31 October 2007

Throne speech and budget promised within two weeks of winning leadership: Tom Rideout, 1989

Rideout called an election, but it's interesting to see how another premier handled the challenges of governing.

Rideout shuffles, trims cabinet to get ready for election call

March 28, 1989 

ST. JOHN'S, Nfld. (CP) - With election rumors blowing through this frigid capital, Premier Tom Rideout took his first step toward government reform yesterday by naming a leaner cabinet and reorganizing departments.

Rideout appointed a 19-member cabinet - four fewer than the previous one - while assuming the duties of minister responsible for intergovernmental affairs and the status of women. The Tory premier also restructured six portfolios, turning them into three larger departments. One portfolio was expanded and one new department was created.

"I promised the people of Newfoundland a plan for the future and I mean to deliver," the 40-year-old premier told reporters. "I promised them a more efficient government and I plan to deliver, I promised them leadership into the 1990s and I mean to deliver."

The cabinet was sworn yesterday by Lt.-Gov. James McGrath five days after Rideout became the province's fourth premier, succeeding Brian Peckford. Despite his promise to fashion a new image for the governing Tories, Rideout brought in just two new cabinet ministers.

Newcomer James Hodder, 48, takes up the reorganized Department of Cultural Affairs, Tourism and Historic Resources, while 58-year-old Kevin Parsons leads the new Department of Sport, Recreation and Youth. Dropped from cabinet were Labor Minister Ted Blanchard and Mines Minister Jerome Dinn.

"A new leader, until he goes to the people, can only pick a cabinet from the people who are serving in the caucus," said Rideout when asked why there weren't more new faces in cabinet. "There's only 33 of us there and I can only pick a cabinet from them."

The big winners were those who strongly supported Rideout in the recent Tory leadership race, such as Lynn Verge, who becomes the first female deputy premier in Newfoundland in addition to retaining the justice portfolio. Rideout supporter Charles Brett moved from municipal affairs to head of the Treasury Board.

The four cabinet ministers who opposed Rideout during the leadership race also received senior posts. Former finance minister Neil Windsor takes over a revamped Energy and Mines Department. Len Simms, former head of the Treasury Board, was named development minister, Hal Barrett is finance minister, and Loyola Hearn retains the education portfolio.

With cabinet ministers just sworn in, Rideout also announced that he's canceled plans to call the legislature into special session this week to pass an interim financing bill. Instead, he intends to convene a regular session in mid-April which would include a throne speech and a budget. But Rideout, who represents the rural riding of Baie Verte-White Bay, left the door open for a snap election call.

"An election could be called at any time," he said. "The present government will begin its fifth year on the second of April and a new leader will obviously want to seek a new mandate at an early opportunity."

Asked whether he's made up his mind when to call an election, Rideout smiled and replied, "I have a plan."

Rumors of an impending election call have been fueled by recent meetings between Rideout and Tory organizer John Lashinger of Toronto. Lashinger ran Rideout's slick leadership campaign and helped Peckford win three consecutive electoral victories.

The Liberals and New Democrats are holding nomination meetings so that candidates will be in place when the election is called.


Could call legislature sitting less than a week after taking leadership: Tom Rideout, 1989

Ah, if only Tom Rideout was in charge:


Thursday, March 23, 1989,

Rideout takes office as Newfoundland premier 

ST. JOHN'S, Nfld. (CP) - Tom Rideout became Newfoundland's fourth premier yesterday. The straight-talking son of a fisherman was sworn in as Conservative premier by Lt. Gov. James McGrath during a brief, simple ceremony in the lieutenant-governor's residence.

"We are embarking on a journey which requires a captain on whom the people can depend," said a sombre Rideout, as his family of four proudly looked on. "We have survived and grown in number and prospered so we no longer believe it is a fantasy for us to be masters of our own destiny."

Rideout, who dreamed of being premier as a teenager in his hometown of Fleur-de-Lys, Nfld., succeeded Brian Peckford who held power for 10 years. Peckford announced his resignation in mid-January, saying he'd lost the ruthlessness to make hard political decisions. The 40-year-old Rideout is the province's fourth premier since Newfoundland joined Confederation in 1949. Tory Frank Moores and Liberal Joey Smallwood held office before Peckford.

nl-rideout-tom-20070430bOnly hours after the pomp of the swearing-in, the new premier got down to business, telling reporters he could call the legislature into session as early as next Tuesday to pass an interim financing bill. If the opposition doesn't agree with that scenario, he would begin the session in early April with a new budget and speech from the throne.

But the former fisheries minister could be on the election trail before members of the legislature are long in their seats. "We could be very close or we could be far away from an election," he teased reporters. "But April 2 is the fourth year of this government and a new premier would want to seek his own mandate as soon as possible."

Before an election, Rideout said he wants to honor several promises such as setting up a premier's task force on family violence and sexual abuse against children. Rideout hopes to announce his new smaller cabinet Monday as the first phase of a reshuffling of departments aimed at producing a leaner, more efficient government. The premier said he is thinking about taking on a second cabinet position as part of his duties.

While Rideout met with reporters, his staff moved from a hotel suite into the rambling eighth-floor premier's office. Only three of Peckford's 20-member staff have been asked to stay on and most senior people, including Peckford's bodyguard and press secretary, will leave.

"I want to bring new faces to the premier's office. . . . I want to portray to the people of the province I intend to lead, to take a new direction as we spring into the 1990s." The government, however, will follow established policy and provide the outgoing premier with money to operate an office with a secretary for up to three years.


30 October 2007

Danny's long slow good-bye

Did anyone else notice the relaxed, jovial Danny Williams on election night?


How about the post-election vacation?


Well, did anyone notice that he came back to St. John's - where he lives - to celebrate his second majority government rather than celebrate in Corner Brook which is in his district?


Well, those are clues that Danny Williams was serious when he said last year that he wouldn't be hanging around for a third election.

The world has changed a lot since last Christmas. Williams worked diligently and managed to get the oil companies back to the negotiating table so he could make concessions and get a Hebron deal. 

The energy plan is done. Well, sort of done, since both the oil regime and the gas royalty regime are still in draft form.

And then there's the Lower Churchill.  The crowning achievement of Williams' tenure secured, as it likely will be, with government loan guarantees backed up by the offshore oil deals, pretty much as Bond Papers has maintained. those are the things Williams will be focusing on in the next three years and that's basically what he said to reporters in a scrum after the cabinet swearing in ceremony.

The big clue of his departure, though, has been Williams' claim that he is loosening the grip on the cabinet he re-appointed, with minor changes, on Tuesday morning.

"As we mature as a government, I want to see an increased role for the ministers," Williams said after the cabinet swearing-in ceremony.

"I've been criticized on the one hand for being a one-man show. On the other hand, if you don't show up for something ... I get criticized for that, so we've got to strike that happy medium."

No one likely missed the curiosity of a guy claiming he doesn't run a one man show while at the same time saying that he wants to see an "increased role" for cabinet ministers. Not showing up for something is a reference to criticism Williams took last week for being away on vacation while about 100 workers in his own district were laid off at the local paper mill. Williams gave in to the criticism and interrupted his most recent vacation for a short meeting with union officials. 

That's hardly the thing one would expect from a guy who is planning to run again in the same district in four years time, especially when the laid-off paper workers watched Williams go to the mat for their brethren in a neighbouring town only two years ago.

Aside: Incidentally, is it possible that the Kruger announcement was delayed after an intervention by the provincial?  Word on High Street is that people at the mill heard rumours of the machine shut-down three weeks before it was made public. They were likely clued in by an announcement on October 2 - a week before polling day - and the shut-down of the same machine at Corner Brook in July. in hindsight, it looks like the July announcement was actually the closure.  Look at the wording.  There's no suggestion it was going to be for a mere two weeks yet that's what it turned out to be.

In any event, old habits are hard for the Premier to break though, as his other comments reveal.  His penchant for using "I" still comes through loud and clear, as does the reference to people he supposedly doesn't watch. McGuinty announced his cabinet on Tuesday and up to the sudden announce from the provincial government's propaganda service Tuesday morning, there was absolutely no sign Danny Williams was ready to announce his cabinet.

"I don't guide myself, or our government doesn't guide ourselves, by what Premier McGuinty does or Prime Minister Harper does or anyone else in the country does," he said.

"We're running our own show down here and we do it as we see fit, and I think we're doing a great job."

The pattern Williams is following here is pretty much the one he used in 2003, although the overall circumstances don't warrant the delay in opening the legislature. in 2003, a cabinet was hastily sworn in out of constitutional necessity but it took until February before the names of the new departments were announced. This is an administration that takes its sweet time to do anything and there's no sign that will change in Williams' last years.

The serial government will carry on and, as noted here in January, speculation will mount as to which of the current crop of minister's will start angling for the Premier's job.

All the signs are there.  You just have to look for them.

And in the meantime, Danny Williams will depart from office in the same way he has occupied the office:  doing everything in his own time.


National Velvet Astroturf

Strange things turn up in the Bond Papers e-mail.

Like the following letter published in the Edmonton Journal online edition extolling the virtues of the far East's energy policy. It's odd for a few reasons which are in bold print.

Odd things like reference to the Council of the Federation's energy plan. Odd because few Canadians know of or care about the Council, let alone keep track of missives like the energy document. That document, incidentally, was produced by a committee headed by Danny Williams.

Then there is the repeated use of the phrase "Newfoundland Labrador". That phrase doesn't appear in the CP Stylebook but it does appear in the local PC Style Guide.

Newfoundland Labrador.

It's the name of the new province re-born under Danny Williams.

Think about it for a second. Aside from provincial government advertising, which includes VOCM stuff and Tories, do you know anyone who says "Newfoundland Labrador"?

Everyone else has no trouble using the word "and" in between "Newfoundland" and "Labrador".


It's right there.

Heck even the Tories aren't consistent in it, as their campaign platform shows. There are references to the province with the "and" there and in other places, you'll see Newfoundland Labrador Housing. Still, though, when it turns up in a letter to the editor, there's just something odd enough about it to make you wonder.

Could be nothing at all, of course. But given this administration's love of artificial turf, there's a good possibility this letter is part of a concerted effort to spread The Word far and wide, especially in "Steve" Harper's backyard.

You can find more of Don Abbott's stuff at cbc.ca, for example on the same subject.

More Letters
Tuesday, October 30, 2007
Section: Cityplus

Energy development is slowly assuming a new, more comprehensive direction in Canada.

In recent months, among other initiatives, the Council of the Federation outlined its first-ever action plan for a sustainable and secure energy future for Canada.

And, Alberta and Newfoundland Labrador released positions that grapple with the thorny issues of royalty reviews and the development of future energy projects.

The federal government's reaction has been unsurprisingly mute. Ottawa appears incapable of forging a complete and credible policy that combines energy growth and prosperity with enhanced environmental and social responsibility.

Industry reaction to Alberta's ongoing royalty review has predictable. Energy company officials protest the sky will fall and billions in investment will be withheld.

Newfoundland Labrador has had years of similar reaction. Despite the critics, it has enhanced royalties and agreed to a five-per-cent ownership share in new, and 10-per-cent share in undeveloped, offshore oilfields.

It also has stated its determination to go it alone, if need be, on the Lower Churchill hydro project, which leaves the fate of a promising East-West power grid at Quebec and Ottawa's doorsteps (where it has been for 40 years).

A completely new attitude and set of principles is emerging that reinforces the call for sounder planning and stronger leadership for future energy policy in the country. These principles currently are being driven at the provincial and territorial level.

They incorporate a myriad of factors including spiraling energy needs, ownership, administration, pace of development, equitable returns, greater efficiency, less destruction, the full economic cost of research, human resources and infrastructure, the changing face of the North, and human and ecological necessities.

At almost opposite ends of the country Premiers Ed Stelmach and Danny Williams are helping initiate foresight in future energy development.

Their principled stand, for a more inclusive energy policy for Canada and Canadians, resonates well across the length and breath of the land.

Don Abbott, St. John's, NL


Another little piece of secretive business to keep an eye on

In addition to his duties as intergovernmental affairs minister, Tom Hedderson will also be responsible for the volunteer and not-for-profit sector.

Forget for a second that there is absolutely nothing  to connect IGA with not-for-profits and volunteers.

Not a thing.

Focus instead on the line in the Progressive Conservative campaign platform that promised to "implement the recommendations of the task force on the not-for-profit sector."

Actually, it said continue to implement.

Odd that there is no public record of such a task force anywhere.

Yet, the Tories committed to continue to implement a report no one in the public has ever seen and on top of that there was a promise to create a new office and a ministerial post dedicated solely to supporting "volunteers and not-for-profits."


Don't ya think?


The accountable government at work

It's hard to keep a government accountable when they keep wiping out any traces of the past.


And this took three weeks?

New provincial cabinet.

No major change in major portfolios.

There are a few demotions, most notably John Hickey, Tom Hedderson and Kevin O'Brien.  The latter goes from being a potentially high profile minister in a high profile department with lots of big announcements to the minister of licenses and permits.

Hedderson goes from a lead portfolio in the arts and tourism to being, essentially, the guy who sends pay cheques to our man in a Blue Line cab on behalf of the guy he really works for, namely the Premier. Intergovernmental Affairs doesn't have the profile it once had and it doesn't look like it will become a Action central in the near future.

The table - shamelessly lifted from labradore -  shows the number of ministers and parliamentary secretaries from 1996 to the present.  The figures between 1989 and 1996 are comparable to the early Tobin period on the chart.

The official excuse is that these are new times and the province's finances are in better shape.

The real reason for the increased size of cabinet, largely through the creation of minor ministries, was politics. 

The enlarged cabinet wouldn't look so obviously political if there had been some changes to the arrangement or to the faces.

rideout toqueThen again, given the lack of significant change, one wonders why the House of Assembly hasn't been called back into session or why this shuffle took three weeks. Deputy premier Tom Rideout's excuses offered up when he announced the cancellation of a fall session don't seem to hold much water in light of events. 

Keep an eye on municipal affairs.  Rumour has it there is a cabinet paper on amalgamation that was put on hold pending the election;  there's a strange line in the Tory campaign platform about "no forced amalgamation."  In the absence of any discussion of municipal amalgamation, the comment just stood out. St. John's and Mount Pearl won't be dragged to the altar but on the northeast Avalon, there's always the chance a new supercity will be crammed together out of the other towns or the existing cities will swallow up bits of their neighbours. One prime candidate for elimination:  Paradise. 

One interesting observation:  With the exception of Danny Williams, Tom Rideout and Trevor Taylor, there is no one in cabinet who was elected before 2003. Keep an eye to see if the House opens only once a year in the future. The majority of members - Opposition benches included - have such little interest in the House and display such an obvious lack of interest in being there, that they'd just as soon keep it locked tight. If that happens, democracy in Newfoundland and Labrador will take another body blow.  Don't look to the opposition benches for too many voices of genuine dissent.

Big surprise:  despite all the signs of a rapprochement and much media speculation, Beth Marshall still sits on the back benchers.


29 October 2007

Quebec's outmigration problem

From ctv.ca, a report on the growing outmigration of young anglophones from Quebec.

As in Newfoundland and Labrador, they are being lured by better economic opportunities elsewhere.


The remittance economy and the long-term future

CBC Radio is running a short series of reports on remittance workers. Those are people who maintain a permanent residence in Newfoundland and Labrador but who travel to other places, mostly Alberta, to earn a living.

If the CBC figures are accurate - upwards of 10,000 people earning pre-tax salaries of $100,000 a year - then remittance labourers are contributing to the Newfoundland and Labrador economy on a scale that rivals agriculture and the fishery.

Remittance labour is a common feature of the economy in the developing world. The figures for Newfoundland and Labrador would be also on a par with some countries at the low end of the scale in a 2003 World Bank study. Bond Papers noted the local history of remittance work in a post earlier in 2007.

The local workers involved in the Newfoundland and Labrador version of remittance labour include fishery workers displaced by changes in that industry. Others are older, skilled workers from the former paper plant at Stephenville or from the shipyard at Marystown. Neither of these groups will likely be doing the Big Commute for a long time. Either the projects they are working on will shut down or they will retire in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Others are young men and women who are attracted by high wages and steady work in their chosen fields. While the older workers are contributing to a localized economic boom in places without major industries - like Marystown or Stephenville -

Only a major and sustained series of local projects rivaling the work elsewhere will cause the younger workers to stay in the local labour force. Many are likely to settle outside of Newfoundland and Labrador.

In that context, it's interesting to recall that in 2003 Danny Williams campaigned on his commitment to "growing" the economy and creating jobs. He didn't do that, of course, as Bond Papers has noted several times, including in a reprint of a 2004 column from the original (pre-Cleary) incarnation of The Independent. The economic miracle of the past four years has been entirely due to the upsurge in world oil prices.

Essentially, the current progressive Conservative administration is following the same approach of its predecessors. The long-term is sacrificed to short-term expediency. The rise of highly-paid remittance work has served to both cushion the blow of outmigration and enable the provincial government to contribute disproportionately to the provincial economy in the process.

The current administration started out, supposedly, with a plan to control spending and deal with the burgeoning provincial debt. In reality, it did nothing about either. Spending has grown by 35% - well beyond the rate of inflation - and at the same time, the provincial direct and total debt is larger today than it was in 2003. Spending is forecast to increase, as is the debt.

Both oil prices and the remittance economy are shaky underpinnings for government spending and development of larger debt. Oil prices are historically subject to significant fluctuations. The remittance economy is limited either by the life of projects or the short time some of the workers have left to retirement.

Remittance work and the related subject of demographic changes in the province have been largely ignored by successive provincial governments in Newfoundland and Labrador and there is virtually no discussion of it in the public at large.

Perhaps the CBC report will change that.


26 October 2007

Invasion of the sock puppets

Telegram media blogger Geoff Meeker has been on a thread lately about local talk shows and the organized partisan callers.

His latest post includes some comments from people who worked inside the system.

One in particular is worth quoting since it fairly and accurately describes the current state of affairs:

Political operatives organize and coordinate it. Government-side in-house political operatives, voluntary political operatives and key 'lay' party members are all given direction (and often talking points, generated by communications people and other public servants for ministers' use) to call on particular topics.

Communications personnel in Communications Branch are and were public service employees. They were required to monitor, analyze and advise on response to talk radio, but not to call…. Making partisan calls would undermine their professional reputation for balance and fairness in doing their core jobs.

Line department new or junior communications personnel have occasionally been asked to call, by both administrations, especially if they are politically connected. When they (and their voices) became/become better known to media, they were no longer asked to do so.

I never worked in the opposition office, but had I had friends there and my sense is that there is (and was) less if any line-stacking directed out of there. This may be due to lack of resources - fewer communications staff to draft the talking points, fewer political staff to rally the volunteer troops, fewer volunteer troops, etc... This is yet another area where her majesty's loyal opposition is out-gunned by Her Majesty's government.

Of course, there are still callers challenging government on a partisan basis, but that is usually self-directed, except during election time.

This is a fascinating and very useful bit of public discussion. I think it really helps for people to understand how this particular talk radio environment works.

Meeker links to Bond Papers that nets him a big thanks for the traffic.  To make it easier for his readers, here's a link to the first of a three part series from August and September 2006 on the whole business of astroturfing that the current administration has raised to an art form. One of the big changes from the system employed before October 2003 is that the current administration co-opts public servants into an essentially partisan process.

Of course, readers can also site search Bond Papers for the words "pitcher plant" and find a bunch of other posts.

Tony the SockAstroturfing is an old political idea. It shows up in newspaper letters, radio call-back lines and on the Internet through web sites or news (discussion) groups. Some of the anonymous and pseudonymous commenters are also well-known open line callers or partisan political operatives.

"Kirwin Nicholson", for example, is just one sock puppet created for the recent campaign.  He or she made several posts before accidentally revealing himself in a partisan attack on one Liberal candidate by posting using his or her more common identity.

Since there is no way of knowing who is actually posting, a great many of the people posting to nf.general on political topics could be sock puppets, Internet slang for "the act of creating a fake online identity to praise, defend or create the illusion of support for one’s self, allies or company."


Woodrow, Dumaresque should resign

The Liberal Party and the people of Newfoundland and Labrador should be seeing a couple of resignations this weekend.

They won't see either, but they are entitled to both.

John Woodrow should do the right thing and withdraw as the Liberal candidate in the deferred election in Grand Falls-Windsor-Buchans. if Woodrow had any serious interest in the job, he'd have come forward long before now. But that's not the real problem.

Almost a decade ago, Woodrow was at the centre of of an alleged bribery scandal. No charges were laid, but in the allegations Woodrow made, he told a justice department lawyer that he had paid bribes to a cabinet minister and several officials.

The police investigated but no charges were laid.

Nonetheless, Woodrow seemed quite happy to make the allegation in the first place. Even if we allow for the presumption of innocence on Woodrow's part, that is, if he didn't provide any benefits to the minister, the minister direct family and/or the minister's staff in contravention of the Criminal Code, Woodrow's willingness to make such an accusation in the first place makes him unfit to hold any public office. That conclusion should be patently obvious.

As for Danny Dumaresque, the party president, he should resign for failing to do anything to discharge his responsibilities in this matter properly. By his own admission, Dumaresque did not meet with Woodrow prior to signing the nomination papers.

Obviously, Dumaresque didn't even conduct a simple google search. Had he searched for "John Woodrow Newfoundland" the very first thing to appear would have been a reference to the scandal.

The party president is responsible, among other things, for the proper administration of the party. Even if the district level executive was willing to accept Woodrow, the party president owes a duty of care to the party as a whole, to the provincial executive and to the leader. Dumaresque failed in that responsibility.

When the party executive board meets again - according to some sources they are meeting this weekend - the first order of business should be ending Woodrow's candidacy. if he's not prepared to quit, then the party executive must act.

The second order of business should be to accept Dumaresque's resignation. The only honourable thing for him to do is quit.

If Dumaresque tries to stay on, then it is incumbent on the executive to fire him.

Should they fail to act, the individual members of the board who approve of Woodrow and Dumaresque in this instance can expect their own tenure in office will be as short as short can be.

Meaningless numbers

At what point will someone in the provincial government's business department decide to tell the people of Newfoundland and Labrador just exactly what sorts of regulatory requirements have been eliminated or reduced as part of the so-called red tape reduction program?

"We have further reduced the number of regulatory requirements by 32,866, which means the elimination of an additional 11,651 requirements since April," said Minister [Kevin] O'Brien. "We have successfully reduced the regulatory burden by just over 10.5 per cent. This achievement puts us on the way to the halfway mark of our objective to reduce the number of regulatory requirements within government by 25 per cent."

This is the kind of vacuous statement that brings public relations into disrepute. Without knowing what the "regulatory requirements" are, no one can tell whether or not eliminating even one of them actually means anything.

This isn't news.

It's drivel.

Vacuous, meaningless tripe.

Let's not even discuss the tortured grammar of that first sentence of the quote.

Rather than this pile of words, the two communications directors involved - that's right, it took two people to issue it - could simply have printed a limerick.

You know the one:

There once was a young man named Paul


25 October 2007

Alberta boosts royalties

Alberta premier Ed Stelmach announced today that the Alberta government has accepted most of the recommendations of a recent review panel and will therefore hike oil and gas royalties by 20%.

The new royalty framework announced today will boost overall royalties by $1.4 billion or 20 per cent in 2010. But Stelmach has rejected a call to impose an oilsands severance tax that established producers would have had to begin paying next year.

The new rates, which will hike royalties from current highs of 35 per cent to a maximum 50 per cent for conventional oil and natural gas, won't take effect until 2009.


EnCana approves $700 million Deep Panuke gas project

CALGARY, Alberta, Oct 25 (Reuters) - EnCana Corp (ECA.TO) will build its own pipeline to ship gas to shore from its C$700 million ($721 million) Deep Panuke gas project off Nova Scotia rather than use the line from the nearby Sable project, an EnCana spokesman said.

EnCana had been weighing the two options since before it restarted regulatory proceedings early this year for the Atlantic Canada gas development.

"Each of the parties (EnCana and the Sable partners) looked at it. It was agreed that technical, commercial and operational circumstances were not something we could come to an agreement on. It didn't have optimal benefits for both," EnCana spokesman Alan Boras said.

EnCana gave the corporate green light on Thursday to Deep Panuke, which will be the first new project off the coast of Nova Scotia since Sable was developed in the 1990s.

It is due to start producing 200 million to 300 million cubic feet of gas a day in 2010.

The cost of building the pipeline to Goldsboro, Nova Scotia, from the gas field, 250 km (155 miles) southeast of Halifax, is included in the overall C$700 million capital budget, Boras said.

Sable partners Exxon Mobil Corp (XOM.N) and Royal Dutch Shell have their combined 18 % interest in the Deep Panuke project on the auction block.


Workers wonder where Williams wanders while woodwork withers

From CBC:

"I'm kind of wondering where Danny Williams stands on it all. I'd like to know," said Nathan Wareham, who attended a meeting of Corner Brook Pulp and Paper workers on Wednesday evening about parent company Kruger Inc.'s planned cuts.

Apparently, the premier is on vacation, according to his office, following his recent election victory.

Which, if memory serves, was preceded by a vacation.


Change is good

If you've been reading Bond Papers regularly, you'll likely notice the format changes over the past few weeks.

We've changed the masthead, colour scheme and the fonts, all with a view to making Bond Papers visually appealing and and easier to read.

The latest change is to stretch the layout so that each post is wider across the page. The whole thing should be more legible and the layout works well at the two most common display settings being used by Bond Papers readers.

The sidebar is also wider. This also facilitates reading but it also makes the content more attractive to the eye.


24 October 2007

The hard work of being Premier, another perspective

rideout toqueAnd while Danny is off having a bit of a lark, the province has been left in the hands of this man, right, deputy Premier Tom Rideout.

Rideout said "there is no urgent public business" facing the legislature and all of it can be dealt with in the new year.

Draw your own conclusions.


The hard work of being Premier

nl-williams-danny-20070911Looking kinda tanned just before the election [Photo: right].

Vacation maybe?

No House of Assembly sitting until sometime next Easter because supposedly there isn't enough time to get everything ready in the six or seven weeks between election day and the usual time for opening the House in the fall.

Danny Williams1Two television appearances after the election.

And this Saturday night?

Ottawa for the national press gallery annual dinner.

Steve won't be there, apparently, but Layton and Dion will be.


The political road ahead


22 October 2007

Update: Kruger machine closure and government subsidies

The official government news release came in the middle of Monday afternoon.

Turns out the provincial government has subsidized the newsprint industry to the tune of $30 million over just the past two years.

In the release, natural resources minister Kathy Dunderdale notes:

"We met with Kruger officials last week and told them very clearly that this was unacceptable. We reminded the company of the support it has received from this government. In the last two years, we have provided over $30 million in assistance to the pulp and paper industry in this province. The company has revisited its plans and moved ahead with today’s action that will see the shutdown of one machine. The impact of their business decision has been lessened because of the significant support this government has provided, and continues to provide, to this industry."


The last time issues like this came up, the provincial government wound up shelling out millions in subsidies. In 2006, it was an unspecified amount to deal with a cost problem with operations on the island. Later in 2006, it was a $10 million subsidy on power costs. A bit of simple math suggests that the earlier subsidy was upwards of $20 million but the actual figure was never made public; it could be there have been other subsidies that Dunderdale or her predecessor never announced publicly.

Subsidies to private industry are nothing new for the current administration. In a failed effort to salvage the Abitibi mill in Stephenville, the provincial government was prepared to offer the company upwards of $10-12 million annually to keep the mill open. Bond Papers concluded that subsidy actually worked out to more than the provincial government's tax take from Abitibi's Stephenville operation in certain circumstances.

No one should be surprised if there is a government decision between now and next spring, while the legislature is conveniently closed, to announce further subsidies for the pulp and paper industry in the province.


Rumpole and the Car Park

judgeWhen I good friends was called to the bar... I never imagined I'd be adjudicating parking disputes."

One can easily imagine Chief Justice Derek Green being somewhat chagrined as he dutifully took the submissions of the High Sheriff of Newfoundland and Labrador and the Registrar of the Supreme Court and rendered a 14 page decision over parking spaces at the court house in St. John's.

The application made by the Sheriff sought a variance in a 2004 order on the use of court parking spaces on the Water Street side of the court house. The Sheriff was looking for two parking spaces in the lot which is controlled by the Registrar. The dispute apparently involved Sheriff's officials and others who took to parking in the spaces in such a way as to block access to some of the spaces in the overcrowded and over-permitted space.

After a recapitulation of the entire situation, the Chief Justice issued a simple order, amounting to granting two spaces to the Sheriff's officials.
[34] There is no basis for continuing the injunctive order against the two officials of the Office of the High Sheriff designated by the High Sheriff as needing access to parking on the Water Street lot. Accordingly, I will make the following order and declaration:
1. The Interim Order (Ex Parte) made on March 17, 2004 is hereby varied by adding an additional paragraph as follows:
5. Notwithstanding anything contained in this Order, it shall not apply to two persons employed in the Office of the High Sheriff and designated in writing by him from time to time as eligible to apply to the Registrar for a permit to park on the Parking Lot
2. It is declared that the Registrar has the discretion:
(a) to issue permits to park on the Parking Lot to the two persons designated by the High Sheriff pursuant to paragraph 5 of the amended order, subject to such conditions and restrictions as may be appropriate to promote the overall effective and efficient use of the parking lot for the benefit of all users; and
(b) to revoke any such permits from time to time or to impose revised conditions and restrictions thereon as circumstances may dictate.
Considering the valuable time of the courts and the costs involved by all parties, including the time of the Chief Justice, surely it was possible that this matter might have been resolved more amicably, less tediously and in a far less costly way than this.

Horace would not be amused.

Shame! Shame!


The red line: The number of sitting days, by year, in the unelected Senate, from 1996 to 2007. The last number is estimated, since the Senate is still sitting. It's current total of 54 days (as of 22 Oct 2007) will likely hit the 70 days or thereabouts which have been typical over the last five years.

The blue line: Sitting days in the elected House of Assembly, over the same time period. The 2007 figure is accurate since the Williams administration has decided to cancel the usual fall sitting of the provincial legislature.

For all the jokes about the Senate being the ante-chamber to the Kingdom of heaven and the the cracks about senators not showing up for work and still getting paid, here are the bare facts. It should be an embarrassment to every legislator in Newfoundland and Labrador that the senators put in more time doing their jobs than their local elected cousins do.

Consider that senators spend considerable time outside the chamber attending committee meetings on a variety of subjects like the fishery, national defence, or federal-provincial relations. Members of the House of Assembly are not burdened by such responsibilities; they just get to show up and, if the last sitting is any guide to the future, nod their approval when the House leader gestures such that 70% of the bills presented get passed with a mere couple of hours of discussion. Legislation in the local chamber are never subjected to detailed scrutiny by the elected representatives of the province.

The men and women who fought to have responsible government established in Newfoundland and Labrador are surely spinning in their graves.

Those of us who voted in the recent general election are just plain appalled.


Almost immediate update: Since 2003, the House of Assembly has met, on average, about the same number of days each year that Tom Rideout spent as Premier in 1989.

Kruger shuts machine at Corner Brook

Faced with declining demand and a high Canadian dollar, Kruger Inc is shutting Paper Machine No. 1 at its Corner Brook operation. The shut-down is for an indefinite period beginning November 5 and will reduce the mill's output by 80,000 tonnes annually.

No sign when the provincial government first learned of the decision, although it was far enough in advance to see the natural resources minister shipped to Corner Brook for a media availability. Kathy Dunderdale told CBC's Radio Noon that the provincial government had "invested' heavily in Kruger's Corner Brook operation in recent years. Dunderdale put the figure at $20 million. That would include a harvesting subsidy announced by Dunderdale's predecessor Ed Byrne to Kruger in March 2006, although the government didn't announce the price paid at the time. That amount would also include a power cost subsidy of $10 million Dunderdale announced last October.

Dunderdale said 83 people will be laid off as a result of the machine closure but that the figure might be reduced to 13 due to layoffs.

Kruger closed one machine temporarily in July, 2007 citing the same reasons as the ones given on Monday.


Right-wing facebook

Thanks to Kevin for the link to this parody of facebook for Republican candidates in the United States.

For those who might be wondering, red is the colour associated with the Grand Old party, while blue is for Democrats.



Saskatchewan election blogs

Cross-posted from John Murney's blog:

I have been following a number of other blogs that are also giving some measure of coverage to the provincial election campaign. Here are some of those blogs...

Small Dead Animals

Although Kate McMillan is not blogging only about the election campaign, the stuff Kate posts is usually substantive and noteworthy. Kate has a razorsharp wit, and a keenly analytical mind. I feel SDA is the strong conservative voice in cyberspace in this election campaign.

Catprint in the Mash

Lance Levsen falls into the same category as Kate - I pay close attention to anything Lance has to say about this election. Lance is a great analyzer, and I enjoy his feedback on the daily twists and turns of this campaign. Lance's blog is a must read for anyone wishing to follow the campaign.

Giant Political Mouse

GPM is the primary left-wing blog in this election campaign. To get a good idea of what lefties think about this campaign, GPM is a credible voice in that regard. GPM is one of my daily reads in this campaign, and you should add it to your list of election blogs as well. This blog makes for a great read.

NDP Boogeyman

Since making contact with the host of NDP Boogeyman blog last week, I have been paying close attention to this blog's careful monitoring of the Saskatchewan New Democratic Party in this election campaign. You should put this blog high on your list of reads.

Larry Hubich's Blog

The President of the Saskatchewan Federation of Labour has an excellent overall blog, and in particular many keen and interesting insights and observations about the provincial election campaign. No list of blogs covering the provincial election would be complete without adding Larry's blog!

Birkbeck's Blog

Larry Birkbeck is a former Saskatchewan Progressive Conservative MLA and is now an independent political consultant. Larry has excellent political judgment, and his commentary on this provincial election campaign is ignored at our peril. I have never known Larry to be wrong in his assessment of the Saskatchewan political landscape, and his special insight will be invaluable in the days ahead.

The blogs I have listed above are all well written by intelligent people. Their coverage of the Saskatchewan election campaign is incisive, well thought out, creative, and credible.


21 October 2007

A new Beowulf movie

Coming November 16, another new movie based on the oldest story in English:  Beowulf.

The tagline on the in-theatre poster:  Pride is the curse.

Trailer 1:


Trailer 2 [Note:  nudity and violence]:



Simms and facts

VOCM, as its own promotions informs the listening audience, is a member of the Radio-Television News Directors Association. The RTNDA Code of Ethics states:
Broadcast journalists will inform the public in an accurate, comprehensive and fair manner about events and issues of importance.
VOCM is also a member of the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council. The Council’s Code of Ethics states:
It is recognized that the full, fair and proper presentation of news, opinion, comment and editorial is the prime and fundamental responsibility of each broadcaster. This principle shall apply to all radio and television programming, whether it relates to news, public affairs, magazine, talk, call-in, interview or other broadcasting formats in which news, opinion, comment or editorial may be expressed by broadcaster employees, their invited guests or callers.
Randy Simms is a VOCM on-air personality. On election night, he provided colour commentary on the results for CBC TV. During the course of the night he made assertions of fact which elicited this response on CBC’s Your View website feature:
I just cannot understand why Randy Simms is on tonight commenting on the election as he is far from an expert! For one thing, his comment that "the province's MHAs want what federal members get - they get a pot" is incorrect. If he had looked into this matter, he would have been told that federal politicians do not have a pot and are actually prohibited from giving donations, money to sports groups, charities, individuals, etc. - that's been the policy for years. When he makes remarks like these, he loses all credibility on his other comments. Otherwise, I have been enjoying your coverage. Lynn Tucker Torbay Posted October 9, 2007 10:13 PM

Lynn Tucker is right.

Randy Simms was, and is wrong.

And, in repeating the same assertion recently, on his own VOCM program, regarding federal members and their non-existent “pots”, he didn’t become any less wrong.

In fact, he became wronger, if that is even possible.

It is bad enough that certain members of the House of Assembly used the non-existent federal “pots” to justify their own spending practices.

They do not need Randy Simms, contrary to the radio industry’s own standards, to flog that falsehood for them.


High Priestess of the Cult

Personality Cult, that is.

Pam Frampton, Telegram story editor.

Her column could scarcely be more wrong factually, it could have easily been written for the recent Tory campaign.

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, the news media is the New Opposition.

The Danny-approved, new style opposition.

No opposition at all.

Just breathless support.


20 October 2007

Who ya gonna listen to? Me or your friends?

Adios, Bill Rowe.

After what seems like an eternity, Rowe won't be writing his weekly column in the Telegram any more.

Have a nice trip, Bill.

At least you can still serve as a divining rod for the backsides of the politically powerful every afternoon for a couple of hours.

There's lots of whinging from Rowe about how tough writing a column can be. Having to find something to say once a week takes such a huge amount of time apparently. One must keep abreast of current affairs, read newspapers and magazines, discuss issues with people, carefully weigh options for topics and then finally, put fingers to keyboard for the chore of banging out the words.

All tough stuff apparently, for a fellow hosting a current affairs talk show, for a guy who has been active in political life since he was accepted into the cabinet of the fellow who became a key character in Rowe's first book almost 40 years ago.

If Rowe wasn't serious - and so self-important in the process - one would take his references to writing his two novels as something of a joke. Writing a column in the Telegram apparently set back the completion of his second book by two years. Rowe's literary agent warned him at the time that writing a column "drain your creativity and dull your cutting edge."

Writing Victor Galanti was affected by a column?

Adversely affected too.


Writers will appreciate that expression of astonishment.

Clearly, the woman had no experience with good columnists or creativity, despite being employed as a literary agent.

The Telegram, you see, has been home to some of the finest writers the province has ever produced. These were people who could string together a few simple words to express an idea others could only get across with enough words to expand the OED. They wrote columns and articles and books.

At the same time.

And won awards for their work.

That they wrote at the same time they wrote a column.

and a book or two.

You get the idea.

Think Horwood.

Think Ray Guy.

Think Wangersky, even.

Rowe is leaving the Telly pages, apparently to give us the benefit of a memoir of his time in Ottawa as the Premier's personal emissary to Hy's, the original man in a blue line cab. Six months time, in total, to be exact. He figures it will be a series of columns in some unnamed publication. Oddly, this is a subject Rowe ignored - for some totally inexplicable reason - as potential material for his Telly column. A serial account of his time among the untermenschen or as Rowe puts it in his farewell scribble, "powerful and largely uncaring Ottawa."

Now he'll be giving up the writing of a column so he can devote time to writing a column on a subject he could have already written a column or two on, all the while moaning about how hard it is to write a column and recalling how a friend of his who just happened to be the literary agent for his two novels said writing a column makes you dull, as in thick, as in stunned, as in uncreative.

Doesn't make sense, does it?

Damn Right.

Anyone who has been reading Rowe for any length of time will be far too familiar with that concept.


19 October 2007

Show us the details, Walter

So Walter Noel wants the Liberal nomination in St. John's east for the upcoming federal election.

And he's indignant at the Auditor General's recent report on inappropriate spending by members of the House of Assembly.

better to suck it up, Walter, and stop whining about reporters showing up at your house.

Settle the whole matter toute de suite and without hiring an expensive solicitor.

If one of the self-described moving forces behind the Vic Young mythology committee wants to re-enter elected politics, he's only got to pass a simple test:

Reveal the names of all the people who received gifts - both in cash through donations and in the various items described by Noel and the AG - which Noel claimed from his public expense accounts both as a minister and as a member of the legislature.

Tell the voters what he bought, where he bought it, who he gave it to and how much it cost.

Noel's original story was that he had handed out gloves and scarves. Now it's supposedly women's golf shirts and jackets. See, if there had only been a couple of gifts, it's hard to imagine how gloves and scarves could be confused with golf shirts. Since Noel served as a cabinet minister for much of his time in the legislature he had access to two expense accounts. Maybe he was getting the two confused when he made his original comment, but since he was able to tell CBC radio on Friday what the invoices said that accompanied his expense claims, that tell us that Noel has a set of copies. So let's see the whole schmeer, Walter.

Send the information to bondpapers at hotmail dot com, Walter, and we'll be happy to tell taxpayers how you spent their money.

Better still, make photocopies of the receipts and claims available and Bond Papers will gladly post scans of them.

Under the circumstances, when you've already spent public money, Walter, and want another shot at spending it, you have an obligation to disclose exactly how you spent the money of a half million other taxpayers the last time you sat in a legislature.


Remember, remember the month of November?

labradore demolishes with facts the claims of the provincial government and some reporters as to why the House of Assembly cannot hold a fall session this year.


Watch this guy

An economist who can discuss economics concepts in plain English.

Scary thought from the dismal science corner - just kidding - but one we should all take time to consider.

Take for example, this simple observation about rising oil prices and the relative price of the United States dollar.


A facebook launch?

Other candidates have already announced intentions to seek the Liberal nod in Avalon.

Scott Andrews hasn't.


But he has a facebook group.

And a campaign sign.


18 October 2007

Enjoy the phone booth, Yvonne

sitting dayWhile it had plenty of time to get ready for a fall sitting, the Williams administration announced on Thursday that the House of Assembly would not be called into session until an unspecified time in early 2008.

The table at left demonstrates that the sitting days of the provincial legislature have been declining dramatically under the current administration.

The last session of the House also demonstrated the increasing tendency for government to rush important legislation through the legislature without thorough and proper debate.

The official excuse for the missed fall sitting - repeated approvingly by CBC's provincial affairs reporter without any analysis - is that there simply isn't enough time to get everything ready.

Sheer bunk.

A properly functioning government would normally be developing legislation in anticipation of a second sitting of the legislature. During the campaign, the premier indicated that several ideas in his party's platform, including the bootie call policy, were already being considered well before the election date. On top of that, in the current context, there are several issues that could stand with public scrutiny in the one place where any government can and should be held properly accountable for its actions, namely the legislature. These issues would include the Hebron negotiations, development of the Lower Churchill, the energy plan, health care (including the Burin radiologist case) and education funding.

There is no legitimate excuse for cancellation of the fall sitting.

Of course, there have been persistent problems with the current administration functioning on a smooth, orderly and timely basis. It took four years to proclaim its own accountability legislation and then gave an additional two years for full compliance once the act was proclaimed. A story in the Thursday Telegram (not available online) reported that privacy protection sections of a piece of legislation passed five and a half years ago have still not been proclaimed. Speaking on VOCM Night Line, justice minister Tom Osborne said that some government departments are still not in a position to comply with the privacy provisions and so implementation will be delayed until such time as all departments are ready. Osborne gave no timeline for implementation yet insisted - as with all issues facing the current administration - that the privacy provisions of the bill in question remain a "priority" for government.

As an ominous portent of the future, a Liberal party spokesperson had no problem with keeping the legislature closed for an extended period, saying only that perhaps the government might consider calling the House into session a little earlier in the New Year. New Democratic Party leader Lorraine Michael expressed some consternation.

However, if the re-elected members of the opposition parties continue their past practice of co-operating fully with government's efforts to speed passage of legislation, then the legislature might well wind up sitting for only a handful of days each spring.

The situation is reminiscent of the one in the late 1980s when the Peckford administration opened the House only when necessary. It severely restricted the budget of the opposition and, by keeping the legislature closed, forced the opposition to submit costly access to information to requests in order to find information that would have otherwise been available.

Given that Premier Danny Williams has such evident lack of regard for the legislature as an institution, it wouldn't be surprising if one of his caucus repeated the immortal words of a Peckford- era cabinet minister, saying that he couldn't care less if the opposition party met in a telephone booth.


Okay, Len. Holiday's over. Back to the teat.

So what exactly did Len do during his brief vacation that coincided, oddly enough with the period of the election?

No surprise at all.

He left the job to run the Tory campaign and now takes his patronage reward back for another four years.


17 October 2007

The deep roots remain

Harvey Hodder is the outgoing speaker of the House of Assembly.

His comments on the House spending scandal on Monday make plain that the people who endorsed, condoned, approved of and participated in the excesses simply do not appreciate that what they were engaged in was ethically wrong.

"Some members, myself included, paid some of my constituency expenses out of my own pocket so I would have more money to give to the school breakfast program ... I don't apologize for that," Hodder told a news conference at the legislature, saying the donations were the actions of "sensitive, outreaching, loving people."

"It is regrettable that there are hungry children in this province, in my former constituency, who could've benefited from some of that money."

As much as Hodder crowed about the new rules and the new standards, his own self-serving defence of inappropriately directing public money as cash gifts to individuals and organizations goes a long way to explain how the old system - which had rules - was systematically dismantled by the members of the legislature themselves.  Far from being a star chamber, the old House management committee comprised the senior leadership of the legislature, including successive Speakers.

If there was criminal activity, they did not know of it.  But they knew and condoned the excessive, and inappropriate, spending.  The allowances and assistance budget of the legislature was overspent by almost $1.0 million in the first two years of Hodder's tenure as Speaker. He and his colleagues knew that. They knew of the "donations" system and, as Chief Justice Green revealed, they overwhelmingly endorsed it. Newfoundland and Labrador was the only jurisdiction in North America and certainly the only one in Canada where elected officials had access to what amounted to a slush fund to dispose of as they saw fit.

The members of the legislature directed public money to whatever group or organization or individual they alone deemed worthy. They did so out of the public eye. They gave not a moment's thought - as Hodder makes plain - that the recipients of the legislator's largesse with public money were very often groups that received funding from the provincial government through established programs that were far more fairly and transparently administered than the legislature's scheme. 

As the school lunch association's annual report noted in 2003-04 (the last year available on line) "[e]ach year the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador contributes $75,000 to the program." The members of the legislature had it within their considerable power to increase funding through proper channels if there actually were "hungry children."  They had the ability to fund health care transportation or volunteer fire departments properly.  Instead, they elected to keep a fund available to themselves to hand out personally and largely secretly. If there are indeed hungry children in Hodder's district since the donations scheme was exposed, then that is because Hodder and his colleagues failed utterly to discharge their considerable responsibilities appropriately.

Hodder's staunch defence of inappropriate actions - even as he introduced new rules designed to undo the old scheme - should give every single voter in Newfoundland and Labrador considerable concern. While Hodder will soon be gone, his colleagues from all parties who participated in and enthusiastically endorsed the donations scheme have been re-elected.  Beth Marshall - the former auditor general - is even more strident than Hodder in her defence of of the inappropriate spending. There is no sign the re-elected legislators have changed their minds on what is appropriate and what is not, when it comes to spending public money any more than Harvey Hodder has.

And as the summer of pre-campaign love demonstrated, some politicians were quite willing to use public money for donations and to do so in a partisan fashion.

The roots of the House spending scandal are far deeper than most have been prepared to acknowledge.  The roots  - the very deep roots  - obviously remain.  Perhaps the new rules will starve them.  The people of the province can only hope the roots will rot.

Voters in the province would be justified in keeping a very close eye to make sure that, rather than starve the weeds, the politicians might find a way to nurture them to bloom in a new pot of public money.  Politicians who can see nothing in wrong in what they did, re-elected with what they may take an as overwhelming public endorsement of their actions, might find a way to bring back the old scheme in a new place.

As Harvey Hodder demonstrates - indeed as virtually all the old hands have demonstrated - self-serving rationalizations are never far from their lips.


The cult of personality meets political hegemony

The Telegram is fairly predictable, at least when it comes to chastising other newspapers in the country for editorials that attack the premier of the moment. Undoubtedly one could hunt through the archives and find telly-torials defending Brian Tobin, Brian Peckford or Joe Smallwood with the same vigor used lately to uphold the national honour of Danny Williams.

In the past couple of weeks, the Telly has taken to task both the Globe and Mail and, in today's edition, the National PostThe mainland papers are criticized for being out of touch or, in the case of the Post, for what the Telly termed "straightforward character assassination."

The Telegram editorials are also fairly predictable - at least on these issues - when it comes to getting it wrong for the most part;  take for example one point the Telly makes, namely the Danny Williams ads last year didn't say "Vote ABC".  This is so small a point as to be insignificant, given that the ads came in the context of Williams' campaign to encourage Canadians to vote for anyone but Conservatives. 

On the only substantive error of fact in the Post editorial, the Telegram is correct. The Post claimed the Nova Scotia deal on Equalization is better than the current Newfoundland and Labrador situation. It isn't.

The Post editorial makes its core point in the last sentence of the first paragraph:  "While his [Williams'] militant schtick has proven wildly popular in Newfoundland --he won re-election on Tuesday with nearly 70% of the total vote -- it will prove toxic to his province in the long run."

There's absolutely nothing new in this at all.  Many people in Newfoundland and Labrador and elsewhere have made the point that ceaselessly attacking the foreign demonios or blaming outsiders for everything is an approach that will ultimately work against both the Premier and the province.

The Post also makes a fairly obvious point, obvious that is to anyone who takes a few minutes to consider what is at the root of the whole Equalization racket between Williams and Stephen Harper, for example.

Williams came to office claiming and he continues to claim that his goal is to make the province economically self-reliant.  In the recent provincial election, Williams and his team members proudly declared that the province will become a "have" one within two years. 

At the same time, Williams major achievement from his first administration was to secure - wait for it - an additional $2.0 billion in federal transfer payments.  His feud with Harper is about - wait for it - continuing federal transfer payments to the provincial government, potentially as he originally sought in 2004 after the province no longer qualifies for Equalization. In other words, after the province becomes "have", which by definition means no longer qualifying for Equalization, Williams has been looking for ways to keep the federal hand-outs flowing.  So obvious is this logical contradiction in Williams' argument that Bond Papers noted it in 2005 in a post titled "The Independence of Dependence."

Ultimately, the shortcoming of both editorials is that they focus on the personality involved rather than on the substance of the policies involved.  This is almost inevitable given that Williams has become the personification of politics in the province.  And if the Telly editorialists missed this other really obvious point, Williams views himself as the embodiment of the province and its people.  As he told Rex Murphy, Williams believes that his party is so popular because he represents in his heart and soul, "the hearts and souls of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians."

The cult of personality has already seriously distorted public debate in the province on any issue of substance.  Given the political hegemony resulting from the recent election, the people of the province will have to see if any genuine alternative points of view arise.

If the Telegram editorial pages are any indication, it is unlikely that local news media will be willing or able to fill a very obvious need.


16 October 2007

Of course this never happens in Newfoundland and Labrador

Yeah, right.

These are just the talking points the news media have learned about. They never seem to be able to figure out how all those talk radio callers - especially the regular ones - seem to say exactly the same thing at around the same time as the political parties do.

Think back to the "bankruptcy" thing.

And oh yes.

The provincial government could never manipulate the opinion environment to influence a poll, either.

How do we know?

Just ask the company that polls every quarter for the provincial government.


15 October 2007

Logistics: a dismal science

Geoff Meeker raised a question this past week about the nature of election campaigns and media coverage. Specifically, Geoff took some exception to a comment by CBC provincial affairs reporter David Cochrane's comment that

The 21 or whatever days of the campaign is about working the phones, finding out who may vote for you, identifying them and then getting them out on voting day. It is a mechanical exercise with the air war of the leaders traveling around to give you a little bit of a bounce. But it’s an operational exercise more than a philosophical exercise.

Geoff then discussed media coverage during a campaign, arguing that news media should be adopting a somewhat critical posture during elections. As Geoff put it:

I think elections should be a time to ramp up the tough questioning of our politicians. Sure, send the reporters out on the hustings to tell us what the leaders are saying, and make hay when they screw up. That's part of the entertainment. But if that becomes the primary focus of our election coverage, something is wrong with the system.

Cochrane is right. During the 21 days or so of a campaign, the political parties ought to be focused on the essentially organizational exercise of finding the vote, fixing it in place and then firing it at the polls. Campaigning is a logistics problem in that it is basically about the marshalling of resources and managing their use. How the forces are deployed, how they are used and to what end is the strategic question but at the heart of strategy lies logistics. It is futile to develop a strategy calling for spending millions of dollars based on the deployment of hundreds and thousands of volunteers if either the cash nor the bodies exist.

This is not a deterministic argument. A comparative lack of resources does not equate to defeat, either in a specific battle or indeed even in a campaign, military or political. Misuse of resources, that is bad strategy, can and often does lead to defeat. What we saw in the recent provincial election was the result of both logistical differences among the parties as well as some pretty severe strategic errors. We also saw something that actually had nothing to do with logistics but rather another element of campaigns: will. This is where Cochrane's comment is wrong.

Politics is a clash of wills, a clash of ideas, supported by the clash of the machines. A candidate and a political party must want to win but there must be an idea that captivates the imagination or connects with the voters. Without a reason to vote, there would be only a handful of people trooping to the polling booth. Without the desire to campaign and to win, there is no hope of success for that party. There may be two competing wills engaged in the contest, and in that instance, the campaign will go to the one which better marshals and deploys its forces or which has the will to win. In western Labrador, the progressive Conservatives did not quit until the last ballot was in the last box; the new Democrats took the weekend off and effectively quit before they had finished. The stronger will won.

Similarly, as noted here, one of the most obvious things about the Liberal campaign was that the party - as a whole - had accepted defeat not at the start of the campaign but indeed weeks, months and possibly years beforehand. The outcome was only determined by the willingness of one party - in this case the Liberals - to accept the popular commentary that outcome was predetermined. Gerry Reid said as much in his concession speech. Compare that, however, to the British position in May 1940. Tossed off the continental by the Germans, her major ally defeated, and with few of its soldiers left outside German prison camps, Britain stood in a position where many countries had been before. Many countries had sued for peace. Many people expected the British to seek peace. The only thing that paved the way for the subsequent defeat of Germany at that point was the bull-headed determination of Winston Churchill not to accept the conventional wisdom.

Meeker is right here too, up to a point. Take a look at the CBC campaign blog and one finds a disturbing quantity of puffery, including the breathless references to Danny Williams being greeted like a rock star. The CBC is far from alone in this sort of superficial reporting, incidentally, but this sort of commentary - even if it didn't make it into the main stories - is surely an indication of the extent to which embedded reporters can become an integral part of the campaign which they are supposed to be covering at some distance removed:

I missed out on Fogo and Change Islands because there wasn't enough room on the chopper but my cameraman went along and shot what was some of the most interesting and confrontational tape of the week. People in both places had a long list of grievances to place at Williams's feet: the ferry service, outmigration, the hospital, and on it went.

'The hem of Williams's garment'

But Williams listened. His people took notes and promised to get back to people. But other than there and Goose Bay (disgruntlement over the Energy Plan is rife in Labrador) it was mostly about touching the hem of Williams's garment. There is no denying that the guy is popular. At times, it was like being on tour with Mick Jagger! I'm not kidding.

There is a lamentable tendency among news media to focus on the superficial aspects of politics. They will talk of polls and the horse race: who is ahead? Who is behind? is the Liberal campaign beset by a curse? Polls especially appear to the amateurs to be the essence of the campaign or indeed of politics itself. Which of the province's reporters - Cochrane included -has not spoken as if the CRA polls revealed the essence of all things political? In truth, those polls did no such thing. The Progressive Conservatives finished the current campaign with the same share of the total eligible vote as they did in 2003. The Tories won such a large number of seats this time around, not because they won the approval of the hosts forecast by CRA but because they held the singer and the Liberal vote never showed up at the polls.

CRA's poll results have indicated an apparent satisfaction level on some issues that were at odds with the overall impression. Newsrooms have an option to go with something other than the same pollster used by the government - either Liberal or Conservative - and yet for some inexplicable reason most do not.

Consider for a moment that in the recent campaign, reporters actually elected to rationalize - to explain away - what Danny Williams meant by the word "race" rather than simply ask him what he meant. The comment may have been meaningless but we will never know because the reporters in the room preferred to invent a meaning rather than ask a simple question. The Telegram gave front page prominence to a leak from the highest levels of the Tory campaign aimed at one candidate and yet a week later ignored the background to or implications of Tory claims about imminent bankruptcy contained in their attack on Gerry Reid's comment in Labrador. Did anyone consider checking the actual state of the province's finances?

In the final days, newsrooms ignored entirely Williams' sneering comment aimed at Ed Joyce and yet picked up on comments by the supporter of another party. This is nothing new; similar things occurred in 1996 or 1999 with another premier of another political stripe. There may well be aspects of the Liberal or new Democrat campaign that went unreported but that is really no excuse or balance. As Meeker rightly noted, newsrooms in this past election campaign didn't deploy resources to identify and report "inaccuracy, hypocrisy, blatant stupidity or deliberate untruth", irrespective of origin.

News media in the province - in general - have tended to focus on superficial aspects of politics over the past decade, much as their colleagues elsewhere have done. If anyone doubts the absence of distance - and its relative "skepticism" - consider that a year and a half later, that when it comes to spending scandal no one can say what politicians knew what, when and what they did or didn't do about it.

In a small media marketplace, the inclination of reporters should be to distance themselves from the subjects on whom they report. That distance will become more important to the public good in the next four years than it has been for quite some time.


The whiff of paving tar




labradore lays out the road paving record of the recently re-elected Progressive Conservative administration, demonstrating that there is a correlation between paving and the political stripe of the incumbent member of the House of Assembly between 2003 and 2007. Red = less money. Blue = tons of cash.

And that isn't because the districts in the Blue column were habitually neglected after long years of being represented by les bleues in a legislature dominated by The Grits. Nope. Many of the districts in the most-favoured for paving category, even as recently as the 2007 election were represented by Liberals before 2003.

When you've done with that post take a look at Scott Feschuk's description of Stephen Harper and his double standard.

It will sound very familiar.


14 October 2007

Election '07: A study in contrasts

If you want to see what savvy political use of the Internet looks like, then take a look at the Australian political parties.

Screen02The incumbent Liberal Party site has all the right bits including multi-media presentation, ways to get involved (donate, volunteer etc), and information on the platform. The site includes RSS which allows people to get regular updates without having to visit the site: in other words it pushes information at the voter in a way that can be viewed as either a supplement to other means of communication or as a way of bypassing news media filters.

Screen01The same can be said of the Labor Party site.

Compare that to the main websites in the recent provincial election Newfoundland and Labrador.

Screen03 While the Progressive Conservative site was the best of the three, it was very much the best of the old school. This is not a site designed to encourage citizen participation. It is merely a one-way message sending site and the only message really being sent is the face of the commodity being marketed.

Take a stroll through the site and look at the contradictory messaging. There's much talk of "team" but how many images show "The Leader" without a team anywhere to be seen?

Screen04 The Liberal site was built on the same basic concept of message send without any concern for feedback, interaction or even stimulation. There was nothing on either the Tory or Grit sites to do that: this is elitist, top-down politics.

The site was marred by dead links (let alone irrelevant ones) and a platform document that was cumbersome to access.

Take a look at the picture on the front. No people. Just a glum-faced Gerry Reid in what unfortunately became the defining image of the Liberal Party.

Screen05 The provincial New Democrats fell very much into the same old school approach and their website is just the non-election site with some new stuff on it.

Sure the provincial NDP is a small outfit and they are still suffering the effects of the long stagnant leadership of Jack Harris, but as with the Liberals, they really don't have much of an excuse for such an unimpressive site. This Internet stuff is actually easy and relatively cheap to do. For parties with little cash to throw around, Internet campaigns can be a way of reaching audiences inexpensively but very effectively.

While there's no way of knowing for sure - unless the parties released their traffic details - consider that the Liberals and the New Democrats likely had less attention paid to their online media than I.P. Freely did. A few clicks and you can find the youtube.com homepage for the I.P. Freely videos. Take a look at the total views for each one. Even the stuff posted during the recent election had hits in the hundreds and that's on a site that wasn't being promoted as heavily as either the Liberal or New Democrat ones. For all the technical and other flaws the I.P materials show, people were interested enough to look at them.

The Internet is a communications tool waiting to be used. The examples are there. Local political parties just have to decide to use it. Rather than moan about voter 'apathy", political parties just need to find new ways to reach voters.