31 August 2005

Connie TV ads miss the mark

When you take a look at the August flight of Conservative Party television spots, you can see the handiwork of someone who thinks that the Connie problem is just about image.

You can tell what happened. Someone did some polling. They likely found that Stephen Harper appears to Canadians to be a bit to stiff and unapproachable. They likely found an attitude that Harper runs a one-man band with no input from his caucus.

Yep. Must be an image problem, they concluded, betraying their advertising background.

Their simple answer: a bunch of short TV spots showing the Connies working on policy in August, when everyone else is on vacation. Get a catchy slogan: "Stand up for Canada". Include a couple of member of parliament from visible minorities - but only a couple and feature them in just one spot. Have Steve ask people questions. Shoot the whole thing in a store-front somewhere with floor to ceiling plate glass windows. Get Steve out of his jacket. Or if the jacket is on take off the tie. Lots of smiles. Make jokes about Liberals. Be funky and hip.

Poof, says the advertising team, problem solved. We'll just invent a new image.

Warning bells would be going off in the heads of any reasonably savvy political communicator.

Political communications isn't about image. It's about reputation and credibility.

And that's where the Connie's blew it. Right away, the TV spots look contrived - painfully, obviously contrived. No politicians hold meetings in these glass-front offices. They look and sound fake.

And they are. Utterly fake.

The acting sucks. It should; they are politicians for crying out loud, not actors. Worse, the pols in the vids look uncomfortable - they sound and look like they are reading a prepared script.

The set is bogus. No one would believe that policy gets made on the MuchMusic set. None of these guys would be seen on MuchMusic, especially Steve, who still appears stiff and professorial, like he's lecturing people.

The whole thing takes on the air of those breath-freshener spots that mocked the 1970s cop shows, complete with the fake freeze frame at the end.

But those spots were built around the parody as a way of catching your attention and making you laugh. They want you to remember the brand the next time you buy Clorets. The humour is the hook to get your attention and hold it.

Unfortunately, these Connie spots were supposed to be taken seriously.

Unfortunately for the advertisers in this case, picking the people who will run the country isn't the same as picking toilet paper or breath mints.

The spots are being taken seriously, by Conservatives, but that is entirely predictable. They also get a passing grade from commentators like Paul Wells.

The Connie political challenge is to get past the converted and start speaking to other Canadians. They must win over the Canadians who aren't perpetually in a snit, the ones who don't eat up acres of bandwidth sputtering against the evils of the CBC and the rest of the MSM - the mainstream media.

It's a tough job: the most recent polls show that Paul Martin doesn't even have to show up and he clobbers Stephen Harper as Canadians choice for prime minister. The Blogging Connies response, when they are not pounding at the CBC on their blogs, is to create a flashing button on their sites asking where Paul Martin is.

BFHD, as we used to say in high school. Big fat hairy deal.

And like the flashing button, these TV spots are well wide of the mark for fixing the Connie political problem.

The challenge the Connies face is not about looking different. It is about being different. That's the Zen-like difference between political communications done by an advertiser and political comms run by someone with experience at public relations.

Some Connies have suggested that the party should stop trying to look anything than what the part actually is. Now there's an idea. Start by communicating the substance and not the image. If you want to get people to look at the Connie health care policy, for example, why not have a spot featuring Peter Mackay, DDS? He polls well which reflects his natural ability to communicate sincerely, the cousin of crediblity.

Sure it would make Harper's bum even tighter to give one of his rivals a high profile but just think of it. The approach in one feel swoop would wipe out once and for all the rumours that Steve ruthlessly guards his profile. It focuses on the issue not the surface flash. Rather than the artificial team in the current load of TV spots, Canadians would see an actual team. I'd bet cash that their polling numbers would change for the good.

The problem for the Connies is actually really simple and it's one that no amount of advertising will fix. Reputation and credibility are about what you are, not how you look. Billy Crystal's Fernando was dead wrong.

Canadians can see through any image-driven contrivances like these four little TV spots. In the end, the spots, poorly conceived, poorly executed actually add to the Connie malaise. They've already pegged Steve Harper and unless he actually changes or the party changes the leader for a new one, it is damned near impossible to erase the guy's reputation.

But you don't have to take my word for it. Use the link and go watch the spots for yourselves.

I like the child care policy one. The one with the kids in it working at their colouring books.

or was it writing the Connie election advertising strategy?

Steve might consider hiring them. They sure as hell couldn't do any worse a job than the people he paid for two minutes of Canadians' lives they'll never get back again.

30 August 2005

Loyola and "sound fiscal management" - oxymoron [Revised]

Loyola Sullivan turned himself in knots these past few days trying to explain why the province won't be offering any systematic help to low and fixed income earners struggling with high heating costs this winter.

According to Sullivan, we have a huge debt which grows each day.

Ok Loyola.

But you're the finance minister.

What is your plan to stop the bleeding from our budget, Loyola? That's what people elected you to do. That's what you were talking about when you mention all the financial evil the other guys did when they were in power.

Fixing the financial mess was what you promised to do once you got elected.

Truth is Loyola doesn't have a debt reduction plan. He didn't have a real deficit reduction plan either: that was taken care of by the growing economy.

There is no plan, despite promises made by the Premier two years in a row.

As Loyola Sullivan said earlier this year, the Williams government intends to let the debt grow by about $500 million each year for the foreseeable future. If that approach to sensible financial management lasts for 10 years, as Sullivan mused, the debt of the province will be the better part of $ 20 billion. That's the same size as the economy currently. That would put us in the same mess the Wells government inherited in 1989: a debt load equal to the size of the economy.

Talk about living beyond your means.

In interviews yesterday, Sullivan referred to this as being somehow a matter of sound fiscal management.

I call it grossly irresponsible, especially in light of the Great Offshore Deal [editor's note: That was sarcasm] Danny brought home last year. When we are flush with cash, we should be fixing the long-term debt problem so that when the oil runs out, we can still pay the bills.

Piling up more debt is not the way to do that. It isn't what the Williams administration promised before they got elected.

I can see the campaign slogan now:

Vote for Danny and Loyola for Responsible Irresponsibility.

What people will see is Danny and Loyola: Oxymorons.

Premier makes local oil patch sweaty - but not in a good way

The local oil patch grows increasingly nervous with the bellicose rhetoric from Premier Danny Williams about Hebron development and any future developments.

While the Premier seems intent on playing to the Open Line gallery, there is concern he will talk his way right out of a deal that would see development of the last identified commercial field offshore Newfoundland and Labrador.

Of course, since the Premier himself has committed to getting a deal on Hebron development, it makes everyone wonder why he proposed Andy Wells to head the offshore board so that Andy could get the good deals.

Meanwhile, the Premier ignores the red tape and obstacles that prevent the remaining oil that has been discovered offshore besides Hebron from being developed. Knowledgeable people in the local oil industry have repeatedly point to an overall government regime as being the problem. Offshore Angola or in the Gulf of Mexico, the time from discovery to development is measured in months. Here it can be upwards of a decade and more with all the associated costs.

We pay the costs of that delay, incidentally because the oil in the ground has no value. It only is worth cash when we start producing it.

In other places fields of 100 million barrels and smaller are viable. No one in government here - least of all the Premier - is talking about getting that field size to market. They seem content to do, as the Premier did yesterday with the governors and premiers: talk about our resource as growing. Truth is that estimates are growing - but there hasn't been a commercial discovery sine 1984.

Talk is cheap, Premier.

B-17 and P-38 to visit province [UPDATE]

You don't have to be an airplane buff to be excited - I mean really excited - that a fully restored B-17G "Liberty Belle", and a restored P-38 will be visiting the province this week and weekend.

Here's the link to the aircraft website along with a schedule.

The P-38, named "Glacier Girl" was one of a flight of P-38s lost on Greenland and subsequently recovered from beneath tons of ice. Read the story here.

Update - VOCM is reporting that the B-17/P-38 tour has been delayed by Hurricane Katrina.

29 August 2005

A banana municipality or just plain bananas? Mail-in voting system ignores monkey business

A post last week on Bond Papers brought attention to the prospect of vote fraud in the upcoming municipal election in St. John's owing to the vote-by-mail system being used.

Unfortunately, city officials have apparently neglected to provide any measures to discourage, prevent, detect or otherwise eliminate vote fraud.

A story in the Sunday Telegram by Terry Roberts quotes Neil Martin, the City Clerk, as saying that city officials assume everyone will be honest and that there is no way to prevent vote fraud. Since the story isn't available online, I'll try and get a copy of it and post the story here.

Martin is quoted as saying: "We have to trust that people will do what's correct. If we assume there will be corruption, then there's not much we can do."

According to Martin, "We [city officials] are as prudent as we can be. We're ensuring the voter's list is entirely up to date. The ballot is mailed to the person on the list, that person signs and sends us back the voter declaration form, along with the ballot."

At no point did Martin indicate how city officials will ensure that the vote returned was actually cast by the person to whom it was mailed. Nor is there any indication of how the city is ensuring its voter list does not include people who are no longer qualified to vote or who have died.

The Bond Papers' contention that vote fraud was a possibility in St. John's can now be changed to vote fraud is a probability.

It's not as though vote fraud is a rare thing.

The last provincial general election included allegations of voting irregularities in the mail-in ballot system used.

As this British Broadcasting Corporation story reports, electoral fraud in the 2004 Birmingham municipal contest was of such a nature that a judicial inquiry declared the whole election invalid. The link to a BBC video news report on the BBC site describes the electoral fraud in greater detail. The entire scheme involved as few as 1, 500 votes in a municipality with a larger population than the whole of Newfoundland and Labrador. That was enough to skew the entire result, however.

Part of the concern expressed by the Birmingham investigation was that the vote envelopes were so easy to identify that one could not make them more inviting by writing "Steal Me" in bold letters across the front of the package. Ballot envelopes were reportedly taken from postal workers and from household letter boxes, brought to a couple of locations and then completed and returned.

The same situation can easily exist in St. John's, and as the city clerk admits, there were reports in 2001 of ballots laying about in hallways of apartment buildings throughout the city. No one knows where those ballots went or if they were cast. The city cannot tell if they were cast or not, even though the vote-by-mail system is touted as having produced a 10% increase in voter participation compared to the previous general election. That increase in participation coupled with the supposed cash savings to the city are the two reasons given by city officials for going to a completely mail-in vote system.

Any election may be subject to attempts at fraudulent voting. In this instance fraud is taken to mean:

- voting by someone not entitled to vote;
- submission of multiple votes by the same individual (in a one person/one vote system); or,
- removal of ballots in order to discourage voting.

Electoral systems across North America take active measures to prevent voter fraud and preventing fraud is a key part of preserving the legitimacy of the entire electoral process. In a system where the right to govern derives from attaining a majority or plurality of individual votes, voters must have confidence that the system is as free as possible from fraud.

In the State of Oregon, which successfully conducted an entire state-wide election using vote-by-mail, the state government has implemented simple mechanisms using available technology to ensure that each mail-in ballot is cast legally.

By contrast, the City of St. John's has produced an electoral system in which a city official now admits City Hall is completely unconcerned with the prospect of fraud.

Consider the numbers and the realities.

There are approximately 79, 000 eligible voters in the City of St. John's, according to Martin. Given death and the mobility of people in a growing city, it is reasonable to assume approximately 10% of the list will be changed for this election from the previous one.

For a concrete example, consider that both my elderly grandparents passed away since the last general election. The city's list may miss them out. If they receive ballots, count on them being intercepted by my parents who will ensure the ballots are destroyed or returned to City officials unopened.

Others may not be so scrupulous.

Of course, even if the City of St. John's actually has a completely accurate voter list that eliminates all dead people, they still cannot ensure that ballots will not be stolen and cast by someone other than the legitimate voter.

The City Clerk may point to the signature on the returned ballot as some proof of legitimacy. Unfortunately, he has no way of comparing signatures to ensure that the one sent back is from the correct person. That's the system Oregon uses and the one Martin dismisses as being too costly.

In Oregon, the state government funds a process of voter registration and many community organizations and political parties assist in voter registration at no cost to taxpayers. After all, it's in their interest to ensure the system works properly and such a system promotes voter involvement - supposedly one of the goals of the St. John's system. There is no reason to believe such a system couldn't work in St. John's to help ensure the voting system is free of corruption.

The City's system would work to eliminate fraud only if there was 100% participation. In that system, any duplicate ballots and signatures could be easily detected.

Here's the rub: the actual participation rate is now only 60%. City officials can still attain what the Telegram reports as their goal of 75% participation rate in this election, but the increase could be the result of people sending in ballots solely from the residents of the city who are too disinterested to bother to replace a stolen ballot.

To understand the importance of eliminating fraud, consider this: with about 79, 000 eligible voters, 10% to 15% would mean that between 7, 900 and 11, 850 ballots could be fraudulently returned, achieving the desired increase in participation albeit illegally.

Flip over to the City of St. John's website and take a look at the returns for the last election.

- Only 6, 000 more votes would have put Vince Withers in the mayor's chair.
- About the same number of votes put Gerry Colbert in the deputy mayor's chair. His rival was Sandy Gibbons.
- In Ward 1, Art Puddister won by only 1400 votes or so.
- In Ward 4, Kevin Breen took his seat with only a couple of thousand more votes than his nearest rival.
- At large, Tom Hann and Geoff Peters were only a couple of thousand votes behind either Sandy Hickman (who won the by-election) and Dorothy Wyatt.

Of course, the vote-by-mail system actually isn't about fair and legitimate elections. Its official purpose is to get a result as cheaply as possible.

According to the Telegram, the city has budgeted a little under $400, 000 for the election with the bulk of the costs being eaten up by postage.

Although polling day (the date for final receipt of ballots) is September 27th, city officials expect that upwards of 95% of the total ballots cast will be returned within 10 days of their being mailed out on September 9th.

For those who are good at math, that means the election will effectively be over a week before polling day, at the latest.

The city's election system will produce results at a lower cost than traditional forms of voting, but the question remains what the cost will be to democracy.

A public embarrassment

This week, governors from the New England states and premiers from Ontario, Quebec and the four Atlantic provinces are in St. John's for their annual conference.

This is a major international event, with the provinces and states discussing major issues of international trade affecting the northeastern part of the continent.

For this province, it is a chance to showcase what we have to offer and to further strengthen our trading relationships with New England. The premier is about to announce a multi-million dollar contract with a local advertising company to "rebrand" Newfoundland and Labrador. Essentially, he wants to convince our potential trade partners that this is a sophisticated, modern place with which to do business.

That's what makes the government's New England business page, linked from this VOCM web story, such an inexcusable insult to the people and businesses of Newfoundland and Labrador.

Let's walk through the thing and see what we find:

1. Next to a nice smiling picture of Kathy Dunderdale, there is a button that invites us to click it to see the introduction "play".

2. Click it an all you get is a static picture if you use any browser other than Microsoft's own Internet Explorer. Computer programmers will tell you that Explorer is the most common browser out there. Ok. But if I am one of the smart people who uses a browser that hackers can't screw with, why am I getting a second-rate site?

3. There is an instruction on the picture that appears on Firefox that tells you to click the buttons on the left for further information. The buttons are on the right.

4. Click on the button that asks if you are interested in doing business in Newfoundland and Labrador, and you are wisked to a page featuring the smiling face of our own Premier Danny Williams. That's good so far.

5. Click on the button "Your business here", which already looks like a placeholder in a rough draft of the site.

6. Under "Strategic Location and Transportation", you'll find some useful basic information about the province.

7. The first picture in this section appears to be an United States Navy aircraft handling crew from one of its aircraft carriers.

8. The next picture is a fisheries patrol aircraft. That service is supplied by a local company but you won't find a single mention of Provincial Airlines and its subsidiaries anywhere else in the site. Beyond that you won't find any visual proof of our well developed air transportation sector. Nope. Just by looking, I'd think the only way to get here was by small bush plane - a culvert with wings.

9. Under market advantage, the information is ok. Why is there a picture of a defunct Newfoundland stamp and pre-Confederation Newfoundland coins?

10. On the research and development page, try and find mention of the companies like Rutter Technologies, Northstar Network or Northern Radar, all of whom have developed highly competitive, high technology products from their base in Newfoundland and Labrador. They get reduced to a single mention as being "Many local firms..." long after there are extensive paragraphs on publicly owned research facilities.

11. Oh yeah, check out the pictures and see if those don't look like the kind of basic manufacturing you'd find anywhere on the planet.

12. Under "Industrial Infrastructure", there's that carrier deck crew waiting again. The information is generic and the facilities that do exist in the province, like Marystown and Bull Arm don't get a mention or a link. There's just a generic discussion of the fact we have industrial parks...just like you can find anywhere.

13. Under "Communications" , there is a bunch of generic information - nothing to grab your attention - , along with some links to those same public sector outfits mentioned on another page. There is reference to the technology industries association, but nothing on specific achievements. Those are the kinds of things people looking to do business here want to know: what have local companies done - Rutter, Stratos, Northern Radar, GRI Simulations...not a mention.

14. Under "Communications Contacts", you'll find a bunch of associations yet again. Under government contacts, the federal government's Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency is listed under "Provincial Government" contacts.

15. On the main menu again, "Business News" takes you to Kathy Dunderdale's department and its own list of news releases. There's no way to find more detailed information on real business news from the province. If you use Firefox to get to this page you get a message that it is "coming soon".

16. Under trade shows and mission, the page on Explorer went suddenly blank while I was checking it out. Under Mozilla it gave me a list of 11 events occurring between May and June 2005. All the specifics were in 2004! As of 4:00 PM Sunday this was suddenly reading "Available Soon!" - but 2005 is half over, people! Mozilla still gives me the 2004 listing for events but the news page goes to the government site..

17. Back to the home page again, and click on the business directories. The petroleum one is from 2002 - grossly out of date. On none of the directories will you find a hotlink to a website or an active hotlinked e-mail address. So much for showing we can use modern technology.

Overall, this site is a public embarrassment. It might be tidied up by Monday and some of the glaring problems fixed, but some of the more substantive ones won't be corrected - it would require major revamping of the website.

Before we spend dollar one on any advertising campaign, the Premier needs to get a grip on his government.

Marketers can claim we are anything they want. The public relations guys will look at actual performance - your reputation and credibility.

If I were to judge by the nlbusiness.ca website, I'd get the idea Newfoundland and Labrador is not a place to do business.

That is far from true - but a half-assed government website that promotes public sector interests at the expense of the private sector won't attract any interest to the province except head-shaking.

Canadian campaign blog

For political junkies, few things could get them as excited as a new blog from an anonymous but obviously experienced campaigner.

Campaign Central is only a few days old but already the posts have touched on some of the interesting apsects of political campaigns: demographics and communication methods.

Add this one to your "must-read" column.

On a related subject, I have been fiddling with some posts about local campaigns and the way they have traditionally approached things like advertising, media relations and the use of research.

Looking around at the St. John's municipal campaign, there is a great feature piece for local media comparing and critiquing the signs and the approaches. That one will wind up being a post mortem, though since I am actively involved in the campaign right now.

28 August 2005

Eric Gullage to challenge Coombs?

There's a rumour circulating in some circles that former city councillor, former member of the House of Assembly and former cabinet minister Eric Gullage is considering entering the municipal race in Ward Three.

That's the seat currently held by Keith Coombs, junior high school principal and firm believer in running up deficits at City Hall so he can watch hockey games cheap.

Since Ward Three covers most of the district Gullage once represented in the House of Assembly, that's where the widely respected insurance executive is likely to be strongest.

Odds are good that the contest would quickly develop into a two-way race between Gullage and Coombs, leaving the only other declared candidate with a low profile.

Gullage might find that there is a lot of dissatisfaction in the Ward with incumbent Coombs, the sort of stuff that might not be readily apparent or turn up in simple polling.

More sophisticated polling would give him good reason to believe that he could defeat Coombs handily.

Make up your mind, Eric. You might be surprised by the results.

27 August 2005

Blog changes

Some of you may have noticed some changes on the sidebar over the past few weeks.

1. The experiment with advertising died a quiet death. Aside from anything else, the systems are set up to maximise the exposure for the advertisers and minimise the potential for actually having to pay out to the sites where the advertising is. They are gone and they won't be back.

2. Ditto for the news headlines. Seems the guy maintaining it took a vacation and never came back. I found it useful, so if he cranks up again, I'll put it back.

3. Gone as well is the TTLB ecosystem ranking. It looked cute when I first checked it out, but I found that it simply counts the number of links your site has on other sites. That hardly seems relevant to anything, so therefore, there's no point in keeping it up.

For example even though the Bond readership has grown steadily over the past 9 months and the average number of page loads (the number of pages each visitor reads) has gone up, TTLB has actually dropped the Bond Papers ranking below that of sites with significantly less readership.

In the meantime, the fish paper is still sitting there, challenging me to dare to finish it off. It is coming. As soon as I can muster the energy and find the time for the last edit.

26 August 2005

Don't quit your day job, Andy

Some people might think that this announcement moves Andy Wells one step closer to heading up the board that regulates oil and gas exploration and production offshore Newfoundland and Labrador.

Don't count on it.

The province announced today its member on what will ultimately be a three person panel.

That's all that happened.

The job description has already been agreed upon and the list of qualifications has been established. Dean MacDonald, buddy of the Premier and board chairman of the province's hydro Crown corporation only has one vote out of three. Don't expect the federal appointee to be looking too favourably on the Premier's pick, just because Wells isn't qualified for the job.

The deciding vote may well be the third person chosen to chair the three-member panel.

If that person is genuinely neutral and committed to meritorious hiring, and if the voters of St. John's re-elect him, Andy Wells will be sitting in his office on New Gower Street in the New Year pondering what might have been.

What's buggin' Bill?

Crap Talk host Bill Rowe took exception on Thursday to this initiative by St. John's council at-large candidate Simon Lono.

In the interests of full disclosure, Lono is an old buddy of mine and I am working with him on the campaign.

That said, Rowe seemed to find Lono's release today of a basic code of ethical conduct for city councillors to be something that was irksome, troublesome or maybe even obnoxious.

If the whole thing is a statement of the obvious, as Rowe suggested, then Rowe shouldn't have any trouble with it and councillors should be willing to sign on.

Rowe argued at one point that politics is about differences of opinion and conflict. There's a penetrating insight into the obvious, Bill, bye. The question for St. John's residents for as long as I can remember has been how to have the sort of disputes and differences of opinion that are bound to happen without them degenerating into a name calling contest.

In any other place, people would be mortified at having the mayor and a councillor labeling each other as "morons" in a public council meeting and then taking each other to court. That battle was at public expense, if I recall correctly. Even if the two paid out of their own pockets, just the notion that these guys wound up doing everything but sticking out their tongues at each other defies understanding.

Maybe Bill recalls his time when he was a member of the provincial legislature. Back in those days, members sometimes took to fistfights in the precincts of the legislature to settle personal scraps.

Truthfully, I find it really hard to figure out Rowe's line of reasoning.

The sarcastic s.o.b in me wonders if maybe Rowe is afraid that his show will become a place to discuss public issues based on facts.

Maybe Rowe perturbed by the prospect Lono's proposal will resonate so strongly with voters that they'll want to call about ethics rather than clog up the lines moaning about the fortunes of some guy from the province competing in a national televised star search.

Maybe Rowe's annoyed because discussion of Lono's proposal won't let him refer to Newfoundland and Labrador as "a pimple on the arse" of some other place, to use Rowe's phrase.

Maybe things will become a bit clearer later on Friday when Lono calls Rowe's show.

In the meantime, flip over to Lono's site and see what he has been talking about.

25 August 2005

Snowbirds: ground 'em or replace 'em.

This story from CTV highlights the need for Canadians to get a serious grip on their need for an air force aerobatic team.

They are flying aircraft so old that they out to be in a museum.

Accident rates appear to be quite high and I can assure you that it is not the result of the highly demanding and difficult flying the Snowbirds do.

It's time for DND to make a simple decision:

1. Replace the Snowbird's decrepit Tutor aircraft with something modern.


2. Pull them from the sky and direct the cash somewhere else.

- Maybe some operationally needed equipment like heavy lift helicopters or some helicopter gunships.

Lives are at stake here and there's no point in losing them so people can get a cheap thrill on the ground.

24 August 2005

Pat Robertson: stooge

Funny how when prominent people say really stupid things, the first line of defense is always to blame the media for misquoting them.

In the case of American televangelist, erstwhile Republican presidential candidate and typical fruitcake, he was quoted accurately by Associated Press and everyone else who has listened to his comments on Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez.

Here's the CNN story, which includes a link to the video of Robertson.

Robertson thinks that Chavez is such a threat to American interest that the American government should "take him [Chavez] out." Both the words themselves and the context in which they are made make it clear that Robertson is talking about assassination.

Now here's the funky thing about Robertson's comments: there isn't a shred of evidence that Chavez is doing anything vaguely like planning to export "communism" and "Islamic terrorism".

Nope. The only thing Chavez has been doing is supporting Castro and thereby extending Venezuelan influence in a little country that people like Robertson think is their personal property. In other words, it's an old fashioned power issue with people like Robertson misleading people right and right. (Robertson could never do anything left and right.)

The other thing that Robertson is likely looking at is Venezuela's large oil stocks. With people across the United States paying high prices for gasoline, it's pretty easy for a demagogue like Robertson to find a scapegoat in Chavez.

Irony in all this is that only a short while ago, the supposed Christian Robertson was advocating dropping a nuclear bomb in the middle of Washington and at the same time claiming that the Quran advocated violence.

Apparently Robertson never heard of the part of the Bible that maps out a set of simple rules to live by.

They are called the 10 Commandments.

Robertson might want to check out the one prohibiting murder and killing.

Brian who?

Yet another poll, by SES Research, this time into possible successors to Paul Martin and Stephen Harper.

Notice that Brian Tobin, long rumoured to be plotting his comeback as saviour of the nation to replace Paul Martin has dropped completely from Canadian radar screens. In fact, if you look closely at the SES results fewer than five people out of 1, 000 possibly mentioned his name when asked to name a favoured successor to the current Prime Minister.

Now if only people like me would stop talking about Tobin and if people like Lisa Moore would stop featuring the guy Belinda's Dad canned in her movies (solely as a marketing ploy), maybe the Tobinator would disappear altogether. It was pretty bad when media took to giving That Guy way too much airtime to repeat his one cheesy, lame Frank Moores story when the former premier passed away recently.

I'll promise I'll stop mentioning That Guy by name.

But just to be on the safe side, I have a cross, some wooden stakes, a string of raw garlic, silver bullets, and a 55 gallon drum of Holy Water with a high pressure hose attached, in the basement.

Just in case.

Here's the text of the SES release:

Our national survey completed Monday August 8, 2005 shows that Frank McKenna is the top choice to succeed Prime Minister Martin while Peter MacKay edges out former Ontario Premier Mike Harrier as the choice to succeed Conservative Leader Stephen Harper.

"On the Liberal side, Frank McKenna has a noticeable lead among Canadians and among committed Liberal voters. He leads in every region except in Ontario, where polling shows former NDP Ontario Premier Bob Rae leads McKenna by a margin of three points."

"On the Conservative side, Peter MacKay is the top choice among committed Tory voters (30%). The field tightens with MacKay (17%) and Mike Harris (15%) in a statistical tie with Bernard Lord trailing closely (13%).

Polling August 4th to August 8th, 2005 random telephone survey of 1,000 Canadians, MoE ±3.1%, 19 times out of 20). Percentages may not add up to 100 due to rounding.

Potential Martin Successors (N=1,000, MoE ± 3.1%, 19 times out of 20).

Question: Regardless of how you vote, who would be your choice to succeed Paul Martin as Liberal leader? (READ AND ROTATE) Former federal Justice Minister Martin Cauchon, Harvard Professor Michael Ignatieff, Former Deputy Prime Minister John Manley, Former New Brunswick Premier Frank McKenna, Former Ontario Premier Bob Rae or is there someone else?

Frank McKenna 23% (Liberal voters 28%)
Bob Rae 11% (Liberal voters 11%)
John Manley 11% (Liberal voters 13%)
Martin Cauchon 4% (Liberal voters 4%)
Michael Ignatieff 4% (Liberal voters 4%)
Other* 4% (Liberal voters 4%)
Undecided 43% (Liberal voters 37%)
* Note: fewer than five responses

Potential Harper Successors (N=1,000, MoE ±3.1%, 19 times out of 20).

Regardless of how you vote, who would be your choice to succeed Stephen Harper as Conservative Leader? (READ AND ROTATE) Quebec Premier Jean Charest, Former Ontario Premier Mike Harris, New Brunswick Premier Bernard Lord, Deputy Conservative Leader Peter MacKay, Conservative MP Jim Prentice, or is there someone else?

Peter MacKay 17% (Conservative voters 30%)
Mike Harris 15% (Conservative voters 21%)
Bernard Lord 13% (Conservative voters 12%)
Jean Charest 9% (Conservative voters 6%)
Jim Prentice 3% (Conservative voters 5%)
Other* 2% (Conservative voters 2%)
Undecided 41% (Conservative voters 25%)
* Note: fewer than five responses

SES-Sun media poll - Harper and Martin

Following is the ext of a release by SES Research on public attitudes toward the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition.

Given the results of other opinion polls which show Prime Minister Paul Martin with a significant lead over Opposition Leader Stephen Harper, take note of the SES results showing that about half of respondents couldn't name something they'd like to change about Harper. That doesn't mean they like him as he is; it means they couldn't settle on what they would change about him. At the very least it means they haven't really thought about Harper enough to form a strong opinion.

In politics, when you are loved or hated at least the voters have a feeling about you. In politics as in love, indifference is the kiss of death.

"Our national survey completed Monday August 8, 2005 shows that a plurality of Canadians with an opinion want Prime Minister Paul Martin to be more transparent/accountable/honest (15.5%). When Canadians were asked what they would change about Stephen Harper, the
number one formed opinion was that everything should be changed (8.7%).

'Polling indicates that there is still some residual image drag resulting from the advertising scandal for Prime Minister Paul Martin.'

'Compared to Paul Martin, not as many Canadians have formed opinions of what they would change about Stephen Harper. One of two (51%) Canadians could not form an opinion of changes to Harper compared to 38% for Paul Martin.'

Polling August 4th to August 8th, 2005 random telephone survey of 1,000 Canadians, Margin of Error = ± 3.1%, 19 times out of 20). Percentages may not add up to 100 due to rounding.

Paul Martin (N=1,000, MoE - ± 3.1%, 19 times out of 20).

If there were one thing that you could change, if anything, about Prime Minister Paul Martin, what would it be? [Unprompted]

Be more transparent/accountable/honest - 15.5%
Be more aggressive/decisive/get a backbone - 7.8%
Change policy positions - 7.3%
Change everything/new leader - 5.1%
Be more down to earth/listen to Canadians - 4.7%
Change his attitude/be less arrogant - 3.0%
Too close to Bush/stand up to Americans - 2.4%
Too close to big business/CSL loopholes - 2.3%
Change nothing - 2.1%
Other (Answers with less than 2%) - 11.4%
Unsure - 11.5%
No Answer - 26.9%

Stephen Harper (N=1,000, MoE - ± 3.1%, 19 times out of 20).

If there were one thing that you could change, if anything, about Conservative Leader Stephen Harper, what would it be? [Unprompted]

Change everything/new leader - 8.7%
Be more open-minded - 5.8%
Have more personality/better image - 5.3%
Change policy positions - 4.7%
Be less conservative/religious - 4.0%
Be more honest/have more integrity - 2.3%
Change his attitude/be less arrogant - 2.0%
Be more charismatic/inspire Canadians - 2.0%
Other (Answers with less than 2%) - 14.4%
Unsure - 18.4%
No Answer - 32.4%

23 August 2005

Vote-by-mail fraud risk in St. John's municipal contest

St. John's city council recently endorsed an all-mail ballot system for the upcoming municipal election.

The system is supposed to increase participation rates and is reputedly popular with voters. City officials claim that in a survey they conducted over 91% of respondents were satisfied with the process. A case study completed by Canada Post praises the system for increasing voter response at a lower cost than traditional elections.

Here's the quirky thing no one seems to have noticed.

In a conventional election, a voter must present himself or herself at a polling station, obtain a ballot and cast a vote in secret. Should someone attempt to vote in place of the registered voter, simply producing identification can demonstrate a fraud has occurred. That alone is sufficient to deter that type of criminal activity voting.

If a voter is likely to be absent on the usual polling day, there are several processes available, all of which preserve the integrity of the ballot's chain of custody and maintain its secrecy.

Some other jurisdictions across North America have moved to mail-in ballots or the so-called vote-by-mail system. Oregon ran the entire 2004 federal general election by vote-by-mail.

In that state, officials verified the votes cast by comparing a specimen signature of the registered voter to the signature included with the ballot envelope.

St. John's has no such system of specimen signatures. Nor do they have an alternative means of assuring that the vote received from a registered voter was actually cast by that person or a duly authorized proxy.

Therefore, there is no way of knowing that a ballot from any voter was actually cast by that voter.

The system assumes the ballot is valid and therefore the system is open to a variety of frauds.

The next council should review the entire process of municipal elections.

22 August 2005

End the gas pricing charade!

George Murphy is a St. John's taxi driver. He calls the radio call-in shows regularly to give his update and analysis of gas price trends.

He's usually spot on.

He does it for free.

Meanwhile in Grand Falls-Windsor, there is a small office with a staff of about half-a-dozen doing the same job Murphy does.

That's right. They merely analyse gas and home-heating prices and then approve the increases.

They don't lower prices. They don't affect prices at all.

All David Toms and his crowd do is tell us that prices are going up.

Their salaries come from the gas retailers, by law.

Gasoline prices jumped by almost nine cents in St. John's today, a full week after they jumped everywhere else. When gas prices drop everywhere else, we will still be paying higher than-necessary prices. That's to make up for the delay in jacking the prices up. In this VOCM story, Commissar Toms says he thinks gasoline is overpriced. It isn't, Dave, ole man. But it will be when you leave it high after prices everywhere else have dropped.

Checking the provincial government's website this morning at around 8:30, I couldn't find a news release from Toms' outfit. He was ducking media calls on Friday, calls that were prompted by George Murphy's predictions. When the release does go up, I'll post link so you can see the pricing trend (slow increases, slow decreases) that the petroleum price-fixing charade office actually includes in its own releases.

What it boils down to is this:

1. The provincial petroleum office provides no service of value that cannot be obtained more competently and in a much more timely way by someone in the private sector. We'd be better off closing down the GFW charade, passing the hat and giving George Murphy a new computer.

2. There is absolutely no evidence that prices here are lower than they would be without the "regulation" charade. Doc O'Keefe, the guy who built his public name on this gas price crap, claims gas would be higher if it wasn't for the gas price crowd.

I say crap and challenge Doc to prove his claim.

The fact is Doc can't prove his claim.

Doc can't do a lot of other things, as his term on council already shows; but that's another post as O'Keefe appears poised to take on the deputy mayor's job by acclamation.

Baker digs hole deeper - for herself

There were those who thought St. John's lawyer Averrill Baker would this week deal with accusations her columns on fisheries management have been short of facts.

They were disappointed if they thought she might actually develop an argument, based on accurate information, that went beyond trafficking in the preconceptions of the people who read her columns and then hold them up as proof that their views were correct all along.

This sort of intellectual incest may be satisfying to some, but in the court of public opinion, as in the court of law, the convincing argument is the one which is founded on fact and the law. Baker may be winning her case in the open line jury trial, but each week, her columns are assessed by the appeals division on a totally different basis. It is there where she is losing.

In the end, all Baker did this week is take some advice from her father and continue to flail away at the federal fisheries department with more innuendo.

The best defence is a good offense, supposedly.

The problem with that old saw is that when it comes to this sort of stuff, the effectiveness of the offense depends very much on the credibility of the attacker. Baker can persuade those who know very little of the facts, but anyone taking a deeper look finds her argument increasingly unpersuasive.

The fact is that Baker junior's credibility has taken a few serious hits in recent weeks through her columns.

Her latest column adds to the damage.

At the end of it, Baker writes:

"Any lawyer who has taken international law in the past 15 years will tell you that any coastal state signatory to the Law of the Sea can apply to the UN under article 76 to extend jurisdiction over the ocean floor out to 350 miles and prevent all dragging of the soil and subsoil on the ocean floor.

"Russia did it in the year 2000 and twenty other countries - most of them NAFO members - have applied to the United Nations to do so. Some are doing so to stop, and in other cases to regulate, the foreign fleets dragging the ocean floor outside 200 miles.

"Instead of advocating the same for Canada, the three major political parties have all bought into a concept unknown to law called "Custodial Management". They advocate that foreign nations be allowed to continue dragging the bottom as long as they abide by fishing quotas. Perhaps 30 years ago it would have made some sense, but under international law today it amounts to a cop-out.

"The federal Minister of Fisheries and Oceans recently claimed publicly - – I am told in response to my last column - that these 16 foreign nations are not really catching very much fish.

"If 60 large foreign factory freezer trawlers (some are 350 feet long) are not catching fish, then what in heavens name are they doing out there dragging the bottom of the ocean back and forth on our continental shelf? Did they lose something overboard?

"Are they operating gambling casinos at sea? Are they a part of an oceanic cruise line? Are the Russians dragging for Red October? Or would the Minister of Fisheries have us believe they all have a contract from Walt Disney to try to find Nemo?"

Let's take a look at some of this stuff, since it forms the core of Baker's latest attack on the fisheries department.

1. Under Section 76 of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, a signatory can lay claim to sub-seabed minerals where the continental shelf extends beyond the 200 nautical mile xclusive economic zone.

Here's a link to UNCLOS; go check it out for yourself.

At no point, does this section give a coastal state claiming such rights to the sub-seabed any right to interfere with activities related to the water-column. That's fishing, ladies and gentlemen, and as much as Ms. Baker can rail about the effect of dragging on the seabed, the treaty separates the seabed mineral resources from the wildlife in the watercolumn and on the seabed.

It doesn't take a single course at law school to read plain English and present it clearly and accurately. Nor does one have to agree with the UNCLOS; Canada's actions can only take place within the scope and context of international law.

Baker's contention is, to put it bluntly, WRONG, yet again when she suggests that Canada could lay claim to the whole continental shelf beyond 200 miles and thereby end foreign fishing.

Oh yes and while countries have applied, as Baker points out, she doesn't tell us if any country has actually been granted rights beyond 200 miles for managing fisheries.

2. B aker would never tell you this but here it ibecauseue it is accurate: Canada is already building the case for extending its claim to the sub-seabed minerals on the continental shelf beyond 200 miles. The feds have up to eight years after ratifying the treaty to make the claim, which means they have until 2011 to complete it.

3. Canada couldn't lay legal claim to the shelf beyond 200 miles before 2003 because Canada didn'ratifyfy the treaty until then. Notice how the facts of the matter here differ widely from the interpretation Baker applies. The position taken by the federal government isn't a cop-out, as Baker claims; it reflects the reality of the international legal regime governing the fisheries.

4. The last bit of Baker's column - the bit about casinos and Finding Nemo - is curious if for no other reason than it sounds an awful lot like the kind of sarcasm usually voiced by her father; I note this because in the past few weeks I have heard one too many people speculating that Senator Dad has been ghost-writing the columns for his daughter. To my mind that doesn't really matter since Senator Baker or lawyer Baker can be equally wrong, as a matter of facts.

This last section of the column is curious because it takes a potshot at the federal minister without - at any point - providing a single shred of factual information to back up either the claims made in this column or the claims made in previous columns by Les Bakers audaces.

What a reasonable reader is left with is merely more of the entertaining writing of a St. John's lawyer.

Entertaining, yes but ultimately unconvincing.

It ignores fact.

It ignores the law.

It presents instead a series of unsubstantiated claims and innuendo.

No matter how many times Baker repeats her arguments, they do not gain accuracy or credibility with the repetition.

Except among people who were already convinced of what Baker claims.

The problem for Baker is that those people are already in the minority, something that isn't likely to change.

The other problem for Baker is that the more she makes outrageous claims lacking in any substance, the more she generates a backlash against her argument.

19 August 2005

Expensive hospitality for Efford - or was it comms advice? [Updated]

[Update: While the folks at federal natural resources didn't spend very much time on the Bond papers when it might have helped, they suddenly are spending a whole bunch of time checking the site out. That is since I posted about the more than $80,000 paid to a St. John's communications company for something it did related to the offshore talks.

Seems the busy little gnomes at NRCAN changed the category under which they paid almost $60, 000 recently to First Contact. It went from being charged out to "hospitality" to the NRCAN category for professionals services not otherwise contracted. When you click the link below, note that the numbers for the two categories are not even vaguely close. Someone made a conscious decision to reclassify the expenditure but only after the Bond Papers pointed to the questionable contract.

Of course, that change in accounting practices doesn't explain why a company got paid to organize federal supporters to attend the February 14 ceremony when legions of Liberals volunteered their time [not a penny in pay] to do exactly the same thing.

Anyway, read on and enjoy]

Thanks to the federal proactive disclosure policy, the Bond Papers can now report that St. John's-based First Contact Communications received $58, 287.70 for work completed between October 29, 2004 and February 18, 2005, apparently related to the offshore discussions between the Government of Canada and the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador.

The contract was let on June 21, 2005 as reported here on the NRCAN website.

This is in addition to $22, 500 paid to the same company for work done between late January and late February 2005, also related to the offshore deal. Check here and scroll to the post "Federal Accord communications support costs" to see the previous Bond Papers post.

Note the curious things about these two contracts:

1. The earlier payment was made by the federal finance department under expenditure category 422 (professional services otherwise not contracted). Here's the link to that department's proactive disclosure report on the contract.

2. The new payment is by John Efford's own natural resources department. The contract date is in June 2005 but it covers work done in the last fiscal year which ended 31 Mar 2005.

3. The new amount is listed as having come from expenditure category 0822 (Hospitality).

4. The two payments overlap in time between January and February 2005. There is no information on the proactive disclosure website that the two contracts are related nor is there any indication in the disclosure report as to what the contracted work actually was.

First Contact was doing work for the feds on the offshore deal that included organizing people to attend the signing ceremony In February 2005.

There were also a raft of federal Liberal volunteers involved doing the same thing although they certainly didn't work for First Contact. They never received a penny for their efforts.

The total amount of the two contracts is $80, 787.70.

While I haven't contacted either federal department or First Contact on this, the time periods involved correspond to work the company was doing for Efford on the offshore talks.

All that makes some sense.

It just seems odd that a communications company would be paid for hospitality services, by a contract let four months after the work was completed.

Walken for Pres a hoax

At least it was a bit of fun for a few seconds.

Check here to get the straight story.

18 August 2005

A truly Canadian policy on gas prices

Surely this is the End Time.

Federal Conservative leader Stephen Harper, some provincial premiers and, in Newfoundland and Labrador, Ersatz Opposition Leader Gerry Reid are all calling for the same thing:

lower taxes on gasoline.

If the Book of Revelation missed this alignment of political forces maybe there is a Nostradamus quatrain that foretells the time when a bunch of guys all come up with the same unsound policy suggestion at the same time all to do nothing but gain a few points in a public opinion poll.

The only - and I emphasize only - reason anyone is suggesting lowering taxes on gasoline is in response to public outcries about recent price increases. It is as shallow a political motive as we have seen in this country for advancing an idea since a handful of people convinced Allan Rock that if I have a gun in my house my wife was infinitely more likely to get shot if we had a minor disagreement. If that wasn't convincing enough, they told us that we could use a gun registry to fight gang violence in Toronto. Neither Rock nor any of the Illogical Brigade can be seen these days in the Jane/Finch corridor explaining why their claims haven't proven correct.

Just because people cry out for something doesn't mean it is a good idea.

Sometimes people manage to convince politicians of ideas that lack merit. Here we have a case where politicians themselves are coming up bonehead notions.

Apparently, not one of these politicians notices that the price increases are a direct result of international concerns about oil supplies that will likely drop as concerns are allayed. No one notices that high prices for gasoline may actually lead consumers to make smart choices about their consumption for a change. That would be good for the environment, among other things.

No one seems to notice that the millions of dollars the federal government will transfer to the nation's cities come from gasoline taxes.

In the world of public policy there are only a handful of good reasons to drop a tax or eliminate it.

- Cut it or eliminate if the tax is hindering business growth.
- Cut a tax or eliminate it if doing so would stimulate a flagging economy.
- Cut a tax or eliminate a tax that is harming the poor and those on fixed incomes.

Since neither of the first two apply in this case, politicians tell us that cutting the cost of gasoline and home heating fuels will help seniors and others on limited incomes.

But will it?

Of course not.

Nor will cutting gasoline taxes reduce the overall cost of living, thereby helping the poor.

The only people deriving a benefit from lower gas prices would be those powering their SUVs. Odds are Grandma doesn't drive an SUV . If she does, she damn well isn't trying to live on Old Age Security (OAS) and therefore doesn't need public assistance.

If any government wanted to help the poor and those on fixed incomes, it should simply implement a new basic living allowance that would transfer cash directly into their hands, just as with OAS. Every province could fund such a program out of the gasoline taxes from the gas-suckers in the SUVs.

Give some federal assistance and a few minutes of brain power and we might just revamp the social assistance and old age security system in the country to an affordable means of providing guaranteed minimum incomes. Such an idea was proposed by the Wells administration in Newfoundland in 1992 and soundly rejected by the Chretien government. Wells' idea was a typically Canadian solution of helping those in need; in these days of swelling federal coffers, it might be time to have another look at the idea.

In place of such bold thinking, we have the most bland of political cries, the kind of stuff dreamed up by the marketers and pitchmen who inhabit some political offices these days: it polled well, therefore it must be good.

When a Liberal like Gerry Reid or any New Democrat finds himself in agreement with Stephen Harper, that should be a clue he is on the wrong track.

That no one else in the country is talking about such an eminently simple, feasible and worthwhile an idea suggests we could all use a kick in our wallets, our backsides or wherever else we keep our brains and compassion these days.

17 August 2005

Lono at Large!

Simon Lono is declaring his candidacy for St. John's city council today at noon on the steps of city hall.

As shop-worn as that might be elsewhere, around here it is a novelty. Most candidates announce by sending out a news release and calling open line.

This one is going to be a campaign and will quickly establish Lono as the candidate to unseat an incumbent. That's almost unheard of in St. John's city politics - councillors usually have life appointments - and that's one of things Lono is out to change.

Smart, experienced, young and he's got some concrete ideas.

Here's his website: check it out.

And when the ballot hits your mailbox, send it back with the X next to Lono, Simon.

16 August 2005

Libs up, Connies down: SES

Here's the text of a news release from SES Research, the same guys who provided the highly accurate polling for CPAC during the last federal election.

"The big Liberal gains were in Quebec where they increased their support from 21% to 34% while the Conservatives have dropped from 11% to 4%."

"Polling clearly shows that Stephen Harper's image is in a free fall. In the past 90 days the percentage of Canadians who believe he would make the best Prime Minister has dropped from 27% to 14%. Jack Layton has mathematically placed second, the first time in SES Best PM tracking."

"The other dramatic move has been the number of Canadians who chose "none of the above"­ as their best PM. This has more than doubled from 8% to 19%. This is truly our summer of discontent. Paul Martin still rates as the first choice of Canadians at 31%, 16 points ahead of his nearest rival."

Polling August 4th to August 8th, 2005 random telephone survey of 1,000 Canadians, (MoE ± 3.1%, 19 times out of 20). Percentages may not add up to 100 due to rounding.

Canada - Ballot (Change from Previous Quarter, N= 865 Decided voters, MoE ± 3.4%, 19 times out of 20)
LIB - 39% (+3)
CP - 25% (-5)
NDP -19% (+1)
BQ - 13% (+1)
GP - 5% (+1)
*14% were undecided (+2)

Best PM (Change from Previous Quarter, N=1,000)
Martin - 31% (-1)
Layton - 15% (0)
Harper - 14% (-13)
Duceppe - 8% (+2)
None - 19% (+11)
Undecided - 13% (+4)

Government Performance (Change from Previous Quarter, N=1,000)
Very good - 6% (0)
Somewhat good - 21% (+4)
Average - 39% (+8)
Somewhat poor - 17% (-1)
Very poor - 16% (-9)
Unsure - 2% (-1)

A good public relations case study

For those who like to take lessons from other people's cock ups, there's a great story in the Monday Globe on how CN handled the train derailment in ALberta.

Find the story here.

Taylor late on shrimp

Provincial fisheries minister Trevor Taylor issued a news release on Monday calling on the federal government to step up efforts to find a solution to the high tariff on imported shrimp imposed by the European Union.

He claimed the tariff may cause an early closure to this year's shrimp fishery, thereby putting almost 4, 000 local shrimp workers out of business.

Here are a few things Trevor missed:

1. Try getting in the game, Trevor. Over a year ago, well before the federal election, Siobhan Coady helped bring federal international trade minister Jim Peterson here to meet local business leaders. Coady, who operates a fish harvesting business, arranged a meeting for local shrimp exporters with Peterson. He's been working on the problem ever since.

Had the province been as concerned about the problem then, we might have made greater progress.

Other people have been working on this, Trev, old man. Welcome to the game - a day late and dollar short.

2. Some companies have already adapted. At least one local exporting company has incorporated a subsidiary inside the European Union that imports Newfoundland and Labrador shrimp and avoids the tariff.

Maybe that is something others could explore. Blaming the feds is an easy dodge.

3. Rein in the loonies first, Trev.One of the biggest things Taylor could do for the fishery on this issue is rein in the crowd in his own party locally and federally and all the crowd on the call-in shows who rub their hands with glee at the prospect of forcing the European Union out of fishing on the Grand Banks at gunpoint if necessary. Some of those countries have prosecuted since before white people settled in Newfoundland and Labrador and wouldn't take any more kindly to that kind of talk than we would if the tables were turned.

Rein in the looney fringe, Trev, my son and maybe just maybe, the Europeans would be more willing to listen to what we have to say.

No matter how hard you try, Trevor, this monkey just can't be tossed off your back.

Deal with that issue first and maybe your release won't sound like a hollow piece of political tripe.

4. Do shrimp buyers have the crabs? Taylor complains about weak American markets for shrimp. Maybe the crab fiasco - miserable quality that all but closed the American market to local crab - has spilled over.

This is all really too bad because Taylor is actually one of the better provincial cabinet ministers who Danny Williams actually lets handle the department he heads.

15 August 2005

The gas price regulation fraud continues

For anyone wanting to understand petroleum pricing, here's the link to Dennis Browne's 1998 study for the provincial government. Dennis sensibly recommended against wasting time on thinking we can "regulate" gasoline and home heating fuel prices.

That's the more sophisticated version of an earlier posting here in which I called the petroleum pricing system a charade and fraud. That posting elicited a couple of e-mail's to me from David Toms, the acting petroleum pricing commissar.

Well, at the risk of yet another one, let's be absolutely clear:

The increase in petroleum prices today and the ones likely to come before the end of the week demonstrate that petroleum regulation in the province produces no positive benefit for consumers. Gasoline may well rise by upwards of 5 cents per litre in price, based on the factors anyone with a brain can figure out - the cost of oil is up. On the back end, when oil prices go down, Mr. Toms will be slow in lowering prices, thereby guaranteeing we will have paid just as much for gasoline as we would if Mr. Toms and his staff went back to what they were doing before they got their sinecures in Grand Falls.

Petroleum "regulation" is a waste of time.

Mr. Toms comments in this VOCM story and quoted in the on-air version this morning are simply nonsense - no one needs time to adjust to high prices. This comment sounds a lot like Mr. Toms desperately is trying to justify his existence in the face of overwhelming proof of what critics of the regulation charade said all along:

The office in Grand Falls is doing nothing, can do nothing and will do nothing to benefit consumers.

Let's shut down the waste of money.

Walken for President 2008

Now this is a candidate I could get excited about!

Actor Christopher Walken is known for his portrayals of strong characters, some of them having possible mental imbalances.

Apparently, he wants to be president and someone set up a website to promote his candidacy.

Perhaps as president, he can find a use for some of his more memorable quotes, like say this one he tossed out as the lead mercenary, Shannon, in The Dogs of War: "In my jungle, you'd be just another asshole."

or maybe a couple from Batman Returns, in which he played Max Schrek, the guy behind Oswald Cobblepot's run at the mayor's seat:

"Power surplus? Bruce, shame on you. No such thing. One can never have too much power. If my life has a meaning, that's demeaning."

"Let me guess... trust fund goody-goody? "

or from The King of New York (1990):

"From now on, nothing goes down unless I'm involved. No blackjack no dope deals, no nothing. A nickel bag gets sold in the park, I want in. You guys got fat while everybody starved on the street. Now it's my turn."

"I never killed anybody who didn't deserve it."

This candidacy might have greater potential than Ahhnuld "It's not a Toomuh" Schwarzenegger.

12 August 2005

Blog Break/Fish Proposal Coming

Yesterday was an inadvertent day off blogging in the middle of the week.

Between work and work and well, work there was no way to get anything posted. On top of everything else, I got a call yesterday to do a national CBC Radio commentary. That was an interesting experience: fast turn-around and then a late evening in the studio to put it to bed.

Maureen Anonsen (who produces the commentaries from across the country from here) was a relentless editor and a demanding producer, showing her years of experience both in what she changed and how she rewrote stuff, not to mention the finesse with which she coaxed a decent "read" out of me.

She had to stay later to file the damn thing. Heaven knows when she got out of the office.

In the meantime, I have been working quietly on a fisheries piece that should hopefully raise a few eyebrows. It will propose a new fishery with recommendations on management and economic organization.

You won't be able to fold it out and snap it into place; the thing will need to be discussed.

With any luck though, there will be enough in it to capture people's attention and make them go: "You know that just might work."

and once again, trust me, I am NOT holding my breath.

The goal is to get that piece posted on Monday morning. After that, we'll just take the posts as they come.

Thistle sleep walks through local crisis

If this VOCM report is accurate, then one can only conclude that Anna Thistle does not have a single clue as to the issues involved in the current discussions between Abitibi Consolidated and the provincial government.

Thistle's instance on trying to force ACI to keep everything operating is sheer nonsense and shows that while she represents a paper-making district, she is in desperate need of a crash course in current global paper-making issues.

Ok. I'll cut Thistle some slack. She is the provincial member for the district AND she doesn't have to make the hard decisions because she sits in Opposition.

Opps, let's uncut it: she used to be a cabinet minister and said the same things when she sat around the table on the 11th floor of the Confed Building.

10 August 2005

Cooking up numbers

St. John's lawyer Averill (A.J.) Baker owns quite a reputation among some readers of the weekly newspapers in the province, thanks in largest part to her bi-weekly column.

She's especially popular among the proponents of the Damn-Fool fishery, the crowd that talk about a supposedly God- given right to keep jigging a fish regardless of how few fish there are to jig. This is the same crowd that pass around Baker's columns and then call Randy or Bill or Lynda pointing to Baker as proof of what they have been fighting all along. That's all that Baker does, by the by: she tells a certain group of people what they want to hear.

In the past week, A.J.'s column claimed that foreigners can take 5, 900 tonnes of cod while the locals here in Newfoundland and Labrador can't get a single fish. That's what she wrote.

Then the Department of Fisheries and Oceans [DFO] took issue with what she printed, and for the past few days, the call-in crowd have been lambasting DFO and standing behind their favourite writer.

People are sticking behind Baker since she has nothing to gain from her claims.

Fair enough.

They are attacking DFO for spreading false information.

That's not fair enough. In fact it is almost laughable since Baker got her information from the same place the Bond Papers did: DFO and the Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Organization [NAFO].

The difference between DFO and Baker is that what DFO has put on the table are not the total possible by-catches of cod, which definitely total 5, 900 tonnes. DFO has been talking about actual landings and those are far less than the maximums allowed. DFO has been drawing a more accurate picture of what is actually happening to cod stocks, as best as anyone can figure it out.

The obvious value of this is that when you look back to the late 1980s and early 1990s you could see the looming cod collapse not from the total allowable catches set by John Crosbie but from the actual landings which declined steadily year after year. If the goal is really to bring back the cod as a commercial fish stock, we should be very cautious about fishing the stock at all.

The major problem with Baker's column is that she is fueling just the opposite political pressure. It isn't the first time Baker has disregarded the important details. She has a track record in her column of publishing things that are only sort of vaguely accurate. She sometimes gives bits of information rather than the whole schmeer. In other instances, she gives ludicrous interpretations, such as claiming that Canada breached its obligation to disclose relevant facts during the Terms of Union negotiations when it failed to tell the Newfoundlanders about something that wouldn't occur for another 30 years and that wasn't even thought of when the Terms of Union were signed.

Yeah. She did that: hang the Canadians for not being clairvoyant.

Anyway, aside from the stuff that DFO has already challenged, they should have made much more of information DFO provided to the Bond Papers in answer to a simple set of questions.

They should have pointed to the fact that Newfoundland and Labrador fishing interests landed 15, 000 tonnes of cod last year.

Baker claimed we couldn't catch a single fish.

But let her have the 5, 900 tonnes of cod for the foreigners. It is still half of what the locals caught themselves.

Just remember, though, that the total biomass of cod is estimated at a mere 170, 000 tonnes.

That means the total cod catch last year was more than 12% of the total amount of fish the very best guess claims is out there.

Take that tack and you completely refocus the discussion to what is best to help restore cod stocks.

That's what the talk should be about.

And almost best of all, everything else would then be seen for what it is:

cooking up numbers.

09 August 2005

The Danny Legacy Option for the Lower Churchill

As noted in the Bond Papers on Friday, the Premier held a news conference on Monday to update the province on the process to develop the Lower Churchill.

The government news release listed three comprehensive proposals to build the Gull Island and Muskrat Falls generating stations plus associated transmission facilities. These will now move to the second phase of the process, namely a feasibility study.

The three proposals are:

1. The Hydro Quebec/Ontario Energy Financing Company/SNC Lavalin proposal. One of the few proposals made public, this joint venture contained an option in which the joint venture would lease the Gull Island and Muskrat Falls sites for 50 years and a second in which Ontario and Hydro-Quebec would negotiate an agreement under which Ontario would purchase energy and Newfoundland and Labrador would finance construction.

This was widely held as being the likely strong proposal. The partners have extensive experience in the energy business, more than enough experience in the construction of large hydro-electric projects and the ability to raise all the capital needed to build the project.

This project also included construction of improved transmission capacity between Ontario and Quebec.

The guaranteed, long-term purchase of power by both Ontario and Quebec would make it easy for the province to raise any capital to build the project under the second option.

Construction would begin in late 2006 with first power transmitted by 2011.

2. TransCanada Corporation. Nothing is known publicly of this proposal. The company operates several hydroelectric and other generating systems in the central part of the continent. The largest is a little more than 18% of the Lower Churchill's combined generating capacity.

Call this one a long shot.

3. Tshiaskueshish Group. This is a consortium comprising Macquarie North America, Ltd., Innu Development Limited Partnership, Peter Kiewit Sons Co. and Innu Kiewit Constructors.

Again, nothing is known about this proposal. The companies have considerable experience in large construction projects. Beyond that, there is nothing available publicly.

Given the the Innu component of this proposal and the stated need in the original call for proposals for aboriginal involvement, this might be a proposal that had a leg-up as a result. The Innu Kiewit website is a little out of date since it notes that Voisey's Bay construction has been delayed.

Then there is the stealth option, one that Premier Danny Williams included on his own.

That's the one which would see the provincial government and Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro build the whole Lower Churchill project by themselves. For want of a better name call it the PWG Caribou Company proposal.

There are several reasons the Premier is likely to give when this option is selected.

1. The PWG Caribou Company meets all the proposal call requirements:

- It cuts out the middle man thereby maximizing the cash return to the provincial government and Hydro.
- It allows the government to deal with the Innu land claim directly, as it would have to do anyway.
- It gives the provincial government total control over the local benefits.

2. The province can afford it. The proposal call listed the estimated cost of the project as being CDN$3.3 billion. With the $2.0 billion from the federal government, the province can almost pay off the whole thing by itself. Borrowing would be limited and with the right power purchase agreement, the remaining capital can be raised at reasonable costs. The various financing options allow the provincial government to find novel ways of finding money for the project.

3. We would develop our resources for ourselves. The Pink, White and Green Caribou Company is the ultimate expression of the "local power" wave the Premier created with his offshore revenue deal. The strongest argument he will offer for doing it ourselves is that we will have total control over everything and that every aspect of the project possible will be done locally.

Just remember that the whole thing hinges on the power purchase agreement or having steady markets in which to sell the power.

As for the rest of it, expect the province will do exactly as the Premier said today: Give first priority to the PWG Caribou option.

I'd expect he has already decided what to do with the offshore cash. He keeps telling us but no one wants to accept it. The rest of the process is all for show, or at least serves only to give the Premier the chance to pick over the very best ideas from a whole bunch of other proposals so he can then do the whole thing himself.

It's Danny Legacy Option.

I can hear the speech now:

"It is our water. It is our falls. It will be developed for our benefit. By our engineers and our architects and run by our Hydro company and our government with our oil revenue."

There's an old black-and-white film from the Upper Churchill the Premier can use to help get the speaking notes together.

It's the one we will see announced very shortly, with construction well underway by the time the Premier seeks re-election.

08 August 2005

15, 000 tonnes of cod for local fishers: Baker column lost in sea of facts

Refuting claims by local lawyer and newspaper columnist Averrill (A.J.) Baker, Newfoundland and Labrador fishing interests landed almost 15, 000 metric tonnes of cod in the waters around the province in 2004, according to information obtained by The Sir Robert Bond Papers from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans [DFO].

This included a directed cod fishery and by-catch of cod incidental to fishing for other species.

According to Baker, "[a]ll those foreign countries will legally be allowed to catch 5,900 tons of cod this summer -– that'’s 12 million pounds of cod. Meanwhile, Newfoundlanders are not allowed to catch a single cod -– even to eat -– in those same fishing zones from that same cod stock."

In 2004, by-catch of cod by foreign vessels in Zones 3M and 3NO, all fishing outside Canada's 200 mile exclusive economic zone [EEZ] , amounted to 477 tonnes, far less than the 5, 900 tonnes estimated by Baker in her recent column. Additionally, Canadian vessels landed 430 tonnes of cod by-catch in those zones, but within the 200 mile EEZ.

Estimated by-catch of cod by foreign vessels in 2J3KL in 2003 was a mere 23 metric tonnes.

Baker's column contained numerous factual errors, according to information from DFO. The column claimed that "225t of cod will be caught by Russia as a bycatch for their hake quota". According to DFO, no Russian vessels are fishing hake in the NAFO regulatory area in 2005, despite having a quota. The Russians have no contracted any other fishing for that quota so there will be no by-catch of cod.

According to DFO, "Norway does not have a redfish or turbot quota. Iceland does not have a redfish or turbot quota. Cuba and Korea do not have vessels fishing redfish or turbot in the NAFO regulatory area [NRA]; nor do they charter their allocations. Therefore, there is no allowable by-catch for these countries on these fisheries."

As well, "European countries do not have a redfish quota in 3N as the 3LN redfish stock is under moratoria, so there is no directed fishery for this stock, " according to DFO. As a result, there is no allowable by-catch of cod.

The claim by Baker that American fishing interests will land 100 tonnes of cod by-catch is also suspect. The Americans prosecute a swordfish and tuna fishery outside the 200 mile EEZ and do not fish for groundfish. As such, there should be virtually no cod-by-catch.

NAFO quota tables and maps of the regulatory area may be found at the organization's website.

06 August 2005

Government newser on Monday?

Some rumours swirling that government is planning a news conference on Monday to talk about the Lower Churchill.

Good way to get the heat of Ed Byrne when the paper machine breaks-down on Monday with Abitibi.

05 August 2005

Friday? Must be Abitibi day [Update]

Here's a simple question natural resources minister Ed Byrne might answer:


Government is claiming Abitibi Consolidated wants to build a new 60 megawatt hydroelectric project to power the company's Stephenville operation. After construction of the project, Abitibi would own 75% of the project and the province (through Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro) would own 25%, even though Hydro had funded the whole thing.

Here's the way the government news release put it:

" * Abitibi and Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro would enter into a partnership to develop two projects on the Exploits River -– Red Indian Falls and Badger Chute, adding in excess of 60 MW of new power into the system;

* Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro, with the province'’s backing, would raise all the capital -– upwards of $300 million -– and finance the projects;

* The Abitibi-Hydro partnership would enter into a 30-year power purchase agreement to sell all the electricity output to Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro, and hence Hydro'’s customers;

* This “partnership” would have to provide upwards of $14 million annually to Abitibi, with no return to Hydro;

* Additionally, Abitibi requested $7 million a year for the five-year period leading up to the in-service of the two hydro developments;

* In total, a level of support of approximately $455 million;

* Furthermore, at the end of the 30-year agreement, Hydro would only own 25 per cent of the projects, while Abitibi would own 75 per cent, despite the fact that Hydro and its customers have covered the full cost of the development of the projects and the subsidies -– in other words, Hydro and its customers paid for the projects and assumed all the risks;

* And, just as important, Abitibi would not give government any commitment on the impact a power purchase agreement would have on its future operations in Stephenville and Grand Falls-Windsor.


Is that what Abitibi Consolidated actually proposed?

[Update: Chris O'Neill-Yates put the question to Ed Byrne on The Morning Show this morning. She asked if Abitibi ever offered to reimburse the province for the Hydro project.

Ed said no, they didn't.

Now, everyone remember that. Remember his simple reply: "No."

Just for the record, here is the exchange between Kel Parsons and Ed Byrne in the House of Assembly's resource committee May 20, 2004.

Note the parts I have highlighted.

"MR. PARSONS: Minister, on the Lower Churchill issue, have there been any discussions ongoing in recent months concerning the Lower Churchill or possibilities of doing something with the Lower Churchill?

MR. E. BYRNE: No, there have not been any in recent months. What we have essentially done is, as you are aware being part of the former government, out of the Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro there were x number of dollars set aside to deal with the negotiations that were ongoing that date back to 1998, and then the most recent developments or discussions. Since that time we have basically just continued to assess the viability of the project and options associated with it. There have been no discussions on the development of that project, only inside government."

This was the day BEFORE Minister Byrne signed a then-secret memorandum of understanding with Sino-Energy, a group with which he had apparently been discussing the Lower Churchill with since January 2004.

Mr. Byrne has been known to have memory lapses before. Pretty big ones, apparently. Big enough to slide a hydro project through.

My next step is to go back and double check with my sources on what they understood had been the Abitibi proposal.

This might get much more interesting.]

04 August 2005

Damn-fool fishery - some facts [Second Revision]

In the relentless nonsense about the Damn-Fool Fishery, there is a story Jim Morgan has been pushing that there was suddenly a by-catch quota for cod introduced on the northeast coast.

Well, having learned through long experience that Morgan is seldom right about anything, I called the Department of Fisheries and Oceans [DFO] in St. John's and gathered the following factual information for your reference.

1. Cod By-catch: In fisheries management zones 2J3KL, fishermen with groundfish licenses are permitted a total by-catch of cod equaling 2, 000 pounds for the year. That's it. This policy has been in place for some time. It wasn't suddenly introduced in the past week or two.

When the blackback fishery was recently announced, fishermen were reminded that they could only catch cod to a maximum of 2, 000 pounds for all groundfish species fished for the year.

Jim Morgan was completely, utterly, totally and unmistakably WRONG when he claimed this was a new policy.

For fixed gear fishermen in 2J3KL last year (calendar 2004), the average total by-catch was a mere 500 pounds. That's only 25% of the maximum.

[Update: DFO corrected my figures in an e-mail received yesterday. The 500 figure should have been 500 tonnes total, not 500 pounds per fisherman. Apparently there were about 700 fixed-gear fishermen in the 2J3KL fishery which works out to an average of about 1428 pounds cod by-catch per fisherman. That's 71% of the total allowable by-catch, not the 25% previously reported.]

And there are supposedly lots of fish out there, bearing in mind that in Newfoundland, fish is a synonym for cod. Every other species of swimming thing is known by its name.

Only cod are fish.

[Update comment: The revised figure of 71% by-catch is significant, but it is still a long way from demonstrating that there is a large amount of cod out there or, in the case of Mr. Morgan's claims, it still doesn't make the by-catch a cod-fishery by another name.]

2. Total Recreational Fishery Licenses Sold (2001-2004)

These figures will tell you something.

In 2001, DFO introduced the license and tags system for the recreational cod fishery. The fishery covered all zones and was open from July until September. They sold 91, 000 licenses, each with 30 tags.

The next year, the fishery was in all zones and lasted for six weeks. They sold about 50, 000 licenses with 15 tags.

In the past two years, the recreational fishery took place in 3Ps only. About 9, 100 licenses were sold each year each with 15 tags.

For all the claims that there is a huge demand for a "cod for the table", and with the ease of travel in the province these days, only 10% of the crowd who took part in the recreational fishery in 2001 participated in 2004.

3. Recreational Fishery Landings


2001 - 1896 tonnes
2002 - 670 tonnes
2003 - No fishery
2004 - No fishery


2001 - 456 tonnes
2002 - No figures
2003 - 152 tonnes
2004 - 156 tonnes.

Before anyone starts taking these numbers an arguing there could easily be a recreational fishery on the northeast coast, go back and look at the actual by-catch landings last year. It was only 500 pounds per license. If there were that many fish out there, that number should be pretty close to the maximum, wouldn't you think?

[Update: If I work the math correctly, here's what the cod landings look like in 3Ps in the recreational fishery last year.

There are about 150 tonnes of fish, give or take which works out to roughly 300, 000 pounds of cod. There were 136, 500 tags. If we allow that all those tags were used, then the average fish size was a little over two pounds. My math could be faulty, but that seems to be an awfully small fish. Even if only half the available tags were used, it still gives us a four pound cod. I have caught salmon bigger than that.

Most of the cod I saw in television coverage of the rec fishery this past weekend were small to the eye, so those calculations seem to be about right on. If proponents of the recreational fishery are catching small fish, I'd venture that we are not actually seeing healthy cod stocks by any measure.

Bear in mind that the best estimates by scientists are that the total biomass of northern cod is only about 170, 000 tonnes, including the stocks of so-called bay fish. Those who think those numbers are small haven't offered any estimates, let alone serious estimates, of how much fish they think might be out there. There shouldn't be a commercial fishery until the stocks are much healthier, like maybe 10 times the current estimated biomass. I don't think the best scientific estimates are that far off.

Perhaps if Jim Morgan and A.J. Baker offered some facts to back up their arguments, it would be easier to take them seriously. Until then, I'd just as soon we accepted that jigging a meal of cod that many of us used to enjoy as a privilege is something we cannot enjoy today.

I never want my grandchildren to be able to see a cod stuffed and mounted in a museum, the only way my children can see a Great Auk. I'd sooner give up my chance to have a feed I jigged myself so my children and grandchildren might one day see cod as I knew them not so long ago and as my grandfathers and great-grandfathers knew them.

If He gave me anything at all in this world, God gave me a responsibility to shepherd the resources of the Earth.

If only proponents of the damn-fool fishery talked more of their God-given responsibilities, rather than their supposedly God-given rights.

If only.]

[Update II: Express columnist and St. John's lawyer A.J. Baker's column this week comments on the offshore, foreign cod catch allocations within the 200 mile exclusive economic zone. Here's a link to the column as printed in The Southern Gazette, one of The Express' sister publications.

Ms. Baker lists all the cod by-catches available to countries with historic fishing rights offshore Newfoundland and Labrador and currently assigned through the Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Organization (NAFO).

She notes: "All those foreign countries will legally be allowed to catch 5,900 tons of cod this summer -– that'’s 12 million pounds of cod.

Meanwhile, Newfoundlanders are not allowed to catch a single cod -– even to eat -– in those same fishing zones from that same cod stock."

First, Ms. Baker is flat-out WRONG when she claims that Newfoundland and Labrador fishing interests cannot catch a single cod.

As reported previously on The Sir Robert Bond Papers, Newfoundland and Labrador fishing interests can catch cod incidental to the licensed fishery, exactly as foreign interests are allowed to do. Newfoundlanders and Labradorians can legally get a feed of cod for the table, even in 2J3KL, even if they can't jig the rounders themselves.

Second, since I do not have figures right now we don't know for sure how many Newfoundland and Labrador-based fishing interests can catch cod legally in the 2J3KL zone. My bet is the figures are quite a bit higher than the 700 tonnes those fixed-gear guys are allowed to take.

My next step is to contact DFO again and get some additional factual information to counteract the distortions and misrepresentations by Ms. Baker and others.

The point to this entire enterprise is simple: the proponents of the Damn-Fool Fishery and those, like Ms. Baker, who continually slag the federal government and foreigners are doing so on the basis of something other than facts.

If we don't base our resource management decisions on facts, we stand a much higher chance of making a grave error when it comes to fisheries management than if we just thought about things for a minute and didn't get carried away with whatever we heard from someone who heard it from someone who told us something we wanted to believe.

Given our sad history of fisheries mismanagement, I'd sooner err on the side of caution than take the word of people who seem to be plucking stuff out of thin air, or worse still, only giving selected bits of information.]