29 September 2006

Shakylegs Rideout's access to info shakedown

Current fish minister and deputy premier and former Premier Tom "Shakylegs" Rideout (left) is being more than a little disingenuous when he claims that he was only following the letter of the law in charging opposition politicians a bill of $400 for processing an access to information request on Rideout's travel and expense claims.

To put it bluntly, Rideout is following the standard practice of the Williams' administration to claim one thing and do something entirely different. In this instance, Rideout is claiming accountability and transparency while actively seeking to frustrate efforts to find out even the most routine of information.

In a news release today, Rideout said, among other things, that:
The Opposition chose to activate the ATIPP process. Once that process is activated, there is a legal requirement that the individuals requesting the information be charged for the work required. That is the law, and we must follow it.
There's a word for this and the word is bullshit. Had they asked for it in any way except under the Act, they would be lucky to see a single paperclip. If this administration was so intent on following the law, then it would never have engaged in the pathetic Ruelokke fiasco using every second-rate legal dodge in the book to try and keep a man out of a job he had won fair and square.

For those who may not know, I served for seven years as a political aide in the administration that ended Rideout's mercifully short tenure in the Premier's Office. Contrary to his practice and that of his predecessor, we undertook to respond to access to information requests without using the fee schedule as a way of frustrating or blocking people seeking access to what is public information.

We followed the intent of the law.

Expense and travel claims were a popular request and it fell to me to co-ordinate the replies.

We did.

Without charge.


The fee schedule for information access requests is not an absolute requirement that must be ruthlessly applied in all cases. It is there to cover some complex requests - expense claims are not complex by any means no matter how much Rideout's nose has to grow as he tries to say otherwise.

What is more, Rideout has the ability - given his position - to waive any fees and simply hand over the documents.

It is that simple.

And what is more Rideout knows that the comments contained in the news release are merely another way of trying to hide things that otherwise can and should be in the public domain. The information can be retrieved relatively easily and without the elaborate and painful process Rideout claims it to be.

What Rideout tells us - both in his initial decision on this request and in his ludicrous defence - is that he is committed to obfuscation wherever and whenever possible. He is, in short, the embodiment of the kind of politics access to information legislation was intended to send to the rubbish tip of history.

Perhaps Rideout recalls the 1980s when Opposition access requests revealed that some of his colleagues were frequenting strip clubs and billing the "gentlemen's entertainment" to the unsuspecting family in Ming's Bight or Arnold's Cove via the public treasury.

Perhaps, he is simply following the arrogant example of the current Premier who has on more than one occasion fought tooth and nail against releasing information the release of which is specifically authorized in the legislation Rideout now uses to excuse his questionable behaviour on this access request.

No matter the reason.

Those familiar with the Williams administration in practice - as opposed to its self-massaging news releases - understand that accountability and transparency are nothing more than stock phrases to fill up the word count in already verbose news releases.

There is no meat in them any more than there is any flesh in Rideout's ability to actually implement his own policies. Bill Barry proved the severity of Rideout's impotence just this week while Rideout enjoyed gallivanting about in Norway.

Rideout is correct on one point. The current members of the Opposition did do things just as bad as he has now done when they occupied the government benches. But two wrongs do not make a right as surely Mr. Rideout knows.

To borrow one of his own malapropisms, what Rideout has shown in his flounting of the intention of the freedom of information act is that you cannot get a skunk to change its spots.

Rideout is used to saying one thing and doing another.

So too is his current boss.

Too bad Tom wasn't paying attention to the policies of the guy who replaced him, the guy who not only talked about accountability and openness but who ensured the talk was turned into action.

Too bad that Tom can only talk about it but not do it.

Too bad, that is, for the people of Newfoundland and Labrador.

Scott Simms and the fallow field of dreams

Would central Newfoundland Liberal member of parliament Scott Simms do the rest of us a favour and name a single significant oil or gas discovery offshore Newfoundland and Labrador that is being left deliberately undeveloped by any license holder?

Just one.


If you can't Scott, there really isn't any reason for your proposed private members bill, other than perhaps to act as a stalking horse for Danny Williams.

By the by, Scott b'y, if you want to get a decent background on the facts of the offshore, I can easily arrange it for you.

Demographics, economics increase pressure on temperamental Williams and volatile policies

There are, however, some urgent domestic priorities -— the necessities of life, the outmigration of our youth, unity, mismanagement and economic diversification.

Danny Williams, Progressive Conservative leadership victory speech, April 7, 2001

That was then.

Recent data from Statistics Canada show an interesting trend now.

Table A (left), shows population figures for Newfoundland and Labrador from 2001 to the present in half year time periods. Note that there has been a general decline over the entire period but that the rate of decline increases after January 2005.

This likely reflects the series of economic setbacks in the fishery (FPI in particular), Stephenville, and the failure of Hebron on top of the outflow of individuals that otherwise occurs.

There is generally a flow into and out of the province each year. The figures presented in Table A reflect the net result of inflow and outflow.

Table B (above) shows the annual rate of population change for Newfoundland and Labrador from 1952 to the present.

Green represents growth and red represents a decline in population. The largest decline is in periods after the cod moratorium.

When Danny Williams took office, the rate of population decline was on par with declines in the mid-1980s.

The rate for the first half of 2006 is the same as that experienced in the mid-1990s and in 2002.

New Approach needed

One of the overriding implications of the outmigration trends is that Danny Williams pseudo-nationalist posturing will do medium- and long-term damage to Newfoundland and Labrador.

Not only is the overall population declining, but, as forecast since the early 1990s, the population remaining will become increasingly dominated by retirees and children. The shrinking productive portion of the population means that the economy must become more productive. It also means the provincial government must have increased revenues or - at the very least - more stable sources of income.

The longer the Williams administration holds up reform of the fishery, particularly Fishery Products International, the more difficult it will be for the fishing industry to make the changes needed. Government has offered no ideas on dealing with the substantive economic problems at the heart of the current crisis; its focus on marketing is just the one aspect of the overalll issue government can without any consequence. Marketing looks good and the government doesn't risk anything politically. Unfortunately, leadership that lacks the willingness to make hard decisions is the opposite of what is needed.

In the oil and gas industry, a combination of developments are demonstrating the seriousness of the Premier's miscalculation on Hebron. Development of that field would have come at exactly the right time - if a deal had been cut last spring. Despite the Premier's claims that "talks" are going on behind the scenes, the project is definitely dead and likely will be dead as long as Williams persists in his unstable, volatile mode.

A major discovery in the Gulf of Mexico by Chevron and opening of additional acreage in the Gulf also place more attractive properties in play that have far less political risk for investors, if nothing else, than dealing with the temperamental Williams administration.

Norwegian energy giant Statoil - owned 70% by the Norwegian Crown - is looking to invest CDN$1.0 billion in the Alberta tarsands, not the Newfoundland and Labrador offshore. Meanwhile, declining natural gas prices in North America make it unlikely that any interest will follow the local gas resources even if the Williams administration manages to issue a gas royalty regime by the end of the year as originally promised.

Bear in mind that Williams has sat on the regime for three years,largely ignoring it in the one-thing-after-another tedious and needless approach this government has adopted for major policy issues. As well, Williams posturing on oil and revenues suggest that Williams' gas regime would not be structured to provide competitive incentives to attract greater investment. To do otherwise would involve political risk and Williams has shown himself to fear any threat to his image.

Newfoundland and Labrador is not alone in facing dramatic demographic shifts. A group of Quebec academics and former politicians released a manifesto in 2005 that drew attention to several factors that will affect Quebec's economic and political future. One is demographic change.

While other provinces are already well on the way to addressing the impact of issues like population decline, the Williams administration seems unable to develop policies. Its approach across the board is to spout inappropriate ideas based on attitudes from the murky past.

A new approach is needed.

The only question for Newfoundlanders and Labradorians is whether the Williams administration can fundamentally change and start to deliver on its promised New Approach.

(h/t to the Dominions' finest statistician.)

28 September 2006

Williams and The Quiet Revulsion

In a scrum with reporters before heading off to a cabinet meeting in Churchill Falls, Danny Williams couldn't help but demonstrate that fundamentally he is getting desperate.

Reporters asked him for reaction to a column in today's Globe by Konrad Yakabuski who points out, among other things that Williams' gamble on the Lower Churchill will likely end in failure. Yakabuski puts the gamble in the context of Hydro-Quebec's hydro-electric development projects that will arrive in the marketplace likely well before the Lower Churchill.

Bond Papers has discussed the same issue following on Yakabuski's last column on the subject. We've also noted that Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro is well behind the competition in developing its own project largely because Williams opted for a so-called go-it-alone option without having even put together a business plan.

That's right.

No business plan before coming to a project that would double the provincial debt.

Bear in mind that in 2001, Williams told enthusiastic provincial Tories in his leadership acceptance speech that "[m]y approach, if you give me the opportunity, will be to set out clearly our goals and to formulate a plan to get us there". This is the same Danny Williams who later committed to a $9.0 billion project without even the most cursory, the most basic, the most fundamental of business management tools.

Almost immediately after that commitment in 2001 he said:
I realize the importance of a strategic plan and the sound financial management on which it must be based.
What plan?

What sound financial management?

Williams response to Yakabuski through reporters is telling. Williams said that Canadians should develop the Lower Churchill because Williams' competition - Quebec - is to volatile to rely on.

Williams has shown himself on numerous occasions to be volatile and in this instance his excuses - that is the most charitable thing to call such petty comments - are an indication of nothing more than his tendency to spit in anyone's eye if it serves his own personal political ends.

The reaction from Quebec, Ontario and from national non-government organizations, as reported by Canadian Press in the story linked above for example, is both predictable and accurate. This is not about pitting province against province.

National audiences should appreciate as well that Williams' comments on Quebec tieing up the power grid in order to exclude Labrador energy are nonsense. They are nonsensical because in Williams' own pursuit of the solo option on the Lower Churchill, he has investigated the cost of doing everything from building transmission lines to American markets to assuming the cost of upgrading the connection between Quebec and Ontario in order to move Lower Churchill power into markets other than Quebec.

He had no choice but do so. In selecting his go-it-alone option, Williams rejected a sound proposal from Ontario and Quebec that would have seen those provinces bear the costs of expanding the grid. Having decided to bear the costs of expanding the grid himself, Williams cannot moan about the supposedly limited grid. It is nonsense; it is a non-issue.

In a larger sense, though, Williams irresponsible remarks about Quebec are just another sign of the extent to which Williams quick-lip have alienated him from virtually everyone of consequence outside Newfoundland and Labrador. In 2004, he stormed out of a federal-provincial conference not because of a disagreement with Ottawa over offshore finances - as he claimed - but rather because his some of his fellow premiers were growing increasingly annoyed with his self-serving approach and his histrionics.

In successive tirades and fits of pique, Williams has created a climate in which he is viewed as unstable. The investment community has looked in amazement as Williams threatened expropriation whenever he hasn't gotten his way not once or twice but on several occasions. His recent crusade on legislation to force development of offshore oilfields is nothing more than an attempt to bring about by legal force majeure what he could not achieve or would not achieve in fair negotiations.

Williams is wrong about the need for the legislation or the issue and the more he pursues it and rants about it the stronger the message that is sent to people who might be willing to do business with him: Don't do it. Avoid Newfoundland and Labrador.

Next Tuesday, Williams' business department will finally unveil the so-called re-branding image for Newfoundland and Labrador. No matter how brilliant it is - and a great many great ideas are already said to have be quashed by Williams' veto when he ran the business portfolio himself - there is precious little a nice picture and a slick advertising campaign can do to get past the dismal reputation Williams has earned for himself after three years in office.

Isolated politically, unable to produce a successful major economic initiative and facing the resurgence of a political scandal in the House of Assembly when more detailed reports are released later this year, Williams may be the darling of the opinion polls. This is increasingly an image, though and not something of substance.

A mood is growing in Newfoundland and Labrador.

There is increasingly a sense of quiet revulsion at Williams' histrionics since ranting seems to be all he has. Since the 2005 offshore deal with Ottawa - that delivered nothing more than increased federal handouts - Williams has not been able to close a single deal. In Hebron, he gambled, miscalculated and lost billions in oil revenue.

The effects of that failure - the repeated failures - will be seen increasingly the months and years ahead. The men and women who were looking forward to developing the local oil and gas economy have already felt the sense of revulsion as they leave the province to work elsewhere. Men and women in other parts of the province - like Harbour Breton or Stephenville - have felt the revulsion. As more and more feel the sting of the failures, the revulsion will grow.

In typical Newfoundland and Labrador fashion, though, they will not throw up barricades or take to the airwaves. No. They will keep their feelings inside, voicing their anger, their discontent - or worse their profound disappointment - only to their most trusted friends. Theirs is a quiet revulsion that does not show up in government-goosed public opinion polls, but it is there. And for a government, it is acid that slowly eats away at its term of office.

Joe Smallwood held power for 22 years; Brian Peckford, a decade. Brian Tobin lasted four years and by the third year there was an increasing disquiet at his leadership.

Newfoundlanders and Labradorians have grown increasingly tired of politicians who have nothing to offer but confrontation. John Crosbie's characterization of Williams in the recent Independent issue - that he is a fighter because we love fighters - may have held the promise of long-lasting political success two decades ago.

But this place changed long before Danny Williams came to office.

This is a place where the quiet revulsion that eventually toppled Smallwood and defeated Peckford comes much more quickly than ever.

And unless Danny Williams changes to a genuinely New Approach, he will likely suffer the same fate.

Try as he might, he will have no one to blame but himself.

The King of Id

Danny Williams' was named leader of the Progressive Conservative Party of Newfoundland and Labrador in early 2001. His speech on that occasion contains a great many memorable quotes.

Left: Danny Williams. Not exactly as illustrated.

In the weeks ahead, we'll bring you some excerpts from it. For starters, here's the section where Williams lays out the essence of his approach.

Williams has quoted John Kennedy on several occasions although it is not clear on any of those occasions if Williams ever understood what Kennedy was talking about.

Anyway, from April 7 2001 here is Danny, in his own words:
John F. Kennedy said: "Ask not what your country can do for you but what you can do for your country."

I say to Newfoundlanders and Labradorians: "Ask not what we can do for our country, because we have done enough. Let's ask our country what they can do for us."

Update: Some readers didn't quite get this. The indented section above is Danny Williams, in his own words. it is a full and accurate quote.

It doesn't make sense, said one e-mailer.

Of course not.

That's the point for people who understand Kennedy's clarion call to public service and selflessness in striving for a larger good.

But if you understand the constant messages from Williams that we have been stupid victims - until electing Danny - and that Newfoundlanders and Labradorians are collectively entitled to hand-outs, payback, reparations or compensation for supposed past injustices, then Williams' meaning becomes starkly clear.

27 September 2006

Only the brave gamble with HQ?

Konrad Yakabuski's column in the Wednesday Globe makes some worthwhile observations on Danny Williams' got-it-alone option on the Lower Churchill. If you can't get the full article using the link above, try google news and search with the words "hydro Quebec" and "konrad".

Newfoundland Premier Danny Williams decided earlier this year to go it alone on a proposed $6-billion to $9-billion (according to already stale estimates) hydroelectric development on the lower Churchill River in Labrador, rejecting an offer from Hydro-Quebec and the Ontario government to jointly build the 2,800-megawatt project. It was great politics. Newfoundlanders still feel they're being stiffed by Quebec on the massive 5,400-MW Churchill Falls hydro deal that their late premier Joey Smallwood negotiated in the sixties. They'd dearly love to see their current leader stiff Quebec on the lower Churchill.

The problem is that it's impossible. Hydro-Quebec is the biggest and most savvy hydroelectric company on the continent. When Mr. Williams turned his nose up at its offer, it took about two seconds for Hydro-Quebec chief executive officer Thierry Vandal to move to Plan B. The latter entails fast-tracking 4,500-MW worth of hydro developments within Quebec. If Hydro-Quebec's stated goal is not to prevent Newfoundland from proceeding without it on the lower Churchill, its decision to green-light competing projects in la belle province certainly casts enough of a pall over Newfoundland's project in order to make it a tough sell for Mr. Williams.
A couple of things Konrad may have missed:

1. There is a certain correlation between the timing of the go-it-alone announcement and the no-go-at-all announcement on Hebron.

2. Williams isn't actually gambling with Hydro Quebec. He is spitting in their eye. Maybe Konrad missed the memo.

Next Tuesday

Where: The Rooms.

What: Big Event.

Organized by: The Department of Business, but most likely starring the province's Chief Spitter.

Supposedly a monumental and stupendous event in the history of Newfoundland and Labrador.
(If the Spitter takes a leak, it qualifies as that to some.)

Could it be:

the branding initiative?


At long last.

Try not to hyperventilate in anticipation.

The Spitter is said to have rejected concepts, scripts and all manner of creative effort in order to get just the right look and feel.

But we will know what the final product is next Tuesday.

At the Rooms.

Be there.

Spitter Spatter


To: Ann

Subject: Your letter to the Telly, September 26, praising Danny.

1. Danny Williams, his supporters and friends are not the only people who are passionate about Newfoundland and Labrador, nor do they have a monopoly on the right passion.

2. The thing about Danny is not that he is willing to spit in the devil's eye "for us", as you put it. That's a charming image, but the way you suggest that we all love him because he is doing it "for us" puts us in a child-like status - we need someone to stand up for us - or, in an even more creepy implication, that Danny assumes some sort of Christ-like perfection because whatever he does he does "for us" and our best interests.

3. Nope, Ann. The thing about Danny is that he has shown himself lately to be willing to spit in anyone's eye just because he thinks it's the right thing to do.

4. Doesn't matter who you are. Big corporation ready to spend billions creating jobs in the province. Guy who wins a job competition fairly and squarely by the rules.

Doesn't matter.

5. If Danny takes a dislike to you, then you can expect a monster loogie inbound aimed directly at your ocular sensors.

6. Apparently, if we read Ann's letter, we don't have to wonder or worry about what he is doing. All that's important is that he is doing his cud hurling "for us." Danny gets an automatic pass on the responsibility thing. Danny's actions are blessed because they are "for us".

7. The bonus? He gets nothing out of it. No stroke of the ego even. Nope, the Selfless Wonder is apparently beyond such mortal concerns.

8. Thanks for the thought, Ann, but no thanks.

We elected a Premier, not some sort of reject from The Mystery Men.

The Shoveler.

The Bowler.

The Blue Raj.

Mr. Furious (Danny read for the part).

The Spitter. (Concept rejected in favour of a guy whose fantastic power is farting.)

The faster we stop getting letters to the editor like this latest one from Ann, the faster we might get Danny back down to Earth and putting his considerable talents into something productive.

You see, Danny might be able to spew for England, but the rest of us are starting to get hit by bigger and bigger chunks of the spatter.

Ann might like to hold Danny innocent of the consequences.

The rest of us don't have that luxury.

26 September 2006

The sorry truth...

is that this little piece of creative historical writing (damianpenny.com) is not far off the position taken by a great many Canadians in the 1940s.

Heck, even today there are a bunch of Canadians who are by no means Nazis who would argue we should have done exactly as the fictitious Jack Layton does in this piece.

Some people believe there is no justification for fighting at all and adopt a consistent moral position. Gandhians are philosophically and morally whole.

Then there are the ones who would condemn any use of force...by the United States. They will rationalise any situation as long as they don't have to be on the same side as the Americans. They are neither morally nor philosophically whole.

Anyway, here's just the lede of an imaginary news story from 1944, if Jack Layton had been alive at the time and running the NDP's forerunner, the CCF.

If nothing else, give a chuckle. it's pretty creative.

Ottawa (CBP): The federal CCF leader, Mr Jack Layton, called today, in a House of Commons debate on the war situation, for Canadian troops in Western Europe to be withdrawn from combat on the front lines. "The United Nations' offensive, which has been moving forward rapidly after the breakout from Normandy, shows clear signs of stalling as Allied forces approach Germany and Holland," said Mr Layton.

The first rule of Fight Club...

is: you do not talk about Fight Club.

Unless you are one of a bunch of seriously deluded teenagers in Corner Brook.

Thankfully, they have been silly enough to appear on camera talking about the absence of violence at an event where boys and girls get together for the sport of beating the living cr** out of each other.

Go figure the logic in that one.

Now maybe police, school authorities and...wait for it... the parents involved can sort these children out before it is too late.

NL hit hard in cuts at a time of surplus

Among the program cuts that will affect Newfoundland and Labrador while the federal government announced a record-setting surplus:

- $20 million cut to DFO;

- $13.9 million in DND; and,

- $39.2 million in ACOA and related agencies for social economy programs;

The province's tourism industry will also likely be affected by the cuts to the GST rebate program for foreign visitors. The total elimination of the program will actually increase government revenues by $78 million but drive up the cost of visiting Canada.

CPC hypocrisy on Afghanistan

No. No.

Not the Conservative Party of Canada.

The real CPC.

The Communist Party of Canada.

Elizabeth Rowley came down to Newfoundland to explain why Canada's presence in Afghanistan is bad.

But here's the thing.

What was her position and that of her party 20 years ago when Moscow sent Soviet troops into Afghanistan in a full-blown invasion after Soviet special forces had murdered the president?




Elizabeth might want to check the talking points she was using between 1979 and 1989. I am reasonably sure she thought that a real "dirty war" was just tickety-boo back then.

Which "dirty" wars are bad and which are good usually depends on the latest version written on the barn wall.

In a related story, provincial New Democrat leader Lorraine Michael had a hard time on CBC Radio's Morning Show trying to make a coherent point on Afghanistan. She had a prime spot - right after the Canadian ambassador to Afghanistan but just couldn't deliver a simple, clear set of points.

She talked at one point about how the Taliban weren't responsible for 9/11. Sadly, Lorraine sounded like she was defending the Taliban although I find it hard to believe that was her intention.

She spent a lot of time talking about details that were either misstated or would be irrelevant to most listeners. She raised the completely irrelevent point that the defence component of current policy - defence, diplomacy and development - costs more than the development piece. That doesn't mean development is underfunded, except in the facile world of the NDP foreign policy. It just reflects the sad fact that a grenade costs more than a sack of flour. As the security portion of the equation takes hold, those expenses can and in all likelihood will decline.

It is truly a sad state of affairs for a national Canadian party - the NDP - to be in this position, but it is a result of their lame efforts on the Afghan issue.

[Updated, and revised]

DFO cuts in a time of surplus

Check nottawa to get a quick take on cuts to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans announced on Monday by the Harper administration.

The fish minister, Loyola Hearn, complained for years about DFO underfunding while he was an opposition MP.

Once he makes it to the Privy Council, Loyola's move is to slash spending in a supposedly underfunded department.


Guess re-allocation never entered his head.

25 September 2006

Another one joins the Dion bus

On this day when two campaigns for Liberal leader are shutting down or melting down and another is growing, comes this endorsement of Stephane Dion.

Simon Lono hasn't been holding back his support for Dion, it's just that a couple of references to Lono over the weekend in local media prompted him to state his reasons for backing Dion.

La Romaine, the Rock and the hard place

The Sunday edition of Newfoundland and Labrador's largest circulation daily newspaper, The Telegram, devoted its editorial to the implications for this province of Hydro Quebec's proposed development of the La Romaine river complex.

For some unknown reason, the editorial is not online. Instead, the Telly has reproduced a piece by one of its columnists in place of the editorial.

In any event, "It's time to talk turkey", argues that it is unconscionable that Hydro Quebec is proceeding with this project since:

1. the headwaters of the river complex are in Labrador and thus far there have been no consultations with the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador; and,

2. the La Romaine project will be a direct competitor for the Lower Churchill, should that project be developed.

Let's tackle these contentions in turn.

The border between Labrador and Quebec was established in a 1927 decision of the judicial committee of the Privy Council. The law lords concluded:

For the above reasons, their Lordships are of opinion that, according to the true construction of the statutes, Orders in Council, and Proclamations referred to in the Order of Reference, the boundary between Canada and Newfoundland in the Labrador Peninsula is a line drawn due north from the eastern boundary of the bay or harbour of Ance Sablon as far as the fifty-second degree of north latitude, and from thence westward along that parallel until it reaches the Romaine River, and then northward along the left or east bank of that river and its head waters to their source, and from thence due north to the crest of the watershed or height of land there, and from thence westward and northward along the crest of the watershed of the rivers flowing into the Atlantic Ocean until it reaches cape Chidley; and they will humbly advise His Majesty Accordingly.
This definition would suggest that the Romaine river complex lies inside Quebec in its entirety. Quebec maps on the border correctly describe it as being "undefined" or "not definitive". That is because the border has never been surveyed. That said, the description cited above fits the overall contention by the Privy Council decision that rivers flowing to the St. Lawrence and to the west are within Quebec, while Labrador comprises rivers flowing to the east and the Atlantic.

On that basis, the contention that the headwaters of the La Romaine lie inside Labrador would seem to be an error.

If the headwaters actually lie inside Labrador, then Hydro Quebec would have to consult and that would be a basis for people having some concern about the development. But that is about it. The La Romaine proposal does not cross into Labrador and the uppermost dam structure will not come closer than 10 kilometres to the general position of border between Labrador and Quebec. We can complain about not being properly advised but short of having our feelings hurt, there is not much of a claim Newfoundland and Labrador can make beyond that.

Newfoundland and Labrador would be hard pressed to justify trying to block the La Romaine project, if that is ultimately where Danny Williams winds up. All that Hydro Quebec management has done here is nothing more dastardly than showing they are smarter at business and politics than the St. John's premier. We may not like it - and certainly Danny won't - but that is hardly a crime and it would hardly be worth some kind of political or legal jihad of the losing type Williams seems to thrive on.

On the second point, though, one need only remind nervous nellies like the editorialist that it has been known for some time that demand for electricity is driving a great many developments besides the Lower Churchill.

Premier Danny Williams rushed an announcement earlier this year that he would "go it alone" on the Lower Churchill simply because the previous week Quebec had announced its own plans for further development of Quebec's own hydro potential.

Williams had a viable proposal in front of him - from Ontario and Quebec - that could have formed the basis for an eventual agreement. Instead he opted to restart the entire project from scratch and introduce delays in project sanction and construction. He did so knowing full well that other projects were moving ahead at a good pace, that Quebec had already invested in environmental studies and that Quebec was already talking to Ontario on power sales agreements. Williams' own officials arrived in Ontario well after Quebec.

In many respects, the bleating by The Telegram at this juncture is just a waste of ink and paper Williams has already laid out the course for the Lower Churchill project. The project may wind up being shelved or - worse still - it may wind up being a got-it-alone give-away of monumental proportions simply because the Premier and his advisors made yet another strategic misstep. Williams has made the bed and the Telegram's editorialist and all the other residents of the province will have to lay in it, for good or ill.

There is no small irony that the tone underneath the worrying over the Romaine project - fretting the Quebec bogeyman - was very much part of Williams' public explanation for why he chose the so-called "go it alone" option in the first place.

As Bond Papers has noted previously, though, this use of the Quebec bogeyman may serve transient political purposes for all-too-typical politicians like Williams but it actually serves to hamper the sensible, logical and orderly development of natural resources in Newfoundland and Labrador in a fashion that produces lasting benefits for the people of the province.

The Telegram is right in syaing that the time has come to "talk turkey" on Labrador hydro power. However, we should be less concerned about talking with Quebec on the La Romaine than with asking some very hard questions of our provincial government on their handling of the entire Labrador hydropower file.

24 September 2006

he spoke. and rapidly drank a glass of water.

Scanning back through the Bond Papers, I noticed I had neglected to post a version of a column I wrote for the Independent the week after Danny Williams' January 5, 2004 speech in which he announced government spending cutbacks, public sector layoffs and a two year wage freeze.

Now three years later some of the observations made at the time seem so relevant that it is appropriate to reprint the original column. For those who may not be familiar with it, the title is a line from "Next to of course God America I", a poem by e.e. cummings that satirizes the vacuous rhetoric of American politicians and the gullibility of those who believe it.

next to of course god america i
love you land of the pilgrims' and so forth oh
say can you see by the dawn's early my
country 'tis of centuries come and go
and are no more what of it we should worry
in every language even deafanddumb
thy sons acclaim your glorious name by gorry
by jingo by gee by gosh by gum
why talk of beauty what could be more beaut-
iful than these heroic happy dead
who rushed like lions to the roaring slaughter
they did not stop to think they died instead
then shall the voice of liberty be mute?"

He spoke. And drank rapidly a glass of water
Williams' speech was a masterpiece of cliche and hollow phrasing built around an assessment by government finances that was, to put it mildly, a feast of invention and make-believe. More accurately, one might call it a crock, a load or indeed just a flat-out pile of nonsense at least as far as its dismal projections for revenues were concerned.

The five or six government communications people who cobbled the thing together with Danny himself actually had the phrase "short term pain for long term gain" in the drafts, apparently right up to the end. Only then did someone realize the line - lifted directly from John Crosbie's federal budget speech in December 1979 - was just a bit too familiar. They changed it to "short-term pain in return for long-term meaningful benefits." While that line got changed, Williams' affection for clusters of words devoid of meaning has only grown with time.

For some reason, Williams had neglected to produce the customary holiday messages from the Premier in 2004 so he began this speech with belated greetings and then proceeded to tell everyone the arse was supposedly out of 'er. The contrast between the giddy heights of optimism he had conjured during the election and and the depths of despair he engendered in this one speech - and how the whole policy came about - affected the operations of government for the next year or so. It was a bad speech, matched by a horrendous delivery.

As we have already noted, the shock to Williams' own ego from the subsequent drop in polling numbers led him to abandon entirely and unequivocally everything he committed to in this speech, except for the wage freezes. Once cash started rolling in though, Williams even delivered a modest salary increase beyond the ones negotiated at the back end of the public sector deals just ensure people forgot his January fiasco in 2004.

It may seem like the Williams' first speech was delivered a century ago, but it was not quite three years ago. Political trivia buffs will recall that in one interview after the speech, Williams referred to the authors of the financial report as PriceClubWaterhouseCoopers.

For your light, Sunday reading enjoyment here is a column originally published in early January 2004.

Outside the box:

he spoke. And rapidly drank a glass of water.

In his tribute to American poet e.e. cummings, Premier Danny Williams only said one thing we had not heard before: there will be no public sector wage increases for the next several years.

There were no other surprises in what the Premier said. All PriceWaterhouseCoopers did for their $100, 000 was take the 2003 budget, add forecasts from government officials and reprint them. The deficit now and in the future is too large to maintain and something must be done about it. They did remind us that, unlike the 1990s when the provincial economy was in deep recession, government will consistently have more money in the coming years. Add Voisey'’s Bay and increased oil exploration and things get better still. In other words, action is needed, but it doesn'’t have to be the drastic action forced on government by international circumstances a decade and more ago. Why the Premier chose to freeze wages and portray a difficult situation as desperate is the question to be answered.

Any competent public relations professional will tell you that communications are judged not by the telling but by the doing.

Maybe there is some half-baked strategy that by re-creating the situation in 1933, the federal government will pour money into the province. Don'’t count on it for a whole bunch of reasons, not the least of which is that the facts make it clear that we are not now, nor are we likely to be bankrupt.

What the Premier did last week, though, was demonstrate that his government has not yet figured out what it is going to do. It appeared that in all the talk about "“growing the economy"” with a New Approach, capitalization is more than an innovative use of the shift key. Apparently not.

What the Premier also did was send the provincial economy into a downturn, despite knowing from government officials that strong consumer confidence has been a key part of government'’s income to date and will continue to be. With a handful of words, he made the province'’s deficit bigger and therefore worsened the situation he already claimed was shocking and beyond belief. That claim is nonsense.

By some accounts, the Premier also showed us that he is prepared to bypass his caucus and his cabinet in announcing the wage freeze. Just as he kept the Blue Book a secret from his party until the second it was made public, he apparently kept the wage freeze a closely guarded secret as well. One suspects that Loyola Sullivan has not been able to give even the most basic details of the freeze not because of cabinet confidence, but because the Premier hasn'’t told him yet what they are.

It's bad enough that cabinet may not yet have reached a decision on how it plans to deal with the province'’s financial situation. We simply don't know why Danny Williams made his announcement this week in the way he did. If the Premier indeed made a unilateral decree on wage freezes - a decree - – then that is a problem looming within the government with implications for us all that are indeed shocking and beyond belief.

The odd thing about public relations is that the more you say something without doing it, the less you will be believed. Count the number times Loyola Sullivan and the Premier insisted last week that they are being straight with people, laying out the facts, being open, honest and accountable.

Count how many times they said they have a plan.

23 September 2006

Quotes from the brain trust

Local upstart paper The Independent, known to some as the Spindy, is running another one of its Greatest Journalistic Endeavours in the History of the Universe (copyright pending).

The last one was a "balance sheet" of Confederation that demonstrated that the Spindy reporters who put it together never in their lives took a course in basic economics or accounting or at least never passed said course.

In the latest venture, the Spindy crew pulled together a blue ribbon panel to discuss new terms of union between Canada and Newfoundland and Labrador. Yes, yes, before you say it, the thing is an exercise in intellectual masturbation, but hey, it's the Spindy's schtick so ya gotta let 'em do it. No one is getting hurt, unless you count the likelihood you could get repetitive strained-reality syndrome from reading the thing.

Anyway, here are a few comments on the panel, categorized by subject. Drop a toonie and buy the whole paper for yourself, if you want to get it all. [Update - And for those who might wonder what the whole thing said or who might not be able to get a hardcopy, you will find the full story - if they post it - at www.theindependent.ca. The irony of that domain should not be lost on anyone.

The remarks below given in quotation marks are direct quotes taken from the Indy story. The categories are mine.]

A. Separatists in the Bunch

- Peg Norman, former federal New Democrat candidate: "If I had my druthers, we'd be independent."

- Andy Wells, mayor of St. John's, responding to a rhetorical question about where Canada would "bes" in two decades: "I hope it bes without Newfoundland."

Spindy publisher Brian Dobbin: "If we get back more resources and more territory, screw Canada!"

B. Bloc-heads

Much of the convo seems to have revolved around creation of a bloc of members in parliament from Newfoundland and Labrador. Strong proponents of the Blochead faction included:

- Former Liberal Premier Roger Grimes

- Andy Wells

C. Not fit for it

Spindy publisher Brian Dobbin offered a couple of interesting observations that stand out since they raise more questions than anything else.

On the provincial government, Dobbin apparently feels we should do away with having a cabinet made up of the elected representatives of the people. Dobbin'd rather have a "professional government", as he described it.
"If you elect a premier and the premier could select his ministers and those ministers had five years to actually do something..."
In the same vein, Dobbin offered the view that "[o]ur political system doesn't fit with an island of 500,000 people". Democracy doesn't fit? Electing people doesn't fit? Sadly, Dobbin didn't explain how our political system isn't working but it is pretty clear how he views Labrador.

Then a little later, Dobbin offered this comment in an exchange about the relationship between Newfoundland and Labrador and Canada in the context of the federal political system:

"If we get back more resources and more territory, screw Canada! Just change our own policies is all we need."

Hmmm. Since Newfoundland and Labrador never lost any resources or territory it makes one wonder what exactly Dobbin is on about in this instance. He might be talking about the offshore for resources. But territory?

D. Party-liner

Nancy Riche, who seemed obsessed with proportional representation.

E. The One-Note-Samba King

Gus Etchegary, whose efforts in retirement to foist blame for the fisheries collapse on others eerily mimics similar efforts by Bob MacNamara's similar geriatric obsession.

Gus' buddy Sue is calling for a public inquiry in the collapse of the cod stocks. She should be careful since the blame will likely not fall where Gus and others want or think it would fall.

Say the word highgrade to a 1970s and 80s vintage Newfoundland fish processor and see what happens. Hint: That excuse didn't work at Nuremberg.

F. Unabashed Canadian and Voice of Reason

John Crosbie, the former federal representative to Newfoundland and Labrador. Yes, yes. I am surprised as anyone would be, but Crosbie's comments on every topic the group discussed were rational and based on his experience of being there, doing it and designing the tee shirts.

In his usual way, Crosbie gave too many quotes to list them all. Let's just go with the one that sums up his view of the entire business of Newfoundland separatism and the sort of policies advocated by some of the Spindy panel's members:
We were separate before and we gave it up because it was too difficult for the ordinary person. You had to work like a maniac to survive. Why would anyone vote to separate? This is all just St. John's bullshit talk.
Amen, John, Amen.

Townie bullshit it is, indeed.

Vox populi

This news reader from Saskatchewan may well be describing how most consuemrs feel about rising energy prices.

22 September 2006

The "Danny" brand

[revised - new quote; some typos corrected]

The defining characteristic of Danny Williams' term as a politician - and particularly his term as Premier thus far - has been his relentless use of specific marketing approaches to maintain a permanent campaign.

The notion of a permanent political campaign is not new. The concept of a party continuing to use campaign communications approaches when in government first appeared in a memo from Democratic political consultant Patrick Caddell to Jimmy Carter before Carter's inauguration in January 1977.

Former American president Bill Clinton and British prime minister Tony Blair have been accused of handling their communications once in office no differently from what they did during an election campaign. As Catherine Needham has described it:
[Permanent campaigning] captured a sense that there was no stark distinction between campaigning and governing given that the personnel, tactics and tools of the election campaign followed the successful candidate into office. The permanent campaign concept involves more than a recognition that politicians start gearing up for re-election well before the official campaign begins. It is a claim that campaigning is 'nonstop'.
Needham contends that the permanent campaign concept is too limited to explain both Clinton's and Blair's repeated electoral success in highly competitive and complex political markets. Both Clinton and Blair have experienced highs and lows in public support, reflective of their respective political environments that are characterized by strong two-party or multi-party systems and the difficulty of sustaining a deference to political authority in systems where dissent from popularly held ideas is commonplace. Instead, Needham applies notions of branding and relationship marketing to explain the Clinton and Blair approach to government in a more complex form of permanent campaign.

However, in Newfoundland and Labrador, the political environment is small, does not have a strong party system and has certain conventional ideas that both suppress dissent and encourage a deference to dominant ideas and political actors. In such an environment, permanent campaigning - coupled with a rudimentary notion of branding - can explain Danny Williams continued strong popular support.

We have already established that the Williams administration employs certain political campaign techniques as a core part of its communications. These include:

- a reliance on public opinion polling as a direct driver of government action or inaction; and,

- management of communications to ensure that core messages are delivered consistently to the widest possible audience free of any contrary information of interpretation (filters).

In October 2003, voters in Newfoundland and Labrador bought the Danny Williams brand. The Progressive Conservative Party, as a political party, vanished from most party advertising. It was replaced by the name "Danny" or "Danny Williams" and visuals focused on Williams himself. Even today - three years after the election - the official party website is dominated by the campaign visuals and wordmarks. (above and below)

Since 2003, and with one exception, government communications have focused almost exclusively on reinforcing the "Danny" brand. The concept is simple. To borrow marketing phrases, voters were first convinced to purchase the product, based on the brand. Having secured the first purchase, Williams' marketing efforts have switched to brand maintenance. That is, the main goal switched from increasing market share - number of votes, number of seats per se - to an essentially defensive or reactive mode of maintaining what was already won. Voters that once had to be convinced to buy brand "Danny" must now be reassured their their brand choice was the correct one. and will continue to be the correct one.

This does not mean that Williams is passive. Far from it. He relentlessly protects the brand. Any information contrary to the Williams message is attacked. Enemies are identified and labeled as such, including local special interest groups such as NOIA, the successful candidate in a job competition or dissatisfied former papermill workers whose criticism of government, i.e. of Danny, is label "dissent". The word is not far removed from heresy.

Such is the level of defensiveness over the brand that Williams will go so far as to attack a small and extremely weak political party in a single riding for doing nothing more outlandish than what he himself did in the run-up to the 2003 general election.

In the small Newfoundland and Labrador market, Williams efforts have been phenomenally successful. The Liberal and New Democrat parties are effectively neutered. On the major policy issues, they are more inclined to agree with Williams than disagree and where they have attempted to inject other ideas - such as the supposed abandonment of rural Newfoundland by Williams - their efforts have been lacklustre at worst and half-hearted at best. This has only served to reinforce Williams' brand dominance.

Their has been no slackening in Williams' defense of his brand, no matter how high his climb in the polls.

But what is the "Danny" brand? To see it clearly , we can apply six commonly held attributes of a brand.

First a brand must simplify choice. Voters do not need to research detailed policy positions or examine Williams and his team closely. They may simply understand that "Danny" represents a "new approach". The choice is the classic marketing option: the old guys and something supposedly entirely new. Facts and details are irrelevant.

Research suggests that voters most often form impressions of candidates and parties based on certain characteristics and may rationalize their choices after the fact. Simple choices are easier to adopt.

Second, a brand must be unique. In Williams' case this should be self-evident. While the other political parties may run as a team and, in the last election, ran veteran politicians, Williams was able to capitalize on his personal wealth to portray him self as the "anti-politician" incorruptible by the need to seek re-election.

Third, a brand must minimise risk for consumers making the choice. In the initial purchase, voters could be reassured that Williams had never failed at anything he had done, or so the campaign messaging suggested. Williams himself repeated that he was about action and accomplishment, about creating jobs. "Danny Millions" could hardly be a risky choice.

Fourth, a successful brand must be aspirational; that is, it must give purchasers the means to secure a goal. In Williams' case, the aspiration was - and remains - an end to supposed give aways of our considerable natural resources. His introductory "quote" for the second chapter of the campaign Blue Book, subtitled Danny Williams' plan for Newfoundland and Labrador, states categorically:
Stopping the giveaways will be the hallmark of a Danny Williams led government. From this time forward, our natural resources will be developed for the primary benefit of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians.[Italics in original.]
In any oil and gas issue, Williams is especially keen to use a variation on this theme even if it means accusing someone - even by implication - of being a vendu.

Fifth, a successful brand must embody commonly held values. This may be as simple as Williams' repeated claims to be standing up for Newfoundland and Labrador as an expression of his passion for the place and its people.

Sixth, a brand must contain credibility. Williams-pre-election messaging capitalized on the extensive advertising for his law firm under the slogan "Who will fight for you?" It also reinforced his own personal success as a lawyer and as a businessman.

During the 2003 campaign, Williams repeatedly pointed to his successes in the past as evidence of what he can and would do once in office. In dealing with questions on the economy and the province's financial woes, Williams began to refer to his own record as being about "jobs, jobs, jobs".

No surprise, therefore, that in his now infamous January 5, 2004 speech, Williams created for himself the only political crisis of any consequence during his term of office thus far. Having promised jobs and growth, Williams first major public address was a poorly delivered that starkly laid out the need for cuts to government spending and massive public sector layoffs.

Williams polled relentlessly in the following months, using a pollster he had come to rely on. After the public polls by Corporate Research Associates showed a precipitous drop, Williams ramped up the public rhetoric as a fighter for Newfoundland and Labrador over the supposed injustice of offshore oil revenues. His own private polling likely showed similar declines coupled with some less than enthusiastic support for his approach. A combination of factors saw the polling numbers remain low into the following fall. However, after his theatrical departure from a first ministers meeting in October, Williams personal popularity and the popularity of his government soared.

In January 2005, he declared victory in a fight with a traditional bogeyman for provincial politicians. But more importantly, the messages of restraint and government restructuring vanished. The program review initiative, aimed at re-organizing government itself, disappeared without mentioned and in the 2005 and 2006 budgets, Williams boosted public spending well beyond the rate of growth in the economy.

The result, however, was unmistakable. The CRA public polls, even allowing for any methodological problems, showed growing popularity for the "Danny" brand. In itself, this served to further reinforce the notion common to permanent campaigns that popularity is a synonym for success and that as a consequence, any policy action by government is legitimate. If Williams and his ministers do not say it directly, such an interpretation is sure to come, for example, from the mouth of one of its former employee currently occupying an influential media position.

Danny Williams enjoys continued political success by applying simple marketing techniques built around the concept of branding. Simple messages, relentlessly carried by official sources, support the brand and, using typical political campaign techniques, any contrary messages are ruthlessly neutralized.

Never mind that one of Danny Williams' own companies is itself a member of the offshore supply association; since they dared to speak at all on the Hebron deal they have been branded as "annoying" and as serving only their own narrow interests. Fundamentally, they are standing against the "New Approach" of "No More Give Aways."

Danny Williams approach is a long way from traditional notions that draw a sharp distinction between campaigning and governing. His permanent campaign, built around a simple brand, has proven remarkably successful. It is difficult to give it a proper test, though, since Williams has enjoyed the near absence of political opposition and a financial situation that gives him as much cash to spend as he wishes.

One thing can be said with some confidence, however: Bill Clinton and Tony Blair may have been accused of being permanent campaigners.

They are pikers compared to Danny.

21 September 2006

Refinery study moves to Phase 3

Newfoundland and Labrador Refining Limited announced on Thursday that it is proceeding to the next phase of its evaluation project aimed at determining the feasibility of building an oil refinery in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Phase 3 of the feasibility study will established detailed cost estimates of proceeding with construction.

On September 11, NL Refining filed a project description with the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency (CEAA). The project will be registered with CEAA for assessment in October. The site chosen is near the existing refinery at Come by Chance.

NL Refining is a relatively new company owned by Altius Minerals and three other investors. It was formed specifically to pursue this project.

Equalization War: NL to lose

National Post is reporting the federal government's proposed answer to the wrangling over Equalization.

The plan would see all provinces receiving extra cash from Uncle Ottawa... except for Danny Williams' Newfoundland and Labrador.

So much for finance minister Loyola Sullivan's giddy optimism that everything is fine on the Equalization front.

The only question that remains is how long will it be before Danny Williams declares a jihad on Steve Harper? A fight seems to be brewing as Harper consistently handles the impetuous - and often petulant - NL premier with a firm hand. While Williams will like whine and moan about being taken advantage of Ottawa, the real reason for Williams' ire will be simply because Williams entire financial plans for the future are built around Newfoundland and Labrador becoming a "self-reliant" province while still receiving massive cash transfers from Ottawa.

Danny Williams talks a good game about "independence" but in reality he is perhaps the one Premier of Newfoundland and Labrador since Confederation who is the most dependent on Ottawa and the most addicted to federal hand-outs.

Atlantic Accord.

Lower Churchill.



Everywhere you go Danny is looking for Ottawa to hand him cash or, in the case of Hebron and Argentia, come in and close a deal The Great Negotiator (trademark pending) couldn't.

It would almost make you wonder if Doug House's big new project is finding a way to fill out federal grant applications more efficiently.

20 September 2006

Gobsmacker of the week: Jan Wong's writings are offensive

There's a reason why I read Toronto's nationally distributed rag very selectively.

My careful habits have apparently been confirmed with the reaction to Jan Wong's September 16th column that argued, in effect that the recent shootings in downtown Montreal have something to do with Quebec society.

Now, those who are on my messenger know that I jokingly had a comment about banning guns in Quebec only, but there's just no way that I could have sparked the flurry of condemnation Wong earned. Aside from the prime Minister's simple letter to the Globe, there's a rather lengthy one from Quebec premier Jean Charest. And besides, I wasn't being serious. There have been three serious mass shootings in Montreal but there has been the scattered one elsewhere in Canada as well. Kimveer Gill's rampage isn't a uniquely Quebec phenomenon.

But here's one thing that all the commentators seem to have missed:

Jan Wong is famous for writing scathingly critical columns. It's her schtick. Remember that the most famous series she did for the Globe was her lunch columns in which only the completely moronic sat at lunch with her so she could write catty remarks about them later on. To engage Wong in a conversation for print was to declare yourself a masochist or someone who had a deep and abiding psychological need to relive the public excoriation of a Maoist self-criticism session.

In that context no one - not the Prime Minister and certainly not the Quebec Premier - should waste an ounce of energy discussing Wong's scribbles. They don't deserve it. She provided absolutely no insight into the events in Montreal and her comments on Quebec society are facile.

Her piece is as worthy of attention as the rantings of the callers to Open Line shows in Newfoundland who think that Canadian Idol was rigged. Incidentally, an ex-pat Newfoundlander now living in Iqaluit has some very accurate observations on the Idol racket including noting that our province is fast slipping into national irrelevance due in no small measure to a collective tendency to whine about just about everything.

I went back to read Wong's column because of the minor flurry of criticism she has received.

Obviously, I didn't miss much.

I did, however, confirm my practice of reading the Globe very selectively.

And to be sure, anything involving Jan Wong has been off my reading list for a very long time.

I'd suggest others join me.

The zen of marketing

Consider how absolutely lame it is for the government to use a slogan like "We are the youngest and coolest province" when describing Newfoundland and Labrador.

After all, as Bond Papers is fond of saying, if you have to tell them, then it obviously isn't true.

Paris doesn't have to market itself as a "cool" city.

It is.

So on this hump day - maybe we should call it Danny Day - put your mind to work and see if you can think of a simple 30 second commercial that would grab attention and promote the province but without actually saying something as poseur-ish as Danny's latest sound bite.

And while you're doing that, consider these two car commercials as a sort of inspiration to help you think outside the box.

Oil revenue projections

From the most recent St. John's Board of Trade magazine comes an article by Wade Locke that included the following chart on provincial oil revenues:

Take a close look at the chart; double click and you can enlarge it to give it a closer examination. Note that the Hebron figures are speculative since the project does not exist and no talks are currently underway to bring the field into production.

If the Germans can laugh at zemzelves...

why can't we?

19 September 2006

Dry hump

Man-about-town and obvious hipster Premier Danny Williams attended the Black Eyed Peas concert in Mount Pearl back in September, accompanied by his daughters.

The hip-hop act was a big hit and Williams apparently loved the experience. He told The Telegram for its story on September 5:
Spotted among the crowd, Premier Danny Williams said he and his two daughters had a great time at the concert. He admitted that he was most excited to hear the Black Eyed Peas, adding that his favourite song by the pop group is My Humps, "I think it's because of my granddaughter, that's where I heard it for the first time," he said with a laugh. "She's disappointed because she starts school tomorrow and she couldn't make it."

My humps?

Some of the lyrics of Williams' favourite peas song:

What you gon' do with all that junk?
All that junk inside your trunk?
I'ma get, get, get, get, you drunk,
Get you love drunk off my hump.
My hump, my hump, my hump, my hump, my hump,
My hump, my hump, my hump, my lovely little lumps...

What you gon' do with all that junk?
All that junk inside that trunk?
I'ma get, get, get, get you drunk,
Get you love drunk off my hump.
What you gon' do with all that ass?
All that ass inside them jeans?
I'ma make, make, make, make you scream
Make you scream, make you scream.
What you gon' do with all that junk?
All that junk inside that trunk?
I'ma get, get, get, get you drunk,
Get you love drunk off this hump.
What you gon' do wit all that breast?
All that breast inside that shirt?
I'ma make, make, make, make you work
Make you work, work, make you work.
It's a ... well... ummm... an interesting choice, given that, as Williams said, he picked up the song from one of his granddaughters.

18 September 2006

Jerome, Lorraine and a player to be named later

CBC's provincial affairs reporter David Cochrane told Here and Now viewers this evening that prominent criminal defence lawyer Jerome Kennedy is considering seeking the Tory nod in the upcoming Signal Hill-Quidi Vidi by-election.

Oddly enough, Kennedy is the guy who got a settlement for Greg Parsons in his wrongful conviction case against government when the previous lead lawyer on the file - foreshadowing a seemingly endless string of similar negotiating failures - couldn't manage to close the deal.

Kennedy's name has been kicking around town for weeks as a possible contender. Also mentioned have been Valerie Marshall, daughter of former Tory cabinet minister and retired trials division judge Bill Marshall; Ian Carter, son of former Tory member of the House of Assembly John Carter; and, Karen Carroll who defeated Carter for the Tory nomination in 2003 and then lost to Jack Harris in the general election by what amounts to a handful of votes.

The New Democrats will be running their new leader, Lorraine Michael. She has been campaigning already alongside her predecessor and the current incumbent in the seat in the east end of St. John's. While Danny Williams likely has a lock on the seat, he still managed to whine and moan about Jack and Lorraine's stealing a page from Williams own playbook.

No one has come forward yet seeking the Liberal nomination. Simon Lono publicly declared today he isn't interested. The Liberals have also reportedly been courting George Murphy , a consumer gas prices activist.

The race will be interesting if only because Michael and Kennedy are newbies to the political realm. Michael hasn't shown any sign of a steel backbone and Kennedy, well, Kennedy is actually only thinking about running. He is being actively courted by Danny and company who seem a little desperate to secure a candidate. According to some versions of the story, Kennedy would be appointed to cabinet immediately on election; that's likely part of the price for getting a highly successful lawyer with no previously detectable political ambitions to abandon a successful practice and enter into Danny's confining world.

It doesn't really matter who gets their name on the Tory banner, though, since whoever it is will likely not be the campaign target for the other parties.

We'll discuss that in greater detail in the days and weeks ahead.

Shaggin' polls

Over the past couple of weeks, Bond Papers has been commenting on public opinion polls and especially on how those polls are described.

Last week, we specifically singled out some of the polls on the New Brunswick election, at least of which was touted as showing Bernard Lord's Progressive Conservatives in a significant lead over the Liberals. The polls were conducted in mid to late August.

Two polls taken in September - one by Corporate Research Associates and another by Bristol Group's Omnifacts - showed the racer as too close to call.

So what happened?

Absolutely nothing.

Both the August polls had margins of error of over four percentage points at the 95th confidence interval. What that means is that if you had conducted one hundred polls at the same time,using the same methodology, 95% of the results would have fallen either four points above or four points below the number shown in the poll actually reported.

It doesn't take a rocket scientist to notice that the total range of error in each instance is well above eight points. Therefore any gap between the respondents that is - say - eight points or less is functionally meaningless if you are trying to figure what is going on in the election.

Bristol/Omnifacts' poll in August showed the Liberals and the Conservatives seven points apart and a margin of error of 4.4%. Now think about that. The difference between the two parties was the better part of two full percentage points within the range of variation. (Range = 8.8%; difference = 7%)

Savvy readers - who are not rocket scientists - likely picked up on that and hopefully, some of the posts here on polling have helped people appreciate that simple thing.

Leaving aside the issues in conducting the polls themselves, we still have to wonder why the research company itself will report things as if this little issue with the margin of error didn't exist.

Like Corporate Research Associates.

In late August, CRA issued a news release saying that "[t]he ruling PCs lead the opposition Liberals in voter support at the beginning of the 2006 provincial election campaign...".

Simply put, that's a claim CRA couldn't make base don their own polling results. The question on Bernard Lord's personal popularity wouldn't really have given them an extra piece of information that helped interpret the party support number as they did. CRA showed a 10% difference between the Liberal and Conservative leaders, with Lord in the lead. But if you stop for a second, you realize that with an error range of 8.8%, a difference of 10% between two leaders isn't very much to go on. After all, drop Lord's figure by the margin of error and goose Liberal Shawn Graham by the same amount and you have the two of them respectively at 35.6% and 33.4%.

Now before the partisans start crawling out of the wood work, realize that the scenario just described is just as likely to describe the situation during the polling period as any other, within the margin of error range for the poll.

Pointing out the wide range of possible outcomes wouldn't support the main purpose of these media polls, though, and that's getting media attention to help market the research company itself. There's nothing unprofessional, unethical or anything else wrong with what's being reported by the companies. We just have to be slightly more sophisticated information consumers to avoid being misled on a simple point.

With all that behind us, it's more interesting to actually take a hard look at the Omnifacts poll results, released last Friday. Omnifacts tells us something that is both accurate - for their results - and also a good headline grabber, namely that going down to polling day, the election is neck and neck.

Omnifacts also tried to probe people who might be leaning in one direction or another. That helps trim down the self-described "undecideds".

Here are the questions, as asked:

1) If a provincial election were held today, which party would you most likely vote for?
2) If undecided or not sure, is there one party you are leaning toward?

Now let's take a look at some specific results. For the first question alone, Omnifacts got these answers (n=1,065):

PC 30%
Lib 29%
NDP 5%
Oth 1%
Und 27%
Ref 8%

It's a dead heat among decided voters. But look more closely. Undecideds are at 27% and another 8% flat-out refused to answer the question. Put another way, that means the single largest category the largest response category was among undecideds and "no answer."

The next table presented by Omnifacts just adds in those who were "undecided" but who claimed to be leaning one way or another. The PC's picked up another 16%, the Liberals 17% and the NDP 2%, although note in the news release, Omnifacts shows the margin of error on this data table (with "leaners" included) runs between 6% and 9%.

Holy gap, Code Man.

A week ago, someone trying to predict an election outcome based on reported poll results would have mistakenly assumed Bernard Lord would sweep back to power.

This week, the world seems to have changed dramatically.

Actually it hasn't. The poll results over the past four weeks or show have showed essentially the race is both very close and that a significant number of New Brunswickers were either genuinely unsure of how they would vote - if they would vote at all - or were unwilling to tip their hand.

Anyone who tried to predict seat counts based on goofy ideas like distributing the "undecideds" like the decideds or trying to blow them off as being people who wouldn't vote likely would have missed what is essentially the real story of the New Brunswick general election:

the voters will decide.

17 September 2006

The consistency of inconsistency

In February, 2006 Bond Papers suggested that the Williams administration should refuse development of the province's mineral resources unless every possible refinement and processing is done in the province.

That followed a more light-hearted post in January in which we uttered the cry that "not one isotopic teaspoon" of uranium should leave this province without being turned into energy and nuclear weapons.

The basis for the post was the insistence by Premier Danny Williams that Newfoundlanders and Labradorians get the full benefit of their resources. He blew off a multi-billion dollar deal on offshore oil on those grounds and since that deal collapsed in April, Williams has been pounding the Tobin "not one teaspoon" on every available surface.

There's even a section on this in the much-vaunted Williams Blue Book:
A strong mineral industry for the Province will be built on progressive legislation that will:

Require that ore concentrate be processed to a finished metal product in the Province where it is feasible to do so.

Link royalties and taxes to market prices and the extent of value- added activity undertaken in the Province.
Now anyone reading this has to bear in mind that the phrase "where it is feasible to do so" means simply where Danny says so. The financial and other logic against his posturing with the oil companies has fallen on the most plugged-up of deaf ears any premier of this province has ever worn.

But the Williams logic is spelled out in plain English in the Blue Book:
Our goal is to increase the activities associated with the processing of minerals in the Province and related business activities in the service and supply industries, such as construction, energy, engineering and environmental services, research and development, equipment parts and supplies, and financial and legal services.

That, of course, is merely an echo of the shouting Williams did about the Voisey's Bay deal with Inco that would allow ore to be shipped from the province until a commercial smelter/refinery can be built.

With that as background, it was surprising to read comments by natural resources minister Kathy Dunderdale on the need to allow prospectors and mine developers to do essentially what they need to do with ore once it is discovered.

Dunderdale told The Sunday Telegram:

Dunderdale says the province won'’t place processing restrictions on prospectors and mining companies because it would just drive them away. Dunderdale says new technologies — which allow prospectors to take additional small amounts of material out of mines previously thought to be stripped or to be economically unviable — have also attracted mining companies to the province in recent years. [Emphasis added]
That's right.

The provincial government will not be placing processing restrictions on mining companies since those restrictions will just drive prospectors to look somewhere else in the world. Incidentally, elsewhere in the story, the value of mineral shipments from the province was pegged at $2.8 billion annually.

This is a truly outstanding example of the ability of the Williams administration to apply one set of rules for one project or industry and an entirely different set of rules for another.

In Stephenville, Williams was willing to commit upwards of $180 million of taxpayers money to subsidize power for the now-defunct Abitibi mill in the west coast town. Only a short few months later, Williams has rejected the idea of an energy subsidy for the province's major fishing enterprise because if he did that, he would face similar requests from others.

Danny Williams seems to have a remarkable ability to shift positions to suit whatever particular whim strikes him. In the case of the mining industry, Dunderdale's comments are right but they are also equally applicable to a host of other economic developments which are currently in the slings as a direct result of her boss not following the same policy.

Williams' Animal Farm -like approach to government may make for good theatre, just as Orwell's book was a good read, but there may well be other layers of meaning and other layers of understanding that must be achieved before we fully appreciate the import of Dunderdale's comments to The Telegram.

All animals may be equal, but there may be some who are more equal than others.

16 September 2006

Cat fight!

Former political paramours Andy Wells and federal fish minister Loyola Hearn are locked in a bitch-slapping affray over Wells' allegations that Hearn misled the snarly mayor of St. John's over the likelihood that Danny Williams' new best bud would get appointed to the federal-provincial regulatory board for the province's offshore oil and gas fields.

The Telegram covers the story in fair detail this Saturday, using information supplied by Wells about some - just a handful - of the telephone calls made by Wells to two Conservative members of parliament in an effort to bull his considerable ego ability temper political experience into the non-political job at the Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board.

From February to July 2006, Wells made repeated phone calls to Norm Doyle and Loyola Hearn. On March 24, the week before Ruelokke was reportedly supposed to start work, Wells fired off a letter to Hearn asking what was going on.

Wells is accusing Hearn of misleading him about the prospects of Wells getting the job that pays considerably more than the $5,000 he will pocket in the part-time directors job Williams subsequently gave him on the offshore board.

Hearn insists he did no such thing.

Tory councilor Keith Coombs, a long-time supporter of Wells, is quoted by the Telly as supporting some of Wells' contentions.

The whole thing promises to sour relations between the St. John's city council and the province's federal cabinet representative. It should also make interesting the fight for Hearn's seat in the next federal election. Hearn's once-likely successor, Ed Byrne, is embroiled in a financial misappropriation scandal in the House of Assembly that could take two years or more to resolve.

Coombs, whose municipal seat falls partly Hearn's federal riding, may be looking at taking the leap to the political big leagues. By backing Wells, Coombs could count on support from Wells' election machinery and possibly from the Premier's personal posse.

The funny thing about the entire affair is that there never really was any chance Wells would ever get the job.

In July 2005, news leaked that Premier Danny Williams wanted to scuttle the search for a competition to fill the vacant position of president and chief executive officer at the board and stuff the acerbic municipal politician into the job instead. Paul Martin's Liberals made it clear Wells would not be their choice.

A subsequent three-person panel appointed jointly by the feds and Williams used criteria set by both parties and selected Max Ruelokke for the job over Wells.

Evidence presented in a subsequent court case brought by Ruelokke showed that Williams rejected an option that would have put Wells into the new job of full-time board chairman, opting instead for the process that eventually saw Ruelokke appointed and Williams fuming over his latest Homer Simpson moment.

In early 2006, the newly appointed Conservative government of Stephen Harper made it plain - and public - that they would be following the process set down by law and confirm Ruelokke's appointment.

Premier Danny Williams confirmed last week that he had tried to pressure the federal government into appointing Wells to the vice-chairman's job - reported by the telegram to be worth at least $157, 000 per year - but was turned down flat by the feds.

14 September 2006

Government by Fernando

To call Shelagh Rogers interview [audio link] on Wednesday with Danny Williams frothy would be an insult to the intellectual capacity of foam, but the half hour gab with the Premier of what Danny Williams likes to call Canada's "youngest and coolest province" was typical of the genre.

You know it all too well.

Normally seen on such brain-numbing fair as Entertainment Tonight, the celebrity interview features some gushing host interviewing someone famous for being famous. The celebrity is invariably either plugging his or her latest movie or reminiscing about past triumphs.

The Danny interview fell decidedly in the latter category although it was billed as being a chat about "how oil and gas development is affecting his home province, the confident new provincial psyche, and his need to keep taking on big battles for the sake of his province."

The exchange started off with the usual celebrity banter: Shelagh saying she was delighted Williams could join her and he replying that he was "honoured quite frankly" to be on the show. There was an obviously inside joke by Williams about seeing Anderson Cooper outside and early on Shelagh making an issue of asking if she could call him Danny.

Like all celebrity interviews there was not much meat in this. Williams quickly introduced his regular sound bites on a renewed sense of pride in the province since he took office and it wasn't too long before he brought up the offshore talks with Ottawa.

The interview was basically a chance for Williams to say what he wanted with an obviously enamoured interviewer whose awareness of what is going on in Newfoundland and Labrador could charitably be described as limited.

What he said for the entire 30 minutes was basically a series of sound bites, though: short phrases and key words Danny likes to use aside from the multitudinous variations on "quite frankly". Nothing of substance, no specific objectives, no vision interrupted his references to emotions or vague ideas like a renaissance among young people.

In the middle of the interview, not long after the references to Williams personal popularity came a discussion of the seal hunt. Shelagh played a clip from Williams' appearance on Larry King Live some months, framing the whole thing as Williams not being afraid of anyone, even one of the musical idols of his youth.

Williams made the news on Thursday for his comments that he would like to ban the hakapik from the hunt because the hooked club - used for killing seals - looks bad in pictures.

Because it looks bad.

If anyone is looking for the one word that describes Danny Williams' overwhelming obsession, it is "image".

The hakapik is to be banned because it looks bad, because it allows anti-seal hunt protesters to get visuals for their campaign. The substance of the issue is irrelevant.

Image is everything.

Never mind even that in this instance, the issue of the seal hunt and anti-seal hunt protesters is far from being the most serious issue affecting the province and people of Newfoundland and Labrador. This was the bit that drew the most specific comments and Williams' one concrete suggest that generated news coverage.

Get rid of the clubs because it doesn't look good.

As Williams talked about working to help rural Newfoundland he said little beyond the tinny words generated from his publicity assistants. But bring up an annual event that has become - if nothing else - a way for B List has-been actors to get their names and pictures on the tube and Williams is right there with an idea.

This is no accident, by the way. If Williams' publicist did not want him to talk of the seal hunt, she would have steered Rogers in another direction before booking the interview.

Williams wanted to talk about seals.

And as a result, we should think carefully on what this means. Only three years ago, we elected Williams with his promise of "jobs, jobs, jobs".

Now he has chosen to join the group of what Rex Murphy aptly described as "the endless file of soap-star intellects, preening starlets, sitcom revenants, small-screen action heroes and full-bore Hollywood poseurs who, over the years, have given an ounce of their time to drop by the ice-floes, park in front of a whitecoat, do the caring press conference and go back to whatever it was they were doing when they were not saving seals."

We might wonder the same thing.

What has Danny Williams been doing when he isn't saving sealers?

Perhaps lining up his next gig, a cable talk show called the Hide-away.

He'd be perfect for it.

Quite frankly, Danny certainly looks mahvelous.

- srbp -