30 September 2005

The Dead End Kids

As one might have expected, The Gangs of St. John's caused a stir over at Responsible Government League [RGL], or as I sometimes call it, the place where one finds posts of Really Great Length.

At the outset, let's restate the point made in the original post which, admittedly, might have gotten lost either in the wake of the opening photo of a well-known Bowery Boy or in the end photo of Cameron Diaz.

The Gangs of St. John's argued that:

a. There are many more pressing issues deserving of widespread public debate or discussion at this point than what piece of coloured nylon flaps from the flagpoles of the province; and,

b. if we must discuss it, there is little merit in holding up the pink, white and green flag that derived from a particular, short-lived political faction in early 19th century St. John's as being somehow the de facto emblem of our fair land and its people.

The pink, white and green is a version of the flag of the so-called Newfoundland Natives' Society.

That is it. Pure and simple. After the Society collapsed in 1847, the flag appears periodically, almost exclusively in St. John's and continues today having become associated with the idea of Newfoundland and Labrador as an independent country.

The origins of the colour combination are somewhat difficult to trace. Prominent local historian John Fitzgerald brands as a fable the idea that the flag was designed to include the colours of England and Ireland with a white band of peace between the two. He then ignores any discussion of the origins of the flag, preferring instead, as does RGL to focus on the appearance of the flag after 1860 or thereabouts to make the case for the tricolour as the flag of this place. Oddly enough, the tricolour petition website actually cites the seal myth as part of the flag's history despite the fact that Fitzgerald dismisses it as unsubstantiated.

The Encyclopedia of Newfoundland and Labrador contends that the flag derived from the banners of two rival Irish organizations, one made up of people born in Newfoundland, the other being new-comers. This is the version I have accepted thus far, until someone can suggest an alternative.

There is no doubt that the tricolour appears periodically and has been held up as the local flag. However, the examples offered by O'Brien and others are almost exclusively from St. John's. O'Brien notes the formation of the police force and fire brigade, which, it should be noted means the St. John's police force and the St. John's fire brigade.

O'Brien notes the pledge of Sir Robert Bond in the 1908 election to make the tricolour the official flag of the country. He takes issue with my contention that Bond made the pledge for electoral benefit, likely by appealing to a particular group in St. John's (I am suggesting predominantly those of Irish heritage) to try and win a hotly contested election.

As I noted in comments on RGL, it seems passing strange that Bond would use the tricolour as a major part of his campaign. Bond was seeking re-election and it was during his administration that the legislature adopted a typical British ensign as the official flag of Newfoundland. Aside from what may have occurred in certain instances noted by tricolour supporters, this flag flew on all government buildings before 1949 and a blue ensign of the same design flew on government-owned vessels. It is also the flag that hangs in the Amiens memorial chapel to the fallen of the Great War representing Newfoundland, as one of the countries that fought to defend France.

The 1904 Newfoundland Ensign

Perhaps the most curious portion of O'Brien's post is the argument that I have somehow confused the tricolour flag with separatism. He cites a poll conducted for the Vic Young Royal Commission as proof of his contention that the flag and the "nationalist" sentiment actually pervade the province.

Let's us be clear. The Ryan Research poll does indicate that an overwhelming majority of respondents consider themselves to be Newfoundlanders or Labradorians before they consider themselves Canadians. At the same time, the poll also found that an overwhelming majority of respondents were opposed to Newfoundland and Labrador becoming an independent country. That sentiment was strong across all regions, including St. John's.

But at no point does Ryan ask about the flag. Therefore, O'Brien's use of this poll to prove or disprove any point about the validity of the tricolour as the provincial flag is erroneous.

Nationalism, on the other hand is something altogether different from independence and separatism. Nationalism as pride in one's place of birth is an obvious notion.

The "nationalism" to which I referred in The Gangs of St. John's is that version of nationalism that is rooted in St. John's. Part of it derives from the nativist sentiment of almost two centuries ago. Some of it - albeit a very small portion, according to Ryan - is unabashedly in favour of a return to so-called responsible government: independence.

To be fair, I should have clarified my use of the term. In local usage, the word "nationalist" almost invariable does not mean independence. Even the newspaper which uses the tricolour in its masthead and which calls itself The Independent cannot seem to call outright for the independence of Newfoundland and Labrador from Canada.

Rather the "nationalists", who have always been found mostly on the streets of St. John's are actually closer in philosophy to Quebec's sovereignists: they romanticize about local "nationalism", of being maitres chez nous, and speak in strong terms about the supposedly harsh treatment this place has received from "evil" Canadians.

Yet, these same champions of Newfoundland and Labrador seem to be unable to remove themselves from the tit on the Rideau. They studiously avoid working out the financial implications of separation. They argue for something akin to sovereignty-association, with progressively more and more political power accruing to St. John's while Ottawa has little to do beyond keeping the cash flowing to provincial coffers.

In that context, the January offshore deal is a classic example of the "nationalist" approach - so that the provincial government may receive all revenues from its offshore resources, it must receive not only all the revenues (as it currently does, and as acknowledged by the provincial government in the deal itself) but it must also receive federal transfer payments as if those revenues did not exist. We attain local self-determination (does this not mean independence?) - we become masters of our destiny in the Premier's words - by receiving ever more hand-outs from Uncle Ottawa.

That said, the pink, white and green is the banner around which these "nationalists" rally and no one should pretend that this tricolour flag is being proposed and is supported largely by anyone other than "nationalists".

Through it all, however, one cannot escape the overwhelming rejection of independence by those polled merely two years ago. The numbers today may well be different, but somehow I would doubt they would be radically different such that I might think it possible - were I a "nationalist" - to use an old St. John's flag as my rallying banner and expect to get very far.

This brings me inevitably back to the point at which The Gangs of St. John's started. With all the challenges faced by Newfoundlanders and Labradorians, surely the last thing on our agenda should be the flag. The last thing we ought bother to argue about should be the flag that is linked inextricably with such a small percentage of the population - by any measure.

If the flag - if the pink, white and green - is all we have to talk about or write petitions about, then surely we have reached a political dead end in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Maybe Satch really is the father of our "nationalists", if not our nation.

29 September 2005

The Gangs of St. John's - amended

Horace Debussey Jones [Huntz Hall]
Is Satch the real father of our nation?

Renewed interest in having the townie banner made the official flag of Newfoundland and Labrador is probably one of the surest signs that public discourse in the province as a whole has descended to the same level as the sign wars of the recent St. John's municipal election.

Despite there being so many substantial issues of policy we could be discussing, a small group has decided to launch a website, dedicated to having the tricolour (pink, white and green) turned into the symbol of our supposed secret nation.

There's an interesting essay by John Fitzgerald, noted nationalist historian. It's interesting because it makes it appear as though the flag was somehow the defacto flag of the Dominion of Newfoundland, merely because it cropped up at townie events. Yes, Sir Robert Bond made a promise to have the flag legally adopted, but remember: he made the pledge in the heat of a very close election in 1908. Bond's actions may have had more to do with courting a certain ethnic group of voters than any deep-seated belief in the rightness of the Pink, White and Green.

[Amendment: Alright, a faithful reader has pointed out that I shagged up the front end of John's essay. No excuses. I made a huge mistake and I apologise to John Fitzgerald for my error.

John clearly identifies this myth as a myth and it isn't John's myth it is someone else's. Faithful readers of these e-scribbles should know I have learned the lesson of writing late at night.

That said, I have deleted the paragraph where I attributed the story to Fitz. The rest I'll leave intact with amendments, as noted.]

[Paragraph deleted]

The Pink, White and Green story I am familiar with is contained in the Encyclopedia of Newfoundland and Labrador, both in Volume 2 on the entry for flags and in Volume Four in the entry on the Natives' Society of Newfoundland.

Here's the relevant section from page 196 and 197 of Volume 2:

"The pink, white and green flag, known as the native flag, developed from the merging of two flags flown by two rival groups in the 1800s: the so-called "natives" a group which was composed of well-established [i.e. locally born - ed.] citizens of St. John's who were largely Roman Catholic; and a large group of newly arrived immigrants from Ireland. During the 1840s the "natives" formed the Native Society of Newfoundland, an organization, the purpose of which was to safeguard the interests of "natives" in the face of the large influx of immigrants to the Colony.

The society adopted as its emblem a pink flag with a green fir tree, of unknown origin, which had been flown for a number of years. Apparently, there was more than one version of this flag flown for the society. One version showed two clasped hands beneath the tree and the word "philanthropy"...

The newly arrived Roman Catholics... began flying a green flag with the harp of Brian Boru to represent their group."

As this version of the story goes, the two rival Roman Catholic factions were locked in competition which peaked in 1843. Bishop Fleming intervened and proposed the creation of a new flag representing both groups - pink and green, with a band of neutral white in the centre. This sounds more plausible than the one pushed by the flag guys (but I am open to persuasion) in largest part because given Fleming's political activism it is difficult to see how he might be accepted by Protestants at the time as some sort of uniting force. At the time, did Protestants even see a need to stop begrudging Romans anything, or vice versa?

What we have then, according to the version I am familiar with, is a flag that essential derived from our own local version of the Gangs of New York. Before anyone leaps to the ramparts, it is useful to look closely at the history of Irish immigration to New York and see if there are any similar patterns to be found.

It is certainly true that the tricolour turned up at many events in St. John's after 1947,[<--added] but Fitz might want to do some checking on his claims that the tricolour was flown at so many major national events in pre-Confederation Newfoundland. For example, while he states that the tricolour was accepted alongside the Union Flag between 1914 and 1918, it is perhaps instructive to note that in the Amiens cathedral memorial chapel, the flag representing Newfoundland is actually the blue ensign adopted in 1904. That flag consisted of a conventional ensign design with the Union Jack in the upper corner. In fly was the Badge of Newfoundland, the arms of the Dominion. This consisted of two figures, one on bended knee offering up a fish to Britannia. Beneath are the Latin words translating as "We bring you these gifts". [Sentence added] In other words, officially, the flag of Newfoundland after 1904 was a typical engisn design. Underneath the whole PWG movement is the fact that the flag is a townie creation, much like Newfoundland "nationalism". [Added:] It is difficult to separate the flag from its roots, even if one dismisses the version Fitz identifies as myth. Surely to heavens though, with two communities in the province about to suffer difficult economic times, we can find something a bit more urgent to talk about than accepting a flag that may well have its origins not in a quaint little fable of denominational reconciliation but in the local equivalent of the Dead Rabbits or the Bowery Boys.

That said, and on a purely personal note, Fitz and the boys might actually get my support if they could manage to work Cameron Diaz into the story.

Come to think of it, a lot of guys would be willing to adopt the flag is Cameron Diaz was involved. Da byes might have to get Leo DeCapprio into the story to make more women go along with the tricolour thing.

28 September 2005

The power of public relations

Simon Lono, unsuccessful councillor at large candidate received 8, 434 votes on a total campaign budget of around $3, 000. That works out to a cost-per-vote of $2.81.

Ron Ellsworth, who conservative estimates hold spent about $45, 000 on his campaign, garnered a little over 3, 300 votes in his successful Ward 4 campaign. That's about $13.60 per vote.

Lono was all over the news media on substantive issues affecting the city.

Ellsworth's first media interview was on election night with the softball crew at Out of the Fog.

Don't get me wrong: Ellsworth ran a fine campaign and he deserves full credit. He won; Lono lost.

But speaking as a public relations guy, a campaigner who has been around for a while and - in the interests of full disclosure - a guy who helped Lono, Simon's campaign should demonstrate the decisive impact of solid messaging and effective media relations. He went from being invisible to winning more than 8, 000 votes in the at large field of 14 candidates. There's no way of knowing what a few more bucks would have turned up in the way of votes, but...

Even in losing, Lono can look at a pretty solid return on his investment.

Why Andy Wells is wrong

In typical fashion, Andy Wells was quick to comment on the municipal election results in St. John's claiming credit for his own success in suppressing the vote for councillor Shannie Duff and others by raising Memorial stadium as an issue. He also criticized two at large candidates, although not by name.

The results don't support Wells contention.

1. Overall, there were about 35, 000 ballot kits returned in this election, down slightly from the 39, 000 returned in the 2001 contest. This decline is easily attributed to the lack of a mayoral race which has traditionally boosted voter turn-out.

At the same time, there were 11, 000 more mail ballots distributed this time. That doesn't mean that there was a dramatic decline in voter turn-out. About the same number of people voted this time as voted last time.

2. In 2001, Shannie Duff garnered slightly more than 21, 000 votes last time out and this time was re-elected with over 19, 000 votes. That decline is hardly indicative of any dramatic decline in her support.

In fact, Duff's share of the votes cast is exactly the same as it was last time out.

3. While Wells may trumpet his own apparent decisive victory, it is hard to take him seriously. This election was a no-contest against a man whose behaviour suggested he may well be experiencing severe personal problems. Such was the contest that Wells stopped campaigning.

But here's the interesting thing.

In the mayoral race there were actually more than 6, 200 ballots that were spoiled or not cast. That's almost 18% of the total ballot kits returned. It is a horrendous number for any election - but if Andy was the darling of St. John's, why was he unable to actually increase voter turn-out such that he garnered the support of more than 33% of the total electorate? That's a pretty abysmal comment on Wells the mayor and the contest as a whole. Had he faced a credible candidate, who can say what the outcome might have been?

Regardless of that, in a head-to-head contest between Andy Wells and a guy who people wondered might be ill, they took Andy. Personally, I wouldn't be writing home about that.

4. Frank Galgay is actually the best proof of Wells' political impotence - that is, if Andy he is trying to suggest that he is the King politico of St. John's. Wells courted Bob Crocker to run against Galgay, may well have financially supported Crocker and certainly publicly attacked Galgay with newspaper ads and a letter mailed to every voter in Ward 2.

Galgay beat Crocker - and by easy extension Wells - by better than two to one.

If anything, Wells crude "campaign" actually cemented Galgay's support and drove them to the polls. Negative campaigning is supposed to suppress voters, especially the opponent's supporters.

That's what Wells is implicitly claiming - he, the master politician affected the results of other candidates. He may have, but certainly not in the way he thinks.

Take that, Bembridge scholars.

5. The Memorial Stadium issue had no traction with voters. It didn't appear to motivate them one way or another, except for a handful of disaffected people in the east end of town.

Wells was challenged publicly on his bizarre accounting by both Duff - who handily won re-election - and by one of the new faces in the campaign, Simon Lono. The media covered it; Wells ignored it, as only Andy can.

6. Wells introduced nothing of substance to the campaign. He did not indicate what he plans to do over the next four years. He did not run on any platform. He advanced no new ideas. Indeed Wells, who was once the candidate of change, revolution and attacking the system is now the ultimate Establishment candidate.

His only foray into the campaign was to attack other candidates and in the effort, every single one of Wells' targets - save one - gained re-election.

7. In the sole exception, Paul Sears defeat can easily be attributed to his own poor performance on council. Andy can hardly claim credit for Sears' self-inflicted wounds.

8. Wells most laughable comments on Out of the Fog came when he lambasted two at large candidates for their platform issues.

Although he didn't mention names, one was obviously John Fisher who talked about fighting crime. Ok, Andy, I'll grant that. Fisher was talking about crime and the police when the city can do exactly diddly squat about it.

But the second candidate was Simon Lono who Wells' thought foolish for "attacking city hall".

Here's some meat to chew on, as opposed to Wells' characteristic gristle.

Of all the at large candidates, indeed of all the candidates, Lono was the only one who put substantive policy issues on the table for discussion.

He gained media coverage that was second to none, except for Boss Andy himself.

In the singular, substantive moment of the campaign, Lono embarrassed Wells by drawing public attention to the week-long Duckworth Street water main fiasco. The city delivered its own coup de grace on that one by letting the thing fester for more than a week until a 15 foot high geyser erupted in the east end of town.

It was a public embarrassment not just for Wells and his supposed record of infrastructure management but for the whole city. Hundreds of cruise ship visitors, one of them a retired municipal water engineer, looked in amazement at the evident lack of proper maintenance and the profligate treatment of the city's precious water supply.

Wells then supplied further proof of his lack of a grip when he attacked a deputy mayoral candidate during a television interview. According to Wells, the city's water problem were caused by people drowning their lawns; that interview aired the same day the water main broke and a week before the geyser shot up.

Talk about hubris.

The night Lono's media coverage appeared, city council was in heavy damage control mode. Council crews scrambled from sight when the cameras arrived and - surprise, surprise - a geyser that was apparently unfixable until a new part arrived and couldn't be tampered with for fear of cutting off water to businesses and residents suddenly vanished. The thing was gone the next day and fixed within two.

Lono also talked about crumbling sidewalks and borrowing from next year's capital works budget to patch problems that emerged this year, all of which are accurate.

But Andy needn't take Lono's word for the infrastructure deficit.

Last week, no less a public body than the Board of Trade included the municipal infrastructure deficit as one of the major challenges facing the new council.

Yeah, Andy. Lono doesn't know what he is talking about.

Neither does Marilyn Thompson, president of the Board of Trade and her members.

Andy Wells may be a lot of things, and he is right about things once in a while.

But as far as his comments on the municipal election results, he is actually the one who doesn't have a clue, let alone a sweet one.

27 September 2005

If Dobbin wasn't a typical local businessman...

He might actually attract some experienced writers to work for his rag, the Spindy.

As John Gushue notes, our own low-rent Conrad Black - Brian Dobbin - is vacating his column on the editorial page of his own personal yellow sheet in favour of...guest columns.

He doesn't have to pay for guest columns.

Surprise. Surprise.

If Dobbin hadn't nickel and dimed locked out CBC reporter David Cochrane and then kicked him in the crotch for good measure with the lame "Die CBC, die" editorial a few weeks ago, Dobbin might have better stuff gracing his pages than the recycled or one-source wonders the Spindy usually prints. No one told CBC staffers they couldn't work for Dobbin's little sweat-rag.

They decided to avoid a guy who clearly has no regard for the news or for staff. Cleary and Dobbin's little tag-team routine the past couple of weeks defending Dobbin's crass and - typically - ill-informed opinion just confirm the extent these two share the same low standards of journalistic integrity. I am severely disappointed in Ryan.

But then Dobbin wouldn't be able to use the Spindy as his own homage to Joe Pulitzer. Cochrane is used to basing a story on pesky things called facts, not the sort of crap (figure out the ending and then collect up some quotes to fit the preconceived ending) that usually assault public eyeballs each Sunday.

Anyone remember the Chuck Furey fiasco about the Terra Nova project? One source. Fit with Dobbin's own ill-founded ideas. Got printed. Then the one source recanted.

That was good for a few yucks.

Incidentally, is it a coincidence that Dobbin is vacating the column (and its fawning praise for our beloved Premier) now that he has his reward - an appointment to a business advisory committee on Ireland?

Will Brian be able to bill his own business trips to the Emerald Isle to the taxpayers of Newfoundland and Labrador, all the while trumpeting the virtues of free enterprise and condemning publicly-funded anything?

Don Adams - rest well, Max

Don Adams, the actor who played television's best known parody of a parody - secret agent 86 of CONTROL- passed away in Los Angeles on Sunday, aged 82.

Cause of death is reportedly a lung infection.

In addition to his role on Get Smart!, Adams was the voice of cartoon characters Tennessee Tuxedo and Inspector Gadget.

Earth just got a little duller, but Heaven is sure gonna be a funnier place.

The case for a new municipal elections act

When Andy Wells said people would vote for Saddam Hussein rather than him, he likely wasn't only speaking of the deep-seated animosity some people have for the mayor of the capital city.

They likely would opting for Saddam's democratic election system.

The City of St. John's mail-in ballot system is the best case yet for a new municipal elections act that brings civic elections into line with the standards of a modern democracy.

A committee of councillors plus municipal officials (who owe their paycheques to the councillors) devised a system that violates the spirit and intent of the Municipal Elections Act. Here are some examples of the Act's provisions, designed to counteract corruption (like fraud), that the city officials have repeatedly and consistently ignored:

1. Given that the voters list is out of date, contains inaccuracies and the procedures for administering the election make it possible for the same person to receive two ballots for two separate wards, the election is potentially in violation of s. 23. This section prohibits the same person from voting in two separate wards while being resident in only one.

2. The city has issued ballots to individuals who fail to qualify under s. 24 (residency). Examples have been well documented beyond the 4, 000 officially noted thus far.

3. Candidates have been unable to exercise their right under s. 25 to challenge individual voters and require that they affirm or attest to their qualification as a voter and to have said objection registered under s. 41.

4. There is some question as to whether the city has applied s. 40 requiring a record of those who have cast votes, typically by crossing names from the voting list, to preclude double-voting.

5. There is no indication that s. 38 was applied under which candidates or their agents inspect the ballot box and ensure that it is empty at the time it is sealed.

6. The provisions for declaring ballots spoiled under s. 50 have been misapplied in the case of the 700 disallowed votes. These ballots may well be otherwise valid (i.e. not overvoted etc) but they are precluded merely because city officials refuse to adopt simple methods for removing the voter declaration form from the envelope containing ballots and still preventing anyone (except election officials) from knowing how any one person voted.

Incidentally, this scrupulous adherence to the notion of secrecy is an example of the zealous way officials apply some rules but ignore others. For example, under federal and provincial election rules a voting official may assist a voter (thereby learning how the vote was cast). But they are sworn to secrecy anyway!

7. The city is in clear violation of s. 51, which provides that the ballot boxes may not be opened and counting commence until after the close of polls. There is no legitimate reason for violating this provision. The city clerk's attitude at the candidates briefing (i.e. that the election was effectively over by now anyway) is certainly an indication of the antidemocratic attitude officials have brought to the process of elections.

8. Based on all the foregoing, this mail-vote system violates s. 54(5) insofar as the procedures established by the municipal bylaw are not consistent with the principles established under the MEA.

Beyond these points, there are ample grounds to question the legitimacy of this election. The unwillingness of city officials to accept reasonable alternatives to their rules further demonstrates the substantive problems with this election.

Their goal is to deliver a result as cheaply as possible. Legitimacy and fairness are not an issue.

After this fiasco is completed, the provincial government should introduce a new elections act to bring municipal voting rules in line with provincial ones. Let the province's chief electoral officer run the entire voting process. It would be cheaper than the current system and infinitely more fair to all concerned.

It is certainly far more important and issue than discussing whether or not to change the province's flag.

What good is a flag if the basics of democracy are trampled?

26 September 2005

Mail-in voting: more details; more evidence of major problems

Candidates and their representatives received a briefing today on how the mail-in ballots will be counted on Tuesday.

Here are some details:

1. Candidates are unable to scrutinize ballots as they would in any other election. Since ballots began arriving at City Hall on 12 September, city officials have already made their decisions about validity of specific ballots and included them or excluded them based on their own policy.

2. To date, about 700 ballot kits have been ruled invalid. These ballot kits either had no voter declaration, had one that wasn't signed, had multiple signatures on the declaration (presumably including a notary's signature attesting to the identity of the voter [!!!]) or some other technical failing.

3. "Spoiled" ballot kits are running at a rate 10 times higher than the provincial election despite a turn-out thus far that is one tenth of the total provincial votes cast. One tenth the votes; 10 times as many "spoils".

Of the approximately 25, 000 mail-in ballots cast thus far, almost 3% have been ruled "spoiled". In the last provincial general election, out of more than 278, 000 ballots cast only 790 were ruled "spoiled". That's .28%, compared to the 2.8% for the city election.

4. The actual number of rejected ballots (each kit actually contains four separate ballots for different races) is actually around 2, 800. The total number of possible ballots (four per voter) is 75,000 times four, or 300,000. Even if we allow this figure as being the number of "ballots" then the spoilage rate thus far is double the last federal election and three times the number of "spoils" in the last provincial election.

5. In the last federal general election, the number of rejected ballots for Newfoundland was 0.5%.

6. The St. John's municipal vote will set a new national record for spoiled ballots, once the actual number of spoiled ballots will be determined on 27 September.
All that has been determined right now is the number of kits that have been rejected as invalid. Within each ballot kit that will be counted on 27 September (accepted as valid by officials), individual ballot sections such as the one for mayor may be blank, double-voted, written on or otherwise spoiled using conventional definitions.

7. Ballot counting will begin shortly after 0800 hrs on the 27th, or 12 hours before the polls close. In every other election, ballot boxes are not opened until after the polls have closed. In this election, the election results will be known (except for the handful of ballot kits received on the official counting day) by around noon. Results will not be released until after 2000 hrs (8:00 PM) but city officials appeared to have no firm policy on this point.

8. Candidates have had no opportunity to challenge the credentials of voters, as provided in the Municipal Elections Act. If any candidate detects a problem on polling day, there is no way to determine which fraudulent ballot has been cast or how many such ballots may have been cast. City officials did not consider this to be an issue.

9. City officials have not been crossing names off their voting list, another way of detecting fraudulent voting in cases where ballots have been sent to the same person under two slightly different names.

10. Dominion Voting System Corporation [DVS Corp] has been contracted to count the ballots using their computerized counting system.
Likely problems don't stem from their system; problems come from the completely inadequate procedures established by city officials and approved by city council.

24 September 2005

And then there's this blog I just found...

which should make the blood pressure over at Liam-land [aka Responsible Government League]break through the sphygmomanometer cuff.

The author of this blog, Watching the CPC spin machine in actionn, is pretty funny.

Consider this post on one of my favourite Connies, Peter MacKay.

Or this one on the Connie bloggers and the disappearing posts. Seems they are trying to find any way to discredit Belinda - now that she isn't a Connie. And at least a couple of the angriest bloggers in the world actually had to pull their conspiracy posts when it turned out the conspiracy was... wait for it...a complete fiction.

So let's just post this one and wait for the little explosion. I'll keep my eyes on the horizon and see if the mushroom cloud erupts.

Which historic general are you?

These quizes seem to be growing in popularity among bloggers, so for some lighter weekend fair, why not give this one a try. Which historical general would you be?

Seems that I resemble a dead Roman general. Not exactly who I had in mind, but the old boy was effective.

You scored 63 Wisdom, 70 Tactics, 54 Guts, and 63 Ruthlessness!

You're most similar to Scipio in the fact that you're smart and ruthless. Scipio beat Hannibal by luring him back from Western Europe (where he was crushing legion after legion of Roman soldiers trying to gain support from local tribes) by laying seige to his home country of Carthage. Hannibal returned to defend his home and was defeated at the Battle of Zama.

Ruthless, but it worked.

Scipio was the conqueror of Hannibal in the Punic Wars. He was the son of Publius Cornelius Scipio, and from a very early age he considered himself to have divine inspiration. He was with his father at the Ticino (218), and he survived Cannae (216). The young Scipio was elected (c.211) to the proconsulship in Spain. He conquered New Carthage (Cartagena) almost at once (209) and used the city as his own base; within several years he had conquered Spain. As consul in 205, Scipio wanted to invade Africa, but his jealous enemies in the senate granted him permission to go only as far as Sicily and gave him no army. He trained a volunteer army in Sicily. In 204 he received permission to go to Africa, where he joined his allies the Numidians and fought with success against the Carthaginians. In 202, Hannibal crossed to Africa and tried to make peace, but Scipio's demands were so extreme that war resulted; Scipio defeated Hannibal at Zama (202), returned home in triumph, and retired from public life.

He was named Africanus after the country he conquered.

His pride aggravated the hatred of his enemies, especially Cato the Elder , who accused the Scipio family of receiving bribes in the campaign against Antiochus III in which Scipio had accompanied (190) his brother. It was only through the influence of his son-in-law, Tiberius Sempronius Gracchus, that Scipio was saved from ruin. He retired into the country and ordered that his body might not be buried in his ungrateful city. Later he revealed his great magnanimity by his attempt to prevent the ruin of the exiled Hannibal by Rome.

23 September 2005

Mail-in vote follies continue

Enjoy this little story from VOCM, quoting city clerk Neil Martin on how smurfily goes the mail-in voting for St. John's city council.

Then pick up the Telegram and find the facts.

Martin predicted a couple of things: one was that the turnout would be over 60% and possibly as high as 75% this time. He also predicted that 90% of ballots would be returned no later than 19 September.

The city mailed out about 75, 000 vote-by-mail kits.

As of Thursday morning, the elections crowd at city hall had received 25, 000 ballots back. As of close of business Tuesday, they had 21, 000 according to a city hall official contacted on Wednesday by the Bond Papers. There is some confusion here about whether those are 21 or 25, 000 valid ballots or total ballots, but the point is still clear: the turn-out so far is about 30%, and it is not likely to get much higher. In other words, that's one third of what Martin expected and it will be lucky to crack 40%.

But here's a Telly kicker - of the ballots received on Thursday (as the Telegram tells it - might have been Wednesday), fully 600 were chucked in the bin as being spoiled. They either did not have a signed declaration with the vote envelope or the declaration had been included inside the vote envelope.

If we take the average daily vote return of 3, 000, that means in one day alone fully 20% of the ballots were spoiled. That is a horrendous number and may speak to problems with the voter awareness portion of this whole thing.

Beyond that, though, you may well have the complete disenfranchisement of thousands of voters simply because they didn't follow the rules. Maybe they were elderly and had trouble reading the information. Maybe they were illiterate. They still had a right to vote.

Then there is the possibility that thousands of other people voted twice or voted when they weren't entitled to vote.

This doesn't look like an election that is running swimmingly.

Nor are the ballots "flooding in" as VOCM claims.


But then again, according to the city, that geyser on Temperance Street was proof that everything was working just fine in the city.

What, me worry?

Wells unsure on taxes

Over at the local website for the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, one can find the results of its mayoral candidate survey.

Here's the link to the St. John's results.

A few of incumbent Andy Wells responses stand out:

Asked about his stand on a municipal sales tax and a municipal income tax, Wells indicated he was "unsure". Hmmmm. Hope Andy doesn't plan on dipping into the public pockets after the next election to fix the city's infrastructure problems (Andy's wells, like the one on the east end of Duckworth Street). This idea could have gotten a firm "No!". Wells' waffling is a cause for caution.

Wells also thinks that city residents who cannot access municipal services - like water and sewer - should still pay full taxes.

Wells also favours eliminating "costly" red-tape and regulation. Andy has never seen a developer he wouldn't say yes to. Makes one wonder what exactly he considers to be "costly" regulation.

It's also an interesting attitude for a guy who the premier thinks is the right guy to manage the offshore regulatory board.

Why Connies don't get it. - Munsinger update

Anyone pondering the lack of electoral success for the federal Conservative Party need think no more.

This little post on a blog site favoured by Connies couldn't have said it better: Connies just don't get it. Canadians have opinions but they are tolerant of other opinions and lifestyles.

No matter how cutely this guy starts his piece, there's no question he is a homophobe.

Even if his speculation is true, the majority of Canadians are likely to read the post and ask:

so what?

[Via Bourque]

[Update - apparently local blogger Liam O'Brien found this post a bit too much to swallow so early in the morning. He posted a lengthy critique accusing your humble e-scribe of "McCarthy" tactics.

First, Liam claims the Western Standard post was actually about misuse of public funds. Ok. That's why I posted a link to the original article so people can go make up their minds for themselves.

Second, he tries to blow the whole thing off as a piece of parliament hill gossip. Well, if it was gossip - trivial information - then why did the WS print it? Gossip usually doesn't make news.

Third, the WS doesn't make Connie policy - no one said it did. Liam sets up a straw man and then sets him alight. Massive accomplishment there, Liam.

Fourth, the WS IS very popular among Connie party supporters. Note the links at the bottom of the piece from bloggers who have mentioned it. One of them, small dead animals, is one of the most widely read Connie blogs in the country.

Fifth, if it was about abuse of public funds, I just wondered why the lede - the opening bit - focused on Pierre Pettigrew's sexual orientation. Might the man be gay? Not that there's anything wrong with that.

Sixth, if the issue in some fashion revolves around a possible close personal relationship between a cabinet minister and a member of his staff - with the attendant notions of an abuse of taxpayer funds - can anyone point to the Connie bloggers who called into question an open, close - but heterosexual - relationship between two Connie members of parliament?

Did Belinda and Peter not possibly once tryst at taxpayers expense? Did young Peter, later politically cuckholded by Paul Martin, not once pledge his unending devotion to the former Connie star while collecting a federal paycheque? Did Petie not once endure the little death in praise of Belinda's ample...umm...assets...and later bill the minibar charges to the Crown?

Oh shock! Oh horror! [put hand to forehead and swoon with appropriate dramatic flair]

But they were heterosexuals.

Not that there's anything wrong with that, of course.

Is it possible that other members of parliament - of all parties - have kept their mistresses on the public payroll to facilitate their illicit affairs? In those instances, the members of parliament were married and having illicit - albeit heterosexual - relationships with women other than their wives or husbands. Are the Connies ruthlessly attacking this phenomenon or is the Western Standard turning its journalistic cannons on those people? I think not.

For some perspective, maybe Liam and his pals need to check into the matter of one Gerda Munsinger. Liam probably knows all about the woman who was both a Soviet agent and the bed partner of several members of the Diefenbaker cabinet.

Liam might know since The Chief is Liam's pick for Greatest Canadian Prime Minister Ever.

But hey, read my post and read Liam's. Read the original WS post and you decide if the WS post is actually the McCarthyite political attack.

It's an old - and unsuccessful - style of political attack, Liam to accuse others constantly of what you and your friends practice as a matter of course.

Deficit? What infrastructure deficit? - updated

Interesting to see that the president of the St. John's Board of Trade, Marilyn Thompson, is actually contradicting St. John's mayor Andy Wells.

Wells, you may recall, claimed that everything with city infrastructure was just tickety-boo and that candidates like Simon Lono just didn't know what they were talking about when they claimed the city faced an infrastructure deficit.

Well, Thompson told a St. John's Rotary club on Wednesday that indeed the city did have an infrastructure deficit - that's the term she used - and that St. John's was going to have a problem coming up with the cash to deal with it.

Here's a link to the speech.

Here's a little excerpt: [Thompson said a bunch of other things that should have been said earlier in the campaign. Good stuff!]

"As I already mentioned, one of the City'’s biggest challenges is maintaining infrastructure.

The truth is that St. John'’s is facing an infrastructure deficit. We simply don'’t have the money it would take to meet all of our infrastructure demands. The City has been doing a fine job keeping up with those demands with the resources it has. But, significant capital expenditure is required in the operating budget to simply maintain existing infrastructure, let alone to upgrade and develop new infrastructure."

Thompson praised city staff for doing the best with what they had, but there could be no mistaking her agreement with Lono's basic contention that the city was falling behind in maintaining its roads, water and sewer services.

Poof. Turns out Lono was right after all.

This whole thing is even more interesting considering that only a few months ago Thompson was backing Andy to head the federal-provincial offshore regulatory board.

22 September 2005

Read this, city mail-in vote officials!

Architects of the St. John's vote-by-mail system could use this article.

As of close-of-business Tuesday, a total of 25, 000 vote kits had been returned. That's well below the anticipated increase in voter turn-out city officials predicted. About 4, 000 of those vote kits were not cast, representing people who were dead or who had moved. About 21, 000 valid votes had been accepted although the system has no way of preventing fraud, let alone detect it.

Anticipate that ballot returns will drop off over the next few days. Friday is the cut off for mailing ballots. Kits will accepted up to 2000 hrs (8:00 PM) on 27 September 2005, with counting taking place as soon as "polls" close.

My guestimate is that the turnout of cast ballots (as opposed to total kits returned) will hover around 30, 000. That's almost 10, 000 ballots lower than last time and well short of the 60% plus turn-out officials expected.

21 September 2005

The value of proofreading


So I know that typos creep into the Bond Papers.

Sometimes they flood.

But here is another genuine example of the value of proofreading before submitting something as important [ed. original read: "importance"] as a continuance motion in court.

The counsellor in question apparently had back problems.

Read the motion, as filed.

Spell-check wouldn't catch that one.

[via Damian Penny]

20 September 2005

Guerrilla campaigning

Technology is a wonderful thing.

This is a little 30 second spot Simon Lono generated for his municipal campaign. It focuses on the Duckworth Street water main break, which started over a week ago and remains unfixed. A new browser window should open and the vid will play using Windows Media Player.

When Lono took the clips using his digital still camera, the leak was a burbling little fountain. The idea of the vid was to contrast the water wastage inherent in the leaking main with the mayor's comments that the water problem in St. John's is due to people drowning their lawns every summer.

Yea verily, the mighty water main leak turned into a 15 foot geyser, so Lono is working on a second version of this video which will use the new geyser footage in the appropriate space.

Digital camera, plus a little freeware plus some time and energy and Lono managed to come up with a little video spot that while it isn't broadcast quality sure as hell will make an impact on the website.

It should also be circulated a bit through e-mails to people around town since the file is small enough to send as an attachment.

Keep an eye on the campaign to see what, if any impact this little story and the vid will have on the campaign. If nothing else, though, it sure cost a hell of a lot less than Ron Ellsworth Ward 4 campaign. The consensus among veteran campaigners is that Ellsworth will spend upwards of 45 large to get a job that pays about half that as an annual salary. One figure I heard today was that Ellsworth has dropped about $8,000 on bus sign advertising alone.


What, me worry?

[<--- Not Andy Wells]

Our beloved mayor believes that everyone else running for city council doesn't know what he or she is talking about.

Here's a little blurb on the NTV website about the Duckworth Street geyser. It's from the story by Michael Connors that ran on the 19th.

The mayor's view of the problem is highlighted.

"A broken water valve in downtown St. John's burst into a small geyser Monday morning, spraying water 10 to 15 feet in the air for most of the day. Candidates running in the municipal election quickly picked up on the incident to call for more spending to fix the water system.

The valve on the corner of Duckworth and Temperance streets broke more than a week ago. It was part of an 80-year-old pipe that feeds all of downtown. The city hasn't cut off the pipe because that would mean shutting down water service to the entire area. A replacement valve is on order, but the water will continue to run until it arrives.

Councillor-at-Large candidate Simon Lono accused the council of wasting money on Mile One Stadium and mainland hockey teams at the expense of basic infrastructure. Deputy Mayoral candidate Fred Winsor agreed more money needs to be spent on the water system. But Mayor Andy Wells said the city already has a plan in effect to replace its older pipes. He said council has not been negligent about the water system and accused the other candidates of not knowing what they're talking about."

Of course, Andy's comments don't give any indication why this really old water main in the east end of St. John's hasn't been replaced yet, especially if, as Andy said, this section of the system is the oldest in the city.

Andy sure as heck isn't trumpeting the capital works plan as part of his re-election campaign.

Maybe that's why he is busily slagging the heck out of every other candidate, especially ones he doesn't like.

Of course, when you've been on council since 1977 and been the mayor for the past eight years and water mains start blowing up in the middle of the campaign, of course you'd claim that everything is fine and council is running perfectly and no one else knows what they are talking about.

Sometimes it seems like Alfred E. Neuman is the mayor of St. John's.

At least that what it seems like when Andy starts his "What, me worry?" routine.

19 September 2005

Water, water, everywhere...

And running down Temperence Street.

A water main break in the east end of St. John's has been sending water gushing down Temperence street since a week ago yesterday.

Today it was a shooting geyser, reaching upwards of 12 to 15 feet into the air.

Council crews were busily trying to deal with the problem - a week after it started - but so far there is no sign of it being fixed.

Flip over to Lono at large and you'll find Simon Lono's take on the whole problem of the municipal infrastructure deficit, along with a little video that is sure to ruffle the feathers of Mayor Andy Wells.

Municipal infrastructure deficit is a really big way of saying that council has been neglecting the public works it is supposed to be providing in favour of something else.

Great to fund stadiums and all that sort of thing if you have the cash. Not so great if there is a 15 foot geyser in the middle of Duckworth Street blocking accessing to residents of the neigbourhood and keeping tourist buses from an easy route to Signal Hill.

Speaking of tourists, German visitors to the city aboard one of Doc O'Keefe's love boats found the whole thing perplexing. A retired water engineer from Munich was amazed to see the gusher. He found it incomprehensible from the standpoint of engineering and found it troubling in light of the shortage of water in so many parts of the world.

Another gentlemen commented that they have the same sort of thing in Reykjavik, Iceland.

Yes, I replied, but there it is a natural phenomenon.

In St. John's, the geysers now seem to gush from our municipal water supply.

16 September 2005

How the Boor stole the election

[With apologies to Dr. Seuss]

Every Jawn
down in Jawn-ville
Loved their city alot...

But the Boor
who was mayor of Sin Jawn-ville
did not!

The Boor hated Jawn-ville! The whole of the city.
He detested each Jawn, loathed each Jawn-dog and -kitty.
As he sat in his office, he'd think day and night
of another sly scheme to shag Sin Jawns just right.
And when Jawns looked to vote in the mail-in election,
the Boor figured out how to screw Jawn selection.

"I'll just send out the ballots to Jawns who are dead.
And send more to addresses of Jawns who have fled.
I'll make sure there is no one to check who has voted."
Then he grinned a Boor grin. "I'll call out the devoted."

While the Boor knew that some of the Jawns thought him crass,
there were others who worshipped His Worship's Boor-ass.
He could count on those Jawns to do just as he wanted.
They would cheer. They would heckle. They'd vote Boor, undaunted.

The Boor sat contented on his mayoral throne,
surveying Jawn councillors he'd soon see gone.
There could not be a chance that the Jawn-ville election
would deny the Blahblahs their new concrete erection.

And those Jawn-agitators who'd clog voting pipes
with some anti-Boor Jawn-viller councillor types?
Those Jawns would need gagging. They'd need a distraction.
The city's procedures would give such compaction.

So the Boor urged that Jawns-bunch to file an appeal.
He smiled knowing Jawn-ville town rules would congeal
and his friendly White Board would keep every Jawn busy,
as they'd file and they'd write in a paperwork tizzy.

By the time that the board that was whiter than White
decided Jawn-queries were beyond its might,
all the votes would be cast and the Jawns would be knackered.
and the Blahblah store floor would be duly shellackered.

Then the Boor called some Boor-loving Jawns on the phone.
Told them they could set just the right Jawn-council tone.
If they'd tackle his foes then the Boor would print ads
to tell all the Jawns their incumbents were bad.

And the Boor grin grew wider, then wider than wide.
As he walked from his office, he beamed with Boor-pride.
He drove through the streets in his SUV truck,
smiling at every Jawn, as he mouthed the word:


15 September 2005

The new Tammany Hall

No matter how one feels about the Memorial Stadium issue, one must surely be repulsed by the blatant manner in which Marie White and St. John's local appeals board deceived the local committee who attempted to appeal the recent council decision to rezone the stadium site.

Everyone should be absolutely clear: the council decision was gazetted on 19 August 2005, before the appeal was filed with White's committee. At that point, the appellants should have been advised of what White now says was clear - the board had no power to overturn the council decision.

Instead, the board strung along the process, keeping the appellants tied up with busy-work, holding meetings, preparing briefs and otherwise staying out of the municipal election in which the stadium rezoning has been a major issue.

By the time White summarily shut down the appeal hearing, the election was virtually over. Ballots were mailed to residents on Friday, 09 September 2005 and, if past practice is a guide, fully 80% of the total likely to be received has already been returned.

One cannot help but feel that there has been some corrupt practice here. The timing of the ballots and the past voting experience was well-known to all concerned on the board. The board's lack of power was also well-known. If there was no corruption here - no deliberate rigging of the process - the only reason for the three week charade to which the appellants were exposed would be gross incompetence.

Marie White, the members of the board and their official advisors are not incompetent.

Marie White is, however, well known to be a political ally of the mayor, Andy Wells.

For his part Wells chose to make the stadium the centrepiece of his recent political action. It cannot be called a campaign since Wells withdrew from active campaigning on his own behalf some days ago. Instead the mayor's agents have taken out newspaper advertisements encouraging residents to vote against the five councillors who opposed the stadium redevelopment. Wells has played with numbers, making preposterous claims of the cost of reversing the rezoning decision and at times contradicting himself in the matter of a few days on his own estimates of the cost.

On the same day that White ended the appeal fraud, Wells delivered letters to voters in Ward Two attacking incumbent Frank Galgay (who opposed the stadium project) and pushing instead for Bob Crocker, a last minute entry to the race who does not even live in the Ward in which he seeks election. One, again, cannot help but wonder if Wells and Crocker are in collusion.

Wells may not be campaigning for himself, but he is surely campaigning for his allies. The cost of the letters will not be reported on Crocker's expense statement, should he win. One may wonder as well what, if any, other aid Wells' campaign has given to other candidates he favours.

The centrepiece of the now-evident corruption at city hall is the mail-in ballot process itself. This farce has been well-dissected on the Bond Papers before, in the Telegram, and more recently on radio call-in shows with reports of ballots being mailed to the dead and those otherwise long departed the city.

As noted here on other occasions, there is no system to detect vote fraud. Indeed, city officials have professed themselves unable to do even the simplest things to prevent a fraud worthy of Tammany Hall. This is nonsense: officials simply do not wish to prevent fraud. In the process they are clearly in violation of the Municipal Elections Act, including the provisions which allow the city to use an alternative voting system to the one prescribed in the act.

The very timing of the election and the use of mail-in ballots alone favours Wells and the incumbents. Most residents did not begin to pay attention to the election until after Labour Day. Ballots were mailed the following Friday, a mere five days later. As city officials and the incumbent councillors well knew, fully 80% of ballots were returned within three days of being received.

As a result, the election effectively ended on Wednesday, despite the official voting day of 27 September 2005. The strongest of Wells' likely critics having been kept silent until the votes were in, Wells managed to ensure that his only political competition remained a man whose sanity has come into serious question. Even had Wells' other challenger not been forced to withdraw from the campaign due to a family tragedy, there was hardly a chance that the aloof and unpalatable Vince Withers would have posed a serious threat to Wells and his machine.

In the end, residents of St. John's have re-elected the bully boy of municipal politics as their mayor. Another of his political cronies will likely take the deputy's chair by a landslide. Dennis "Doc" O'Keefe will be contented to talk of things he can do nothing about, like gas prices, or spend tax dollars chasing cruise ships, which, as a matter of fact produce the economic benefit of two decently located Tim Hortons coffee shops. Wells can count on O'Keefe's support, come what may.

As for the other councillors, those results will have to wait another two weeks. Irrespective of the outcome - whether all incumbents are returned or a few of Well's political foes are defeated - the Boss of the new Tammany Hall will weigh heavily on residents of the city and their wallets for another four years.

14 September 2005

Andy Wells IS campaigning

Contrary to his own claim that he had stopped campaigning, St. John's mayor Andy Wells is spending cash and campaigning actively.

He's just not campaigning to get elected.

He is campaigning to have his own allies elected and defeat his political enemies.

Like Bob Crocker in Ward Two. Crocker who only made the decision to enter the race at the last minute is getting help from Wells. The gag-loving mayor is sending letters to every voter in Ward Two attacking incumbent Frank Galgay.

If Wells is even partially successful, he can change the shape of council and control most seats in the chamber.

The city is moving towards Third World status very quickly. First, there's the dodgy electoral system. Now there's a mayor who is trying to get his own pals elected to council.

Your tax dollars in action

Let's hope the Williams Family Foundation is footing the bill for this little bit of foolishness.

If the premier is feeling the need to find things to occupy his time, if he is a little bit under-worked, maybe he could try getting involved in a few files in his government.

Like say Abitibi.

If he's got wanderlust, he could try visiting Goose bay, Stephenville, Englee, Harbour Breton, Marystown, Ottawa (on behalf of Hr. Breton as he promised)... the list goes on.

What's next, I wonder?

Could it be a visit to the Price is Right set so he can hear Bob yell "Danny Williams! Come on Down!"

Maybe we can convert provincial elections to a game of Survivor so we can see who gets voted off the island.


This is something Brian Tobin would have done.

St. John's voting follies - the continuing saga

St. John's city clerk Neil Martin continues to follow the fashion and is blaming Ottawa (Elections Canada) for some of the problems turning up with the city's electoral system.

martin shouldn't bear personal responsibility for this. His problem is compounded by having a mayor and council who either have no idea how elections are run, don't care how to run them properly, or don't want them run properly. There's no other excuse for the fiasco that's unfolding.

Stories continue to float to the surface of ballots mailed to people who don't even live in the country anymore. In addition to the stuff on VOCM in the past 24 hours, I have collected stories of another eight ballots sent out erroneously to people who don't love at the addresses on the list or who don't even live in the city anymore.

Some of the people have been out of town for more than eight years.

Is it Elections Canada's fault?


EC estimates that the voter list varies by about 17% each year. That comprises 13% due to address changes, two percent from people reaching voting age, one percent who died and another one percent who are new immigrants.

EC updates its voter list using federal, provincial and municipal databases. Obviously, the City of St. John's has some problems with its own databases. Either that or they got stuck with an old voters list.

In the worst case scenario, the current city election is being run with a list that out of whack by about 17%. That supposes there was no effort made to correct the federal list or that whatever city officials did was ineffective - like not being able to search and find that there was a guy named Gus and a guy named Augustus living at the same address in Ward Five.

City Hall claims there are approximately 79, 000 eligible voters in St. John's this year. We don't know if that represents the likely variance in the list (accounting for the dead and new voters) or if it just is a wild guess. There should be about 2,400 new voters, taking into account the number of deaths.

Taken altogether, we can reasonably conclude that the city voting list is out of whack by about 10%, give or take a percentage point or two. That puts about 8,000 ballots in play that will be sent to people at the wrong address, people who no longer live in the city or people who are dead.

In some races in the city, only a fraction of those 8, 000 potentially fraudulent ballots will be enough to tip the election in favour of one candidate over another.

Stand by for the legal challenges.

13 September 2005

City clerk on vote problems: missing the point

St. John's city clerk Neil Martin is missing the point when he addresses concerns about the mail-in balloting system being used by the City for this month's municipal election.

Martin told VOCM that the problem stems from the voter list supplied by Elections Canada.

As someone who has worked on campaigns for over 20 years and studied them for as long or longer, I can assure Martin the problems are somewhere else.

1. All voter lists contain inaccuracies.

2. Properly functioning voting systems take measures to catch those errors and correct them, all with an eye to prevent fraudulent voting either by:

- someone voting who is not qualified to vote; or,
- someone submitting more than one vote.

3. The Municipal Elections Act contains specific provisions to deal with both those issues. See particularly s. 40 and s. 41 which allow for a challenge of a voter's qualifications to take place at the time a person votes.

4. The City of St. John's mail-in voting by-law is supposed to conform to the spirit and intent of the provincial government's legislation. In other words, the St. John's system has to contain measures to address concerns about fraudulent voting.

5. The municipal by-law contains no provisions at all which prevent, limit or discourage fraudulent voting.

6. The St. John's system does not even contain measures to allow city officials to detect a potentially fraudulent vote.

7. City officials assume that all votes received are legitimate.

8. The ballot forms merely require a signature. There is no specimen signature on file to compare it to in order to determine if the signature is legitimate.

9. The on-line voter list system checks for name and birth-date. Simply adding birthdate to the form returned with the ballot would frustrate anyone who submits a fraudulent ballot.

10. The City of St. John's is ignoring vote fraud. Indeed, by deciding against any measures to prevent fraud, the city's position is tantamount to encouraging electoral wrongdoing.

Nothing will change as long as city officials ignore the problem and their responsibilities to run a legitimate election.

Here are some previous Bond Papers on the problem. Try here and here.

Setting Mulroney straight

Brian Mulroney has reared his head again, via Peter Newman's latest book, to blast all his old enemies in the profane way only Brian Mulroney can.

You can find a lengthy piece on Newman's new book here and by picking up Macleans this week.

The one part I wish to deal with is Mulroney's absurd characterisation of Clyde Wells during the Meech Lake debacle.

This is from the Globe's piece on the book:

As for Mr. Wells, [Mulroney] held the [roll of the] dice story [in the Globe and Mail] as proof that he and others had been manipulated, and so began the long, agonizing march toward June 22, 1990, when both Newfoundland and Manitoba backed off on their votes, thereby killing the accord. Mr. Newman writes that Mr. Mulroney flew into a blind rage over Mr. Wells's decision. "You know all politicians take liberties," Mr. Mulroney later told Mr. Newman, "That's the nature of the beast, getting kicked around and trying to get things done in an imperfect system. But nothing has ever compared to the lack of principle of this son of a bitch. Lookit, on the night before the vote I was standing in the rain on the doorstep of his house and asked him what the odds were. He told me that after my speech, they were good -- at least 50-50. This was after he had already made up his mind to cancel the vote."

For the record, I served as special assistant to then-Premier Wells from 1989 until 1996. I lived through the hell of Meech Lake at somewhat of a distance, although in the incident of which Mr. Mulroney speaks, namely the vote on the Accord in the Newfoundland legislature, I experienced it directly.

By "roll of the dice", Mr. Mulroney is referring to an interview he gave to Susan Delacourt, who at the time wrote for the Globe, as well as Jeffrey Simpson and Graham Fraser of the Globe. The interview was conducted in June 11, and appeared on the front page of Toronto's national newspaper the following morning.

"In it, Mulroney made it clear that he had deliberately timed the first ministers' meeting to ensure a crisis atmosphere, to maximize pressure on the hold-out provinces, and to include the holding of a referendum in Newfoundland." [Deborah Coyne, Roll of the dice, (Toronto: James Lorimer and Co., 1992)]

Mulroney admitted that what had previously been characterised as being the result of a need for finding common ground among Accord opponents was in fact the result of a strategy meeting held at the Prime Minister's residence a full month before the meeting. The Prime Minister was attempting to manipulate the situation. Mulroney described the process for fixing the date of the meeting, or as he put it, "the day we're going to roll the dice."

Mulroney's quote was typical of his arrogant boastfulness and it ultimately was federal arrogance, not the actions of any provincial politician, which robbed Mulroney of his glory. The word Mulroney seeks is not profane, it is hubris, or to be more accurate, the painful end visited upon the exceedingly arrogant as a punishment by the gods of politics.

The House of Assembly debated the Meech Lake Accord motion beginning on June 20. Premier David Peterson of Ontario and Premier Frank McKenna of New Brunswick addressed the legislature on June 20, with Mulroney and Saskatchewan Premier Grant Devine speaking on the 21st. As a side note, my staff duties for these occasions including co-ordinating the visits with the Mulroney and Peterson staffs.

Premier and Mrs. Wells entertained Mulroney at dinner at the Wells' residence on the evening of the 21st. Coyne notes that while Wells did not divulge the substance of the discussion, he did say that Mulroney believed the Accord would be rejected in the legislature.

Coyne also notes that caucus met after the House session closed after 11:00 Pm on the 21st to consider the implications of the vote in Newfoundland and in Manitoba. As I recall, public comments by the Liberal caucus members noted concern about the impact of a rejection by the Newfoundland legislature and, to some tallies such as mine, there appeared to be some waffling by cabinet ministers and backbenchers that may have seen the Accord pass.

It is clear, however that neither Premier Wells nor the caucus had reached a decision on adjourning the Accord vote at that point. Rather, as Coyne recounts, there was concern about the appearance of a rejection and a suggestion that the vote be delayed.

The tipping point came with the decision on Friday June 22 by the Mulroney government to extend the vote deadline for Manitoba if the Newfoundland legislature would approve the Meech Lake Accord. I recall standing in the caucus room as Lowell Murray, Mulroney's point man on the Accord, spoke live on CBC Newsworld outlining the proposal. Those caucus members who had previously signaled they might vote for the Accord immediately expressed their outrage. Even those allied with Brian Tobin, and hence likely to vote for the Accord at jean Chretien's whispered behest, changed their positions.

Views hardened almost immediately and almost unanimously in response to the perceived manipulation. I knew from traveling back and forth between the Premier's office and the legislature that morning that the Premier had been attempting to reach Murray repeatedly throughout the morning, and indeed was on the telephone on hold with Murray's office when the senator stepped in front of the television cameras.

My subsequent conversations with several of the office staff, but not with the Premier, confirmed that Coyne's account of this period is accurate.

Mulroney's comments in the Newman book are part of the ongoing campaign to foist blame for the Accord failure onto Wells. Mulroney never understood Wells from the beginning. The Mulroney government made no attempt to deal with him before June 1990, and I suspect the ever-arrogant John Crosbie likely had a large part in the misjudgment of Wells by the federal government.

The record speaks for itself on any point which Mr. Mulroney wishes to address. Unfortunately, the record does not support his contentions. One cannot be sure if his comments are merely delusions or part of concerted campaign of lies and deceit. There is no question that they are at odds with the facts.

As for the comment on Wells being an unprincipled son of a bitch, I can only say that, leaving aside the despicable comment on Mr. Wells' mother, Mulroney's remark demonstrates that he understood nothing - to call Wells unprincipled is tantamount to calling the Archbishop of Canterbury an atheist.

I have rarely met a more principled, conscentious and decent man in my life.

Would that the same could be said by anyone of the former prime minister, or for that matter, his former gaulieter in this province.

Andy Wells - arrogant wookie mayor

Andy Wells has decided to shut down his re-election campaign, comfortable in the knowledge that he has consistently bettered any of his competitors in public opinion polls.

Andy claims he has led his opponents by 40 to 50 percent.

Two things:

1. In any public polls, Andy has been about 20 percentage points ahead of his nearest competitor.

2. In a democracy, a candidate should be required to tell voters what he or she intends to accomplish in the next term of office.

Andy obviously has no desire to be accountable to voters in any fashion.

There's no surprise there.

Wells is notoriously disdainful of any attempt to question what he is doing. The bully-boy heaps tons of abuse and scorn on anyone who disagrees with him. In one interview he branded all other candidates as cowards.

Anyone who has to tear others down constantly like that is to be pitied since he lacks any measure of self-confidence and self-esteem.

The only thing we can be sure of is that Wells will be abusive of council members, as he has for the 30-odd years he's been a councillor. He'll also vote in favour of any development, any time any where. And Well's will make up any reason he can to justify his position.

With Wells' announcement, I don;t feel bad for having written "None of these" across the mayoral portion of my mail-in ballot.

Municipal election expenses

There's a curious story in this week's Spindy on municipal election expenses in St. John's.

Ron Ellsworth claims to have spent only $18, 000 so far and plans to spend no more than $20, 000.

As someone who has worked on a few political campaigns, I'd challenge Ellsworth to open his election campaign books and those of his company.

Ellsworth has likely spent more than $18,000 on signage alone, if one applies the federal or provincial election expenses regulations. His glossy brochures would surely have set him back the better part of $5,000 including some modest charges for design work. He has a bunch of other printed material too. Now that he has started radio spots, we can add another $3,000 or more to the tally of $18k Ellsworth was willing to admit to the Spindy.

And the busback signage that started to crop up recently?

That's just a sign Ellsworth is spending bags of cash and has run out of places to put up his signs.

Another municipal high-flyer is John Dicks in Ward One. Dicks is spending heavily to unseat Art Puddister.

We'll only know how much he spent if he gets elected.

That's thanks to the Third World election system that we have in St. John's.

Count on having it a while longer since our own low-rent Fidel is going back as mayor largely unopposed.

12 September 2005

St. John's mail-in madness

The first mail-ins ballots arrived in St. John's households.

The problems are turning up rapidly.

My parents received three ballots in the mail: one for each of them and the third for a cousin of mine who hasn't lived in St. John's for the better part of 10 years.

He lived with them while he attended Marine Institute, but he finished that program a long time ago. In the meantime he has lived in Hong Kong and a few other places before settling down in his hometown of North Harbour, Placentia Bay.

My parents are checking to see if my deceased grandparents receive ballots.

The ballot for my cousin will be returned to City Hall, unopened.

In addition, at large candidate Simon Lono ran into some confusion at City Hall when he filed his nomination papers. The voters list contained the names of Simon Lono, candidate, Simon Lono, the candidate's father, who passed away four years ago and - get this - Simon Lono, the candidate's 12 year old son.

A caller to one of the open line shows today reported he received two ballots: one in his own name and one for him using his nickname.

All told that makes four errors in the voters list, two of which resulted in ballots being mailed out to people who don't have a right to vote.

How many more are there in a city of about 80, 000 voters?

08 September 2005

Danny Williams: read the fine print

Danny Williams thinks its good news that Abitibi Consolidated is selling off its interest in an Asian paper making operation. He thinks the improved debt position will allow Abitibi to change its position in Newfoundland and Labrador.

If one actually reads the Abitibi release on the decision, a different picture emerges.

- The existing closures stand: Abitibi includes the reduction in its paper output from this divestiture with the permanent closures already announced. "Combined with the 350,000 tonnes of permanent capacity closures announced in Q2 and slated for Q4, the new adjusted newsprint capacity will be approximately 4 million tonnes."

- The company's not for turning: The money is being used to reduce long-term debt. Abitibi runs a significant risk by announcing major debt reduction initiatives now if they are considering adding to their debt. Abitibi isn't run by that hideous breed of politician who will say anything to get a good poll, knowing full well he or she may make a totally different decision when required.

- Abitibi plans to convert some of its assets to high-grade paper production. This would mean that in order to avoid the announced closures, the company would be completing re-tooling Stephenville. That actually increases the capital outlay for some its highest-cost operations at a time when the company needs to actually reduce its cost over the long term.

Always remember: Danny Williams learned his politics from watching Brian Tobin. What he says and what actually is likely to happen may not always be in the same species, let alone the same thing.

Polling for political hacks

Rather than read yet more coverage about a poll, flip over to Campaign Central and read a truly literate insight into what political types know or ought to know about polling.

Beloit College's Class of 2005 Mindset List®

A few year's ago, this list became popular among those of us who are getting older and older.

The list is handed to university instructor's at Washington state's Beloit College. It helps to keep some perspective when dealing with incoming freshmen (first year university students).

You can find the original list here, along with some for past years and for a couple years to come.


1. Most students starting college this fall were born in 1983.
2. Ricky Nelson, Marvin Gaye and Laura Ashley have always been dead.
3. The New Kids on the Block are over the hill.
4. They want to be PHAT but not fat
5. IBM Selectrics are antiques.
6. Thongs no longer come in pairs and slide between the toes.
7. God has never been a "he" in most churches.
8. Hard copy has nothing to do with a TV show; a browser is not someone relaxing in a bookstore; a virus does not make humans sick; and a mouse is not a rodent (and there is no proper plural for it).
9. Moscow has always been opposed to "star wars."
10. Recording TV programs on VCRs became legal the year they were born.
11. The British Royal family has always behaved badly.
12. There has always been Diet Coke.
13. Artificial hearts have always been ticking.
14. The Social Security system has always been on the brink.
15. There have always been warnings about second-hand smoke.
16. They have never experienced a real recession.
17. A hacker is not just a kid who won't stop fooling around.
18. Grenada has always been safe for democracy.
19. They were born the same year as the PC and the Mac.
20. The U.S. Senate has always had a daycare program.
21. One earring on a man indicates that he is probably pretty conservative.
22. CDs have always been labeled for explicit content.
23. Lethal Weapon in one form or another has always been "at the movies."
24. Boeing has not built the 727 since they were born.
25. Sarajevo was a war zone, not an Olympic host.
26. They don't remember Janet Jackson when she was cute and chubby.
27. Drug testing of athletes has always been routine.
28. There has always been a hole in the ozone layer.
29. They have always had access to email.
30. The Colts have always been in Indianapolis.
31. The precise location of the Titanic has always been known.
32. When they were born, Madonna was still a radiant woman holding a beatific child.
33. Jimmy Hoffa has always been officially dead.
34. Tylenol has always been impossible for children or adults to open.
35. Volkswagen beetles have always had engines in the front.
36. They do not know what the Selective Service is, but men routinely register for it on their financial aid forms.
37. Ron Howard and Rob Reiner have always been balding older film directors.
38. Cal Ripken has always been playing baseball.
39. They have probably never used carbon paper and do not know what cc and bcc mean.
40. Lasers have always been marketed as toys.
41. Major newspapers have always been printed in color.
42. Beta is a preview version of software, not a VCR format..
43. They have never known exactly what to call the rock star formerly and presently known as Prince.
44. They are the first generation to prefer tanning indoors.
45. Survivor is a TV show not a rock group.
46. They have heard "just say no" since they were toddlers.
47. Most of them know someone who was born with the help of a test tube.
48. It has paid to "Discover" since they were four.
49. Oprah has always been a national institution.
50. With a life expectancy of 77 years, they can anticipate living until about 2060.

Supreme Court perspective

For all those who persist in the nonsense about the great national slight that no Newfoundlander (or Labradorian) has been appointed to the Supreme Court of Canada since Confederation, Wally McLean brings this sense of perspective.

In the entire history of the United States, 20 American states have never had a state-resident appointed to the United States Supreme Court. Of that number, two are from the original 13 colonies and four have been states since before 1800.

Here's the list, along with date of entry to the Union.

Delaware (the “First State”, Dec. 7, 1787)
Rhode Island (May 29, 1790)
District of Columbia (July 16, 1790)
Vermont (Mar. 4, 1791)
Arkansas (June 15, 1836)
Florida (Mar. 3, 1845)
Wisconsin (May 29, 1848)
Oregon (Feb. 14, 1859)
West Virginia (June 20, 1863)
Nevada (Oct. 31, 1864)
Nebraska (Mar. 1, 1867)
North Dakota (Nov. 2, 1889)
South Dakota (Nov. 2, 1889)
Montana (Nov. 8, 1889)
Washington (Nov. 11, 1889)
Idaho (July 3, 1890)
Oklahoma (Nov. 16, 1907)
New Mexico (Jan. 6, 1912)
Alaska (Jan. 3, 1959)
Hawaii (Aug. 21, 1959)

Bizarre Municipal Math

This VOCM story on Mile One stadium has the treasurer Robert Bishop claiming that stadium management hopes to break-even or make a slight profit this year on the controversy-laden facility.

That figure includes a $1.0 million subsidy from taxpayers of St. John's.

Apparently people at city hall have trouble with math.

In order for the stadium to break-even, they would have to make $1.0 million more than they are planning to make. In other words, when they are done, Robert Bishop will be posting a $1.0 million shortfall.

He shouldn't be counting the city subsidy into his calculations.

That is, he shouldn't be including the subsidy unless his goal is to mislead people.

Doc O'Keefe - Get a grip

Kevin Breen's municipal election signs have been defaced.

Actually, the crafty vandals cut some of the signs in such a way that they had to be replaced at what will likely be a cost of close to $2, 000 for the Breen campaign.

Meanwhile, in another part of the city, a joker with a spray can painted the lord "lier" across signs for deputy mayoral candidate Dennis "Doc" O'Keefe.

Aside from the obvious spelling problems with the vandalism, Doc called the vandalism a new low in city politics.

Apparently, Doc thinks it's acceptable for his buddy Andy Wells to call the city's municipal candidates "cowards" and for Wells to be berate O'Keefe and his fellow councillors in public and private meetings.

O'Keefe must also think the spate of advertisements the Well's campaign ran last weekend are peachy keen too.

He must.

O'Keefe has said nothing at all about Andy Well's boorish behaviour lately or in the past.

Doc needs to get a grip, or at least a sense of perspective.

07 September 2005

Night of the Long Knives - Connie style

Early media reports on Tuesday evening indicate as many as 15 people have been fired from the senior ranks of the Conservative Party of Canada. CTV reported that the number sent packing was at least five.

This is not good news in the wake of a series of firings and resignations over the spring and summer coupled with declining popular support for the fledgling party and its leader.

Despite Harper's brave challenges for the governing Liberals to call an election, he might want to ask Kim Campbell how it feels to be cocky when the polls don't support you. This won't deflect attention away from problems within the Connie party.

Be careful what you wish for, Stevie.

In the meantime, firing staff is a sign of deeper trouble, namely the inability of the party to get a grip on the real problem. That would be leadership.

It's the sad tale of the television spots. Focus on everything but the main issue. The inability to grip the main problem - leadership - is actually confirmation of the leadership deficit the party is currently facing.

Ultimately, the losers are Canadians across the country. Yet again e are denied a clear political choice and a meaningful policy debate on the stuff that matters about the country.

Instead, we get to watch the umpteenth iteration of what the old Tory party did to Bob Stanfield.

It's the Night of the Long Knives - Connie style.

Connie TV spots - another view

To go with this post from last week on the four new Connie TV spots, take this article in Macleans.

Nobody seems to think they are a good idea. We all just have different reasons for our choices.

On another level, note the comment linking staff changes to the pending re-election campaign.