 8, 11, 12, 23 and 24 all provide improved financial benefits to individuals, corporations and the provincial governments. Three sections, namely 5, 8 and 11, are ones that Loyola Sullivan should be very concerned about if the Cons vote against the bill and in so doing force an election. The Local Loyola should be screaming for Mr. Harper to hold his nose and pass the bill since those sections alone provide more cash for children, municipalities and, yes Loyola's own coffers from the offshore.

Basically, the only thing the federal Conservatives are upset about are three sections that make changes to environmental legislation. There is way more good in this bill than bad. Rather than threaten to defeat the bill maybe the Cons could try some old-fashioned political bargaining and see if they can cut a deal on the environmental provisions. Maybe a deal can be made that meets the needs of all Canadians and reflects the range of opinion in the country and in the Commons.

I'd strongly suggest Mr. Harper contact his Republican friends from the U.S. and ask them how to handle the kind of bargaining that is commonplace in the US federal congress and any state legislature.

Bottom line: Mr. Hearn and his colleagues are playing the worst kind of old-fashioned politics with this bill trying to blame others for their own lack of imagination and genuine political skill. Hearn has even taken to criticizing John Efford in an effort to divert attention away from his own impotence. Talk about playing the same old sound-track over and over again.

I won't engage in the sort of shameless hyperbole that Hearn has been using.


I'll just say what I have heard since last Friday is sadly typical of the b/s Mr. Hearn has been spouting for the 23 years he has been a politician.

That he has a ready audience on Open Line is also sadly typical. If anyone - especially Linda or Bas - bothered to look at C-43, they'd see through the Blarney from Renews in a heartbeat.

28 March 2005

Sex, biological weapons and not a condom in sight

Flip around the net long enough and other things appear on the Jennifer Murphy case. Flip down to the end of this post for some really interesting information about what is housed at Borden.

Here's the text of another Star story. Seems the "minor, unrelated matter" was Jennifer Murphy being in the single persons quarters at Camp Borden. Single quarters, known colloquial as the shacks have limitations on who can be there and when. As this Star story indicates, Ms. Murphy had been detained for "trespassing".

Former Canadian Forces members may be surprised to see the lackadaisical attitude that is taken to single quarters these days, since at least one person is quoted as saying that the shacks are like college dorms with lots of casual sex going on. Ms. Murphy is alleged to have gone from room to room in the shacks wearing nothing but panties and boots - here's that same story again but in another locale. Does anyone think there might just be tons of rumour going on here and not much fact?

Personally, as a former DND public affairs officer, I am gobsmacked by the freedom with which people are making comment, like the woman identified as Private Trisha Harnett. Canadian Forces members can speak to the media based on something called Defence Administrative Orders and Directives, specifically the 2008 series covering public affairs. The main thing that used to be taught was to "stick to your lane" meaning comment only on things you know about. Private Harnett's comments strike me as being damned close to rumour and gossip, not something she can attest to as a matter of fact.

It would seem that in DND/CF these days anybody is free to say anything to anyone at any time.

Consider this part of a CP story: "Borden resident Wanda Seymour, whose husband is a military police officer, recalled seeing Murphy at a local Tim Hortons dressed in only a miniskirt and tube top - in minus 20 C weather."

Now think about that. The woman who made that comment is married to a military police officer. Aside from the fact that Ms. Murphy's attire at a Timmy's had nothing at all to do with the charges against her - let's go back to my consistent comment that there is more gossip here than fact in the rapportage - one wonders what else this woman told reporters that didn't get into the actual story. She did manage to tell them she was married to a meathead so even her own gossip and speculation could be mistaken for something more credible than it is.

The more I see of this story, the more I am thinking there is a public affairs disaster brewing here - and it isn't just about the matter of sexual promiscuity and the threat of AIDS among CF personnel.

Nope. I am starting to think there has been a general breakdown in discipline in the CF to the point where public affairs officers have no idea what is being said by anyone and no one feels obliged to be circumspect in their comments to media (including PAOs).

Beyond that there is a complete breakdown of fundamental common sense to the point where this issue could mushroom into a major crisis in the CF. Forget Somalia. Apparently, Borden has turned into the CF's very own little Sodom and Gomorrah.

Take the sum total of all the stuff you have seen posted here over the past couple of days and you have this:

- rampant sexual activity on DND property contrary to good order and discipline (the old section 129 of the National Defence Act); Contrary to a comment from one soldier, DND shacks should not be like the mythical college dorm from Animal House.

routine trespassing by civilians in personnel quarters on a base that includes the Canadian Forces Nuclear, Biological and Chemical Weapons Defence School and the Canadian Forces nuclear emergency response team. This bit of the story alone makes me wonder what is going on. It's not like NBC defence is a minor issue in these days of global terror; and,

- mature adults who have never heard of condoms. Talk about your Homer Simpson moment. Even if Jennifer Murphy was the skank some people are making her out to be, the phrase "unprotected sex" is enough for me to charge every single male who comes forward and confesses to having unprotected sex with her with:

- conduct prejudicial to the good order and discipline of the Canadian Forces (Sect 129 of the NDA); and,

- an offence related to willfully self-inflicted wounds since acquiring HIV will render the person unfit for active service (deployment overseas) in most instances.

There could be other things but that is a start.

I am thinking that as this story spreads, it will only get worse for DND/CF. It might be time for some Rick Hillier common sense to apply here.

27 March 2005

The Nigeria scam spreads

About 10 years ago, the bunko artists in Nigeria - the oil-soaked country is actually one giant criminal wasteland, but that is another story - came up with a brilliant scam: write to people claiming to be a bank representative seeking to get some phantasmagorical sum out of Nigeria. All they need is your bank account number, branch and address, a specimen signature, your full name and address and some of your official letterhead if that is something you have.

In exchange, they promise to send you tens of millions of dollars.

What they do is drain your account since they have all the necessary bits.

The scam is so old now I doubt there are people who haven't heard of it. The con types stopped using paper a long time ago and now use e-mail to flip their messages around the world.

Here are the latest variations I found in one e-mail inbox of mine:

- Gina Gloria Bello - claiming to be an Afghan woman whose husband was killed in the war on terror. The interestingly named "Afghan" woman, who name sounds more like an Italian porn actress-cum-member-of-parliament than a farsi-speaking widow, supposedly has US$25 million stashed away that she wants to turn over to charity. My personal favourite Bello remains Maria. She starred alongside Mel Gibson in the movie Payback, which as we all know is a mother.

- one Cheung Pui of the Hang Seng Bank claiming to have $24.5 million belonging to a former Iraqi army officer. In order to subvert laws whereby this money will become property of the Hong Kong government (Hong Kong doesn't have its own government as such), I need to send this guy some paperwork so I can be made the next of kin for one Major Fadi Bassem. This one is so widespread, I am just gonna link you to the results of the google search using "fadi bassem".

- A Senator Gwarzo from Nigeria wants assistance in smuggling US$45 million in exchange for which I will get 30% of the gross. He claims to know Sani Abacha, the former president of Nigeria. He knows him so well in the e-mail Gwarzo claims Abacha is currently in power; the late General Abacha is dead. This particular scam is so old there is a website in its honour.

- MR.YANG CHEN,managing director of Hebei Metals & Minerals Import and Export Corporation (HMMIEC) wants me to be his agent in North America. There is a website for the company, whose rep is one Jacky Chan. Interestingly, the website lists no street address for the company. They might be legit. - Maybe Danny Williams would like to put these guys in touch with local business developers like he did with another Chinese company with a definitely shadey bunch of associations.

- Anthony Tunde of Nigeria who wants to squirrel away about US$27 million.

- Oko William and his US$36.8 million. This guy wants my passport photo too.

- Someone named Queensley Rhoda who advises I have won US$2.5 million with some lottery tickets.

All of these were sent to an e-mail address in the name of "horridlm", as in Horrid Little Man, a nick-name I picked up a long time ago.

Obviously, I know these offers are all legitimate ones since they weren't just sent to anyone on an e-mail list.

And for those in the trivia business, the name of the Mel Gibson character in Payback is the same as the guy who sent me the link to sign up for that particular e-mail account. He didn't tag me with the horridlm name; a mutual friend did. Porter just thought it was appropriate.

Some questions for DND/CF

According to a Canadian Press (CP) story, the Canadian Forces (CF) has issued a CANFORGEN to all Canadian Forces personnel warning them to seek medical attention if they have had sexual relations with the woman accused of having unprotected sex with at least one soldier from Camp Borden.

In a gigantic nose-puller, the military public affairs officer assigned to the National Investigative Service said it would be a mistake to call this a military alert. What exactly is a CANFORGEN, then, Captain Mark Giles? CF members will recognize the spin Capt. Giles is applying here to a Canadian Forces General Order.

A CANFORGEN may not put the CF on some state of war readiness but it damned well constitutes an official communication from the very top of the chain of command. Canadian Forces members ignore it at their peril and I don't mean because of the health implications in this case.

Here's another curiosity from another CP story courtesy of the Lethbridge Herald. The story is titled "Woman charged with spreading HIV volunteered her status to investigators: Star" and datelined last Friday.

According to this report, Ms. Murphy was originally questioned in a "minor, unrelated matter" and volunteered her HIV status.

Two things:

First of all, since when should Captain Giles be releasing such information to the public about what a suspect revealed or didn't reveal in the course of any investigation? This may be a privacy violation not to mention a violation of just plain old common sense for police services not to talk about a matter which is currently before the courts.

Second of all, and more importantly, was Ms. Murphy cautioned? That is, was she advised of her right to counsel and to remain silent and did she knowingly waive that right before "volunteering" the incriminating information. I refer those curious about this to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Other media reports had the meatheads issuing an alert for a woman based on a complaint. This CP story has it the other way around: Ms. Murphy incriminated herself, named the victim and then was subsequently charged.

How then did Ms. Murphy wind up assisting police with their inquiries on another matter and just coincidentally happening to volunteer this information? What was the other "minor" matter, anyway?

Since Captain Giles is being quite liberal with his comments on this matter perhaps it's time he laid it all out for the public in a televised news conference.

Loyola's Latest Lamentations

Oh, my.

With Parliament closed for Easter, seems like Loyola Hearn has nothing better to do than bombard VOCM with his cryptic comments that are more motivated by advancing his own political interests than anything else.

Flip over to the revamped and much improved VOCM website to see Loyola pledging to vote "in the best interests of the province" when it comes to Bill C -43. That's the one he was complaining about the other day, although a closer inspection revealed he was actually complaining about his own lack of juice and his own party's stance on offshore revenues.

Now, Loyola, what exactly does it mean to vote "in the best interests of the province"?

That is the sort of meaningless drivel that old-fashioned politicians like Hearn love to throw out in utter contempt for their constituents' ability to think. It gets their name in the news without having to actually do anything or say anything. I'll bet Loyola actually thought about pledging to support the bill "in the fullness of time" and see if he can separate the offshore bits so this can be dealt with "on a go-forward basis".

Does it mean Loyola will buck his party and thereby jeopardize his chances of a cabinet seat in a future Harper government? Does it mean he will vote with his party, defeat the government and try to get himself in the cabinet in that future Harper government? Bonus points to anyone who can tell what Loyola will do based on his comments.

My money would be on the whole thing being more empty posturing on Loyola's part. There would have to be a conjunction of all Opposition parties voting against the bill or parts of it simultaneously to bring down the government. Loyola knows full well that none of the Opp parties want an election when the Liberal Party and the Prime Minister are running ahead in the polls. They also have some cash problems left from the last election. Until all that gets into a better position, the Opposition would be a little wonky to force an election at this point.

So, Loyola spins out some gibberish comments and gets some coverage without having to take a clear position on anything.

When you have finished looking over Loyola's Latest Lamentation, have a look at two other sites.

One is Loyola's own website, particularly his news releases, out-of-date though they are. Go through them and count the number of times Hearn attacks John Efford even though Hearn isn't the Natural Resources critic. Remember what I said about Loyola planning to run against John next time? Don't forget that the chief provincial architect of the "Attack John" movement was Loyola Sullivan, Hearn's old buddy and campaign manager.

Of course the February 18 release is just hysterically funny: Loyola Hearn who doesn't even understand the Accord he voted in favour of in the House of Assembly 20 years ago criticizes John Efford for not getting it.

Maybe I need to post the series of Loyola-isms on the Accord.

The second link is to the text of Bill C-43, the one that has Loyola lamenting everything he can think of and more besides. It makes for some interesting reading, despite Loyola's moaning from Renews.

The next post will walk through the Bill to see what horrendous things Loyola might be opposed to other than the offshore revenue bits.

26 March 2005

Laughable Loyola

If he weren't so utterly annoying, the whiner from Renews Loyola Hearn would be the funniest member of parliament elected from this province since maybe Dave Rooney.

Dave used to spend most of his time as MP sending off entries to National Lampoon's "True Facts" page. Since it happened to be in his riding, Dave is the guy who sent the Lampoon the picture of the road sign that pointed to Dildo in one direction and Heart's Content in another.

Would that Loyola would send road signs out as news releases instead of the tripe he foists on the people of the riding he represents but doesn't even see fit to live in. Mr. Hearn has apparently described a budget bill tabled in the Commons on Thursday as the "sneakiest, lowest form of politics he's ever seen. " At least, that what the Telegram is reporting on Saturday.

The bill is an omnibus one, meaning it has a whole bunch of different subordinate ones inside the big bill. It is a budget measure so that if the government loses a vote on it, there would likely be an election.

Here's the truly laughable statement from Loyola, who has repeatedly assured us that his party will give Newfoundland and Labrador everything on the offshore it wants. Mr Hearn is apparently worried that "if something isn't done, the province may never see any of the $2 billion in Atlantic Accord funding."

How would that work exactly, Loyola? If the bill passes, the province gets all the money it signed on for. If the bill is defeated, we have an election. If the Liberals are returned to power, the bill gets passed and the province gets its money.

What happens if Mr. Hearn becomes a cabinet minister in a Harper government? Apparently, Loyola is worried he can't deliver the goods. Loyola knows that if the Tories get elected, the whole offshore deal is toast. We will get not a sausage; bugger all. Mr. Harper is committed to changing the Equalization formula, not to giving this province an offset deal like the one signed in January. That requires consent of all the provinces, so the chances of it happening are pretty slim.

So what Loyola is really saying is that we should work to get the Liberal bill through or get the Liberals re-elected because his guys just can't be trusted. The sneaky part of this whole exercise would be Loyola's assurances about the Cons supporting Loyola and the province on the offshore issue. The "lowest" part of this would be Loyola attacking the Liberals when he should be attacking his own guys or maybe apologizing to the people he represents for misleading them. Have I got that right, Loyola?

By the way, Mr. Harper also plans to sell off the Hibernia shares "for the good of all Canadians" as he put in in a letter to Danny Williams. Loyola doesn't want to talk about that, however.

Mr. Hearn: try telling the truth for once instead of launching into your partisan diatribes, most of which are built on saying things that are untrue, false and factually inaccurate.

If Loyola says this budget bill is the lowest thing he has seen, he knows of sneaky political behaviour. He has been witness to or perpetrated some of the lowest forms of political behaviour in Newfoundland history. Like, for example, slashing the Opposition budget as close to zero as possible after the 1982 election. One of Loyola's Tory buddies said the Liberals could go meet in a phone booth for all he cared. There went a democrat, hey, Loyola?

Of course, Loyola himself has been known to participate in some low forms of political behaviour.

Like spreading totally false information. His last constituency flyer issued right before the writ dropped for the 2004 election had some complete and utter falsehoods in it about the Atlantic Accord. Actually, throughout the Accord discussions, Mr. Hearn was fond of spreading misrepresentations and other falsehoods. They were all things Mr. Hearn knew to be untrue or ought to have known were untrue when he uttered them.

As for Mr. Hearn's behaviour during the campaign it was some of the most cowardly or arrogant behaviour imaginable. I can't decide which it is when the candidate runs on a platform of accountability and then steadfastly refuses to appear on any platform or at any event with any of his fellow candidates. I think the Mount Pearl Chamber of Commerce is still waiting for the arrogant Mr. Hearn to respond to their invitation to an all-candidates debate.

Some of us here in the riding thought of sending out search parties to find the little fellow from Renews when couldn't be found either campaigning or doing media interviews. He did participate in a CBC Radio forum but refused to show up in the studio with the others. Brave Mr. Hearn literally phoned it in.

Any guy who tells his constituents things that are simply not true in order to get ahead shouldn't be criticizing anyone else for anything.

If Mr. Hearn had an ounce of class, he'd apologize for his behaviour and then just clam up for a while.

25 March 2005

Speaking of nailing people to trees...

It seems to be going around. My headline today is intended to be ironic rather than blasphemous.

On this Good Friday, take a little flip over to see Paul Wells, if you haven't been doing it lately.

Therein, you will find two stories on one Reuben John Efford under the head "Big defeat for the small preliminary emitter".

The first reference is to a story that a major environmental project that should be in John's department is being handed to Environment Minister Stephane Dion. The reason is simple, according to Paul: Dion can get the job done. The story is from Canadian Press, incidentally - not famous for spin - and describes a realignment of projects between two departments. The interpretation here is Paul's.

Is it an unreasonable interpretation? Not from my perspective. The original CP story rightly points out a conflict-of-interest problem with having a department represent both the energy industry and working on stuff related to Kyoto, which the industry opposes.

There is a rationale to the CP story. But if Paul is taking another tack, then expect that there are other voices on the hill - including within the Liberal Party - who are telling a slightly different version behind the scenes. I am speculating here but Efford still hasn't recovered from the Accord schlamozzle.

What became clear during the entire Accord fiasco (from the federal Liberal politico standpoint) is that from the beginning John never understood either the politics of it (Danny sandbagged him - John helped pile the bags up) or the substance of the file (Equalization, oil revenues or royalties not interchangeable terms etc. etc. etc.) It was also pretty obvious that Efford fancied himself more "the Premier who should have been the Fighting Newfoundlander" rather than "the much more powerful guy in Ottawa fighting for Newfoundland for real".

While everyone else may point to his supposed take-it or leave-it ultimatum, federales will point to a whole bunch of other stuff. Certainly they weren't any more impressed with his "owe poor me crap" after February 14. They really resented finding themselves in a situation where there was no cabinet representative from Newfoundland able to tell the federal side of things.

If John takes a hit on anything, they won't be crying. Payback, as Gus Hasford once wrote, is a mother.

Therefore, in the second Efford story that won't go away, there are likely Liberal staffers who are smiling at Paul Wells' links to a CBC Radio story on the incomprehensible case of one Rodney Mercer. Mercer is a former political staffer for Efford who was dumped unceremoniously, Mercer alleges, once he was diagnosed with epilepsy. Some of the evidence Mercer offers to back up the story are "termination letters" he received that differ widely from one another. The generous one dates from the initial termination; the less generous one dates from after a human rights case was filed.

Personally, I don't know Mercer from a hole in the ground. I do know Efford. This story hasn't looked right from the beginning on a whole bunch of levels. If nothing else, the termination letters as CBC describes them are merely internal memoranda in which the minister orders severance.

Maybe things are different with the feds, but in my experience in these situations, there is usually a nice letter. The one thing the minister would definitely do is leave the administrative details to his staff. The letter confirming severance would come from someone like say the political chief of staff.

First of all, it isn't Efford's job - why should a guy focused on mega-billion dollar oil plays spend time confirming that severance at two weeks per annum works out to 2.7 weeks for Mercer - and secondly, it prevents even the appearance of just exactly the sort of political mess in which Efford finds himself.

It takes a lot for a political staffer to go public with a complaint like this. That Mercer has persisted suggests there is something here he feels genuinely aggrieved about. That he can offer evidence that seems to support his case- changes, timing and Efford's signatures - is troubling.

The story now gets uglier, since Mercer is alleging that Efford has arranged to have his campaign co-chair appointed to the human rights commission before it hears Mercer's complaint.

And once again, the public response from Efford and his office isn't even close to the standard. If there is more to the story than meets the eye there are ways of getting it out there. If Efford and his people screwed up, then they should know when to stop with the nonsense that isn't working

Like I said to Danny Williams the other day John via this blog, politics is a funny business.

You can only shoot yourself in the foot so many times before someone takes the gun away from you.

Same thing goes for a hammer and nails and a tree. You can only nail yourself on so many times...

24 March 2005

Would they have said she had an Albertan or Jamaican accent?

When a buddy of mine went off to graduate school about 20 years ago, he marveled at the subtle and ever-present tendency among the politically correct Torontonians to treat Newfoundlanders as being a special case.

By special, I refer to a case where a criminal suspect was described by local media as being "a Newfoundlander". When he called the news director to inquire he was told that the word Newfoundlander was included in the description of the suspect because it would help identify him.

It wasn't a question of funny dialect or a cute accent. Nope. This guy was described as a Newfoundlander solely based on appearance.

Do we look different from other white people?

My buddy, who at the time had a pronounced St. John's accent, may have stood out a little different from the others in a crowd once he spoke. But then, most mainlanders would have mistaken him for Irish, as they often do. In my own case, the only mainlander who ever identified my home province by my speech was my future father-in-law. Then again, having spent his career as an army signaller, he got used to hearing the flattened vowel sounds and clipped words that almost every other mainlander I encountered just missed. With anyone else, I could pass, as the saying goes.

Today, we have the second story in The Toronto Star about a woman originally from Newfoundland charged with several criminal counts for having unprotected sex with a male acquaintance despite the fact she is HIV positive. The woman didn't disclose her medical condition. This happened at Camp Borden one of the oldest and largest military bases in the country.

Oh yes, and the woman hasn't lived in Newfoundland for at least 18 months. She would be accurately described as being a woman from the small town near Camp Borden where she actually lived. I doubt she hopped a CanJet flight every weekend just to get laid.

The Star's coverage has quickly descended into gossip, reporting on the woman's attire, her rumoured presence at parties dressed in nothing but boots and panties and everything else you can think of.

Here's the lead from yesterday's story, the one that first reported the story:

"CFB Borden—By most accounts, Jennifer Murphy was a party girl. But according to military investigators at Canadian Forces Base Borden, she kept a terrible secret: She had AIDS. Murphy, 31, has been charged with two counts of aggravated assault after allegedly engaging in unprotected sex at CFB Borden, Sonia Verma reports..."

Here's the lead on the Day Two story:

" Rumours swirled yesterday at Canadian Forces Base Borden as stunned residents tried to make sense of allegations that a woman knowingly spread HIV by having unprotected sex with a soldier. "A lot of the guys are thinking, `Oh my God.'" said Tara Perry, who is stationed there with her husband while he completes a military course. Isabel Teotonio and Sonia Verma report..."

Ted Blade's of CBC radio's On the Go interviewed The Star reporter this afternoon who has been on this one from the beginning. The thing that stood out most of all was the ease with which this reporter descended into the salacious details of this woman's allegedly "promiscuous" activity. The reporter even went so far as to comment on the woman's "bizarre" or unusual behaviour in court during her first appearance.

When Ted asked why the woman was in court, the reporter couldn't even explain the fundamentals of the court process: appear in court to be charged, enter a plea and set a date for trial. If it wasn't that, then there may have been a preliminary hearing to determine if there was enough evidence to send the matter to trial. The reporter was obviously there for the skin, not the law.

Three things struck me about the story and The Star's less than stellar coverage.

First of all, there is no independent confirmation that the woman is in fact HIV positive or that she failed to disclose her condition to the men she knew in the biblical sense. That stuff will come out at trial - months from now.

Second, there was the obvious "ethnicism" in the alert issued by DND cops. They issued a general physical description and then added the women they sought for questioning had an "east Coast" or "Newfoundland" accent. They wouldn't reveal her name so as not to violate her privacy rights. Pull the other one, there Corporal.

Having spent more than my share of time around Canadian Forces personnel and having been to places like Camp Borden, or Camp Barriefield or Camp Petawawa or even at Halifax and Shearwater, a 31 year-old attractive blonde with a Newfoundland accent is nothing rare.

Les tetes de viandes - either in their traditional Red Cap version or in the National Investigative Service (NCIS) model are not famous for being too swift. The NIS guys, more commonly known as NCIS, like the US Navy version have been known on occasion to more closely resemble a television Jethro other than the one currently played by Mark Harmon.

Third and perhaps most curious, The Star reporter seems to have missed that the Canadian Forces is one big small town. An attractive woman who is friendly suddenly appearing among a bunch of testosterone charged males will set most girl-friends, wives and significant others into a suspicious mode at best. With the mostly male soldiers spending a lot of time away from home on courses and on deployment, homelife gets pretty strained. Suspicions and insecurities set in among men and women. it isn't too hard for the group to pull together and try to undermine an individual who is perceived as a threat to their world.

This may or may not be the case here. It is a possibility and The Star reporter, didn't give me any sense she was even vaguely aware of the possibility she might be getting something less than the straight skinny. In any event, even if this woman spent most of her spare time horizontal, inverted, vertical and sideways with every available person of any sex in Borden, that certainly does not make her guilty of the charges against her. It is irrelevant to the story - unless the goal is solely moving newspapers.

What I heard from The Star reporter was a load of gossip that is unsubstantiated at best. While it makes racey copy, it may ultimately prove to be of questionable accuracy. It wouldn't be the first time the meatheads cocked-up an investigation.

The woman deserves her day in court and for all the evidence to be presented.

And at some point, someone needs to send the meatheads back to their classes on stereotyping and tolerance. I seriously doubt they would have been able to issue a public alert that described anyone of any other ethnicity in the way they did in this case without having The Star rip them to shreds for racism.

As for this reporter being interviewed, I got a bit confused as to which Star she wrote for.

To govern is to choose

Politics is about choices.

It is about voters making choices.

It is about politicians making choices.

On that level, there is no surprise in the government's defence of its decision not to build a cancer clinic in central Newfoundland. We had choices to make; the cancer clinic was something we decided not to do.


What's missing from that answer?

The why.

Why did the government decide not to build the clinic or even refurbish it?

Is it because they didn't have enough money? Nope. They were willing, as anyone can see, to spend $117 million paying off The Rooms and some school construction, thereby pushing the budget in deficit by $14 million.

Loyola Sullivan has excused that by saying they won't have to borrow to make up that $14 million. There is a loan from the Government of Canada for $378 million interest free that we will draw from.

Is it because the regional health authority didn't recommend it? Nope again. The clinic is the top priority. It got axed from last year's budget because last year there genuinely wasn't enough money.

The government's talking points on this issue have been conspicuously weak.

There have been attempts at misdirection, like the Premier's initial response today in which he brought up an interview given by Opposition Leader on Roger Grimes last week on reviewing salaries for Members of the House of Assembly.

There have been pious claims that cancer is important. "Next to of course God, America, I..." time again. The Premier has said repeatedly over the last few days what he said in the House today: " I have indicated previously that the issue of cancer is an issue that is very dear to my heart because we lost a family member within the last two weeks to cancer. So, it is something that I am very concerned about. "

I sympathize with the Premier; my grandmother has inoperable and essentially untreatable lymphoma. But so what, Premier Williams? If cancer was so important, then one would expect you were offering your personal bereavement as a reason to forgive you for spending too much money.

Premier Williams, if cancer was indeed so important to you and you could wave around a clipping from The Independent to rebut Roger Grimes, and, since we know you saw the NTV piece last week, why didn't you simply say that cabinet met after the NTV story and added a few bucks to the budget for Grand Falls. It isn't in the budget document because it had to be printed and that was finalized 10 days or so ago. Last minute addition. Urgent need. I think people would understand that.

There has been an attempt to claim that the Premier didn't know how bad things were there, making reference to the graphic images from last weeks' NTV documentary. The Premier is claiming, one supposes, that in all the time he has been Premier no one has ever managed to convey to him - not John Ottenheimer - not Beth Marshall - not the current health deputy or a previous one who is Clerk of the Executive Council - nor anyone else on the planet - that cancer is so important that a new facility or a refurbished one is need in central Newfoundland.

Then there is this statement made by the Premier in the legislature today:

"I also had an opportunity first-hand to see the cramped quarters which these people were in and, believe me, it certainly had an impact on me, there is absolutely no doubt about it.

The other thing, as I said before, Mr. Speaker, there has been a request for over $4 million for this particular clinic. We do have scarce funds in government. We are trying to be fiscally prudent and not waste money, not the extravagance that was carried on by previous governments with the Cabinet ministers and everybody flying all over the world at considerable expense. If they had been conservative in the money ..."

After acknowledging that he knew exactly how bad things were, the Premier then tries to pretend that all the money he brought back from Ottawa has disappeared. We are somehow in a time warp transported back to last spring. The problem for the Premier is that we attended the news conference, read the news reports and saw the TV ads about your great victory.

The Premier's comments quoted above are nothing less than a shameful attempt at obfuscation, a close cousin of deceit.

Then, there is the issue of John Ottenheimer's visit to the area for a first-hand look. This was the Day One government political response. It was an attempt to get the issue off the screen by expressing shock and taking seemingly spontaneous action - "it is so serious and shocking and cancer is so important, the Premier is putting the minister on a bus today". That served only to raise expectations which then had to be dampened. Hence the efforts on Wednesday at deflection.

But it turns out that Ottenheimer's sojourn in central is not in response to the clinic issue at all. Turns out he was already going to open a new dialysis unit. This will be a side trip.

Oh. I see.

And when all else failed, the Premier fell back on the old stand-by: "We had to clean up the mess left by that crowd on the Other Side, who didn't deal with this issue anyways when they were here."

After riding so high in the polls and after seeming to have mastered finally the political craft, on the second day of the Cancer Clinic Crisis, the Premier and his ministers are flopping around for some plausible response. Their political staff remains apparently so inept or unaware that they either never anticipated this issue arising or they can't figure out a good response. Fire the lot and send them packing with the same crowd that wrote the hideous speech in January last year.
Here's a novel idea: how about telling people the truth?

To govern is to choose. That's a "gimme". So the choice was made, Premier Williams and you made it.

To govern is also to be accountable to the voters.

To be accountable, the Premier need only explain why government chose not to build a cancer clinic that they all knew about. It's much simpler than the nonsense in which the Premier and other ministers are now engaged.

If the reasons were sound, if the judgment was clear, then the Premier need worry about nothing.

But here's the other side of it, Premier Williams, in case you want to take advice from someone else and keep on your current course:

In politics, you can only shoot yourself in the foot so many times before someone takes the gun away from you.

23 March 2005

Loyola Hearn - More blarney from Renews

Here's VOCM story on Loyola Hearn who asked the federal fisheries minister to stop foreign fishing vessel owners from paying bounties to their captains for fishing species under moratorium.

Here's the complete exchange from Hansard.

"Mr. Loyola Hearn (St. John's South—Mount Pearl, CPC): Mr. Speaker, officials from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans recently confirmed what we have been saying for years. Foreign fishing companies continue to break fishing regulations in the NAFO regulated zone. Skippers and crews are even rewarded for breaking the law by using illegal gear and catching species under moratoria.

Canada pays half the cost of operating NAFO and yet the government sits by and says absolutely nothing while abuses go on and on. He who pays the piper should call the tune.

When will the minister put his mouth where his money is?

Hon. Geoff Regan (Minister of Fisheries and Oceans, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, my hon. colleague ought to know that the Prime Minister of the government and I take this issue very seriously. We have fought hard on the issue of overfishing. In fact, our strategy is seeing results.

Both the Prime Minister and myself have raised it at the UN. Last year we had more than 240 inspections, an increase of some 50% over the previous year. We saw a drop of about 32% in the number of infractions last year. We are seeing results from our strategies.

It is a shame the member was muzzled and did not rise to vote in the House for the budget that contained money to fight overfishing."

Two things:

1. How exactly does a Canadian minister stop the illegal practices of foreign vessels? The feds will keep up the pressure, no doubt, but ultimately the ocean is a big place and it is damned hard to put a complete stop to some of these things.

2. Loyola Hearn is a grand-stander of the highest order. At other times recently he has complained about perfectly legitimate and legal practices (hiring vessels to fish quotas in Canadian waters) that went on while he was a provincial cabinet minister here in the 1980s.

Now he slams away at foreign overfishing as if Canadian-owned companies like FPI never engaged in any practices like highgrading, although former fisheries inspector Owen Myers says something very different. He also ignores the fact that when his team was last in power - in the 1980s - they didn't really do anything to curb overfishing domestically or internationally.

To make matters worse, the government of which Mr. Hearn was a part had a deliberate policy of encouraging as many people as possible to get into the fishery, thereby increasing the pressure to overfish the stocks.

None of that excuses the illegal practices involved in overfishing, but it does make it pretty clear that Loyola Hearn will say just about anything irrespective of the details or his own record.

BTW, Mr. Hearn is the member for St. John's South-Mount Pearl.

He retains a residence in Renews, two hours drive outside the riding.

In the last federal election, he refused to run against John Efford choosing instead the portion of his old riding where he figured he'd have an easier time getting re-elected. Instead he won by the narrowest of margins, at least for Loyola Hearn. And he displayed his bitterness and anger, rather than graciousness, on election night, despite winning the seat.

My guess is that Loyola is planning to run in Avalon next time out, anticipating that John Efford won't be running or will be weakened enough for Loyola to have a chance at winning the seat where he lives.

The view from the cape

Here's a link to some comments by Peter Fenwick, former leader of the provincial New Democrats and now a commentator and researcher associated with The Atlantic Institute for Market Studies.

Among Peter's observations:

"There’s lots of money, but much of it is from non-repeatable windfalls that if properly spent could have put Newfoundland and Labrador firmly on the road to debt reduction, and therefore more sustainable public finances. Instead, the opportunity was squandered by short-term decisions to spend much of the money, often unwisely, on schemes that have already proven that they produce little of value." [Emphasis added]

Peter doesn't have many friends left among the New Democrats and I suspect he isn't on many inviter lists of Grits and Tories. He doesn't get paid to be liked; he gets paid to give a pointed opinion and he does so here in spades.

Whether or not you agree with him, read Peter Fenwick regularly.

and if you google search him to find other comments he's made, make sure to add a qualifier like Newfoundland or AIMS. Otherwise you'll get a site in New Zealand.

How many employees do you need, Danny?

How many can I afford?

Last year during the budget fiasco, or the fiasco budget, Loyola Sullivan made a big issue about how this province had more public servants than any other jurisdiction in North America.

Now this year - when there is tons of cash - suddenly Loyola and Danny are talking about how many people haven't been let go and how nobody will be let go as long as there is money to pay for them.

That's a bit of what I meant when I talked about one strategy last year and one strategy this year.

Some of that big debt jump

Remember I mentioned that big jump in the provincial direct debt yesterday?

Well Loyola did throw out something on it yesterday in the House of Assembly that explains at least part of it, although not that well. A phone call and some e-mails to one of the people who understand these things put me on the trail of the cash.

Following is what Loyola said - word for word. I am going to cut the man some slack since he was turning beet-red yesterday dealing with Opposition questions. If the strategy works, Roger, keep piling on the pressure and see if you can cause a stroke. But man, it is a hard way to do politics.

Also, I am going to check on this in greater detail since Loyola's explanation is just nutty. If I read Loyola correctly, we were supposed to be given Equalization at a steady rate and to do that we get a loan of almost $400 million that we have to pay back. Equalization comes with no strings attached. This shows up on our books as a debt, even if it is interest-free.

More to the point though, this whole line of questioning was about whether or not the government "cash" deficit was real or not. Mr. Sullivan appears to be saying that we don't have to borrow to make up a shortfall. What colour is the sky in your world, Loyola? Now if that $14 million shortfall this year is coming from that loan, we still wound up borrowing it - from the Government of Canada!

He also said there is only one deficit. Then he proceeds to talk about a "cash" deficit and how government will balance the books on a "cash" basis. But Loyola, if that was true, then your budget speech wouldn't have made a distinction between the "cash" deficit and the accrual deficit. That last one is one you talk up whenever you want to throw around a frightening number. Get your story straight, Loyola.

"Loyola Sullivan: When money collapses as a surplus it goes to our debt, that is automatic; besides, we are not in the position where we are going to have to borrow. In fact, we just received a cheque from the federal government for $378 million, a ten-year interest free loan, because prior to the Budget 2004, the Minister of Finance for the Government of Canada indicated that no province would get less than the four year average for equalization. So, if we got a loan - we have a cash flow now that would necessitate borrowing for that. He should understand - if he asked these questions, Mr. Speaker, I will explain them to him. We are not in a position where we are going to borrow that. He should understand that. He was Premier of this Province for two-and-a-half years."

Stay tuned for more. I don't think I am going to be eating any crow on this one.

Budget Spin Control 2: the good, the bad and the ugly

After a couple of days of sifting through the budget and listening to the various comments on it, I thought I'd offer a general opinion on the whole package.

The Good: On the whole, this is a decent budget. There are sensible investments and good programs being funded. The health investments are well placed, especially the long-term care facility in Goose Bay. Whether the new money is all federal or not, the provincial government has spent it on health, despite musing earlier about doing something else with it.

The same can be said of education spending. Government needed to spend some cash on infrastructure especially as crumbling ceilings due to poor maintenance or no maintenance create a potential legal liability. Adding a new culture program is a minor outlay in the greater scheme of things but it looks good and government can claim to be saving a few teaching jobs.

And yes, Danny Williams, the amounts are "small money". A few hundred thou here. Even two or three million are tiny in government terms. The big expenditures like the $26 million in education capital actually gets broken down into small packets. The key thing is that the money is handed out all over the place. Is there anybody out there unhappy enough to go to war with you over anything in this budget? Since the future promises only more cash, anyone who didn't get their school roof redone this year or find a fresh can of paint by their door courtesy of John or Tom can just keep talking it up until next year when you'll even more cash to hand out. At worst they wait 'til election year and find out how much cash you do have to toss around.

Politically, the investments are smart since health care and education consistently poll at the top of people's issues. The government has been doing a lot of polling and I am sure they know what is irking people. This is a budget full of balm.

Politically, the budget also trumps the Opposition. As much as the Liberals have been making some solid comments since Monday - full marks Roger and company - the hard reality is that they really can't get very much mileage out of saying "You didn't spend enough, Danny". Wally Anderson complaining about a lack of a theatre space in Goose Bay doesn't trump the long-term care facility. Besides from what I hear, there could be a workable solution to the theatre problem if people weren't clamouring for a new-build hall.

Politically, Danny Williams has used the word "miraculous" twice today - at least twice - in describing his triumph over the deficit demons. My spin metre redlined badly on that one since Danny Williams didn't do a single thing to generate the bulk of the cash he got this year. Thank George Bush and the invasion of Iraq for driving up oil prices. Thank Paul Martin for shovelling out bags of federal cash.

In the end, though, even after we counteract all the stroke-me spin, this budget is a good document. It delivers the promise of sensible fiscal management coupled with social responsibility. Politically, that lines you up with the majority of the electorate (See my post on "The Independents") and therefore you are safe, Danny. Safe, that is unless the political Opposition attacks you where you are vulnerable.

The Bad: Oddity that I am, this is one public relations guy who hates spin. It makes me physically ill. Whenever I hear it, I itch in places mortals shouldn't have to scratch . This budget is full of spin - like the claims of Saint Daniel in the Deficit Lion's Den for example. Self-massage in public is a crime and political self-massage in public is no less distasteful.

As I said in a post on the budget already, the government would do well to make a really simple set of promises on the budget and deliver them. Paul Martin's secret of restoring confidence in federal budgets was to make consistent predictions and then failing to meet them, but in a good way. He coupled that with a clear commitment to spend every extra nickel on paying down the debt. He hit the target time and time again and people re-elected the government based on nothing more spectacular than accountability and credibility.

In 2003, the Tories promised to balance the current and capital account. Rather than spin out the old "cash" balance hooey, Loyola Sullivan should be sticking to the "Promise made; promise kept" line. Tell us now exactly where the extra oil money will go. When you get it, spend it exactly that way. Don't wait 'til mid-year and then claim yet another demon has been slayed. Don't drop it on The Rooms without telling us when you do it. It is my money I want to know what you are doing with it.

That's the sole basis of accountability.

The Ugly: The ugly part of this budget for me remains the lack of a longer term plan to tackle the deficit and debt. Government has everything at their disposal to map out a three to five year plan and stick to it. We had one plan last year. This year we actually have a different one. What will next year bring?

More importantly though, I do find it a little offputting when Loyola Sullivan - a man not prone to exaggeration - starts opining about a provincial debt running somewhere beyond $14 billion. When he shamelessly tosses out the figure of $17 billion, I shudder.

Let's start seeing the long-range fiscal plan.

Summary: Overall, this is a fine budget for the times. It is smart politically and smart financially. What else can I say?