30 November 2006

Separated at birth? Two fish guys

Maybe it goes with the job to tell me to take it or leave it.

Minister of Fisheries and Oceans Loyola Hearn to Gander airport authority:

"If the people of Gander want it, and if they don't, well then there's not much we can do."...

"Do you want to buy time or don't you? And we're waiting for an answer."

Minister of Natural Resources John Efford to Premier Danny Williams, on the Atlantic Accord:

"Let me say it, and let me say it clear: the deal is done. Do you want it, Mr. Sullivan? Do you want it, Mr. Williams? There are no more changes."

Connie staffer ID'ed as Williams' diplomacy advisor

Bravo, Aaron Hynes.

We finally know who has been giving the local Tories some bad advice on relationship management.

From da Globe:

**Whizzing back by reply e-mail an hour later, Mr. Hynes, who was a Tory candidate in Newfoundland in the last election, parried with the remark: "That's all we care about. Canadians. But I wouldn't expect you to understand the complexities of this decision. . . . You're a foreign jackass." Responded the money manager: "I'm not sure that this is how Mr. Lauzon wants to be represented." He then sent the e-mail exchange to a number of Canadian energy companies, adding dryly: "I believe his office is not serving in your best interests. As a note I am a large shareholder in all of your companies."

The final e-mail instalment? Mr. Hynes wrote to the four oil and gas companies: "If any of you Canadians have questions or concerns, we will be more than happy to direct them to the [Finance] Minister's office for a thorough reply. However, I am not here to be denigrated or intimidated by self-important non-Canadians."**

Monkey tossing for England: Placentia school "compensation"

Notably absent from an announcement today in Placentia was a representative of Voisey's Bay Nickel Company, the outfit that - according to natural resources minister Kathy Dunderdale - is paying "compensation" to Placentia for building the nickel smelter/refinery in nearby Long Harbour instead of nearer-by Argentia.

But here's the thing. VBNC has been providing money just like the stuff Dunderdale mentioned today to a host of communities, including Placentia and Dunville.

The "agreement" announced by Dunderdale today consist of a payment in lieu of taxes to the Placentia town council, a small grant to the town to build a fire hall, upgrading lights at the Dunville ballpark (already committed in 2005, incidentally), and a general commitment to support local business opportunities.

That's basically the sort of thing VBNC has done or would be expected to do anyway as part of maintaining sound relationships with residents of the largest communities close to the new site at Long Harbour.

There's nothing in this announcement - not a single thing - that looks like anything other than sound business practice.

It certainly isn't "compensation" since, as we noted already, VBNC doesn't really have anything to compensate anyone for.

Dunderdale's release looks more like a case of political monkey-tossing than "compensation".

Except, of course for the provincial government's sudden commitment to build a new school in Placentia.

And that's the really big announcement here.

The government’s commitment to the people of Placentia was also clearly demonstrated today with the announcement of approval to build a new school for Grades 7-12. "I know that people of the Placentia area have been seeking a new school for some time. Government recognized that it was time to replace Laval High School. To that end, we have allocated funds to begin planning the new facility," said Minister [Joan]Burke.

It's a good decision and one that will support the workers at Long Harbour, many of whom are likely to already live in Placentia or who are more likely to locate there rather than in a smaller community somewhere else in the Long Harbour area.

Too bad the government's publicity department had to frame the whole thing around an something that has really been government's fabrication. Instead, they could have just announced the school, included VBNC's work as a good corporate citizen and heralded construction of a massive industrial enterprise at nearby Long Harbour.

Of course, doing that would mean the Premier and his ministers would have to acknowledge - even implicitly - that the agreement he trashed regularly before he was in government has actually delivered the only industrial construction project of his administration thus far.

He killed off the other biggie.

Rather than do that, the whole operation of government, and this release, become nothing more than another exercise in monkey tossing.

Shuttle to fly over North Atlantic

The next shuttle launch is scheduled for December 7 using a launch angle that it will take it over the North Atlantic.

So why isn't Danny Williams screaming about potential threats to offshore oil rigs?

Could it be that the Titan fiasco showed just exactly how hysterical concerns were that the rigs would be hit?

Yeah. Regular Bond Papers readers were never worried in the first place.

Plus ca change: Dunderdale tender blunder

For some reason the provincial government has taken to issuing news releases to challenge questions from the opposition during Question period in the legislature.

On Tuesday, it was transportation minister John Hickey who was caught in an advanced stage of pinocchiosis over federal funding for the Trans-Labrador Highway. He supposedly told someone he had a signed contract. As we have all learned this would not be even close to true since the feds are waiting on the province to get a work plan in place.

Today, it was natural resources minister Kathy Dunderdale. The blunder-plagued minister was trying to explain why the Bull Arm Corporation cancelled a tender and then re-tendered.

The Liberal opposition claimed the first tender was cancelled when a local Liberal came in with the lowest bid. They argued the project was redefined so that someone else - in this case the future local Tory candidate's campaign manager could get a piece. The future candidate, by the by, is Joan Cleary; Bond Papers discussed her appointment to head the Bull Arm Corporation some time ago.

But in defending the tender, Dunderdale actually provides us with a pretty convincing example of a complete cock-up. Whether it was politically motivated - as the Opposition suggests - or just a case of mismanagement and incompetence, the whole tender should never have been handled the way it was. Around here, Bond Papers would contend it is evidence that - as we noted last November - Joan Cleary isn't qualified for the job she currently holds.

Here's why.

The original tender at Bull Arm was for the complete replacement of the existing security shack. That is a pretty straightforward project involving labour and materials together as one unit. One can logically conclude that if the first tender was for complete replacement, Bull Arm management had made a determination that the building needed complete replacement. It's an important piece of work, even if the shack is relatively small.

While Bull Arm management may have had a cost estimate in mind, they ran a tender process and a low tender duly arrived. Notice that Dunderdale does not say how much Bull Arm originally expected to see as the bids; she does claim, though, that the prices were such that Bull Arm decided to cancel the entire tender and , presumably, do nothing in the meantime.

And that's where it gets hinky. If the existing security shack was in such a state that it needed to be replaced, there simply isn't any reason to cancel the tender and not do anything about it. This approach suggests the original tender was bogus.

According to Dunderdale, Bull Arm only went to a second tender once some harsh weather caused damage to the shack. Nice try as excuses go, but if the original tender had been let or if the project had been re-tendered right away, Bull Arm Corp would likely have avoided the situation caused by weather. There would be no emergency since proper action was taken from the outset.

Instead Bull Arm Corp now had an emergency on its hands, albeit one that evidently resulted from its own poor management practices.

Rather than go to tender - as normally required under the Public Tender Act - now called the situation an emergency. For some completely unfathomable reason, Bull Arm split the project into two tenders: one for materials and one for labour and then went to three specific bidders for quotes.

Under the Public Tender Act, that is permissible - in a genuine emergency. But the legislation's exemption for emergencies is intended to cover real emergencies, not ones caused by dubious management decisions.

Interestingly enough, the original low bidder didn't get the work and the whole project was completed for over $50,000 less than the original tender's lowest bidder. We don't know if the whole shack was replaced, as originally intended, or if the thing was patched up and repaired. We'll never know since the people involved in the process would never make public all the documents and records to justify the situation.

Instead, we should be suspicious of the facts as described by the minister. On the face of it, the minister describes incompetent management of a relatively small project. On top of that the minister provides excuses for the mismanagement by claiming the proper process was followed. Clearly it wasn't: the cancellation of the original tender suggests something was amiss.

And if that weren't bad enough, we see once again the most familiar of all excuses trotted out by the Williams administration when it is accused of something: the rules allow it.

As Offal News put it last month, in another story related to Bull Arm Corp:

That does not mean it's right, correct, proper or ethical; he merely means it's legal. Legal is a long way from appropriate.
In the case of the security shack, it doesn't matter if Joan Cleary was involved in the decision or not, or whether the inning bidder was her former campaign manager or even that the low bidder on the cancelled tender call was a Liberal.

What Dunderdale has described is a classic example of shoddy management that led to damage to government property, followed by a clever - but all-too obvious - abuse of the Public Tender Act to divert attention away from poor management. They failed to exercise due diligence, to use a phrase the former InTRD minister herself was fond of abusing.

To make it worse, Dunderdale, as minister responsible for Bull Arm, is effectively endorsing the blunders made by Bull Arm Corp as well as condoning the abuse of the spirit of the public tender statute.

We were all told to expect better from our government three years ago, indeed to expect better from this government.

The case of the Bull Arm shack shows just how little changed in local politics in October 2003.

29 November 2006

Who will fight for you?

It's like Danny Williams never left the legal and monopoly cable business.

First, it was a fibre deal that even he doesn't understand.

Next it will be cabinet ministers announcing "compensation" wrestled from some corporate wrongdoer.

Wait, a minute.

What's this?

Kathy Dunderdale and Joan Burke will be in Placentia on Thursday (psst, Thursday is the 30th, not the 29th) "to announce compensation for the area from Voisey’s Bay Nickel Company for the loss of the commercial processing facility at Argentia, as well as school infrastructure plans for the Placentia area".

Compensation from VBNC for the "loss" of a commercial processor?


I don't see anything from VBNC saying they'd pay compensation. Their contractual obligations are merely to build a smelter/refinery in the province and they are doing that. At Long Harbour. Argentia and Placentia couldn't lose what they never actually had locked up.

So is this just a poorly written news release or did Danny and his team of crackies wrestle some kind of cash from VBNC? One news outlet is reporting it already as VBNC shelling out. If the cash was from VBNC, then the company should be getting the credit or at least sharing it.

Maybe it's just the tail end of a polling period and someone is getting desperate to goose the numbers.

So who will run in Kilbride?

With Ed Byrne's resignation as member for Kilbride, effective January 1, 2006, the question now comes as to who will carry party banners in the district.

The district has had some strong representation over the past decades in the form of both Bob Aylward and latterly Byrne, both Tories.

For the New Democrats and Liberals, the question of a candidate is wide open. The Liberals must contest the seat with a strong candidate. Even if they come in second, they will have to put on a solid performance to hang on to any credibility.

No names have surfaced for either party.

On the Tory side, Bond Papers has suggested - somewhat facetiously - that Danny will be pushing Leslie Galway, currently business deputy minister. We'll see what happens.

Another name has cropped up as being interested, but Bond Papers won't through it out until there is some confirmation. This guy has the advantage of being a hockey player which would automatically put him in Danny's good books.

Unlike Signal Hill-Quidi Vidi, there isn't a high profile candidate in play yet.

Let's see what happens.

CANARIE in Trev's credibility coalmine

Earnest innovation minister Trevor Taylor is fighting a losing credibility battle.

No matter how hard he tries, someone keeps putting out information that undermines Taylor's arguments that the Persona deal is a good investment of public money and had nothing to do whatsoever with helping out political friends.

Even Trevor can't keep out of the contradictions act...

Like, f'rinstance, last week in the House, on 22 November, Taylor said that one third of the cost of the national network connection for Memorial University to participate in a research computer network - one third of the cost for that - had gone into the line between St. John's and Halifax.

Memorial University is the Newfoundland hub for a series of projects, like CANARIE that ships data around among researchers, albeit not along the public Internet per se.

But notice that comment: one third the cost.

Flip ahead to this week and in the course of debate, Taylor said the cost of CANARIE (paid for by the federal government apparently) at MUN was something around $400,000 annually. Public Internet costs were about the same.


The budget for CANARIE's CA*Net4 service for 2006 is $22 million. Now even an old artsman like your humble e-scribbler can tell that $400,000 is not 33% of $22 million.

Maybe Taylor misspoke in the heat of debate.

Maybe we misunderstood him.

Maybe, his comments are - to be exact - wrong.

Like the Premier's claim, backed by his ministers, that this Persona deal will put Memorial University on the research map.

Apparently it isn't connected to any computers now, not even the Internet, if you listen to the Premier.

But of course it is.

With a connection that shunts data at 1 gigabit per second.

That little tidbit is important if you recall one of the Premier's justifications for the Persona deal was the need for people at the university and elsewhere to ship data in one second, versus 16 minutes via dial-up.

Premier Danny Williams, Hansard, 21 November 2006:
The previous speeds that can be talked to, you would have to look at about sixteen minutes for a conversation to take place on a dial-up modem. On high-speed, it can take place in one second. So, I would say a word on a dial-up and I wait sixteen and two-third minutes for an answer from the research analyst who is on the other end. When you put this in place, we can talk simultaneously....
The Premier - or should we say Gunny MisInformation Highway - is either freeze-dried or been doin' hard time.

Ain't been no dial-up round the university for centuries, man.

Oh yeah. and that's not the only time where Trev said one thing and Gunny Highway said another.

What will the savings be for Memorial on its public Internet service? Taylor pegged the annual costs right now - using 2800 baud modems Danny? - at $400,000.

According to Taylor last week in the House, the savings would be 15% annually.

According to Danny Williams last week in the House the savings would be 50% per year.

That's a pretty big discrepancy. And it isn't a Hansard transcription error. They double check these pesky detail-type thingies.

It gets even worse when you realise that the Premier's number is based solely on a verbal comment by someone from Persona, duly documented as such by EWA-Canada in its hasty assessment of the Persona deal.

That 50% comment and the entire $400 million benefit Premier Dan has claimed will flow from this deal has never been subjected to any independent scrutiny. The original estimate - and the Premier's massive benefits number - were pulled from the same bodily orifice.

The credibility canary laying dead at government's feet should stop us from mining this little deal before it goes any farther.

Aliant Animus

A snippet from the files:

March 10, 2006

Finance Minister Loyola Sullivan says Aliant's decision to become an income trust will mean the loss of corporate tax revenues for the province. Some reports suggest the four Atlantic provinces could lose as much as 49 million dollars. Under an income trust, taxes are paid by shareholders who could live anywhere. Sullivan says he knows how much the province will lose, but he can't disclose the figure publicly. Sullivan says they don't know yet when the income loss will be felt.
A check with some other sources suggests that the GRAP cable deal may have been kicking around the Confederation Building but it didn't get to cabinet before Rain Man Sullivan made these comments.


It might have been a few weeks later and it might be sheer coincidence but the correlation is interesting.

Maybe there are some cabinet meeting notes - only to be released decades from now - that document the Premier's endless rantings about the evil Aliant empire and how it must be destroyed.

Maybe, there is a reason some people report seeing sheets and sheets of drywall moved to the 8th Floor after hours and only garbage bags with broken plaster coming out. (Lots of ceilings to replace as The Furor's head goes through them more often than usual these days, methinks.)

Don't underestimate the power of commitment to a petty insult to an old monopolist. Go back over the explanations offered by the provincial cabinet, notice the lack of concrete details being used to support the $15 million in spending, notice the curious timelines and then consider the Sullivan comment.

It all starts to make sense.

28 November 2006

and The Lover in Spanish is El Amador

What means this word "Quebecois"?

From Paul Wells at Macleans, comes this transcript of a q & a with reporters involving Lawrence Cannon and Marjory LeBreton that demonstrates M. Cannon has some difficulty understanding his own point. Like his problem with understanding what is a "federal spending power." Cannon even manages to mangle the explanation in both official languages, virtually simultaneously.

While normally we'd just link, let's give the whole thing and hope Paul is too busy moving his book that he will forgive your humble e-scribbler. [BTW, buy the book.]

Bien, in English the Quebecer is a Québécois

Good figuring this crap out, ladies and gentlemen of Canada:

Question: Why did you use the word Québécois in English? I think we're all wondering why did you use the word Québécois in English and not Quebecer? And my question, especially for Ms. LeBreton, and I guess that's why people are suspicious. Is that a reference to some sort of ethnic identity of what it is to be (inaudible)?

Hon. Marjory LeBreton: Well, I'm an English-speaking Canadian and I refer to -- I call -- I say Québécois. I believe -- I believe that in the country and certainly we've seen evidence over the past few days as cabinet ministers have been around the country there's a wide degree of acceptance for the prime minister's leadership on this issue.

Question: (Inaudible) with all due respect people (inaudible).

Hon. Marjory LeBreton: Well, I know Anglophone Quebecers who call themselves Québécois so you know —

Question: They call themselves Quebecers. I'm sorry, with due respect, I live in Quebec and English people talk to themselves about Quebecers, not Québécois. Why did you use this French word in an English motion? Explain to us the rationale for that. There's a word in English for that and please explain to us why you're not using it.

L'hon. Lawrence Cannon: Non, écoutez, c'est bien clair là, bien clair la motion qui a été présentée par le Bloc québécois parlait de Québécois et de Québécoises dont ne référait pas à autre chose que des Québécois et des Québécoises.

Question: Why in English?

Hon. Lawrence Cannon: Bien, in English the Quebecer is a Québécois. Alors il faudrait que vous demandiez à monsieur Duceppe parce que nous on sait —


Question: Can you — to follow up on Hélène's question, just to make it very, very clear, especially to my readers at The Gazette, when you talk about les Québécois does it include every resident of Quebec regardless of which boat their ancestors came over on?

Hon. Lawrence Cannon: No, it doesn't. It doesn't. Let's be clear on this. Four hundred years ago, four hundred years ago when Champlain stepped off and onto the shores in Quebec City he of course spoke about les Canadiens. Then as the debate went on on parlait des Canadiens français. Et au Québec on parle des Québécois maintenant qui occupent cette terre-là, Amérique. Il est fort possible — non seulement il est fort possible, il est tout à fait évident qu'il y ait des Canadiens français qui demeurent à l'extérieur du Québec, qui demeurent en Ontario, qui demeurent au Nouveau-Brunswick, qui demeurent partout au pays. Et donc dans ce sens-là nous on a répliqué à la motion que le Bloc québécois a mise de l'avant, une motion qui a dit singulièrement les Québécois et les Québécoises forment une nation. On dit, oui, ils forment une nation et à deux reprises, plus à quatre occasions, à l'occasion d'élections ils ont manifesté leur attachement au Canada. Ce soir, cette résolution-là, après 40 ans, est en train de reconnaître les décisions qui ont été entérinées à plusieurs occasions par des Québécois et des Québécoises de dire nous on fait partie du Canada. Nous on continue de construire le Canada. Et c'est ce que cette résolution-là formellement dit ce soir.

Question: Je ne suis pas une descendante de monsieur Champlain et tous ceux qui n'ont pas des noms canadiens-français ne sont pas des Québécois selon votre définition.

L'hon. Lawrence Cannon: Non, pas du tout, madame Buzzetti.

Question: Il y a plein de gens qui sont arrivés (inaudible).

L'hon. Lawrence Cannon: Non, non, mais pas — et moi aussi parce que ma famille est débarquée en 1795. Est-ce que je me considère comme étant un Québécois? Oui, je me considère comme étant un Québécois et ceux qui se considèrent comme étant des Québécois ils peuvent bien le porter. Mais je ne pense pas qu'il y ait question de forcer quelqu'un qui ne se sent pas comme étant un Québécois qui doit être nécessairement lié à cette chose-là et ça c'est le dilemme dans lequel le Bloc québécois s'est toujours trouvé. D'une part faire reconnaître par l'Assemblée nationale l'intégrité du territoire et d'autre part dire que les Québécois ou les Quebecers comme vous dites font partie de ce territoire-là c'est faux parce qu'il y a des gens qui fondamentalement ont opté pour le Canada et c'est ce que nous reconnaissons ce soir. Quand on a demandé au Bloc québécois d'accepter cette chose-là c'est ce qu'ils acceptent tacitement, que les Québécois font partie de la nation canadienne dans un effort d'unité nationale et c'est ce qu'on reconnaît.

Question: (Inaudible) Montrealers why they're not Québécois.

Hon. Lawrence Cannon: I didn't say that.

Question: Well, you said that it doesn't — you said it doesn't apply to people that aren't French.

Hon. Lawrence Cannon: I didn't say that they're not Québécois. What I'm saying here, and the reference that the Bloc Québécois has made is that they've made the Francophone pure laine. That's the intention. The intention is to be able to divide. We are taking the same words and we are saying no. On two separate occasions - and I'm repeating myself - on four provincial elections Quebecers have said no, we are voting for a federalist government, we are voting no to your proposal, we are part and parcel of Canadian unity and that's what we are indicating here. We're not playing semantics with the words. We are saying that that is a formal decision that was taken by Quebecers years ago and here's the first, first group of sovereingtists that are admitting this fact of life. Mr. Duceppe got up in the House the other day and you heard him talking about il faut reconnaître la réalité. On reconnaît la réalité. Les Québécois vous ont dit non à deux occasions. Et maintenant les Québécois vous ont dit — non seulement ils vous ont dit non, parce que la proposition ne se sépare pas, les Québécois vous ont dit formellement depuis qu'on est ici on chemine à l'intérieur du Canada. On est non seulement partie du processus, we are also making the country and that's what they've been saying to us.

What mean this...how you say... "Quebecois"?

Nation-hood is, it seems, a moveable feast of meanings.

And in Quebec, with predictable accuracy, media are portraying the results of a recent polls as meaning that the country rejects Quebec once more.

When you're in a hole, stop digging

A few days ago, Trevor Taylor admitted government handled communications on the fibre deal badly.

Then someone in the Premier's publicity department must have taken offense at the idea.

So the message shifted to the latest version of the story being used by The Katzenjammer Kids.

Offal News puts it in perspective nicely.

Trevor: put down the shovel.

Tory Broadband Timelines

Just to help keep track of the fibre story, following is a timeline of broadband-related announcements since October 2003. Some additional comments related to the GRAP deal announced on 02 November come from comments made by the Premier or innovation minister Trevor Taylor since then.

A few points leap out. Further information would clarify some of the discrepancies or unexplained gaps.

1. This project may be a lot younger than we have been told. If the Persona proposal was made to government 18 months before it was approved, it seems to have been largely ignored until June/July 2006. It was then met with a flurry of activity, rejected twice in the space of two months and then lay idle until the Aliant fire. EWA noted the short time-span it was given in which to assess the proposal.

According to Trevor Taylor in the House of Assembly, there were only eight meetings, in total on the project over 18 months that involved some representatives of the companies making the pitch. The Premier never met with anyone on the proposal, according to Taylor, nor did Taylor's predecessor Kathy Dunderdale.

Taylor himself acknowledges having met once with Persona president Dean Macdonald on the proposal and twice with Persona's chief operating officer Paul Hatcher.

In addition, government officials met three times with Macdonald, four times with Hatcher and once with representatives of MTS Allstream.

Even allowing for Taylor having a faulty memory this is not a large number of meetings over 18 months; some of the meetings may be duplicates (i.e. did Taylor meet with Macdonald and Hatcher at the same time and along with other officials?) It is extremely odd that Dunderdale did not meet at all with any of the proponents despite having this proposal in her department for over a year. As well, it is extremely unusual that no action took place on this proposal until after Dunderdale was moved to another department.

The subsequent communications cock-ups - acknowledged by Taylor and the lack of specific benefits documented by third parties would be explained by a proposal that either was submitted and approved quickly or that was left laying about and hastily approved.

Note that the estimate of 50% savings used by the Premier to arrive at the $400 million figure is identified by EWA as being a verbal estimate by Persona. It has not been verified.

Add it all up and one can only conclude either that the proposal was not received by the provincial government until some time in mid-2006 (contrary to government claims) or that it was received, ignored for over a year and then hastily (sloppily?) reviewed and approved in less than four months. Either way, the implications do not speak highly of government's management processes.

2. Provincial and federal financial involvement in the project is larger than revealed. The $30 million project referred to by Persona's Paul Hatcher after the Aliant fire appears to be the joint federal/provincial/Persona initiative to expand broadband access under the CDLI program. As such, the provincial government has actually committed a total of $20 million to this, while the federal government has added $5.0 million to the $82 million total.

While Hatcher's comments seemed to indicate Persona had invested $30 million of its own, the company's actual involvement was on this portion was $19.9 million.

3. How convenient! The flurry of comment critical of Aliant seems to be convenient and involves a number of public individuals closely associated with the current provincial administration.

4. The missing strategy. The consultant RFP announced in November 2005 would have provided the strategic basis for any future broadband initiatives. What happened to it?

The Timeline

A. 31 March 2004: Budget 2004 includes $5.0 million for the department of Education's initiative to expand broadband access in schools. Another $1.2 million under Innovation, Trade and Rural Development (InTRD) to be used to leverage federal funding.

B. 15 June 2004: $50,000 from InTRD to help EXCITE Corp leverage funds from the federal BRAND initiative to expand broadband availability in Grand Falls-Windsor area.

C. 20 July 2004: Education issues request for proposals seeking a corporate match of $10 million funding from the federal and provincial governments to expand broadband in schools. RFP closes 30 April 2004.

D. 15 June 2004/09 November 2004: InTRD announcement, Witless Bay. $4.0 million to expand broadband to 19 communities in Irish Loop region. Of the $4.0 million cost, 63% provided by Government of Canada. InTRD provided $285,000. [Note: This money was announced in June by the province and at a second announcement in November. The southern route of the GRAP deal covers a portion of the Irish Loop project. The only communities in the southern GRAP route not covered by existing broadband expansion initiatives are on the south coast. ]

E. 02 July 2004: Unspecified level of provincial government support for SmartLabrador operations.

E.1. 22 September 2004: Premier Danny Williams announces appointment of Dean Macdonald and Ken Marshall to Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro board of directors.

F. 31 May 2005: Business minister and Premier Danny Williams announces Business Advisory Board. Members include Paul Hatcher and Dean Macdonald.

G. March-May 2005: Persona submits proposal for broadband connection to mainland, subsequently to involve Government, Rogers, Allstream and Persona. [Note: The timeframe on this is not exact. In several interviews and in the House of Assembly since 02 Nov 06, innovation minister Trevor Taylor referred to the proposal having been submitted about 18 months before it was approved.]

H. ??? 2005: Premier's chief of staff writes Minister InTRD (Kathy Dunderdale) assigning responsibility for the Persona proposal to InTRD. [Note: Based on comment from Taylor in House of Assembly. This suggests that the proposal was originally made to or received by the Premier either in capacity as Premier or as Minister of Business.]

H.1 15 September 2005: $29.9 million announced by Government of Canada ($5.0 million), Government of Newfoundland and Labrador ($5.0 million) and Persona ($19.9 million), representing the results of RFP issued 20 July 2004.

I. 10 November 2005: Innovation minister Kathy Dunderdale announces "that the provincial government is reviewing all government telecommunications requirements with the intention of creating a province-wide advanced computer network." Announcement includes reference to national call for proposals for a consultant to "recommend an advanced network model that meets government's existing and anticipated future technology needs."

No results of this process are ever announced.

J. 21 June 2006: Electronic Warfare Associates contracted to provide assessment of GRAP/Persona proposal. [Note: This comes from a comment by EWA in the pages released by Taylor in the House of Assembly. Date on documents is 21 June 2006.]

J.1. 05 July 2006: Cabinet shuffle. Taylor appointed innovation minister; Dunderdale appointed natural resources minister; Kevin O'Brien replaces Danny Williams as business minister.

K. Late June or early July 2006: Premier Danny Williams rejects proposal based on concerns about connection between Premier and Persona senior officials. [Note: Both Williams and Taylor made reference to the proposal twice being rejected over issues of how the relationship between the Premier and some proponents would be perceived. Initially, Taylor indicated cabinet had rejected the proposal twice. On 14 Nov 06, the Premier claimed responsibility for these two decisions. The date estimates for K. And L. (below) come from comments by Taylor in answer to questions in the House of Assembly.]

L. Late July or early August 2006: Second rejection. [See note above]

M. 20 October 2006: Fire at Aliant causes temporary loss of telephone service.

N. 23-24 October 2006: Public criticism of Aliant including Premier Williams, St. John's mayor Andy Wells, emergency measures boss Fred Hollett and city commissioner Ron Penney.

O. 26 October 2006: Cabinet approves GRAP proposal. [Note: Confirmed in House of Assembly by Trevor Taylor. Premier Williams gave several interviews the day before indicating cabinet would be reviewing the proposal. Existence of the proposal was made public by Persona immediately after the Aliant fire and generally coincidental with the public criticism by the Premier, Mayor Wells and city commissioner Penney.]

P. 02 November 2006: GRAP deal announced by innovation minister Taylor and business minister Kevin O'Brien.

27 November 2006

Chong's good sense

It wasn't in resigning from Harper's cabinet today.


Former Connie cabinet minister Michael Chong is married to Caroline Joan Davidson, a descendant of William Whiteway. He had the good sense to fall in love with - and marry - a woman from the most sensible part of the country.

For mainland readers, Whiteway is a former prime minister of Newfoundland and a staunch Confederate. He was defeated as a Confederate candidate in the 1869 general election, but was returned to the House of Assembly in 1873, representing Trinity.

In 1875, Whiteway sponsored a bill to fund a survey for a cross-island railway.

Whiteway formed an administration in 1878 and won a general election that year. He was re-elected in 1882 but Whiteway's premiership was dogged by concerns about his railway-building project. He left office in 1885 in the wake of the so-called Harbour Grace Affray.

Sir Robert Bond, later prime minister of Newfoundland, was first elected to the legislature in 1882 as a Whiteway supporter.

Whiteway was re-elected in 1889, and formed an administration with Bond as Colonial Secretary. While he was ousted in 1894, Whiteway returned to the prime ministership in 1895. His administrations were marked by controversy over railway financing and the 1892 fire that devastated St. John's.

His morning headlines

Premier Danny is on the Wet Coast today to deliver a speech to the British Columbia Chamber of Commerce on the joys of oil.

He was greeted this morning to the following story in the Vancouver Sun, on the heavy snowfall, traffic snarls and a power outage in parts of greater Van.

Note the speech is sponsored by one of the province's greatest business tax losses in recent years.

Cannon-ball stunned: "What is a federal spending power?"

Federal transport minister Lawrence Cannon was his inarticulate self on CTV's Question Period.
Among his memorable comments was this one on federal spending power:
One of the biggest impediments to making this country work functionally, as the fathers of confederation had thought, is to be able to thwart or curb or better control federal spending power, because what is a federal spending power?
Something Cannon doesn't understand at all, obviously.

Let's leave aside for a moment Cannonball's bizarre constitutional history lesson. Try as one might, one would have a hard time coming up with a lengthy treatise from say - William Carson or Sir John A. - ranting at length about how the federal government was the source of all fiscal evil through its overwhelming spending powers.

One can find several really good essays by Pierre Trudeau in the 1950s and 1960s, but something suggests Cannonball is not a big fan of reading Trudeau.

To get back to the subject, the idea to restrict federal spending is an interesting one, if for no other reason than so many provincial premier's are really addicted to federal cash. Sure they like to puff and posture and, in some cases, their minions will scream about this being Danny-land. Cannon's proposal is like calling for a ban on illicit drugs in a downtown crack house. The addicts aren't likely to be much in favour of such a suggestion.

And yes, there is a good reason to curb the tendency of federal governments, like say the Mulroney one, to introduce programs in a provincial area, develop a dependence on it and then - in good form - frick off back to Ottawa. On the retreat of course, said feds cancel the funding leaving the provinces to deal with both the financial demand and/or the political piss-off that results.

But, as we have already shown on several occasions, many of those same premiers who talk about sovereignty and independence or a whole bunch of other things have absolutely no interest in giving up federal transfers.

To the contrary, some of them - like the head of Danny-land - use federal cash as their standard solution to every single provincial demand. So effective has Premier Dan been at this that in a scant three years in office he has set back 10 years of progress towards reducing provincial dependence on federal hand-outs.

But we digress.

The Harper administration's proposal to reduce federal spending in areas of exclusive federal jurisdiction is a laudable one.

It won't work since all but a couple of provinces are unwilling to go along with it in any form.

Harper likely knows that; otherwise he'd have sent someone else out to talk about it, someone other than the almost laughable Lawrence Cannon.

26 November 2006

A decade in the making...and counting

The provincial natural gas royalty regime - already a decade in development - will soon be sent to the industry for "consultations", according to natural resources minister Kathy Dunderdale.

Dunderdale apparently didn't tell vocm.com that the industry has already been informally consulted at least once already. She couldn't say when the regime and the province's energy plan - also a decade in the making under four different premiers of two political parties - will finally be made public.

One clue to what the plan may contain can be found in a resent presentation by a senior Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro official to a Harris Centre symposium on oil and gas resources.

Half-time legislature

Newfoundland and Labrador's legislature sits about half the number of days it did in the early 1990s. The total number of hours has dropped but not quite as dramatically.

Between 1990 and 1993, the House sat a total of 274 days or a minimum of 822 hours. Each year the legislature sat at least 90 days, or a minimum of 270 hours. The figures available don't include night sittings.

By comparison, the House sat 45 days in 2005 (180 hours) and will sit around the same number of days in 2006. In 2004, the House sat for 59 days (236 hours); that's a total of 149 days (596 hours), averaging just under 50 days a year (196 hours).

The first year of the Williams administration is typical of the number of sitting days since 1996.

Other provincial and territorial legislatures have not shown such a consistent decline over the past decade.

25 November 2006

Astroturfing in politics? I'm shocked.

The federal Liberal leadership campaign is buzzing - albeit faintly - with allegations that a Quebec-based advertising firm employee was using company internet access to run a pro-Rae/anti-Ignatieff blog site.

The marketing firm has reportedly done contract work for the Rae campaign and the blog was run by someone under a pseudonym.

As the Globe and Mail story puts it: "Electronic footprints show he was blogging through an Internet server belonging to BCP, a Montreal-based advertising firm that received tens of millions of dollars in contracts under the Chrétien government."

The company's response was:

1. Employees are not permitted to blog on company time;
2. The company didn't know anything about this until contacted by the Globe; and,
3. The company did only three thousand bucks worth of paid of work for Rae and provided no strategic advice.

On the third one, the answer would be "who cares?" This excuse - and that's all it is - doesn't even pass the proverbial sniff test from a hundred miles away. The company did work for Rae; it looks guilty even if it isn't. If all this ad agency does is produce geegaws, then Rae's people could get the whole thing done more effectively through some outfit like CafePress. We'd all have to start questioning Rae's strategic comms advisors.

On the second one, the company gets a wash since there is no solid evidence one way or the other. Maybe they knew, in which case they are just plain dumb. Maybe they didn't in which case they are just bystanders. Doesn't matter really since the bullshit answer to their third excuse sorta takes the credibility out of anything else.

On the first one, the blanket ban on blogging suggests a firm which is - in the ad world - a complete dinosaur. No blogging on company time? Sheesh. Try entering the 20th century, let alone the 21st.

But let's just wrap this thing up as neatly as we can:

Most people in the ad business are aware of the recent controversy over a series of blogs created for or influenced by Wal-Mart's marketers in the United States. That's a well-known political technique called astroturfing. That's the creation of fake supporters who make it appear as though there is a groundswell of backing for your guy. Instead of grassroots, it's the pastic alternative.

With the obvious influence of blogging, and the history of astroturfing, some bright advertising bunny thought the two would go together. And they can. But only for the few nanoseconds it takes some guy or gal fueled on nothing other than intravenous RedBull, Xena DVDs and cases of Hotpockets to track the IP addys.

The controversy will not doubt give Iggy's camp a chance to fake their outrage at the alleged fakery. The Rae guys will be on the defensive.

Most of the world will yawn.

But here's the thing.

If the allegations are true, then it means the other candidates can point to Rae, his team and their Quebec tchotchke boys and say legitimately that these guys truly are yesterday's men.

Fake bloggers and an astroturfing campaign?

That is so over.

24 November 2006

West NL oil exploration prospects grow

Houston-based Tekoil (OTC: TKGN) is one step closer to conducting 3D seismic exploration off Newfoundland and Labrador's west coast. The project cost is estimated at $8.0 million.

The company issued a news release on 21/22 November stating its application for the seismic program had been released by the provincial environment deaprtment from further review.

While two environmental bulletins were issued by the province this week, the provincial government website contains no news release announcing the Tekoil decision.

Tekoil is also reported to be looking at Stephenville as a possible site for a rig refurbishing facility. Two news stories - one from The Georgian and another from vocm.com in June 2006 - describe the company's interest both in exploration and in establishing the rig facility.

Tekoil's Newfoundland and Labrador operation is headed by Donna Parsons, a former petroleum engineering technologist and industrial benefits officer with the provincial natural resources department.

On the leading edge of corporate online presence, Tekoil's chief executive officer Mark Western maintains a blog.

LeBlanc "plying his trade": NB judge acquits blogger

In a 20 page decision delivered today, New Brunswick Judge William McCarroll acquitted blogger Charles LeBlanc of obstruction charges saying LeBlanc was merely "plying his trade" when he was arrested.

As CBC reported the decision:
"There is such a discrepancy between the evidence of Sgt. Parks and the CBC video [entered into evidence], that I find it unsafe to convict Mr. LeBlanc," he [McCarroll] wrote. "I am not even satisfied beyond a reasonable doubt that if Mr. LeBlanc was in fact ordered to leave by Sgt. Parks, he heard or understood the order."

McCarroll also said the officers had no right seize LeBlanc's digital camera or delete his photo without a search warrant.

Telly-torial: Playing to the crowd

When it comes to the CRA [Corporate Research Associates] poll, it's clear that something's afoot. During the period when the pollsters are calling people in this province, the provincial government becomes a virtual cornucopia of riches, offering up two or even three chickens for every pot.

And therein might lie part of the answer to a troubling question: how can a government have stratospheric polling numbers - like the Williams government did this fall - and still get thumped in a byelection, like it did in Signal Hill-Quidi Vidi?

Perhaps the answer is that things aren't always what they seem, and that numbers can and do lie.
Find the whole thing at thetelegram.com.

Good news for IOC

Defending the fibre optic deal on VOCM Open Line, Premier Danny Williams said his government has an "obligation to lower costs to business".

IOC can now rest easy.

Danny Williams will not be trying to screw the company out of power the company invested in and paid for itself.

Of course, the Premier will have to flip-flop in order to do that, but he made the blanket statement of government's policy.

And after all, what is fair is indeed fair.

Military drug screen shows 5% failure rate

Pre-deployment drug screening of troops slated for the next Afghanistan rotation showed 5% had used illicit drugs, according to the Globe and Mail.

The figure is significantly lower than the 18% rate previously reported by some media and Bond Papers, based on media reports.

Those who tested positive are being handled by administrative review. According to a National defence spokesperson, the review may lead to counseling and probation or release from the Canadian Forces.

A similar story was carried by the Chronicle-Herald.

So much for openness and transparency

In trying to defend government on the fibre folly recently, innovation minister Trevor Taylor called a local radio talk show and read - that's right quoted word-for-word - from a minute of the Executive Council giving direction to government officials.

Now this is a highly unusual thing since minutes of council are secret documents.

When asked to release the document in the House of Assembly, Taylor replied:
The fact of the matter is, Mr. Speaker, speaking of open and accountable, if he wants the MC, go get the transcript from the radio station.

The fact of the matter, Trev, is that since you quoted it, you would he honour-bound to release it or, be equally honour-bound to admit your mistake and resign from cabinet.

quoting the document and then telling the rest of us to get stuffed if we want to see it, isn't an option.

Oh and while we are at it...the Aliant fire occurred on October 20. The orchestrated outcries from government supporters occurred almost immediately and the whole deal passed through cabinet on October 26.

Hmmmm. That's pretty fast action, even for a deal that has been supposedly kicking around the system for 18 months. That's pretty fast considering the innovation minister was complaining that his comms on this project were lame because he was rushed. He never mentioned that every cabinet paper has to have a comms plan attached. Normally, 18 months would be time enough to get everything in order.

Even if we allow that the deal is actually much, much younger - like say only back to the spring (EWA was jammed up to provide its assessment in June) - that would still have given plenty of time to get the deal "showcased" properly.

A "showcase" of public spending

Some curious extracts from the House of Assembly Question Period, November 23, 2006. This section of QP is worth quoting in it's entirety so that we can see exactly the questions put and the answers. Bond Papers has highlighted some of the passages that really stand out, as well as the names of the speakers.

MR. [Gerry] REID: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

My questions are for the Premier, and again they concern giving gifts to his friends.

Mr. Speaker, in the late 1980s, the Mayor of Calgary at the time indicated that he did not care if Eastern Canadians froze to death in the dark. That mayor later went on to become Premier and, as we all know, Ralph Klein is about to retire later this year. This summer, at a Premiers' Conference held here in this Province, our Premier gave Ralph Klein and his wife sealskin fur coats valued at $8,000 as a retirement gift, I might add, Mr. Speaker.

Can the Premier tell us today what Ralph Klein or his wife did for this Province that would allow us or make us believe that we had to give $8,000 of taxpayers' money as a retirement gift?

MR. SPEAKER [Harvey Hodder]: The hon. the Premier.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

PREMIER [Danny] WILLIAMS: Mr. Speaker, I cannot do enough or spend enough money here to help the sealing industry in this Province.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!


MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

PREMIER WILLIAMS: What this is, it is an opportunity to have the senior statesman in this country, a man who has been Premier of the wealthiest province in the country for thirteen years, whose wife was a champion against addictions in crystal meth and brought in the initiative, the crystal meth initiative that has gone right across the country, has also been part of the OxyContin initiatives, these two people are leaders in the country, and for us, as Newfoundlanders and Labradorians, to give them an opportunity to proudly wear seal coats from the sealing industry in this Province is money well spent, and I would spend it again.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

The hon. the Leader of the Opposition.

MR. REID: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I have heard a lot of answers and non-answers in this House, but those are the lamest ones I have ever heard in sitting here in eleven years.

Mr. Speaker, we have hospital pharmacists looking for wage increases, we have out-migration at an alarming rate, we have schools that are full of mould, yet the Premier can spend our precious tax dollars so freely.

Can the Premier justify why he believed it to be acceptable to give $105,000 worth of gifts to the Premiers and their guests during this conference, including $35,000 worth of sweaters?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

PREMIER WILLIAMS: Mr. Speaker, if I may just expound, first of all, on the last question.

We have a sealing industry that is under siege and we have to do absolutely everything we can, nationally and internationally, to help that industry. It is an important industry to rural Newfoundland and Labrador and that is why I championed it on Larry King Live and took on the McCartneys on live international television, and we made a lot of ground there.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

PREMIER WILLIAMS: Mr. Speaker, in answer to the question as to why we gave these gifts to heads of provinces, heads of states in this country, whose support we need and we have for the Atlantic Accord, whose support we needed and we have for fallow field legislation, we were giving them rural Newfoundland and Labrador arts and crafts, sweaters knitted by Newfoundlanders for Newfoundlanders and Labradorians. [Emphasis added. The Premier refers to his colleagues as heads of state. That in itself is worthy of about an hour of careful consideration. Then he links giving of gifts with political support on certain initiatives. I doubt very much the Premier meant to suggest he was bribing other political leaders or that he was in some other fashion rewarding them for their support. Surely, their support for the initiatives mentioned were based on merit, not on the receipt of warm woolies.

And while we are at it, did the gifts come from Nonia, the province's oldest craft organization and a not-for-profit to boot? The Premier mentioned the arts council, which suggests the elite of the local arts community. Nonia is a crafts' store. It's merchandise is hand-made by women across the province. Bit of a difference between a sweater made like thousands of other for its practical value and one made as a purely creative endeavour.]

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

PREMIER WILLIAMS: Those gifts all came from various members of the arts council. We spent a significant amount of money in the arts council. We had a fundraiser the other night, we brought in the cultural and the arts community. We have invested heavily in the arts community and this is about promoting rural Newfoundland and Labrador. If you do not like that, I make no apologies.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Leader of the Opposition.

MR. REID: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Let me get it straight, you gave Ralph the fur coats to support the sealing industry, you gave the sweaters to support the agriculture industry. Let's talk about some of the other ones, the entertainment - how about the entertainment expenses? During this three day conference the taxpayers of this Province spent $132,000 keeping thirteen Premiers entertained with music and comedy.

I ask the Premier: Do you consider this a priority in the Province, a priority that includes a $75,000 fee for a one-hour musical performance by one band? [Emphasis added.]

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

PREMIER WILLIAMS: Mr. Speaker, I find it very acceptable. I find it to be money well spent. I take my greatest pride, as Premier of our Province, in showcasing every single bit of talent and music and culture that we have in this Province. If I have an opportunity to showcase that culture and that music, not only to the Premiers and their spouses and their staffs, but to international media, national and international media, and we take a group like Great Big Sea, recognized internationally all over the world, and this government has invested in them, we take someone like Rick Mercer, who is a tremendous talent, who has a national audience, one of the biggest national audiences on television, and we invest in him, then we take a whole showcase of our talent at The Rooms and we pay for them to perform, by God, that is money well spent. [BP note: Evidentally, I do need to raise my consulting fees. $75K for a one hour gig, even allowing for set-up etc etc? Wow. Even lawyers don't make that kinda dough.]

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

The hon. the Leader of the Opposition.

MR. SULLIVAN: Sit down, boy.

MR. REID: I am not going to sit down, I say to the Minister of Finance.

He talks about how proud he is to spend this kind of money, when we have youth in this Province who cannot afford diabetic pumps because this government will not compensate them for it.

Mr. Speaker, it appears that the Premiers also had a very good time being wined and dined by the taxpayers of this Province. We have the agriculture and the sealing industry covered. Maybe we are going to cover off the wine industry and the alcohol industry next, are we?

Mr. Speaker, does the Premier believe that $100,000 is an acceptable expenditure on sightseeing tours that provided beverages of various sorts to the Premiers and their guests?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER WILLIAMS: Mr. Speaker, there was a budget of about $1.25 million, basically, for this entire conference. You can rest assured that the cost to Alberta had to be significantly more than that. Albertans told us after it was over that we beat them to the punch. We basically put on a better performance for our Province than they did.

We took them - I am sorry, the Member for the Bay of Island obviously has a problem with the fact that we took the Premiers and their staff to the West Coast, so that we could showcase the Bay of Islands and Humber Valley and Corner Brook and Gros Morne and show off our tourism establishments. That is what we did. We took them there and then we took them back to the East Coast and we showcased the East Coast.

We showcased our talent, our music, we showcased our crafts and our manufacturing ability in rural Newfoundland, we showcased our land and we showcased our people because we gave them a good time and they talked about it all over this country.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

The Chair recognizes the hon. the Leader of the Opposition.

MR. REID: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Just imagine, what the Premier just said. He said: We beat Alberta in the show that we put off. The richest province in the country being out done by spending money by the poorest one in the country.

This issue is obviously a touchy one.

The Premier's Office issued a news release later that day suggesting the total cost of the conference was about $500,000. The figure given above is accurate, not the one from the news release. The total budget, but the tab was picked up by the provincial government, corporate sponsorships sought by the provincial government and some contribution by the conference secretariat.

The budget for the conference came in at about $1.5 million, which is - as BP understands it - about a half million more expensive than the Alberta show. No wonder the Albertans thought we outspent them. We did.

How do we know the figure? It was already made public in August in a story about the corporate gifts that government received to underwrite the cost of the show. Companies like INCO gave the government upwards of $500,000 in sponsorships.

INCO alone gave $75, 000. As the story linked above notes, Premier Williams had previously banned INCO from making corporate gifts to the Tory party because of concerns over conflict of interest. Here's what Bond wrote in August on the whole thing.

But here's an interesting thing: given that the "showcase" cost about $1.5 million to produce and, as we gather from the lame release, the economic benefit was calculated at $1.4 million, that leaves some fairly obvious implications:

- The whole thing was a wash, with the potential profit eaten up by added costs (like all the showcases); or,

- The "economic benefit" is actually just provincial government money being spent in the province, which really provides no substantive economic benefit at all. doesn'tt bring new money in; it merely recirculates the old.

Either way, that sort of funky fiscal figuring, coming from the Premier's Office makes one wonder about the fibre deal all over again.

23 November 2006

Of mice and antelope

On Tuesday night, Danny Williams addressed a bunch of loyal Tory supporters at the annual Premier's Dinner. While he hopefully spoke about a bunch of things, the only thing that got any airplay was remarks about how tough it is being a politician.

Specifically, he mentioned Kathy Goudie and questions about her working to retain nursing credentials and criticism from some blogger about his charity, the Williams Family Foundation.

Right off the bat, let's just say that while there is a dark side to politics few appreciate, Danny Williams' comments really were just more of his usual whiny way. Like his comments about our collective ingratitude despite the fact he has given the best years of his life, working 24/7 (including the frequent trips to Florida) all for the good of the province, you ungrateful bunch of wretches yada yada yada. People who heard the whinging either live or on tape probably just wanted him to suck it up, shut up and get on with the job he volunteered to do.

But if we look a bit more closely, we can see that Goudie's problem came not from keeping her professional credentials but from the Tupolev behaviour in refusing to give a simple answer to a simple question. [For the reference, check out the Akula skipper from Hunt for Red October.]

As for the blogger, it's hard to know what remark Danny was miffed about or even what blog got his attention. Certainly if it was anything written here, here or here, then the Premier just missed the point entirely.

Odds are good, though, that those two examples of Danny bemoaning other people's supposed pettiness were the part of his speech he put the most energy into. It's what really captures his own attention and in that moment of realization we get a clue to what is wrong with his administration.

They focus on mice instead of antelope.

Government is or more specifically politicians are like lions. They are big carnivores. They could eat mice. But mice are tiny and a typical lion would burn up way more energy hunting the little rodents than it would get from the ones it caught.

That's why lions hunt antelope. For the given output of energy, and the ones that get away, the lion can live quite handsomely on the ones it catches.

That's another way of saying that, as with any big organization, a government needs to keep focused on the important stuff.

Take the recent fibre fiasco. Innovation minister Trevor Taylor is quite right to say that no matter what, the political opposition would have focused its attention on the relationship between the Premier and his two former business partners who now run local telecom companies.

We know that Trevor and his colleagues were so profoundly aware of that issue that they rejected the deal not once but twice. We know because Trevor told us. Several times since the deal was announced.

And when Danny got back from his most recent vacation, he told us that the whole issue of the relationships was of such importance that not cabinet but he himself rejected the deal more than once.

This stupendous deal, with all its magnificent financial benefits was rejected repeatedly by Williams and his cabinet because of an appearance that they now say is really unimportant.

Yet another mouse hunt.

Let's not even consider the complete silliness of paying so much attention to public opinion poll numbers, as we have discussed on many previous occasions.

In the meantime, consider all the major initiatives that haven't happened. Like say the telecommunications strategy that would have made approval of the fibre deal far simpler than the torturous 18 months it actually took only to end up as a near-perfect political disaster.

Or the energy plan that has been kicking around now through three administrations - Grit and Tory - including this one. Or maybe a whole bunch of other things, from a debt management plan to an infrastructure plan to a real fisheries reform initiative to health care reform and heaven knows what else.

Rather than talking about things, this is an administration that could be doing things.

Instead, this is a government that spends way too much scarce time chasing after mice, instead of antelope.

And then, as with the Premier's speech the other night, bitching about how difficult a job mouse hunting is.

Let the good times roll

This story from vocm.com doesn't convey the full impact of the criticism that let the Williams administration to issue this lame-assed release. When Hansard is published later on Thursday evening online, Bond Papers will offer some extracts.

Notice that it was put out so hastily in response to an attack in the House of Assembly, the title on the top of your browser is actually for another release.

It gives a whole new meaning to federal-provincial transfers.

Of course, as say-nothing releases go, this ministerial statement from the no business minister, tops the list of completely empty comments from a politician. It simply repeats an equally vacuous news release issued in June and another issued in October. If the next update wasn't supposed to come until January - according to the October statement - then why did Kevin O'Brien make this statement today?

Think quotas of good news for polling season and department with no accomplishments after three years' work.

Fibre optic document thin on details

A document on the fibre optic deal, tabled in the House of Assembly this week contains largely generic information and potential savings for government telecommunications from the deal are based on a verbal suggestion by Persona Communications.

Bond Papers obtained a copy of the document. Following are excerpts from the document. Bond Papers observations are contained inside square brackets "[ ]".

The document, titled Report Excerpts, was prepared by EWA-Canada for the Department of Innovation, Trade and Rural Development. It contains portions of two tasks assigned by the provincial government.

In total, the document contains 25 pages. Of that, only nine contain concrete information and appear to be from an executive of the complete EWA report. Two pages are the title page and a contents listing. The balance - 14 pages - is a summary of impact assessments for expanded broadband service in other jurisdictions and four pages containing brief corporate profiles for the companies involved in the assessment. No specific cost/benefit analysis for the Persona proposal is included. Any references to specific numbers/costs were in the released document, in keeping with provisions of the provincial Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act.

EWA was tasked to "review overall reasonableness of the proposal made by Persona Communications Inc. For Government to invest in a new fibre optic connection to North American communications networks". (p.2)

EWA recommended revisions to the proposal. It recommended:

- Persona be required to post a performance bond;

- that the provincial government share of fibre be increased to XX on land and sea versus XX "fully redundant" fibre suggested by Persona; [BP note: specific numbers deleted in government-released copy] and,

- future contracts should ensure "open and unencumbered access to infrastructure" in accordance with Canadian regulations and standards.

Summary and observations:

1. According to EWA, the Persona business case provides "internal rates of return" to Persona of XX% and unspecified net present value. This includes government's $15 million and the CDLI project. [BP note: CDLI = cross-island redundancy begun in 2005 with federal and provincial financing; numbers deleted in original).

2. The business case does not include "ancillary benefits to Persona from new connections and new services" as a result of the project. [BP note: This important since persona clearly stands to see an expansion of its own business from the installation of fibre optic capacity in Newfoundland and Labrador and Nova Scotia.]

3. "This project would require an interested equity partner who can derive some benefits other than immediate cash flows." (p.3) [BP note: This may mean that prospective commercial partners would not be prepared to accept losses or very low returns on investment. The only way the whole project becomes viable is with public money and with little or no expectation of a direct financial return.]

4. "Only limited approvals" in Nova Scotia had been received up to the time of the report (June 2006) for the installations on land in that province. Upwards of half the land distance of new cable is in Nova Scotia in order to connect to the nearest multi-fibre hub. (p.3)

5. Given the limited rates of return to Persona noted above, the project would require additional funding by one or more of the partners to cover cost over-runs resulting from issues such as unanticipated geographical challenges. (p.3)

6. At the time of the report, the provincial government did not have in mind a use for the fibre it would acquire other than as a safeguard against future monopolization in the telecom industry. (p.4) [BP note: This confirms that the provincial government has no telecommunications strategy, despite claims to the contrary, and that this project was not assessed in terms of potential benefit to government's own telecom requirements.]

7. At $15 million, government would be overpaying for the quantity of fibre contained in the original proposal. (p.4) [BP note: EWA recommended increasing the amount of fibre and location purchased by government.]

8. Benefits expected fall into general categories of more business opportunities and improved opportunities for research-related telecommunications. (p.5) [BP note: At no point does EWA provide an indication of concrete examples of cost reductions, actual business opportunities or any other benefits that can be quantified. This is due, in part, to the very tight time frames given to EWA to produce the report.]

9. One benefit is vague and almost incomprehensible as written: "Infrastructure conservation by permitting work to be done closer to home and reducing the Newfoundland diasporas [sic]." (p.5)

10. EWA states that it was not possible to quantify benefits in the limited time available. (p.5) [BP note: less than four weeks. On page C-9, the consultants refer to the theoretical or generally accepted benefits of broadband versus dial-up in terms of transmission capacity (1 gigabit per second versus 1 megabit per second). There is no discussion in the document of existing fibre capacity and data transmission rates for the province as a whole. As a result this comparison - which the Premier used in the House of Assembly - is virtually meaningless. The province already has broadband for the university and other users in major centres.

In the same section, the consultant speculates that the province may become attractive for projects involving large data transmission. The example cited is the digitization of the Library of Congress. No assessment is made of the existing competition for such services and what, if any, competitive advantages might exist for such work to be done in Newfoundland and Labrador. Again, it is an entirely fanciful example of a potential advantage. ]

11. With respect to overall financial benefits to the provincial government for its telecom costs, "Persona has verbally suggested a possible savings of 50% or $XXXXXX". (p.5) [BP note: While the Premier and others have referred to this figure, there appears to be no concrete evidence it is anything other than a ballpark estimate by Persona. As well, the savings appear to be related to provincial government telecoms expenditures. Some government comment makes it appear the savings estimate is for the province as a whole, i.e. government plus the consumer market.]

12. There is no reference to the anticipated benefits of $400 million over the expected 40 year lifespan of the fibre. This appears to be a calculation by government based on the unsubstantiated verbal claim by Persona referred to above.

13. No engineering appraisal was released at all. There is no examination in the released portion of the report of the implications of stringing the cables along telephone poles versus using buried cable as in the existing Aliant project.

14. The consultant recommended a formal process for assessing unsolicited proposals.

Video "strong evidence": blogger trial judge

A video tape entered into evidence in the New Brunswick trial of a blogger charged with obstructing police is "strong evidence" that the accused was standing to one side of a demonstration taking pictures, according to the trial judge.

Judge William Carroll did not dismiss the Crown's case but noted that the video evidence also did not appear to show Charles LeBlanc resisting arrest, an offense he is also accused of committing.

In testimony, police admitted they visited LeBlanc's blog to gain further information about the protest and arrested LeBlanc because they did not consider him to be a legitimate journalist.

Police Sergeant John Carroll said LeBlanc looked too "scruffy" to be a journalist and was carrying an "un-professional"- looking digital camera. Parks admitted to deleting a picture of himself from LeBlanc's camera when LeBlanc was arrested.

22 November 2006

Telecom cable or time machine?

Offal News has a new take on Danny Williams' latest fibre fiasco comments. As Lono notes, the Premier's claims are just too good to be true.

Around here, the whole comment just seems like a cheap homage to Joe Smallwood's kingdom in the 1960s.

The time curtain parts...and suddenly two Premiers seem to merge as one, their words flowing together in defiance of all laws of physics. Words put together in the style of the older man seem to come straight from the mouth of the younger:
The benefits, the good, the boons that will flow from this sacrifice by such great men cannot be measured. The prosperity that they dare to inflict on every man and woman and child of this province, the wealth and the hope that will visit every bay and every village this cable touches cannot be sized by any means known in history. We shall have to invent a new way.

Science, technology ...all the ingenuity of men and women through the all the millenia of human civilization has not yet devised an instrument nor a measuring device nor even a concept of measure capable of determining the volume of benefit that will come from the selfless sacrifice to this province given by these two men.

These men should not be criticized. It be a crime to even think of doubting them. They should not be asked to justify investing public money in such a deal of evident glory. We should be thanking them, we should be kissing their feet in humility at their generosity, their vision, their foresight.

The only people who criticise this deal are people with small minds and low motives. People who would forever condemn this magnificent island and its magnificent people to a life of servitude at the hands of foreign masters.

I wish I had a thousand more men like these two to develop this province.

What would Homer do?

A PR buddy of mine, long since promoted to awesome heights of responsibility in public relations, used to keep a folder in his desk drawer he called the Homer Simpson File.

Every story he came across that illustrated a good teaching point went into the file for future use. As you might imagine, the stories were not examples of good practice; rather, each one had a moment in it when - like Homer Simpson - everyone would exclaim "D'oh!".

We've all been to lectures, workshops or other professional development sessions featuring tales of some manager or other or some corporation who led a team to victory or who single-handedly took a project to a stirring conclusions amid shouts of international adulation.

Homer Simpson File stories were illustrations of what happened when you forget the simple stuff. And the Homer stories were never examples of perfect hindsight or cases where you wondered why people never saw the train coming until it was too late.


These were stories that sometimes amounted to PIBOs: penetrating insights into the bloody obvious.

These were cases where the people involved saw the train barreling toward them. They marvelled at the exciting noise, bright shiny lights and even the rumbling under their feet sometimes right up to the moment where the headlight on the engine was a couple of inches from their forehead.

So if it was, in fact, so bloody obvious, why did it happen?

And that's a clue to the value of a Homer Simpson moment.

Do a search for "pr blogs" or "pr measurement" and you'll come across a wealth of insightful discussion on ways of telling if this or that public relations tactic or campaign is effective. The former train spotters will tabulate all sorts of things, assign scores, create equations and emerge with what they believe is the definitive answer.

Sometimes, the most convincing measurement for a course of action is to figure what happens if you don't follow a recommended or - bleeding obvious - path.

The current kerfuffle over fibreoptic cables has a bunch of Homer Simpson moments in it. The one that stands out is the whole business of the Ken Marshall-Dean Macdonald-Danny Williams, political contributions, political appointments and The Deal.

Every single one of the Big Guys in this deal saw this one issue coming.

They went ahead anyway, convinced there was value in the project.

Fair enough.

But, as innovation minister Trevor Taylor stated several times, the whole deal was rejected by cabinet because of the Dean-Ken-Danny relationship.

Someone suggested putting out a call for proposals.

That idea got shot down supposedly because $1.0 million for the RFP process was too much to spend on to check that the price tag of $15 million was good. Bear in mind the provincial government hired an outside, out-of-province - and likely expensive - consultant to review the original proposal.

Deal gets approved. Deal gets announced.

Headlines scream across the country about allegations of deals among buddies and public money for private sector companies that didn't need it. And Danny Williams? After weeks of pounding largely over the complete public relations cock-up involved, the Premier is reduced to accusing people of smearing reputations.

Like he didn't see that one coming.

By his own admission, he saw it.



Danny Williams' Booty Call

Yeah. It's a new show coming to Rogers Cable really soon.

Actually, it's the result of Danny Williams threat to "sue the ass off" opposition leader Gerry Reid. Reid managed to get under the Premier's extremely thin-skin during the legislature's Question Period on Tuesday.

If CBC television reported the comment accurately, Reid was needling the Premier about one of several business deals Williams or Williams' companies cut with the Brian Tobin administration.

There have long been rumours about the sweetheart arrangements, but thus far nothing solid has popped up into the public domain.

Except for The Dan's exploding head.

That was a pretty good indicator that whatever Reid was talking about must strike just a little close to home for Danny's taste. There's no other reason for a smart operator like Danny Williams to threaten lawsuits in vulgar language over such a comment.

Nope, Danny, you protest too much. Way too much.

As for Danny Williams' irritation at being questioned, he should get used to it.

Any questions being raised about this cable deal among friends pales in comparison to Williams own scurrilous, unfounded and entirely personal attacks on anyone who opposed him since he entered politics in 2001.

If you can't take it, don't dish it out.

Don't try your usual tactic of bully-boy bluffing, either. When you threaten to sue someone's ass off - someone who likely has a nice stack of documents on the projects in his desk drawer - well maybe you better hope the guy you threaten doesn't call your bluff.


Addendum [0930 hrs]:

Just to be perfectly clear: rumours aren't facts and around St. John's, rumours are notoriously inaccurate. The only thing - the only thing - about the exchange in the legislature that drew attention to it was Williams strong reaction in vulgar language in the legislature.

From a public relations perspective, Reid's attack was surprisingly effective in getting the Premier off message. Message in this case would typically be about the merits of the deal and a factual rebuttal of criticism.

For Williams in this instance, though, the message has lately been about the supposed trashing of reputations of people who Williams rightly contends are respected business people. That's still a relatively weak portion of the whole argument, though, since the deal should stand on its own merits.

The people involved - as respected and able as they are - are irrelevent, or at least they should be irrelevent. If the opposition try and make it an issue, the Premier should be speaking to what should be the strongest argument in favour of what the government approved: the technical and financial benefits of the deal.

21 November 2006

Electronic Warfare?

If someone needed secure communications systems, automated intelligence gathering or other things normally associated with the phrase "electronic warfare", it would logical to call on a company called Electronic Warfare Associates.

But if you needed someone to assess the financial viability and other similar aspects of a civilian fibre-optic cable network proposal, why would get a bunch of guys who are security experts?

It must make sense to Danny Williams but for the rest of us - including those of us familiar with defence and security issues - we are left scratching our heads. Editorial opinion seems to be curious about the Premier's logic as well. Here's an example from the hometown newspaper of the province's business minister.

Perhaps if the Premier posted the whole report to the government website, we might get a better idea of where his head is.

Blogger trial tests definition of journalist

New Brunswick blogger Charles LeBlanc, who describes himself as an Internet journalist, is on trial for obstructing police during a demonstration in Saint John last June.

LeBlanc's defence is based, in part, on his contention that he is a journalist legitimately entitled to cover the event. The issue is a new one for Canada where bloggers function in an admittedly grey area of the laws affecting reporters. In California, one judge ruled in 2005 that a blogger was not a journalist and therefore was obliged to reveal sources used for a posting.

LeBlanc was taking pictures for his blog when he was arrested. According to a CBC news story posted on LeBlanc's site, Police Sergeant John Parks testified he saw LeBlanc approach the officer from behind and considered him a protester since he wasn't dressed in business attire as were other journalists. Parks said he cautioned LeBlanc to leave the scene or risk arrest.

Park and police constable Tanya Lawlor arrested LeBlanc, despite LeBlanc's repeated statements at the time that he was reporting on the protest. Park seized LeBlanc's digital camera and deleted a photograph of the officer.
After the incident, Lawlor said she looked up LeBlanc's blog on the internet, and found pictures of herself brandishing a baton to ward off protesters, set to the song Kung Fu Fighting.

She said it made her feel humiliated and demoralized.
Other witness, including journalists from mainstream media, contend LeBlanc was taking pictures at the time of his arrest.

In June, LeBlanc was barred from attending at the New Brunswick legislature for allegedly unacceptable behaviour in the legislature precincts. LeBlanc subsequently interviewed New Brunwick Premier Shawn Graham following Graham's swearing in.

LeBlanc, who receives social assistance and uses a digital camera donated by an anonymous supporter, has become fixture at the New Brunswick legislature as he interviews politicians and senior bureaucrats for his blog.