28 February 2007

Antle and Cochrane: a Northern view

From the truly Great White North, former reporter's Craig Welsh's towniebastard perspective on work this week by Rob Antle at the Telegram, and David Cochrane's speech to the Board of Trade.

Craig links to both Antle and Cochrane. [left. Photo: cbc.ca. Does that look like the face of a wild-eyed radical to you?] You can find them elsewhere on Bond as well.

He makes some valid, well-argued points about the difficult job of reporting. No argument from here and your humble e-scribbler will take a few lumps if some of the criticism of reporters Craig mentions has come from this space.

Then Craig wonders where the pro-Danny blogs are.

There are a few. It doesn't take much scrolling to find them on the blog roll at right. Craig mentions Liam O'Brien at Responsible Government League and rightly notes that Liam has changed his view markedly over the course of time. Check out nf.general on the old part of the Internet, though, and you'll find many more doing their bit to support the Danny cause. For a case in point, have a gander at the thread on Cochrane's speech.

On blogs, it can be easy to forget that the audience for blogs in this province is small. While something like Bond can reach some pretty influential audiences, there's just no matching the readership of the province's major daily or the eyeballs glued to NTV every night for Fred, Lynn, Toni, and Glen. Government puts its effort where it brings the greatest result.

It's also important to recall that Danny's comms approach is inherited, in large part, from what went immediately before. A surprising number of his comms people - starting at the top - came out of the Tobin/Grimes system and they continue to do what they learned when they started. Others who have come on board since 2003 follow the general pattern already laid out. Largely it works, or, to be more accurate, seems to work.

There's a reason why this administration, like the Tobin and Grimes ones before it, uses radio talk shows as extensively as it does. Talk radio makes it much easier to get the word out unfiltered. In dealing with other media, the messaging still works, largely because reporters work with the disadvantage of not knowing a lot of things or having the time to background a story to be properly briefed. The entire crowd in this market can be as hardnosed and persistent as the best of them out there anywhere, but more often than not you need to know what to ask in order to get the information.

Given the pressures on modern newsrooms, it is rare to see a place - print, radio, or television - with the budget or a reporter with the time to be able to undertake the sort of in-depth research Antle obviously did. Not so long ago, that sort of background would have been done shortly after the story first broke. As it is, Antle wound up taking something eight months to piece it all together. That isn't a criticism of him; rather take it as an admonition to consider the human dimension to his job and that of all his colleagues.

To get back to blogs, though, this provincial government pays as much attention to blogs as most business people in the province. While blogging has become a very potent communications tool elsewhere, around these parts, people are still waking up to the phenomenon. Your humble e-scribbler was asked again this evening by a colleague if this effort generates any business. Not a stain, went the reply, although in virtually every other market, the seemingly obvious demonstration of the impact a blog can have plus whatever other skills and knowledge are evident here would likely pull the odd hobble.

Craig finishes off with an observation about what the next six months might bring. The first couple of months of the New Year have brought all sorts of bizarre developments in politics and elsewhere.

No one knows what's around the next corner and that's part of what will make 2007 a fascinating year in Newfoundland and Labrador.

It also makes for great blogging.

David Cochrane: Patriotic Correctness

CBC provincial reporter David Cochrane spoke to the St. John's Board of Trade last week.

His speech is insightful, well-founded and hard hitting.

Geoff Meeker has a copy which he has edited slightly and posted in its entirety.

Read it.

You won't be disappointed.

Dead blog in the middle of the road

Public discussion is dead over at Sue's little corner of cyberspace.

It was only a matter of time.

Free speech isn't free if it's underground.

27 February 2007

Quebec and NL in same economic and political boat

This column by the Globe and Mail's Konrad Yakabuski describes Quebec as a province on the edge of a financial precipice.

The basis for Yakabuski's comments is a document released over a year ago by Lucien Bouchard and several prominent political scientists and economists. They argued, according to Yakabuski, "that Quebeckers were sleepwalking toward self-annihilation by failing to address the ticking time bombs of an ever-expanding provincial debt, sluggish economic growth and a population that is aging faster than anywhere else in the developed world except Japan."

One could easily switch "Newfoundland and Labrador" for "Quebec" and the names of local politicians for the crowd in this province. The tale is the same.

Public debt and the implications of demographic change sit as twin 800 pound gorillas in the middle of the Newfoundland and Labrador House of Assembly. Not a single politician will even acknowledge their presence, let alone deal with them.

Increased dependence on federal transfers is occurring in Quebec; in Newfoundland and Labrador, restoring Newfoundland and Labrador to dependence on the federal government is the core of Danny Williams' policy.

Quebec receives 20% of its revenue from Mon Oncle Ottawa; in Newfoundland and Labrador, the figure is somewhere between 30% - the official government figure - and over 40% - the figure from the Fraser Institute.

In some respects, Newfoundland and Labrador is actually in far worse shape than Quebec.

Yakabuski notes that Quebec runs the risk of having health care eat up 68% of public spending in 2030, compared with 43% today. Newfoundland and Labrador currently spends 31% of its budget on health care, but all social sector spending - health, plus education and social services - makes up 72% of government spending.

Not only is the situation already worse in some ways, the size of the problem is increasing at a greater rate here than in Quebec. Our neighbours to the west may be facing a sluggish economy. Newfoundland and Labrador is staring into an economic slowdown induced as much as anything else by a combination of conscious government policy in the case of the oil sector and, in the case of the fishery, a chronic inability to deal with a manifest disaster.

Quebec may be ignoring a problem. In Newfoundland and Labrador, politicians seem to be working hard at making the problems worse.

The provincial government here is actively pursuing a hydro-electric development that would cost upwards of $9.0 billion to build. Hydro board chairman Dean MacDonald told The Independent recently that government is seriously considering the very expensive option of shipping power around Quebec to other markets based on the belief that the deal would pay off sometime after 2041. If Premier Danny Williams is to be believed, he is prepared to defer revenue on that approach, that is to sell power for little or no profit in the meantime. That's 35 years from now. Quebec will at least make money from its hydro power. In Newfoundland and Labrador, the government may well wind up, in effect, paying people to take our resources away for a very long time.

For both provinces, though, the words of one Quebec economist are equally applicable:
"For now, someone else is paying, and it's other Canadians. But we're going to hit a wall and [the rest of Canada] is going to say: 'You're asking us to pay for programs that we can't even afford for ourselves,' " said Claude Montmarquette, one of the authors of the manifesto and an economics professor at the University of Montreal.
Quebec and Newfoundland and Labrador are in the same economic boat.

Quebec politicians may not be bailing against the rising seas, but at least they aren't opening the seacocks to settle the ship of state lower in the water.

A magically delicious waste of time

Danny Williams is in Ireland, in part to further the Ireland Business Partnership.

Meanwhile, three other premiers - from Ontario, Manitoba and New Brunswick - are in the United States trying to make sure that the border to our largest trading partner is as easy to cross as possible.

In honour of the Premier's trip across the pond, along with an expensive retinue, here are a couple of observations.

If you look at the Newfoundland half of this partnership, there is a preponderance of emphasis on cultural pursuits. Take a look at the 2005-06 annual report. On the face of one would have a hard time understanding why this whole thing isn't called the Ireland Cultural partnership and run out of the tourism department.

Now to be fair, the whole thing costs less than the members of the House overspent on their allowances budgets in 2005, but this is labelled as a business initiative.

So where's the business?

On top of that, if the initiative is so important, if there really is such potential here, how come the news release portion of the project website hasn't been updated since November 2005? There were a couple of announcements in 2006, but they are all cultural in nature. You'll find them on the main government website though. The festival of the Sea thing had its own website and sure enough that portion of the partnership was maintained as recently as last October.

But where's the business?

Let's try the Irish side of the project.

You'll find mention of a sewer company from Ireland starting up a North American subsidiary. There's also a 10 villa condo development in Maddox Cove, which is inside the boundaries of St. John's.


But that was two years ago.

Perhaps the single biggest result of this deal, signed originally 10 years ago by Brian Tobin and revived by Danny Williams, has been the regular trade missions from one side or the other. Lots of work for hoteliers, car rental companies, airlines, travel agents, that sort of thing. Bugger all else in the way of business deals.

While Danny Williams has a grand and glorious time in the land of his ancestors, other premiers are busily doing the legwork that will ultimately help businesses in our province. The United States is the single largest destination for our exports, over $2.3 billion annually. Ireland doesn't even crack $100 million.

Newfoundland and Labrador doesn't import much from Ireland either. Well, not in comparison with the United Kingdom, from which we get about $105 million in imports annually. We don't have a special partnership with the United Kingdom to strengthen economic ties with one of the world's major powers.


They aren't even tackling the UK and Ireland as a regional package. The provincial government is focusing on Ireland alone, apparently.

Given a choice of where to devote his energies in this late winter of 2007, how curious that Danny Williams opted for Waterford instead of Washington, Donegal and Dublin instead of Dallas.

The choice is as revealing as the provincial government's own forecast of a looming and dramatic economic downturn for Newfoundland and Labrador. We'd better hope that Danny snags a leprechaun and bargains for his pot o' gold. If he was successful at that, as far as business and trade is concerned, that's about all the Tobin/Williams experiment would have turned up.

Dinosaur blog

A child's view of the information world, interpreted by Non sequitur, circa 2005.

Fortis expands to British Columbia natural gas

In a deal announced on Monday, St. John's-based Fortis Inc. will acquire the British Columbia natural gas distribution service Terasen Inc. from the American company Kinder Morgan. The deal is reportedly worth $3.7 billion in cash and debt.

Edited extract from the news release:
The natural gas distribution business of Terasen, referred to as Terasen Gas, is one of the largest natural gas distribution utilities in Canada. Terasen Gas is the principal natural gas distribution utility in British Columbia, serving approximately 900,000 customers or 95% of natural gas customers in the province. Terasen Gas owns and operates 44,100 kilometres of natural gas distribution pipelines and 4,300 kilometres of natural gas transmission pipelines. Its service territory includes the populous lower mainland, Vancouver Island, and the southern interior of the province. As of September 30, 2006, Terasen Gas had an aggregate of $3.6 billion of assets, an aggregate rate base approaching $3.0 billion and approximately 1,200 employees. The company is regulated by the British Columbia Utilities Commission.

"These are high-quality utility assets located in a region with strong economic growth," says Stan Marshall, left, president and chief executive officer, Fortis Inc. "Through our FortisBC electric utility operations, we are very familiar with the regulatory environment and energy markets in British Columbia."

"Our expansion into the natural gas distribution business adds a third business segment and doubles the regulated rate base of Fortis to approximately $6.0 billion. The acquisition is expected to be immediately accretive to earnings per common share," explains Marshall.

Dependence on federal income support: Newfoundland and Labrador

While there is a general understanding that individuals in Newfoundland and Labrador receive significant income support from the federal government, the chart above puts it into a perspective that is nothing short of chilling.

Employment insurance currently accounts for eight percent of typical personal income in the province. That's the highest level in Canada.

While the increase in per capita employment insurance (EI) payments to Newfoundlanders and Labradorians begins to rise noticeably in the mid-1970s, the rate skyrockets after the creation of the 200 mile exclusive economic zone and the consequent expansion of the highly seasonal fish processing industry. That occurred in 1977.

Curiously, as fish stocks depleted, the per capita EI amounts climb dramatically until the imposition of the cod moratorium in 1992.

After a period of decline in the 1990s (exclusive of TAGS and NCARP payments), the rates of employment insurance per capita climbed again in 1999. It continues to climb. This coincides with the end of federal support payments specifically made in relation to the cod moratorium (NCARP/TAGS). It also coincides with a provincial government policy which saw plants shift production to species such as shrimp.


The same figures, given in constant dollars, compared with the national average.

"...everyone is upset with us, so we must be doing a good job!"

Speaking Points for Max Ruelokke, Chair and CEO, C-NLOPB

NOIA Luncheon, February 21, 2007

[Note: May not be exactly as delivered. Thanks to Max Ruelokke and Sean Kelly for providing these notes.]

• Thanks for the invitation, it feels great to be in this group where we have many shared experiences of helping to grow this industry. I must say, I felt equally at home last month in addressing the offshore workforce on Terra Nova and the Henry Goodrich.


• The C-NLOPB commissioned Corporate Research Associates in autumn 2005 to assess how much people know about the offshore oil and gas industry and about us. Here are some of the things we found out from the survey:

• Actual impact: GDP; 3200 workers directly employed. Perceived impact: Stats from Survey - 61% of people who were surveyed had no idea of the number employed, the majority of those who responded thought it was less than 2,000.

• Actual Impact: Spending since the Hibernia discovery - $ 19 B. Perceived impact: 68% had no idea, of those who did respond, the average estimate was $1.5 B.

• Offshore Industry has many components, all with a role to play:

- NOIA and its impact
- Offshore Workforce
- Operators, individually and via CAPP [Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers.]
- Governments
- Finally, C-NLOPB


• 21% of people surveyed felt we were responsible for regulating the O&G industry, compared to 42% for the Federal Government and 36% for the Provincial Government.

• Established in 1985 to administer the Canada-Newfoundland Atlantic Accord Implementation Acts. [Federal and Provincial]

• Key mandates:

Resource management
Environmental protection
Industrial benefits

• The Board, in many ways, serves all stakeholders in the industry, sometimes satisfying none! A good example of that is the current situation where Government appears to be upset with us and our recent decision, while at the same time we are still in the appeal period of a recent court decision in a case where we were taken to court by HMDC [Hibernia Management and Development Corporation] and Petro-Canada who claimed we were imposing an unfair requirement to spend within the Province on them.

• A former Board member once mused that “.. it seems as though everyone is upset with us, so we must be doing a good job!”

• But seriously, let’s take a look at the Board:

• Seven members: Federal appointees: Hal Stanley, Lorne Spracklin and Herb Clarke; Provincial Appointees: Fred Way, Dr. Joan Whelan, Andy Wells and myself as Chairman and CEO.

• How the Board works: Decisions are made by Board Members, by the Executive, or by either or both of the Chief Safety Officer and the Chief Conservation Officer. Fundamental Decisions involving: Rights Issuance, Extraordinary Powers, Development Plans are subject to the approval of Ministers,

• All the above are based on sound staff work by the Board’s 60 employees, who are really the heart and soul of the Board. They are highly qualified, with 89% holding formal post-secondary degrees or diplomas, with 86% having been educated in Newfoundland and Labrador. More that half of them have professional designations in engineering, geoscience, finance, human resources and public relations. They are highly skilled, dedicated, and respected by their peers in industry. There is a great blend of experience and youth, and Fred Way and I as the two full-time Board members are truly blessed to work with them.

• The basis of all the Board’s decisions is its mandate to manage our offshore resources to ensure that all purposes of the Accord are taken into consideration and a balanced decision reached. Allow me to read these brief purposes:

• (Purposes are on page 1 of the Atlantic Accord Memorandum, a pdf file on our website under “Publications”)

• You can see that keeping these all in balance can be a challenge. For this reason, the Board does not, can not and will not make political decisions. Board members are appointed by Governments to manage our offshore oil and gas resources, not elected to govern. We (or rather, most of us) wouldn’t have it any other way!

• An example of a Board decision which will have a major positive impact on the province is our R&D/E&T guidelines decision. As you will all know, we are managing the exploitation of a fixed, finite, non-renewable resource. How then do we ensure that the positive impact on our Province and Country will be felt long after the resource is depleted?

• The Board considered this and concluded that it would require those who are extracting this resource should make significant investments into research and development and education and training in our province. It was decided that an annual percentage, equal to that expended in Canada by the oil industry generally, as determined by Statistics Canada from industry sources, would be applied as a levy against production operations here. At current production rates and oil prices, this will result in the expenditure of approximately $20 M annually. Several operators challenged this decision in court, but last month the courts decided in our favour. There is still the possibility of an appeal, but we are cautiously optimistic of the outcome.

• These funds will have a long-lasting positive impact on our society, and I would encourage all those who are interested in further details to contact our office and specifically Frank Smyth, our Manager of Industrial Benefits and Regulatory Coordination, who is here today .

• Thank you for your courtesy and attention, and I hope these few remarks have been helpful in explaining who we are, what we do, and how and why we do it. If there are questions I’d be pleased to answer them.

26 February 2007

Doing job worth news release

Intergovernmental affairs minister John Ottenheimer issued a news release today to let everyone know he had a bunch of meetings in Ottawa with federal ministers.

Nothing new happened, except that they met.

In polling season, that's enough, apparently, but it sure isn't news.

What an appalling waste of one of this administration's more competent ministers.

Why unions don't work

That got your attention, didn't it?

Well it's either why they don't work or Kathy Dunderdale's google-search aide is now working for the National Union of Public and General Employees [NUPGE].

Check out this piece trying to rally support against the idea of Atlantica, a trade deal aimed at increasing co-operation between the northeastern United States and eastern Canada.

The date on the piece is today.

NUPGE says that the idea is being pushed by the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies. That's true, but others are interested.

NUPGE says that AIMS is headed by Brian Crowley.


Not at the moment. Crowley is off in Ottawa giving advice to Stephen Harper. Maybe the NUPGE writer didn't see Brian on the OCTRANSPO route they probably share. Crowley's move was widely reported and is found here, at the AIMS website.

It happened in November, over three months ago.

NUPGE lists the board of directors.

Second problem.

It's out of date. To be fair, NUPGE likely got this information from the AIMS website and that's where the problem rests. AIMS lists Derrick Rowe as chief executive of Fishery Products International, a job he gave up over a year ago.

Third problem?

Well, it's the overall approach. NUPGE's tirade against Atlantica is long on ideology and short on details. AIMS gets slagged, for example, because it has complained about the very large government to private sector ratio in Atlantic Canada. Lots of people do and with good reason: as taxpayers, we all pay for the general inefficiency of the bureaucracy and the burden of carrying around higher costs than we actually need to do the job.

The general rant against free trade that forms the basis of the piece has been around for 20 years. Fewer people accept it as the evidence of free trade mounts. There are ups and downs, depending on whether you are working in the Hershey factory in Smith's Falls or if you're the Mexican worker who is getting a job upgrade.

We could get into a long rant about the need for unions, especially those in eastern Canada, to update their slogan books, but that's for another time. Like the hunter-gatherers' union, FFAW, that stands as both a giant anachronism, a conflict of interest that works against its members best interests, and, as the recent experience with FPI shows, part of the cabal of business and government interests working together - even if inadvertently - to break up Fishery Products International, all the while blaming it on someone else.

In the meantime, take a quick look at NUPGE's little piece. Then go read the stuff at AIMS and make up your mind.

Maybe when you're done, you can give some thought to why people seem happy with international free trade (ok. NUPGE isn't, I know.) but want to grab the nearest pitchfork when someone promotes inter-provincial free trade.

25 February 2007

Defining a fair share of oil and gas revenue

Wade Locke's presentation to a Harris Centre public meeting last November is now available through Newfoundland Quarterly as a five page article.

To start with, Locke notes the vagueness of the "fair share" position:
While it is feasible to calculate the level of benefits currently received by the province, especially those flowing to the provincial treasury, and also possible to estimate how those benefits evolve over time as the industry grows and matures, it is not at all obvious to determine with any degree of precision, what would constitute a "fair share" of those benefits from the perspective of Newfoundland and Labrador. Moreover, many individuals arguing for a "fair share" of benefits fail to specify explicitly the benefits benchmark that needs to be surpassed.
That pretty much describes the provincial government's approach: there is a claim but no definition. That's exactly the same way the provincial government approached the idea of principal beneficiary, oil revenues and transfer payments from Ottawa.

Then there is Locke's consideration of the value of timely development:
With all four fields being developed to their potential, provincial revenue from the oil and gas sector would peak at $1.4 billion in 2012, generate more than $1.0 billion to the provincial treasury for another 12 years [beyond that] and yield in excess of $500 million per year for at least another eight years. ...

However, at this point the following caveat is important to bear in mind: these tremendous impacts may never be realized. They are contingent on Hibernia South and the Hebron project proceeding. If these developments do not proceed, then the revenue from the oil and gas industry will fall from $23 billion to $9 billion. In other words, while enhanced prosperity is within our grasp, there is a real risk it may not be realized. Furthermore, this risk is directly affected by decisions that are within the control of the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador. [Emphasis added]
That makes it pretty clear: no Hebron and Hibernia South and benefits drop dramatically. Elsewhere in the article, Locke makes it clear that leaving the oil in the ground runs the risk of drastically diminishing benefits compared to what would accrue from timely development.

Locke noted in his presentation that oil revenues account for more than 18% of the provincial government's total annual revenue. However, Locke doesn't point out that if one looks at own source revenues, i.e. the provincial government's direct revenues, not including transfers from Ottawa, offshore revenues account for about 26% of the government's haul.

Locke's presentation was specifically aimed at the "fair share" question. Putting Hebron and Hibernia South in the slings (White Rose expansion may suffer the same fate) has an impact on the province's fair share, as Locke notes.

Those cancellations also have an impact on other economic issues. As noted previously, the provincial government's own economic forecasts put the province into a period of stagnation (near zero growth) or recession for 2008 and 2009. The primary cause of that downturn is the lack of development offshore.

Province forecasts economic slowdown

While you won't hear it mentioned by the Premier, cabinet ministers or the administration's other spokespeople, the provincial government's own economic analysis division is forecasting an economic slowdown in the province over the next two years.

The Economy, 2006, delivered with the budget in the spring of 2006 forecast a shrinkage in the economy in 2008 and 2009. Real gross domestic product (GDP) was forecast to shrink by 1.5% each year.

Economic Review 2006, issued at the mid-way point in the current fiscal year, revised the estimates and provided projections for both nominal and real GDP. Both categories are forecast to see either negligible growth of less than one percent or a shrinkage of 1.5%.

Both documents pointed to oil production and mining output, including Voisey's Bay, as the major drivers of the economic growth into 2007.

Voisey's Bay is a deal criticized heavily by the current administration while in opposition.

24 February 2007

Background on legislature allowances

It took eight months, but someone finally put together an excellent backgrounder on the House of Assembly remuneration for legislators and the history of their allowances and other indemnities.

Rob Antle has it in Saturday's Telegram.

Insipid sameness, as some pretentious columnist called what's in the Telegram, turns out to be the sort of robust journalism the equally pretentious paper that prints her column just can't seem to produce. Can't produce, no matter how many times its editor claims to be doing just that.

Gimme insipid any day, if the alternative is pretentious blather.

If one article wasn't enough, there's also an excellent article by Antle in the Lifestyles section that describes the circumstances surrounding the changes to the internal economy commission legislation in 2000.

Antle gives us as much detail as we could expect in these two articles and there can be no excuses for people accepting the simplistic version of events tossed out from politicians anymore.

Still, there are four points Antle hasn't tackled in these pieces.

First, there's the curious saga of ejecting the Auditor General from the legislature in 2000. Antle notes "[Danny] Williams, leader of the PC party, was against it [barring the Auditor General from the legislature's accounts], but was not a member of the IEC."

That's true. The Leader of the Opposition is not a member of the commission; nor is the Premier. But in both cases some of the most senior members of the cabinet and the opposition caucus sit on the legislature's executive committee. Their job is to reflect the views of their caucus members and ultimately their respective bosses. It shouldn't matter that Danny didn't sit on the IEC; if he had a grip at all on his caucus he ought to have been able to handle this differently. That's especially the case of point supposedly so central to Williams' pledge of accountability and transparency.

Skip ahead to April 2004 and the Internal Economy Commission allowed the Auditor General to review the legislature's books once again. Williams takes credit for the move, but he wasn't on the commission as Premier any more than he was as Leader Op.

There's much more to this story that hasn't been told. It may never be told, but the version presented, even by Antle, doesn't explain how Williams could triumph at one point - supposedly - despite having failed earlier.

Antle doesn't explain the May 2004 bonus which Williams knew about at the time it was issued and, implicitly sanctioned. He couldn't be powerful at one moment and impotent the next without some better explanation than the one offered so far. Actually there hasn't been an explanation of this local version of the magic, reversing bullet.

Second, Antle notes changes made to the legislature's administration after April 2004. He points to cuts in allowances. Sadly, he doesn't explain how it could be that while members' allowances were cut, overspending on the budget line item that covers those allowances ballooned. According to the government's official, audited financial statements the legislature overspent its allowance line item by a total of almost $1.0 million in FY 2004 and FY 2005. The Auditor General's reports to date have only accounted for about $200,000 of that amount.

Third, Antle says that "Auditors found a 'significant spike' in overspending after the decision to bar them in 2000." The Auditor General may claim there was a spike in that year, but the Public Accounts - audited by John Noseworthy's staff and that of his predecessor Beth Marshall - showed a consistent pattern of overspending in the allowances line item from 1998 to 2005.

As the red line shows in the table above, the spike in spending occurred before the AG was barred, i.e. in FY 1999, tamped down for two fiscal years - after the AG was blocked - and then started its upward trend in 2003. That upward trend continued in 2004 and grew higher in 2005 in plain view of the Auditor General.

The yellow line in the table above represents the amounts identified by the Auditor General. His numbers may confirm his own theory, but the facts contained in the Public Accounts say something completely different. Sometimes people see what they look for, rather than what was. The "what was" may raise other questions that some would find uncomfortable.

The fourth point Antle hasn't touched is about the comptroller general. The version of events offered by both the current administration and the Auditor General is that the government's chief financial officer could not see what was going on in the legislature since the claims his office received in order to generate payments did not contain receipts.

This defies even a layman's reading of the Financial Administration Act, let alone beggar's the belief of anyone even passingly familiar with how things work inside Confederation Building's East Block.

Simply put, there's no way to run over a line item in the budget - especially by the $3.2 million total shown in the Public Accounts - without the guy who writes the cheques knowing about it. If he knew, then others knew or ought to have known.

Antle's last comment is well taken: "To appreciate why those changes are necessary, it’s important to remember how they were done in the past."

The difficulty is that even after his yeoman service in two fine articles, there are still crucial pieces of information missing.

It would seem that the only way to get to the bottom of the whole matter is through a properly constituted public inquiry.

23 February 2007

Egyptian blogger jailed

From Associated Press:
ALEXANDRIA, Egypt, Feb. 22 -- An Egyptian blogger was convicted Thursday and sentenced to four years in prison for insulting Islam and Egypt's president, sending a chill through fellow Internet writers who fear a government crackdown.

Abdel Kareem Nabil, a 22-year-old former student at Egypt's Al-Azhar University, had been a vocal secularist and sharp critic of conservative Muslims in his blog. He often lashed out at Al-Azhar -- the most prominent religious centre in Sunni Islam -- calling it "the university of terrorism" and accusing it of encouraging extremism.

Egyptian blogger Abdel Kareem Nabil, 22, centre, is escorted by police officers from a police van and towards a court house in Alexandria, Egypt Thursday, Feb. 22, 2007. The Egyptian blogger was convicted of insulting Islam and President Hosni Mubarak and sentenced to four years in prison on Thursday in Egypt's first prosecution of a blogger. (AP Photo)

Roger Grimes and the Lower Churchill

1. From The Independent, a story buried in the print edition last week but given prominence on the website.
Former premier Roger Grimes says when -- or if -- Danny Williams signs a deal to develop the lower Churchill, it will be "almost identical" to the one Grimes nearly signed with Quebec in 2002. He says the project remains undeveloped because of political games played by Danny Williams' administration.

"My assessment of it, quite frankly, is this: if Danny Williams ever does a lower Churchill deal," Grimes tells The Independent, "he'll do the deal I had on the table, or very close to it, because it is the only one that makes any economic sense."
There's another story this week featuring an interview with Dean MacDonald. It won't be online until Wednesday, but as soon as your humble e-scribbler can grab a copy, there'll be a post.

2. As a backdrop to all this, read for yourself the draft agreement Roger, Dean and Danny are talking about.

Combat medicine

From CBC Newfoundland and Labrador, this profile of Lieutenant Commander Bob Farrell, a Canadian Forces medical officer recently returned from a tour in Afghanistan. [Note: ram file]

22 February 2007

Let's do the Time Warp

Let's take a little trip through the Magic Time Machine of Hansard, back to March 12, 2002.

Danny Williams, then Leader of the Opposition was in full flight, debating Bill 65, an act to amend the Fishery Products International Act.

Mr. Williams:...It did not have to happen. We have a black eye now on the business reputation of this Province. People do not like heavy-handed intervention. They do not like it, and that is what happened in the business community. The national media are looking at it and they now see our intervention as heavy-handed. If it had happened back in April of last year, back in May of last year, there would have been no problem.

The hon. Member for Lewisporte talked about his concern about a privitive clause. We all share that concern. There should be no need for a privitive clause. There should be no need to hide behind your mistakes, so that people who have a right to sue you can rightfully sue you. We have done it; it is out there. You have this unique legislation that talks about privity, so you cannot sue us because we made mistakes. That is wrong. That could have been prevented. The legal opinion that you had last spring said that you could change that legislation for public policy reasons, and you did not do it. [Emphasis added]
Black eye on the business reputation of the province?

Think Fishery Products International after Danny Williams came to power. Think Hebron and threats to take out ExxonMobil. Think Abitibi and the threats to expropriate.

Privitive clause?

No need to hide behind your mistakes?

Think Max Ruelokke and Danny Williams' argument that the courts had no right to review government's decisions, or to be accurate their persistent failure to act as the law directed.

Something suggests Don Burridge was carrying a brief he did not write on that one.

But you know, when you go back to what Danny said then and what happened later...

It's astounding, time is fleeting
Madness takes its toll
But listen closely, not for very much longer
I've got to keep control


It's so dreamy, oh fantasy free me
So you can't see me, no not at all
In another dimension, with voyeuristic intention
Well-secluded, I see all
With a bit of a mind flip
You're there in the time slip
And nothing can ever be the same
You're spaced out on sensation, like you're under sedation
Let's do the Time Warp again!

Man, that was fun. We'll have to do the time warp again, really soon.

More like a small gene pool

The local New Democrats are still a little miffed that Karen Oldford decided to run for the Liberals in Labrador West instead of the party of Tommy Douglas.
"I'm quite disgusted.… I've never heard of this stuff happening before," said Nancy Riche, responding to Karen Oldford's decision to run for the Liberals in the March 13 byelection in Labrador West.

NDP president Nancy Riche said she is appalled that the Liberals competed for a candidate her party had lined up to run in Labrador West. NDP president Nancy Riche said she is appalled that the Liberals competed for a candidate her party had lined up to run in Labrador West.
"It really speaks to principles [and] lack of principles and ethics, I think."
That's a quote from the CBC story.

As much as Nancy Riche is a solid commentator and a savvy political operative, this comment suggests the early stages of late onset pinocchiosis.

Now that we have a bit more information, the whole thing sounds like typical daily life in the small gene pool known as Newfoundland and Labrador politics.

I used to be commonplace to see the same person being courted by at least two parties at the same time. That was back before the ice sheet retreated and Pangaea split up; you know back when your humble e-scribbler was actively involved in politics.

Young readers will be excused for googling Pangaea to see who played lead guitar.

In the run up to the 1989 Cucumber Battle between Tom "Shakeylegs" Rideout, right, and Clyde "Unconscionable" Wells, there was one candidate who was fiercely pursued by both Grit and Tory suitors. In the end, the candidate elected to go Tory figuring that Rideout would win. It was a fair bet and had the candidate chosen correctly, well, a cabinet seat was waiting either way. That wasn't part of the inducement; it's just a natural conclusion given who the individual is.

Trevor Taylor ran as a Dipper, if memory serves. Ditto Wally Noel, the former King of Pleasantville who could easily knock off the singularly unimpressive natural resources minister even if he ran again even for the Radical Looney A-ha-ha Party.

Floor crossing is an old sport in this province after an election. Sometimes people start out working with one party only to see the error of their ways and switching to another team.

If Nancy really wants to find the culprit in this little drama, she can look to Jack who hit the road after 16 years as head of the local NDP having done nothing obvious in the meantime to give the part a reasonable shot at being the official opposition, let alone take government.

As good as she is at partisan politics, Nancy couldn't hope to undo a decade and a half of inertia in a handful of weeks.

Province wants assets for free?

Fish minister Tom Rideout confirmed Wednesday that any sale of Fishery Products International Limited must include transfer of FPI's most valuable asset - fishing quotas - to the provincial government.

Rideout gave no indication the provincial government was prepared to purchase the quota or any other assets. His comments suggest that the provincial government will use its power under the Fishery Products International Act to obtain the quotas for free. Under the Act, any sale of FPI assets must be approved by the Lieutenant Governor in Council.

As CBC News reports, the provincial government acquired fishing quotas as part of a deal to keep the Arnold's Cove fish plant from closing.

A 2005 review by the province's auditor general found substantive problems with the Arnold's Cove deal.

Auditor General John Noseworthy reported that the provincial government provided $3.5 million in financial assistance to Icewater Seafoods Inc. contrary to government policy that prohibits direct financial assistance and loan guarantees to primary fish processors.

Noseworthy said the allocations were acquired by Newfoundland and Labrador Industrial Development Corporation (NIDC) in order to avoid concerns raised by the federal government over transfering quotas to the provincial government directly. As part of this transaction, the provincial government, through NIDC, "received a groundfish quota from High Liner Foods Incorporated comprised of allocations for [nine] groundfish species totaling 3,676 metric tonnes for 2004-05. In addition, the company agreed to pay NIDC a minimum annual lease fee of $50,000 relating to this quota."

Noseworthy concluded the provincial government violated the Financial Administration Act by advnacing money from the Department of Finance to NIDC. Noseworthy said the pre-commitment "would not meet the requirement in the Financial Administration Act for 'an agreement to be entered into for the provision of goods or services to be delivered in a subsequent fiscal year.'"

Noseworthy said that while Ice Water Seafoods was required to pay $50,000 annually to lease the quotas, that amount did not cover the carrying costs of the $3.5 million, estimated at $200,000.

While the deal was presented to the public on the basis of retaining control over the right to fish in waters adjacent to the province, Noseworthy said that Icewater subsequently transferred 72 tonnes of its allocation to a Nova Scotia interest for processing in that province. An additional 300 tonnes was transferred from Icewater to an unnamed Newfoundland and Labrador processor.

While the provincial government invested $3.5 million in Icewater, there is no indication the provincial government is planning any investment in a future operator of FPI assets. However, acquiring a business interest with no capital investment is similar to a fear being expressed about the province's oil patch and the upcoming energy plan.

In a December 19, 2006 article in the Financial Post, bureau chief Claudia Cattaneo said "[t]he province is expected to unveil an energy plan early in the new year that will bring back government ownership and control of oil and gas resources in Canada for the first time since the 1980 National Energy Program. One the greatest fears is that the plan will mandate equity ownership in oil projects by the province without contributing capital...."

Sanford Limited acknowledges purchase offer

Sanford Limited, the New Zealand fishing enterprise with slightly less than a 15% interest in Fishery Products International Limited confirmed for New Zealand media in late January that it had received unspecified offers for "most of its Canadian business" held through FPIL.

Managing director Eric Barratt is reported to have indicated that while the outcome of the offers was unknown, the offer(s) would not be detrimental to the carrying value of the company's investment.

Sanford recently disposed of its Argentinian assets. Barratt told the Dominion Post that several offers were being considered for FPIL, but that selling out of overseas fisheries was not part of Sanford's international structure.

In May 2006, Bond Papers reported on Sanford's 2005 annual report. At the time, the company directors noted that they were prohibited by Newfoundland and Labrador law from increasing their investment in the company. Increasing their investment would have shown Sanford's confidence in the medium- to long-term viability of FPI under its current ownership and management.

As well, Sanford was compelled to write down the value of its shares, which had been booked at CDN$11.00 per share, due to persistent trading of FPI shares at less than CDN$6.00 per share.

21 February 2007

The Minister for High Dudgeon

Recreation minister Tom Hedderson "takes great offense" at allegations surrounding the selection of Corner Brook as the site for the next Newfoundland and Labrador summer games. He also finds the allegation "contemptible."
"It is very upsetting to me that completely unfounded allegations of political interference by the Opposition may have taken some of the good feelings of pride and expectation that the people of Corner Brook and all of the athletes across Newfoundland and Labrador who will be there in 2008 should be feeling right now," said Minister Hedderson. "I urge all involved in the planning and preparation for these games to ignore the senseless innuendo taking place for crass political gain."
For some reason that is completely unfathomable to normal human beings, politicians in Newfoundland and Labrador seem to feel that their emotional condition qualifies as news.

It doesn't.

Just about every paragraph of this news release is an expression of some form over emotion in reaction to the idea that a member of the opposition might make an allegation that maybe the awarding of the games wasn't kosher, that it might be politically motivated. There are few facts, if any, except that Corner Brook last hosted the games in 1986, while Harbour Grace hosted the games in 1992. The original release was much better in explaining the rationale behind selecting Corner Brook.

What we have here is a highly predictable news release from the Liberal member for the Harbour Grace-Carbonear district. It actually isn't worthy of a response.

If there was a reply, one might expect the minister to merely state the reasons offered in the original release, note the number of strong bids received and wish the bidders better luck the next time around.

What we get instead is more just more of the melodrama that passes for politics in Newfoundland and Labrador. The Premier loves to express his anger, his frustration or his pride in this that or something else. Now his ministers have caught the same political disease.

Now to be fair, not so long ago, the Liberals used to do exactly the same sort of thing. It was silly then. It is even sillier now, especially considering that this administration was elected on the pledge that they were bringing a new approach to government. Some of us thought that the foolishness would go; little did we know that what Danny Williams' team they really meant was that they would raise silliness to a new height.

Harbour Grace-Carbonear didn't get the games. Too bad. Suck it up and move on. The opposition member alleges political interference. Wow: that's original. The minister is irked. Who really gives a sweet you know what.

The risk being run here is that people who are already tuning out political news out of disgust at the House of Assembly debacle will just become convinced that politics in general consists mostly of people being sooky. Forget the important issues the province is facing: let's just yak about what - in the bigger scheme of things - is simply irrelevant.

Given Tom Hedderson's comments today, it would be hard to blame them for changing the channel, or in the case of these two legislators, changing the incumbent next time out.

Arse-lickers of Satan

Another blow for bad ideas

Nova Scotia maintains barriers to inter-provincial free trade in beer.


That's positively un-Canadian, for cryin' out loud.

Restrictions on beer?

Another blow is struck for the cause of provincialism.

Protectionism isn't a new thing for Nova Scotia, of course, but one can only wonder why the province insists on repeating the mistakes of the past and others, closer to home, continue to advocate the same counter-productive approaches from the murky past.

Getting rid of $1.32 levy per case would be selling the farm, there, Rodney?

Get a life.

It's surprising that some politicians in Atlantic Canada didn't try to make the East Germans an offer on The Wall. You know, seeing as how they aren't using it any more. What a waste of all that good concrete, not to mention the guard dogs and land mines.

Dipper moves to Libs

The New Democrats are claiming that the provincial Liberals "poached" their candidate in Labrador West.

of course, candidates aren't like fish. You can't poach them if they aren't poachable.

20 February 2007

Ending parliamentary immunity: as easy as pie

Last week, Premier Danny Williams stated his unequivocal support for allowing anyone to sue parliamentarians in Newfoundland and Labrador for comments made in the legislature.

If the Williams administration decided to act on the Premier's comments, it would be remarkably easy to achieve the goal. In this, the first of two articles, Bond Papers will briefly discuss the notion of privileges and immunities and how they apply in the House of Assembly. In the second article, we will examine the implications of removing parliamentary privilege and immunity as it relates to free speech.

It is important to note that Premier Williams made the comments in response to a reporter's question during a scrum:
Let's change it. From my perspective, I think the legislature should have the exact same accountability [ i.e. being sued for defamation]. That's a democratic practice that goes way, way beyond me. But from my perspective, I'd be prepared to be held accountable...those laws get changed [sic]...or anybody else in the House has to be held accountable for what they say. I have no problem with that.
Like all Westminster style parliaments, the House of Assembly and its members enjoy certain privileges and immunities. Privilege exists for several reasons, one of which is the constitutional separation of powers. The notion is embodied in Article 9 of the Bill of Rights, 1689, "that the freedom of speech and debates or proceedings in Parliament ought not to be impeached or questioned in any court or place out of Parliament."

This notion has been reaffirmed by courts in Canada. In New Brunswick Broadcasting v. Nova Scotia (Speaker of the House of Assembly), a case heard on appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada in 1993, the majority held that:
Our democratic government consists of several branches: the Crown, as represented by the Governor General and the provincial counterparts of that office; the legislative body; the executive; and the courts. It is fundamental to the working of government as a whole that all these parts play their proper role. It is equally fundamental that no one of them overstep its bounds, that each show proper deference for the legitimate sphere of activity of the other.
Freedom of speech is also widely held to be an important right of legislators for the wider public interest it serves. Members of the legislature are entitled to make whatever statements they wish in dealing with a public issue. The same privilege extends to those called before the legislature or its committees as witnesses. All may speak freely and openly without fear and without concern that comments out to be proven true before they are made.

As in all Westminster parliaments, the House of Assembly is master of its own privileges and immunities. Term 7 of the Terms of Union revived the Newfoundland constitution as it existed in February 1934. That constitution included several aspects, including the fundamental power of the legislature to decide its own internal business.

The Terms of Union also provide that the Canadian constitution applies to Newfoundland and Labrador except as varied in the Terms. This general provision not only reinforces the inherent privileges and immunities of the legislature but also provides that the provincial legislatures can establish their own procedures free of interference of the courts. This notion is affirmed in New Brunswick Broadcasting (1993).

The House of Assembly established in section 19 of the House of Assembly Act that the legislature and its members enjoy the privileges, immunities and powers of the federal House of Commons.

The privilege - including free speech - is established easily.

It can also be removed as easily.

If the Williams administration wished to remove privilege and immunity related to free speech for the House of Assembly, it need only introduce an amendment to section 19 of the House of Assembly Act. Given that the administration enjoys the support of a majority of members, it is likely the measure would pass and receive Royal Assent. Only a majority of 50% plus one of members in the legislature at the time would be needed for the measure to proceed through each of the three stages a bill goes through.

Privilege may be a part of the constitution, but it is a portion which applies only to the legislature. As such a simple majority of members may remove a constitutional provision dating back at least to the 16th century.

Thank God for snow days

Seems like Simon's posts are better - if that's possible - when he's stuck indoors.

1. A short piece on the growing tendency of elected officials hiding behind appointed officials...likely telling us how "accountable" they are all the while.

2. A longer piece on how Newfoundlanders (and likely less so Labradorians) are joining the ranks of the world's remittance labourers.

And their government is jiggy with that.

When minds are closed

They miss an interesting study that suggests one way to improve Canada's global competitiveness.

Of course, those same closed minds leap at trivial issues and petty jealousies hold them back from thinking new thoughts.

On the trivial issues front, look around for a long list of who funded the study and who worked on it. Yep. It's a conspiracy to get at our vital bodily fluids.

Petty jealousies? Plenty of those too. How ironic that St. John's Mayor Andy Wells greets the idea of Halifax being a major hub city with the same derision people in Mount Pearl reserve for his pet idea of annexing their city to his own fiefdom.

That's just like shipping government jobs out of a capital city to the hinterland. Wells opposed it when it means moving taxpayers from his city to the various bits of Newfoundland and Labrador devoid of public servants. Wells is in favour of the big waste of money - of course - when the jobs are flowing from Ottawa into his tax base.


Wells derides Halifax as an oil centre yet misses the fact that St. John's is rapidly losing its status as an oil and gas centre largely because of the policies he advocates.

Anyway, go against the grain. Keep your mind open. Read the Conference Board of Canada's study on major cities.

You'll be rewarded with sensible observations like this one:
The Balkanization of our Economic Space

Every volume of this report emphasizes the adverse consequences to Canadians of chopping up our national economic space. The non-tariff barriers to interprovincial
trade, mobility and investment are at times so severe that they inhibit the kinds of east–west connections that characterize our deep connections outside Canada. People cannot move easily to work, some industries cannot recruit easily, students face difficulties in transferring credits from one post-secondary institution to another, and supply chains across provincial borders can face obstacles that global supply chains have eliminated. In an age of global mobility, it simply makes no sense to add degrees of difficulty to the movement of people, goods and services from one province to another.

Separated at birth 2

Conrad Black, left [Photo: canada.com], is suing an author for allegedly defaming Black's wife.

Danny Williams, right [Photo: Greg Locke], is threatening to sue people for defamation.

What's the difference?

Well, much like the grumpy-looking visages, there isn't much of a difference actually. At least on this point.

Except, maybe that Black's lawsuit demonstrates both a breathtaking command of obscure words that mean really bad things and an almost fetishistic penchant for hyphens.

Danny Williams likes short sentence. Crisp ones. Half sentences. Fragments really. Sometimes half-thoughts.

The purpose is both cases is the same: people with money, power and a penchant for free speech seek to chill free speech for others through the use of the courts.

Bonus points on this snow storm Tuesday for anyone who could read about Black's law suit and didn't have to look up harridan and slattern.

Government helps cut price on FPI sale

If current speculation is correct, Clearwater Seafoods Income Fund is floating a $43 million debenture issue to purchase some of the assets of Fishery Products International Limited (FPI). There's an option for an additional $6.0 million to be issued.

Something's in the works: fisheries minister Tom Rideout [Right] issued a news release on FPI on Monday.

If it turns out to be true, Clearwater will buy up FPI for about half the value of the income trust proposal, dithered and delayed by the Williams administration until it became useless.

Almost 50 million bucks is less than half the value of FPI's income trust fund proposal.

The impact of government policy is obvious.

Makes one wonder what was the cost per share of Tom Rideout's little dance on the tailgate of a truck in front of FPI's headquarters this time last year and the subsequent decision to prosecute the company for exporting fish.

Curious that exporting undersized fish was one of the ways FPI subsidized it s money-losing groundfish operations. That was very likely something FPI briefed government on in December 2005 when the company let government in on its financial situation and its plans for getting out of the fiscal hole.

That little tidbit did become public until after Rideout's little tailgate party. Odd that, in light of Rideout's very public declarations about the company.

Yes, if Clearwater's debenture issue is intended to finance an FPI purchase, the people of Newfoundland and Labrador should demand a public inquiry into government's (in)action over such a long period. The consequences of what appears to be neglect and bad policy could be dismantling of a company developed with public money with assets sold off for less than their real value. Take a look at a write-down Sanford took last year as a result of the FPI shenanigans.

Don't forget too that, as Bond Papers noted last may, changes to the FPI legislation were intended to make it easier to sell off the company in bits and pieces. Some others have only figured that out now.

But that easy sell-off wouldn't necessarily extend to Clearwater, a company from outside Newfoundland and Labrador and therefore - by definition - one of the foreign demons Danny Williams' administration likes to fight against.

That's where the whole thing gets a bit murky.

The provincial government wants to acquire - completely free of charge - FPI's quotas. If Clearwater wants the whole company or the bits with quota, expect the provincial government to veto the deal or try and squeeze its advantage.

But if Clearwater wants any other part of FPI at all, like say the valuable overseas marketing arm, the whole FPI saga could be over in a matter of a few weeks.

It only took three years to break up a once-proud company, with the help of the provincial government.

19 February 2007

Changing the channel

In politics, they call it changing the channel.

That's when an incumbent is taking a few smacks in the skull without let up. So he starts talking about something else entirely.

It's especially important when the provincial pollster is in the field.

Like right now.

After all, this Premier does nothing if he doesn't try to goose polls to demonstrate how much support he has. He needs those numbers to dazzle people, like say a columnist for the Globe.

The provincial government issued 55 news releases last week in an effort to change channels from the by-election loss and the ongoing spending scandal in the House of Assembly. That's the latest aspect of the spending scandal, which of course is different from the previous scandal, as Danny Williams will tell you.

It is different of course since this aspect of it happened since he became Premier and despite earlier assurances that all inappropriate spending was stopped on 22 October 2003.

But I digress.

Let's put that 55 releases in a week in some kind of perspective.

Since the government started it's online news archive in 1996, last week was the seventh heaviest week of releases.

Those 55 releases are the second highest number for Danny Williams' administration. Only Budget 2005 beat it out, but only but two releases.

The typical number of news releases for February over the past two years is around 34. During the same week in 2004, the provincial government issued on 19 releases.

Yessirreee Bob, that's a serious effort at changing the channel.

Manitoba, Ontario move closer on electricity

Manitoba has the electricity Ontario needs.

Manitoba will develop new supplies of electricity to feed demand both in Manitoba and in Ontario.

Ontario gets the power.

Manitoba gets Ontario's cash.

Everybody is happy.

Everybody, that is, except a few people who see plots and schemes in everything designed to rob Newfoundlanders and Labradorians of their precious bodily fluids.

The concern in this province should be that the Lower Churchill will not be built simply because everyone else will get power to market before we do. No one should worry about some secret plans on the mainland to rob us blind; that's just another fantasy devoid of any basis in fact.

In the meantime, some people will continue to advocate that Newfoundland and Labrador follow the successful example of Enver Hoxha's Albania: no export of anything to anyone for any reason. Everything was developed, if it was developed at all, on a go-it-alone basis.

The approach was so successful the country was propped up by hand-outs from outsiders.

Enjoy the story from the weekend Winnipeg Free Press.

Equalization made easy

For those who can't quite figure out this Equalization thing, a short piece from the Edmonton Journal.

If you can't figure out, you aren't alone. There are about five people who actually understand how it works.

Neither of the five currently work for any provincial government in Canada.

Rectifying history

The past is whatever the Party chooses to make it....
If the facts say otherwise then the facts must be altered.
George Orwell, 1984

Apparently someone at Confederation Building read 1984 - or more likely saw the movie - and didn't get the point.

One of the major activities of The Party's Ministry of Truth was the constant rewriting of history to conform to whatever mythology The Party was spreading at the moment, especially about Big Brother.

Witness the latest Newspeak utterance from the Premier's propaganda department announcing the by-election for Labrador West.
"It is a pleasure to announce that residents of Labrador West will have the opportunity to go to the polls and vote for new representation on March 13," said Premier Williams. "The legislation was amended in 2004 to ensure a district does not go without representation for a prolonged period of time."
Seems that some Winston fouled up. He or she was supposed to go back and amend all the previous amendments to the amendments to conform to the current distortion. The factual material would then be dropped down the memory hole whence it could not escape.

A quick check of the 2004 changes to the Elections Act shows that the time to call a by-election was reduced from 90 days to 60 days. The original version was introduced by the Wells administration in 1992. Prior to that the government could wait pretty much as long as it pleased to call a by-election. That's what happened in 1987 when Clyde Wells was elected leader of the Liberal Party. The Tories decided to delay the by-election in Windsor-Buchans as long as they could. So, as premier, Wells introduced changes to the Act to prevent that kind of abuse.

Danny didn't have to wait that long to get his seat in the House.

The Williams change was a cosmetic change at worst. At best, the changes brought in by Danny Williams were inconsequential, tiny, insignificant even, at least when it comes to ensuring that the people of any part of Newfoundland and Labrador were properly represented in the House of Assembly in a timely way once a vacancy had occurred.

Only The Ministry would view it otherwise.

By the looks of it though, someone will be sent off for re-education.

Of course, he/she and his/her error will be erased as if they never existed.

Oil and Gas Week 2007

What a difference a year makes.

For Oil and Gas Week 2006, there was no news release from the provincial government praising the future potential of the industry.


There was an announcement that consultations were starting on an energy plan due later in the spring or summer.

Hebron negotiations were moving ahead on a deal for the fourth offshore field.

The oil industry knew that the Hibernia partners would be looking to develop the 300 million barrels at Hibernia South.

Now it's 2007.

No Hebron.

No Hibernia South.

No energy plan. It's only been under development for 10 years.

Natural resources minister Kathy Dunderdale issues a news release talking about all the undiscovered potential offshore Newfoundland and Labrador. Not a peep about the contribution the oil industry already makes to the provincial economy and to the government's treasury.

Then she adds this thought:
We are continuing our efforts to establish a competitive and efficient offshore and onshore regulatory regime that encourages exploration and the timely development of discoveries, while also ensuring a fair return to the people of the province and industry...
The competitive regulatory regime for the offshore already exists and what needs to be adjusted is being adjusted - by the offshore regulatory board. Dunderdale's recent rejection of Hibernia South - based apparently on a series of flimsy excuses - hasn't done a thing to creative a competitive environment for the local offshore sector. Rather it just adds to a very difficult environment in which government demands remain incalculable.

The folly of that can be found in a number of documents, including - oddly enough - a paper written almost a decade ago by former Peckford advisor Cabot Martin. He noted at the time that the oil industry makes its capital decisions on the basis of long-term calculations measured in decades. How true.

Leaping ahead a few years, its easy to see that decisions to investigate Hebron and try to bring it onstream were taken almost a decade ago based in no small measure on the competitive offshore royalty regime the province had at the time. Likewise, the decision to shelve the project means that it will be a while before the proponents come back to the negotiating table.

By comparison, note that Newfoundland and Labrador has never accepted zero royalties, as the Americans did to jump-start exploration and development in the Gulf of Mexico. The local royalty regime also provides significantly better royalties to the provincial government than the American federal regime would provide if the recent Congressional decision is implemented.

There's been nothing done in the past three years to encourage exploration. To the contrary, exploration continues to putter along at an incredibly slow rate due in no small measure to the climate created by Hebron, Hibernia South and the foot-dragging on the gas royalty regime and the energy plan.

Any change in the current freeze offshore will depend on what sits in that energy plan. If it turns out to be a plan modelled on such paragons of sensible economic development as Algeria or Venezuela, we can expect the oil industry to invest its billions somewhere else. Danny Williams' prediction of a better tomorrow a decade from now will have to turn into a longer timescale.

With little or no action in the province's offshore, it seems words now have to serve as a poor substitute.

Our Place in Canada: More in than out

A recent study released by Statistics Canada shows that Newfoundland and Labrador generated $4,741 per capita in federal government revenues in Fiscal Year 2004 but received $9,356 per capita in federal transfers.

A widely-criticized series of articles by The Independent claimed that Newfoundland and Labrador contributed more to Canada than it received in return. It also claimed that a great deal of information wasn't available despite the fact that Statistics Canada generates both raw data and analyses of all aspects of economic activity in Canada, including federal-provincial transfers.

Among the provinces, Newfoundland and Labrador is the largest recipient of transfers to individuals on a per capita basis, at $3,468. The Government of Newfoundland and Labrador is the second largest per capita recipient of government transfers, at slightly more than $2,800.

18 February 2007

For the record: Danny Williams on ending parliamentary free speech

Let's change it. From my perspective, I think the legislature should have the exact same accountability [ i.e. being sued for defamation]. That's a democratic practice that goes way, way beyond me. But from my perspective, I'd be prepared to be held accountable...those laws get changed [sic]...or anybody else in the House has to be held accountable for what they say. I have no problem with that.
That's what Danny Williams told reporters on Tuesday in answer to a question about the right of members of the legislature to speak freely, immune from legal proceedings in a court. The words don't flow well simple because the Premier was speaking off the top of his head, but there's no mistaking what he meant: let's change the rules so legislators can be sued for anything they say, anywhere, anytime. A right that dates back to the 16th century needs to go, not just by the boards, but over them with a hip check.

NTV wins the brownie points this week for being the only media outlet to report the Premier's unquestionable - dare we say enthusiastic - support for ending the centuries-old right of free speech accorded to members of the legislature.

While comments made about four individuals, including your humble e-scribbler garnered considerable public and news media attention, the comments quoted above have far more ominous implications.

There'll be more to say about the idea of ending parliamentary free speech, but for now let's just let Danny Williams speak for himself.

17 February 2007

The legacy of Sir Sam

Canada has had its fair share of blow-hard and/or incompetent defence ministers.

The ones that do the most damage are the former military officers who never made it to the top while in uniform but manage to circumvent the eminent good judgment of the professional promotion system and get there through the political route.

Witness one Gordo, the current MND, but formerly a brigadier general who spent his career bouncing around inside a tank.

O'Connor seems determined to follow in the fine tradition of politicians who, as national defence minister, presume to know considerably more than they do.

Gordo, as many across the country have known for far too long, is trying to impose his vision for the Canadian Forces on a professional and highly-competent officer corps that knows their business far better than the retired zipperhead. His ideas do not stand up on their merit. Instead, O'Connor persists in advancing his ludicrous notions - like relocating JTF 2 to Trenton or creating whole new battalions of currently non-existent troops for deployment across Canada - merely because he is the political boss.

In the meantime, the far more competent Chief of Defence Staff, General Rick Hillier, faces the challenge of reconciling the demands of the men and women in the field doing the hard work of defending the country with a budget that cannot support them and Gordo's foolishness.

To give an indication of how obvious was the problem with Gordo, consider that Bond Papers pointed it out fully one year ago, shortly after the retired tank driver was appointed to the job at 101 Colonel By.

Also noted at the time was the misery being inflicted on the people of Goose Bay who have been taken in by O'Connor's promises of troops, troops and more troops. They have their hopes pinned on O'Connor's commitments.

If they are lucky, Gordo will be fired - the sooner the better - and the community can start finding a new direction for the town's major employer.

If they are unlucky, the current federal administration will leave the decidedly wrong man defence minister, waste millions of taxpayers dollars fulfilling Gordo's pledges and in the process hook the people of Goose Bay to a form of economic crack cocaine: political patronage and pork.

It will fall to a future administration, gifted with more reasonable leadership to cope with the results of the mistake inherent in putting retired military men or women in charge of national defence.

It's not like we haven't been down this road before, far, far, far too many times.