29 December 2006

Don't be surprised

if Danny spends the weekend persuading Jerome Kennedy to join cabinet as the unelected minister of justice and attorney general.

Danny did muse today about attracting "new blood" into politics. Kennedy is the only blood coming forward to indicate an interest in joining Williams' team. Constitutionally, Kennedy can take on a job in cabinet without a seat.

Kennedy could wait until the October general election to seek a seat in Carbonear where he reputedly had wanted to run instead of Signal Hill-Quidi Vidi.

Williams spreads thin, thinner

In the wake of Loyola Sullivan's sudden resignation, Premier Danny Williams issued:

- this short political good-bye note; and,

- this announcement of changes to the ministry.

Tom Marshall moves to head finance and treasury board.

Tom Rideout [left] becomes acting minister of justice and attorney general in addition to being deputy premier, minister responsible for aboriginal affairs and minister of fisheries and aquaculture. The deputy premier thing got left out of the release.

The Canadian Press version of the Sullivan story doesn't shed much light on Sullivan's motivation. No fault of CP; Sullivan was pretty cryptic. The CBC online story has a bit of added information but it, too, doesn't shed light on Sullivan's motivation beyond the unusual answers Sullivan offered.
The explanation Sullivan offered is unusual since none of the points he made necessitated an immediate resignation today.

In a scrum today, Williams apparently spoke of his looking forward to injecting new blood into his party and cabinet. Sullivan didn't really leave him much of a chance to do that; Williams learned of the resignation on Thursday night around 9:00 PM, according to Sullivan.

The hurried departure means Williams will have to call two by-elections early in the new year. One will be to find a replacement for Ed Byrne in Kilbride. The other will now be held to replace Sullivan whose old seat in the legislature abutts Byrne's riding.

Breaking: Sullivan surprise resignation

Loyola "Rain Man" Sullivan stunned Newfoundland and Labrador today by announcing his immediate departure from politics.

Sullivan - who was minister of finance and president of treasury board - submitted his resignation this morning. Premier Danny Williams will be available to meet with reporters at 1300 hours today. No word yet on a cabinet shuffle

Bond Papers will update, as information becomes available.

Danny Williams resignation: Bond Papers news story of 2006

While many stories vied for contention, Danny Williams' resignation is Bond Paper's news story of the year for 2006 and Danny Williams is the newsmaker of the year.

Williams announced his resignation - actually that he would not seek a third term in 2011 - in comments made to VOCM and then repeated in subsequent year-end interviews.

Williams' resignation, likely to come in 2009 or 2010 after a decision on the Lower Churchill, comes at the end of a year of continued set-backs for the premier who has been in equal measures petulant and posturing.

His announcement will further limit his ability to accomplish anything of substance on his own agenda in his remaining time in office. His cabinet and caucus will be reluctant to implement major initiatives that would limit harm their political fortunes and as government members begin to jockey for the leadership, government operations will slow.

Hebron fails

The past year marked a turning point for the Williams administration. The first setback was the collapse of negotiations on the Hebron oil field. After achieving an apparent agreement on January 26 covering royalties and local benefits, Williams introduced new conditions for a settlement including a 4.9% "equity stake" and so-called super-royalties that would see the province collect additional royalties as long as oil prices stayed above US$50 per barrel.

Bond Papers attributed the failure of the Hebron talks to a combination of a miscalculation by the Premier and a fundamental conflict of interest in the negotiations that saw the future equity partner sitting as the province's chief negotiator on benefits and royalties.

The economic impact of the Hebron failure was immediate. Housing prices in the St. John's area dropped dramatically, with some reporting a 25% decline in higher end properties. Oil companies drastically reduced their local offices. Chevron, for example, redeployed the 60 or so staffers working on Hebron, leaving behind a skeleton crew of five or six to oversee Chevron interest in existing production.

In April, Husky Energy's John Lau said the company would sideline its reported interest in natural gas exploration pending release of the province's gas royalty regime in the fall of 2006. By the end of 2006, Williams delayed announcement of the royalty regime and the province's energy plan until sometime in 2007.

The local oil and gas industry looked forward to starting construction of a major new field at Hebron. Construction was expected to pump the better part of $2.0 billion into the local economy and the royalty projections held the provincial government would receive between CDN$8.0 and CDN$10.0 billion in royalties over the life of Hebron production. Industry insiders anticipated the positive mood resulting from a Hebron deal would boost exploration which had recently seen increasing interest.

Instead, activity is likely to shrink with no construction at all and drilling programs. A decision on developing South Hibernia's 300 million barrels of light sweet crude has been delayed, with insiders speculating that the Williams administration will veto any approval of the project by the offshore regulatory board. A recent land sale by the board saw three parcels receiving no bids. In another sale, six of eight parcels received bids with the work commitments being primarily for seismic research. Delineation drilling on existing fields is largely completed and the only exploration drilling planned for 2007 is a pair of wells in the deep waters of the Orphan Basin.

More slipping and sliding in the oil patch

Williams met the Hebron failure with threats of expropriation, a tactic he tried with Abitibi Consolidated and its Stephenville operation. When Williams tried to elicit federal support for so-called fallow field powers, he was rejected flatly by Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper. This was one of several examples of Williams' inability to gain support in Ottawa.

Williams was also shut down in efforts to install St. John's mayor Andy Wells as chairman and chief executive officer of the offshore regulatory board. The federal government under Paul Martin was prepared to appoint Wells as chairman of the board, but Williams rejected the offer in favour of an effort to have Wells occupy both positions. An independent arbitration panel rejected Williams' choice in favour of a candidate who met all the provincial government's agreed upon selection criteria.

The successful candidate was forced to take legal action to secure his appointment. Williams fought the action, inventing a definition of one clause of the Atlantic Accord that was soundly rejected by the province's Supreme Court.

Lard of the Rings

In year-end interviews, Premier Danny Williams described the House of Assembly scandal as his single greatest regret of 2006. The province's auditor general alleged that some $4.4 million had been inappropriately spent by the legislature between 1997 and 2005. The accusations - which included members in all parties - cost Williams one of his senior ministers and cast a pall over the entire legislature.

But the handling of the scandal suggests Williams may be unwilling or unable to address serious problems. The Auditor General's reports account for less than half the overspending during the period. Williams has been contradicted by his finance minister - Loyola Sullivan [left]- on at least one occasion, namely the question of recovering money allegedly misappropriated. Williams favoured waiting until all investigations and reviews were finished; Sullivan moved to recover money from five current and former members of the legislature immediately.

In a broader sense though, Sullivan's continued handling of the file suggests problems within the administration that speak directly to the Premier's inability to control his administration or his reluctance to do so. Either way, the problems are deep.

Sullivan has been a member of the legislature's management committee for much of the period currently being investigated by three separate agencies. As well, he has been minister of finance since 2003 and has such has been or ought to have been aware of overspending. Bond Papers demonstrated that some of the most significant overspending occurred in the years after the October 2003 election.

Yet Sullivan remains as finance minister and cabinet has approved investigations and reviews which specifically avoid looking at actions by the legislature's Internal Economy Commission. As finance minister, Sullivan received the reports from Auditor General John Noseworthy [right] that alleged misappropriations and overspending.

The existence of this fundamental conflict of interest suggest that the premier is either unwilling or unable to take decisive action. The ease with which Sullivan won the fight over repayments suggests Williams is increasingly impotent within his own cabinet.

Sullivan's power: the clash over Equalization

This is not the first or most example of Sullivan's ability to contradict his boss in public and win. In the 2004 federal election, Sullivan endorsed the Conservative's Equalization plans while Williams publicly declared their impact could not be calculated.

In 2005/2006, Williams declared that the provincial government officially favoured inclusion of all provincial revenues in Equalization calculations as part of an overall reform of the major federal transfer to the provinces. Sullivan endorsed Harper's proposal.

By mid-2006, Williams was picking fights with Ottawa but based entirely on the position Sullivan had favoured. Sullivan's political partner, federal cabinet minister Loyola Hearn praised Sullivan as being the best negotiator on behalf of the province. This was a direct and calculated slap at Williams who bills himself as built a reputation for negotiating good deals on behalf of clients and avoiding bad deals.

Williams' political impotence likely to grow

Bond Papers selected Danny Williams as newsmaker of the year for the obvious and significant impact he had on the province and its economy in 2006. That impact will continue in 2007. The full - and likely negative - impact of the Hebron failure will be seen in the years beyond Williams' planned departure. In the same way, the full impact of Williams' announced departure from the premier's office will have an increasing impact on public life over the next three years. For that reason, Williams' resignation is the news story of this year.

By his own calculation, Williams' last years in politics will be focused on developing the Lower Churchill. A "go/no-go" decision is expected in 2009. It is possible there will be a flurry of activity in the months leading up to the fall 2007 general election and immediately after, but experience suggests otherwise.

Williams' administration has been characterised by extreme slowness in implementing even the most simple of initiatives. It took six months after his first cabinet was sworn in to find names for his departments. His own department - Business - languished for three years without staff appointments. The energy plan - inherited from previous Liberal administrations - has taken a further three years to develop under Williams and is slated for release some time in 2007.

An accountability act that was supposedly the centrepiece of Williams' ethics agenda sat un-proclaimed until December. It was only proclaimed after public criticism from the province's auditor general but even then departments and agencies have been given a further two years - until 2008 - to comply.

Typically, though, lame duck first ministers are unable to implement major initiatives the closer they get to leaving office. The reason is simple: those who will carry on, especially his likely successor won't want to take political hits on his behalf. The new leader will want as free a hand as possible to bring in his or her own agenda once in office.

The period from Brian Tobin's departure in October 2000 to Roger Grimes' swearing-in in early 2001 was a period of near complete inactivity within the provincial government. As a general election grew closer, Grimes' administration was unable or unwilling to implement any major initiatives that would likely draw public criticism. Senior public servants grew tired of complaining of the impotence of cabinet collectively.

The same thing occurred in 1988/89 in the period after Brian Peckford announced his resignation. It also occurred in 1979 in the wake of Frank Moores' departure.

The growing leadership fight within the Progressive Conservative party will be one of the other sources of friction within an administration already known for gear-grinding tardiness. Prospective leaders will devote increasing amounts of time to luring political support. Even if Williams requires declared candidates to resign from cabinet, political attention will inevitably turn increasingly away from governing and towards leadership issues for 12 to 18 months before Williams departure.

None have declared yet but early speculation suggests several current ministers will look to replace their current boss. Loyola Sullivan is a former party leader with a strong power base. Tom Rideout [left], currently fisheries minister and deputy premier, is a former premier who has longed to get his old job back. InTRD minister Trevor Taylor has potential.

Williams may shuffle his cabinet early in 2007 to change assignments. In the current cabinet configuration, any leadership fight involving Sullivan and Rideout - for example - has the potential to paralyse cabinet with two senior ministers jockeying for advantage. A change of assignments would also allow Williams to shrink from public scrutiny and focus on the one thing that may be his legacy: a Lower Churchill deal.

No matter how you assess the situation, there's no escaping the conclusion: Danny Williams' resignation is not only the news story of 2006, it will be be at the heart of news for the next three years.


Kingsley quits

Except for the fruit loops at the National Citizens Coalition and the other fruit loops who believe there are Liberal conspiracies in the media, in the bureaucracy and in the atmosphere just floating around, the sudden and cryptic resignation of Jean Pierre Kingsley as chief electoral officer for Canada is a bad sign.

[Right: Local planted Connie caller sits on hold waiting for Randy to return to the air on Monday morning, so he can explain why Kingsley was a kitten-eating alien Liberal agent.]

28 December 2006

Law firm name of 2006

Atlantic regional law firms Patterson Palmer and Cox, Hanson, O'Reilly, Matheson announced in March that they would be merging effective in August.

Ok. Well, it's December and the firms are still operating separately if their separate websites are any indication.

But that's not the important bit.

The new firm will need a new name, since PPCHOM or some combination of those letters will be just too much for any letterhead to bear.

According to some sources, the firms have apparently settled on a new name for the merged firm, once it finally springs fully formed from the broodings of way too many corporate anal-retentive lawyers.

The name they've reputedly settled on: Cox, Palmer.

The stories Bond Papers has been getting could be apocryphal - the polite word for bullshite - but then again, you never know.

Over in the land God gave to Lucy Maud, the authorities were seriously considering naming a new post-secondary school the Samuel Holland Institute of Technology until someone wrote down the new acronym.

You may note that the two firms hired a Halifax-based ad agency - the cleverly named Extreme Group - to carry out the branding exercise for the new creation once the lawyers have finished the due diligence piece.

Whistling past the graveyard?

Maybe Danny should be paying attention to Bond Papers.

His comments on oil and gas to vocm.com run directly contrary to every indicator as Bond Papers posted just this morning. The petroleum industry globally is looking pretty well anywhere except Newfoundland and Labrador.

If we wanted to say it politely, we'd say the Premier is whistling past the graveyard.

The Venezuelan ideal

Danny Williams sorta likes the comparison to Hugo Chavez.

Danny's ersatz oil and gas company executives like to talk about how much of the world's oil and gas is run by state-owned enterprises.

Well, here's another view of the Venezuelan model, courtesy of the Washington Post.
"This [artificially low gasoline price] is something that really does not benefit the public," said Eddie Ramírez, a former state oil company executive who believes poorer Venezuelans shoulder much of the burden because they do not own cars. "It helps the privileged. But it's a theme that has always been taboo."

Gas demand drops

Demand for natural gas is forecast to drop in the United States next year and analysts say interesting in natural gas exploration is dropping.

In Newfoundland and Labrador, a natural gas royalty regime remains elusive. originally talked about in 1998, it has languished under successive administrations. The most recent policy dithering under Danny Williams has seen the policy largely ignored for the better part of three years. It will now be included in the energy plan - due sometime next year, having been proposed several times in 2006 and delayed inexplicably each time.

Local CBC names AG top newsmaker

We can all buy the rationale.

But at what point will local media start looking more closely at Noseworthy himself and the management of the overall story?

There's a lot more to the House scandal than meets the eye.

Maine gas plant files for regulatory approval

DownEast filed Friday for certification of a US$500 million facility in Maine that would re-gasify 500 million cubic feet of natural gas per day for the American market.

The environmental certification application is likely to be opposed by environmentalists in New Brunswick.

Think of it this way

Will Gill Deacon be filling in for Mansbridge?

So then why...?

You know what I am driving at.

27 December 2006

Ford dies; Reagan surprise

Former American president Gerald Ford died Tuesday, aged 93.

The guy who made Chevy Chase's career became president with Richard Nixon's resignation. He is generally regarded as a principled, capable president who led the United States through one of the most difficult periods in the country's political history.

In other news, recent scholarship has revealed that Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev came close to completely eliminating their nations' nuclear weapons arnsenals at the Iceland summit in 1986.

The story originally aired on CBC's The Current back in October, but your humble e-scribbler only caught the interviews on Boxing Day. Here's a link to the audio file.

In 1986, some of us were headed to graduate school for more work on defence and foreign policy, so arms control was right at the heart of what we were doing. And yes, some of us felt that while there could and should be dramatic reductions in the size of nuclear arsenals, it was almsot impossible for two countries to reduce to zero unless every country reduced their arsenal to zero at the same time. The issue is a little more complex than either The Current's host and her schollar-guests acknowledge.

Nonetheless, the work they talk about sheds an entirely new perspective on a very important international political event.

It should also help some people to dramatically revise their views. If one prof in particular is still teaching international security and arms control courses at Memorial's political science department, he'll have to go back to the drawing board. One of the favourite demons in his analysis turns out to have been the opposite of the characture he liked to draw.

The Reykjavik Files can be found here at George Washington University's website.

26 December 2006

NL hospitals included?

It's nice to hear about the medical capabilities at hospitals in the "Maritimes", but will any hospitals in Newfoundland and Labrador be accepting casualties from the next rotation in Afghanistan?

Some aspects of this story sound like a Canadian Press staffer living in Halifax writing Christmas filler.

24 December 2006

Yuletide amusements

1. From John Gushue, a little quiz on local politics and current events in the past year. Your humble e-scribbler missed two questions. John is a wicked quiz compiler.

2. From NORAD, their annual live tracking of Santa as he travels around the world on this Christmas Eve. The site is fun and the wee ones in your household will delight in the videos of Santa as he travels to New Zealand and Australia (already done).

23 December 2006

Happy Christmas!

Now that the annoyance is over, enjoy these contrasting examples of the mummering tradition. The first is from Dorset, the West Country county whence so many Newfoundlanders are descended. The second is a tiny snippet from Newfoundland.

Sadly, this was the only Newfoundland example of mummering available on Youtube. The local tradition of mummering is much more informal than the Dorset one, at least as described in the notes accompanying the clip above.

22 December 2006

Leftovers from polling period

Government news releases must be on the quota system.

Either that or some departments just felt the need to clear out their backlog of bumpf on this, the last working day before Christmas.

How encouraging it is to know the provincial government is committed to safe communities.

That last government grant to roving gangs of murderers and rapists had me worried for a second.


Oh yes.

One last thing.

It's nicely written, Bill.

But public onanism - even in written form - is still a crime that can land you in jail. Look up s. 173 or 175 of the Crim Code. There's a good chance someone in your office has a copy.

Twisted Christmas

1. There's a Santa who looks a lot like Elvis. ram file; great little parody of a song made famous by Bing Crosby.

2. Weird Al: Christmas at Ground Zero

21 December 2006

Retilling the much ploughed patch

From the Financial Post, this article on the movement of aluminum production to the Middle East and Asia.

The big attraction is low-cost power and the giant manufacturing markets that need aluminum. In the past decade, China's share of world aluminum production has gone from 9% to 25%. Canada's share has declined by a couple of percentage points; ditto Europe (including Iceland). The American share has dropped as dramatically as China's has risen.

This seems like an opportune time to quote an observation by the late Don Jamieson, left, once deputy prime minister, minister of external affairs and at one time minister of regional economic expansion in the Government of Canada.

He once observed a common trait - a faulty perception really - among so many in Canada. The following excerpt is from his memoir, No place for fools: the political memoirs of Don Jamieson, volume 1, (St. John's: Breakwater, 1989), p. 158:

He [Joe Smallwood] was the victim as well of a delusion I have observed frequently among leaders at many levels. He thought that the area where he held sway was larger and more important than it actually was. Newfoundland was Smallwood's life, his universe and he developed exaggerated, unrealistic expectations for it. If other provinces and regions could have steel mills and similar heavy industries, so could Newfoundland. Likewise for secondary manufacturing and resource upgrading. Smallwood saw himself breaking new ground with this approach; in fact, he was retilling a much ploughed patch and, subconsciously, seeking to outperform previous Newfoundland leaders.
These days some use this sort of delusion to drive an entire blog-worth of posts or calls to talk shows in which, inevitably, Confederation would be blamed for the economic rise of China or for the misfortune of Newfoundland not being adjacent to the Asian giant.

Another kindred spirit runs the province on much the same delusion as some of his predecessors. No wonder the blogger is so critical of the other; they are fighting for same shop-worn turf.

(h/t to Offal News' Simon Lono for recalling Jamieson's wisdom)

The problem for Stock Day

Forget the fractured syntax.

Forget the racial overtones.

Stock Day obviously thinks in Stone Age terms if he refers to "down-east spearchuckers".

Here's what those "down-east" types think of when it comes to missile weapons, political or otherwise:

You keep on living in the past Stock and we'll see you at the polls.

Iceland's miracle: the other side

For some people, Iceland has replaced Ireland as the model du jour that we should be aping as quickly as possible.

Yada yada yada.

None of the proponents of the Iceland model actually talk about the Iceland model as it actually is; they just talk about what they fantasize it means. That's largely just an excuse to avoid dealing with local issues in a practical way, of course.

Well, one of the costs of Iceland's supposed economic miracle is a currency that is dropping against the Euro. As a result, the Icelandic central bank has raised interests rates to 14.25%. It's been about 15 years since we've seen those kinds of interest rates in Canada.

Investors are keeping a close eye on the Iceland situation since the whole economic tension is coming from a government deficit on current account that is running at 27% of gross domestic product in the third quarter.

To put that in context, that's the equivalent of the provincial government here running a deficit - in a three month period just ended - of around $1.35 billion. That's just in one quarter, and assuming the economic output in the economy right at the moment is about $5.0 billion per quarter.

At that rate, Newfoundland and Labrador would add another $5.0 billion or so to its debt in a single year. The current consolidated accrual debt at the moment is estimated at $11.0 billion. The whole government budget this year is in the neighbourhood of $5.0 billion.

Iceland might be able to manage that in short term. For Newfoundland and Labrador, that kind of economic mess would rival the stuff that led to the collapse of responsible government in 1934.

The story has been picked up as far away as Shanghai, based on the Bloomberg story.

This is the 18th time the central bank has raised interest rates since May 2004.

20 December 2006

Christmas in Dannyland 5

Christmas in Dannyland 4, an unsolicited contribution by WJM, can be found at labradore.

Here's the next instalment from Bond. Maybe your humble e-scribbler will get a gig writing for Revue '06.

[Tune: Santa Claus is coming to town]

Danny's jaw is clenching again

He's gettin' annoyed.
He's royally upset.
he's nearly a wreck.
Danny's jaw is clenching again.

He's showin' his angst
at Randy, not Bill.
The blood pressure's up.
He just cannot chill.
Danny's vein is throbbing again.


He's ticked off at the teachers.
He's riled at the PM.
The Opposition's got him miffed
pushin' Dan around the bend.

He's pissed off at Grimes.
Big Oil is bad, too.
He'll tell you
he's got lots better to do.
Danny's temple's throbbing again.

Pachelbel's Canon in D sucks bigtime

This guy has it right on.

As someone who suffered through the canon during his wedding - but managed to sneak "God Save the Tsar!" into the lineup - your humble e-scribbler brings you this hysterically funny take on what many of us feel:

Rig shortage slows exploration

A global shortage of semisubmersible rigs capable of drilling in deep water is affecting exploration and development, according to bloomberg.com.

Rental fees are increasing and order books for new rigs are already backlogged as demand outstrips the ability of the handful of shipyards able to build the behemoths to keep pace. Two new rigs will enter the global fleet in 2007 with another 13 due in 2008. Currently, there are just 18 rigs like Cajun Express [right] capable of drilling more than four miles below the seabed.

All this is a reminder of the highly competitive global marketplace that will likely keep exploration offshore Newfoundland and Labrador at a meagre level for the better part of the next decade. Optimism that the area might become home to renewed global interest were dashed in early 2006 with collapse of the Hebron talks, political grandstanding by Premier Danny Williams and a failure by the Williams government to deliver an energy plan focused on creating a globally competitive environment.

One element to note from Bloomberg is the development of Chevron's Tahiti field. Discovered in 2002, the field contains an estimated $33 billion in oil and will begin production in 2008.

By contrast, the Hebron field was discovered in the early 1980s but was considered commercially non-viable for almost two decades. Engineering studies began in 1999, spurred by a new provincial government royalty regime. A unitization agreement was achieved among the four-company consortium ine arly 2005 followed by talks with the provincial government on royalties and local benefits. Talks with the province collapsed in April 2006 based on demands from the provincial government for super-royalties and an equity position in the development for the Crown-owned hydroelectric company. The latter contained a significant problem since the company had no prior experience in oil and gas work. In addition, the company does not function like Statoil or Norsk Hydro but is controlled very closely by the Premier's Office.

Premier Danny Williams claimed he rejected the companies' proposal for $500 million in tax concessions during the construction phase of the project. Published reportsd estimated Hebron's 500 million-plus barrels of oil was worth between CDN$8 to CDN$10 billion in royalties to the provincial government over the production lifespan. An additional 250 million barrels were not included in the Hebron proposal but were available for subsequent exploitation.

Any new talks on the Hebron field are not likely to begin before Danny Williams quits the premier's office, presumably in 2009/2010.

Squeezing the Hibernia field by rejecting an application to develop 300 million barrels in Hibernia South would be folly that would only deplete provincial government coffers. The oil industry has plenty of opportunities to make plenty of cash somewhere else.

19 December 2006

Signed, sealed, delivered and rammed

Let the people know the truth and the country is safe. We will keep the people of the province fully informed; there will be no secret documents.There will be no hidden agendas. If you and I know the facts then we will collectively decide the best course for the future...

That is what my platform is about: no hidden documents; no hidden agendas.

Danny Williams, Leader of the Opposition,
paraphrasing Abraham Lincoln in debate on the
Access to Information and Protection of Public Privacy Act,
House of Assembly, December 3, 2001.

How times have changed.

Premier Danny Williams will not allow the Auditor General to review certain documents presented to cabinet and related to the fibre optic deal. He defends his decision by pointing to the letter of the law.

This is not the first time Williams has demonstrated that the noble words delivered shortly after his election to the House of Assembly were not matched by his actions once he became Premier. A year into his administration, Williams rejected a request from The Telegram for access to polling conducted for his office out of public funds. He claimed the letter of the access to information law prevented their releases since they would reveal cabinet confidences.

He was proven wrong by a simple reading of the access act itself which explicitly stated that public opinion polling could not be withheld from disclosure. He was also proven wrong in a subsequent decision by the access and privacy commissioner.

In examining the Premier's latest in a long list of efforts to avoid public accountability for his actions in office, it is useful to go back to what Danny Williams argued from the opposition benches.

At that time, the current premier was in favour of open and largely unfettered access to information. He criticized provisions of the access legislation as having been "put in here as a shield to protect the government."

"The people of the province have a right to know what is going on...It [a deal or agreement] should not be signed, sealed and delivered and then rammed down their throats when it is all over."

His belief in openness and transparency appeared undeniable.

That was in 2001.

In November 2006, when faced with questions about the deal, the Progressive Conservative majority in the House of Assembly amended an opposition motion to read simply:

Therefore be it resolved that the House of Assembly, in the spirit of openness and accountability, ask the Auditor General, an independent Officer of the House of Assembly, to investigate all the details and circumstances of the fiber [sic] optic deal.

Note the simple word "all".

Given Premier Williams' position today that the Auditor General is prohibited by law from reviewing cabinet documents (including background reports, recommendations by officials etc), and given that the Premier and his colleagues were clearly familiar with the provisions of the access legislation when they voted in favour of the resolution calling on the Auditor General to review the fibre optic deal, one can only reasonably conclude that the Premier and the members of his caucus had no intention of allowing access to "all" details and circumstances.

What is truly curious about the Premier's position, though, is that the disclosure in this instance is limited to a single official of the House of Assembly in a very specific context. This is no ordinary official in the pantheon of Williams props. The Auditor General holds a revered status akin only to God himself; that is, when Williams wants to attack his own political enemies. Cabinet ministers are slaughter on the AG's word.

And while Danny Williams advocated unfettered information access for the lumpenproletariat - like your humble e-scribbler and you - only a few short years ago, Williams in this instance is denying his own deity the ability to have a confidential review of certain documents directly related to a controversial issue.

Think about that.

And it is not as thought individuals have not been given access to documents. Cabinet is quite able to disclose information based solely on its own discretion. Details of Hydro Corporation expenditures on the Lower Churchill were revealed in 2004, completely contrary to the access act. Cabinet has the legal ability to disclose certain information, at its discretion, and to restrict the subsequent disclosure.

In this case, the twin imperatives of cabinet confidentiality and the need to demonstrate that the fibre deal is "squeaky clean" can be easily balanced. That is, they could be balanced if the Premier was sincere.

By his own actions, evidently, he is not.

Or perhaps there is some other reason for the Premier's willingness to block the Auditor General's review.

It should not go unnoticed that in his news release the Premier drew attention to provisions of the access law that prevent "disclosure of Cabinet confidences and information harmful to law enforcement." In the release the Premier - and his publicist - paraphrased the act in describing cabinet confidences. There was no apparent need to mention the other provision of the act at all since - so far as we know - there is nothing in this Persona deal that is connected in any way to law enforcement. Why did the Premier mention it at all?

Sadly, we will not know, at least until a future administration appoints a public inquiry. Until then, we must be satisfied - according to Danny Williams' actions - with having this deal signed, sealed, and delivered.

For good measure, the Premier rammed the whole thing today but his destination was considerably lower than our throats.

It must be good to be da king, indeed.

Waiting for the other shoe

Hibernia oil production is forecast to drop next year and Hibernia Management and Development is pinning the decline on delay in approving its application to develop the southern Hibernia field.

The development application was held up by wrangling between Danny Williams and Ottawa over the appointment of a new chairman and chief executive officer for the joint board that regulates offshore oil and gas. The board - which now includes chairman/CEO Max Ruelokke and Andy Wells - has taken more than a month to consider recommendations from officials based on their own assessment and results of a public consultation process.

The National Post story linked above notes that no decision had been made as of 16 December 2006. A decision has been made since then. Under the Atlantic Accord (1985), the federal and provincial governments now have 30 days to approve or disapprove the offshore board decision. There's no indication of the board's decision.

The local oil patch has long speculated that the provincial government will quash development of the 300 million barrels in the southern Hibernia structures either to try and force a re-start negotiations of Hebron, as one National Post source speculates, or to have the field treated as a new development.

As a new development, the 300 million barrels would require negotiations to set benefits and royalties. Bond Papers contends the southern field is part of the main project and would not meet any objective criteria to establish it as a separate project.

If the provincial government rejects the application, work offshore Newfoundland and Labrador will grind to a virtual standstill outside of the effort needed to produce oil at the existing fields - Hibernia, Terra Nova and White Rose. Exxon Mobil will drill two exploration holes in the Orphan basin. No other work appears scheduled.

Hibernia is owned by ExxonMobil, Chevron, Canada Hibernia Holding Corporation, Murphy Oil and Norsk Hydro. Norsk Hydro's interest will become part of the new Norwegian oil and gas company created by the merger of Statoil with Hydro's offshore assets.

18 December 2006

There are duties and then there are duties

Finance Minister Loyola Sullivan says the comptroller general has a legal obligation to collect any money that's owed to the province.
Sullivan (right) made the comment when announcing today that the comptroller general would be sending letters to the five current and former members of the House of Assembly demanding repayment of alleged overpayments in the House of Assembly spending scandal.

Perhaps the finance minister should read all of the Financial Administration Act and acknowledge that significant details of the House of Assembly scandal have not been properly investigated and disclosed to the public.

For example, the comptroller general has a legal obligation to maintain the public accounts under terms set out in s. 27:
27. (1) The comptroller general shall keep a ledger in which shall be entered the departmental appropriations by Heads of Expenditure and by subheads and subdivisions in accordance with the subhead and subdivision allocations exhibited in the estimates for the fiscal year concerned, as amended in accordance with this Act, against which shall be charged all authorized expenditures.

(2) The comptroller general shall establish and maintain a record of commitments chargeable to each appropriation in the form that the board may prescribe.

(3) The comptroller general shall furnish to each deputy minister or other officer charged with the administration of a Head of Expenditure a statement of the charges entered against the Head of Expenditure or a subhead or subdivision of a Head of Expenditure and those statements shall be furnished at those periods that the deputy minister may reasonably require and shall show the charges made during the report period together with the balances at the credit of the Head of Expenditure or subheads or subdivisions at the end of each period concerned.

(4) When a subhead or a subdivision is exhausted, the comptroller general shall at once notify the deputy minister concerned and the comptroller general shall not sanction a further charge to be entered against that subhead or subdivision except as provided in this Act.

Notice that the comptroller general is responsible to track expenditures and to advise the deputy minister concerned - in this case the Clerk of the House of Assembly - that a line item has been overspent.

Under s.27.(4), the comptroller general "shall not sanction a further charge to be entered against that subhead or subdivision".

In the House of Assembly scandal we simply do not know what, if anything, the comptroller general did to discharge this responsibility. Had this responsibility been properly discharged, we likely wouldn't be looking at the mess we have today. If the comptroller general did his duty but was overruled by others, then the public has an incontrovertible right to know and to hold accountable those who sanctioned the overspending.

We do know that in from 1998 to 2005, the allowances and assistance budget for the House of Assembly was overspent to a total of $3.2 million. The Auditor General has only identified $1.58 million in excess spending. The table above shows the excess spending compared to the budget (red line) compared to the totals identified by the Auditor General (yellow line). Over half the overspending remains unaccounted for even after two supposedly thorough investigations by the Auditor General.

But wait.

It gets better.

Under s. 29, the comptroller general has further statutory obligations:
29. The comptroller general shall ensure that no payment of public money is made

(a) for which there is no legislative appropriation;

(b) for which no other appropriation has been provided under this Act;

(c) which is in excess of an appropriation; or

(d) which is in excess of sums that may have been deposited with the government in trust for a person,

and the comptroller general shall report to the board a case which comes to his or her notice in which liability has been incurred by a minister, deputy minister or other officer or person which contravenes this Act and the board may take whatever action in the matter that it considers necessary. [Emphasis added]
The comptroller general is specifically enjoined not to disburse money in excess of an appropriation. He is also obliged to report overspending to the treasury board. That is in addition to reporting to the appropriate deputy minister of equivalent.

Even if the deputy minister involved fails to act, there are others above him or her who have legal duties: the members of treasury board, all of whom are cabinet ministers.

One of the key members of treasury board is the president, which for several years is a position occupied by the minister of finance under successive Liberal and now Progressive Conservative administrations.

We know that significant overspending - about $1.0 million - occurred since Loyola Sullivan has been finance minister, president of treasury board and a member of the House of Assembly's Internal Economy Commission. Over $800,000 of that amount remains unexplained.

We have a right to know what happened.

Loyola has a duty to tell us.

When can we expect that duty to be discharged?

But what did Danny ask for?

Bond Papers has learned that fax machines at Confederation Building have been busily churning out a lengthy diatribe from the Scrappiest Premier in Canada (trademark pending) to each of Newfoundland and Labrador's members of parliament seeking their unequivocal support in the coming holy war between Danny Williams and Ottawa on Equalization.

While Premier Danny Williams likes to talk about Stephen Harper's commitment given in response to a letter Williams wrote to the federal party leaders, Scrappy isn't too keen to discuss his own version of what the Equalization formula should look like.

Well, in the interest of annoying the Premier so much he names Bond Papers next time full debate and discussion on this issue of such public importance, here's the Danny Williams proposal for Equalization reform with notes by your humble e-scribbler.

Get to the end of this post and then see if you can explain why Danny's knickers are in such a knot. Forget the nonsense from the Premier's publicity department. Compare what the Premier proposed the government's official position to what he is now bickering over.
The Government of Newfoundland and Labrador is advocating the following reforms to the equalization program:

(1) return to a formula driven approach to the determination of equalization entitlements, abandoning the "fixed pot" approach introduced in October 2004; [BP: All the first ministers are in agreement with this. The federal proposal and the O'Brien commission report all discuss a return to a formula based on commonly-accepted principles.]

(2) the measurement of fiscal capacity must extend beyond simply revenue raising to include accounting for the impact of debt and debt servicing; [BP: Newfoundland and Labrador is pretty much alone on this one. Debt and debt servicing are a direct result of provincial government fiscal decisions. Taking this approach would commit the federal government to transfer cash to the province but would relieve the province of any obligation to address its own debt problem. After all, if this section were implemented as the Premier intends it, the provincial government could wrack up ever increasing levels of public debt and actually see increases in federal transfers. Don't expect anyone to endorse this or for Williams to admit that what he really wants is the exactly opposite of what he publicly claims to support . His own words say something completely different, though.]

(3) comprehensive revenue coverage (which would include, in full, all renewable and non-renewable resource revenues); [BP: In January 2006, Danny Williams proposed the complete clawback of all resource revenues through Equalization.

Danny Williams is on a new political jihad because the federal government is threatening to include half of all resource revenues in figuring out equalization payments.

Danny Williams now claims he wants the federal government to exclude only non-renewable resource revenues.

Under Williams' original proposal, offshore oil and gas revenues would be protected for a limited period through the offshore agreements (1985 and 2005). All other revenues would be clawed back. The loss to the provincial treasury would be at least as the amount under the current federal proposal.

Under the current proposal the provincial government may lose federal transfers of about $100 to $200 million per year. Oil revenues alone are forecast to grow beyond that amount.


(4) a return to the 10 province national average standard...[BP: This principle is included in the O'Brien report and recent federal proposals.]

Confuddled? I didn't think so.

What Danny Williams says today and what he actually wrote as the official position of the provincial government in January are two completely different things.

On top of that, you should know that Williams isn't only concerned about Equalization. Rather he is also perturbed that the federal government is planning to restrict its spending in areas of exclusive provincial jurisdiction like education.

The big problem for Danny Williams is that he has absolutely no influence in Ottawa at all. This is a problem entirely of his own making.

On top of that, Williams is suffering from the evident hypocrisy of his earlier positions. On the one hand he relentlessly criticized the federal government yet at the same time sought to increase federal transfers to his own administration.

Contrast this with the position taken by Clyde Wells a decade and a half earlier. Wells recognized the need to change the Newfoundland and Labrador economy and reduce the provincial government's dependence on federal transfers. However, Wells also recognized the important role of the federal government as the national government - something Williams' "Dannyland" pretensions rudely ignore - and specifically in developing the province through the transition period to a properly developed economy.

The dependence was something to be acknowledged but worked against. In Williams case, he has actively sought to increase it.

Of course, Wells and then-prime minister Brian Mulroney may not have been fast friends, but at least Mulroney would return Wells' phone calls and answer his letters.

And Mulroney's communications director never cavalierly dismissed Wells as easily as Harper's did with Williams.

Payback is indeed a mother, isn't it Danny?

Norwegian oil giants merge

Norwegian oil and gas companies Statoil and Norsk Hydro announced Monday they will merge their offshore hydrocarbon operations, thereby creating the largest offshore oil producing company in the world. The announcement can be found at statoil.com and at hydro.com.

The Norwegian Crown will own 62.5% of the new company. Norsk Hydro's aluminum production and electricity generating assets will remain part of a separate company.

Bloomberg describes the transaction this way:
Statoil ASA, Norway's state-controlled oil company, agreed to buy Norsk Hydro ASA's energy business for about $28 billion as supplies from domestic fields peak and competition intensifies for drilling contracts from Russia to Venezuela.
The Norwegian announcement moves the two corporations in a direction opposite to the one taken by the Williams administration which earlier this year expanded the mandate of the Crown-owned hydroelectricity company to allow it to engage in any economic activity approved by cabinet. Williams has stated repeatedly that he has been following the Norwegian model in creating the stated-owned megacorporation.

Implications for the Newfoundland and Labrador offshore are unclear at this time. Norsk Hydro has interests in Hibernia, Terra Nova, White Rose and the stalled Hebron project.

No Hebron until Danny's gone

One of the logical conclusions from Danny's Williams long slow good-bye: Hebron negotiations won't stand a chance of starting until after he's gone, likely 2010 at the earliest.

That would make April Fools out of those who believed this:
"I'm saying to ExxonMobil right now that if you don't want to move on with this project, then we would be prepared to take you out," said Williams, who added his government is prepared to take on a greater equity stake with remaining partners.

Second refinery costed, deemed feasible


Newfoundland and Labrador Refining's proposed Placentia Bay refinery will cost CDN$4.6 billion, according to a news release from the company.

The story made headlines in the United Kingdom over the weekend, including The Sunday Times.

If built, the proposed heavy oil refinery will process 300,000 barrels per day initially with a 15% rate of return. [Note: It isn't clear from the NL Refining statement if the feasibility study concluded that the project is feasible and will provide a base-line 15% ROR or if the project would be considered feasible if it provided a 15% ROR.]

In addition to appointing a vice-president commercial recently, NL Refining has engaged Susan Hollett of Hollett and Sons to conduct consultations on the project.

17 December 2006

The long slow good-bye

Premier Danny Williams will seek re-election in October 2007, but won't run for a third term in the election that will likely follow in 2011.

We should all wonder why.

In April, Williams was threatening to hang around as long as he wanted in order to ensure Newfoundland and Labrador received what he thought was a proper return from offshore oil and gas developments.

Williams has been whining publicly and privately since shortly after the 2003 general election about the pressures of being premier. Williams finds it especially difficult that people sometimes criticize his policies. He whined most recently at a party fundraiser in St. John's where he mentioned, among other things, some of the criticisms he receivers from bloggers. He mentioned one in particular but wouldn't mention the blog by name.

Popular speculation has long held that he wouldn't seek a third term, preferring instead to pack it in 2009 if he manages to sign a deal to develop the Lower Churchill hydroelectric project.

But here's the thing. Williams has been pretty slow in implementing the plan he supposedly had ready to go when he was sworn in. Just this past week he finally got around to having proclaimed so-called accountability legislation that was supposedly a key part of his agenda.

Williams also closed the legislature prematurely this past week. It was the shortest sitting of any session of the legislature by an elected premier during a full term. The House of Assembly sat a total of 38 days in 2006, scarcely more than a third of a typical session from the early 1990s.

Contrary to Williams claims of achieving records, the session just ended was marked by an immense number of small housekeeping bills that made modest changes to existing legislation. Even the noteworthy legislation introduced since 2003 have been remarkably few in number.

His great promise of reforming the structure and organization of government - a project begun shortly after the 2003 election - disappeared in silence, never to be mentioned again. Legislation to turn the province's hydroelectric corporation into an oil and gas company took three full years to see the inside of the legislature and while it passed with hardly a notice earlier this year, little if any action has been taken to give it meaning.

Overall, his three throne speeches - outlining the government's agenda have been characterized by a great deal of ego-stroking for the first minister but little else. Most of the economic development agenda merely continues policies that have been in place since 1992. The Rural Secretariat carries on the same work as it did under Williams' immediate predecessor. The energy plan, long awaited since Brian Tobin announced it in 1998 has been delayed and then delayed again under Williams. The fishery has languished under a combination of neglect, mischief and old-fashioned time-wasting "study". Even the offshore revenue deal seems to have been not so much a monumental new initiative as the continuation of a Liberal initiative brought to conclusion by fortuitous circumstances rather than great skill.

On the whole, Danny Williams has talked much but delivered little in what turns out to be the first half of his tenure. Rather than being the father of a New Approach, Williams has become little more than a public policy babysitter.

Even on the issue of federal-provincial relations, Williams promised to develop a more co-operative relationship with Ottawa. Instead, he has reveled in every opportunity to pick a fight. Relations between the 8th floor - home to the Premier's Office in Confederation Building - and the Prime Minister's Office are as dismal as they have ever been.

One wonders why Danny Williams is bothering to continue. Despite all the promises, he seems to lack as many new ideas as he claimed or the ability to deliver on those he does have. This could be an egotistical cry for affection after a very difficult year for a leader who clearly thrives on public adulation. Perhaps he hopes we will all beg him to stay on.

If this is why Williams announced his future plans now, then perhaps he should pack it in now. Clearly, if he needs relentless stroking, Williams lacks the emotional maturity to be first minister.

Perhaps it would better for Danny Williams to resign early in the New Year. That way, he could escape the public scrutiny he evidently loathes. At the same time, his party could select a new leader in time for the fall election or, if need be, postpone the election for a few months beyond October but without going past the five year term limit contained in the constitution.

After all, there's nothing on the public agenda that requires his personal attention. If there was, he wouldn't be announcing his resignation so far in advance. The only thing he has accomplished is winning a record to go beside the ones he already holds for "Most fights with Outsiders by a First Term Premier", "Shortest, lightest legislative session since Responsible Government (1855)" and "Greatest number of petulant outbursts by an incumbent".

By announcing his resignation more than two years before he will leave, Danny Williams has now bested both Jean Chretien and Ralph Klein for the most pointless long, slow good bye by a Canadian first minister.

Christmas in Dannyland 3

[Tune: Hark! The herald angels sing]

Hark! The planted callers sing

Hark! The planted callers sing
praises of their Leader-King.
Kisses aimed at Danny's rear
filling every listening ear.

Minnie, Tony, Todd and Kevin
laud the one come down from Heaven.
Newfoundland to rise again; Far surpass Jerusalem.
Every critic surely damned
for not heeding his command.

15 December 2006

Breaking: PMO researches real cause of global warming

Prime Minister Stephen Harper's comments about "so-called" greenhouse gases are actually just a clue to what all Conservatives know to be the real cause of global warming: bovine flatulence.

Bond Papers has obtained a classified Conservative Party video showing two senior PMO staffers conducting experiments on ungulate intestinal emissions, at the party's top-secret policy research facility (and dude ranch), near Canmore.

Christmas in Dannyland 2

[Tune: Rudolph]

Danny the red-faced Premier

You know Robert and Frederick and Philip and Joey,
Clyde, the two Brians and Frankie and Tommy.
But do you recall, the most pissed-off leader of all?

Danny the red-faced Premier
couldn't take the questioning.
Each time the Liberals asked one,
his thin skin could feel the sting.

All of the Opposition
thought that they were making gains
When they asked 'bout Joan Cleary
And her Bull Arm contract games.

Then one Question Period
Danny turned to say:
"Sullivan , I've had enough!
Get Ed here and stop this stuff."

The all the House was quiet
and Danny let out a sigh:
"Let's get on all the talk shows
and try to keep the polling high."

Christmas in Dannyland

[Tune: We three kings]

We three cable telecom guys

We three cable telecom guys,
seeking cash from public supplies
took a plan to Premier Danny
knowing he would oblige.


Fibre optic cable strands
bound with tape and rubber bands
Trevor Taylor, former sailor,
can't seem to understand.

So we thought for over a year
how to make the deal appear
when a fire and friendly choir
seemed to o'ercome our fear.


Fibre optic cable strands
bound with tape and rubber bands,
over bog and through the fog,
all black for no demand.


That's the sound you hear instead of the ringing of bells as the provincial government issues this laughable news release .

"The Transparency and Accountability Act is a flagship piece of legislation for our government," said the Honourable Danny Williams, Premier of Newfoundland and Labrador. "This act reflects our commitment to provide the legislative framework for the conduct of fiscal policy, better decision-making processes and most important, strengthened accountability, openness and transparency. We remain committed to ensuring that government is fully accountable to the people who have entrusted us to run the province."
There is such a commitment to accountability that Danny sat on the bill for two whole years until he was publicly embarrassed into proclaiming it by the Auditor General.

Your humble e-scribbler has made note of the gap between Danny's claims on openness, accountability and transparency and the highly secretive way he actually conducts government business. A bunch of other people have made the same observation.

Notice that even though the legislation has been around since 2004, government departments, agencies and Crown corporations have until 2008 (!!!!!) to issue an annual report or a strategic plan.

Newfoundlanders and Labradorians have yet further proof that it really is good to be the king.

It's good to be da King's servants

The rules of the House of Assembly governing visitors are absolutely clear:

Rules for Visitors:

* Before entering the galleries, visitors must walk through a metal detector at the 3rd floor entrance.

* All cameras, packages, umbrellas, bags (other than small handbags) must be deposited with the attendant.

* Visitors are not permitted to smoke, read books or papers, draw or write, stand in or behind the galleries.

* Use of cameras, tape recorders, radios or electronic devices is prohibited.

* Display of banners, signs or placards is prohibited.

* Visitors must abstain form applause or making any interruption or annoyance.

[Emphasis added]
So why then can government political staffers (including communications staff) not only carry Blackberrys into the galleries but also furiously send and receive text messages while observing House proceedings?

Let's not even talk about the fundamental disrespect they show our democracy by leaning over the railings.

This gives new meaning to contempt for the House, but then again, we can't expect much better given the example set by the Premier and - saddest of all - the Speaker himself.

14 December 2006

So long Rona. We hardly knew ye.

If media reports hold true and the Prime Minister shuffles his cabinet, Rona Ambrose is for the high jump.

Too bad.

She gamely tried to tackle a portfolio the Prime Minister and his cabinet clearly have no interest in. It isn't that she couldn't sell the Connie administration's environment agenda: they don't have one worth speaking of.

Changing from Rona Ambrose for someone as eloquent as, say Lawrence Cannon, won't improve the chances Canadians will suddenly accept Stephen Harper as some form of Connie David Suzuki. Heck, we didn't buy Mulroney this past week trying to claim he was the greatest environmentalist ever to occupy 24 Sussex.


On environmental issues, the Connies still come across like a band of left-over Reaganites trying to persuade us that ketchup is a vegetable.

Reviving Liberal programs the Connies cut, as the Canadian Pess story linked above suggests, won't cut it either. That will look exactly like what it is: a desperate attempt to reposition the Conservatives in an effort to win votes, not to endorse something they actually believe in.

For that, environmental voters will have to look elsewhere like our man Dion.

Closer to home, the Conservative candidates in the next federal election will once again be in a hard spot. In 2004, they had to wage a campaign without support from the local Progressive Conservatives. That seems likely to be the scenario again, what with Premier Danny Williams needing to wage war against 24 Sussex, regardless of who occupies it.

In addition, the incumbents on the northeast Avalon have got their own baggage to carry around. Norm Doyle has been but a few days away from having his name and face added to a milk carton. Fish minister Loyola Hearn has ticked off many of his supporters with his approach of promising one thing before the election and doing something else once in office.

It's not like somebody didn't warn people of that before:

- Hearn on Hibernia shares.

- Hearn on NAFO.

- Hearn on the offshore revenue deal, an issue that still rankles.

- Hearn on custodial management.

- Hearn on tackling overcapacity in the fishery.

- Hearn on custodial management, federal job presence in the province and immigration cases.

In the past, Hearn speculated about retirement but as the fish minister he really won't be able to walk away from running again.

The only question will be the name of his Liberal opponent.

No substitute for proper senate reform

Supporters of senate reform found out that Stephen Harper's promise of an elected senate was utterly meaningless.

All the Prime Minister intends to do - if the bill passes parliament - is hold a plebiscite so he can gauge public opinion on senate appointments.

Almost a year ago, Bond Papers argued in favour of meaningful senate reform and criticised the measly version offer by Harper as an election ploy. Simon Lono pitched in his two cents worth as well, although his argument in favour of proper senate reform is worth a heckuva lot more than that.

Turns out we over-estimated Harper's commitment to the notion of electing senators, even with his original - and very modest - suggestion of electing them. Turns out that observations made last February turned out to be closer to the truth.

What the Prime Minister is proposing is far short of what is possible, let alone what is desirable. It is no first step in senate reform. It is simply a political dodge that has more to do with appearance than action.

13 December 2006

War of the Pee

Some time ago, Bond Papers forecast a war among the provinces over equalization.

As it turned out the clash was fought behind closed doors; sort of a war of the flea approach by some provinces like Saskatchewan.

Now federal finance minister Jim Flaherty is taking a Spanish Inquisition approach to finding a resolution, telling provincial premiers they have one more last chance after all the other last chances he gave them to agree among themselves for face the federal government imposing a solution.

Bond Papers has already covered the Equalization issue, including a post on the feds preferred approach (here and here) , the O'Brien report, provincial finance minister Loyola Sullivan's problems with seeing the writing on the wall, his own significant disagreement with Danny Williams on Equalization, and Danny Williams' impotence in dealing with Stephen Harper.

We must wonder again, though, on that last point. Why exactly is it that Danny Williams seems to have such a hard time making any headway with Stephen Harper? The Premier has a personal emissary who lives in the nation's capital each day going about his business amongst the Bytown powerbrokers.

This is the fellow who now occupies the position Danny Williams once viewed as crucial to the success of our fair province when dealing with the Demons of the Rideau. From the Saturday, October 25, 2003 edition of The House:

Anthony Germain (Host): I notice you remarked that you were going to set up an office here in Ottawa for your province. Tell me about that.

Danny Williams: Well, I think that's critical. It's going to be an office of federal/provincial relations. I think we need to have a base on the ground. The pattern here in Newfoundland and Labrador for years has been as soon as there's a crisis or soon as there's a problem, we go public, we talk about it in the press and then we run off to Ottawa and we try to clean up the damage afterwards and try and control it. I don't think that's the way to go. I think that we need to be proactive. We need to identify problems and solutions in advance and I think that will work to everybody's benefit and make for a more cooperative relationship.
The evident impotence of the Ottawa office is no reflection on its current occupant. His efforts are earnest, even if they do appear ineffectual.

Rather the problem seems to come from his boss, and more particularly his boss' little brother.

The result may well be the lost of a couple of hundred million annually in federal transfers. Your humble e-scribbler can pee on the shoes of the mighty for we of the blog world are mere dribblers.

But when a Premier and his sibling double-hose indulge their fetish for political water sports with the prime ministerial loafers, there are evidently serious consequences.

Loyola tells fibs

If the opposition parties are wrong in their understanding that the House of Assembly would not be closing on December 12th, why then did the Government House Leader rise in his place on Monday, December 11 and solemnly intone the following:
MR. SULLIVAN: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I give notice, as per Standing Order 11, that the House not adjourn tomorrow at 5:30 o’clock and further, as per Standing Order 11, that the House not adjourn tomorrow night at 10:00 p.m.

The "nation" speaks

A new Decima poll has the Liberals slightly ahead of the Conservatives nationally and significantly ahead of the Conservatives in Quebec.

So much for those who predicted immediate political doom for M. Dion.

(h/t to Inkless Wells)

The unaccountable government

From the Auditor General's most recent comments on the auditted financial statements for Fiscal Year 2005:
Transparency and Accountability Act – On 29 November 2004, government tabled the Transparency and Accountability Act which received Royal Assent on 16 December 2004. However, nearly two years later, the act has still not been proclaimed and, therefore, is not in force. Mr. Noseworthy stated: "Although government has been diligent in having annual reports tabled for departments and Crown agencies, the reports provide only general information on the operations of the department or agency. The reports do not provide the information necessary to hold each entity accountable for its performance, including fiscal performance, in relation to its approved plans, using established measurable criteria. The Transparency and Accountability Act should be proclaimed." Furthermore, government should require that appropriate accountability information be included in annual reports tabled in the House of Assembly. [Emphasis added]
Interesting how many times the Premier and his ministers insist that, as Danny himself put it, are "all about accountability and transparency and when I say that, I really mean it". Perhaps he should consider being accountable than being - or beating - about it.

The unbearable lightness of Loyola

Government House leader and finance minister Loyola Sullivan is apparently pleased that in one of the shortest legislative sessions in Newfoundland and Labrador history, the House of Assembly dealt with 35 bills.

What Sullivan won't acknowledge is that overall, the legislature currently sits only half the number of days per year than it did a decade and a half ago and that the content of legislation is meagre.

Fully 28 of the 35 bills passed were minor amendments to existing statutes. Among the bills passed in the short session, foreshortened even more than usual for this administration by Sullivan at the last minute:

Bill 66, An act to amend the provincial Court Act, 1991 and the Human Rights Code. In its entirety, the bill said the following:


1. Subsection 12(1) of the Provincial Court Act, 1991 is repealed and the following substituted:

12. (1) Every judge shall retire upon attaining the age of 70 years.


2. Section 9 of the Human Rights Code is amended by adding immediately after subsection (6) the following:

(7) The right under this section to equal treatment with respect to employment is not infringed where a judge is required to retire on reaching a specified age under the Provincial Court Act, 1991.

To paraphrase my grandmother, Sullivan doesn't have a job, he has a situation. Or as a good friend put it, being a cabinet minister is obviously a good job: you are in out of the weather and there is no heavy lifting.

Rest well, big guy

Actor Peter Boyle died Tuesday in New York, aged 71.

Most recently, Boyle was known as the crotchety father on the television comedy series Everybody loves Raymond.

Boyle gained early notice as the Robert Redford's campaign manager in every political junkie's favourite movie, The Candidate.

He followed this with a string of smaller parts before being cast against type as the Creature in Mel Brook's Young Frankenstein, a send-up of monster horror films from the 1930s. At left, Boyle reacts as his thumb is set on fire by a blind hermit, played by Gene Hackman in an uncreditted cameo.

Boyle's career was a mixture of television and cinematic films as well as episodic television dramas and situation comedies. X-Files fans will recognize Boyle as Clyde Bruckman. Boyle's character could foretell how people would die. He played Joe McCarthy in a made-for-television account of the life of the Wisconsin senator and his anti-communist witchhunt. Boyle played the corrupt mining boss in the science fiction western Outland with Sean Connery.

In the 1989 comedy The Dream Team, Boyle played a psychiatric patient with delusions of being Christ yet who still retained a New Yorker's natural earthy assertiveness. The part was typical of the quirky roles Boyle sometimes took throughout his career. Following quotes are courtesy of IMDB:

I am the Lord they God. Thou shalt not have strange gods before Me. Out of my way, asshole.


Jack: Stop! Who dares to tow the van of the living Christ?
Driver: The city of New York, Tarzan! $50 for the violation, $75 for the tow and $20 a day for storage.
Jack: [Skyward] Father, forgive us for we have sinned! We parked our car in a forbidden zone!

Dishonesty in small details reveals truth

Rarely does one see a cabinet self-destruct in as eloquent a manner as Kathy Dunderdale has done.

Over the past two weeks, Dunderdale first defended former Bull Arm boss Joan Cleary, then suddenly sacked her under pressure from the opposition benches during Question Period.

Throughout, Dunderdale maintained the entire matter first of the security shack contract and later of Cleary's firing revolved around supposedly minor errors of process. Dunderdale attempted to trivialize matters, even as she announced that she had asked for and received Cleary's resignation over what Dunderdale described in the legislature as "oversights."

Dunderdale's news release on December 7, stated that "during the rush to get this work complete before winter set in the proper process under the Public Tender Act was not followed...".

Dunderdale insisted throughout that the Public Tender Act had been followed. Consider this sentence from the December 7 release:

"The proper process was followed under the Public Tender Act, however, administrative and policy requirements of government were overlooked, which I took very seriously and which prompted me to ask for the broader review..."
At the end of this post is a series of extracts from Hansard containing comments by Dunderdale and by her stand-in during one session, John Ottenheimer. Now Ottenheimer is deservedly a widely respected gentleman with a reputation for honour and integrity. His comments here suggest a fellow merely defending his colleagues in good faith. The next sentence in Hansard after the one cited here contain Ottenheimer's admission that he did not have all the details.

But Dunderdale is a different matter. As minister responsible for Bull Arm, she knew or ought to know intimately what was going on at the site. She apparently did have detailed knowledge of exactly what was going on, at least at several key stages as this sordid business became public.

She chose to keep facts from the public for no good reason. Her defense is the weakest of weak excuses typically offered by those who seek to avoid accountability and transparency: "I was not asked in this House on Thursday to present or table any kind of information on the winterization contract that was let at Bull Arm."

Yet while we take it at face value that Dunderdale has many positive qualities, in this instance we can readily conclude that on more than one occasion she deliberately misled the public about Cleary and the problems at Bull Arm.

For that, Dunderdale owes the people of the province her resignation.

Look specifically at the comments on December 7. Then compare them to her comments in the House of Assembly this week. On December 12, for instance, she stated: "I was quite clear last week, on Thursday here in the House, when I said the winterization contract was done completely outside the Public Tender Act." She said no such thing. To the contrary, she did all that she could to conceal the truth.

By her own admission, Dunderdale knew all the details when she took the Cleary matter to cabinet on December 7. As a cabinet minister - leaving aside her pompous and self-serving comments about adhering to the Public Tender Act - Dunderdale had a fundamental obligation to disclose publicly all that she knew as quickly as possible and to take steps to correct the problem.

Her repeated false statements inside and outside the House simply cannot be sanctioned.

She must resign without delay. If Dunderdale does not resign then the Premier must remove her from cabinet immediately if for no other reason than to restore the integrity of his ministry. The public ought not to suffer a minister who willfully and deliberately conceals the truth on such a fundamental matter of ethics and honesty.

Of course, the Premier can keep within cabinet the smart and the stunned as all cabinets are usually comprised. But he cannot keep the false.

We shall all judge him by the company he keeps, if the Premier fails to act. As he well knows, the public is often harsh in its punishments of those who break their trust.


Nov 28

Mr. Ottenheimer: Mr. Speaker, in response to that question, I can say with a great degree of confidence that there is no circumvention of any law or any procedure or any proceeding that ought to be undertaken by this government.

Dec 4

Ms. Dunderdale: Mr. Speaker, I want to reiterate to his House that Ms Cleary had no involvement in the call for the second amount of bids, the second number of bids.

Yes, Mr. Speaker, while the Public Tender Act was followed, government's policy of having companies core registered was overlooked in this case. We have taken that very seriously. We are ensuring that all of our boards and agencies are aware of the policy of government, and we will do everything we can to ensure that these regulations are followed in the future.

Dec 6

Ms. Dunderdale: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I say, Mr. Speaker, I am ultimately responsible for what happens in this department, not Ms Cleary, and I am satisfied in terms of my investigations into this matter that there has been no impropriety.

Dec 7

Ms. Dunderdale: Mr. Speaker, I have been providing information in this House since last Wednesday with regard to the security shed contract. I have maintained, and still maintain, that everything was done within the Public Tender Act, although there were two oversights, which we take very seriously. Because of the uncovering of those two oversights, I instructed my staff to review all recent contracts with the Bull Arm Corporation. As a result of that review, I have found an instance of where work was let at the site and the proper process was not followed, although, I have determined, to my satisfaction, that there was no intentional wrongdoing or political interference. This government is committed to transparency, accountability, openness, and we are fully committed to the Public Tender Act. As a result of the concerns that have been raised on this piece of work, I have asked for and received Ms Cleary's resignation.

Dec 11

Ms. Dunderdale: Honesty is very important, Mr. Speaker, and sometimes when you are honest in small details it will tell you where you are going in the larger picture. I was never asked for information on the winterization contract last week, and when that information becomes available, I have no problem in tabling it here in this House, Mr. Speaker.


Dec 12

Ms. Dunderdale: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

The contact was awarded verbally by the President and CEO of the Bull Arm Corporation, and I will have to check back, my documentation, to get the exactly date of that, Mr. Speaker.


Ms. Dunderdale: Mr. Speaker, on Thursday of last week, we realized that there had not been anpublicic call for bids, tenders, or Request for Proposals. That was a very serious situation outside the Public Tender Act. As a result, there were very serious actions taken.

Mr. Speaker, files were reviewed in the office of the Natural Resources Building in St. John's. Files were reviewed on-site at Bull Arm around any other documentation that might be relevant in terms of scope of work, all of those kinds of things. That review concluded yesterday, that we did not have documentation around the awarding of the contract. In all of our discussions with the people who have the contract, with the site manager, with the former CEO, there was no indication to us, Mr. Speaker - and that is all I can speak to - that there has been any criminal wrongdoing, that there has been any intentional wrongdoing. I can only accept that information as it is put forward. I do not have anything to substantiate any other kind of claim.


Ms. Dunderdale: Mr. Speaker, I was not asked in this House on Thursday to present or table any kind of information on the winterization contract that was let at Bull Arm. That is the long and short of it, Mr. Speaker. Once we have information, then I will be happy to table it in the House.


Ms. Dunderdale: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I was quite clear last week, on Thursday here in the House, when I said the winterization contract was done completely outside the Public Tender Act. That is why the actions taken were taken.

As far as I understand - and I have reviewed it completely, Justice is having a look at it, as well as the government purchasing agency - there was no intentional wrongdoing or political interference nor is there any criminal intent, Mr. Speaker.