22 July 2005

Mar 10 delayed - Labradorians still get more from Ottawa than St. John's

As I wad cleaning out the mouldy drafts bin, I can across this one which for some reason I didn't post back in March. Here it is now, for the record if nothing else.

[Note: originally drafted March 10, 2005]

There was some reason behind Danny Williams' hastily organized road trip to Labrador this week involving the whole cabinet and a gigantic news conference of cash announcements.

There was a reason...

but damned if I can figure out what it was.

Nor, as I have discovered can anyone else I know offer a theoretically possible explanation that doesn't involve a misalignment of celestial bodies and their influence on undiagnosed mental illness.

The best theory goes that it had something to do with the byelection. Problem for me on that one is that Danny Williams doesn't get any value of putting someone in the caucus of a party he doesn't support when he already holds sway over every MP save one and a good few of the senators from this province already.

Plus, Danny's man - which ever one gets the Tory nod - doesn't stand much of a chance of getting elected in Labrador anyway.

The story of the Labrador road trip gets ever stranger though, when you take into account Rob Antle's front page story in today's Telegram. I have linked to the Telly website but Miller didn't post Rob's story there today. Instead, I am reprinting it below.

It turns out that all but $3.0 million of the $56 million announced by Danny Williams comes courtesy of Ottawa.


it seems most of the projects involved have been announced at least once before, some as recently as a couple of weeks ago.


Add this trip to your Homer Simpson file.

Before we get to the Antle piece, I'll toss out some observations:

1. John Efford needs to take a hard look around him and ask the great Dr. Phil question: "Is this working for you?" Every successful one of John's predecessors never let a nickel of federal money get spent anywhere in the province without the very coins themselves bearing a tag reading "Courtesy of Ottawa". It is unthinkable and unfathomable and a whole bunch of other "un-ables" that John Efford continues to let Danny Williams claim credit for cash from Ottawa.

If John wants to rebuild his image that he tarnished so badly during the recent Accord episode he need look no farther than these sort of announcements.

Get a grip, John.

2. Danny Williams evidently profitted from the advice from his golfing buddy Brian Tobin on being a successful politician. The current Premier's short-lived predecessor was fond of announcing an announcement that announced an announcement of something began to be announced originally a year beforehand. His record may be six news releases and news conferences on a single action, but I'll let someone else keep a closer track of Brian's exact score.

Incidentally, Tobin was once described as being able to smell a headline a mile away. See Greg Weston's account of the Turner tenure as Prime Minister and Leader Opp. (Reign of error, (Toronto: MacGraw-Hill Ryerson, 1988), pp. 142-143) for the full story.

This Labrador trip has Brian Tobin's fingerprints all over it. If Tobin wasn't involved directly, then Danny seems to been channeling Tobin's ghost from the greens.

3. While this gaff isn't as damaging as some of the stuff we saw a year ago, it seems that Tobin...err...Williams and his political staff still have some fundamental difficulties with getting the basics right.

Surely someone knew that this money was old and Federal. No one saw this coming? Maybe the fine are of writing a briefing note that actually says something has been lost.

If the whole thing was one of The Boss' Manic Monday Moments, surely to heavens there is somebody on the Hill who can talk him in off the ledge.

I just shake my head sometimes in utter disbelief. Don't even get me started on the announcement today of a paltry sum to handle school renovations and repairs that appears to have been timed purely in reaction to the last flooding of a St. John's area school.

Anyway, here's the story by Rob Antle.

It may be a one party state, but at least it is entertaining.

Is there a matinee on Sunday? What's the entree this evening?

Text begins...

"Old cash in Williams' speech"
by Rob Antle
The Telegram

Page A1

The Williams administration previously announced plans to spend most of the $56 million it portrayed as new money for Labrador this week.

And the vast majority of the money comes from federal, not provincial, sources.

"Today I am announcing a 2005-06 investment of $56 million to improve access to health services, strengthen aboriginal communities, build and repair infrastructure and expand economic opportunities," Premier Danny Williams said in a news release Tuesday.

"This is the strongest signal yet that government intends to see Labrador thrive and prosper, and to see Labradorians enjoy the same standard of living enjoyed by residents living on the island."

What Williams didn't say is that government previously announced $31 million of that $56-million total six months earlier.

In September 2004, the province said it would spend $35 million to kick-start Phase 3 of the Trans-Labrador Highway.

In Happy Valley-Goose Bay Tuesday, Williams announced $40 million in spending on Phase 3 of the highway - with, he acknowledged, some "carry-overs" from the previous year.

But those "carry-overs" amounted to $31 million, or 78 per cent of the $40-million total.

Department of Transportation officials confirmed Wednesday that new, unannounced, work will account for only $9 million of the money spent in 2005-06.

Elizabeth Matthews, a spokeswoman for Williams, downplayed the discrepancy.

"As the premier stated yesterday, some of these funds are carried from last year," she said in a statement late Wednesday.

Matthews instead highlighted the positive aspects of other funding announced by Williams, such as money for social programs and other infrastructure.

Some of those infrastructure projects have already seen the light of the government news wire as well.

On Feb. 22, the province announced millions in multi-year capital works funding for Wabush and Labrador City - totals that appeared to be included in the $56-million tally unveiled Tuesday.

And most of the money involved is actually federal cash.

Every dime of the $40 million announced for Labrador highway work is from Ottawa.

It is the remaining cash in the Labrador Transportation Initiative Fund - the $340-million, one-time buyout from Ottawa accepted in 1997 by the Tobin administration for taking over responsibility of the Labrador ferry system.

Some $13.3 million of the remaining $16 million comes from various infrastructure funds.

The province offered no specific breakdowns on what money will come from which fund. But most of the programs are cost-shared, with the province picking up anywhere from about 30 per cent to 70 per cent of the overall tab.

The remaining total of about $3 million is broken down into a number of smaller initiatives.

Those include $167,000 for Labrador West residents traveling to Goose Bay for medical care, $200,000 for a hospital infrastructure assessment, $500,000 for the 2006 Labrador Winter Games and $70,000 to reopen a group home.

The Opposition critic for Labrador affairs dismissed many of the funding announcements as recycled news.

"After reviewing the number of announcements yesterday, it appears many of these initiatives were already announced or are being supplemented by federal money," Cartwright-L'Anse au Clair MHA Yvonne Jones said in a statement.

"There seems to be very little in the way of new announcements and many of the pressing needs and priorities of Labradorians were completely ignored."

Jones pointed specifically at the roads funding as an example.

"Premier Williams is trying to convince people that he announced $40 million for the Trans Labrador Highway," Jones said. "In actual fact, this money was announced years ago and is coming directly from the Labrador transportation fund.

"This is nothing more than an attempt by the premier to be seen investing new money in Labrador, when in actual fact, he is bribing the people of Labrador with their own money."

Labrador could be the site of at least one provincial byelection within months.

Two MHAs - Jones and Wally Andersen of Torngat Mountains - are contesting the federal Liberal nomination for Labrador.

If either wins the nomination, they would have to resign their provincial seat.

Andersen has also been linked to a potential role in the new Inuit government of Nunatsiavut.

The potential for another Labrador byelection was averted this week when Labrador West MHA Randy Collins said he would not run federally for the New Democrats.

Collins said in an interview that many people in his district have a positive reaction to this week's funding announcements.

He pointed to health-care money targeted at Labrador West. "I'm pleased to see that (the premier) kept that commitment."

He added, "Always, you'd like to see more."

Text ends.