31 January 2006

Then there are ducks

Dad is not without some talent, of course.

At left is a 1/35th scale DUKW built and painted by your humble e-scribe. This is a picture from the almost-finished version so it is still missing some little bits and pieces. Nevertheless, you'll get the idea.

DUKW's, known affectionately as ducks, were built on military 2.5 ton truck chassis and designed to ferry men and supplies over the beaches at Normandy. They are fully amphibious, meaning they can go straight from land into the water and vice versa.

At right is a real DUKW lovingly restored and driven through mud, muck and water by its American owner.

Ralph just bided his time

Alberta may well be introducing changes to the province's health care system that include direct billing by doctors to patients for some services.

What a surprise. it's not like Ralph Klein hasn't talked about that before.

Let's see how the new Conservative administration in Ottawa responds, if indeed the changes violate the Canada Health Act.

Charges laid in DND fraud case

Some Connies tossed the case of alleged fraud within the Department of National Defence on the doorstep of the Liberals, largely because they just tossed every one they could into the pile of alleged "corruption" and miscellaneous evil and kitten eating.

Well, read the story by Canadian Press.

There was criminal activity. The police were called. People were charged. Those who blamed "Liberals" for this were, as usual, grossly deficient in their facts.

Then again, some people can never be accused of letting facts get in the way of a smear.

The battle lines might be forming

over the so-called vertical fiscal imbalance and Equalization reform.

Check the Globe and Mail on Tuesday, specifically the story on the Harper budget due for March.

It includes this section at the end:
Experts warn that the new Tory regime will be hard-pressed to pay for a controversial election promise to share Ottawa's surplus riches with the provinces. Last December Mr. Harper pledged to fix the so-called fiscal imbalance between Ottawa and the provinces.

"I think we have to face the fact that Ottawa is rolling in tens of billions of dollars in surpluses . . . at the same time as provinces and municipalities are having trouble meeting the essential core services without going into debt," he said then. "We must find a long-term revenue transfer from the federal government to the provinces and municipalities."

But economists warn that the Conservative fiscal plan provides scant resources for assistance to the provinces. The Tories did not budget any cash for fixing the imbalance, but said they will fund it from $22-billion in budget surpluses their plan would generate over five years.

Dale Orr, chief economist at Global Insight (Canada), said the Tories won't have much cash to spare, especially if they set aside some of each year's projected surplus to guard against economic downturns. He said what's left is small potatoes. "That's not very interesting to the premiers . . . They are talking big, big bucks."

Quebec not interested in elected senate

Since Steve Harper has only committed to a "national" approach, there's no reason why we couldn't wind up in the bizarre situation where some provinces elect senators and some don't.

In the original announcement, Harper left the impression he'd turn the selection process for senators over to provincial premiers rather than run national elections organized by elections Canada.

Quebec clearly isn't interested.

Now we have to see how serious Harper was about senate reform.

30 January 2006

Goose Bay take note: Connie defence promises to be modified

As noted here, the Conservative defence promises contained many elements that could not be delivered, at least in the near term.

Canadian Press reported on Monday that the plan will be modified. The $2.0 billion price tag is way too low.

Toronto power needs good sign for Lower Churchill

As much as Danny Williams likes to muse about building the Lower Churchill hydro project on his own, the joint offer from Quebec and Ontario is still the best option available.

A story today in the Toronto Star confirms Ontario is so strapped for power, the provincial government is looking at building a gas-fired power plant in Hog Town to make sure the lights stay on.

The Harper Plan

Courtesy of the Toronto Star comes a speculation piece on Steve Harper's plans for Canada.

Part of the plan is already easy to see: the Conservatives plan to reduce federal involvement in areas of provincial jurisdiction, such as funding programs in health care, social services and education.

That's one of the logical implications of the Equalization reform proposals, for example, which are designed, in part to lower Ottawa's outlays. As some others have suggested, the Conservative starting point in talks with the provinces would be reduced federal taxes that would have the ffect of opening room for the provinces to boost their tax haul.

Expect that one to disappear quickly.

What political leader wants to raise taxes?

Provincial Liberals still hunting for leader

Interim provincial Liberal leader Gerry Reid announced today that he won't be seeking the job permanently.

Former cabinet minister Anna Thistle - admittedly a long shot - also confirmed she won't be running.

The hunt is still on for someone to challenge lawyer Jim Bennett. So far he's the only declared candidate. Bennett enjoys the support of former Smallwood-era cabinet minister Bill Callahan, current caucus chair Percy Barrett and St. John's city councilor Tom Hann.

Bennett, who is married to Ontario cabinet minister Sandra Pupatello, has announced only one initiative thus far: to nationalize Fishery Products International, either in whole or in part.

Others reportedly considering a run for the leadership include Paul Antle and Siobhan Coady.

St. John's council gets religion - sort of

Surprise. Surprise.

St. John's city council voted tonight to send the matter of their raises to an independent committee of some kind for a review and recommendations.

Only Mayor Andy Wells voted against the motion to rescind the pay hikes.

Update: As The Telly reports, councilors were quick to admit they had a problem but their conversion seems reluctant and half-hearted.

As one wag put it it's like council feels that they got caught with their hands in the cookie jar, sister ratted them out and mommy just needs to understand the reasons why they took the cookies in the first.

Andy comfortably predicted the independent consultant who will now review the matter will come back with the same recommendation.

That all depends on who council picks to be the "independent" consultant.

Hands up who thinks it will be Andy's buddy, like say Marie White?

Et maintenant - Stephane Dion

With McKenna out of the way and the second week of leadership speculation calming down somewhat, there is time to look to an obvious choice for leader:

Stephane Dion.

The only issue I'd take with this endorsement from the Draft Dion blog is that Dion would not defend the Trudeau vision of Canada. Rather he'd represent a vision of Canada which a great many Canadians share and which is sadly not being reflected in the current dialogue.

Equalization for beginners

In light of the interest in federal-provincial fiscal relations, here's a link to a post from last year that explained Equalization as simply as I could possibly explain it.

Take a gander.

This will serve as a grounding for the next major post. In that one, I will review the Danny Williams' proposal for Equalization reform and compare it to the one offered up by the federal Conservatives.

Pull the other one, Tom Hann.

It's got bells on it.

Hann, the newbie councilor is actually a political veteran who claims he is new to politics and needs to develop a thicker skin.

Seems Hann is bristling over criticism that he went along with his fellow St. John's city councilors in giving themselves a hefty raise in pay without going through a proper process.

Hann calls the whole affair a "public relations disaster" and that if people understood the reason for the raise, there wouldn't be any controversy. That's one of the things he told CBC radio.

He told The Sunday Telegram he hadn't seen the memo from council staff advising that they needed to send the whole affair to an outside group. Seems Hann is to busy to manage all the paper.

What we have here is not a public relations problem....at least not in the sense that Hann means it.

What the residents of St. John's have here is a council that is incapable of adhering to some basic management principles or its own rules.

Council screwed up.


They got caught with their hands in the cookie jar, violating their own resolutions and own by-laws and, if predictions hold, stepping forward at today's meeting to simply change the rules to suit their purposes.

Hann's excuses - "I didn't get the memo" or "if people only understood..." - demonstrate clearly that the political veteran knows full well how to try and bluster his way through a problem of his own creation. The issue never was about the rationale for the raise; it's about the way council handled the whole affair from the beginning. They broke the rules and now simply want to ignore both the criticisms and the rules to keep their ill-gotten gains.

Unfortunately, what Hann learned in his political life is how not to handle a problem.

If Hann understood what public relations really is - and political public relations at that - he'd recognize some pretty simple actions that would make the whole issue disappear in a heartbeat:

Action Number 1: Admit to the mistake.

- That's a mark of integrity and character in a leader.

Action Number 2: Rescind the motion granting the raise and start following the rules.

- Hann and his fellow councilors will likely get a raise, but they'll get it in a way that won't raise the hackles on citizens' necks.

Action Number 3: Stop bullshitting people with cheap excuses.

- Bullshit let's everyone know that you understand the real issues but you are just ducking them. Bullshit also tells residents you have no respect for them and what's worse, that your election platform may have been a snow job.

The thing is, the way Hann is handling this issue, he is damaging the one commodity he can't afford to damage: his credibility. Once that's gone, a politician is in serious trouble.

Hann and his fellow councilors have a public relations problem alright.

The kind of problem a public relations professional could sort out quickly.

But for some inexplicable reason, politicians seem to have difficulty identifying the nature of their problem, let alone sort it out.

29 January 2006

The Amazing Shrinking Minority, or The Integrity of Brian Pallister

124 seats.

Lop off one for a speaker.

Now lop off Brian Pallister who is reportedly casting longing glances at the Manitoba Progressive Conservative leadership race:
"...I will be returning to Manitoba and consulting with Manitobans as to whether they wish me to enter the race for the Provincial PC leadership."
This is the same Brian Pallister who on the night of the election denied said provincial political longings:
"I can'’t even begin to consider a provincial option right now," a jubilant Pallister said from his election headquarters in Portage last night. "Tonight I"’m just celebrating 10 years of hard work."
That's 122 and shrinking.


28 January 2006

City ignores own conflict of interest law...and own previous motion

Update: It's Saturday. Grab the Telly for yet more on the slimy operations at City Hall.

on Monday night passed, Council ignored one of its own resolutions - as well as the by-law on conflict of interest described below. That motion, passed in 2002 mandated that council send the issue of salaries to an independent panel before each election and that the incoming council would accept the recommendations.

Despite the fact that all but three of the current councilors voted on that motion, none of them paid any attention to it.

In the meeting on Monday night, city officials reminded council of the need to rescind the 2002 motion. They ignored it and carried on anyway.

Meanwhile, the Telly reports that newbie council Ron Ellsworth (whose election campaign expenses are still larger than his newly inflated salary, but only just) will introduce a motion on Monday...to rescind the 2002 motion, not the one every is complaining about.

unrepentant, the Boor Mayor continues to lash out at all those who oppose him.

Grab the Telly. Vintage small town politics.

Sad but true.


St. John's City Council is in hot water with residents of the capital.

At Monday night's meeting, without putting it on the agenda, providing any form of advance notice, and without mentioning it in the budget at all, councilors voted themselves a retroactive pay hike that will see some of them getting cheques for thousands of dollars.

According to The Telegram, council made the decision without consulting staff or an outside sources. They merely sat around a table, did some quick math and boosted their pay.

It was a unanimous decision. Some councilors, like Shannie Duff ought to have known better that the process council used was pathetically inappropriate. However, given Duff's long career on council it is possible she was overcome by a moment of group-think.

Newbie councilor Ron Ellsworth offered a lame excuse: apparently he works hard. He may work hard, but the method he chose to reward himself is so ridiculous as to defy explanation.

As for Tom Hann, the whole affair beggars imagination. The guy who has railed against council for its secretiveness and for its alleged massaging of the books at Mile One stadium has now simply become one of the people he used to criticize. How quickly he was absorbed into the collective when Andy, Doc and the boys started talking about paycheques.

The guy who was a fixture of the Open Line shows along with Sue and the Moon man has now been struck mute. His silence is deafening. Should Hann pop up on Monday - after he sees which way the wind is blowing - to rescind the motion and offer apologies, citizens of St. John's should take his conversion with a grain of salt.

Keep an eye on him. The salary issue was too obviously wrong and his willingness to go along with it too easy. Hann was elected having spoken out about the need for financial propriety at City Hall. In this instance, the watchdog helped load the getaway van.

The issue here is solely one of process and the process used is wrong.

The process is wrong because council violated its own by-laws by using the method it did.

By-law 103 on conflict of interest to be specific:
3.(1) No member of Council shall vote on or speak to any matter before the Council or any committee thereof where:
(a) the member of Council has a pecuniary interest directly or indirectly in that matter; (Amended 97/12/01; #1401)
There is no more direct pecuniary interest than a councilor's own remuneration for the job of serving on council.

Conflict of interest is why in every other elected body, the remuneration for elected officials is passed to third parties to decide. Even if council must, by law, vote on its own salary, the salary should be set by someone other than council and adopted without debate.

The question now remains what to do.

Council has no choice but rescind the motion granting the raises. Who better to do it than Doc O'Keefe, the deputy mayor. To do otherwise would merely confirm that council behaves exactly as they have been accused of behaving: without regard to the law.

Once rescinded council should appoint a panel of three persons - none of them being former councilors - and give them 30 days to report on a new method of setting council remuneration from this point forward. Under no circumstances should council grant retroactive pay and under no circumstances should citizens have to deal with this spectacle again in four years' time.

27 January 2006

The Blue Plan: rapid execution of deportation orders

Church basements across the country might be filling up quickly if this part of the Harper plan goes into action:
In April 2003, the Auditor General reported that the federal government had lost track of some 36,000 people who were under deportation orders. This is unacceptable. People who are under deportation orders must be removed. Canadians deserve nothing less. [Emphasis added]

The plan

A Conservative government will:

*• Rapidly reduce the backlog of unexecuted deportation orders and swiftly carry out new deportation orders.
There have been cases in Newfoundland and Labrador, which successful Connie candidates laid at the doorstep of Liberals, all the while knowing their party platform contained the above-cited provision.

Now in today's Ottawa Sun comes the case of a family originally from Belgium that is likely to get the swift boot from Canada.

The problem? A 24 year old conviction for breaking and enetering which federal immigration officials have known about all the while renewing the family's papers on a regular basis. The previous conviction only became an issue when the family sought permanent resident status.

From the Sun:
How long it will take the snail-moving bureaucracy to process it, and (it is hoped) give permanent-residency approval, nobody knows. Hillier is hoping the new Harper government will be a blessing. He says he already had support for the Van Hauves from Tory MPs in the area. "All we're asking is a 120-day extension," he says. "What harm is there in that?"
Let's hope that the incoming Conservative government rethinks its policy on deportations, at least just a weensy bit. And that those Connie members of parliament who were willing to support this guy weren't just doing it for the votes.

Choice of new resources minister could ignite old feud

The Financial Post is reporting that Alberta oil interests would like to see the federal natural resources portfolio assigned to a senior cabinet minister to reflect accurately the role the oil and gas industry plays in the Canadian economy.
"The Liberal administration looked on energy as an annoyance, which makes sense in that their stronghold, central Canada, is made up of energy consumers. It was the job of the natural resources minister to keep the consumers happy," Mr. [Frank] Atkins [, a University of Calgary economist] said. "The West is an energy producer, so now we'll get the proper perspective on that.
The choice of natural resources minister may resurrect the old rivalry between the established oil producers in Alberta and the new centres of oil wealth on Canada's east coast.

Ian Doig, an oil analyst based in Calgary has been a long-standing critic of oil and gas exploration and development offshore Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador. Doig is familiar in Newfoundland and Labrador as a constant critic of the Hibernia project. His views, which often reflect the general opinions in the Alberta oil patch, haven't changed in the past 20 years. As he told the Globe and Mail recently about increased interest by Husky in the east coast offshore:
However encouraging the signs, the fact remains that there has not been a significant discovery of oil offshore of Newfoundland in two decades, said Ian Doig, a long-time observer of the East Coast industry and publisher of the industry newsletter Doig's Digest.

Mr. Doig said any deep-water exploration is difficult, but that the Orphan Basin is tough even by that standard. Chevron said the ocean in the Orphan Basin is five to 25 times as deep as the Jeanne D'Arc Basin.

He said Newfoundland's chief success in recent years has been to secure royalty concessions from the Liberal federal government.

"They've been more successful with energy riches in Ottawa than offshore."
Having an Albertan as natural resources minister could also reinforce efforts to draw more and more Canadian and American oil and gas policy attention to Alberta.

Alberta's success in promoting its own oil and gas resources are easy to see. Both the Government of Alberta and the federal Liberal government worked to attract American interest in the oil sands, including planning a visit by vice-president Dick Cheney last fall.

Veteran United States Senator Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) has already predicted Canada will surpass Saudi Arabia as the leading supplier of oil to the United States. But Hatch's attention is firmly focused on Alberta, describing it as the 800 pound gorilla sitting immediately above Montana.

CBS News' 60 minutes also profiled the oil sands recently, describing them as likely to become more important to the United States than Saudi Arabia.

Try finding any similar attention being paid to the east coast offshore. True there has been an uptick in calls for exploration bids, but there is nothing to rival the recent attention paid to Alberta in the major markets south of the border.

The east coast oil and gas industry still faces significant challenges, not the least of which is making its regulatory regime both effective and competitive. It simply isn't clear whether or not the provincial government is interested in a genuinely competitive, modern oil and gas industry. Turning the province's hydro corporation into a neophyte oil and gas company, the premier's instance on piling on local benefits to projects, and the nomination of Andy Wells to head the offshore regulator all suggest a return to a policy straight out of the unsuccessful past.

That policy is distinctly out of step with the new federal Conservative government's philosophy of economic development and that is ultimately where the problem may rest. Alberta is surging ahead on an agenda of innovation, local entrepreneurship and attracting new outside investment. That matches perfectly with the Conservative view.

What happens offshore Newfoundland and Labrador in the next few years will depend very heavily on who sits as the federal natural resources minister come February 6. If it winds up being an Albertan or someone sympathetic to Alberta's approach - either of which is almost a certainty - Newfoundland and Labrador might find itself in a difficult spot.

We've been in that same spot before and we don't need to go there again.

Double talk can't protect double dip

No matter how hard Loyola and Loyola try and double-talk the coming changes on the Equalization program, there's little doubt the Equalization offsets in the Atlantic Accord will be factored into the calculations.

After all, the 1985 Accord and the 2005 deal are both designed to hand this province Equalization as if oil revenues didn't exist.

The new Harper proposal is designed to hand us Equalization as if oil and gas and other non-renewables didn't exist.

And in the Rob Antle story below, you'll even see Loyola talking about the new Equalization proposal as an Atlantic Accord in perpetuity.

So, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to realise that if the new Equalization deal is done, there is no need for Ottawa to double pay the province with offsets on things that don't need to be offset because they are already offset.

Confused? You would be if you listened to Loyola.

Or Loyola.

No one is going ask for the money back - Loyola is an old enough war horse to understand you can say something silly like that knowing full well it won't come true.

It's called misdirection.

Of course what neither Loyola will say is the simple truth:

In all likelihood, the money already received or provided under the Atlantic Accord (1985) will be looked on as an advance on any new Equalization entitlements. It will be deducted from future payments. Once the advance is gone the old Danny Deal will be dead, just like the offset provisions of the Brian Deal.

There's no way to keep the Equalization offsets off the table.
Thursday, January 26, 2006
"‘Can'’t turn back the clock"’
By Rob Antle, The Telegram

The Williams administration is welcoming prime minister-designate Stephen Harper'ss planned changes to the federal equalization program.

But Finance Minister Loyola Sullivan said the $2-billion up-front payment from last year'’s Atlantic Accord agreement should not factor into any modifications to the formula.

"“That was a deal, it was an up-front payment with no strings attached, as a minimum payment,"” Sullivan told The Telegram Wednesday.

"“We can only go forward, we can'’t go back in the annals of history and do adjustments to the past."”

Harper'’s policy platform included a pledge to exempt non-renewable resource revenues, such as oil and gas, from equalization calculations.

Such a change would likely add more dollars to the provincial treasury, Sullivan said.

It would also effectively enshrine the key principle of the Accord - — sheltering 100 per cent of non-renewable revenues, such as oil and gas, from equalization - — for all provinces.

"“We'’re going to get that break forever, if he took non-renewables out and left them out,"” Sullivan said. "“It'’s going to be an Atlantic Accord in perpetuity."

The Accord deal signed last year expires in 2012, with a renewal provision that could see it extended to 2020.

As part of the agreement with the outgoing Martin government, the province received an upfront payment of $2 billion for enhanced offshore benefits.

Sullivan insisted that cash should not be included in any future fiddling with equalization rules.

"“Look, the federal government has booked this and paid it out in the '’05-'’06 fiscal year. That'’s gone. That'’s an expenditure; that'’s booked. That'’s going to show up in their public accounts for the last fiscal year.

"“They can'’t come back and say, '‘Uh-oh, we want money back two years later on that.'’ If we go forward with a new formula - they can'’t turn the clock back on that."

Conservative MP Loyola Hearn - — pegged as a likely pick for Harper'’s cabinet - — said he doesn'’t think it will be a problem.

"“What we'’re talking about is something above and beyond the deal that was done entirely," ” said Hearn, MP for St. John'’s South-Mount Pearl.

"“It certainly shouldn'’t play any role, from my perspective. I don'’t think it will. I'’ve never heard it mentioned in that light.

"“When we got the commitment on the Accord, then (the Liberals) tried to fool around with every little loophole that they had. I mean, that'’s what we fought against, so we'’d be a bit hypocritical to try and play the same game."”

Harper is expected to take over as prime minister within two weeks.

Sullivan said he will write the new finance minister then to broach the topic.

By the end of the 2006-07 fiscal year, the province will have spent $541 million of the $2 billion Accord pre-payment, Sullivan said.

That leaves $1.46 billion he said should remain exempt from review.

Accord aside, the planned equalization changes should benefit the province, Sullivan said.

Nearly 20 per cent of the province'’s total revenues derive from the oil and gas sector, he noted. That'’s a much larger proportion than most other provinces.

And other non-renewable resources - — such as the mining sector, with Voisey'’s Bay coming on stream - — would also be exempted from equalization, the finance minister said.

"“We would benefit more than we would benefit just by having this Atlantic Accord now,"” Sullivan noted.

Equalization is an important issue for the province.

Newfoundland and Labrador received $861 million in equalization from Ottawa this year, according to the province'’s 2005-06 mid-year fiscal update.

That'’s in addition to hundreds of millions in offshore royalties and new Accord benefits.

The overall budget clocks in at about $4.3 billion.

The planned equalization changes could be detrimental to other provinces, however. Quebec, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island, for example, have relatively little or no revenues from non-renewable resources.

The Conservative platform promises "“we will ensure that no province is adversely affected from changes to the equalization formula,"” but does not offer further details.


26 January 2006

Vox populi

Canadian Publius has an interesting point on the results of Monday's election and an Environics poll conducted for CBC.

As Publius puts it:
According to Environics, of the 36% who voted conservative, 54% voted that way because they wanted a change, only 41% because they wanted a conservative government.

In plain English, only about 17% of Canadians want a Conservative government. The remaining 19% who voted conservative felt the Liberals needed a kick in the pants.

Turn the dial on your time machine and head back to the Conservative minority of May 1979. As Jeffrey Simpson described it in Discipline of power, the Conservatives discovered that for all the promises of action and uplifting rhetoric, more than anything else voters crossed to the Conservatives "not because of the promises made during the campaign, but because they were tired of Trudeau and wanted a change."

Allan Gregg, then the Conservative's pollster, described it this way: "The reason for the nationwide impact on voting behaviour undoubtedly stemmed from the almost unanimous belief it was time for a change....Equally, our core support - that is, 1979 voters who identified with the PC Party and claimed they always voted PC - comprised a mere 18% of the electorate, or about one half of our May 22nd support...."

Back in 2006, the Environics poll found strong support for two Conservative promises. Canadians like getting tough on crime and on electing senators, but they were divided almost evenly on cutting the GST, getting rid of the gun registry and dismantling the national daycare system established by Paul Martin.

Health care and the health system remained the single most important issue for most Canadians polled by Environics with honesty/ethics and accountability coming second.

Respondents are almost evenly split on whether or not the Conservatives would be good for the country.

The upshot of all this is pretty straightforward. The Conservative minority will have a challenge as it moves to implement its platform. Some elements, such as the accountability sections, will likely garner easy support. Support for senate reform is such that the prime minister-elect could move quickly on that as well and could build support for even more significant changes than the ones he is proposing.

Of course, Environics did not poll the provincial premiers.

They are lining up for federal cash.

And that's a whole other can of political worms.

Is this next time?

In 1990, the lapel buttons circulating on the floor of the convention read "Next time, Clyde."

Earlier that year, there was widespread support across the country for him. He remains a widely respected leader who governed based on principles. Tackled a massive economic problem and helped turn it around.

So I say to you:

"The next is here!"

Process is the key

Andy Wells, still supposedly Danny Williams' choice to head up the board regulating offshore oil and gar operations, is in political hot water over the way in which he and his council colleagues gave themselves a raise.

Retroactive to 2002.

A nice raise.

How nice?

Well, 18% nice for Wells who will see his salary go from $81, 975 to $96402. The Telegram reported yesterday that Wells was due a cheque for retro pay worth over 20 large.

The issue here is not about the value of the job or running the city but of how council decided, unilaterally to give itself a raise and extend the raise back to include councilors defeated in the recent municipal election.

As CBC put it:
Council made the decision without consulting with city staff or hiring an outside consultant, as previous councils have done in the past.
Appearing on a radio call in show, Wells appeared to be somewhat confused about the whole matter, claiming he knew nothing about how much retroactive pay he was due.

So much for his being honest and blunt, that is, unless we are to believe that he missed a minor detail like the fact he had just voted himself a hefty annual increase as well as a bonus cheque itself equal to what many minimum wage earners pouring Andy's double-double every morning would love to see.

Just once.

And this is the guy the premier wants to oversee an industry worth tens of billions of dollars to the province?

25 January 2006

Hey, it's assault

Remember this incident?

Some people e-mailed to take issue with my contention that the tall fellow in the turtleneck was likely guilty of assault for restraining the reporter, at right, who was attempting to follow a Conservative candidate and interview him at a campaign event in Toronto.

Well, here's the final paragraph of a decision rendered by Harold Porter, a judge of the Provincial Court of Newfoundland and Labrador in a case involving an altercation between several young women at a party. The context is different, but the law is clearly stated:
Thus, while there were some difficulties with the evidence, including the fact that the evidence of the complainant was not corroborated about being pushed over a table, ultimately the accused and the complainant agree that the accused touched the complainant without her consent. The non-consensual application of force by one person to another is an assault: the accused is guilty. [Emphasis added]
The prosecution rests.

PMO 101: gimme your lunch money, dork

Stephen Harper will have a steep learning curve as he prepares for his new job.

When it comes to provincial premiers, it's actually really simple. Harper probably thinks that because he is a provincialist - Province, Province Uber Alles - he will have an easy time.

Perhaps Steve should have run to replace Ralph. I digress.

Anyway, in the interest of saving Steve some time, here it is in a nutshell:

As far as premiers are concerned, and irrespective of their individual political party, being prime minister means your job as prime minister is to be:

1. the scapegoat for everything wrong with the country; and

2. the source of endless cash to be transferred to the premiers' bank accounts without strings and with as little back-talk as possible.

In short, as far as Ralph, Danny and Dalton are concerned, Steve's new job is to be their bitch.

Or lemme put it another, slightly more familiar way:

It's Grade 5, Steve.

The jocks and jerks are coming for your lunch money.

Just like they used to.

Every day.

Every nerd in the country knows that pain.

[Left: Premier Ralph Klein said yesterday he was looking forward to his first meeting with incoming Prime Minister Stephen Harper.]

Federal Liberal Leadership: the first truly interesting suggestion

Stephane Dion.

Inkless Well and then Le devoir.

The sense of humour evident at the end of the Le devoir piece: someone from Jean Chretien's camp - clan is indeed more accurate, Helene - talking about a campaign of ideas.

Offshore regulatory changes on Conservative agenda

A passing mention in Stephen Harper's victory speech Monday night could hold a clue to changes at the board that regulates the province's offshore oil and gas industry.

Harper mentioned allowing Atlantic Canadian provinces more control over their resources. What he meant by this is unclear since these provinces already control their resources. For Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador there was no specific mention in the Conservative platform of offshore oil and gas resource management.

One section of the platform, however, does mention the External Advisory Committee on Smart Regulation:
Streamline regulatory processes related to the mining industry. We will implement the recommendations of the External Advisory Committee on Smart Regulation related to mining, such as a "single window" approach to federal regulatory bodies in the North for the oil and gas and mining sectors.
Set up in May 2003 by Prime Minister Jean Chretien, the Smart Regulation advisory committee was a team of experts appointed to review federal regulatory processes, identify areas of concern and recommend new approaches.

Some of the strongest recommendations made by the Smart Regulation group were for greater co-ordination not only within the federal government but also between the federal and provincial governments. [Recommendations 9, 10, 11]

Co-ordinators - single points of contact - were recommended for entire industry sectors such as offshore oil and gas.

In Newfoundland and Labrador, that single point of contact would logically be the Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board (CNLOPB). The offshore board is established under the Atlantic Accord (1985) as the joint federal and provincial regulatory authority for the oil and gas industry offshore Newfoundland and Labrador.

Currently, the regulatory process can be daunting in a competitive industrial environment that is global in scope. Industry representatives have pointed to problems for several years. As the Smart regulatory team reported:
The Committee heard that the current regulatory framework for the offshore falls short of these objectives. For example, according to industry sources, the average regulatory approval time for projects in Canada's Atlantic offshore exceeds 600 days, compared to approximately 200 days in the United Kingdom and Norway and just under 400 days in the Gulf of Mexico.
The Atlantic Energy Roundtable similarly notes that the regulatory process cycle time, that is the length of time for regulatory review and approvals for offshore projects, is longer in Newfoundland and Labrador than anywhere else globally.

The White Rose project - the most recent to be approved - took 21 months, compared to 10 months for a comparable project in the Gulf of Mexico and a mere 13 months for the much larger Hibernia project. This time does not include the period of negotiation between proponents and the provincial government over royalties and local benefits.

While recognizing that there are overlapping areas of federal and provincial jurisdiction in the offshore, the Smart Regulation group did not suggest any devolution of federal powers to the provinces, nor does the Conservative Party make such a recommendation. Rather, the Smart Regulation team believed that the correct approach would be agreements and memoranda of understanding to eliminate duplication of regulation and administration.

This Conservative commitment may put into a different light the possible appointment of Andy Wells as chairman and chief executive officer. Wells' evident lack of experience in federal and provincial regulatory administration would make him ill-suited to the day-to-day task of overseeing development of a new streamlined approach.

The changed regulatory process would also involve extensive changes to the communications processes, something not currently provided in the legislation governing the board and something Wells himself has never been keen on. As mayor of St. John's for example , Wells has steadfastly refused to employ communications professionals, believing his own blunt - some would say crass - approach is superior to anyone else's skills.

There is some possibility that Wells would be appointed to serve as chairman, a position already identified as a stand-alone appointment requiring the approval of both orders of government. In that scenario, Max Ruelokke, recommended by the three person panel that reported in December, would serve as chief executive officer of the offshore board, again, an arrangement provided in the Atlantic Accord (1985).

While Wells' possible appointment has slipped from public notice for some time, federal interest in changes to the offshore regulatory regime could bring the matter back into focus. It is not clear what position the incoming Harper government will take on its role and responsibilities in regulating offshore industries.

However, it is possible that Wells' appointment, if it occurs, will not be the full-time one he anticipated.

24 January 2006

Back to the future, redux?

Does any of this sound familiar?
Seldom has a party leader put forward so many promises....To show that the Conservatives were ready to govern [the party leader] offered a dizzying array of goodies, most based on policies developed by the Conservative caucus, hoping that individual policies would appeal to particular segments of the population and produce a Conservative majority government. During the campaign, [one not-for-profit association] circulated to its members an outline of the Conservative platform containing 211 general or specific promises made by the party in Opposition and in the campaign.
That's just one excerpt from Discipline of power, Jeffrey Simpson's 1980 study of the brief Clark regime, specifically, p. 64. While I am no fan of directly translating one historical episode into current events, it is rather interesting to see the parallels to the Harper election campaign.

It's also interesting to see the lengths that some Conservative spokesmen are going to distance themselves from the 1979 Clark experience of a disparate group cobbling together a platform and gaining power in a minority government from a Liberal Party which was tired and falling increasingly into disfavour with voters.

Take a gander at some of Clark's 1979 speeches, some of which Simpson reprints in part, and you can see their echoes in Harper's speeches. You can also find an interesting analysis by Allen Gregg pointing out that the Conservatives had gained power in May 1979 by capitalizing on negative attitudes toward Liberals rather than positive attitudes towards the Clark Conservatives. Their platform had been designed to appear competent and comprehensive; it was written to appeal to identifiable segments of the population but the whole platform betrayed internal contradictions that could not be concealed or ignored for very long.

There are some significant differences between the 1979 Conservatives and the 2006 version, but some of the similarities are quite striking. Some of the challenges remain the same; how Stephen Harper manages his newfound success will determine his longer-term future.

An elected, equal and effective senate

One of the things Stephen Harper can find agreement on among the parties in the House of Commons is reform of the national parliament.

It is long overdue.

Reform doesn't necessarily mean moving to proportional representation, although the New Democrats are pushing that issue again.

Rather, reform - genuine reform - would mean changing the composition and selection method of for the federal senate.

This election showed as much as any in Canadian history the extent to which national elections focus almost exclusively on the interests of the most populous regions of the country. The population is already well-represented in the Commons and , if you look at some of the Conservative promises, Stephen Harper's idea of reform is to add more seats to the already well represented people-rich provinces.

Stephen Harper's other idea is to merely elect senators by some means.

But that is the only change Harper has proposed for the chamber where Canadians should be represented based on where they live. Harper's version of senate reform as presented would merely add 100-odd new elected officials with the majority coming from the same places the majority of members of the Commons currently come from.

Let's elect senators; that reform is long overdue.

At the same time, let's move to a model of the senate that sees an equal number of senators coming from each of the provinces, with some possible allowances being made for specific aboriginal representation.

The advantages of this approach have been well-argued for decades and used to be part of the old Reform Party platform. Too bad that good idea didn't survive into the Conservative party agenda. One of the adv antages of an elected senate could be that a governmenr defeated in a inority parliament need not trigger an immediate election - Canadians could get a more responsive Commons without shfting the whole electroal system around radically.

If Stephen Harper wants to move quickly on a matter he can win with support across the legislature, let him reform the national parliament. Let him create a senate that is elected, effective and having equal representation from across the country, by province.

It didn't take long...

for Loyola Hearn, Connie incumbent in St. John's South-Mount Pearl and likely federal cabinet minister from this province, to explain what he thinks about the federal presence issue.

After he was safely re-elected.

Speaking on a local radio call-in show, Hearn said that federal jobs just come from our tax dollars and aren't really sustainable. The real value in jobs will come from creating jobs in the private sector. Hearn linked the whole thing to the Connie Equalization changes which would remove non-renewable resources from the calculation of federal Equalization entitlements.

In one of his campaign brochures, Hearn said:
Since 1993, the number of people employed in Newfoundland and Labrador with the federal government has fallen by over 30 percent. This decline will stop under a Conservative government.
He also pointed to putting a handful of weather forecasting jobs back in Gander.

A new Connie government can send the dozen or so forecasters back to Gander and meet Hearn's total commitment. Whether they do it or not will depend heavily on the costs involved. As for the promises to Goose Bay, the only thing the Connies can actually do is send the unmanned aerial vehicle squadron to Goose, for a hundred full-time jobs or fewer.

Anyone who thought a Conservative federal government will relocate thousands or even hundreds of federal jobs to the province can guess again.

Here's the thing, Hearn also made a point that he noticed the two ridings involved went Liberal, despite the Conservative promises.

For those who drank the local Connie KoolAid on federal presence, this issue will be an interesting one to watch in the next 100 days or so.

The Zen of Fabian Manning

Fabian manning won the Avalon riding for the Conservatives based on one thing:

Fabian Manning.

The guy is firm in his convictions and has displayed personal integrity throughout his career. His performance during the confrontation with Danny last year made Fabe look good and Danny look kinda dumb, but in the long run fabe won by simply being himself.

That stuff wins respect of constituents in a riding like Avalon and it gets rewarded.

Fabe traveled the riding, talking to constituents and meeting with them on their own turf. He went to their homes and asked for their support. His courage shone through.

That isn't to say that Bill Morrow and Eugene Conway are lesser humans than Fabe. Far from it. Manning just had a head start with his provincial political experience such that his political reputation and his actual performance matched up in what proved to be an unbeatable combination.

More people can learn from Fabe's example.

A la prochaine

A. Biggest winner of the night?

Andy Wells, the acerbic mayor of St. John's who may finally get a job at the province's offshore board. Danny wants him, for some completely inscrutable reason, and Harper is unlikely to give a rat's ass.

The only question now is whether Wells become the unqualified chairman and chief executive officer or the part-time chairman with a full-time, highly qualified chief executive in Max Ruelokke. Smart money would say the latter, but this is a case of asymmetrical information and Williams isn't about to share what he's up to..

Runner-up goes to a bunch of Liberal candidates who won in ridings despite being targeted by a range of forces. Piss on all those forces, those without better things to do with bodily fluids.

B. Biggest loser of the night?

Yet to be determined.

1. Despite a clever games theory of a campaign, the Conservatives just couldn't crack through and win the elusive majority. There is lingering doubt about the team and what it may do. It remains a major contender for this award.

2. Among the loser nominees are Stephen Harper, who may find himself channeling either John Deifenbaker in 1957 or Joe Clark in 1979. We may find out the policy wonk from Calgary will set up his own model for prime minister in a minority government. Time will tell.

3. Big loser nominee would have to be some of the nation's pollsters, including former Conservative Party poll guru Allen Gregg. His polls and predications turned out to be as valuable as stuff pumped out by Jo Jo's psychic alliance for Jean Chretien. Warren the K can be embarrassed for his unreserved endorsement of Ipsos' last foray and in particular its spectacularly off-base seat projections.

C. Best Performance by a Prime Minister?

Paul Martin. In his speech tonight, Paul Martin proved why he was a competent and able prime minister who never deserved the schoolboy smears of the incoming government and its byte-sized lackeys.

Martin's resignation marks the end of his tenure as leader and Prime Minister and begins the process of rejuvenation of the party that has governed the country, with reason, for most of the last century.

Those who think they are dancing on its political grave should note the shifting sands already rising above their ankles.

Skip over most of the names already jockeying for contention. The list will quickly narrow down to the most likely choices. Don't count on it being anyone who served under Chretien.

Other coming changes?

The departure of Loyola Hearn. With his second pension assured, Hearn will fade into the woodwork before the next election to make room for Ed Byrne.

Hearn is unlikely to be a note-worthy federal cabinet minister from Newfoundland and Labrador.

He will likely occupy the only job he wanted - fish minister - and the only job the mainlanders think about when they think of the province, other than minister of employment insurance. Mainlanders seem to forget Don Jamieson (Minister of Foreign Affairs and Deputy Prime Minister) or John Crosbie (International Trade and Connie wunderbar gauleiter of the east coast protectorate when it comes time to hand out the cabinet jobs.

At a time when our province should be in a more prominent national light, we are likely to be locked into being perceived as the place always with its hand out.

Paul Antle as provincial Liberal leader. It might be a faint hope, but someone needs to come forward who actually has had a genuinely new idea in the past 30 years and who isn't a captive of those in the party establishment who seem hell-bent on taking it on another lengthy sojourn in the Land of Political Irrelevance.

23 January 2006

Hi ho, Steverino!

As Antonia Zerbisias points out, bloggers had very little discernible impact on this election campaign.

True that some, like Stephen Taylor of Blogging Connies will disagree, but when it all comes down to it, blogs and bloggers are little more than another course of commentary in a universe that is full of information and commentary.

We can forgive his insistence that bloggers provide "brilliant editorial opinion." There is no love quite like self-love but at some point even the masturbatory quality of that bit of self-stroking beggars credibility. The value of blogs is decided in part by the readers. Some blogs, like some news media, gain attention not for the quality of what they put out but because of their current popularity, their current score on the Chic-o-meter.

Taylor cites the income trust story as one that bloggers broke and which the mainstream media supposedly ignored. Truth is, they didn't. They just made a judgment about it early on that there was little evidence of a crime having been committed and chose to give it an appropriate level of coverage. Taylor thought it was exciting, not on the facts of the matter, but because as the chief Connie blogger in the country it fit his world view. It had to be a scandal since Liberals were involved and there was an election on in which his team was driving the Liberal scandal line.

Antonia has a solid point here. Blogs had very little impact on this election, at least in terms of breaking stories no one else would touch. Their impact came from being a source of commentary other than the usual talking head suspects.

Most bloggers became an easy source of streeters, the staple of news reporting for decades and one spoofed so cleverly by Steve Allen.

[Left, Don Knotts, as Bang Bang Morrison, in a streeter opposing gun control. Aired on The Steve Allen Show.]

As for the impact of this little corner of cyberspace, judge for yourself based on the frustrated outpourings of some local Connies.

I always wanted to channel Louis Nye.

Hi ho, Steverino!

Women voters

The candidate who better recognized and responded to issue-based appeals that speak to the concerns of women, especially career orientated women will win this election.

Over the course of this campaign, I've had a few e-mail exchanges with the guy who blogs under the name Warbicycle. His post on women voters is an interesting one since it reflects his experience of campaigning on behalf of a woman candidate and noting, albeit anecdotally, the response of women in the riding.

His post on women voters is an interesting one since it points to some observable differences between male and female voters. Rather than respond to an e-mail he just sent, I thought I'd toss in a few comments of my own.

There is a sex difference in vote intention: women tend to vote for a party other than Conservative

Most public opinion polls released during this campaign didn't report demographic data, even though every poll collects some information on reported or apparent sex, age and so forth. This is unusual since there is often useful information to be gleaned from doing what is called a cross-tabulation, that is of comparing vote preference by certain fixed characteristics like age and sex.

Ekos' most recent poll, released on 21 January, reports that 34% of women respondents are report their intention to vote Conservative, compared to 28.6% for Liberals and 20.8% for New Democrats.

A poll of Atlantic Canadians by Bristol/Omnifacts, a Halifax-based research firm, showed that 50% of decided females respondents favoured Paul Martin as prime minister, compared to 29% of decided females who felt Mr. Harper would be the best prime minister.

On the face of it, both these polls, one national and one regional, show a fairly clear difference between males and females in vote choice. An assessment by Simon Fraser University showed comparable differences in vote intention between males and females although, as the SFU assessment notes:
[b]y the end of the campaign period, however, the gender differences became much more muted as some shifts occurred. The differences in support for the Liberals had largely disappeared, but a new one emerged for the NDP. In the Ipsos poll conducted between January 17 to 19, even the gender differences in support for the Conservative Party had greatly narrowed; 36% of women and 40% of men said they would likely vote Conservative. 21% of women said they would vote NDP, compared to 16% of men; 27% of women were willing to support the Liberals, and 25% of men said the same. These results indicate a net movement of 8% of women away from the Liberals, with 3% going to the Conservatives and 5% to the NDP.
Possible explanations of the sex gap

Differences in vote intention between males and females has been the subject of considerable academic research.

One study concluded that :
Despite the change in the economic context and the advent of budget surpluses, women clearly remain more skeptical of the virtues of free enterprise, more supportive of the welfare system, and more reluctant to endorse market solutions than men in the 2000 federal election. The fact that these gender gaps could not be explained in terms of differences in women'’s and men'’s material interests lends weight to the socio-psychological argument that women tend to be less individualistic than men. The gender gap in views about crime and punishment also provides support for a socio-psychological interpretation of the gender gap phenomenon.
There are other studies that generally confirm the conclusions of the one cited here.

Whether or not one accepts any or all of the possible explanations for the difference, there's no question a difference exists.

So, the simple answer, Warbicycle is that your anonymous commenter would be correct if you actually said all women think alike. You didn't. You simply reported a phenomenon that has been reported for some time: women vote to the left of the political spectrum.

Anecdotally, I can add that some older males in one campaign found the male/female difference in vote intention difficult to comprehend or difficult to acknowledge. They dismissed the idea that Liberal media buys should be skewed toward 35+ females. It has been generally accepted for some time that women tend to vote to the left of the political spectrum and that they have considerable influence on household consumer decisions, including political decisions.

This admittedly small group of older males dismissed the idea out of hand. Go figure.

Another local Liberal candidate attracted some critical comment for his radio spot that focused on this very issue. Criticism of him came primarily from Conservative callers to local radio call-in shows. Too bad he didn't more argue forcefully in favour of his position: the facts were with him.

Will the male/female difference in voter intention make a difference in the final outcome, as Warbicycle contends?

Potentially. Women outnumber males in a number of ridings across the country, including my riding of St. John's South-Mount Pearl. The current election will depend very heavily on how many people are motivated enough to get out to vote.

Sadly, some of the local campaigns in the metro St. John's area on the political centre-left dismissed simple, factual arguments and/or failed to properly capitalize on the issues involved.

The fruits of those decisions may well be seen tomorrow evening.

22 January 2006

ctv.ca prompts head-scratching

Check out this little timeline compiled by ctv.ca on the Parti Quebecois political history.

For those of us who have found CTV's coverage of this election peculiar, perhaps it has something to do with this sort of goof-up:

May 22, 1979
The Liberal Party led by Pierre Trudeau wins the federal election

The May 1979 general election brought us the Joe Clark government.

The last time a Conservative minority ruled Canada

Purely for the sake of nostalgia, let's all remember one of the high points of the 1979 Clark administration.

This is the one Harper referred to as being "stupid".

The world is a different place now and the Progressive Conservatives are long gone from the political landscape.

Mystery Man with the Harper national tour?

Is this guy with the Steve Harper tour or is he merely a "local volunteer" as some stories have identified him?

Something tells me The Grabber wasn't some stereo salesman from Scarborough who got a little overzealous on his day off.

By the way, I kinda like the way Mr. Furious, The Spleen and The Blue Raja are there backstopping for the latest Mystery Man.

21 January 2006

Hunt on for missing Connie candidates

Thomas Steenburg of Mission, British Columbia is shown at right holding the cast of a footprint he claims is from a Sasquatch.

Mr. Steenburg has been contacted by Elections Canada and many national news media outlets to organize a search for Conservative candidates missing from this election.

Mr. Steenburg said he won't take up the hunt for the Connies, noting that he has a better chance of finding the legendary, large hairy beast of the Rockies.

Connie staff assaults reporter...

CTV is reporting the second incident in as many days of a reporter (TVA's Lina Dib) being restrained by Connie campaign staff as she attempted to interview a candidate the Connies wanted to keep away from reporters. [Check for the video link on the right hand side of that CTv page linked above.]

In the TVA photo above, Dib is seen confronting the Connie campaign staffer over the incident. He can be heard saying quite clearly in the video clip words to the effect that "you can't chase after them...".

The French language version of the story can be found here, from TVA.ca.

Simply put, it's a criminal offence to apply force to any person. It is called assault.

Getting it on tape is one thing and it was kinda interesting to watch the very tall guy who had grabbed a petite female reporter as he meekly apologized to her after the Connie candidate had successfully escaped.

The point is though that putting the guy in the dock will make it abundantly clear there is a limit to how far campaign staff can go in efforts to block access to people who ought to be available to news media.

If they think an apology will cover it, then they will be laying hands on people again. And that is definitely not something to be tolerated.

If the guys with the earpieces, short haircuts and lapel pins won't take the complaint, find a cop that will.

Have the guy arrested.

Williams to double provincial debt?

The Lower Churchill project will nearly double Newfoundland and Labrador's already crushing provincial debt, if the province opts for the go-it-alone option of constructing the hydro mega-project.

As CBC news reported yesterday, the estimated cost of the project has risen from government's initial projection of $3.5 billion in 2005 to $9.0 billion. The current provincial accrual debt is $12.0 billion, on an economy of slightly more than $20.0 billion. Both Premier Danny Williams and his finance minister have described the existing provincial debt in dire terms.

If the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador were to develop the Lower Churchill on its own, the entire debt for the project would count against the provincial coffers using the accrual method currently in use for budgeting purposes. The project should be self-financing through a long-term power purchase agreement, however, the provincial government has revealed no details of its efforts to find possible buyers for the power and financiers for the project overall.

Danny Williams announced yesterday that Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro is asking Quebec to estimate the cost of wheeling power from Labrador across HydroQuebec transmission lines, through Quebec to markets in Ontario or New York.

Wheeling in this case would likely involve building new transmission towers and lines since the Quebec grid can't handle extra power from the as-yet unbuilt Lower Churchill. The costs of those added lines and towers would be borne largely by Newfoundland and Labrador in a go-it-alone option.

A proposal to build the Lower Churchill project and upgrade transmission systems in Quebec and between Quebec and Ontario was substituted jointly by Ontario and Quebec last year.

While it wasn't included in the original official short-list, Premier Danny Williams publicly announced the option of having Newfoundland and Labrador build the project entirely on its own. That seems to be his preferred, if not only option, based on yesterday's announcement.

Favourite quote from yesterday's newser:
"It's very strategic," Williams told reporters Friday, adding the application indicates Newfoundland and Labrador is prepared to develop the Lower Churchill on its own.
Williams takes a trip to the head and he'd call it strategic. "Strategy" and "strategic" are his favourite buzz words. They are typically overused or, as in this case, misused. Strategy doesn't have a variable intensity or a quantity. Something is either strategic or it isn't. It can't be less strategic, or very strategic.

Second favourite quote:
Williams added that the provincial government is using a "market approach" to avoid the pitfalls of the Upper Churchill contract with Hydro-Quebec. In the past, Newfoundland and Labrador has tried but always failed to launch the project as a partnership with Quebec.
As with any project of this type, the Lower Churchill can't be built without having a market.

The Upper Churchill market was Quebec. Efforts to find other markets failed due to cost problems and technical problems that couldn't be overcome. There were few companies capable of taking on the engineering work for such a massive enterprise.

Williams' comments on this, much like comments by previous premiers, capitalize on the mythology surrounding the Upper Churchill contract rather than on the facts then or now.

20 January 2006

Campaign break: Gillian Anderson

Do I really need to explain this?

I didn't think so.

Connie platform 2004 on Equalization

Anyone care to recall this little gem?

Conservative plan for Equalization 2004:
A Conservative government will also revisit the equalization formula. We will move towards a ten-province standard that excludes non-renewable resource revenues from the equalization formula (helping the Atlantic provinces and Saskatchewan, in particular), and do so in a manner that ensures no provinces receiving equalization will receive less money during the transition to the new formula than the currentformula provides.
The current policy is similar but merely states something to the effect that the Conservatives will ensure no province is adversely affected by the changes. The platform just doesn't tell us how that will work.

Perhaps they'll offer some sort of transitional assistance so some provinces can get used to working with less money. That's what they promised in 2004.

The main problem here is that we just don't know what the Conservatives are actually planning this time around. At least last time, they were straightforward in their approach on Equalization.

This time around I can see the poke.

It's just harder to see if there is a porker inside to buy.

What they actually said: Lower Churchill

vocm.com is saying this about the Lower Churchill comments of Stephen Harper and Paul Martin, as well comments by Premier Danny Williams:
In the meantime, Martin will not give a commitment to assist the province in getting access to a transmission corridor across Quebec for Lower Churchill power. Martin says he supports the development, but wants to see the details of the plan first. Premier Danny Williams says the fact that the Prime Minister is here with only a few days to go until the election means he's trying to shore up support for the Liberals.

Williams says Martin has not given a full commitment to the Lower Churchill project, nor has he given a full guarantee.

Conservative leader Stephen Harper says he's prepared to work with the government to ensure the province is the principal beneficiary of the Lower Churchill. Speaking on VOCM Back Talk with Bill Rowe, Harper said the province will not be left out in the cold, similar to the Upper Churchill. [Emphasis and paragraphing added]
Well, here's what both Harper and Martin wrote in response to the Premier's question:

Williams: Does your party support efforts to develop the hydro-power resources of the Lower Churchill River System primarily for the benefit of Newfoundland and Labrador?

Harper: We support this proposal in principle and believe it is important for Newfoundland and Labrador to have greater control of its energy mix. A Conservative government would welcome discussions on this initiative and would hope that the potential exists for it to proceed in the spirit of past successes as the Hibernia Project. [Emphasis added]

[Comment: At no point does Stephen Harper provide a full guarantee on this project or even a partial guarantee. he simply welcomes discussions and offers the hope potential exists to move forward with the project.]

Martin: Our government is committed to the exploration of clean power sources that move Canada toward a clean energy future. The development of the Lower Churchill is an exciting opportunity for our shared goals of Newfoundland and Labrador's economic future and for the necessary investments in clean energy. We have funding in place to assist in the development of hydro power projects such as this and upon the province giving this project high priority, we want to ensure Labradorians, and in particular Aboriginal, Metis, Innu and Inuit communities, are central to consultations that will be undertaken.

[Comment: It's curious that Danny Williams is now characterizing the Martin response as being something far less than the "discussions' promised by Stephen Harper.

Williams is well aware of the memorandum of understanding signed last April that included these comments from his own natural resources minister:
I am pleased that one of the priority areas in the MOU is to explore the role that hydroelectric projects, such as the development of Lower Churchill, can play in achieving national and provincial climate change objectives," said Minister Byrne. "Besides providing an economical source of electricity, the Lower Churchill project can provide a significant portion of Canada's greenhouse gas reduction target, which is good for the environment, the economy, and the country."
That is in addition to comments by John Efford in St. John's two years ago that the federal government was prepared to assist with the Lower Churchill development.

As Williams himself put it at the time:
"I heard through the media that Minister Efford has opened the door for talks between the province and the federal government on the possible development of the Lower Churchill, and we would certainly be delighted to have those discussions. In my first and subsequent meetings with Prime Minister Martin, I indicated the province would like to see the federal government play a significant role in developing the Lower Churchill, so I am glad to see this moving forward....]
In the intervening two years, the Martin administration has signed an agreement with the province that contains provisions that would support Lower Churchill development. The agreement does not preclude other assistance.

The Harper commitment to talks are clearly, significantly less than the current federal government position.]

Knit one, purl Peter

During a radio interview in Halifax yesterday, Peter MacKay told Alexa McDonough she should stick to her knitting.

The line came in response to Alexa's comment she was using her reputation to bolster other candidates.

He apologized, but in explaining the whole thing to CBC Radio said:

"My understanding was it meant 'mind your own business or stay with the things you know.' It certainly was never intended to offend anyone, particularly women," MacKay said.

See? That's the thing, Petie, sweetie, you charmer you. That little explanation is utter crap.

But what's worse?

Alexa is a former national and provincial leader of the Dippers.

When she is handing your political ass to you during a debate, that is her knitting.

And she is sticking the needles, most likely, somewhere you found a bit uncomfortable.

Layton, McLellan, Kenney take questions...

Just saw this headline in the Globe online and the brain saw something else.

The world is not ready for minister of anything Kenny.

"Mmmmfpppf. Mmmmmffpppff."

Equalization fight - the Quebec battleground

Chief Blochead Gilles Duceppe is catching on.

Under a Harper government, Quebec will lose an estimated $3.5 billion in Equalization transfers from Ottawa over five years . La Presse Canadienne (Canadian Press) is reporting Duceppe's comments. The full text follows, en francais.

Now while some local cornerboys commentators will be quick to insist that:

a. this doesn't say anything about Newfoundland and Labrador and therefore is obviously unimportant; and

b. shag the guys in Quebec anyway, any money they lose they deserve to lose...

that just misses the point or actually points.

1. There is an Equalization racket coming under a Harper government, and it likely won't be pretty.

2. Some provinces will be seriously adversely affected by the proposal, like Quebec and New Brunswick.

3. No one has done an assessment of the impact on Newfoundland and Labrador across several scenarios including with the massive Lower Churchill project as the ultimate DIY job.

The last one is important for us. By someone, I mean someone other than Jim Feehan, Wade Locke or the provincial government. The last one just can't be trusted to give the straight goods. The former two have been known to assume a few can-openers for other than economic reasons such that their conclusions are suspect.

Les Québécois perdront plus de 4 milliards $ si Harper est élu, dit Duceppe
La Presse Canadienne
Jan 19, 2006 20:29

Par Lia Lévesque

BROSSARD (PC) _ Le Québec perdra plus de 4 milliards $ si les conservateurs de Stephen Harper sont élus, le 23 janvier, assure le chef du Bloc québécois, Gilles Duceppe.

De passage à Brossard, jeudi soir, dans la circonscription de Brossard-LaPrairie, M. Duceppe a attaqué les conservateurs non seulement sur la question linguistique, comme il l'avait fait plus tôt dans la journée, mais aussi sur l'argent dont sera privé le Québec, dit-il, si les conservateurs sont élus, lundi prochain.

"Tout ce dont on est sûr, avec les conservateurs, c'est que le Québec va perdre plus de 4 milliards $. Pour un départ, je trouve que c'est un drôle de départ; pour une ouverture, je vous dirai que c'est tout une ouverture", s'est-il exclamé devant un auditoire partisan dans un restaurant de Brossard.

Il fonde son calcul sur un document du ministère des Finances du Québec qui évalue que si les revenus issus des ressources naturelles non renouvelables _ comme le pétrole en Alberta _ ne sont plus inclus dans le calcul de la péréquation _ ce qui donne le niveau de richesse de certaines provinces _ , le Québec sera privé de 650 millions$ par année.

Sur 5 ans, cela signifie 3,25 milliards $ de moins pour le Québec, a-t-il noté.

A cela, il ajoute la fin de l'entente sur les services de garde après la première année, ce qui privera le Québec d'un autre milliard de dollars, déplore-t-il, d'où les 4,25 milliards $.

"On peut retourner ces chiffres d'un bord ou de l'autre; le Québec est perdant d'un bout à l'autre", a-t-il dénoncé.

M. Duceppe a fait campagne avec son candidat Marcel Lussier, qui se présente contre Jacques Saada, le libéral sortant. La péquiste Louise Harel est aussi venue prêter main forte.

19 January 2006

The promise of the coming Equalization War

Kudos to nottawa and The New Barrelman for bringing a core issue in federal-provincial relations back in the spotlight. [As an aside, here's a note on where Derek got the name for his blog.]

That issue is Equalization.

Stephen Harper plans to change the approach to Equalization so that non-renewable resource revenues are taken out when it comes time to calculate how much money a province makes from its own revenue sources and therefore how much it will get from the federal government to top that up to a national standard.

For some provinces, like Saskatchewan, such an approach means a doubling of its federal transfer. No surprise therefore that Dipper Premier Lorne Calvert is positively orgasmic at the thought. Saskatchewan has plenty of non-renewables in its revenue base.

For other provinces, like New Brunswick or even Quebec, changes to Equalization would mean a drop in their federal top-up payments. Lord-land doesn't have a lot of non-renewables in its base.

CBC New Brunswick seems to think the Conservative policy isn't clear. They're dead wrong.

It is absolutely clear and it has been consistent since 2004, at least.

Here's how Stephen Harper put it in a recent letter to Danny Williams:
We will remove non-renewable natural resource revenue from the equalization formula to encourage the development of economic growth in the non-renewable resource sectors across Canada. The Conservative government will ensure that no province is adversely affected from changes to the equalization formula. [Emphasis added]
That wording is taken directly from the Conservative's March policy statement.

Ken Boessenkool, one of Harper's closet associates, advocated just such a revamping of Equalization in several papers for the Atlantic Institute of Market Studies. In 1999/2000 when the oil revenues were tiny, removing non-renewables from Equalization would have lowered Newfoundland and Labrador's Equalization entitlement by around $3.0 million per year.

That might not be the case in the future. There are no public estimates of what the Conservative proposals for Equalization would mean for Newfoundland and Labrador in the near future in the time when oil revenues are highest.

No one has yet assessed the impact of significant new revenues from renewable resources in this province, like say the Lower Churchill.

And here's the last thing to bear in mind: no one has factored in the offshore deal signed just last year. My bet is that a new federal government committed to changing Equalization would look on that money as a bonus to count against future Equalization and Equalization type entitlements.

After all, the offshore deal wasn't actually about giving back to this province its own revenues. It was about increasing federal transfer payments in a deal no other province, except Nova Scotia, could get.



There's that word again.

Odd thing is that in this context it will be Conservative premiers like Bernard Lord and likely Danny Williams looking to maintain their entitlement to federal transfers.

Equalization reform of the type proposed by Stephen Harper has the potential to be the biggest problem in federal-provincial relations for a new Conservative government.

Just watch.

A good look at Harper

From Norman Spector, former chief of staff to Brian Mulroney comes this:
Make no mistake. Beneath that newly genial demeanour beats the heart of a deep-blue conservative, whose dream is to shrink the central government, dramatically reduce its role in public life, privatize as much as [Stephen Harper] can get away with, and hack away at the incomprehensible system of income transfers that sucks money from the haves to the have-nots. As for regional development programs such as ACOA -- to the guillotine! Mr. Harper is posing as an incrementalist, which, in many ways, he is. But if he has his way, his incrementalism will eventually reshape Canada as profoundly as did the creation of the welfare state.

If you think that legacy of entitlements, subsidies and big government is indeed a sacred trust, you should not vote for Mr. Harper. If you believe high taxes are fundamental to a caring society, you should not vote for him. If you don't want a reversal of aboriginal policy, don't vote for him. If you don't want 10 provinces and three territories experimenting with health care, don't vote for him.
Food for thought.

Some people are in for a rude shock after January 23rd.

Thought provoking and then a moment of sheer hysterical laughter

Take a gander at The National piece last night that includes an interview with Albertans and Newfoundlanders about the future of the country.

Especially worthy of note: the attachment of one interview subject for fish. It seemed to be a bit..shall we say... intense, to the point where someone might check the guy's lapel for errant scales or the smell of cod.

Overall, though think long and hard about the difference in attitude between Albertans - even Newfoundlanders in Alberta - and the pseudo-nationalists in St. John's.

It's the difference between self-reliance and talking about self-reliance...with help from someone else to achieve self-reliance.

This is a bit much

Kudos to andrewcoyne.com for providing a link to this site, dedicated to showing the other side of Stephen Harper.

I chuckled with the nonsense about harpermania, given the old boy is still struggling to get his party into power. The last great cult of personality produced an astonishing public reaction.

But that was Trudeau in 1968.

And Harper is not even close to being Pierre Trudeau on any level.

In fact, even Harper wouldn't want to be compared to Pierre.
There I came face to face with a living legend, someone who had provoked in me both the loves and hatreds of my political passion, all in the form of a tired out, little, old man," Harper wrote in a newspaper column that stood out from the flood of Trudeau tributes. "It was an experience at once unforgettable, nostalgic and haunting." He went on to denounce that old man's legacy in the bitterest terms. Not only did he rebuke Trudeau's policy mix of "centralism, socialism and bilingualism," he even indicted him for failing to serve in the Second World War or oppose the Soviet Union. "In those battles," Harper wrote, "the ones that truly defined his century, Mr. Trudeau took a pass."

Hearn, Doyle and Manning - darlings of the socons

Social conservatives looking forward to repealing equal marriage in the country have spoken!

In Newfoundland and Labrador, Vote Marriage Canada is supporting:

Loyola Hearn
Norm Doyle
Fabian Manning

It was especially amusing to be sitting here typing this as yet another cheesy Loyola Hearn radio ad turned up on ym radio.

In this one, he personally pledges to stand up for all Newfoundlanders and Labradorians.

Except of course gays and lesbians on equal marriage.

But Loyola didn't need to say that anyway.

We already know where he stands on that issue.

Too bad he isn't as committed to fisheries issues as he is to banning equal marriage.

Choice my foot - redux

A new commentary from the Caledon Institute is damning of the Conservatives' $1,200 child care buy-off.

Caledon's analysis concludes that the people who will benefit least from the Connie campaign plank are the people who need the help in child care the most:
The proposed Child Care Allowance would pay its lowest amount to families with modest incomes close to the poverty line:

*• A two-earner couple with two children (one child under 6 and thus eligible for the Child Care Allowance) and income of $36,000 (only a few thousand dollars above Statistics Canada'’s estimated aftertax low income cutoff of $33,152 for cities of 500,000 or larger in 2006) would end up with an Allowance worth only $388 − one-third (32.3 percent) of the $1,200 face value payment.

*• A one-earner couple with two children (one child under 6) and income of $33,000 (just below Statistics Canada'’s estimated after-tax low income cutoff of $33,152 for cities of 500,000 or larger in 2006) would end up with $650 − just over half (54.2 percent) of the $1,200 face value payment.

*• A single parent with one child under 6 and income in the $27,000 to $29,000 range (not that far above Statistics Canada'’s estimated $21,341 after-tax low income cutoff for a two-person family living in cities of 500,000 or larger in 2006) would end up with $481 − only 40.1 percent of the $1,200 face value payment.

The true value of the Child Care Allowance shows no rational relationship to families'’ incomes. Only the poorest families on welfare, with no or only a few thousand dollars of earned income, would get the full $1,200 − but only if the provinces and territories exempted the Child Care Allowance from the calculation of income for purposes of determining social assistance, which Ottawa would have to ensure through negotiations. There is no guarantee that provinces and territories would agree to this, since some might argue -– correctly -– that families on welfare already have fully or almost fully subsidized child care so do not need the additional $1,200 to pay for child care. Instead, some provinces/territories might argue the added funds should reduce provincial/territorial costs of child care subsidies for families on welfare.

In this case, families on welfare would not gain at all from the new federal program.
[p.4, emphasis added]

18 January 2006

Channeling Mackenzie King

Connie candidate Loyola Hearn is still pushing himself as the guy in the party that will sort out fisheries problems.

Of course, we must ignore the fact that someone can't even edit a brochure here, since Hearn's people think he is talking about the Grank Bank. (see below).

As a sign of Hearn's strong commitment to custodial management, a big issue locally even if it is a legal crock, comes the following from one of his campaign brochures:

Stand Up for Our Fisheries
A Conservative government will protect the fisheries following 12 years of Liberal neglect. We will also give the coastal provinces - – particularly Newfoundland and Labrador -– an increased role in the management of the fisheries. If necessary, we will not hesitate to take Custodial Management over the nose and tail of the Grank [sic] Banks and Flemish Cap. [Emphasis added]

Two things to notice:

1. At no point does this brochure say anything about joint management of the fishery between the province and Ottawa. It says a Connie government will give "an increased role". That role is undefined.

2. Custodial management was something the Connies pledged to move on immediately back at the policy conference in March. Others have trumpeted this as a sign of Hearn's influence. He's even got a radio spot in which a well-known local fisheries chronic praises Hearn.

Well, here it is guys. Loyola is channeling Mackenzie King, he of "conscription if necessary but not necessarily conscription" fame.

The new policy (the umpteenth watering down of the Connie platform on this point in the campaign) is to take action...if necessary. The whole point of Hearn's time in Ottawa has been to claim that it was long since past being necessary.

Loyola's resolution in the House of Commons on custodial was obviously just a gigantic political stunt, a hollow sham of an exercise. That called on the government to take "immediate action", no ifs ands or buts about it.

Find background here and here.