31 January 2007

March Madness starts early

Danny meets with European journalists to talk up the seal hunt.

Q. What do the following have in common?

Anna Nicole Smith
Loretta Swit
Pam Ferdin
Elizabeth Berkley
Danny Williams

A. All use the seal hunt to boost their careers.

A New Approach to roads maintenance

From the AG's report on government spending and operations:

In 1996, we concluded that the Department was not adequately managing the Province's road system. A decade later in 2006, we have come to the same conclusion.

A make-work slush fund in an unaccountable government?

From the AG's report on a make work program in the municipal affairs department:
Because the Job Creation Program was funded through special warrants and intra-departmental transfers from other programs, there was no opportunity for the House of Assembly to debate and consider funding requirements for the Program. Furthermore, although officials indicated that funding allocation was made by electoral district, there was no documentation available to show how much was allocated to each district or the basis for the allocation.
and then this:
There was no documentation in the files outlining the rationale for funding approvals.

Openness, accountability and transparency in an administration that brings a genuinely New Approach to government.

Pull the other one.

AG reports deficit and surplus at same time for same agency

Auditor General John Noseworthy released his comprehensive review of of provincial government spending and management today.

There is some new information about the House of Assembly scandal, including admission for the first time that Noseworthy's review started in January 2006. That's six months before the first public acknowledgement a review was underway. Bond Papers will have more on this in the days ahead, including some comment on Noseworthy's misunderstanding of the provincial constitution.

One curiosity in Noseworthy's summary booklet: in a section on educational spending, Noseworthy suddenly reports on deficits for health care boards:
(c) Operating results

All 5 boards reported operating surpluses for the year ended 30 June 2006 totalling $5.1 million. Operating surpluses ranged from $349,000 for the Labrador-Grenfell Regional Integrated Health Authority to $2.3 million for the Eastern Regional Integrated Health Authority. Because of inconsistent reporting periods resulting from the restructuring of school boards in 2004, comparisons with prior years' financial results would not currently be meaningful. It will be next year before effective and meaningful comparisons can be performed.
This produces an odd set of conclusions, since in the section on health authorities, the Labrador-Grenfell board goes from an operating surplus in the section quoted above to an unspecified deficit:
During the year, all 4 boards reported operating deficits totalling $11.0 million. Operating deficits ranged from $400,000 for the Western Regional Integrated Health Authority to $5.6 million for the Eastern Regional Integrated Health Authority. One board, the Labrador-Grenfell Regional Integrated Health Authority, reported an annual operating deficit higher than that reported for the fiscal year 2005.

This is no small discrepancy nor is it an easy cock-up to make. The names of the respective health care and educational authorities are different for one thing. Of course, the report is exceedingly lengthy at some 475 pages but there is a huge staff at the Auditor General's office including a new "information" manager.

Prems cancel meet fearing Equalization "bunfight"

The Council of the Federation meeting on February 7 will now take place via conference call instead of the face-to-face session originally planned.

The official reason is that there were scheduling problems. That doesn't hold water since Premiers were well aware of the meeting well in advance. Scheduling problems wouldn't be eased by a conference call, especially if the agenda was as extensive as previously claimed.

Initial media reports suggest the meeting was cancelled out of concern it would turn into a "bunfight" over Equalization.

In October 2004, Premier Danny Williams - the current chair of the Council of the Federation - stormed out of a meeting on Equalization, ostensibly to express his rejection of a federal proposal on offshore revenues. Other reports suggested the dramatic exit was to avoid - at least in part - criticism from other premiers of his approach.

30 January 2007

Hibernia spat led to better royalty regime

In 2000, the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador vetoed an increase in production rates at Hibernia but subsequently approved the hike based on a better royalty agreement with the operators.

Then-energy minister Paul Dicks delivered a statement on the decision to the House of Assembly on April 10, 2000. In the statement, Dicks said that "[i]f the production increase had been approved, more oil would have been taken from the field at a lower royalty rate. Over the life of the project, this would have negatively impacted royalties to the province."

The production rate increase had been approved by the Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board based on an application by the Hibernia operators

One difference between the 2000 decision and recent rejection of the Hibernia South development application is the speed with which government acted. Dicks initiated discussions on the application as soon as the offshore board decision was forwarded to government in early March. No agreement was reached within the 30-day window for approval set under the Atlantic Accord (1985) implementation acts.

In the Hibernia South case, apparently, the provincial government did not initiate contact with the operators nor, apparently, did it raise concerns over incomplete information in the Hibernia application until after the project application was rejected.

The provincial government has still not indicated its goal for Hibernia South. Industry sources suggest the provincial government is seeking to treat the 300 million barrel development as a new project which would involve a new royalty and benefits agreement and a new production platform.

The operators reportedly wanted to bring Hibernia South onstream in 2008 and, as Petro-Canada chief executive Ron Brenneman put it, "step out into the more prolific and better return prospects" while boosting production rates back to 200,000 barrels a day, the rate established in 2004.

In the 2000 disagreement, talks continued beyond the 30 day mark and an agreement was reached that June. Under the new deal - a supplement to the original Hibernia agreement -
"The royalty rate will increase above the current two per cent to three per cent earlier. It will then move to four per cent and five per cent after certain cumulative production levels have been reached. This will result in higher royalties than under the time based system,...This method of dealing with royalty rate increases is consistent with Terra Nova and the generic royalty regime in place for White Rose and future offshore projects."
Dicks said the original Hibernia royalty agreement remained in place and would "act as a floor to ensure that if production declines, rate increases will occur in any event."

Another major difference between the 2000 and 2006 disputes involves project pay out or the point at which the provincial royalty rises to 30% per barrel. In 2000, the provincial government secured a revised royalty regime that allowed the project to pay out around 2011, according to some estimates. Dicks noted in his statements that under the original regime, pay out was unlikely.

In 2000, total reserves at Hibernia were estimated at 1.2 billion barrels, including oil already produced. By 2006, total reserves estimates had reached 1.9 billion, the bulk of which would remain to be produced after pay out.

Treating Hibernia South as a new project would likely restrict provincial royalties to a lesser amount for an indefinite period and might delay pay out on the entire project. A new production platform would not be needed to extract Hibernia South, except in response to a political demand.


NOTE 1: Bond Papers previously reported that the Hibernia South rejection was the first time a provincial government had overturned a fundamental decision by the offshore board. In fact, it appears to be the second, except for the differences noted above.

NOTE 2: In the ministerial statement, Paul Dicks said: "To date, government is not satisfied that the province is being kept whole." Aficionados will recognize "keep whole" or "kept whole" as a favourite phrase of the current Premier.

Cable companies expanding phone services nationally

In Newfoundland and Labrador, that means your tax dollars at work.

Fish processing worker background

Some quick references on the issue:

1. An analysis by the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies, 2002. An extract:
Newfoundland has almost 140 fish plants, and up to 20,000 fish plant workers. Although some of the plants are highly automated, highly efficient operations that produce year-round. (National Sea's Arnold's Cove plant and Beothuck Fisheries’ Valleyfield plant are examples of a modern year round fish processing industry.) Many of the rest were put there for political reasons, often paid for by tax dollars, an often barely able to give their workers the 420 hours needed to qualify for 34 weeks of employment insurance....

The pulp and paper industry in Newfoundland has only 60% of its 1972workforce, while the fishplants employ twice as many as they did in 1972. Even the number of loggers is down by almost50%, while the number of fishermen continues to climb. In 1972 the Newfoundland unemployment rate was eight per cent. Since the advent of the "stamp fishery" and easier EI it has averaged between 15 and 20 per cent. A good quarter of that unemployment is directly attributable to the "stamp fishery."
2. From 2004, a short news release from then-fish minister Trevor Taylor. An extract:
Work at fish plants tends to be short-term in rural areas where employment opportunities are low and unemployment rates are high. The Fish Processing Policy Review Commission, under the direction of Commissioner Eric Dunne (Dunne Report), found that in real terms plant workers' average employment income in the province had declined to $9,660 in 2001. The outlook for plant workers is unclear given that technological innovations continue to reduce the labour demands of the fishing industry.
3. A typical Williams administration response, to date. The federal government has followed the same approach.
The Government of Newfoundland and Labrador will provide an additional $2.4 million to assist fish plant workers who will likely not secure sufficient hours to qualify for Employment Insurance. The Honourable John Ottenheimer, Acting Municipal Affairs Minister, today announced the funding to meet employment support needs in the province’s fishery.
4. Fishery reports. The problems have been studied - a lot; here are just two.

Williams: is he completely nuts?

It's not like people haven't called him nutty nutty nutbar before.

It's not like his behaviour hasn't grown somewhat erratic lately, (think John Hickey in and out of cabinet).

Forget his glee at demolishing the largest fishing company in Atlantic Canada. Is it really a "golden opportunity"?

Now Danny Williams claims that the fish processing sector will collapse within five years if we don't start importing labourers from other countries at high speed.

This is one bizarre claim, given that Williams knows full well the processing industry needs to shed workers at high speed to restore profitability. There are way too many workers chasing too few fish. Wages are dropping. Hours of work are dropping and in some plants work is going begging because it simply isn't worth people's while to drive to another community for the measly few hours work involved.

Don't just believe it because you read it in Bond Papers.

Believe the head of the hunter-gatherers union, Earl McCurdy, who has been busily working to get both the federal and provincial governments to pony up for an early retirement package.

Believe Danny Williams who only last year - that's right - last year was writing to the federal party leaders trying to get their support for yes, an early retirement package for workers. In fact, an early retirement package was the very first thing Williams went looking for from whoever became Uncle Ottawa.

So is he nuts?


By Danny Williams' own account he was caught in a conversation with other premiers and a reporter about immigration. Other provinces are farther ahead in handling the immigration issue.

Around Bond Papers, it looks like he got jammed up in a scrum, felt the need to offer input and in the classic four Yorkshireman way, basically said we'd have to get our immigration act in gear because if we didn't: Armageddon.

Well instead, Danny winds up looking like all his bags were packed and he's ready to go, leaving on a jetplane to Looneyville.

And for those who think we will wind up importing Bulgarian fishwomen like they've done in the Martimes - just because they've done it in the Maritimes - think again.

They don't have the humongous surplus of capacity we do. The numbers vary but Bond Papers can find people who will tell you that we can actually produce a thriving industry with merely 10-20% of the 100+ fish processing plants dotted around the island portion of the province.

Fewer than 20 plants.

If the early retirement thing works, there will be negligible demand for labour beyond what can be supplied by the local labour market.

Now comes the tricky part.

If the provincial government would get out of the way, the fish processing sector could sort itself out and find new markets and new production ideas that require fewer workers. Unfortunately the current provincial fish minister [right] thinks he's still in the 1980s. He busily piles on regulations designed to frustrate the marketplace, drive up costs, and in the case of Fishery Products International keep the economic pressure on a company that would have righted itself long ago were it not for the provincial government's neglect or as one suspects, outright mischief.

No, Danny is not nuts.

Well, not drooling on himself, need a straight-jacket, barking like a dog, hearing voices, up his meds kinda nuts.

Danny Williams just has this habit of pulling things out of any available orifice when he feels the need. When Danny gets caught telling fibs... bullshitting bigtime... in a slight exaggeration he busily tries to explain away the apparent lunacy of his statements with a bunch of words.

Sadly, in this farce, the Premier has enablers: like Paul Oram, his current parliamentary assistant, who seems to have no function other than laud the Premier's magnificence in hopes that the Premier will elevate Oram to a cabinet stipend.

Sometimes it works. Sometimes, as in this instance, it doesn't. We are now in Day Two of Immi-gate and already we have the provincial fisheries department saying it has no studies on labour demands in the processing sector, even though Williams claimed to have read said studies.

And the story of the serious questions about the Premier's sanity comments is running nationally on CBC, hot on the heels of the recent trip out west by the Four Yorkshiremen.


The story likely won't last past today, however. There is always something else around these parts and tomorrow it will be the Auditor General's latest overall review of government spending.

Meanwhile, the fishery problems will slip back into the gloom, taking with it the thousands of men and women who continue to languish.

29 January 2007

Home is where the money is

The Fort Mac take on the recent trek by four Atlantic premiers.
While one woman in the crowd complained she was forced to move to Fort McMurray 10 months after the Abitibi paper mill closed in Stephenville, N.L., another transplanted Newfoundlander said he has no desire to return home.

‘‘I think they should go to Newfoundland with empty buses and bring them up here,’’ said Lee Perkins, who’s now in charge of Fort McMurray’s water and sewer lines.
‘‘I’m easily doubling my pay here, and where my university-educated wife and I were working back home, someone had to die or retire for us to move up in our jobs,’’ Perkins said.

Lower Churchill: old news makes news

CBC Radio is quoting a mainland analyst that exporting Lower Churchill power will likely mean an upgrade (expansion) of the electrical power grid in Quebec.

Nothing new in that.

As Bond Papers noted in August 2006, the joint Ontario/Quebec proposal to work with Newfoundland and Labrador on the Lower Churchill included upgrading the transmission capacity across Quebec as well as upgrading the inter-provincial connection. The latter cost, in particular, was to be borne by Ontario and Quebec.

As noted by Bond at the time, all those costs - known and predictable at the time the Premier decided to "go-it-alone" - will now be borne by Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro.

The other option - the $2.0 billion plus underwater route - is apparently also under consideration, as CBC reports in a comment from provincial natural resources minister Kathy Dunderdale.

About the only way to deal with this issue and thereby allow the Lower Churchill power to get to market at competitive prices is to get the federal government to underwrite the costs somehow. In October 2006, Bond Papers pointed out that the federal government wasn't interested in loan guarantees for the Lower Churchill, despite what the Premier claims. Rather, the federal interest- if they have any at all - would be in taking an equity stake.

A view from Labrador West

Well, so much for spelling your humble e-scribbler's name correctly.

But at least people are reading.

For the record, here's the original post. Note the update which gives a much less speculative version of things.

Also, here's a chunk of your humble e-scribbler's e-mail to the Aurora's editor in response to the editorial:
Information from people expert in mines and the issues involved with mines like Scully leads me to believe that the liabilities associated with an aging mine relatively close to shutdown may have led CT to make its decision. Those liabilities are largely undefined but one can readily imagine what they might be.

They might include long-term power costs but they might also involve liabilities related to the shut down of existing operations.

Taken altogether, a company like CT would make an informed decision on whether or not to purchase an existing operation and bring onstream deposits from across the border in Quebec. While the company would not - understandably - discuss specifics, we can get a good idea if we use a little imagination and some informed speculation.

That said, I certainly wouldn't suggest anyone in Labrador west to to take a pessimistic outlook on the future. There is plenty of potential including Bloom Lake. We will all have to wait as the companies involved or potentially involved sort out their plans. CT's announcements shouldn't be seen as a setback, but merely as the companies working through options. In the announcement, CT indicated - and I take it at face value - that they are continuing to explore options. As long as that continues there is reason for hope, and for continued prosperity in one of the strongest economic regions of our province.

A sign of the economic decline

In the midst of Danny Williams' rhapsodizing to The Telegram today (not available online) about how good everything supposedly is in the province, comes this comment:
"We could be contributors to (federal) equalization within a decade. And, we have also been using our wealth to make strategic investments in education, health care, infrastructure and poverty reduction."
Only a year or so ago, economists like Wade Locke were talking about Newfoundland and Labrador getting off Equalization - that is, become a "have" province - around 2007 or 2008.

Now the Premier is talking about achieving that target in 2017 or 2018.


So what changed in the past 18 months?

Every bit helps, shurely

Danny Williams didn't waste any time issuing a "news" release proclaiming his trip to Alberta a great success.

Don't look for anything concrete mind you, like a contract.


The oil industry in Alberta is looking forward to their buy-sell forum in March which, incidentally, is where NOIA will be focusing much its energy on behalf of its members. NOIA likely figured out that junkets usually don't produce much except the palaver seen thus far.

Danny didn't include NOIA in his entourage for some unfathomable reason.

But I digress.

Speaking of vacuous comment devoid of meaning, though, the official government release quotes a representative of Production Services Network:
"I was very pleased to meet with the business and community leaders of Edmonton and Fort McMurray to discuss ways we can help each other grow our businesses," said Roger Clarke of Production Services Network. "I believe that this mission will provide long term benefit to our company, the oil and gas industry of Newfoundland and Labrador and the economy in general. I thank the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador for this opportunity."
Great company with tons of expertise both here and abroad, but it isn't like a former division of Halliburton needs Danny Williams to introduce the company to the oil business.

Turning the clock back on economic development

Q: What's the distance from Newfoundland and Labrador to Alberta?

A: 40 feet.

That's the length of a standard shipping container.

With the slowdown of the oil industry offshore Newfoundland and Labrador, grace a M. Williams, the local supply and service industry association organized a workshop. NOIA has continued to work steadily on promoting the business connections between this province and Alberta. There was a scouting mission in December and there is another workshop coming in March.

Interesting to see in the news coverage from the trek by four Atlantic provincial premiers to Alberta this past week, there were few mentions of the companies the four wise ones were supposedly there to promote.

Well, there is reference in stories about New Brunswick but not much about Newfoundland and Labrador. Stories about this province, like this one from the Edmonton Sun, talk about the potential that will come eventually from industrial development in the easternmost province.

And reading Danny Williams' comments, you'd think were were in 1977 or maybe 1982, listening to Brian Peckford painting pictures of future glory. But those were the days long before there actually was an oil industry in Newfoundland and Labrador.

The problem for Danny Williams is that the oil industry he inherited in 2003 was well-developed, not the green field he seems to imagine it was. Expertise abounds in the local oil patch in everything from the engineering and other supply and service industries to the geologists, engineers and other at the offshore regulatory board. They know the industry here and abroad. Many of the local companies have parleyed their local experience into solid working relationships with the oil majors - Big Oil - and into contracts in the Gulf of Mexico and in central Asia among other places. Even Danny's own company has been known to work overseas for ExxonMobil.

All thanks to the oil and gas industry in the province that was well developed by the time Williams got to the Premier's Office.

In 2003, the local oil industry could look forward to Hebron: $2.0 billion in construction work, the bulk of it coming to this province through the small gravity-base structure the proponents had already selected as the mode of production. They looked at about $10 billion in revenue for the provincial government with - inevitably - more to come from development of adjacent fields.

By 2005/2006, those same companies were looking forward to development of Hibernia South. Even with a limited additional construction work if the companies used tiebacks to produce the oil, there would be tons of other work and a longer life for Hibernia.

According to the most recent statistics from the Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board, the addition of the possible and probable reserves at Hibernia would give the project another 20 years of life.

And for the provincial government the bulk of that production would come at a time when provincial royalties would leap from 5% to 30%. The cash for the provincial treasury? Probably as much as Hebron.

Not any more.

Overnight in April 2006, the oil industry in Newfoundland and Labrador went from looking forward to staggering growth to being staggered by the virtual shutdown of activity. Sure, oil will continue to flow and the provincial government coffers will be stuffed with oil money. But at Hibernia, work is already slowing down thanks to government's decision - apparently taken when the Hebron talks failed - to veto any further development.
"But the goal is to stagger the projects so people don't have a job for 18 months and then have to turn around and leave the province again," Williams added.
That was the goal, or at least the expectation.

In early 2006, a company involved in industrial development in Newfoundland and Labrador could look forward to an almost unprecedented series of major work projects. Hebron, then the Long Harbour smelter. Hibernia South tossed in for good measure. As the construction phase of each of those slowed, the Lower Churchill would be running up. A steady period of growth lasting from 2006 up to 2015.

In place of that, there is now nothing but promises of future glory. Strange promises too, since Danny Williams seems to think that all the projects in the slings are being actively pursued. Almost every news story coming from Alberta this past week talked about projects in this province that don't actually exist.

Strange promises, given the very first sentence of the famous Danny Williams plan for Newfoundland and Labrador said that "[o]ur goal is to grow our economy and provide new job opportunities for Newfoundlanders and Labradorians."

There was no mention of resetting the province's economic development clock to 1984.

28 January 2007

Building the New Jerusalem - eventually

Interesting that Premier Danny Williams spent a lot of time during his trip out west telling people about the oil, gas and hydro-electric projects under development in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Odd that people in this province wouldn't know what the heck he is talking about.

In Newfoundland and Labrador, the last poll showed the economy was the number one issue for people in the province.

62% of those polled disapproved of Danny's handling of the economy.

There's good reason for their view:

Hebron is dead.

Hibernia South is not completely dead but Carnell's is warming up the hearse as we speak.

Yes, the Lower Churchill is being studied but until Danny can come up with $9.0 billion, it remains exactly the same as the Frank Moores development 30 years ago: a promise.

There are no gas projects under development since there is no gas royalty regime. Government has been sitting on that for a decade, although there is a possibility Danny Williams will finally issue it sometime this year.

There is a liquid natural gas plant being studied for Placentia Bay but studies don't count. Ditto the oil refinery study.

Outside of the CVRD smelter/refinery for Voisey's Bay that CVRD wants to fast-track, there isn't anything in the development pipeline. Danny stopped it all.

So what is the Premier talking about?

Only he knows, apparently, like only he knows about this fish plant collapse thing he kept to himself.

Interestingly enough, Danny Williams talks about having an economy here in about 10 years.

That's interesting because Danny won't be around in 10 years. He'll be out of office in three, satisfied at progress and off to some new adventure. That is, if he isn't out by Easter frustrated at all the scandals and resignations in his administration. (That was the mood in early January, people; it could come back.)

Williams' "10 year" comment is interesting because three years ago he said it would take him two terms - eight years - to start producing results. Now with five years to run on that promise, he suddenly slides the time scale back to another decade from now. Danny Williams is always ready for a better tomorrow. Seems like the farther away tomorrow is, the better.

What's most interesting of all though, is that if Williams had been able to close the deal on Hebron, done his job on Hibernia South and produced the energy plan already - as other governments have done before him - we wouldn't be looking at a decade before people could think about maybe returning home.


Things would be happening right now.

Instead, Danny Williams is still talking about how good things will be in his New Jerusalem.


CVRD looking to speed up Long Harbour

This report from the Toronto Star states CVRD is looking to speed up construction of its Long Harbour smelter/refinery to bring it on line before 2011.

Absolutely no sign though, that the company wants to build a second refinery in Labrador.

Wonder where some people get strange ideas like that?

Of course!

They make them up.

Quarterback Harper: Game on!

It's SuperBowl Sunday and what better day to launch a political campaign.

The Globe is reporting the Connies, led by Stephen Harper, will be taking the field with a series of what sound like attack ads.
Yes, the Prime Minister who decries other people's attacks will reportedly "mock Stephane Dion's leadership abilities." If ever there was a more obvious admission that the Connies are just a tad afraid of Dion, this would be it.

Of course, attack ads are nothing new for Stephen Harper. This is the same prime minister who brought you "balloon fear". The link is dead - no point in reminding people of your hypocrisy - but you'll get a reminder of previous Connie negative ads from the rest of the post. Of course, Connie advertising tends to be completely ineffectual, especially between campaigns as this post from August 2005 will remind you.

Anyway, we can all know that the 2007 election campaign is on, whether we go to the polls this spring or sometime in the fall.

The first run of campaign ads tells me so.

27 January 2007

Fishery reform needed: scientist

Sometimes it takes an extreme presentation to grab attention.
Boris Worm, co-author of a controversial report that projects the collapse of all of the world's commercially fished stocks within 50 years, said there is still a chance for already fragile fisheries to rebound if certain measures are introduced.
Only two decades ago, the idea of species collapse would have had Dr. Worm laughed off the podium right after the guy who said Men in Black was a documentary.

Not so any more, but many will likely scoff at the idea that entire species will disappear within the next half century if we continue not just current fishing practices but also our overall approach to the marine environment. You can find a summary of Worm's collaborative work with other scientists here and the complete paper, from the magazine Science, here.

This is not Worm's first foray into this research area . In 2003, he authored a paper with Dr. Ransom Myers on the decline of predatory fish species, including cod. They concluded, among other things, that "the global ocean has lost more than 90% of large predatory fishes."

The chart [right] demonstrates the rapid decline of biomass on the southern Grand Banks, but this is only one of several areas showing a dramatic and rapid biomass depletion in the same relatively short space of time. [left]

Undoubtedly some, predictable, voices will rush forward to blame the entire thing on the federal government and demand compensation for what has been done to "our" fishery. They will note Worm's comments - quoted in the Globe - about Iceland's handline fishery for cod and likely use that as a further argument against the supposedly evil federal government.

What these voices miss - aside from, in one case, complicity in destroying local cod stocks through overfishing - is that the changes required in local fishing practices go far beyond the transient issues of who owns a fish processing company in this province or how many fish processors can work for poverty wages, topped off with federal hand-outs.

The fish processing sector in Newfoundland and Labrador has long employed considerably more people than needed. That economic demand was one of several factors that contributed to the intense fishing pressure placed on stocks throughout the last half of the 20th century. That demand continued right up to the cod moratorium in 1992.

The demand for quota is no less driven by the pressure from fish harvesters in all sizes of vessels. The current fishing management system - evolved over 50 years - continues to press harvesters to harvest more, to increase pressure on new species such as shrimp, and generally to contribute to the drastic decline noted by Myers and Worm. The demand to keep all plants open, the constant cry for a food fishery - and a commercial fishery on a damaged stock like cod - are all indications that many in Newfoundland and Labrador simply have not grasped the magnitude of the problem nor the folly of their own efforts.

Neither the federal nor provincial governments alone or together decimated fish stocks. The current state of the fishery in Newfoundland and Labrador was driven by many factors. Fixing the problem will take a deliberate effort in which established interest will have to be put aside.

The answer does not lie in simply copying Iceland's hook and line fishery. Neither does it rest with developing a collective marketing effort: surely better advertising is a suggestion from people who truly have no grasp of the issue at hand. Nor does the answer lie in encouraging migrant labour for local fishplants. Such actions are simplistic.

Changes needed in the Newfoundland and Labrador fishery will be sweeping and touch every aspect of both current operations and our collective attitudes toward the industry. it will require leadership from politicians and others in the community with a clear-eyed view of both the problem and the solution - or at least the way to achieve a solution.

Sadly, there seems to be no one in Newfoundland and Labrador - neither in the government, the opposition, the union or among processors - who can provide that leadership. We may be in as desperate a spot as we were nearly a century ago when one man's ideas for reform were rejected across the board in the then-country of Newfoundland, only to adopted elsewhere with great success.

At least then, someone in Newfoundland and Labrador seemed to have a clue about what to do.

Fish processing dead in five years: Danny Williams

Right at the start of a story on Danny Williams trek to Alberta to hug something, came this curious comment:
The East Coast fish processing industry will collapse in five years if they can't attract overseas workers, Premier Williams said.

"We have to open up our borders as soon as possible."
Just open the borders, Danny? Surely you can't be serious.

The fish processing sector in this province needs to shrink in size and find new ways of lowering costs. Importing migrant labour to split fish while government policy creates migrant labourers of our own people isn't the solution.

In fact, that just makes the overcapacity in the processing sector - a chronic problem since the 1950s and 1960s - a continuing problem rather than one we solve for once and for all. We need to start treating the fishery like a business, not a social welfare program.

Danny Williams has some explaining to do when he gets back from hugging Alberta.

Williams certainly needs to explain his government's fish processing policy.

And while he's at it, maybe the suddenly touchy-feely Premier can hug up to a microphone and explain why he never mentioned this imminent collapse thing before now.

Not like he hasn't had say three years and a fisheries bullshit waste-of-time session summit to do it.


Gordon Pinsent's hometown on block?

Abitibi Consolidated is looking for cost-savings at one of its most expensive mills in North America.

Problem is - as in the past - no one will want to save any cash. in the story above, the union head doesn't want lay-offs.

In this news release from Danny Williams' natural resources mouthpiece, we get the threat that if Abitibi closes one of its two paper machines at Grand Falls, they can expect to shut the whole mill.

Roger Grimes originally made that threat and amended the legislation to allow the provincial government to revoke access to timber.

No fibre.

No mill.

No one took Grimes seriously because of the jobs lost, cash to the economy and...well, the prospect of the company suing the government for taking it out of business for no good reason. Roger Grimes was many things but he wasn't given to thinking and acting irrationally.

The difference in this case is that Danny Williams has shown his willingness to kill more than one project - and all the jobs - if he is in the mood at the moment. We are all too familiar with the routine, right down to the trips to Alberta to talk about the homing pigeons and embracing that province's economic miracle.

So we might just be saying goodbye to a second paper mill in the province in a little over a year, not because the mill can't run but because nobody wants to deal with the problem at hand in a sensible, rational manner.

Or, if the current Premier lives up to his brand, because the company took a difficult but necessary business decision - close No. 7 machine - and Danny pulled the trigger on the whole mill just because he could.

Let's hope people start talking sense soon, the provincial government included, for a change.

Otherwise, Gordon Pinsent's home town could become yet another ghost town, and there'd be no one to blame but...well, you know.

26 January 2007

Did you say rheume?

Obviously the French socialist party knows it doesn't stand a hope in hell now that its candidate has shown herself to be hopelessly inept twice in one week.

The latest: falling for a comedian posing as Jean Charest and endorsing Corsican independence.

Here's an English language take on it.

She probably thought he said Inspector Clouseau was calling on the telefoon.

Charest suggests Euro-trade for Canada

From Premier Jean Charest comes this excellent suggestion on a free trade agreement between Canada and the European Union.

As if on cue, Charest received this endorsement and this one from Quebec business on the idea.

For Newfoundland and Labrador, the prospect of free trade with Europe has some positive aspects.

Upside: Newfoundland and Labrador is the closest point in North America to Europe. That holds huge potential for economic growth given the shortened flying and shipping times. For mainlanders reading this, a jet leaving St. John's can be at Gatwick in something like three and a half hours.

Downside: Any new industrial development might have involve a major deal with government.
Saving grace: The deal likely couldn't come into force until after 2010, meaning a certain bird-lover will likely have flown the coup by then.

Upside: European trade barriers on products like shrimp would drop, again benefiting Newfoundland and Labrador exporters.

Upside: The seal hunt would likely be shut down, thereby ending March Madness and second rate celebrities debating Paul and his ex-wife on Larry King Live about whether they are in Charlottetown Prince Edward Island, Charlottetown Newfoundland or Charlottetown Labrador.

Charest pronounces his trip to the world economic summit in Davos to be a success, here, en francais.

Meanwhile, one of the four Atlantic premiers was accosted by an expat from his own province. Three guesses which one is was. The Premier, not the ex-pat.

In this story, by the way, Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Danny Williams is quoted as saying that people from this province are like homing pigeons. Well, he treats them as if they weren't the homing variety but either way, the comment is more than a little insulting.

He uses this like almost as much as he says "quite frankly", or coughs whenever he is being scrummed and is a tad uncomfortable.

Danny needs new joke writers before someone flips him the bird.

Friday quickies

1. Williams and Calvert seek clarification of PM's Equalization comments. From the Star Phoenix.

2. Uncertainty in the NL oilpatch.

3. Williams wants to hug Alberta's job boom. Most revealing quote: "I'd love to have them all home," he [Williams] said. "However, the projects and the jobs are not there yet. We're building our economy."

Any word on when we might start trying to get "there"?

4. Terra Nova back online; provincial revenues drop temporarily. The provincial government will collect 5% royalties until the costs of the recent refit to the Terra Nova FPSO have been recovered. The lower royalty period should last through the first quarter of 2007, depending on oil prices. After that, it's back to 30%.

5. "Hibernia not only project for PetroCan". From the Financial Post's Claudia Cattaneo. Most interesting quote: "It's hard to say whether this is an opening gambit on some other negotiations or what," [PetroCan CEO] Mr. [Ron] Brenneman said. "We have not been very good at predicting responses in that arena."

Ron might find it prudent to start with assuming a "No", irrespective of what the companies put on the table. Everything after that is a pleasant surprise. Basically the Premier's negotiating position is the same as with Ottawa in 2004:

DW: "I am not happy. Make me happy."

The Other Guy: "Well, what would make you happy?"

DW: "Well, I don't know. Suggest something."

TOG: "Ok. Well how about this? That's what you have said in the past."

DW: "Yeah well, that makes me happy, but I am just not happy enough. Make me happier."

TOG: "Sheesh."

Seriously though, it is exactly that uncertainty - caused totally by policy confusion/inaction within the current provincial government - that brands Newfoundland and Labrador as place where it is difficult if not impossible to do business.

Well, at least until 2010 when the premier is expected to pack it in.

6. "Premier's messages misses mark". Editorial from the Friday Telegram. Not exactly as powerful as the Star Phoenix columnist's critique of his own Premier, but for local media, almost a humble suggestion that the Premier might maybe possibly think about considering - at least just for a second, and only if he has the time given all the problems others are causing him - that he might theoretically, but only if he really wants to, maybe changing a teensy bit of his way of doing business.

But only if he wants. Otherwise, never mind.

7. Spittle in the wind. Fish processing rep Derek Butler offers what elsewhere would be readily accepted as reasonable, but here is likely to be condemned out-of-hand as treason: run the fishery like a business, not as a social welfare program.

25 January 2007

Rick Mercer named to honourary air force post

Comedian Rick Mercer is the new honorary colonel of 423 Squadron, a maritime helicopter unit with the Canadian Forces' 12 Wing in Shearwater Nova Scotia.

The official news release can be found here, with another version and some background on honorary colonels here.

Your humble e-scribbler spent a brief period in early 1997 as Wing Public Affairs Officer for 12 Wing. The job included the chance to go flying (always a big plus) and the opportunity to broaden the outlook of an army type through work with the air force and indirectly the navy. Overall, though, it gave the rare privilege of working with some truly fine people.

Forget the stuff you hear about Sea Kings, although the aircraft is long past its sell before date. The men and women of 12 Wing are dedicated professionals. That applies to everyone from the
nut-turner in 12 Air Maintenance Squadron who labours to keep the Sea Kings airworthy to the the newbie aircrew or veteran instructors in 406 Squadron to the operational people in 423 Squadron on the east coast or 443 on the west.

Sit in the mess over dinner and have a chat with two members of a crew that rescued a bunch of Bulgarians from a sinking freighter in hideous weather conditions. They were both quiet but nonetheless confident.

The simple way they described the mission belied the risks: it took five or six trips in high seas with danger coming from the rapidly rising and falling masts from the ship, if nothing else. Like say the serious lack of soap and water on a Bulgarian freighter that was - for the pilot and co-pilot - literally blindingly obvious once the first of the sailors was hauled into the "bathtub".

Then there were the people who had been in Somalia in 1993. One crew wound up spending a very scary night on the ground somewhere in Mogadishu until they were rescued next day.

Then there was the airframe - 423 (?). Recovering on HMCS whatever, the helicopter had a mechanic failure. The pilot pitched the aircraft forward and landed hard on the deck but with a chunk hanging off the landing area.

No injuries - thankfully - but big-time structural problems that kept the aircraft limited to the odd hop around Shearwater. Some wag joked about taking the associate minister up for a hop in the old dear when said politico was scheduled for a courtesy visit. The wit wanted to show the minister what they were working with, duct tape and all, given that Jean Chretien had cancelled the EH-101s and was - at that time - not disposed to replace them any too soon. The associate minister never paid the visit and just as well too since there were times in the planning when the idea of giving her a run in 423 didn't get laughed off the table.

Those days are gone and new helicopters are soon to enter service.

And the men and women of 12 Wing have a new honorary colonel who will fit right in.

There'll be plenty of joking and carrying on, but when things get serious, there's no one better to have on board.

Equalization Follies: Two Views

Herewith a link to Offal News and its contribution to the Equalization chatter.

There is a contrast, as Offal notes, between the view from one Saskatchewan columnist and the Telly news story.

I'd go a step farther though and point out the volume of sheer bunk - things that are patently false - contained in Danny Williams' comments.

Read the two. It's a study in contrasts.

A bird in the hand

Loyola Sullivan was right.

On the same day Sullivan resigned, he was quoted by vocm.com as saying that Newfoundland and Labrador needed steady economic development.

Turns out Sullivan was the smartest person in the provincial cabinet, a guy with a genuine strategic insight into the province's needs.

Sullivan's comment reflects an understanding that an economic bird in the hand is worth two in the bushes. Economic development - like Hebron and Hibernia South - puts cash, lots of cash in the provincial treasury. It also creates a climate of optimism that encourages other business development and job creation all of which magnifies the economic impact of the development itself.

Beyond that, economic development staunches the flow of young, skilled workers out of the province. Demographic projections for the past decade have shown this province will experience a steady decline in population. At the same time though, the average age of the workforce is increasing and inevitably there will be fewer people producing in the economy than there will be retired people. Those retired people need health care, among other things, and without steady economic growth, it will get harder and harder for the provincial government to pay for the increased costs.

Newfoundland and Labrador is not alone in Canada in facing that prospect. It's just that here, and interestingly in Quebec, as well, the economic consequences of demographic shifts will hit hard.

Really hard.

Unless there is sustained economic development.

Today's announcement on apprenticeship registration and qualification is effectively an admission of the folly of a public policy that repeatedly scorns economic development solely for the short-term political gain. Brian Tobin's "not-on-teaspoon" on Voisey's Bay was bad enough; Danny Williams now applies the same pernicious policy to the entire economy.

The new apprenticeship policy will allow young men and women in skilled trades to gain credit for their work in Alberta toward journeyperson papers in this province, provided they retain a permanent residence in this province.

If there was economic development in Newfoundland and Labrador, those young people would already be here. They'd be building the gravity-base system for Hebron. They'd be working at the Long Harbour smelter, and as those projects wind down, they'd be off to Labrador to build the Lower Churchill. [And at Hibernia, we'd be that much closer to 30% royalties instead of the 5% we now receive and will continue to receive for some time more.]

Instead, they are streaming to Alberta in near-record numbers to find high-paid jobs in an economy that is in danger of melting from the heat of activity.

The new policy announced today has nothing to do with developing the local labour force, despite the claim in the government's news release. Any young person who qualifies for the program will be importing personal income taxes to this province from work done in Alberta. They will also count toward this province's Equalization entitlement, and coupled with any success Danny Williams might possibly have on that front, we will wind up drawing cash from Alberta's economy to prop up our own government.

All of that is obviously in lieu of developing our own economy in a sensible, orderly and strategic way. It is diametrically opposite to the goal of every Premier in this province since Confederation and virtually every prime minister in the country before that to develop a prosperous, diverse local economy.

What Premier - Liberal or Conservative - has wanted to stay on the federal hand-out rolls?

Not a one.

Save Danny Williams.

Any other Premier would have hailed the lowering of Equalization payments as one step away from the ignominy of dependence on Uncle Ottawa. News the provincial government will get less Equalization hand-outs this year, even without a changed system, would be celebrated with a holiday. The decrease is caused by one thing alone: the development of our own economy to the point where we actually don't need to suck the public tit on the Rideau. We would be one step closer to becoming a "have" province.

Imagine if you can, the psychological impact of that success.

Imagine the impact such an achievement would have on the people of Newfoundland and Labrador who, after three years of Danny Williams' supposed successes still think of themselves as poor, abused, downtrodden.

Imagine the genuine pride from having a Newfoundland and Labrador Premier delivering a speech - for the first time in almost 60 years - in which his or her province had joined the ranks of Alberta, Ontario, and latterly British Columbia and Saskatchewan.

All you can do these days is imagine such a goal.

Instead, the premier is travelling across the country trying to drum up some support for increasing his province's dependence on economic success somewhere else. At home, his ministers are announcing policies designed to put a poultice on a self-inflicted economic head wound.

But what young man or women, with a bright future and a highly-paid job in Alberta, would opt to become a glorified migrant labourer?

Likely not many. Far cheaper and far better to go where the work is and stay there. If something turns up at home, then make that decision when it happens.

All Newfoundland and Labrador's government can offer these days are unbelievable claims like the one in the news release:
There are emerging economic opportunities in Newfoundland and Labrador in large-scale development projects such as Lower Churchill, Voisey's Bay and Hebron Ben Nevis, among others. The provincial government is exploring all options to ensure Newfoundland and Labrador is building a qualified and skilled workforce that meets industry demands.
The young people likely to be affected by this policy know full-well that beyond the smelter at Long Harbour, the other projects listed are possibilities - not probabilities - in the unknown future.

They are birds in the bush.

And what they know, being the smart young men and women they are, is that a bird in the hand is infinitely better.

Too bad someone else doesn't understand that as well as they do.

Sullivan new fish ambassador

Loyola Sullivan, former Newfoundland and Labrador finance minister, is the new Canadian ambassador for fisheries conservation.

Sullivan takes up a post re-established in 2005, having been eliminated in 1996 as reported by ctv.ca.

Public Relations Measurement

Public relations professionals spend a chunk of time trying to measure things. Aside from wondering if what you are doing is actually producing anything other than billings, clients want to see some tangible indication of results for communications programs.

Simple stuff - like saying the story got front page above the fold in a given newspaper - is a bit dated and must inevitably be coupled with other things to give a sense of whether or not the news release got the message across.

Corporate clients want some reliable indicator of what they get for their money; they want to see a return on investment (ROI).

One of the big measurements - and one of the raging debates - is effectiveness.

Just to give an idea of how big an issue measurement is, take a gander at Katie Paine's blog which dedicated entirely to research and evaluation for communications. That's on top of KD Paine and Partners' company website.

There's also Cymfony, a company that does measurement as its entire book of business. The Canadian Public Relations Society measurement committee - yes they even have one - developed a method they endorse. You can find more on it here.

Research is the starting point for any effective plan, let alone a public relations plans. Research is itself a speciality within the public relations field and the real treasure is finding people who can not only spit out data but also paint a coherent picture of what the data means.

Plenty can lay the mosaic individual tiles. Few can then step back and see the profile of Abraham Lincoln.

Bond Papers is the product of research. All the bandwidth devoted to the provincial government positions and how Danny Williams operates comes from observation.

It forms the starting point of what your humble e-scribbler needs to give clients advice on how to approach an issue involving government. What gets put on a computer screen here is just the tip of the over-used iceberg analogy.

Virals, poll goosing and all that you've read about here are the PR equivalent of showing how to lift an ice cube with a piece of string and some salt. The real challenge comes in knowing how to shift the entire freakin' berg of attitudes and behaviour.

And knowing why you want to move the berg in the first place.

All of this is just an excuse to link to a post at Offal News that itself winds up at an amazing website maintained by the New York Times. The Times has used some simple software to let you wander through George Bush's state of the union speeches searching for keywords. You can see where the word turns up, the speech context and the frequency it shows up.

Curious stuff.

Fascinating in a nerdy/geeky sorta way.

But it's inevitably the start of someone's strategic plan.

24 January 2007

Danny Williams: At odds with himself...again

Courtesy of vocm.com, the latest comment by Premier Danny Williams [right] on the Hibernia South project he cancelled last week:
...He says the inherent conflict of interest is the feds supporting the CNLOPB while they [the federal government] own part of the project. ...
There's the case, ladies and gentlemen, against the provincial government having an equity stake in any offshore oil or gas project. How could the provincial government hold veto power over a project it has a financial interest?

Bond readers have already heard about a conflict of interest involving the provincial government and the offshore. It's one of the reasons why the oil companies weren't too fussy about Danny's idea of having the same guy who was negotiating the government's tax take also sitting to negotiate his potential seat at the operators table.

It was a conflict of interest. Bond Papers hit on the notion, then had the conflict of interest issue confirmed by industry sources.

Hebron talks could likely get started if Premier Williams agreed with himself. Sadly, he finds it more productive to argue with himself on more and more issues, instead. With such a diversity of opinion just within a single brain, Danny Williams can actually be a team of one.

Public policy by Sybil.

What a concept.

"Show me the shoes and I'll piss on them", or Danny Williams' latest jihad

Meanwhile, the Council of the Federation meeting is going to be fun, given Danny Williams latest "screw you" message to his fellow Premiers.

The shoeshine guys outside the meeting will be doing a raging book of business patching up the nine pairs of first minister loafers from across Canada the feisty Newfoundland and Labrador premier is set to soak.

In the same story at vocm.com, the Premier Dan is quoted as saying:
Williams says he wants the federal government to make all of the provinces whole however if they experience a financial setback while Newfoundland and Labrador gain more money, then so be it. [Emphasis added]
That's what he said; you get to listen to these things while a blizzard rages outside your house.

Once again, it's pretty easy to see Premier Dan at war with himself on the same issue. At the same time as he claimed it would be unthinkable to reduce Newfoundland and Labrador's federal hand-outs, he's quite happy if someone else gets shafted.

Sucks to be them, so to speak.

That sort of bumpf plays well at home among some people, but it will go over like the proverbial flatulence episode in a house of worship. Expect the upcoming council meeting to be a bit on the stormy side, much as the October 2004 meeting would have been had Danny sat his backside in the chair reserved for him. Premiers were more than a bit miffed with Danny's posturing that put his own interest above everyone else's. Same guy. Same message as he is spreading now.

Back then he found an excuse and stormed out of the meeting with all the melodramatic - histrionic (?) - flair he could muster. He did it solely to avoid the tongue-lashing some of his counterparts had ready for him.

Will he find an excuse to storm out or skip the meeting this time? Or will there be fireworks to light up the winter evening in Toronto?

The only thing for sure is that it is highly unlikely Danny Williams will get anything out of his latest crusade except a bunch of ticked off provincial premiers.

Hasta la victoria siempre?

vocm.com seems to have a pipeline into the local Maquis cell.

This is pure guerrilla politics.

Update: The vocm link doesn't seem to work very well. It takes you to the main youtube.com page but you can't find the video. At least your humble e-scribbler couldn't.

Not a problem.

There's a version embedded at dennisrice.ca.

Update 2: Over at Offal News, Our Man in Lono has put this little video in a political communications context.

The Update Strikes Back: Surprise. The thing turns up on NTV along with a couple of other videos. Low production values. Crude message. Does it deserve media attention like this?

As the first comment - and so far only one - said it is "anti-NL". Around here, that wasn't the first thought and unless the Premier and the province are inextricably linked, it's kinda hard to sustain that argument for too long.

But hey it's a gut reaction.

Update 4: Revenge of the Sick: Flip over to youtube.com and you'll find the political viral has had about 3150 views so far. [h/t to Greg for the youtube link]

Will this make Danny reconsider expanding broadband access?

Fact Checker: What Lorne and Danny want

A number of news media have made a fundamental mistake in describing what Lorne Calvert and Danny Williams are concerned about.

Equalization is complex subject. It's tedious and it is hard to express simply.

But the Calvert/Williams position is actually easy to understand and describe.

For the purposes of illustration, let's use the cbc.ca story found on the /nl site. Overall, it's a pretty good summary of yesterday's news from Saskatchewan.

Part way through there's this sentence:
One of their concerns is that a new equalization formula would factor non-renewable resources into the calculations.
That's not accurate.

Calvert and Williams are concerned the Prime Minister will not keep his election promise to exclude 100% of non-renewable resource revenues from Equalization.

What cbc.ca and others are running makes you think the revenues are out now and Harper is going to put them all in. He doesn't have to: they already are included 100%. The O'Brien panel recommends including half of all resource revenues.

See the difference?

It's a pretty big one, actually.

And for Equalization, it's remarkably simply to state.

Howard Hunt dies

Everette Howard Hunt, former secret agent, author, alleged inspiration for Tom Cruise's character in Mission: Impossible and one of the co-conspirators in the 1972 Watergate break-in died yesterday, aged 88.

For more background on Watergate, here's a link to the Washington Post site. The paper compiled its coverage - including the original pieces by Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward - and updated some stories.

The Watergate affair remains a fascinating piece of American history and an amazing piece of journalism that continues to teach lessons today. All Woodward and Bernstein did was never accept the official position, like say "We just need more information".

Instead, they just asked simple questions: who knew what, when did they know and what did they do once they knew?

It is amazing what you can uncover when you just ask simple, logical questions.

Out of that unfolded what would otherwise have remained reported - according to the official version - as a simple burglary.

Williams' Western Wanderings

1. "Danny Williams: At war with himself". Bond Papers comment on Tuesday's speech.

2. "Premiers stand united", the Star Phoenix coverage, from Saskatoon. Most laughable of a number of laughable comments by Williams: that the O'Brien panel based its finding on "arbitrary" principles and that it was "flawed". Whenever Williams is faced with something he disagrees with, it is, by definition flawed. He never gives reasons he just makes the statement. Of course, in the Danny-centric mind, it doesn't require further explanation since that's the reason it's flawed: because he disagrees with it and he said so.

3. "Maritime premiers go begging in Alberta". The Calgary Sun headline on a Canadian Press story. The story is short but the last line tells it all: a guy from New Brunswick reminds his Premier that he will find his way back to New Brunswick when the wages at home are as good as in Alberta.

23 January 2007

Danny Williams: At war with himself

In Saskatoon today, Newfoundland and Labrador premier Danny Williams [Left: in February 2005] insisted that the prime Minister must live up to his campaign promise and exclude non-renewable resource revenues from the Equalization formula.

In October 2006, Williams told provincial Progressive Conservatives he had supported Harper during the federal election but didn't quite trust him.

In his letter to Harper during last year's election campaign, Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Danny Williams advocated including all resource revenues (renewable and non-renewable) in the Equalization formula. He wrote to Harper that this was the policy of the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador.

In the 2004 election campaign, Williams said the Harper plan was not as good as the one he had just negotiated with then-Prime Minister Paul Martin to provide additional Equalization-type payments to the Newfoundland and Labrador provincial government.

Danny Williams is arguing against himself.

He is also undermining his own credibility with national audiences.

Williams knows that his current position - no non-renewable resource revenues - does not treat all provinces equally under Equalization. Provinces that have huge incomes from oil, gas and mining get to hide billions of income the federal top-up program. That gives them considerably more federal transfers than provinces that are less reliant on non-renewables.

Yet, in Saskatoon, Williams told a university audience:
"I think we all know why he might do that. We are facing a federal election and...in the end, equality among provinces takes a back seat to the electoral urgency of currying favour with the majority."
Not only does Williams make a false claim about equality, he pits one province against another as deliberate effort to raise political ire in English-speaking Canada with Quebec. It's not the first time he has criticised Quebec, either explicitly or - as in this case - implicitly.

Williams also knows that the expert panel that reported last year found that both positions he has advocated do not treat provinces equally or fairly. The O'Brien panel found that the all-in approach disadvantages provinces with non-renewable resources. The approach Williams now favours doesn't either.

What O'Brien and his expert panelists proposed instead was including half of all resources revenues. According to O'Brien, the panel's approach would represent as fair a compromise between the two extreme positions - both advocated by Danny Williams.

And obviously by rejecting the O'Brien panel, Williams is effectively arguing against a compromise of his own positions.

Beyond that, however, Williams takes an approach - pitting province against province - he criticizes others for supposedly taking:
"But don't pit provinces against each other, don't take from one to give to another and use it against them, don't break firm written commitments - honour them."
Sadly, it's not the first time he's done that either. In October, Williams launched his re-election campaign by attacking the federal government, just as he today accuses the federal government of putting more money into a single province as a way of currying favour for the Conservatives.

In the Equalization fight, however, Williams stands no chance of winning. He is isolated among Premiers, with only the ineffectual premier of Saskatchewan on his side. The position Williams now defends is demonstrably as unfair to some provinces as the one he advocated only last year.

Incredible as it may seem, Danny Williams is at war with himself.

In such a situation, he cannot help but lose and that, is proof of the wisdom in John Crosbie's critique of Williams' entire approach.

Kent will announce intentions after Hodder

Mount Pearl Mayor Steve Kent told VOCM news Tuesday evening that he has not ruled out running for Harvey Hodder's seat but he hasn't ruled it out either.

Kent said he will announce his intentions once Hodder announces what he will do.

And hey, people, while we labelled it as scuttlebutt, Kent's comments to VOCM suggest that he will be looking to replace Harv wearing the same colours.

Scuttlebutt: Steve Kent to run for Tories in Waterford Valley

If the Mount Pearl rumour mill is right, Mount Pearl Mayor Steve Kent, recently seen on NTV's make-over show, will make himself over from a Liberal to a Danny Williams Tory for the next provincial election.

Kent will reportedly seek the Tory nod in Waterford Valley to replace Harvey Hodder, once Hodder announces he will be retiring from politics.

Kent's name was most recently floated as a possible Liberal candidate in the federal riding of St. John's South-Mount Pearl. Kent was courted by then Premier Brian Tobin to run in a federal by-election in the late 1990s and before that had been courted by the Reform/Alliance as a possible candidate.

Killing them softly

While the next general election is set for October 2007, Danny Williams started asking his caucus last fall to make a decision on whether or not they would be running next time around.

According to some reports, Williams wanted to get new members in well before the election ostensibly so they could have some experience before the big game coming in the fall.

Every time he's been asked about a spring election by reporters, Williams made up some cock and bull story - which everyone swallowed - about having to call the House back to change the legislation. Sometimes he used another tale - again with bells on it - about not want to change everyone's expectation of a fall election and therefore catching the opposition parties short.

Truth is, Williams wasn't planning on having a snap election.


The Premier understood its actually far more useful to wear the enemy down before the big contest. Rather than let them get ready for an election at a predicted time, better to use every power he has to have the opposition tied up with candidate selections, fund-raising and all the other things that go with elections for the better part of a year.

If the plan holds, both the Liberals and the New Democrats will be so shagged out by the fall, Danny will have an easy time no matter what.

And in the meantime, he can tell as many nosepullers as he feels like, knowing no one will challenge his story of the moment.