31 October 2006

St. John's can take the hit

Danny Williams has been able to keep some of his problems as little more than pictures on a television screen. Problems in Harbour Breton and Stephenville, exacerbated by his own posturing and a failure to deliver on his promises, couldn't get media attention outside of the regions where the problems occurred.

Monday's job fair was different. The spectacle of 9000 people turning out in the capital city for the chance at a job in Alberta cannot be ignored. To the contrary, it has set tongues wagging across the northeast Avalon.

Simon Lono, at Offal News, has put this into perspective rather well.

The difference between this situation and Stephenville, for example, is more than the fact it is in town.

Unlike their cousins from the south and west coast of the island, these latest economic refugees are people looking for work in the oil industry. They are, in many cases people who were lined up to work on Hebron.

They are heading for Alberta, not because of Chinese competition or a shortage of resource or any of a host of other factors that could be blamed for problems in other industries.

No. These people are packing up the F-150 and heading west because of Danny Williams ' apparent belief that, in the words of Offal News, "we are better off awaiting a better offer in government royalties and equity."

Williams - perhaps channeling Marie Antoinette, instead of the usual e.e. cummings - put it another way: "St. John's can take the hit."

Maybe it can.

But that's not really the point.

Williams is under increasing pressure to produce something of substance and at every turn he seems to be genuinely incapable of delivering on anything. The latest on the list is the energy plan. The oft-used excuse for inaction - "we won't decide until we release the energy plan" - will now not arrive until 2007, the better part of two years behind schedule.

All of this will inevitably fuel the growing Quiet Revulsion.

On top of that political problem, Williams has an abysmal reputation with Ottawa. Danny Williams relationship with Stephen Harper is arguably worse than the relationship between any former premier and the corresponding prime minister. Clyde Wells and Brian Mulroney? They could sit and chat civilly if for no other reason than their disagreement - while deep-seated - was based on something other than one inviting the other to a meal and then publicly kicking him in the goolies just because it suited his personal political agenda.

Williams' problems do not stop there. He has also alienated a great many of his fellow first ministers. Jean Charest is merely the latest. Danny is surely off the Charest's Christmas card list Danny's intemperate and decidedly ignorant characterization of Quebec politics as volatile and unstable. Williams only compounded his initial insult by apologizing not for the remarks but that people felt offended at being told they were a threat to the country. By Williams own version, he could not apologize for simply stating fact.

No, the real question is not whether St. John's can take the economic hit from Williams' actions over Hebron.

With his self-induced economic and political problems and the growing Quiet Revulsion, the question remains whether Danny Williams will be able to withstand the political hit he is likely to take. Maybe not in Wednesday's by-election or even next year's general election.

but one day.


Something says St. John's can indeed take the hit.

But something also says the thin-skinned premier cannot.

Energy plan delayed until 2007; Lower Churchill prospects dimmer

Interviewed by Randy Simms on VOCM Open Line Tuesday, Premier Danny Williams said:

1. The Lower Churchill will be financed by Newfoundland and Labrador alone. Quebec's role will be as the energy transporter, with Ontario as a possible customer for the power.

Don't count on the project proceeding, at least not on terms that are financially favourable to Newfoundland and Labrador. The huge cost of the project, estimated at upwards of $9.0 billion, would effectively double the province's debt. If the province can even arrange financing - and that remains a big if - the terms might render the project financially unpalatable except to a government which has nothing else to offer as an economic development.

2. The energy plan is now delayed until Spring 2007. Originally promised by the end of 2006 and set to include the long-awaited natural gas royalty regime, Williams today said the plan will be out by the end of the year or early in the New Year.

Count on sometime in spring 2007. Williams is notoriously bad at meeting timeliness. He is typically six months or more off original time estimates.

As a result, we can count on even further delays - measured in years - for prospective development of offshore gas.

Refinery marginalia

Natural resources minister counted some chickens before they were hatched Monday with a statement anticipating construction of a second oil refinery in Newfoundland and Labrador.

As she put it:

The initial stages of the feasibility study on a second refinery for Placentia Bay determined that a new refinery can compete effectively throughout the Atlantic Basin marketplace and the proposed project is now in the final stages of that feasibility process
But a few paragraphs later comes this proviso:

A significant amount of work and analysis still needs to be done before a project of this type can be given the green light to proceed, but I am well aware of the tremendous economic spin offs of additional refinery capacity and I'm delighted with the progress to date.
Government "news" releases are always good at keeping us abreast of crucial developments, like progress reports on a minister's mental well-being. It is vital to know that the minister is "delighted".

Let's take a closer look at the project and forget Dunderdale's mental state.

The first quote is lifted almost word-for-word from Newfoundland and Labrador Refining's release from late September, to wit:

The initial economic analysis completed in Stage One of the feasibility study determined that a new refinery in Placentia Bay can compete effectively throughout the Atlantic Basin marketplace...
But, as Bond Papers has already noted, the sanction for this project will come only if the third stage of the feasibility study - not due until the end of the year. As well, a recent announcement by Irving that it will build a second refinery at Saint John, next to its existing 250,000 barrel per day facility puts a crimp in the economics of the second refinery in Newfoundland and Labrador.

When asked about the impact of the Saint John expansion, Brian Dalton, spokesperson for NL Refining said that the site in Placentia Bay was excellent. Unfortunately for Dalton, site won't be the determining factor in whether or not he and his partners go ahead with the multi-billion dollar project.

Site, in this instance, is like Dunderdale's enthusiasm for the spinoff benefits. That won't matter either when it comes to the business decision of investing in a greenfield project in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Curiously, the project is registered with the provincial environment department, een before project sanction has been achieved. There is still no sign of the project on the federal government's environmental assessment registry.

There are a couple of interesting points to note in the provincial environmental department's description of the project:

2) Southern Head (Placentia Bay) Oil Refinery Project
Proponent: Newfoundland and Labrador Refining Corporation (Reg. 1301)

The proponent proposes to construct an oil refinery at Southern Head, between North Harbour and Come by Chance, at the head of Placentia Bay. The oil refinery is proposed to have an initial production capacity of 300,000 barrels per day with the option to expand to 600,000 barrels per day. Primary products of the oil refinery would be gasoline, kerosene/jet fuel, ultra-low sulphur diesel and refining by-products. Infrastructure required would include process facilities, marine terminal, crude and product storage tanks, access road and utilities. Construction will take approximately three years to complete and production is planned to begin in late 2010 or early 2011. The undertaking was registered on October 25, 2006; public comments are due by December 4, 2006; and the minister's decision is due by December 9, 2006.

1. The proposed refinery will handle heavy sour crude. Historically that type of refinery is the one with the lowest margins and hence is one of the most difficult to make a solid profit on in the long haul.

Come by Chance works because the thing was built and paid off decades ago. Because of the low margins, refineries have typically been built close to market to lower transportation costs.

Come by Chance processes imported crude, mainly from Iraq, largely because Vitol has been able to acquire feedstock at good prices.

Currently all Newfoundland and Labrador crude production is light, sweet. Hebron is a heavy sour field but it will likely not be in production before 2015 at the earliest. Thus, the proposed refinery is likely built on the assumption that it will use imported crude.

2. The planned start of operation is obviously an estimate, contingent on completion of the feasibility process. No one should be getting their knickers in a bunch that Arnold's Cove is about to become the second Calgary.

3. This would be a honkin' big refinery. The Saint John project is estimated to be 300,000 barrels per day. The proposal calls for a refinery project that would ultimately equal the output of both Saint John's existing and planned refineries.

4. Without detailed information on the proposed refinery, it will be extremely difficult to assess for environmental impact of this very large refinery within the very short timeframe provided by the provincial government.

Ruelokke takes helm of offshore board

Following is the text of the official announcement on Monday from federal natural resources minister Gary Lunn on the appointment of Max Ruelokke as chairman and chief executive officer of the Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board. Lunn also announced the appointment of Fred Way as vice-chairman.

Compare the text that follows with the tiny release issued by the provincial government on Friday at 5:10 pm.
Such is the abysmal state of federal-provincial relations that Ottawa and St. John's could not even get together on such a simple thing as a joint news release announcing a joint appointment to a joint board.

Appointments at the Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board

OTTAWA - The Honourable Gary Lunn, Minister of Natural Resources, today announced the appointment of the Chair and CEO, and of the Vice-Chair, of the Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board (CNLOPB). Mr. Max Ruelokke will hold the Chair and CEO position, and Mr. Fred Way, has been appointed the Vice-Chair.

The announcement follows the July 25, 2005, request by the Government of Canada for the establishment of a panel to select a Chair and CEO, and Vice-Chair, for the CNLOPB.

"Mr. Ruelokke brings a wealth of experience and expertise to the CNLOPB, which will benefit the organization greatly. Mr. Way will serve the Board well given his past work both as Vice-Chair and as Acting Chair and CEO," said Minister Lunn. "I am confident that both of these very accomplished individuals will be able to address and act on key issues that are important to the province and industry."

Mr. Ruelokke was born in Grand Bank, Newfoundland, and has more than 35 years of experience in offshore shipbuilding and support services, engineering design and construction. He has held a number of senior executive positions in industry, most recently serving as General Manager, East Coast Canada, for AMEC Oil and Gas. Mr. Ruelokke also served the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador, first as Assistant Deputy Minister (1993 - 94) and then as Deputy Minister (1996 - 98) of the Department of Industry, Trade and Technology.

A member of the Association of Professional Engineers and Geoscientists of Newfoundland, Mr. Ruelokke received his Engineering Diploma in 1966 and a Bachelor of Civil Engineering in 1968, both from Memorial University in St. John's.

Mr. Way was appointed Vice-Chair of the CNLOPB in 1999, and served as Acting Chairman and Chief Executive Officer from May 2004 to October 2006. He had a distinguished career with the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador and served as Deputy Minister for the Department of Mines and Energy with the provincial government from 1996 to 1998.

Mr. Way obtained a Bachelor of Arts (Economics) in 1971 from Memorial University of Newfoundland and continued with part-time graduate studies in Economics at Memorial University between 1972 and 1974.

The CNLOPB manages the petroleum resources in the Newfoundland and Labrador offshore area on behalf of the governments of Canada, and Newfoundland and Labrador. The Board's authority is derived from legislation implementing the 1985 Atlantic Accord between the two governments.

30 October 2006

Ignatieff's (and Harper's) folly

From Lysiane Gagnon's column in the Monday Globe:

The irony is that the Liberal Party really won't even benefit from its demagogic U-turn on the national unity file. The Quebec-wing resolution didn't pass the test of Quebec's political class and the overbidding has already started. Many nationalist commentators, including Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Benoit Pelletier, insisted that the only valid recognition of Quebec as a nation should be constitutional. Others said that a "symbolic" constitutional recognition wouldn't be enough if it didn't provide for more powers for the province and explicitly recognize Quebec's "right to self-determination."

As Montreal Gazette columnist Don Macpherson wrote, "even before the federal Liberal convention tears itself apart over the offers [of recognizing Quebec as a nation], Quebec has already rejected them."

Federalists should stop obsessing about the threat of another referendum on sovereignty. First, it's far from sure that there will even be one. Second, if the sovereigntist movement ever grew strong enough to convince a majority of Quebeckers to break away from Canada, it is not a token recognition of their "nation" that would stop the tide.

Iggy's supporters can take Bond Papers off their e-mail lists and his local supporters can stop calling trying to get me to buy a ticket to a luncheon or a breakfast with a guy i have already written off as being the very last person who should ever hold the job of leading the Liberal Party of Canada.

Ignatieff's folly - like that of the Prime Minister during the last election - in playing the Quebec nationalist card should be enough to discount him from further serious contention.

Mad rock?

"'Mad Rock'... I think that's probably my nickname in Ottawa these days," Williams chuckled Thursday in a speech at a conference of maritime emergency officials.

That's from a CTV story on Danny Williams replacing Ralph Klein as Canada's most outspoken first minister.

Word from Ottawa is that while Williams is regarded being a bit out-of-plumb by some at the highest levels of the federal government, his nickname is a bit more earthy:

Danny "F***ing" Williams.

29 October 2006

Defence round-up - Afghanistan

1. Al Queda document contains threats to Canada.

Translated by the SITE Institute, the document states, in part: "They will either be forced to withdraw their forces or face an operation similar to New York, Madrid, London and their sisters, with the help of Allah."

Canada is described as having a fanatical adherence to Christianity.

2. New navy helicopters to have troop-lift capability.

Canadian Press is reporting a change to the specs for Canada's new shipborne helicopters. The Sikorsky S-92 variants will enter service in 2009. The change will allow the helicopters to be converted rapidly to carry soldiers.

Chief of Defence Staff General Rick Hillier describes the change as being related to potential use from an amphibious assault ship being acquired for the navy.

3. TF 1-07 drug testing allegedly showed 16-18% used illegal substances; Army questions news reports.

While defence officials are neither confirming nor denying the reports, some news media are reporting that 16-18% of urine samples taken from soldiers currently training for the next rotation to Afghanistan have tested positive for traces of illegal drugs, including amphetamines ("speed"), heroine and marijuana.

4. Roadside blast kills NATO soldier.

One NATO soldier was killed and eight wounded in a roadside blast on Sunday in Afghanistan.

5. NATO change of command.

On Wednesday, Canada will relinquish command of the NATO forces in the Kandahar region to the Netherlands.

6. Canadians continue reconstruction/humanitarian missions in Afghanistan.

The officer pictured is Captain Dave Muralt from the Provincial Reconstruction Team.

At one point, Captain Muralt was the public affairs officer at 5 Wing, Goose Bay.

Also mentioned in the story linked above is Captain Howard Chafe, possibly the same Howard Chafe from St. John's who served with the Royal Newfoundland Regiment and, among other things, hosted a radio program aimed at local civilians during a tour in Bosnia. It wouldn't be surprising for that Howard Chafe to turn up in Afghanistan with the PRT.

How many Howard Chafes can there be in the army?

27 October 2006

What exactly do we mean by "nation"?

There is always a risk that discussion of national unity or federal-provincial power distribution will cause rampant insomnia, or as with others, a debilitating case of apoplexy.

[Left: At the thought of yet another constitutional debate, Canadians' heads started to explode.]

This is the risk we took yesterday in suggesting people take a gander at Andrew Coyne's column in the National Post.

The risk is well worth it, though, especially when Michael Ignatieff's comments have earned praise from no less a sovereignist than former Quebec Premier Bernard Landry. Landry welcomed Ignatieff's proposal to recognize that Quebec is a nation and then proceeded, as reported by CBC Radio, to point out that it is only logical to wonder why a nation - which as a nation Landry equated in French interviews to sovereign states - would have the same political powers within Canada as Prince Edward Island.

Landry has also been quoted extensively by French language media on the same issue.

[Photo right: La Presse. For a moment, Bernard couldn't remember which finger he needed to raise to Canada.]

To further the discussion, following is the column by Stephane Dion published in the National Post on Thursday, October 26.

Dion will undoubtedly raise the ire of a great many of the local landrys but then again that is a risk we shall have to take. It's either this, Slim Whitman recordings or an mp3 loop of Danny's dirge.

Either will cause the brain of your average sovereignist to pop.

What, exactly, do we mean by "nation"?

Stephane Dion
National Post
October 26, 2006

Before entering politics, more than 10 years ago, I maintained that we Quebecers could be described as forming a nation, in the civic and sociological sense of the term. Last Saturday, however, I voted against the resolution put forward by the Quebec wing of the Liberal Party of Canada calling for the party to undertake the necessary steps toward a formal recognition of Quebec as a nation.

Before we ask other Canadians to support such a formal recognition (in the constitution, no doubt) we should first of all determine what we expect from such a recognition. Hiding behind the apparent consensus in Quebec on this question are at least three disagreements.

- First question: Are Quebecers the only nation to be recognized within Canada, or will we accept that other groups, heartened by our example, be given the same recognition? Will the pressure exercised by an undetermined number of groups in Canada, including groups in Quebec, to be recognized as nations lead us to conclude that our own national recognition has been trivialized or diluted?

- Second question: Is this recognition necessary or is it merely desirable? Those who say it is necessary must follow their reasoning to its conclusion: If we Quebecers do not obtain this recognition then we must leave Canada. Indeed, one cannot live without something that is necessary.

Those who say that, on the contrary, this recognition would only be a good thing to obtain should not place it at the heart of the Canadian unity debate. You do not break up a country on account of something that is good but not necessary.

- Third question: Do we want this recognition to be purely symbolic or do we want it to lead to concrete consequences on, say, the division of powers or the allocation of public funds? And how does this approach square with the previous question? It is contradictory to affirm that the recognition of Quebec as a nation is necessary but purely symbolic. But that is the untenable position Michael Ignatieff has decided to advocate. Gilles Duceppe, the Bloc Quebecois leader, and Claude Morin, the former PQ minister, have already responded that if the recognition of Quebec as a nation in Canada is important then it must bring about "something" beyond symbolism.

We've seen this movie three times already. First it was the debate on the constitutional recognition of Quebec as a "distinct society" contained in the Meech and Charlottetown accords. Then came the Calgary Declaration, a 1997 episode which few people remember. The premiers of the other provinces tried to define, for us Quebecers, the type of recognition we wanted. They had their legislatures adopt a declaration that recognized "the unique character of Quebec society." When the declaration landed in Quebec, the province's political class rejected it, stating that this recognition "had no teeth."

So, here is my position: I am proud to belong to the Quebec nation within Canada. The constitutional recognition of such a fact, although desirable, is not necessary because nothing prevents us Quebecers from participating and succeeding in this great endeavour that is Canada, a country we have contributed so much to building.

Nothing can justify our renouncing our Canadian identity. Such a rupture would be a tragedy, for ourselves, our children and future generations. We should not be encouraged to make such a mistake on the basis of a recognition that is desirable but not necessary. That is my position and I am more than willing to debate it because I do not underestimate the importance of symbols and recognition. But I do not believe that we should ask other Canadians for such a recognition until we have clarified what we are hoping to obtain from it.

Although it is an important one, I do not believe this debate is the most important thing we can do to improve Quebec and Canada as a whole. For me, the main priority by far is to ensure Canada is part of the solution, not the problem, to the crucial challenge of the 21st century: how to reconcile humanity with the ecological limits of the planet. That is the vision and the plan of action I am proposing to Canadians in order to combine the three pillars of our success: economic prosperity, social justice and environmental sustainability.

Quebecers have better things to do than to see this movie for a fourth time. We should mobilize ourselves to make our country a pathfinder in the 21st century. Let's contribute all our talents, energies and our own culture, as we have always done in the past, when we have had to respond with other Canadians to great challenges.

26 October 2006

Thursday threesome

The Michael J. Fox television spots supporting candidates in the American-terms have garnered a ton of media attention in addition to the impact the spots are likely having in the markets where they are being shown as paid ads.

Offal News has already taken a look at one of them and we linked to it earlier.

There are actually three, each one superbly lit, produced, written an performed. Take a look at all three. Notice, among other things that the core message is the same in all three but the way the message is communicated is radically different. They are quiet and relatively low-key, compared to the negative stuff that is almost cliche.

The Missouri spot is pitched very locally to a state full of independently-minded people.

The Maryland spot is another matter, appealing more generally to voters. It ends with a "respectful" call to action.

The Wisconsin gubernatorial spot starts by connecting with local pride: "Wisconsin holds a special place in my heart..."

Notice, as well, that Fox makes some very specific statements intended to counteract Republican attacks pre-emptively. He also links stem cell research to a variety of medical conditions other than his own Parkinsons.

No wonder the Republicans are literally screaming invective and personal hatred at Fox. These spots are compelling. In states where the races are tight, Fox might tip the balance in favour of the Democrats. In other states - even ones not targeted by Fox - the GOP candidates are having severe troubles with voter anger over everything from scandals involving Republican politicians to the war in what some American reporters call "Eye-raq". Given the buzz around these spots, Fox could tip the balance in races other than the ones he has specifcally helped.

Claire McCaskill (D), Missouri senate race

Ben Cardin (D), Maryland senate race

Jim Doyle (D), Wisconsin gubernatorial race

Two to watch Thursdays

Check out the latest from Offal News on political advertising, specifically on Michael J. Fox's 30 in support of a candidate in a Missouri senate race.

Simon gives an excellent overview of the spot and on the basic idea of political advertising, but here's a little thing for you to notice.

How do Missourians pronounce the name of their state? Mike took the time to get it right. All politics is indeed local.

On a totally different topic, there's Andrew Coyne's observations on Michael Ignatieff and his proposal to recognize Quebec as a nation. Take the time to read the whole thing.

And when you're done - those of you who live in the Secret Nation, that is - ponder how much of what Coyne says about Quebec applies equally to the pretentions of some of our local politicians, old and new.

25 October 2006

Williams' PCs only 3 points ahead of Rideout's PCs 17 years later

[Revised: corrected poll numbers; image added]

Despite record high public approval ratings and Danny Williams' strong personal popularity, voter support for the Progressive Conservative party in the province remains only three points above the PC party standings in the 1989 general election or on par with the 2003 general election.

That's one of the conclusions from an assessment of the most recent polling results in Newfoundland and Labrador by NTV/Telelink and Corporate Research Associates.

Bond Papers has already questioned the usefulness of media polls, but leaving aside possible issues of sampling methodology and the limited information gleaned from the polls, some conclusions leap up that do not coincide with media reports, Williams' own interpretation and the assessments of the pollsters themselves.

NTV/Telelink surveyed 1,109 voters in Newfoundland and Labrador. In August, CRA polled 412 voters. The comparison results are provided below, adjusted to reflect percentages of total. CRAs results were reported as a percentage of decided voters on the party support question. Margin of error for NTV/Telelink was given as plus or minus 2.9% at the 95th confidence interval while the comparable figure for CRA was 4.8%.

Party Support (NTV/CRA)

PCP 51.1/59.86
LIB 17.3/14.76
NDP 07.5/05.74
Not vote 02.3/01.64
UND 21.7/18.0

n = 1109/412

Both polls showed satisfaction with the Williams administration at approximately 84%. Approximately 74% selected Williams as best choice for premier in both polls.

The Progressive Conservatives under Tom Rideout [left] received 48% of the popular vote, while still going down to defeat in 1989. Danny Williams' Progressive Conservatives received 58.72% of the popular vote in 2003, with 33.19% voting Liberal.

Danny Williams' recent attacks on Ottawa, launched at the party convention in Gander on 14 October coincided with the NTV/Telelink polling period.

NTV characterized the Progressive Conservatives' popularity as rising since a low point in 2004 after a public sector strike. While that is true - relatively speaking - no explanation has been offered as to why the overwhelming satisfaction with the government and with Williams as premier hasn't translated into equally phenomenal voter support.

While CRA has typically been quick to dismiss undecideds as being irrelevant, the results of both the CRA and NTV polls suggest the undecideds are comprised mainly of traditional Liberal supporters who may be dissatisfied with the current state of the party. This is only a possible explanation since neither poll provides any data on the undecideds except that they did not indicate a voting choice.

Speculation that Danny Williams' party might sweep the election in 2003 is also not founded on past performance with comparable voter choices. In 2003, Williams won 34 seats of the 48 seat legislature with 59% of the popular vote. Liberal Clyde Wells won the same number of seats in a 52 seat legislature in 1989 with 47% of the popular vote. Media polls do not provide any reliable geographical data to allow seat-by-seat projections.

24 October 2006

Williams flip flops on INCO; blusters with IOC

Danny Williams continued Tuesday with his efforts to brand the province as an erratic and unpredictable place to do business with comments on Iron Ore Company of Canada and INCO's operation at Voisey's Bay.

INCO's new owners - the Brazilian Companhia Vale do Rio Doce - said Tuesday it plans to speed up development of the Voisey's Bay mine. Williams said he favours the accelerated pace of development which would see the company increase its exports of partially processed ore outside the province, something Williams had previously criticized.

On October 19, Williams expressed concern that INCO would never build a smelter-refinery complex at Long Harbour. Williams offered no explanation for his fears which fly in the face of the precise wording of the development agreement with the provincial government and commitments from both INCO and INCO's new owners.

Williams himself had tried to slow INCO's efforts to relocate the smelter project to Long Harbour from the initially proposed site at Argentia. Williams tried to get the federal government to accept an unlimited liability at the Argentia site, something the Harper administration flatly refused.

Williams sudden support for rapid development at Voisey's Bay may be his way of off-setting losses from the failed Hebron agreement in April 2006. Despite his public comments that the Voisey's Bay deal was riddled with loopholes, Williams may be signaling that accelerated exploitation of Voisey's Bay - with or without a smelter-refinery - would produce increased revenue for the provincial treasury.

Voisey's Bay resource revenues would also net Williams a gain under Prime Minister Stephen Harper's proposed equalization reforms. Again despite Williams public criticism of Harper, the proposed reforms would actually improve the province's Equalization take by hiding half of Voisey's Bay revenue from the Equalization formula. Currently, non-renewable resources from projects such as the Labrador nickel mine are fully counted in determining Equalization entitlements.

In other developments, the Premier rejected out-of-hand a proposal by Iron Ore Company of Canada that the province continue to supply the Labrador West iron ore mines with low-cost energy. Williams likened the proposal to the Upper Churchill contract; the 1969 agreement that guarantees low-cost power to Hydro-Quebec is a favourite bogeyman for Williams.

In comments to The Telegram, Williams also raised another favourite bogeyman noting that:

It would be premature to jump out in front of that and lock in to a half-cent energy price so that every single person that comes to the province, if they don't get a half-cent power, they're going to walk away
Williams said the same thing immediately before offering Abitibi Consolidated a power subsidy larger than the provincial treasury's annual tax haul from the former papermakinoperationon at Stephenville. He also rejected out of hand an energy subsidy for Fishery Products International before committing $10 million annually to help keep power costs at the province's remaining papermaking mills lower.

With IOC, though, Williams may be running against a legal issue that may tax the limits of Premier's legal abilities as have several other recent cases.

The Twin Falls plant provided power to Wabush Mines and IOC's operations in western Labrador. The project was developed by BRINCO in partnership with IOC and Wabush Mines. It supplied power to the Upper Churchill construction project but was closed in order to increase efficiency of the larger hydro-electric project.

According to Philip Smith (1975), IOC and Wabush Mines - as partners in Twin Falls Power Corporation with Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro - committed "to take or pay for 280,000 horsepower at a price that averaged to 4.32 mills per kilowatt-hour." Any horsepower above that would cost 2 mills. Discussions on the cost of added power for an expansion in the early 1970s proved to be acrimonious.

Nonetheless, IOC and Wabush Mines have a baseline entitlement to 225 megawatts of power from the Upper Churchill project. That's the capacity of the now-moth-balled facility at Twin falls. The companies could also rightfully expect to see additional power at favourable rategivenne that they voluntarily agreed to shut Twin Falls in order to improve the capacity at Churchill Falls.

Where this will come out, no one can say. However, it is pretty clear that Danny Williams has decided to brand the province as a place where doing business has to be as difficult as it can be.

What he said...about Voisey's Bay

The only thing wrong with this post at Offal News - that's the right the one thing wrong - is that there is no picture of Tom Rideout in the godforsaken toque.

Otherwise, Simon Lono is spot-on...yet again.

23 October 2006

MacKay announces Canadian troupe deployment

Foreign affairs minister Peter MacKay announced today that Canada will join other NATO countries in a troupe deployment to Afghanistan.

MacKay whose department title is no reference to his reported romantic entanglement with the American Secretary of State, said that Canada will send Cirque to Soleil to Kandahar province as part of a new effort to bring peace and stability to the central Asian nation.

"This is a deployment of troupes that is involved in interesting and important work to provide security for the development of the work that is undertaken," said MacKay.

MacKay said that in addition to the world-renowned acrobatic group, Canada will deploy the Royal Canadian Air Farce (left). The Air Farce will provide cover for the Cirque, bombing Taliban with boring sketches, semi-racist impersonations of "newfies" and a laugh track that remains the only cue to when something funny is being said.

Sources close to the defence department said that Canada rejected a short-term deployment of Trailer Park Boys fearing that the threesome would actually improve Afghan poppy and heroin production.

In related news, Britain said today it would be sending the cast of Ab Fab, the complete collection of "Are you being served?" DVDs and a Punch and Judy show from Basingstoke as part of the entertainers campaign. France is sending the road company of La cage aux folles, while Italy is sending its entire parliament as part of NATO's humour offensive in the remote mountains southeast of Kandahar.

While not officially part of NATO, Australia is said to be considering a deployment of Dame Edna.

In Brussels, senior NATO officials informally requested that Canada check the availability of Newfoundland and Labrador fish minister Tom Rideout (right). NATO planners were impressed with the gales of laughter created by Rideout's recent "fact-finding" tour of European capitals.

A senior NATO officer (left) who spoke on condition of anonymity said: "If this chap could put the Russkies into the fits, he would be devastating anywhere else.

"Put a funny hat on him, you likely would have a sort of political neutron bomb: all coherent thought would be impossible."

The war with Ottawa

With less than a year before the next provincial election, Danny Williams has declared war on Ottawa.

The anti-politician, the guy who bills himself as bringing a New Approach to politics, is relying on the oldest of old provincial political ploys to pump up his already strong popular support.

When all else fails declare war on the evil occupying government called Ottawa.

Now before anyone starts pointing to the tradition in Newfoundland and Labrador since Confederation, let's make it clear. Smallwood rowed with Ottawa over Term 29 in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Most of the time though, Smallwood had a pretty good relationship with the feds. Ditto Frank Moores..

Even Peckford has his good moments, but he was the first guy who made fighting Ottawa part of his strategic plan.

Clyde Wells had his share of disagreements but he also agreed with the feds on many files. Tobin did too. Roger grimes tried to make Ottawa the evil demon of his dreams, but it took Danny Williams to bring the demagogic rhetoric to Peckfordian levels and garner his tremendous political success solely as a result of fighting with foreigners.

Heck, Williams has raised suspicion of outsiders to an artform. Right now, Danny Williams is vying with Enver Hoxha for Xenophobe of the Century.

[Historical sidebar: Aficionados of dictatorship will recall Hoxha is the guy who pulled a pistol from his desk drawer one day during a meeting with a political rival and shot the guy dead on the spot. The official story is that Mehmet Shehu committed suicide. A lifelong Stalinist, Hoxha was a big fan of state control of everything.]

That said, there is nothing like a war with Ottawa to get the juices flowing in some people, especially the crowd on radio call-in shows who are Williams' key demographic. It can be pretty smart politics for the short-term, but there are more and more people who are privately questioning the Dan-trum approach to life.

In the week and a bit since the Premier kicked the prime Minister squarely in the goolies for something Stephen Harper hasn't even done yet, Williams' administration has issued anti-Ottawa news releases like the following:

1. October 23, 2006: Federal Government to Eliminate Workplace Equity Office Service to be Delivered From Montreal
In a decision that will have a negative impact on some of this country's most vulnerable people and regions, the federal government is closing the Workplace Equity Office in Newfoundland and Labrador and moving the service to Montreal. Offices will also be shut down in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick.

"This latest salvo from the federal government tells me very clearly that this government appears to have little appreciation for the struggles of women, people with disabilities, visible minorities and Aboriginal people to gain an equal foothold in society," said The Honourable Joan Burke, Minister Responsible for the Status of Women and Minister of Education.
2. October 18, 2006: Ottawa denies request for indemnity for INCO

The federal government has denied the province's request for indemnity for Inco to allow for construction of a commercial processing facility to proceed at Argentia.

"We have taken every reasonable step to ensure that the facility remains in Argentia," said the Honourable Kathy Dunderdale, Minister of Natural Resources. "However, with this latest refusal of the federal government to provide the company with an indemnity, it appears as though we have limited options available."

3. October 17, 2006: National Person's Day Emphasizes Need for Federal Government to Rethink Funding Cuts

"This is an opportune time for the federal government to reflect on their recent decision to cut funding to Status of Women Canada and for women and men in our province and across Canada to send a strong message to Ottawa that these cuts and the elimination of funding for advocacy work may be detrimental to advancing women's issues."

Can you hear me now?

A fire at the local telephone headquarters knocked out internet, telephone, cellular and banking services in Newfoundland and Labrador last Friday night.

The official time is being given as 22:20 hours (10:20 pm) but your humble e-scribbler had it pegged earlier, like say around 22:05. That's when he noticed downloads slowing.

The whole incident points up some problems that need to be addressed.

For example, the back-up systems didn't cut in and it took the service provider about six hours to get most functionality restored.

That shouldn't happen.

For a second example, consider that provincial emergency management boss Fred Hollett was in Port aux Basques on the province's west coast and had to dial 911 from his hotel room to get police headquarters in Corner Brook.

Why couldn't he just go to the local emergency headquarters, like say the fire department, and contact the outside world from their comms system?

For a third f'rinstance, Aliant isn't the only service provider. Did their problem effectively take everyone else out as well?

If the answer is yes, then Al Queda will take note, let alone the local chapter of the Fogo Liberation Front.

All of this will no doubt distract Hollett from another glaring shortcoming of his emergency response system: the complete lack of a province-wide emergency response strategic plan.

So far that one has taken the five years since 9/11 and counting.

Still no plan.

Not since Normandy

Canadian Forces will be moving people out of their existing occupations and into the infantry in an effort to relieve the pressure of rotations in Afghanistan.

The process- known as re-roling - is expected to provide extra soldiers so that the time frame between return deployments to Afghanistan will be longer than six months.

Two quick observations:

1. This is the first time since Normandy that a shortage of recruits has led to stuffing people from other military trades into the infantry. Back then the problem was caused by a combination of heavy casualties and a shortage of recruits. In this instance it is caused by a shortage of recruits.

2. This leads to the second observation, namely that the Conservative's promise in the last election to put battalions in every nook and cranny of the country was - as Bond Papers said at the time - sheer bunk.

Goose Bay take note.

3. As a last point, people should also notice that the move to re-roling also sends a powerful message about the current state of the reserve force and/or the federal government's unwillingness to use its legal powers to draw on more reserve soldiers to fulfill its military obligations.

Everyone take note of that one.

22 October 2006

You are Sir Charles Phantom, the notorious Litton

From the "Not my dog" department, comes this example of Peter MacKay [Left, not exactly as illustrated] and his fractured French recently in the House of Commons.

The foreign affairs minister apparently couldn't grasp the meaning of a question from Bloq Quebecois member Vivian Barbot.

Hilarity ensued.

Mrs. Vivian Barbot (Papineau, BQ):

Mr. Speaker, the Minister of Canadian Heritage answered with a firm "no" when asked if cuts had been made to theatre and dance troupes. Yet, those troupes are telling us otherwise, that they have in fact suffered cuts.

Will the Minister of Foreign Affairs please tell us whether or not cuts have been made to these troupes?


Hon. Peter MacKay (Minister of Foreign Affairs and Minister of the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency, CPC):

Mr. Speaker, obviously, we are involved in this with 36 other countries. This is a deployment of troops that is involved in interesting and important work to provide security for the development of the work that is undertaken. If the member wants to be a little more specific, perhaps she could provide us with that information.


Mr. Maka Kotto (Saint-Lambert, BQ):

Mr. Speaker, the question was not about military troops. It was about theatre, dance and music troupes.

I ask the question again: will the cuts to the public diplomacy fund affect the international tours of dance, music and theatre troupes, yes or no?


Thank Heavens no one asked about minkeys.

You know, the Chimpanzee minkeys.

Or the behms.

The exploding kind of behms.

Sunday morning excursion

When I was a kid, the Sunday drive was a big thing. We'd pile in the car and off Dad would drive us to this spot or that spot on what was - at the time - relatively new roadways.

Readers will recall that until 1965 there wasn't a road completely connecting one end of the island to the other. Communities on the coast were not similarly connected to a main road if not to each other. In Labrador, the situation remains for mani communities on the coast.

So on this rainy Sunday in October, let's take a virtual Sunday drive and see what's out there to see.

1. Speaking of Labrador, let's stop in the blog-realm of Wally Maclean. His blog, labradore, has been around since last year and it remains one of the places to find biting, insightful commentary on goings-on related to Labrador.

As an example, take his post on the most cabinet shuffle and the ministry of Business, comparing the whole thing to Underpants Gnomes.

2. Offal News, run by Simon Lono, remains an other favourite stop on the road. Check out his latest series of posts on the Premier's conflict of interest in appointing the guy running his private business to a major position.

3. Peter Gullage did an excellent short piece on the Great War battle at Gueudecourt in time for the October 12th 90th anniversary. Stop here at Veterans' Affairs for the description fot eh battle and the memorial there. It features a genuine - and long recognized - symbol of who we are as a people.

4. On a similar theme, check out the website for Clint Eastwood's latest movie, Flags of our fathers. This one is typical of Clint's more recent films. It takes a well-known subject - in this case the famous World War 2 Iwo Jima flag-raising picture - and gives another take on an otherwise familiar story. Lean and intense, the movie may not be everyone's idea of a night at the cinema. Go. You'll be rewarded by one of the finest movie-makers around.

5. Flip through the website for Flags and you'll see a picture of an extra, playing a press photographer. The flashbulbs apparently cost $15 a go and this guy set of 23 of them during the filming of his scenes.

For current-day news shooters, check out this website, for the eastern Canada news photographers association.

6. There are many ways to picture something. Being an inveterate scribbler, my preferred way is with language.

Check out this website featuring some review for CBC's own Ramona Dearing and So beautiful, her anthology of short stories. Not surprising Ramona is a writer since her work in radio often requires her to draw pictures with sound and words.

Musical interlude

Music has always been a big part of my life.

On my father's side of the family, just about everyone played an instrument. Dad played with the Royal Newfoundland Regiment band for 30 years. His uncles and grandfather played in bands all over St. John's.

At left is your humble e-scribbler taken during the intermission of a performance last week in Grand Falls-Windsor. [Photo: Ron Collins] The Gower Community Band took it on the road as part of our 10th anniversary celebrations. One of the highlights was the first performance of a new piece by Mike Carroll, but more on that in another post.

Just to give you a sense of how deep the musical roots run, take a look at the photo (right) of a Salvation Army band in St. John's, circa 1911.

The band in question is from the Livingstone Street corps, known the Citadel. The mustachioed gent, seated at the extreme left, is my great-grandfather, Thomas Pike. The instrument at his feet is a baritone, similar to a euphonium. There are other pictures from later on when great-grandfather directed the band and his sons and future sons-in-law were playing in it.

20 October 2006

Money helps

Advertising and even public relations have a reputation for costing big bucks.

While most times that doesn't have to be true, there are times when money makes all the difference.

Take the Sony campaign for its new high-definition LCD television, Bravia. Sony gained attention with an expensive campaign built around the use of coloured balls as a way of showing the sharp picture and dynamic, brilliant colours its new television displays. Here's the copy from the website:
When you're introducing the next generation of television, you want to make an impact - but that doesn't mean you have to shout at the top of your voice. And it doesn't mean you have to be predictable. To announce the arrival of the BRAVIA LCD and 3LCD range, we wanted to get across a simple message - that the colour you'll see on these screens will be 'like no other'.

Sending 250,000 multi-coloured 'superballs' bouncing down the streets of San Francisco may seem the strangest way to do this, but that's exactly what Danish director Nicolai Fuglsig did for the BRAVIA commercial in July this year [2005]. San Franciscans have seen some unusual things in their time, but even this gave them something to talk about. And we've got the feeling that this commercial is going to do exactly the same thing.
The result was this:

Flip to the Bravia site linked above and you can find the thing in high definition versions as well. There is also some back story on making the long version of the spot.

This year's spot is equally stunning. Rather than balls, Sony's ad company took over an abandoned block of council flats in Glasgow and used pyrotechnics and 70,000 litres of paint to create an equally awesome minute-and-a-bit.

Again, take a look at the high-def version as well as the five minute background piece at the bravia-advert.com site. It's worth the trip especially to appreciate the sound of the paint falling at the end, like rain.

In the meantime here's a version on youtube.com:

What these spots do is use a very expensive set-up to tell a very specific story. But the whole thing fits together as a package that matches perfectly with Sony's brand, with it's reputation for superlative quality.

Advertising doesn't have to be expensive, but sometimes - as in this case - it is the only way to do the job - like the product and the company - like no other.

19 October 2006

Our place in Canada

The Fraser Institute report issued on Wednesday contains food for thought.

Bond Papers already noted the information on the share of provincial revenue that is transferred from the federal government. The earlier post contains links to the news release and the report in pdf format.

The report contains a table comparing Employment Insurance (EI) contributions to benefits paid, by province for Fiscal Year 2003. Newfoundland and Labrador generated $233, 000, 000 in contributions.

However, recipients claimed $752, 000, 000 in benefits that year. The total included $540, 000, 000 in regular EI benefits and $212, 000, 000 in special benefits. The latter category includes maternity and parental benefits, compassionate benefits and benefits paid to fisheries workers.

All four Atlantic provinces received more in EI benefits than in contributions generated, but Newfoundland and Labrador was by far the leader. The total (benefits less contributions) for the three Maritime provinces combined was $483, 000, 000.

In some respects, the low level of contribution in Newfoundland and Labrador reflects the relatively low average per capita income. In 2005, the average per capita income was $25, 872 in the province.

Face-slapping and eye poking

Shawn Skinner, parliamentary assistant to Premier Danny Williams and lately the premier's chief translator told a radio audience in St. John's this morning that Premier Williams apologized if people in Quebec took offence at his remarks but the remarks stand.

Several weeks ago, Williams said that Canada should invest in his Lower Churchill project rather than Quebec because of Quebec's volatile political situation.

The comments caused a political storm in the Quebec National Assembly. It appears Williams and Quebec Premier Jean Charest discussed the comments during Charest recent trip to St. John's to attend a funeral.

Skinner told the province-wide radio audience Williams is standing by his assessment and referred to two referenda on separation as evidence of Quebec's unstable politics.

Skinner's comments are an effort to handle the fall-out from a Radio-Canada story headlined "Danny Williams fait volte-face" [Danny Williams does about-face].

Despite Skinner's best efforts to further inflame the political relationship between Quebec and Newfoundland and Labrador, there is no mistaking Williams' comments now both in French and English:
"If there was ever an opportunity for two premiers who are friends ... and have a mutual respect for each other to accomplish this particular deal, it will be myself and Jean Charest," Williams said.

"And I'm now saying, 'Quebec, work with us on this,' " Williams said.
Being a fan of classic slapstick, Jean Charest is reportedly holding his hand between his eyes to stop the next eye poke.


Haec tibi dona fero

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."

- Danny Williams, April 2001, acceptance speech on winning
the Progressive Conservative Party leadership

Few people likely noticed those words when Danny Williams uttered them. That is, no one noticed them buried away as they word in a very long-winded speech.

Few people likely understood the meaning of them and certainly, when Bond Papers posted them a short while ago, quite a few readers e-mailed to question either the accuracy of the quote or the meaning.

Rest assured the quote is entirely accurate and Danny Williams' meaning - both then and as his consistent actions have shown - could not be more plain.

As much as Danny Williams likes to talk about developing a province which is self-reliant, economically self-sufficient and of making the people of the province masters of their own destiny, his actions have consisted of a relentless pursuit of increased federal transfer payments to the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador.

His first, and so far only, major political success was in securing an offshore revenue deal with Ottawa. However, the January 2005 deal was not based on increasing the provincial government's revenues from offshore oil and gas. Rather it was, from the outset, an effort to increase the amount of federal tax dollars pouring into the Newfoundland and Labrador treasury.

Never mind that Williams claimed Ottawa was receiving royalties from oil development offshore Newfoundland and Labrador. Never mind that some people still believe that falsehood and that Williams has repeated it as recently as this past weekend. The truth of the matter is contained in the 2005 agreement itself:
2. This document reflects an understanding between the Government of Canada and the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador that:

Newfoundland and Labrador already receives and will continue to receive 100 per cent of offshore resource revenues as if these resources were on land;
Danny Williams political career has been a single-minded pursuit of getting his country to do more.

The reality of Newfoundland and Labrador's fiscal situation is clearly shown in a report released Wednesday by the Fraser Institute. The report proposes a change in taxation, but in the opening section, the report's authors show the relative position of the positions when it comes to percentage of government revenues derived from federal transfers.

In Fiscal Year 2005, the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador received 42% of its total revenue from federal government hand-outs, up from 40% the previous fiscal year.1 This is the highest in the country. Four other provinces - Manitoba, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick receive between 30% and 39% of annual revenues from Ottawa. The other provinces receive between 10.4% (Alberta) and 17.9% (Saskatchewan).

That needs to be put in a proper perspective. In 1991 - in the depths of a recession and on the eve of the cod collapse - the provincial government received 44.6% of total revenue from Ottawa. Two years later, the figure was 46%.

However, by Fiscal Year 2004, the relative portion of the provincial government revenue from federal transfers had declined to 33%. This was a result of both changes to federal transfers and improvements in the Newfoundland and Labrador economy, most notably in oil production. Equalization, the ultimate federal hand-out had declined by 2004 to 20% of total revenue from an average of 30% in the decade before.

By the same token, in the past two years, federal transfers generally have increased in part as a result of decisions taken by the former Paul Martin administration. However, the share for Newfoundland and Labrador has been relatively small. The major increase - over $300 million in FY 2005 - has resulted solely the 2005 offshore agreement.

In some measure, Danny Williams weekend tirade reflects his concern that the federal government will undermine his deliberate policy of increasing provincial dependence on federal transfers. Danny Williams singular accomplishment in the past three years has to restore the provincial government to a fiscal position within Canada it has not seen since the darkest days of the 1990-era recession.

Successive provincial governments in Newfoundland and Labrador have sought and end to most transfers, particularly Equalization. Dependence on federal transfers severely limits the provincial government's ability to develop the economy, reduces its capacity to provide services and generally undermines its political authority within its own jurisdiction. Former federal cabinet minister John Crosbie could tell Brian Peckford and Clyde Wells to stop biting the hand that fed their administrations solely because it was true. His hand did feed them.

Brian Peckford's goal in pursuing offshore resource jurisdiction was an end to that ignominy. He first used the term "masters of our own destiny" and when he said it, the objective was clear. He may have failed to gain jurisdiction, however the Atlantic Accord (1985) provided the provincial government with all the management and revenue tools to use oil and gas as an economic engine for the government and for the province.

Similarly, Clyde Wells' Strategic Economic Plan and government spending reforms were aimed at economic self-sufficiency. Wells implemented, among other things, a series of measures that reduced the provincial debt and steadily reduced the percentage of debt held in volatile foreign currencies. By 2003, and despite the Tobin misadventure, the Williams administration inherited a provincial government that was substantially better off than it had been at any point in the preceding decade and a half.

The Fraser Institute report contains simple information that makes the current situation plain. In a mere three years, Danny Williams has managed to unravel the steady progress to genuine self-reliance of a decade and a half. He has restored Newfoundland and Labrador to a position of fiscal dependence on the Government of Canada not seen in over a decade.

Not contented with this accomplishment, Williams is now seeking to increase federal transfers to Newfoundland and Labrador, already the highest in the country as a percent of provincial revenue. If his Labrador hydro venture succeeds, Williams will either double the provincial accrual debt load or, through federal loan guarantees, increase dependence on Ottawa by an unprecedented order of magnitude.

Few people will likely miss the meaning of Danny Williams' words in the future as easily as the did in 2001.


1 The Fraser Institute report shows the figure as 58.7%. This includes the $2.0 billion one time transfer under the January 2005 agreement. The figure given above is obtained by re-calculating the percentage without the advance offshore payment.

18 October 2006

Reckoning correctly

The Globe and Mail editorial today correctly assesses the situation in Newfoundland and Labrador.
It's time for the Premier to stop acting as if everyone were out to cheat his province and to look for genuine solutions to the offshore dispute, to equalization reform and to other issues too important to be used as demagogic fodder.
Tough words but true ones.

Read the whole editorial. It explains succinctly why it is going to take more than a blue version of the province's name surmounted by three deely boppers to undo the negative branding the Premier has already given the province.

Sure Danny's Pitcher Plants worship various parts of the Premier's anatomy and prove their devotion in their daily calls to local open line shows. But there's a huge difference between people who get their ideas delivered from Danny's publicity machine and the enterprising men and women of the province trying to do business with the rest of the world despite the steady stream of Dan-trums.

Oh yes, and having heard the politically ambitious Kevin O'Brien fall over himself talking about brands and logos, it is possible to conclude only that O'Brien doesn't known logo-arse from his brand-elbow.

Logo = image; O'Brien got that far. Brand = reputation.

Sadly for all of us, it's the Premier's reputation - and hence the province brand - that sucks in far too many quarters where it counts.

If that wasn't enough, anyone who heard O'Brien on Wednesday's version of Open Line found a guy who likely has covetous eyes for Danny's job compare Newfoundlanders and Labradorians to a bunch of company employees.

Does that mean the Minister thinks we are all a bunch of poorly educated children working in an Asian sweatshop? We can just imagine what O'Brien is telling the companies he is trying to lure here, let alone what companies they are.

It almost goes without saying, of course, that Kevin also needs a course in Democracy 101.

But that's another story.

17 October 2006

Equalization, the offshore deals and the current racket

As noted here a few days ago, there are some blogs that veritably scream for comment largely because of the inanity of the rants they offer. Earlier today we labeled one of them for what it is: bullshit.

Well, the bullshit continues.

In this instance, the comments under review come from Roger Grimes' former senior policy advisor as she continues her own Danny-esque rantings on topics she appears to have some difficulty with. She apparently doesn't understand the issues yet she feels obliged to comment. Hence, the comments fit the textbook definition of bullshit.

The topic du jour is Equalization and the offshore deals signed in 2005 by the federal government with Newfoundland and Labrador and Nova Scotia. Now, Equalization is a complex enough issue to explain to people who have no previous experience with federal-provincial fiscal relations. We've taken a crack at it around here and hopefully Bond Papers has been able to pierce enough of the gloom so readers can grasp what is currently going on.

However, when one sees said former senior policy advisor to a provincial premier shag it up royally, we can start to understand, at the very least, how a provincial administration can get so sadly off the rails. But that is another story.
Just listening to Rodney MacDonald being interviewed by Don Newman - he is the Premier of Nova Scotia - he actually does not know that the accords are included in equalization.
Let's just leave aside the first point, namely that this sentence tells us that Don Newman is the premier of Nova Scotia.

Let's also look past the confused construction that makes it unclear who doesn't know what...at least in the context of that sentence.

Instead, let's just look at the last six words: "the accords are included in Equalization."

The simple fact is, they aren't.

The offshore oil and gas management and royalty agreements between the federal government and the provincial governments in Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador are not part of the Equalization program.

Both the Nova Scotia agreement in 1985 and the Real Atlantic Accord (1985) contain bilateral transfer payment agreements between Ottawa and the two provinces that are designed to replace declines in Equalization payments resulting from increased oil and gas revenues to the provinces.

But they aren't Equalization and they aren't included in Equalization.

Danny Williams' weekend tantrum is actually just a recycling of an old tantrum from June when the O'Brien panel issued its report.

Williams subsequently claimed he had gotten the panel chairman to to admit that the panel couldn't change Equalization. Big score, there, Danny, bye. That's like getting deputy premier Tom Rideout (right) to admit he's not an 80-year-old Tasmanian eel fisherman.

He isn't.

The panel couldn't.

Everyone knew that.

But to get back to the point, though, this little Dan-trum is about more than the blisteringly obvious point that Williams is posturing for his by-election campaign and that he doesn't have anything to offer the electorate but hot air, flop sweat, a dozen "quite franklys" and a lecture on the price of pride.

Yes, the low-rent imitation of Winston Churchill is just participating in the ongoing first ministers' battle with Ottawa to extort more money from the Prime Minister. We discussed this back in January, under what turned out to be an apt title: "Gimme your lunch money, dork".

If you doubt that all the Premiers are part of an on-going struggle to get cash from Ottawa, just look at comments on Tuesday from Saskatchewan premier Lorne Calvert. Apparently he sees Danny as an ally. Of course he does. Calvert wants the same kind of side-deal on transfers Newfoundland and Nova Scotia enjoy.

If that doesn't convince you, consider an October 14 piece in the Toronto Star.
After a lull of a few months, the federal-provincial fiscal war is about to heat up again and enter a new phase.

The first phase, earlier this year, was fought mainly among the provinces, with the have-nots (all but Ontario and Alberta) against the haves.

At issue was essentially the definition of the "fiscal imbalance" in Canada: is it vertical (between Ottawa and the provinces) or horizontal (between provinces)?

Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty - a vertical imbalance guy - said the federal government should enhance payments to all the provinces rather than pour money into the equalization program, which just benefits the have-nots.

He was pilloried for this by the have-not premiers; one even suggested McGuinty was being "anti-Canadian."

But the have-nots also fought among themselves, as those with oil and gas reserves took on the others over whether revenues from non-renewable resources should be included in the equalization formula.

In the end, the premiers basically agreed to disagree at their annual meeting in July, and the issue was punted to Prime Minister Stephen Harper for a decision.
For those of us who saw that story before the Dan-trum in Gander, and who understand the issues involved in Equalization and the offshore offset deals, we can understand why Nova Scotia premier Rodney Macdonald isn't issuing any ultimata to Ottawa.

He doesn't have to. There's plenty of discussion underway and planned and there is plenty of time to work out a deal among all the provinces and the federal government on Equalization. After all, this really isn't something the federal government can impose on the provinces, as much as any given prime minister at any point in time might like to, given the political extortion artists and bully-boys that sometimes get elected as provincial first ministers.

What's more, the newly elected premier of Nova Scotia - Rodney Macdonald - seems to understand the issues. Don Newman - the CBC newsworld guy - does too, no doubt.

Rodney also understands that everything else is, well, bullshit.

On bullshit

American philosopher Harry Frankfurt (left) wrote a scholarly essay several years ago on the subject of bullshit. Frankfurt noted that while it was so prevalent in society no one seems to have spent any time trying to figure out what it is and what it appears to be increasing over time.
Bullshit is unavoidable whenever circumstances require someone to talk without knowing what he is talking about.
Amen Brother Harry.

For the record:

1. It has been claimed publicly that our oil and gas is not included in Equalization.

2. Of course it is, as the talk show maven admits on her own rant-pile blog, now she has had the chance to scramble around and look up the facts or clarify her remarks. This wouldn't be the first time she has stated something categorically and then acknowledged later that she knew the difference between what she said and what the facts were.

3. Offshore oil and gas is considered as a category all on its own. 100% of the amount is included in the Equalization calculation and is then offset by the Atlantic Accord and the January 2005 deal.

4. Oil and gas revenues in other provinces are assessed differently. One of the consequences of that approach is that the different rates of taxation or rental applied to those revenues is used to determine the national rate for the purposes of figuring out how much of a top-up provinces get.

5. To cut a long story short, this leads to one of the problems in the existing formula whereby a province that undertaxes its resources gets penalized in the calculation and the province that over taxes gets a perverse bonus. The Equalization entitlement is based not the actual rate but on the estimated national average rate. One of the more interesting recommendations of the O'Brien panel was that Equalization be calculated based on actual revenues, not estimates.

6. As for excluding 50% of hydro revenues - for example - as recommended by the O'Brien panel, we have an interesting suggestion worthy of thought. The approach would provide fairness and consistency across the country and eliminate as much as possible the patchwork of special deals that benefit one province but not another in essentially the same circumstance. Some of those adjustments, as in the 1982 change affecting Upper Churchill revenues, work to Newfoundland and Labrador's benefit. Under no circumstances should we dismiss out of hand a potential change that would accomplish the same purpose or that would level the playing field for all provinces.

7. One of the impacts of including all revenue sources for provinces is that it encourages provinces to be more responsible in their spending. On the face of it, there is no reason for any province to get the ability to earn revenue from any resource, spend the revenue and then receive transfers from Ottawa as well.

8. Newfoundland and Labrador remains one of the few if not the only jurisdictions with non-renewable resources that has not created some sort of fund to bank a portion of the revenue from resource exploitation for longer-term benefit. The province hasn't been in that situation because it has been shafted by some foreign exploiter. That's a convenient excuse used by some current and former provincial politicians to excuse their decisions. The current situation in this province just reflects the sort of attitude that Newfoundland and Labrador does not need to be self-reliant in the true sense of the word. We need to extort more cash from Canada either as reparations - in the case of the pseudo-nationalists and those in the province who regard us as being nothing more than dumb newfs - or, as in the case of Danny Williams, as some matter of inherent entitlement.

Ask not what you can do for your country, indeed.

No matter how you slice it, there is no question that Harry Frankfurt got it right:

One of the most salient aspects of our public discourse is the prevalence of bullshit.

Some Equalization background

The weekend tirade launched by Danny Williams against Stephen Harper - over something that doesn't exist yet - served as a reminder that the vast majority of people have absolutely no idea what Equalization is all about.

They couldn't explain offshore revenues to you if you put a gun to their heads.

In some instances they just tune out when the pols start hammering each other. As the radio call-in shows demonstrated on Monday, though, the Premier's ability to stimulate his Pitcher Plants - Danny's version of astroturf - remains undiminished.

Also undiminished is his willingness to mislead and misrepresent a complex subject, reducing into an emotional issue that some people continue to be deluded into accepting at face value.

On top of all that, the level of sheer ignorance on ths basic issues is staggering. On Night Line, one self-proclaimed "researcher" claimed that oil revenues from this province's offshore are not included in Equalization calculations at all.

Now that is just simply nonsense. Sadly it is typical of the nonsense - simple factual mistakes a grade schooler wouldn't make - this maven of the Open Line spouts. Sadly, misrepresentation is the stock in trade of a certain type of politician too.

Following are some links to previous Bond Papers on Equalization.

The first one - "Equalization for beginners" - explains the system in as simple a way as possible.

The second one - "Equalization: the experts report; the Premier reacts" - is a bit more detailed and summarizes some of the changes to Equalization proposed by a federally-appointed commission.

A couple of recommendations leap out in October as they did in June.

First of all, the panel recommended basing Equalization on actual revenues instead of projections. This would actually work well for Newfoundland and Labrador. All too often over the past decade and more we have found ourselves paying the feds back when their Equalization calculations underestimated how well the economy would do. This is one way to eliminate that problem of constantly having to pay out real cash in real clawbacks.

Second of all, the panel recommended inclusion of all resource revenues but only at the rate of 50% of revenues.

This has a couple of advantages for Newfoundland and Labrador. Right off the bat it hides 50% of all resource revenues from Equalization. Our offshore deals cover the other 50% of oil and gas cash.

Then, you have to realise it represents a compromise position. It's even a compromise between the position Danny Williams proposed last January to make the Equalization calculations - all revenue for all provinces - and the position Danny's own finance minister endorsed - all provinces, no non-renewable resources. Here's another post - "Equalization changes: Williams and Harper/Sullivan compared" - that looks more closely at the confusion within the provincial government on the Equalization file.

Overall though, the January 2005 offshore revenue deal should cover the 50% of oil revenue that isn't excluded from Equalization. Even if you realize that hydro-electric energy would be included in Equalization under those proposals as a renewable resource, Newfoundland and Labrador would enjoy a bonus it doesn't get today, namely hiding 50% of revenues from Equalization. Right now 100% is counted.

Still wondering what all this has to do with offshore revenues? Here's a link that will get you, ultimately, to a longer discussion paper on Danny Williams original offshore deal proposals.

16 October 2006

Danny Williams: The Star Trek response

Danny Williams told us all over the weekend that he had signed a bad deal.

Of course, that isn't literally what Danny Williams said in his attack on Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

But implicitly, the Premier's latest tantrum is based on his own admission that his 2005 agreement with the Government of Canada did not provide the Equalization offset he claimed.

There's no other way to explain his apparent concern that federal handouts related to oil revenues to the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador would drop under an Equalization scheme the Prime Minister is supposedly going to implement.

The January 2005 deal was supposed to hide offshore oil revenues from Equalization. Otherwise, as oil revenues increased, the provincial government transfer from Ottawa - Equalization would drop.

Williams knew full well the range of possible changes to Equalization so his deal should have been bullet proof. Williams knew Stephen Harper's plan plus he knew the positions being taken by various provinces. Even if he couldn't tell exactly what would come out of the Equalization review, he certainly knew the best case and worst case positions.

And hey, this isn't something he can fob off to naivety. Danny was in this up to his arm pits from the start and kept total control of the negotiations right up until he ordered Loyola Sullivan to sign the deal.

Williams' concern this week that the province would lose money in changes to Equalization are proof that his 2005 deal was bad. It was bad because it didn't protect the offsets from known and anticipated changes to the Equalization formula.

It's that simple.

To make matters worse, though, Danny Williams now seems to be trying to get Stephen Harper to endorse Equalization changes Danny Williams himself didn't even support in his now-famous letter to the federal party leaders.

Danny Williams proposed that Equalization be calculated using all provinces and including all provincial revenues. He didn't want to hide anything from Equalization.

That's right.

It's hard to avoid the conclusion that Danny Williams is so keen to fight anyone that Danny Williams in October 2006 is willing to fight Danny Williams from January 2006.

And by extension, since - by his own admission - Danny is willing to fight anyone who has acted against the best interests of the province, he should he lambasting himself and the deal he signed in January 2005.

After all, by his own admission this weekend, Danny Williams signed a bad deal with the federal government.


Suddenly I feel like Captain Kirk dealing with errant computers like Nomad and M-5.

Danny and the Moe Howard School of Diplomacy

[original 15 Oct 06; Updated 160800NDT Oct 06]

So much for kissing and make up with the federal government.

Offal News has as good a take on the weekend events at the provincial Tory convention as you will find.

No small irony that a guy who only five years ago made fun of the provincial Liberal government fighting with the federal Liberal government is now in a situation where he is fighting with everyone, big or small, Tory or heretic.

[Photo: Premier Danny Williams and finance minister Loyola Sullivan plan their next war with Ottawa in advance of the 2007 provincial general election. Not exactly as illustrated]

This is the New Approach, for sure.

Meanwhile, Canadian Press has reported on the weekend events (see below). For some reason, CP did not get any quotes on the Slander in Gander donnybrook from deputy premier Tom Rideout [Photo, right, exactly as illustrated]

Question: Is this the first time Premier Danny Williams has taken it upon himself to tell what went on in a private meeting only for us to discover later that what Danny said and what actually happened were two entirely different things?

Update: Here's the answer to the question. Danny Williams claimed Stephen Harper was prepared to consider so-called fallow field legislation for the offshore. Williams is looking for the legal power to force development of offshore fields. He raised the idea after failing to achieve a deal on Hebron.

CBC Radio is reporting this morning a statement from the Prime Minister's Office which rejects the idea. The PM never agreed to consider or think about it apparently. Take note of the reference in the CBC story to contracts fairly negotiated or something along those lines.

This seems like an oblique reference to the issues of bad faith bargaining raised here about Danny Williams' approach to negotiations with the oil companies. Steve doesn't likely read the Bond Papers, but he seems to be talking about the same issue and heading to the same conclusion about Danny.

Williams takes aim at Ottawa in drive for re election in Newfoundland
The Canadian Press
Oct 15, 2006

By Tara Brautigam

GANDER, N.L. (CP) _ Newfoundland Premier Danny Williams hopes to capitalize on a growing standoff with Ottawa in his quest for province-wide dominance in next year's provincial election.

Williams rallied his party at a weekend Progressive Conservative convention in Gander, with a fiery speech that drew a deep line between himself and Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

The premier warned Saturday night that he would urge Newfoundlanders to vote against Harper in the next future federal election if the province loses out in a revised equalization formula.

Hours earlier, Williams and Harper met in an effort to resolve their differences over several thorny issues, including a revised equalization formula. But their discussion about equalization only further chilled relations between the two Tory leaders.

The meeting was "heated,"' one of the premier's staffers said Sunday. [Ed note: This likely means the Premier was shouting, as he is wont to do, while the other person is being calm and professional.]

Williams has made a political career of fighting the federal government.

In December 2004, he pulled down the Canadian flags from provincial buildings during talks for a revamped Atlantic Accord to give Newfoundland full protection against equalization clawbacks on offshore royalties.

In early January, the flags went back up, and an agreement was reached after marathon talks in Ottawa a month later.

"Fighting the enormous resources of the federal government and achieving a new deal on the Atlantic Accord is not easy, but that doesn't mean it's impossible,"' Williams told about 600 supporters Saturday, indicating he would step up his battle against Ottawa before his re-election campaign.

"Stay tuned, you might be into round two before this one is all over."'

Williams also warned the party not to take the Oct. 9, 2007 election for granted, a message echoed by party president John Babb.

"A quick clean sweep? Who knows?"' Babb said. "But from our point of view, we're not making any predictions."

The Progressive Conservatives can make big gains in the next election, observers say.

At least two polls this year suggested Williams enjoyed an approval rating above 70 per cent, despite a government spending scandal that led to the resignation of Ed Byrne, one of his top cabinet ministers, in June.

But the Liberals have slammed Williams for neglecting rural Newfoundland and Labrador, areas beset by waves of residents moving to Alberta for work because of mass layoffs from the forestry and fisheries industries.

Currently there are 35 Progressive Conservatives in the provincial legislature, 11 Liberal members and one New Democrat.

A byelection has been called for Nov. 1 to fill a vacant seat in the Signal Hill-Quidi Vidi riding in St. John's, where high profile criminal lawyer Jerome Kennedy will run for the Tories against NDP Leader Lorraine Michael.

The Liberals are not running a candidate.