31 March 2007

Wade Locke on public policy discussions

Part 2 of Geoff Meeker's series on local media reporting of current events includes some prescient comments by Memorial University economist Wade Locke.

Check it out, especially the bit about emotion and logic.


58 years of Confederation

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, it has been almost six decades since Canada decided to join with the people of Newfoundland and Labrador in a bold experiment.

Negotiations were long and difficult but ultimately the feisty Canadians realised it was better to give in to what The Fates had long since ordained.

The dream of Newfoundland visionaries - their own manifest destiny that one day Canada would come out of the self-imposed isolation and be embraced by Newfoundlanders and Labradorians with welcoming familial arms - was at last realized.

Sure there are those in Newfoundland and Labrador who can only imagine Newfoundland as a puny, subsidiarist enclave, but there are others who dream bigger dreams, who think bolder thoughts.

Today, there will be those who wear black armbands, who pop Secret Nation into the VCR and watch the bootleg edition of what they still insist is a documentary.

Well it is sort of.

Its author lives in Ottawa these days doing something other than meeting with federal ministers and officials like he gets paid to do. His boss has just about put him out of a job, it would seem.

I digress.

But there are others, numbering now in the millions across Canada, who will have a tot of rum or down a cold Black Horse and smile.

Grin a marvelous grin as we consider how much a great nation has become even greater.

And it all started, one a chilly March night 58 years ago.


NL only province to see capital investment drop in 07/08

RBC Economics is the latest to forecast that the Newfoundland and Labrador economy will trail the country in growth in 2008, at 1.5%.

The decline will be led by what RBC calls a "retreat by capital investment".

In fact, according to RBC, Newfoundland and Labrador will be the only province in Canada to experience a decline in capital investment.

Nova Scotia is the province with the smallest forecast growth, at around 2.5%.

Newfoundland and Labrador's capital investment is expected to shrink by 7.5%.
With all three oilfields now operational and the labour disputes at Voisey’s Bay in the past, we expect the province to post above-average growth of 4% this year. Beyond 2007, growth will be much weaker as dwindling oil production and a decline in capital spending — led by a retreat in private investment — drag growth to a 1.5% pace in 2008. The weakness in construction markets is expected to span both non-residential and housing markets. Newfoundland is the only province reporting a decline in overall 2007 capital spending intentions. Broadbased weakness in housing markets has also emerged with several indicators down this year compared to year ago levels.

Unlike last year, this year’s federal budget will have little effect on Newfoundland other than a new transfer funding formula that requires provinces to include 50% of resource revenues in the equalization formula. But, since the Offshore Accord shields offshore resource wealth in Nova Scotia and Newfoundland from clawbacks, they now both have the option of sticking with the existing system until the accord expires or opting into the new formula.

30 March 2007

Local remittance economy picks up speed

Fish plants in the Maritimes are increasing offers in the hopes of luring Newfoundland and Labrador workers to their companies as migrant labour.


Great Quotes: Yes, he actually said it

The only way to deal with a bully is to confront him.
Premier Danny Williams, VOCM Back Talk with Bill Rowe, 30 March 2007


Hydro boss all wet: Offal

From Simon Lono at Offal News, a different take on Dean MacDonald's Rotary speech.

This one challenges the technical and financial viability of the subsea transmission route idea.

Warning: contains pesky facts.


Flags of our fathers

Dean MacDonald is a fine example of his generation of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians.

Bright and articulate, he has made a reputation for himself as a success in the private sector.

He's a fine choice as chairman of the province's Crown-owned Hydro Corporation.

If he can deliver a Lower Churchill project that delivers economic and other benefits to the project over its entire lifespan, then he will have done something no one else has been able to do in 40 years. It will be good for him and there will be no one, save for a few cranks who oppose shipping anything out of the province at all, who will hesitate to stand up and cheer.

However, his remarks to the St. John's Rotary club, as reported by the Telegram, miss the point of current issues about Equalization, the Lower Churchill project and how the province can move forward.

Of the subsea transmission route for Lower Churchill power, MacDonald is quoted as saying this:
"It's not poppycock. It's fact," he said of the much-maligned subsea route.

MacDonald said there are examples "all over the world" of more power being transmitted over longer distances under the sea.

He said it may cost more to build, but the people of this province will reap the rewards in the end.

"The cost is such a damn good cost to not have to depend on anybody. To maybe pay a little more to build it, but when you sell it, we don't have to pay a toll charge on the way," he said.
Well, sort of.

No one questions the technical feasibility of undersea transmission. Since the Churchill Falls project was first considered in the 1950s and early 1960s, one option for transmitting Labrador power to market involved underwater transmission either over short or long distances. MacDonald is right when he says that more power is transmitted over longer distances elsewhere on the planet.

The undersea approach is definitely more costly than hooking into existing land lines and that's really the crux of the decision on transmission route: money.

Every analysis of the undersea approach to date has concluded that while it is technically feasible, it hasn't been possible to get the power to market at a cost that is competitive, let alone profitable. At one point, even a land line route to the United States couldn't deliver power to market at a price the customer would pay. Times change and maybe times have changed on the undersea option.

But given the back end of MacDonald's remarks on this issue, though, it doesn't look like the undersea route is any better financially today than it was 35 years ago. MacDonald frames the cost as being good - not in terms of profitability - but in terms of not having to deal with Quebec.

Saving toll costs would be good since, if the price is the same at the point of delivery, Lower Churchill power would be more profitable for Hydro using the undersea route. Unfortunately for MacDonald, his boss, Premier Danny Williams, has talked about deferring revenues on the underwater route. That suggests that the toll costs wouldn't wind up as profit in Hydro coffers. Rather, Hydro would wind up in that scenario selling its power at cost or at a much lower profit or Heaven forbid below cost - than if it used the land route and paid the wheeling charges for running lines through Quebec.

[Now let's leave this option open. If Dean MacDonald wants to give some better information than what the Telegram offered, if he wants to put accurate information on the cost issues in the underwater route in the public domain available, this space is his to use. MacDonald has the e-mail address. He can fire off a submission and Bond will carry it, unedited and in its entirety. Bond readers include most of Hydro's target audiences.]

If the reward is pride, thanks very much but no thanks. But if the reward of MacDonald's approach is more cash, then more power to him, puns aside.

On the current Equalization fracas, there's no surprise that MacDonald unequivocally backs his former business partner Danny Williams:
"I'm mad as a Newfoundlander and Labradorian about what's gone on here. There may be a price to pay in the short term, but we have to draw a line in the sand," MacDonald said.
There's also no surprise that MacDonald couldn't put a value on the price. His boss hasn't been able to do it. There's no surprise also that MacDonald offers up nothing more than Danny-esque rhetoric of drawing lines in sand and getting ready for "war". Danny Williams' latest war may be justified, however, as with every other war he has raged, Williams has been unwilling or unable to provide any substantive evidence to back his ire.

Rather he, and apparently MacDonald, can do nothing but wave the flags of our forefathers. those flags are the time-honoured cry of previous generations having been hoodwinked by foreigners, of rolling over, of falling into traps and of having generally and always having signed bad deals.

MacDonald decries our collective insecurity, yet the very words that he and his boss use repeatedly do nothing except reinforce the old insecurities.

In the final remarks in the Telegram article, MacDonald returns to another of the old flags of our post-Confederation forefathers:
"Why is it when Newfoundland and Labrador asks for it, it's something that we don't deserve or it's something we shouldn't get? Well, it's so important that we don't roll over on it."
Fortunately for us, his other remarks on this point were carried by CBC radio's On the go. MacDonald referred to Alberta's oil royalty regime. No one has opposed that since the 1985 Atlantic Accord. Newfoundland and Labrador today is in exactly the same position with respect to oil and gas royalties as any province in the country. In some respects, for example in comparison to the tar sands, our existing royalty regime is infinitely better than the Alberta regime.

MacDonald also mentioned fallow field legislation. Of course, what he did not say is that the circumstances offshore Newfoundland and Labrador do not offer up examples of kind found elsewhere where fallow field legislation actually makes field management or financial sense.

At the end though, this is yet another of the flags of our fathers, namely that some foreign oppressor is trying to keep us down.

Poppycock, to borrow MacDonald's word.

Politicians and others wave those flags because they believe them, but as time passes, they have become threadbare. Those flags have served as nothing but a distraction, as a means of keeping people in the province from looking more closely at decisions made by our own politicians irrespective of partisan stripe.

Unfortunately for MacDonald, people are increasingly looking through the tattered strands to see what is behind. in the business community, if nowhere else, we have learned that lines in the sand and "deferred revenue" are red flags, not banners to rally behind.

If MacDonald can produce a profitable project on the Lower Churchill, then he will be lauded.

If at the end, MacDonald produces nothing at all, or worse, a deal that delivers nothing but the benefits of the "deferred revenue" Churchill Falls project, they will understand that while MacDonald is a fine example of the current generation, he can be all too easily distracted by the flags of old.

That would be the shame of this entire Hydro exercise.


Another sign of the Apocalypse?

Federal Conservatives tackling Danny Williams.

Provincial Progressive Conservatives lambasting their federal breathren.

John Crosbie once lamented having to deal with Brian Peckford and his constant attacks.

Well, just to reinforce the extent to which Danny Williams marks a return to exactly the kind of government (and the economy?) this province had in the 1980s, take a gander at this CBC online story.

If you see four guys on horses, hear trumpets and people start breaking seals, you know something is up.

29 March 2007

QC or NL?

Their deep insecurity and old fears force them to shut the doors and barricade the frontiers. They attempt to drag us along in their withdrawal by giving their misadventure the allure of a crusade, as if rage could be known as courage and bitterness could replace spunk.
Comment by a well known contrarian, Nov 10, 1968

Sign of the decline: offshore trade show cancelled

dmg World Media announced on Thursday it was cancelling the 2007 offshore trade show.

The show is still listed on the company website but a spokesman for dmg's Calgary office said the show wasn't drawing enough interest this year.

He said the show may also be cancelled next year as well.

Never fear, though, NOIA's annual conference is still going ahead full steam.

Danny Williams should take up NOIA's long-standing invitation and address a NOIA function. So far - after three years and long before Hebron died - he's been giving the event and the organization a cold shoulder.

Bond Papers will now officially start the rumour that if Williams doesn't take a keynote slot this year, NOIA will invite your humble e-scribbler to speak.




That's something you really don't want, is it?

Leave the gun, Danny.

Take the NOIA offer.

Westcott on lost opportunities

Business Post publisher Craig Westcott's take on the oil industry and Danny Williams, subtitled, as Craig put it "Stuck in the middle with you."

The reaction to the speech has already been strong.

Undoubtedly it will be stronger.

Inkless Wells on the Williams fracas

Paul Wells offers two thoughts on the issue:

1. His question of the day on what possible issues Stephen Harper might use to "hurt" Danny Williams.

2. A follow-on post listing the rest of the stuff the pugnacious Premier wants from Ottawa or needs help on from the feds.

Paul will get nasty e-mails.

28 March 2007

Why Danny's campaign will fail

John F. Kennedy said: "Ask not what your country can do for you but what you can do for your country."

I say to Newfoundlanders and Labradorians: "Ask not what we can do for our country, because we have done enough. Let's ask our country what they can do for us."
Danny Williams, April 7, 2001

For a quarter of a million bucks, you'd think Danny Williams could do more with his print ads than a bunch of text on a crappy layout.

You'd think there'd be more than the obvious, namely that the federal Conservatives didn't do exactly what they promised on Equalization.

Inquiring minds, or even the ones who haven't already written Williams off as nothing more than a guy needing to have his political bile ducts surgically removed, would wonder how exactly Harper's decision has damaged Danny Williams and the province he leads.

Those who lost money in the income trust decision can point to their lost income.

They have numbers.

Hard facts.

Incontrovertible evidence of harm.

If Danny Williams had such evidence, he'd have used it. That he can only talk in vague terms - as he is wont to do on just about everything - suggests that he has no evidence.

That lack of evidence undermines the credibility of his argument.

Williams undermines his own argument further by making the statement that Newfoundland and Labrador does not need the federal government and its cash. If that's the case, then there is no need for Williams to be in High Dudgeon yet again. If the economy was relentlessly growing, then he'd be calmly getting on with the business of developing the provincial economy into the powerhouse it could be.

Logic is not Danny Williams long suit, evidently.

For everyone other than the faithful disciples of the Williams Church of Victimology, there are facts. Those facts find their way into articles like the latest John Ivison column in the National Post. The Globe did the same thing with its editorial last Saturday. Those facts make it plain that Williams' argument will have no traction where he would need it, namely among the crowd on the mainland.

For Williams' latest tantrum to have any political impact, he would need to do more than threaten to turn the seven Newfoundland and Labrador federal seats to a party other than the Conservatives. Williams simply has no political influence outside his own province. In fact, few provincial premiers from this place ever have. What Manitoban or British Columbian ever felt moved by the antics of a Brian Tobin or Brian Peckford or Frank Moores?

The only Premier of Newfoundland and Labrador to make a political impact outside his own province was Clyde Wells. That impact, during the Meech Lake constitutional fracas was built around a national Canadian argument. Wells' arguments against creating a special status for one province and in favour of meaningful reform like a triple-E senate applied as much to Ontarians, Albertans and Quebeckers as they did to the people in Goose Bay or Pasadena.

It should be remembered that Wells did not stay in a perpetual condition of irk. On other issues, such as economic development, social welfare reform, or fiscal responsibility, Wells could sometimes agree with the federal government. In some instances he disagreed with a federal policy, but while he could argue forcefully and passionately, Wells never did he resort to the sort of foot-stomping that is Williams' one trick. He persuaded - or attempted to persuade - with reason.

Consider as well, that by 1993 - about the same time in his first mandate as Williams is at right now - Wells' administration had produced an unprecedented economic development plan for the province. His administration had begun dramatic education reform, not merely to save money but to improve the quality of education to support long-term economic development. All this was done in a financial climate in which the provincial debt was the equal of the provincial gross domestic product, when all three of the province's economic engines were in decline simultaneously and the federal government's own financial resources were strained.

Taken all together, any argument that Wells could made was backed by substantive evidence of a responsible provincial government that was acting to address the province's many challenges. When he approached federal issues, Wells focused on equal and equitable treatment for all Canadians, especially Newfoundlanders and Labradorians.

Compare that to where Danny Williams sits today and one can easily see another reason why his latest tirade will fall on deaf ears across Canada and increasingly at home.

Three years into his first administration, Danny Williams can only talk of plans. Rather than encouraging new economic opportunities - as with Hibernia - Canadians from Cape Spear to the farthest tip of Vancouver Island can see Danny Williams turn away $14 billion in provincial government revenue from oil development for only the vaguest, and one suspects insubstantial, of reasons. Rather than fair and equitable treatment, Williams speaks of getting the most for his province, and implicitly, giving not even a tinker's damn about the rest of the country.

Ultimately, politics is about persuasion. Persuasive arguments are internally consistent, factually based and reasonably - even if passionately - delivered. Danny Williams' argument on Equalization has none of those qualities.

Those argument are framed to appeal to the audience. No aspect of Williams' argument, including the copy in his advertising, is aimed at the audience or audiences he needs to persuade if his whole campaign is to have any effect whatsoever.

Well, an effect beyond strengthening the cash flow of a few newspapers and an advertising agency and getting rid of some surplus cash near the end of the fiscal year.


Harper smacks backover Williams' ads

This is something Williams hasn't faced before: a federal government that bites back.

Breaking: Chief electoral officer packs it in

Chuck Furey has had enough.

Six months before the next provincial election and on the eve of the electoral office starting a massive enumeration program, the chief electoral officer is quitting.

Williams launches ad campaign against Harper

This will be remarkably ineffective except for the cash flow of the agency that got the contract to run the campaign.

This is like bringing a knife to a gun fight, or to put it clearly running an advertising campaign when it requires issues management/public relations skills.

Clue to the Premier: the word is "unequivocal".

Unfortunately, the Premier said this and the Globe quotes him verbatim: "It was a simple equivocal promise. And he broke it.”

If it was an equivocal promise, i.e. one that is "of uncertain nature or significance", then we'd find it hard thing to break. If we applied another meaning to equivocate, namely designed to mislead, then we'd expect that Harper's promise was something couldn't have been trusted in the first place.

Advice from three- year-olds

Former Martin speech scribe Scott Feschuk gives some advice to danny Williams on throwing tantrums. From Feschuk's Macleans blog.

Exploration slowdown offshore NL

From the National Post, another story on the decision by a consortium of oil companies to postpone further exploration in the Orphan basin until 2008.

The major reason for this decision is the availability of the rig Eirik Raude given other demands on the rig in the Gulf of Mexico. It isn't about the investment climate, as Paul Barnes of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers told the Post.

But, as ExxonMobil's Alan Jeffers notes, the experience in the Orphan Basin demonstrates that working offshore Newfoundland "really does require high levels of technical and financial capability to explore for and produce in those harsh environments."

27 March 2007

Ottawa and NS in Equalization slapfest

Ottawa will go to court against N.S. if necessary over Atlantic Accord: MacKay

27 march 2007

HALIFAX (CP) Nova Scotia's representative in the federal cabinet says Ottawa is prepared to go to court, if necessary, if his home province sues over having to abandon its offshore accord.

In question period on Tuesday, Peter MacKay defended his government's decision to offer Nova Scotia a new $1.46 billion equalization deal that offers an additional $79 million over last year.

However, the deal forces the province to set aside provisions of its cherished Atlantic accord, which allows it to keep oil and gas revenues without clawbacks in equalization payments.

In responding to a question from Liberal MP Robert Thibault over that tradeoff, MacKay said he will "continue to work with the province of Nova Scotia'' and hope to avoid legal action on the issue.

But if provincial lawyers head to court, MacKay said, "we will see them there.''

Nova Scotia's Tory government accepted Ottawa's recent equalization offer in his government's budget, but Finance Minister Michael Baker promised the province would use "every capacity,'' including potential legal action, to maintain the accord in the future.

Thibault and other Liberal MPs have made the issue a major focus of their questions in recent days in Parliament.

"The government is a poison pill. If we opt into the new formula we lose the accord and jeopardize the future prosperity of Nova Scotia. If we maintain the status quo we are shut out of new money for the people of Nova Scotia,'' he said during question period.

MacKay, the minister of Foreign Affairs, countered that "there must be an epidemic of grumpiness breaking out across the way.''

"The province of Nova Scotia does have options. It can take a very good deal for Nova Scotia, the Atlantic accord, or it can take an even better deal which is offered to the province in this budget, plus it has the option of going back to the accord after a period of time,'' he said.

"It is good news and more good news for the people of Nova Scotia and there will be more coming.''

Oil and gas: the impact of opportunities missed

1. From CBC television's Here and Now, this report by David Cochrane [ram file], as we come up on the first anniversary of the collapse of the Hebron negotiations.

2. Then there's a luncheon talk by The Business Post's Craig Westcott, Thursday March 29 at the Delta Hotel, St. John's, starting at 12:30 PM. Sponsored by NOIA. Title: "Weighing the cost of lost opportunities."

Interestingly enough Danny Williams spent part of question period in the legislature last week quoting from the Business Post about how wonderful things are in the local economy.

He'll probably be running around encouraging people to come out and hear what Craig has to say.

Williams congratulates Charest

It's the neighbourly thing to do.

Premier Danny Williams made no observation - at least in the short news release - on the accuracy or inaccuracy of his previous comments on Quebec's supposed volatile provincial political climate.

Cdn foreign spy agency on backburner

The Conservative promise to create a foreign intelligence agency for Canada has apparently slipped down the government's list of priorities, according to the Globe and Mail.
Moreover, CSIS [the Canadian Security Intelligence Agency] has convinced Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day that it is able to do more spying abroad than it has in the past without the trouble of asking for parliamentary approval to start up a new agency.
That assessment is apparently supported by the Prime Minister's security advisor.

It's also supported by the legislation governing the security intelligence agency.

Charest hangs onto minority

Among the implications: Danny Williams will almost certainly be forced to work around Quebec and look at no profit or reduced profit.

Of course, Williams has already decided to do anything but sell power to Quebec. He's also said government is seriously considering deferring revenues (read sell power at cost or a miniscule profit) until at least 2041.

There will be much talk - as there has been already - of thinking in the long-term. That's just code for "We've boxed ourselves into a corner and the only way out is to spend your money, taxpayer."

If Joe Smallwood were alive today, he'd be focussed on 2041 too, just Dean MacDonald and Danny Williams are right now. He be calling the below cost power price a case of "deferred revenue".

There was the potential for a Lower Churchill development that made money.

It's been gone since the Premier rejected out-of-hand the joint Ontario/Quebec proposal.

Meanwhile, to get to some serious stuff on the Quebec general election:

1. Big Loser: the PQ.

2. The Big Loser: Jean Charest.

3. Meanwhile, across the river from Hull... expect the Harper minority government to look for a spring general election. There's no link. It's just a suggestion.

26 March 2007

Danny Williams on Harper and Equalization

From CBC Radio Morning Show, Premier Danny Williams speaks with host Jeff Gilhooly.

Among Williams' choice comments: The Equalization formula with a cap was a case of federal bureaucrats convincing "weak-kneed" federal politicians to shaft Newfoundland and Labrador.

This has got to be the first time anyone accused Harper of being a wuss and keeping a straight face.

25 March 2007

Responsible government not their concern

The Bloc-head mentality is spreading in Newfoundland and Labrador and it does so to our collective detriment.

A few years ago, then-Premier Roger Grimes suggested the way forward for the province lay with electing a group of members to the federal parliament (MPs) who had nothing as their goal save bringing back the maximum level of booty from Ottawa.

The same idea, now called electing "independent" MPs, is getting more support in the wake of the latest federal budget.

Proponents of this idea can only claim is that prime minister Stephen Harper "broke his promise" to remove non-renewable resource revenues from calculations of Equalization entitlements.

Not a single one - including Premier Danny Williams - has been able to state clearly and simply how the federal budget proposals will adversely affect Newfoundland and Labrador.

Not a one.

Of course, facts have never bothered the purveyors of the victim mythology in Newfoundland and Labrador politics. They charge ahead undaunted.

If Newfoundlanders and Labradorians were genuinely concerned for the betterment of their province, then they would reject out of hand the views of columnists like Bob Wakeham and Peter Jackson, both of the Telegram, for example.

Wakeham's effort is little more than series of hideously inaccurate and inappropriate references to Newfoundland and Labrador as a battered wife. It is devoid of anything substantive, unless one already is persuaded of the view that the people of this province are perennial victims, incapable of running their own government either in the province or as part of the federal government.

Jackson's effort is not a direct endorsement of the Bloc-head party but it does use the warmed over myths of victimization.
In Mulroney’s day, keeping the Hibernia project afloat was a major battle in itself. When Gulf Canada pulled out of the Hibernia consortium in 1990, then-cabinet minister John Crosbie and others convinced Ottawa to take an 8.5 per cent equity share. This was achieved against a backdrop of relentless criticism of government involvement in such a high-risk project, most notably from West Coast oil analyst Ian Doig.

The subsequent Liberal government reaped the benefits of this inheritance while steadfastly refusing to restore the intended spirit of the Atlantic Accord, i.e., affording maximum benefits of offshore oil to the province without equalization clawbacks.

The problem with Jackson's comment on the 1985 Atlantic Accord is that it is completely wrong.
The 1985 agreement provided Newfoundland and Labrador with the ability to set and collect its own revenues from offshore oil as if it was on land and therefore entirely within provincial jurisdiction. The Accord provided the province with co-management rights and in most cases, control over development. Look at the Hebron and Hibernia South projects as proof that Newfoundland and Labrador controls offshore development.

The original deal also provided temporary declining Equalization offsets. The deal worked exactly as intended. The intended spirit was honoured in its entirety.

All this makes plain the hypocrisy of Wakeham's final sentences:
And, as well, letting the country know Newfoundlanders are quite capable of taking care of themselves.

That they’re not to be treated like sixth-graders.

That they know all about responsibility.

And integrity.
The entire basis of Wakeham's argument is that Newfoundlanders and Labradorians cannot take care of themselves. He absolves the provincial government - successively and of any political stripe - of having any responsibility for any decisions at all, let alone for running the economy of Newfoundland and Labrador.

If Newfoundlanders and Labradorians were interested in the betterment of their province, they'd reject out-of-hand the tired presentations of journalists like Wakeham and Jackson.

After all, if Newfoundlanders and Labradorians want to stop being treated not just like sixth graders but like ignoramuses, why not start at home?

That would be the first move to recalling that in 1949, we gained responsible government. Too bad many opinion leaders in the province, politicians and journalists, seem bent on promoting the opposite form of government.

Separate or join Quebec: Rowe's idiocy knows no bounds

Mark Watton's got a decent take on Bill Rowe's latest anti-Confederate ramblings in the Telegram.

Rowe's talk about separation is just so much hot air.

Only a few short weeks ago Rowe was seriously arguing that since Newfoundland and Labrador has had such a hard time of it as a part of a federal state, instead the whole place should unite with Quebec and leave Canada.

Forget the leave Canada part, Rowe, who spends about as much time pissing on Quebec as he does at Ottawa seems to think the real answer to all the local woes would be to give up self-government entirely and be run from Quebec City.

Rowe is a former cabinet minister and Rhodes scholar.

And then people wonder why some of us despair for the state of our educational system and government.

23 March 2007

Our man in a Blue Line cab

In the House of Assembly Thursday, opposition House leader Kelvin Parsons asked questions about the role being played by the provincial government's representative in Ottawa in developing a productive relationship with the federal government.

For the record, here's the response from intergovernmental affairs minister John Ottenheimer. The best thing Ottenheimer could come up with was that Fitz travelled around with visiting ministers.

On the back of the government business cards, it must read: "When in Ottawa, ride with Fitz in a Blue Line taxi."
Ottenheimer: I have no idea, Mr. Speaker, where the hon. member gets his information. Dr. Fitzgerald plays a very significant role, a role of importance, representing the Office of the Premier, representing the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador, and representing the people of Newfoundland and Labrador, in Ottawa.

Mr. Speaker, in addition to that, when any minister travels to Ottawa to meet with his or her federal counterpart, he is at all times accompanied by Dr. Fitzgerald. In fact, only two or three weeks ago I travelled to Ottawa. I met with three or four of my federal colleagues, and on each occasion I was accompanied by the good doctor; so, I say to the hon. member, what he is saying is completely irrelevant. It is not in any way representative of the truth. He plays a very significant role of importance on behalf of the people of this Province.
That's got be the most expensive taxi hailer on the planet.

A doctoral degree in history and the guy's a tour guide?

Surely goodness Ottenheimer could give us a better explanation than that. Then he would have avoided Parson's rejoinder - obviously scripted - about Dr. Feelgood's limousine service.

Incidentally, for those who are curious, Fitzgerald's phone number is listed in the government phone directory under the Premier's Office, not the intergovernmental affairs secretariat where bureaucrats normally work.

Fitz's job is obviously all political, so all that business about ducking interviews because he is a public servant are just a tad overdone.

Williams set local oil patch back 25 years

That's the view of one local oil industry executive who wished to remain anonymous in comments in The Telegram.
One offshore industry executive said the delay could cost hundreds of offshore jobs.

“It’s extremely disappointing,” said the executive, who did not want to be named.

“The net loss of jobs … could be up to 500 jobs.”

Those jobs include full-time rig crews, offshore supply boat crews, divers, well logging and testing personnel, weather observers and caterers.

“With no energy plan in place, no gas royalty regime in place, no Hibernia South, no Hebron and now no exploration activity — when are we going to see this industry develop?”

Another industry executive, who also didn’t want to be named, pegged the payroll loss of a rig, such as the Eirik Raude, at more than $1 million per month.

“It’s grossly disappointing.”

The executive also levelled criticism at Premier Danny Williams, saying he has set back the province’s offshore industry by 25 years.

That process started, said the executive, with the loss of the Hebron project and Hibernia South, and continues with the lack of a natural gas royalty regime to kick-start gas exploration by companies like ConnocoPhillips.

“As far as everyone is concerned globally, we’re not open for business. No one wants to deal with him,” said the executive.

“All he does is fight. The business community here is sick of it.”
The rest of the Moira Baird story is on the slowdown in drilling offshore Newfoundland the consequent job losses.

In the House of Assembly, Danny Williams dismissed the executive's comments as cowardly, since the individual did not wish to be named.

If the individual had let his name be used, what are the odds Williams would have laucnhed into a personal attack on the guy?

No takers on that bet?

For the record: Danny Williams on federal provincial relations

It's amazing how times change.

Danny Williams used to believe that vicious personal attacks are no use.

From 2003, before he got elected, Danny Williams sang a very different tune from the one that has him branded today:


Williams touts national trek: Similar Grimes' trip failed because premier 'didn't do his homework'

By: Barb Sweet
The Telegram (St. John's)
Saturday, October 11, 2003
Page: A1

If Tory Leader Danny Williams were premier, he would massage provincial-federal relations. But if that didn't work, he'd launch a national marketing campaign and try to get other premiers to back Newfoundland and Labrador's cause.

"If they're not going to be fair to us, then I would basically launch a national marketing campaign to let people know exactly what the story is in Newfoundland and Labrador, how there is unfairness and I would lobby the premiers right across the country," the election front-runner said in an interview this week.


But wait -- isn't that what Premier Roger Grimes tried and failed to do this past summer with his cross-Canada trek, trying to sell the province's case to his fellow premiers? Hasn't the province been there and done that?

Angered by the latest fisheries closure, Grimes vowed to push for a constitutional amendment to allow joint federal-provincial management of the fishery.

But it fizzled when the other premiers didn't seem all that interested and he agreed to work jointly on a "rebuilding and recovery" program for the cod, which fell short of his goal for joint management of fisheries in waters adjacent to the coast of Newfoundland and Labrador.

Williams said in an interview this week that Grimes' problem was he took the wrong tack.

"Roger Grimes didn't do his homework. He picked up and said 'I'm going to go and see if I can't get constitutional reform.' What I would be doing is I would be talking to (Prince Edward Island Premier) Pat Binns and (Nova Scotia Premier) John Hamm and (New Brunswick Premier) Bernard Lord and (Ontario Premier) Dalton McGuinty and (Alberta Premier Ralph) Klein and say 'Look now, here's our situation, here's our case.' And I'd have the homework done in advance," Williams said.

"These are all premiers, they advocate for their own provinces, but I think they're fair and they can understand. It's easy for the federal government to stand back and take the Mother Ottawa approach and say 'Well, I'm going to be good to Ontario, I'm going to be good to Quebec and all the rest don't count.'"

But before he'd do all that, Williams is counting on a new regime under Paul Martin, Prime Minister Jean Chretien's uncrowned successor, to help smooth the waters. He's also planning on fostering a more congenial relationship with Ottawa and said he won't fight with the federal MPs from the province, regardless of their political stripe. [Emphasis added]

The Tory platform promises a Newfoundland and Labrador office of provincial-federal relations to be set up in Ottawa.

Williams blames Grimes for taking a hostile approach, waging war with MPs -- even his own Liberal counterparts like, federal cabinet minister Gerry Byrne -- as well as with Ottawa. [Emphasis added]

Williams would only go to war if Ottawa doesn't play ball.

"The politics of the personal attack doesn't work. I'm going to nurture -- if an MP happens to be a Tory or a Liberal or an NDP -- it's not going to make any difference to me. They're Newfoundlander and Labradorian representatives and we need to work together," Williams said. [Emphasis added]

He points to the all-party committee on the fishery, saying Grimes broke ranks and that's why the province didn't get Ottawa to change its mind on closing the Gulf and the northeast coast fishery.

Williams insists he's a better negotiator and would have gotten a better deal on the province's resources, such as oil, Voisey's Bay and the yet-to-be-completed Lower Churchill negotiations.

Williams' comments came in an interview about his infrastructure platform.

He's embarking on a lofty crusade to improve rural infrastructure, including roads, ferries, Internet and air links, the province's highways and sewage and drinking-water systems. The platform also calls for a fixed link across the Straight of Belle Isle. He also proposes to grapple with mounting school and hospital infrastructure woes that get placed on the backburner due to a system already taxed by program and service delivery demands.

Recent stories on hospital and school board submissions for capital repairs and upgrades revealed schools boards need $60 million to patch leaky roofs, repair rotting floors and cure air-quality problems. That list is getting compounded every year. In this fiscal year's budget, the province allocated a $3.5-million contingency fund for school maintenance and repairs and $3.3 million for capital construction.

Hospitals need $20 million for similar problems and that's just for this year. Each board, however, is getting just a handful of items on its list approved -- a fraction of what's needed.

Adequate infrastructure, Williams said, is key to bringing businesses and industry to Newfoundland, particularly rural Newfoundland.

"This government and the previous governments over the last 10-15 years have allowed our infrastructure to deteriorate to the point now where the job's getting much bigger to do," Williams said.

Like the Liberals, he's talking about using the provincial fuel tax to fix roads. But Williams is also counting on hammering out a new federal-provincial roads agreement and achieving a better equalization formula and an end to clawbacks from Ottawa to help fund the improvements. He would promise Martin if the clawback on the province's increasing revenues was eliminated, the funds would go directly into infrastructure.

"In other words, 'Paul Martin, if you can give us those funds, we'll put them directly into infrastructure. We won't put them into tax cuts, we won't put them into anything else. We will make a commitment to you and guarantee you that's where they'll go.'"

Other premiers have tried and failed to negotiate a better fiscal deal with Ottawa.

"If they don't accept the rational approach, based on planning and fairness, then we have to consider whether or not they're our true partners in Confederation, whether they are our friends, whether they are being reasonable with us," Williams said.

NS joins Harper Equalization plan

The Nova Scotia government has opted to accept the Harper Equalization plan.

However this CBC story contains a glaring factual error that needs to be corrected.
This means the province will no longer have control of offshore oil profits, but it said it chose the short-term federal funding to avoid tax increases and program cuts.
Sheer bunk. The Nova Scotia government sets and collects its own offshore revenues. It controls them now and it will continue to control them as long as its accord with Ottawa (from the 1980s) remains in place.

The feds have given Nova Scotia a one year grace period in which to take the Equalization option that gives the province the greatest return.

Meanwhile in Newfoundland and Labrador, the provincial government continues to moan about the whole Equalization business without demonstrating that the province has lost anything at all. The radio call-ins shows are full of complaints and talk of separation but not a single caller so far - including the Premier's parliamentary secretary and several cabinet ministers - could make any factual statements.

22 March 2007

Danny Williams: the problem of being known

[Update: See note below and crosslink on the movie Secret Nation.]

Responsible Government League
's Liam O'Brien is one turned off Conservative.

If anyone wants to understand the extent of dissatisfaction in some quarters with Premier Danny Williams, take a gander at Liam's posts here and here.

For a guy who is as patriotic as anyone else, Danny Williams' claim that anyone backing the current federal government is betraying his or her province, well, let's just say that as soon as those words were broadcast, you could tell there would be some cheesed off locals.

Liam already staked his position on the budget in another post.

This outburst from Liam dovetails nicely with some comments offered by CBC's provincial affairs reporter David Cochrane on Thursday edition of the political panel. Cochrane said that Danny Williams is persona non grata [Bond words, not Cochrane's] in Ottawa these days.

No surprise for Bond readers since that point has been made here repeatedly. As much as Danny Williams has been trying to change his messaging - or at least was toning down the rhetoric right before the budget - the damage has been done.

That's what makes comments from another CBC reporter, radio's legislative reporter Mike Rossiter a bit odd. In Mike's debrief on the Thursday Morning Show, Rossiter talked about comments by an unnamed person or persons that Ottawa simply doesn't understand Danny Williams' economic goals and his nationalism.

Rossiter also referred to the whole fallow field legislation idea which the Prime Minister rejected flatly. According to Rossiter it fell to people like John Fitzgerald, Williams' ambassador to the Prime Minister's waiting room, to explain what Williams was after.

To be frank, that sounds like something we'd hear from the Premier's personal emissary in Ottawa, the highly expensive but apparently ineffectual position Williams created two years ago. While Rossiter is too good a reporter to let slip his sources, his comments sound like they are straight from the lips of the guy whose master's thesis apparently inspired the highly entertaining but highly fictitious movie Secret Nation. [See the correction here. The movie predated the MA thesis so obviously, the later one couldn't inspire the former.]

There are a couple of problems with this view. First of all, if Fitz did such a fine job of translating Danny-speak into something that the ears of federal officials could understand, the whole fallow field issue would have been resolved, wouldn't it?

Second of all, given that Danny Williams is supposedly the Great Negotiator (patent pending), it seems highly odd that a fellow who recently was reduced to sitting in a waiting room hoping to catch a PMO official on the way to a meeting could successfully explain fallow field when the Great Negotiator himself had a meeting with the Prime Minister himself.

If Danny couldn't explain himself to Stephen, it defies even the most fanciful brain to believe that Fitz could do better. Perhaps all that was needed was some appropriate anecdote about 19th century ecclesiastical history and Harper suddenly had a slap-head moment.

Perhaps Harper was convinced by a short recitation of the story linking renovations to the Basilica in the 1950s to Confederation and the Canadianization of Newfoundland and Labrador. ["Skinner consequently had to avoid inflaming anti-Catholic opinion, resurrecting Newfoundland nationalism, or upsetting politicians. If he was pro-Canadian or a 'confederate,' he kept it to himself. ... (The Basilica's interior) spoke more about Newfoundland’s dim Irish past than about its shiny Canadian future..."]

More substantively, though it would be difficult to sustain the argument that people don't understand Danny Williams' nationalism. Their understanding would be born of many things, not the least of which is a traditional townie view of Confederation and Canada. Williams has displayed it openly in many places. In his now famous June 2001 speech in Halifax, Williams took pains to describe the federal government in the most vicious of terms. He has made similar comments in the legislature, some of which, such as comments on the Churchill falls deal, are closer to the realm of fantasy than any matter of fact.

Williams' nationalism, though might well be clearly understood by those in Ottawa given who he appointed as his personal representative.

For those readers who aren't familiar with historian Fitzgerald's views, take this portion of a paper prepared for the Vic Young Airing of Grievances:
Accompanying this public discussion has been an academic debate over Newfoundland nationalism and the merits of Confederation. John Fitzgerald has been a prominent critic of the impact of the Terms of Union on Newfoundland. Invoking the weight of archival evidence -— in a published interview, Fitzgerald asserts that "History is incontrovertible on some of this stuff" -— he notes that [Craig] Dobbin and [former cabinet minister Walter] Noel raise legitimate points. Fitzgerald views the current reappraisal of Newfoundland's constitutional relationship with Canada as a positive development: "The one thing that is overwhelming in this is that I think people are starting to realize generally that Canada's best interests are not necessarily Newfoundland's best interests....And that's a good thing." His scholarly work makes three main arguments: the Terms of Union were negotiated through an extremely unfair and flawed political process; Confederation has not served the province's economic interests; and joining Canada marked the grievous loss of Newfoundland's nationhood. The popularity of this view was reflected during the special conference convened by the Newfoundland Historical Society to mark the fiftieth anniversary of Confederation, titled "Encounters with the Wolf."
Fitzgerald's views are not without criticism from other local historians. The above linked paper notes the views of one historian, namely Jeff Webb:

...Webb has debunked the conspiracy theory that the vote for Confederation was somehow rigged and outlines how nationalist historiography has perpetuated romantic myths rooted in an interpretation of Newfoundlanders as victims. Webb argues that these myths not only ignore the reality of Newfoundland's history, but also embrace a disturbing right-wing ideology which implicitly rejects the democratic rights Newfoundlanders freely exercised in 1949. In addition to this ideological component, nationalism draws on the wider cultural appeal that conspiracy theories enjoy in the present period of political malaise — in Newfoundland as elsewhere in North America — because they offer a fulfilling romantic fantasy:

For a generation that came of age under Smallwood, Moores or Peckford, creating a mythology about the idyllic communities before confederation is easy. Other critics will admit to the existence of poverty, but point to the value of the resources that might have made Newfoundlanders wealthy if Canada had not stolen them. While these resources had the theoretical potential to enrich Newfoundlanders, our experience, under several constitutional regimes, has been that the reality of capitalist exploitation of these resources did not benefit most Newfoundlanders very much. In fact, the most hardy perennial in Newfoundland has been the struggle to find a constitutional solution to economic problems."
Of course, if none of that were true, any doubts federal Conservatives had about the feisty Premier of the eastern province were dispelled in October by none other than the Premier's brother. Both the Prime Minister and the federal Conservative party president were given a fine welcome to what the other Williams apparently referred to as "Dannyland".

Any problems Danny Williams is having in Ottawa do not arise from any misunderstanding about who he is and what he is striving for.

Rather, officials in Ottawa and more particularly, Conservative politicians understand Williams very well. His words and his actions have already branded him indelibly in their minds. How Williams might change that view and restore a productive relationship where none now exists, well, that is a matter for another post.

Loyola Hearn: nothing lost to Nl in budget

From the Globe, right at the end of the story, these comments from fish minister Loyola Hearn and his colleague Norm Doyle:
Some Tory MPs from other aggrieved provinces acknowledged that they're getting some heat over the budget from their constituents. But they predicted the anger will subside once voters understand the complicated details of the cash transfers.

“There's been some disgruntlement and I understand that,” said Newfoundland MP Norman Doyle.

But he said Newfoundlanders will “come to understand... that we're not losing any money at all.”

Fisheries Minister Loyola Hearn said “the original hype” surrounding the budget left Newfoundlanders thinking “we lost something.”

“We lost absolutely nothing from equalization or anything else.”

21 March 2007

2008 and the Internet

Hilary Clinton is on the receiving end of what some are describing as the first viral political spot of the 2008 American presidential race.

The spot uses Apple's classic 1984 Superbowl ad substituting Clinton for the image of Big Brother. Technically sophisticated, it ends with a multi-coloured letter "o" representing Clinton's main rival for the Democratic nod, Barak Obama.

The original video, titled "Vote Smart" has since been morphed by other users into a wide variety of others.

While this sort of video may not penetrate local Canadian elections, like the 2007 newfoundland and labrador general election, it may well become a feature of future federal elections. The technology and the ability exists. it will just be a question of time before we see what impact this sort of political expression will have on elections across North America.

Will Golfman smack this bunch next?

Of course, Pete Soucy doesn't have the profile Rick Mercer enjoys.

Williams discovers his inner basenji with Harper

Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Danny Williams is backing away from a confrontation with the federal government over Equalization.

Sure he's called it a betrayal and, sure, Williams has encouraged people not to vote Conservative in the next election.


According to vocm.com, Williams will now turn his attention to dealing with serious issues in the province. Apparently he feels his few words over the past 24 hours is enough. vocm.com reports that Williams believes the province will survive without Ottawa.

Maybe that's just for now.

Maybe it's permanent.

Some time ago, Bond Papers noted the very different rhetoric Williams used with Harper compared to what the fiesty Premier used to unleash on Liberals.

Compare that to his description of the evil Liberals from a speech in Halifax in 2001:
The more that I see, the more nauseous and angry that I get. The way that our people and our region have been treated by one arrogant federal Liberal government after another is disgusting. The legacy that the late Prime Minister Trudeau and Jean Chrétien will leave in Atlantic Canada is one of dependence on Mother Ottawa, which has been orchestrated for political motives for the sole purpose of maintaining power.
Of course, Danny Williams has been noticeably less fiesty since his self-imposed media blackout a little while ago. One of Williams' repeated messages this past week has been that that he doesn't want to be perceived as fighting just for the sake of fighting.

That's a pretty big change for a guy who not long before promised to take on anyone, anywhere, anytime, if he felt it was in the best interest of Newfoundland and Labrador. Big oil, little blogger. Didn't matter.

Maybe Williams is taking advice from John Crosbie. Maybe he's realizing that he needs to stop spitting in the eye of anyone he takes a dislike to. It doesn't lead to healthy, productive professional relationships.

Maybe - most likely(?) - Williams has a poll that shows his constant combat turns people off. They are weary of it and instead of rallying behind him, people and walking away figuratively if not literally.

Maybe he understands that the reality of the position he is taking is one of fighting for greater dependence on federal handouts rather than promoting genuine self-sufficiency. There's no measure of irony that the guy who accused Liberals of promoting dependence on Mother Ottawa has focused his political energy these past three years on increasing dependence on Mopther Ottawa's handouts. Maybe he's figured that out.

Listening to Williams on Open Line - surprisingly ending his noticeable absence from the talk shows lately - he's also switching his messages about the province to positive ones. He's dropping the tales of always doing bad deals to speaking of the great things that have been and will be done in the province. Sure he's carrying on with the same misleading comments on Equalization and offshore revenues, but there is something noticeably softer in his remarks, overall.

That's a big change.

Of course, there might not be a real change at all, just like his New Approach turned out to be policies lifted from Roger Grimes or Brian Peckford as appropriate.

Maybe Danny Williams just has too much on his plate with the departure of some of his most senior and able ministers to find the energy for a jihad right now. He's still able to take verbal pokes at Harper and Loyola Hearn, but there just doesn't seem to be any energy in Williams' remarks. Running the entire provincial government from the 8th floor is a demanding job.

Yes, it will be interesting to see what happens in the next few months.

That will all depend on whether Williams is just saving his energy for another time, whether he's genuinely changing his approach or if, as it might appear, Williams has discovered his inner basenji.

Hearn speaks

Loyola Hearn says he believes the federal Conservative's Equalization plan is the fairest way to deal with demands from all provinces.

Read the cbc.ca story for more.

A little perspective

From Paul Wells, who was not and is not a fan of Paul Martin as prime minister, some perspective for Danny Williams to consider:
Simple, obvious things that Danny Williams can't figure out

Apparently the premier of Newfoundland and Labrador is upset about the booty the recent budget delivers to his province. Here's what nobody seems to have explained to him.

Danny Williams made Paul Martin's life a screaming blue hell for most of a year and a half. Martin turned his government, his most senior staffers and bureaucratic helpers, and the entire tortured logic of Canadian fiscal federalism into pretzels to please Williams. Paul Martin wore himself into a sobbing heap to please Danny Williams.

And his reward was one fewer seat in NL than he had before he went to the trouble.

Why would any prime minister ever again lift a finger to appease Danny Williams?

Somebody should explain this to the premier.
Paul might well have added the effect peeing on the PM's shoes in public would have.

Like at a party's provincial convention after the Pm showed up by invitation from local Tories, while your brother is outside in the parking lot setting verbal fire to the national party president's underwear.

Williams cranks up anti-Harper rhetoric

He may be avoiding radio call-in shows since the end of his self-imposed media blackout in late February and early March, but Danny Williams isn't shy about tossing quotes at mainland reporters.

To be fair the quotes in this Stephen Maher story from the Wednesday Chronically Horrid aren't fresh but they still reflect Williams' anger over the federal government's Equalization changes.

The real meat in Maher's story is the reaction of local Connies to the attacks from their provincial Tory brethren. They are discovering how difficult it is to be on the government side sometimes.

Just ask John Efford, the guy local Connies and Tories attacked in the most vicious , personal way possible. He's laughing his backside off right now watching it all happen again, to someone else.

Meanwhile, even the Sun chain has to report on the mounting criticism of the Conservative budget. Apparently, the budget's been getting criticism in Alberta, as well, according to the Globe.

And from the Chronicle Herald, a column on the possibility Elizabeth May might actually beat Peter Mackay, DDS, the current foreign affairs minister, literally and possibly in more ways than one.

20 March 2007

Equalization criticism grows

1. From the Toronto Star, a Canadian Press story by Joan Bryden on growing criticism of the federal government's Equalization and fiscal imbalance announcements on Monday.

2. Another Canadian Press story from Halifax focussing on reaction in Atlantic Canada.

3. Federal finance minister Jim Flaherty, right, rolls back the rim to see if he won at a Tim Hortons in Whitby Ontario. [Photo: Canadian Press/Adrian Wyld]

That cup is a bit too clean, it seems.

4. From Radio Canada, an interview with Jean Charest in which Charest displays great confidence in his election success and recites his record of success on behalf of his province. His tax cut on the heels of the federal budget could cause considerable resentment in the rest of the country.

5. From Presse Canadienne, another story on Charest's reaction to the budget [Photo, left: Reuters]:
"Ce système (fédéral) est suffisamment flexible pour changer et s'adapter à nos besoins. Nous avons des résultats si nous faisons connaître les buts qu'on veut atteindre et qu'on agit avec détermination", a déclaré lundi soir M. Charest, alors qu'il commentait le budget fédéral devant les journalistes.
Rough translation: "The federal system is sufficiently flexible to change and adapt to our needs...We will have results if we know the goals we want to attain and act with determination..."

The stuff you come across

1. NTV's Toni Marie Wiseman, via youtube.com and one of her many fans.

2. NTV's Glen Carter in another incarnation. This one is a perpetual Bond Papers favourite.

3. Three Labour Party spots from the 2005 United Kingdom general election. The first is a party election broadcast demonstrating superb messaging and editing. The bloody thing is out of focus but try and ignore that - if you can - to get the feel for what was done in this longer piece.

The second is a devastating spot from Wales, attacking the Conservative Party using, among other things, the juxtaposition of images to support the text on the screen. Lesson One: Learn the bloody national anthem.

The last is a rather odd spot that runs over two minutes and likens politics to a relationship. There are plenty of inside jokes here, particularly the caricatures of British Conservative party supporters.

Flip this around and you get the way Ontarians felt the morning after electing Bob Rae.

Surreal life: Canadian politics edition

1. Newfoundland and Labrador Progressive Conservative Premier Danny Williams argues that he is entitled to his entitlements.

2. Quebec Liberal Premier Jean Charest takes an Equalization windfall from a Conservative government in Ottawa and uses it to cut income taxes in his province. As Paul Wells notes, so much for the argument about fiscal imbalance.

3. Meanwhile, the federal Conservative government expands the nanny state.

Betraying our own potential

Danny Williams is angry with Stephen Harper. Williams sees Harper not living up to a commitment, of "betraying" Newfoundland and Labrador.

Fair enough.

While his latest news release doesn't put a dollar value on the loss to this province, in the past he's said the province will receive $200 million less under the proposed Equalization changes each year compared with what it would be receiving. The cap on transfer payments included in the new Equalization formula is the key to Williams' ire since it supposedly limits how much money the provincial government can get.

The larger problem here is not a prime minister who says one thing before an election and then does something else later on once he's in office. That happens, sometimes for perfidy, sometimes because political and economic circumstances demand it.

The larger problem is that our provincial government - since at least 2001 - has become obsessed with maximizing federal hand-outs to our poor province, as the common description would put it.

Look at it another way.

Danny Williams is upset at the supposed loss of about $400 per capita per year. $200 million works out to be $400 for every person in our province of roughly 500,000 people.

Yes, there are numbers and math involved, but it is actually very simple to follow the logic.

The Hebron development was pegged by economist Wade Locke as offering $10 billion of revenue for the provincial government over the 20 year lifespan of the project. He gave a range of $8 billion to $10 billion, but for our purposes let's take the larger number. Let's allow for developing the whole thing as opposed to just one of the fields.

That works out to $1000 per capita over two decades.

Consider the Hibernia South development and its 300 million barrels of oil, virtually all of which would be extracted when provincial royalties are at 30%, as opposed to the 7% the provincial government currently makes.

If we allow for oil at an average of $45 per barrel over 15 years, that field development works out to bring $540 per capita into provincial coffers.

Put it together and we have almost $1600 per capita in provincial revenues, all of which flows untouched into the provincial bank account to be spent as the provincial government sees fit.

That's four times - that's right, four times - the amount Danny Williams is in a snit over.

That amount doesn't include other developments in the economy, like new mines in Labrador. It doesn't include any other economic development at all. It also doesn't include the spin-off benefits that would come, inevitably, from the new investment coming from a healthy, growing economy. Like renewed interest in exploring for oil offshore Newfoundland and developing gas resources off Labrador.

Success breeds success and moving two large industrial projects forward last year would have branded this province as a place to invest in.

That $1600 per capita would give Newfoundland and Labrador a fiscal capacity on par with Ontario. We might wind up losing Equalization hand-outs by 2012 when the fields would have been fully running, but in the meantime, extra cash - in addition to the $1600 per capita - would have flowed through the Equalization program and through the Atlantic Accord (1985) and the later deal.

Some will object that what is involved in this scenario is converting a non-renewable asset into cash. Once it's gone, it's gone.

Absolutely true.

But that is exactly what Norway and Alberta have done with great success.

Those governments have made a conscious decision to take some of their oil and gas revenues and put the cash in the bank. If that didn't happen, they paid down public debt or built long-term infrastructure. As their economies grew, they were able to do all three, in addition to spending money to provide day-to-day services.

There's no reason Newfoundland and Labrador couldn't do the same thing.

Given the amount of money flowing from those developments, the provincial government could easily devote $400 per capita - 25% of the total - to debt reduction, for example.

After 20 years, the provincial direct debt would be half of what it is right now. As debt reduces, the cost of servicing that debt would reduce, thereby freeing up more cash for infrastructure, savings or whatever else we need to spend the money on.

Success - and some responsible government policy - would breed success. Success and sound policy would turn an asset into other assets.

There's no reason not to follow this scenario, except that provincial politicians of all stripes just don't get the logic. They are trapped in political rhetoric from before Confederation that looks like it works. Actually, it doesn't do anything in the long haul except to ensure that the problems of today remain the problems of the future.

Some will reject this sort of proposition because no one else is saying it. Well, the truth is that many politicians and other opinion leaders are not saying anything even close to it. That doesn't make their version true; it just means they prefer the simplistic rhetoric over simple logic and basic economics.

Others will reject the idea because they don't trust the numbers. It can't be that simple and obvious, they claim. The numbers are real. One recently elected politician questioned Bond Papers' numbers for just that reason. And it that obvious.

Part of the larger problem with the rhetoric coming from this administration and previous administrations of other political stripes is that is focuses on the negative. People start to accept that the people of the province are always hard done by. They see betrayal in everything done by others. They accept that "we cannot sign good deals."

The evidence to the contrary is all around us both in past economic deals like the offshore and Voisey's Bay. It's also found in the private sector in a raft of small and medium sized manufacturing companies. It can be seen easily in a company like Fortis.

The real betrayal here is the betrayal of our own potential that comes from the corrosive messages our own leaders tell us about the state of our province and its future.

We focus on the 25% and ignore the 75%.

We focus on the limitations of the cap if we stay on federal hand-outs and ignore the unlimited potential if we take another path.

All it takes to change is to change our thinking.

We just need to look at the problem another way.

Jim and Danny head-to-head

When is a fight not a fight?

When it's a fight.

Lono hits it on the head

Offal News does another fine job of dissecting the Equalization issue, with a post titled "Williams spits nickels".

Yet this Williams administration would rather fight for more equalisation than make the moves necessary to generate income from the resources we have. Hebron, just as one very small example, has been estimated to provide government revenues of $400-500million per year and thousands of jobs across this province. Out of pique, this government continues to refuse to go back to the negotiating table and to make a deal.

And now Premier Williams expects the rest of this country to subsidize his colossal error in judgment and his failure to close this, or any other, economic development deal. Out of pride, he says.

That's a definition of pride to which I have difficulty subscribing.
Amen, brother.


Harper jams Williams

Forget what you heard Jim Flaherty say yesterday about a revised Equalization system that was formula-based and fair and really forget the criticisms the federal Conservatives made of Equalization side deals and caps.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper did all that yesterday.

Overnight, it's been confirmed that Newfoundland and Labrador and Nova Scotia will be getting an Equalization side deal. Both provinces will have the choice of contuing under the old Equalization program - five provinces, 100% resource revenues plus the offshore deals on oil and gas royalties - or opt into a system they have rejected.

Either way, there is a functional limit on how much cash they get through Equalization.

Under the side deal, the cap consists of the limited number of provinces used to calculate the average plus the offshore offsets deals only cover royalties, not all revenues from the source.

Under the new version of Equalization, the cap is explicitly in place.

This approach is mentioned in the background document issued yesterday but until the PM's letter, it wasn't something that leaped out.
To respect the Offshore Accords, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador may continue to operate under the previous Equalization system until their existing offshore agreements expire.

Turns out Danny is screwed and blued. The only thing left is to get out the ink and needles.

Harper signals side deal with Williams?

The Prime Minister issued a news release this evening that describes a letter to Premier Danny Williams about the federal budget.

In the release, there is an odd statement:
Newfoundland and Labrador will continue to receive the full benefits provided under its offshore Accord, without a cap, while keeping the Equalization regime it had when it signed those Accords.
The first part of that sentence is fine, since the federal budget does not alter the wording of the bilateral agreement signed in either 1985 or in 2005.


There is no way for Newfoundland and Labrador to keep the Equalization scheme that existed in 2005 without the current federal administration signing a side deal with Newfoundland and Labrador to make it happen or for the federal government to create an Equalization system that works one way for nine provinces and another way for Newfoundland and Labrador.

In other words, Harper's release would have Newfoundland and Labrador's Equalization entitlement calculated under a five province standard with 100% of resource revenues included. The offsets deals then cut in to figure out Equalization without oil revenues but based on a five province standard, not the 10 province one to be used under the Flaherty 2007 budget.

The 2005 agreement specifically states that the provincial Equalization offset will be calculated using the formula in existence at the time, i.e. the year of the Equalization payment, not the year the deal was signed.

Simply put: Harper can't reform Equalization as proposed in today's budget, i.e. create a formula driven system that is fair and equitable to all, and at the same time create what amounts to a side deal with one province.

Most likely answer: someone in the PMO comms office needs a quick lesson in the English language not to mention Equalization.

Outside possibility: Harper is really trying to jam Danny into a corner.

19 March 2007

Equalization changes in summary

The federal budget contains few, if any, surprises when it comes to dealing with the so-called fiscal imbalance.

The Flaherty budget will make the following changes to Equalization:

- Reintroduce a formula based on all 10 provinces. That will have the effect of raising the amount of money in the system overall. The current system, in place since 1982 uses five provinces to determine the standard.

- Reduce the formula from 33 bases to a mere five. That will make the system much easier to figure out.

- Exclude 50% of resource revenues from the calculations. That's not what Harper promised for two elections in a row but it is exactly what an expert panel recommended. Right now 100% of all resource revenues are included in calculating Equalization entitlements. That's the system Danny Williams wanted to continue when he wrote his letter to the federal party leaders during the last election.

- Provinces can opt to take whichever is greater of the 50% exclusion or the 100% exclusion of non-renewable revenues only. Again, that isn't what they promised but that option is specifically designed to deal with Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador. Note the last sentence in the paragraph below. It is clearly designed to have the provinces opt into Equalization and abandon the offshore deals.
Fulfilling the Commitment to Respect the Offshore Accords

To respect the Offshore Accords, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador may continue to operate under the previous Equalization system until their existing offshore agreements expire. This fulfills and builds upon the Government’s commitment to respect the Offshore Accords and ensures that these provinces will continue to receive the full benefit that they are entitled to under the previous system. These provinces can permanently opt into the new Equalization system at any point in the future. [Emphasis added]
- Cap transfers such that no province can have a fiscal capacity in excess of Ontario. Equalization is intended to give all provinces in the country comparable fiscal capacity and thereby ensure that all Canadians have access to similar levels of service no matter where they live. One of the complaints from non-recipient provinces has been that the combination of federal transfers can actually produce a situation where recipient provinces - like Newfoundland and Labrador - have a greater capacity than most non-recipient provinces.

The combination of all federal transfers - Equalization, health, post-secondary, social transfer and infrastructure - will give Newfoundland and Labrador about $1.5 billion in federal transfers over four years. Specifically, the amounts are as follows:

2005: $1.554 billion
2006: $1.453 billion
2007: $1.529 billion
2008: $1.554 billion