30 September 2008

Dion brings in local heavyweight for debate prep

Some people will understand the importance of a seemingly small detail in this ctv.ca story:

According to Liberal insiders, Tim Murphy, Martin's one-time chief of staff, has been playing the role of Harper in the dry runs. Richard Mahoney and Mark Watton, also erstwhile Martin confidants, have played the roles of moderator and NDP Leader Jack Layton respectively.



The return of Marg, Princess Warrior

Harper is doomed!


CBC has more, including raw video.


Separated at birth: the international Connie speechifying version

Stephen Harper's 2003 speech on Iraq was lifted from a speech by Australian Prime Minister John Howard delivered two days before Harper's oration.

In classic Connie fashion, the gaffe has been blamed on a staffer.  In classic Harper fashion -  and in the interests of direct personal accountability - Harper stuck his spokesperson out front to toss a few  lines at the media.

The guy who wrote the speech is a fellow at the Fraser Institute and used to write speeches for Bill Vander Zalm and Kim Campbell.  Vander Zalm was premier of British Columbia.  Campbell was the short-lived prime minister who succeeded Brian Mulroney until the spectacular political disaster in the 1993 general election when her party was reduced to two seats.

What's update, Doc?

Conservative Doc O'Keefe, the St. John's mayor, wasn't trying to avoid politicizing a portion of the meeting at city hall on Monday night as your humble e-scribbler originally thought.

Turns out the loyal Connie and some of his fellow councilors  - also long-time Connies of the federal and provincial variety - were trying to make a political attack on the Liberal Party's Green Shift.

They were doing so by pretending to be concerned about the cost of the Liberals' environmental policy to taxpayers on things like public transit.

Yes, the boys who helped bring you the Coombs-Wells Memorial Money Pit, a.k.a St. John's Sports and Entertainment and the Mile One Stadium,  have developed a sudden, overwhelming concern for the taxpayer's bank balance.

Let's just take a second while you catch your breath and stop laughing.

Someone may have to get Nan a wee medicinal dram.  The shock of finding out Keith Coombs, Art Puddister and Doc O'Keefe don't want to piss her pension cheque down the nearest toilet is likely to give her the vapours.

According to O'Keefe, city staff figure the Green Shift will cost the city an extra $800,000 in 2012.

To put that in perspective, the annual city budget is currently over $175 million.  Over the past two years O'Keefe and his fellows at city hall boosted the subsidy to the Mile One money pit by more than double the extra 800K.

In making his nakedly partisan attack on the Green Shift, O'Keefe ignored the other aspects of the Liberal plan including federal cash for improvements to public infrastructure, public transit and energy efficiency for homes and buildings.

To really put this in perspective, O'Keefe is one of the crew that agitated for the government gasoline price fixing scheme currently screwing citizens of the province.

His sudden concern for taxpayers is a bit of a stretch.

Councilor Tom Hann - bless his heart - pointed that out to O'Keefe.  The former provincial Liberal candidate went a little gaga by dragging in the Connie Family feud but on the Green Shift part, Hann was spot on.

"I don't think we need to get into the political posturizing [sic]. I'm trying to keep this non-political," O'Keefe said.

Pull the other one, it's got bells on, Doc.

The surest way to cut down greenhouse gases in this city would be to find a way to silence the likes of Coombs, O'Keefe, Puddister and some of the others at city hall. 

Sadly, that isn't likely to happen any time soon, let alone soon enough.




Surreality Check, SJSMP version

Courtesy of CBC's St. John's Morning Show:

1.  Revanchism Redux.  NL First candidate Greg Byrne - who has been known to back a certain revanchist provincial first minister sans doubt - expresses amazement to a CBC reporter that people follow a certain other first minister unquestioningly.

Bryne apparently has never looked in a mirror.

Byrne is pushing many completely foolish ideas about Equalization and Confederation as part of his campaign.

2.  Meanwhile at Tammany on Gower.... Tom Hann, a St. John's city councilor who was once a federal Liberal riding president in St. John's South-Mount Pearl used a moment at St. John's city council to campaign for the Family Feud.

That's the Conservative family feud, for those who missed it.

Conservative mayor Doc O'Keefe attempted to cut Hann off with an admonition that council was trying to avoid the current federal campaign.  Something about trying not to bring politics into things, something clearly not motivating Conservative O'Keefe whatsoever in his comments.

Hann denied he was campaigning.

Then Hann stated his support for the campaign.


A new meaning to the term "bitch slap"

Wente on Mallick.

Nicely put on both the CBC and Mallick.


29 September 2008

Two degrees of separation, Mulroney space cadet version

One degree.

Two degrees.

It's a small world.


Down at The Mouth

CBC brass pulled Heather Mallick's September 5 opinion piece from The Mother Corp's website in the wake of a hail of criticism from many callers and e-mailer as well as coverage by such bastions of insightful, reasoned and factual commentary as FoxNews and Rush Limbaugh.

In his statement, CBC publisher John Cruikshank called the piece "intensely partisan."

Intense, maybe.




Much better description that covers everything from its gratuitous smears to its overall poor structure.  Acceptable in some quarters of the blog world.  Not really Cebb fare.

You can still read it, though, at Mallick's website.  Parts of the piece are interesting counterpoint to Mallick's tonguelashing of some of her fellow female columnists' treatment of Julie Couillard's chestal assets.

The Palin column should never have made it to the corporation's Internet space in the first place.  That's a comment on its content and style; not anything on it's qualities, such as the claim by CBC that it is classic political invective - it wouldn't even make the short list on a CBC Great Political Invective series in which second and third rate invective is voted on by ordinary Canadians with nothing better to do with their time than (a) watch the show and (b) make phone calls to support their chosen turd.

Your humble e-scribbler would commend Adam Radwanski's post on it for those interested in the little controversy.

Incidentally, Mallick also writes for the Guardian.  Her September 5 piece for that organ contains a few comments that deserve fact-checking - but on the whole it a more reasoned and insightful critique of Palin.

I never claimed a higher moral standing for coming from a great big empty on the map. Small towns are places that smart people escape from, for privacy, for variety, for intellect, for survival. Palin should have stayed home.

Canada has lots of hockey moms. They're called Fran and Nancy. They have cruel haircuts and their voices shake the rafters of the rink as their rink-rats play. How can I translate the hearty, jollying-along Palin for British audiences? She's a working class Joan Hunter Dunn. It's those volleyball shoulders and field-hockey thighs, the energy, the bullying, and the utter self-confidence in every lie she tells.

Salt-of-the-earthers don't lie! But Palins do. I watched Palin last night, my mouth open, my eyeballs drying out, my hand making shaky notes. I read them aghast.

Did she really joke, "You know the difference between a hockey mom and a pitbull? Lipstick."?

Yes, she did, Heather, and in the piggy lipstick kerfuffle south of the border, Americans seemed to miss that rather nasty slur at a female sub-group of which Palin obviously isn't a member. Being a hockey mom isn't a common enough thing among Americans for them to have noticed the Palin slur.  In Canada, she'd have been dragged behind the Zamboni for a few laps, then tied to the uprights so people could take turns pitching empty Timmies cups and stale Timbits at her from centre ice.

None of that matters.

What matters right now is that the mood at the arrogantly-styled Canadian Broadcasting Centre must be dark.

Bill O'Reilly took offense and the Ceeb caved.


Why the rush?

There are signs the Matshishkapeu Accord might run into some trouble in the Innu communities in Labrador.

Not surprising, at all, is that.

Expect some heavy concern among non-aboriginal people in Labrador as well, especially when it gets closer to defining Labrador Innu Land.  Any non-Innu people currently holding title to land in the area will have to be properly compensated or have their title recognized.

The land claim is a long way from settled.  The Lower Churchill deal is a long way from sanctioned if it is sanctioned at all.  These things are complex and they take time to work through all the details.

So one does have to wonder what all the rush was about last week.  By the Premier's own account the deal was cut in a week of intense negotiations that finished in an all-nighter Thursday.  The thing was settled before seven in the morning Friday and the newser was held before anyone had time to do much more than grab a quick show and head to the media gathering.

On something this important, it seems like a rather high pressure tactic to use, one where people are bound to make mistakes in the heat of the moment and under the undue duress of the style.

It's not like really bad deals haven't come out of just such an approach before.

Anyone else remember the mess that came out of just such a high-pressure situation in early June 1990?

Anyone else wonder what Danny Williams would have said if the oil companies tried the same thing on him?

This thing is far from settled.


Pull the other one, Bradley ...

Bradley George of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business says his members want to see taxes lowered to help them deal with labour shortages.

Okay, well, his members always want to see their taxes lowered

The reason isn't important;  lower taxes is a CFIB stock position. Pick an idea.  The CFIB position starts with lowering business taxes.

Not enough money coming coming in from business taxes? Lower business taxes says CFIB.  That kinda thing.

But look, it's hard to take that sort of thing seriously when half of George's members think Hebron is going to happen tomorrow.

Sheesh, next thing, they'll be asking for lower taxes to help them cope with Sasquatch.


28 September 2008

Fully-costed Dipper plan?

Jack Layton is releasing what is supposed to be a fully-costed New Democratic Party election platform.

Jack Layton already committed to handing over  - free of charge ? - the federal government's 8.5% share of the Hibernia offshore megaproject (1.3 billion barrels of oil estimated) to Danny Williams.

Where is the cost of that, Jack?


Nothing could be further from the truth

Hands up anyone who recalls a little spat between the parliamentary press gallery and the Prime Minister's Office over who gets to decide who asks questions during a prime ministerial newser?


Didn't think so.

One of the things Stephen Harper can add to his list of accomplishments is taking the cajones from reporters in the Ottawa press gallery.

The crowd that prided themselves on supposedly liking their meat raw and freshly stripped from the hide of an unsuspecting politician are now dutifully chowing down on whatever scraps their PMO handlers toss them.

Like the whole Daddy Steve series of photo opportunities.

Or the photo gracing the front online page of the Globe this nearly last weekend of the campaign.

364harper It shows the PM in front of a couple of signs held aloft by what appear to be adolescent women.

The signs read "I have a crush on Harper".

Does this not strike anyone as bizarre, in the extreme?

Let's leave aside for a moment the fact the young women appear to be holding the signs carefully so that the photographer they are evidently aware of cannot catch their faces.

When was the last time you can recall a political leader stirring the loins of young women or men in this country spontaneously?


Exactly.  And in this instance, it is clearly nothing more than an organized event, a complete contrivance.

The Conservative Party campaign is so hermetically sealed that a young woman from a television show with her credentials intact is hustled from the room and slapped in handcuffs.  There are many media events where the Prime Minister simply does not take questions.This is not an environment for spontaneity or sarcastic protests. 


These sign holders - with their perfect cut out letters and oddly matching design layout - were very likely officially approved participants in the photo op.

What we are looking at here is a fabrication.

They are like the stories of Harper at his high school reunion or with a family, especially babies.

They are to news coverage what those e-mails abut Viagra and some Nigerian bank official with bags of American cash are to your e-mail inbox:


However, the taming the gallery goes considerably further than just the odd stunt photo passing as something real. People die from tainted meat.  The agriculture minister discusses the issue on a conference call with government officials and places the handling of the crisis in both a partisan (wrong enough) and a personally partisan context (even wronger).

Reporters pen apologias that make the PMO press wranglers drool in envy, they could never have written stuff that aped sincerity so well.  News rooms, we are told, are places of dark humour.  Just like cabinet ministers' offices. Reporters and editors all deal with such weighty, difficult issues on a daily basis they resort to gallows humour to help them get through.  We must forgive Gerry Ritz for he is just human like the rest of us. 

Apparently, unlike Wayne Easter or the 17 dead and their families who are not part of the circle of people hefting the weight of the world on their shoulders..

And that young woman, slapped in cuffs?  She was from the entertainment side of things and after all, it was - as one report called it - a lighter moment on the tour.  No sarcasm in sight on that one, either.

The Conservatives run television ads which contain false information.  Not a peep of comment, certainly not the torrent with which it should be met when any political party resorts to blatant falsehood as a core part of its campaign.

Then there's the puffin poop.  The smudge of guano vanishes and news reporters trumpet the very wise apology offered by the campaign and wag fingers at the naughty staffers who supposedly slipped off the leash.

In such a tightly control campaign?  Gimme a break.

And the vicious personal attack site on which the guano was now gone?  Absolutely intact and free to continue presenting its officially sanction tripe, ignored by virtually all of the news media.  Its message  - a savage attack on a national party leader's character - survived the contrived apology built around fake bird crap.

The lightweight, the superficial reporting of this election campaign strikes all media forms, public and private. The early gaffes by the Conservative party and its multi-million dollar war room went largely unreported except in a couple of small corners, while the problems in the Liberal campaign, both real and many more imaginary, were front page news.  They continue to be. Whether its the news spaces or the blog spaces, there's an unmistakable tone to the coverage and that tone is light.

It seems to go a bit beyond the normal advantage that goes with incumbency.  There seems to be a certain active collaboration, an apparent willful blindness to the obvious on the part of many news outlets.

That likely sounds awfully familiar to voters in Newfoundland and Labrador.

They saw just Friday past the announcement of yet another investigation into computer security in the provincial government's system; reported straight up with no context,  like say the last time a security breach occurred and the release was turned into its own form of luncheon meat, prepackaged for easier eating by overworked reporters.

Or the "historic" "deal" with the Labrador Innu on Churchill Falls and the Lower Churchill:

CBC:  Instead of taking a direct ownership position, though, the Innu Nation has elected to take an equivalent royalty, which will amount to five per cent of net project revenue.

Globe:  The Innu will get royalties from the new project and, as part of the same agreement announced Friday, will receive millions in compensation for losses suffered in the 1960s when the Upper Churchill project flooded their lands. They also have secured varying rights to 27,000 square miles of land, with legal title to about one-fifth of that.

The same sort of thing is in included in other national and local coverage.

A 20 minute read of the actual agreement shows something else. A trip to the memory hole turns up something else on top of that.

Even old stuff, stuff that long ago was shown to be distorted, misleading and in some aspects downright false reappears in something purporting to be a "reality" check.

The quiet demise of the Family Feud goes unnoticed, even though early reports talked it up as the hottest thing this side of Sarah Palin.

If the polls hold and the Conservatives are re-elected with a strengthened minority or even a majority, odds are that more of the surreal coverage Canadians have seen during the campaign will be commonplace. That's certainly been the case in this neck of the woods under a Provincial Conservative government.

There will undoubtedly be times when it comes to news coverage that Canadians will find themselves falling back on a line that - odds are  - the federal Conservative leader will be using quite a bit, if the pattern holds: 

Nothing could be further from the truth.


27 September 2008

Read the fine print

More than half the owners of small- and medium-sized businesses in Newfoundland and Labrador surveyed by the independent business federation believe the province will have stronger economic performance in the next 12 months.


The federation's provincial director, Bradley George, says confidence is on the rise mainly because of the Hebron announcement last month that got the ball rolling on another major offshore oil development.

Stop and read that again.

Especially the last bit:

"Hebron announcement...that got the ball rolling on another major offshore oil development."


It did?

Boy, are they going to get a rude shock:

The Hebron project has not been sanctioned  and may not be sanctioned, according to the fiscal agreement released on Thursday by the provincial government and only the oil companies can make a decision when - if at all - to develop the project.

That's a huge change in policy for a provincial government that, in the wake of the first Hebron negotiating failure only two years ago, was threatening to legislate development of projects offshore.  The premier and others complained that development could be held up indefinitely by oil companies.

These people read need to read the fine print on these things.

Or at least Bond Papers.


When hum meets chum

First there was "Adios Indy."

Here's how Ryan Cleary described it:

Brian Dobbin, the publisher and financial backer, says his interest is not in Newfoundland anymore. Which is a shame to hear from the Newfoundlander who put so much of the hum in the Humber Valley. He’s disillusioned with this place, to put it mildly, but I’ll leave it to Dobbin to tell his own story. I don’t know the details.

Poor Brian is disillusioned.  Terrible news. Dobbin apparently lost money on the Indy venture over its entire lifespan which, Cleary suggests, was undertaken solely out of Dobbin's interest in journalism and getting to the bottom of stories.

Like the Terra Nova one Cleary mentions. 

What Cleary failed to mention was that the single source they used to support the piece recanted as soon as the thing hit the shelves. The Hibernia one Dobbin was supposedly interested in is also a pack of nonsense.  Cleary never printed anything on it because it doesn't exist.  They couldn't find anything,

Regular Bond Papers readers will recognise Cleary's version of things as a spin job.  You know spin:  it's the word public relations people use instead of the less polite term "bullshit".

Ryan - intrepid fact and truth uncoverer that he claims to be - wasn't happy with just mere "spin" so he torqued things  a bit more for a two-parter in The Current:

From my perspective, I say that Dobbin put a high price on the paper to ensure that any new owner was serious about the newspaper business.

Ryan's writing gives new meaning to "60 cycle hum".

Well, turns out that Cleary missed a hum alright, a hum-dinger of a story.

A handful of months after Disillusioned Dobbin killed the Indy, we discover that Humber Valley is in the hole to the tune of $50 million.

What's worse:

Apparently there was an operational debt of one million dollars per month to run the resort and one and a half million dollars per month to offer the direct flights from Gatwick to Deer Lake.

The monthly losses at the resort were being financed by the parent company and this was threatening the financial well being of the entire company.


Sounds just like the Indy, which Cleary says cost Dobbin $2.0 million in losses even though - as they always claimed - it was on the verge of breaking even.

Another story, entirely, right there and Ryan missed it.  


Did he ever bother to ask what his free flight cost the company?

If only he'd thought to ask, maybe he'd have had a much bigger story than the one he wrote at the time.

In the meantime, the Humber Valley resort was a great concept.  let's hope it can be salvaged.


Maybe next time we can make s'mores

Walter Noel is becoming something of a legend as a political pyromaniac.

He's seems intent on constantly setting fire to himself or, to be accurate, the smoldering remains of his political reputation.

His staunch defense of spending his constituency cash on gifts of perfume, crystal and clothing serves as gasoline which Noel insists on pouring over himself throughout this campaign.

He'll happily splash anyone else within reach, as well, as he did this week with both his opponent Jack Harris and his fellow Liberal candidate Judy Foote. Those two have been able to douse any fires with simple, straightforward explanations. 

The problem for Noel - and the flamethrower he brings to his self-roasting  - is his repeated excuse that his spending was within the rules and approved by the "highest officials of the House of Assembly."

Sure, Walter. 

We already know the "rules" were all but non-existent and one of those "highest" officials is currently facing criminal charges.

Noel has even gone so far as to claim his bone-headed actions in defended the misspending are brave or some such bit of silliness.

Well, the flames were barely fading from his latest round of bravery when the Telegram dutifully reminded everyone in the Saturday edition that Noel managed to blow an entire year's worth of public money in a single six month spree between April and October 2003. The genesis of this latest story was a news release Noel issued defending himself on the whole issue which itself resulted from some other media story generated by yet another brave defence by Noel


Noel's top expense that year was advertising: $3,261. He spent nearly $2,950 on over 50 restaurant and food claims - an average of about two per week. Brochures cost Noel just over $2,000; donations, nearly $1,800 more. Noel was also reimbursed for $1,367 in alcohol-only purchases at liquor stores.

Bear in mind that at the time Noel was a provincial cabinet minister with access to another sizeable expense account. We can only wait for the juicy revelations that come from the Telegram's investigation of that spending as well.

In itself, the spending is something voters might possibly have been able to get over in time.  Noel's repeated use of what amounts to easily refutable excuses - the "highest officials" crap - calls into question his judgment.

And his vehemence doesn't just make one a little uncomfortable. 

Coupled with his ludicrous plan to study building a tunnel to Bell Island, his unsubstantiated claims about his part in the 2004/05 offshore transfer deal, his pseudo-separatist dalliances, and his ranting about the "socialist" hordes in the New Democratic Party and their overspending way, his repeated defence of his own overspending suggests Noel is completely out of touch with anything vaguely resembling reality, political or otherwise.

Three things follow from all this:

First, the Liberal Party in Newfoundland and Labrador needs to tighten up its candidate vetting process and candidate selection process.  Big time.

Second, Noel's political future is deader than dead to the point that his vote count in this federal election might wind up being barely above his 1974 first effort.  Incidentally, that's when he ran on behalf of the "socialist" hordes.

Third,  Noel's only political value to this race - and it is sad to see it happen - is to give the only bit of light entertainment to a race otherwise made boring now that Danny Williams has abandoned his Family Feud campaign entirely.

If Noel wants to keep setting his own political ass on fire, there's not much any of us can do except sit back and shake our heads.

Oh, yes.

And maybe next time we can make s'mores.

That's about the only way Noel's candidacy can be said to have contributed anything to the current election.


26 September 2008

The Matshishkapeu Accord?

Some curious details lay in the clauses of an agreement announced today between the provincial government energy corporation and representatives of the Innu people of Labrador. Any lawyers out there who want to offer a different view or take issue with the following are welcome to do so.

Churchill Falls

CFLCo Privatization:  In the Upper Churchill section, for example, there is reference to a potential sale of the Newfoundland and Labrador interest in Churchill Falls Labrador Corporation to as yet unknown private investors. The "parent company" is the province's energy corporation.

For all the nationalist posturing by the current administration, it's curious to see a contingency established for the sale of such an important asset.  Language referring to the privatization of public companies exists in the energy corporation legislation.

Just the existing project:  The compensation payments to the Innu apply only to the existing physical plant of CFLCo.  Any expansions in the future aren't subject to the agreement.

Don't count your Chickens:  Clause 2 (a) establishes an annual payment of $2.0 million paid by the provincial government to the Innu Nation but it only begins on ratification and execution of the impact and benefits agreement...for the Lower Churchill project. No Lower Churchill;  no cash

Don't count your Chickens 2: Clause 2 (b) provides for an additional 3% of dividends received by the provincial government "directly or through a corporation owned by the Province." Someone might want to double check.  The Province - i.e. the provincial government - doesn't get CFLCo dividends directly.

As for a corporation "owned by the Province", that would refer to Nl Hydro, the company that holds the provincial government's 65% interest in the company that runs Churchill Falls.   It used to be held by NL Hydro and that company didn't declare any dividends in 2007.  Three percent of zero is...well... zero. Let's not even get into a discussion of the express statement that the percentage would only be paid on dividends on common shares.

Count those Upper chickens for the last time:  The payments under Clause 2 (a) and (b) are effective only if the Innu agree to give up any and all claims past, present and future related to aboriginal rights on the Churchill Falls project.

Lower Churchill

Don't count the Lower chickens either: Any payments are expressly tied to the sanction of the Lower Churchill project.

Don't count your chickens 3: The energy corporation will pay a minimum of $5.0 million annually to the Innu Nation from the period between first project sanction and first commercial power.  The payments run for a maximum of 10 years and can stop if the project stops for some reason.

After first commercial power, the energy corporation will pay the greater of the minimum payment and five percent (5%) of annual Net After Debt Cash Flow.

Sounds wonderful, except for two things.  At the front end of this project - if it even starts in the first place - that net after debt cash flow might be a really tiny number. It could be a negative number.  Read the definition of net after debt cash flow contained in the agreement and you can see the only thing not included in the calculation is the proverbial kitchen sink purchase and operating costs on the outhouses at the site, amortized over the life of the project and including an allowance for annual kitchen sink replacement, repair, refit, redesign and eventual decommissioning.

That would be very bad for the Innu because of the second thing.  Clause 3(c)(ii) states that 10 years after project sanction, that minimum payment of $5.0 million is equal to zero.  Nada. Zip.

And remember, the clock starts ticking from project sanction, not from construction.  If it takes the project 10 years to get on stream, the Innu could wind up receiving nary a penny once the power starts flowing. 

The ghost in the turbines:  Talk about your Churchill Falls.  Oy vey!

Even with that deal the provincial government gets something.  In this case, the Innu will have to settle all claims for the promise of getting $50 million ($5 million a year for $10 years).  And at the point power starts flowing? Potentially receiving absolutely nothing at all or a trifling amount for an unknown point beyond that.

Of course, if the corporation is sold off in the meantime, then the whole thing stops anyway. The agreement is oddly silent on that eventuality but odds are the clever legal bunnies working for the energy corporation know that not much would come of an Innu legal challenge. 

In order to get the first cash, they have to sign away all future claims and indemnify the energy corporation to boot.


And now the East Blocheads...

With the Bloc tanking in Quebec, it seems only fitting that the completely bankrupt idea should now spread east to a band of three people running under the Newfoundland and Labrador First Party.

Greg Byrne, the guy quoted in the story, lives in British Columbia.  He's running in St. John's South-Mount Pearl.

The party is led by a former Provincial Conservative cabinet minister.

Note that last line of Byrne's interview with Radio Canada (the first link above).  Nl First wants to change "the system".

Et si ça ne fonctionne pas, Greg Byrne envisage la création d'un parti pancanadien qui inclurait toutes les provinces à l'exception du Québec et de l'Ontario.

And if that doesn't works, sez Byrne, they'll just form a party that includes people from all across Canada, except Ontario and Quebec.

After that they'd probably let in people from the other two provinces and succeed in creating...

a political party of the type they claim is currently causing all the problems with the country.

Who said les Rhinos were dead?


25 September 2008

You be the judge

Voice of the cabinet minister wrote it up as if the Great Oracle of the Valley had misquoted Danny Williams. Looks like it was hastily written and hastily posted to the VO website:
Who Said What?
September 25, 2008
The premier says he was misquoted. Danny williams [sic] today emphasized he did not say the nurses (sic) union came to the table during the most recent session with a new list of fiinancial [sic] demands. We had indicated he said they were new. He actually said it was a list of proposals that.(sic) carried financial costs. Today williams [sic] made sure the union knew what he actually said. He phoned debbie [sic] forward.
Well, here's what the said, followed by what he now claims he said. (mp3 file link to VOCM: http://www.vocm.com/audioClips/508125_danny%20(web).mp3)

You be the judge.
Almost immediate update:

After a bit of searching, your humble e-scribbler turned up the two original stories.

First came this one:
Premier Says Offer to Nurses Fair
September 24, 2008

Government has thrown cold water on hopes by nurses and other public sector workers that they might be in line for the same 35 per cent wage hike given to cancer specialists. The Nurses' Union walked away from the table last week, apparently unwilling to go along with the province's standard offer of twenty per cent over four years. Premier Williams says the situation with the gynecological oncologists was a special case and hence the 35 percent salary increase. He says the offer to nurses of 20 percent over four years is fair. Williams says recent conciliation ended because the nurses brought a long list of new financial demands to the table.
The VOCM story containing Debbie Forward's reply is also pretty clear:
Nurses' Union Fuming Over Premier's Remarks
September 25, 2008

The president of the Nurses' Union is fuming in the wake of comments from the premier on their dispute with government. This week the premier said recent conciliation talks ended because the nurses brought a long list of new financial demands to the table. Debbie Forward says the union brought no new items to the table when they met last. Forward says they were hoping to get a response to proposals the union had brought to the table earlier this year, but that didn't happen. Forward says her members are very upset about the premier's comments.
A transcript of the original voice clip from a VO story on 24 September was included in a news release from Conservative candidate Craig Westcott that took issue with the Premier's comments as reported by VOCM yesterday. Westcott's been working hard to get a rise out of Danny the past couple of days, including likening him to a mafia godfather.

Anyway, the transcript of the original clip is important because the version here contains some words that aren't in the revised VO version:
"(The Nurses' Union) came in with 27 or 28 financial asks, one of those being obviously the salary template, but other financial increments. So, 26, 27 other items. Now we can't deal, we can't negotiate on that basis. If we can get down to a realistic shortlist that we can address, then maybe we're able to address some of the concerns…"
Was he misquoted?

You be the judge.

If Obama could talk with Jed...

A meeting between the real-life Democratic nominee and the fictional Democrat President in which Jeb Bartlet advises Obama to get angry:

They have to lie — the truth isn’t their friend right now. Get angry. Mock them mercilessly; they’ve earned it.

Obama isn't the only liberal democrat who could stand with that kind of advice on how to deal with conservatives.

In another potion of Aaron Sorkin's work of fiction, there's an unsettling discussion about the attitude of Americans toward people who speak English and are well educated.

Hmm.  Kinda similar to the views offered by some people about a certain politician's facility with English.  To say they exaggerate would be an understatement.


The candidate podcast - St. John's South-Mount Pearl

CBC Radio's Morning Show entertained listeners this Thursday morning with four of the candidates in the federal riding of St. John's South Mount Pearl.

Missing was Newfoundland and Labrador First candidate Greg Byrne who is living in British Columbia these days.

You can find the two-parter audio files  here and here for the Q and A or go to cbc.ca/nl, click on "Programs" and then "St. John's Morning Show."

No point in spoiling the fun, but there are a couple of bits that stood out.

For starters, it was pretty obvious Siobhan Coady is perceived as the front runner, given that Conservative Merv Wiseman and self-described aging granola Ryan Cleary  - running for the party he called "losers" on several occasions as a columnist - spent a good chunk of time attacking her and the party she's running for. 

Coady helped them immensely by spending too much time focusing on the attacks on the Green Shift and giving rehearsed talking point responses instead of substantive answers.

On top of that, Coady and Cleary seemed to be working hard to pull the Provincial Conservative vote. 

At one point, Coady worked Loyola Hearn's campaign slogan into her responses, talking about how the fictitious "we" need to "Stand up for Newfoundland and Labrador."  Put that together with her pledge on the Hibernia shares and the Lower Churchill (apparently the biggie items of concern to voters in the riding) and the raft of Provincial Conservatives (former Hearn supporters) knocking doors for her and you pretty much have ABC in a Box.

For his part Cleary repeated "Danny" and "Danny Williams" so often and pledged his unwavering support for "Danny" that listeners likely expected him to claim he was strong, proud and determined to stand behind...well...you know..."Danny".

Of course, it's not like Cleary didn't write the odd column about Danny Williams in the Independent that seemed like the mash notes of a teenager whose heart has been broken by an unrequited love. 

Or calling into question the need for rule of law because his hero was ticked off at some mean old judgy wudgy.

Yes, Cleary is running for the New Democrats, although he's been known to take another political bus.

Merv Wiseman kept up his end of the discussion.  With all the Danny-lovin' in the room he must have been confused at some points, what with his own pledge of support for Danny hisself only a few months ago when Merv sought the Provincial Conservative nomination in Baie Verte Springdale.

Check out the pictures on the Morning Show website and you'll see Green candidate Ted Warren wearing his trademark leather jacket and shades.  Over the air, Warren held up his portion of the chat but the pictures make it look like he was trying to hide his identity.

Oh well, the seat is Coady's to lose and the CBC program was entertaining if nothing else.

Thursday after next, there's a chance for some serious blood on the walls when CBC brings together the crowd from St. John's East.  Expect Craig Westcott to take some pokes at perceived front-runner Jack Harris during that one.

Next week, the candidates from Avalon will have a go at each other.


Noel returns to roots

Well, that is if you think New Democrats are just "socialist" big spenders who want to pour money - that is your tax dollars - down some gigantic bottomless pit all in the name of some vague purpose.

Now Noel wants to build a tunnel to Bell Island.

The road to nowhere in Alaska will now be matched by the hole to nowhere on the other end of the continent.  Nowhere in this case being where Noel's political future is headed, not the charming island in the middle of Conception Bay.

Noel, whose political fortunes in the current election are not looking good, seems to be thinking that if he channels Sarah Palin he might boost his chances of coming second behind Jack Harris.

What the heck could be next?

We shudder to think, given Noel's penchant for using public funds to pay for crystal, women's clothes and perfume he handed out as gifts.

Let's not even consider that maybe Noel's going to try some naughty librarian makeover next.

With every utterance, Walter Noel proves it is time for change in our politics. 

Walter makes it pretty clear that change is not Walter Noel.


Cult of Personality, federal version

Margaret Atwood in the Thursday Globe:

Or is it even worse? Every budding dictatorship begins by muzzling the artists, because they're a mouthy lot and they don't line up and salute very easily. Of course, you can always get some tame artists to design the uniforms and flags and the documentary about you, and so forth - the only kind of art you might need - but individual voices must be silenced, because there shall be only One Voice: Our Master's Voice. Maybe that's why Mr. Harper began by shutting down funding for our artists abroad. He didn't like the competition for media space.

Of course, it's far easier and far more effective to just toss a few bucks at the local "culture" club right before an election to get them to sing your praises.

And you can still have what Atwood calls a cult of personality.


24 September 2008

The return of the past in our present

1.  Past master of his domain: Lin Jackson, intellectual godfather of Newfoundland neo-nationalism during the 1980s comes out of retirement to pen a letter in the Wednesday Telegram. Sadly, it isn't online.

Here's an excerpt:

It was thus on Quebec's behalf that Pierre Trudeau's Supreme Court of Canada circumvented our constitutional right to free transmission of power across provinces; it was deference to favoured foreign nations that caused Fisheries and Oceans to mismanage, and finally ruin, the Atlantic cod fishery; and the opportunity to use offshore resources to finally become a "have" province was denied us due to Western objections coupled with Harper's view of us as a "culture of defeat.

Three points. 

Three fables.

It's nice to build an argument on things you make up.

2.  Clearyisms:  Before he edited The Independent, Ryan Cleary guided Geoff Sterling's venerable organ, The Herald. Here are some of Ryan's bons mots for your mid-week campaigning enjoyment:

[Jack] Harris' district of Signal Hill/Quidi Vidi takes in [the] east end of St. John's where the granolas live. The granolas are known for their intelligence and artistic flair and for voting against the grain. So many of them started out with high hopes to change the world... They still vote New Democrat, out of habit if nothing else... For the New Democrats, the trek to victory will only begin when the party sees itself as a winner. And not the loser that it is.  (March 2, 2003, p.3)

There have been charges that Williams has too tight a reign [sic] on his caucus. He shakes the criticism off, advising reporters to ask his MHAs if that’s the case. There’s also been talk for years that Williams has a fiery temper, and isn’t happy when things don’t go his way. Williams admits to having a temper in his younger years, but says he’s “mellowed with age.” (January 26, 2003)

The character and grit of a Williams’ [sic] government will only reveal itself when the administration stands on its feet and takes sole responsibility for its action. (January 19, 2003)

h/t to Mark Watton's post at democraticspace.com and a loyal reader for these blasts from the past.


The problem with being known, ABC version

1.  MUN political science professor Alex Marland, a former comms director in the Williams administration, pointed out to voice of the cabinet minister that the majority of Canadians aren't paying any attention to the Family Feud.

2.  Meanwhile, the Premier is still waiting for answers from the Liberals and Conservatives to his begging letter to Ottawa. Williams wanted a response by September 26 to his eight page list of cash demands from the federal government.  So far, Jack Layton is the only federal leader to reply.  Elizabeth May of the Green Party didn't get a letter.

Maybe there's a problem with being known.


Humber Valley Resort reporting online

Gary Kelly's eponymous blog has been doing yeoman service covering the goings-on at Humber Valley Resort as the resort goes through its current financial travails.

This story hasn't been picked up in the local media but odds are it will gain greater attention in the days ahead.

One of the items Gary posted is an e-mail from Newfound NV that discusses the company's efforts to turn the resort around.  It begins forthrightly enough and then lays out the rationale behind the current creditor protection arrangement:

As I am sure that you are aware, Humber Valley Resort has had a very difficult time since its inception. The company has never made a profit and has failed to deliver on many of the promises made to some of the related parties over the years. We (the new management team at Newfound) were unaware of the full extent of some of these issues until we began a thorough investigation into the operation and fiscal condition of the Resort. I have huge sympathy with you during this period of uncertainty, which follows years of inappropriate management within an unsustainable business model - you must be worried about the future of your investment in Humber Valley. [Emphasis added]

If you want to keep track of the saga of a great idea gone awry, Gary Kelly is on top of the story.


That was now, this is then

Walter Noel, Liberal candidate in St. John's East:

Electing an NDP [sic] could deprive the Liberals of enough seats to beat Stephen Harper. Voting NDP could give the socialists the balance of power in Parliament, the ability to wreck our economy.

Walter didn't always think that way.

Well, at least not in 1974.

Noel ran for the "socialists" in the old riding of St. John's West, coming in third with about 3400 votes. Walter Carter took the seat for the Progressive Conservatives.  Lillian Bouzane came in second for the Liberals.

S. Carey Skinner polled 143 votes for the Social Credit Party.

Will "aging granola" Ryan Cleary do better than Walter did 34 years ago?


"A" but "C" except before seal

Danny Williams may like to claim Stephen Harper is a kitten-eating lizard from outer space but when push came to shove last week, Williams gave up the chance to campaign against a key Harper minister in Nova Scotia.

Williams chief publicity agent responded via Blackberry (that's pretty much how she deals with everyone, apparently) to a Green Party request telling them that Williams wouldn't campaign with Elizabeth May against Peter MacKay "in large part due" to the Green Party stance on the seal hunt.

Huh? What about getting rid of Stephen Harper? What about spreading the word about how Steve and his minions will destroy the country? 

Geez, from the amount of time spent discussing this ABC Family Feud thingy you'd believe it trumped just about anything else.

Apparently, not.

Apparently, seal-bashing is that much more important than opposing pure evil. 

Or largely more important.

Or maybe the real reason is less about seals and more about the politics of the whole Family Feud.

Firstly, the ABC campaign is really just a family affair;  it's a gripe one bunch of Conservatives have about another bunch.

Secondly, it's a negative thing.  As such, the rhetoric will centre on why people should vote against one federal party but there is absolutely nothing in it to explain what people should vote for.

Thirdly, and related to that, Danny Williams would have a hard time justifying spending time on the ground campaigning for one federal candidate against another federal candidate.  There's an unwritten rule in Canadian politics that federal politicians and parties don't inject themselves directly in a federal campaign and vice versa.  If Danny Williams takes to the campaign trail actively working against a federal party, he'd be inviting retaliation the next time he goes to the polls.

That's no small issue, especially in a small province like Newfoundland and Labrador. Having screwed over the federal Liberals and now the federal Conservatives, Williams would be running a huge political gamble that they wouldn't look for some payback in 2011 or whenever Williams calls a vote again.

And make no mistake:  it wouldn't be about punishing either the province as a whole or the party Williams leads. Any intervention by federal parties would every bit as personal as Williams' attacks.  There's a good reason why Williams pulled back from focusing on Fabian Manning, the only incumbent Conservative and the one most likely to hang on to his seat.

Fourthly, the unwillingness to campaign actively for a candidate can be traced back to the polls. Initial polls show that after two years of ABC rhetoric 30-odd percent of voters in Newfoundland and Labrador intend to vote for the federal Conservatives in this election.

As much as some people would like you to believe the two parties are completely different, they aren't.  That 30-odd percent is entirely made up of the core that in provincial elections votes with the Provincial Conservatives.  Depending on which poll you want to look at, that percentage makes up a half or three quarters of Williams' core vote. If those people are immune to his ministrations at the outset, the only way to suppress them or swing them would be with a campaign that ultimately would have runs the risk of opening up severe cracks within Williams' own party.

The federal Conservatives have already pressed on that sore spot several times.  Williams himself gave some credence to it when he responded to a claim by Loyola Hearn about fissures in the provincial Tory caucus by demanding loyalty declarations from his 43 caucus mates.  Other politicians would have sloughed off the Hearn claim.  Williams' actions left the clear impression there was a concern over caucus solidarity.

Think about it for a second. Danny Williams already redefined the objectives for his ABC campaign and he did so - fairly obviously - in the face of public opinion polls that shows he likely won't even be able to deliver a goose egg to the Conservatives in his own province, as he consistently used to claim as the goal.  If he is unlikely to deliver a goose egg in his own province, any effort to unseat incumbent Conservatives elsewhere in the country would only serve to weaken his political position later on. Better to haul back now than have to face the jibes and taunts later on.

And look, fifthly, it's not like Williams ever considered Elizabeth May important enough to bother with before.  She may be a national party leader in the leaders' debate but Danny didn't send her a begging letter.  Odds were against him hitting the doorsteps on her behalf now.

If not of that was persuasive, there's a sixth good reason why Danny Williams won't be spending much time on the hustings outside Newfoundland and Labrador. There are major issues on the public agenda right now in Newfoundland and Labrador. Huge ones.  Ones that typically turn up at the top of polls about what weighs on voters' minds.  There is simply no political value for Danny Williams to spend four or five weeks knocking doors and giving speeches across the country when the job he was elected to door appears to be left untended. As much as it might be possible to run the place and campaign simultaneously, the public perception  - especially in light of the polls and the likelihood of success - make that an even more risky venture than any of the others alone.

Put it together in a package and the whole idea of an active ABC campaign just becomes too dangerous a political proposition.

So Danny won't help Elizabeth May, in large part due to the seal hunt.

If that helps you sleep at night, go ahead and believe it.


23 September 2008

Everyone chill...for now

After a one day panic, oil prices settled back down on Tuesday.

NYMEX crude for November delivery was at US$106.81, with the spot for Brent and West Texas Intermediate at, respectively, US$101.70 and US$107.86.

Brent is the closest thing in price to Newfoundland light, sweet incidentally.

Oil prices may swing up and down over the next couple of days or even into next week, with much depending on the massive bail-out package working its way through the American federal Congress.

On the whole, though, it looks like oil will continue a generally downward trend over the next few months.

The implications of this dropping oil price will become more apparent for Newfoundland and Labrador very shortly.


Nanos: it's all in the methodology


That pretty much explains why Nanos Research numbers are typically just a bit different - and sometimes quite a bit different - from the ones coming from a majority of national pollsters.

Now mind you, this is not really a problem for ordinary mortals.

They aren't substituting extensive rationalizations of Gerry Ritz's appalling comments (They pay Connie hacks big bucks to apologize for Harper's crew;  we don't need it from CTV) for something like thoughtful, balanced coverage.

They aren't even pondering the bizarre universe in which The Star and National Post columnists share essentially the same view of the Liberals and apparently the same goal of slagging the party at every opportunity. We await Don Martin's new job editing Toronto's other other newspaper that at least knows it has nothing to offer anyone outside the GTA.

Their peculiar brand of tripe comes not from actually covering the campaign but from reading some dodgy polls, chatting with a few mates here and there to confirm previous opinions and then disengaging whatever is stored 'twixt the ears in order to bash out a few words for the rag that pays the bills.

Sadly, that's pretty much the trend for this federal election, one in which tuning in to CTV, the typical Canadian viewer likely wonders when Bill O'Reilly will be turning up to take Kate Wheeler's spot.

Those are the people who have a problem with Nik Nanos and his numbers.

The rest of us are just enjoying the show.


Family Feud, world of wonder version

hearn   PC Only two short years ago, Provincial Conservatives were lining up to get their picture taken with a Conservative brother running for re-election for what turned out to be the last time.

This ad - paid for by the federal Conservatives - appeared in the Telegram in early December 2005.

The guy seated on the far right of the picture is Loyola Sullivan, the finance minister at the time.  He quit federal politics not long after this picture only to take up a job with the federal Conservatives.

The guy behind him is former speaker Harvey Hodder.  He retired before the 2007 provincial election.

Immediately to Loyola Hearn's right is Sheila Osborne, part of the Osborne-Ridgley political machine.

The guy standing right behind Loyola Hearn - with that great big grin on his face - is Bob Ridgley, brother of Sheila. You will recall him as the Conservative who supported Belinda Stronach for leader even though, by his own words, he thought she was "shallow as a saucer".

Bob is now Danny Williams' parliamentary assistant.

The other two guys are - left to right - Shawn Skinner and Dave Denine. Skinner is the provincial human resources cabinet minister and Denine is looking after municipal affairs.

You'll recall Skinner was taken to the woodshed by Danny Williams for going off the ABC message track.  He was made to apologize publicly for his transgression.

Denine's had a few problems of his own, but never for doing something that went against orders from the top.

Interesting picture that, if only because it makes you wonder when they line up behind a candidate if they really do it out of personal choice or if they have been directed by some authority or other.

Makes you wonder that if they lend you support do they expect a quid pro quo, a back scratch in return.

Makes you wonder what happens if you don't do what they (or the authority doing the directing) wants.

Of course, it makes you wonder too if one of these is Loyola's mole.


22 September 2008

Connie Surreality Check

Stephen Harper is criticizing the Liberal platform.


Like they did such a great job with their platform last time.


Family Feud Surreality Check, Part Deux

Wayne Bennett is a candidate for the Newfoundland and Labrador First Party.

He is running against incumbent Gerry Byrne, a Liberal.

Mr. Bennett is also a director of the Humber Valley Provincial Conservative association.

He is campaigning on the argument that in the existing system, according to the weekly in the riding:

MPs elected to the governing party hide behind that party's decisions. ...Meanwhile, he says, MPs elected to political parties not holding the reins of government don't have the power to make demands for Newfoundland.

Mr. Bennett talks about the importance of electing five NL Firsters to allow for some tough bargaining in a minority parliament.

A few things come to mind:

First, Mr. Bennett should know that there are seven seats in Newfoundland and Labrador, not five as he kept mentioning during his interview.

Second, the province includes Labrador, so that "and Labrador" thingy in the party name is important.

Third, minority parliaments have been a rarity in Canadian federal politics in recent times.  A plan built for a double rarity - minority parliament and one where five votes going as a block have some value - is pretty much useless.

Fourth, the Blochead concept is pretty much defunct.  The gommels elected for the past 18 years from Quebec - essentially working like the Creditistes of old - haven't accomplished much more, even in minority parliaments, than fatten up their individual pension plans.

Fifth, there are only two NL First candidates in the current election.  That pretty much shoots the whole campaign theory to heck. "But I'm courting four more candidates,"  Mr. Bennett told the Northern Pen.

Sixth, if the problem with the current system is that members of parliament elected to represent their constituents fall under the control of an organized political party and that party's leader and act in the party and leader's interests instead of that of their constituents, then a guy who is running who also sits on a Provincial Conservative district association is pretty much already committed to a partisan course, rather than the course desired by the constituents.



A campaign of ideas

Instead of egos and vicious personal attacks.

What a concept.

Noob candidates - and some more knob than noob - could do with a dose of Ken Dryden's approach to campaign speechifying.

As a golfer, I can hit the ball a long way.  The problem is I can’t hit it in the right direction.  And a ball hit - decisively, competently - in the wrong direction is a ball that goes further and further and further into the woods.  History is filled with leaders who have competently, decisively gone in the wrong direction with disastrous results.

Where is Mr. Harper’s “where”?

He doesn’t seem to want to talk about that.  In making this election all about him, he is doing his best to make this election about nothing.  It’s his “Seinfeld campaign.”  But in 2008, how can that be?  This is a time when the cost of carbon economically and environmentally is forcing the world’s countries to re-imagine the future.  To reward the constructive and punish the destructive.  To act.  To change.  To create the hard-won possibilities to compete in the economy ahead.


Fried Greens at the Whistestops

Green Party supporters are anxiously awaiting leader Elizabeth May's whistlestop election tour of Newfoundland and most of Labrador, where there is no train.

The odd Green voter in western Labrador can wonder if May will somehow get herself to Sept Isles in Quebec and then hop an ore car to Labrador City and Wabush.


High tech Hijinks

Someone spoofing the Prime Minister's e-mail is serious, but funny, given that the listserv involved had a huge security loophole that should have been identified and plugged.

Thanks heavens national electronic security is in the hands of experts at the Communications Security Establishment rather than the political hacks in the current Prime Minister's Office. At least important stuff is safe.

Ya know, another Conservative first minister had a similar problem a couple of years ago.

Of course that guy had an episode earlier where he claimed someone was hacking his office.

That turned out to be someone trying to access a printer in the Provincial Conservative from another office in the same building.

The police were called.  (Did they know the truth before the police were called?)

The media were called in, too and all sorts of wild and completely unfounded accusations were tossed around.

The whole episode was more farce than anything else but the media dutifully reported the Conservative leader's Get Smart claims of a hacking attempt.

Even at the time, the whole thing looked more like part of a continuous pattern of vicious personal attacks, smears and innuendo than something to bother the police about.

But bothered they were.

The police found nothing...

...not surprisingly at all.

No charges were filed at all.


The charge of the light brigade

He just doesn't get it, does he?

Walter Noel, that is.

Determined to wear the House of Assembly spending scandal forever and a day.

Here's a clue, Walter:  it isn't a case of guts, even capelin guts.

It's a matter of sheer stupidity to continue to defend an abuse of public funds (along with the rest of your colleagues).

It's incomprehensibly dumb to claim that "spending was all in keeping with regulations, and approved by the highest officials of the House of Assembly"  when it's pretty clear there were no regulations of any consequence and the "highest officials" would have - and very often did - approve just about any expense claim for anything at all.

Walter Noel clearly doesn't get it, some 18 months after the rest of the world found out about the unmitigated mess in the House of Assembly.

And as long as Noel continues to shoot himself between the eyes, that's not the only thing Walter won't get come the middle of October.


21 September 2008

How time flies

The year:  2004

The issue:  Premier Danny Williams legislates public servants back to work and his caucus votes to impose a two year wage freeze on them.

Unknown at the time:  At the same time, members of the House of Assembly gave themselves a bonus payment of $2800 bucks, a fact kept secret until the province's auditor general ripped the lid off.   Danny Williams didn't take the cash but he didn't stop it from going to others, either.

What Danny said about Reg:

“I don't like to use the word liar. But he's misleading and he's wrong and it's dishonest. Now that's as close as we can come."

What then NDP leader Jack Harris said about Danny:

"I’m surprised and dismayed that the Premier would launch such an attack. There is a strong body of opinion that government is exaggerating the nature of the province’s fiscal situation. And it’s pretty clear that the Price Waterhouse Report’s assumptions for the future were extremely negative. There’s also no doubt the Premier used these numbers to frighten the public and try to build support for drastic measures by government...”.

Frighten the public?

Oh dear.

Such nasty words.

How time flies.


Reg didn't get the memo

Lorraine Michael, provincial New Democratic party leader at her party's 2008 biennial convention:

One of the things that I hear people say, and I hear it over and over…I’ve heard it a number of times actually is ”…now you have to remember that this government is not like Ottawa. Danny [Williams] is not Stephen Harper.” And part of me says “yea, that’s true, they’re [government] not as bad.” But when I look at it, a conservative, is a conservative, is a conservative. And we’ve got to get that message across to the people in this province.


And I wanted to speak a bit, well not a bit as a lot of it is going to be based on that…a conservative is a conservative is a conservative. [Emphasis added]

Apparently, outgoing labour uber-boss  Reg Anstey is of a different opinion, at least as voice of the cabinet minister is reporting:

Meanwhile, the Federation of Labour is standing behind Danny Williams and his ABC campaign. President Reg Anstey says Canada run by Stephen Harper will not be kind to workers, their families, or to this province. He says Harper's agenda has the potential to be very dangerous for Newfoundland and Labrador. He says it will be a good thing if at the end of the day they send a goose egg to Ottawa. He says we've only seen the tip of what the government will look like if it gets a majority.



The wisdom from the centre of the universe:

There is nothing to be gained from stoking federal-provincial tensions, particularly at a time when Canada is facing sweeping economic challenges that will require co-operative responses. Yet that is the likely result when provincial leaders decide that their own ponds are not big enough.

Such a definitive answer to a good question the Globe editorial writer might have asked before tapping indignantly on the keyboard.


Family Feud Surreality Check

"You can't run a government with a one-man show, and that's what Mr. Harper wants to do," [Bob Rae] said. "I don't think that's the way Canadians want their government to operate."

Then there's this comment by columnist Peter Pickersgill about someone else:

The premier is a great campaigner at election time. He's a great man to pick a fight. Just ask the members of the Hebron consortium or Stephen Harper. But I wouldn't accuse him of being a creative thinker or a shaper of innovative policy. That's too bad, because he's running a one-man band.

From the this is now file:

Williams also rehashed past statements Harper made in which the prime minister referred to Canada as being a "northern European welfare state" and spoke of Atlantic Canada's "culture of defeat."

"For hard-working Newfoundlanders and Labradorians ... this stereotypical slur did not sit well with any of us," Williams said.

and the that was then file:

"I think Atlantic Canadians are going to be very pleasantly surprised and pleased with the performance of Mr. Harper," said Williams.

Maybe someone should invoke names to conjure with:

Fact is, Newfoundland and Labrador hasn't had a truly effective minister in Ottawa since John Crosbie.

while conveniently forgetting how the effective fellow dealt with the Equalization issue almost 20 years ago:

"I'm getting a little tired of them trying to have their cake and throwing it up too. They can't do both."



20 September 2008

"Reality Check" reality check on Equalization and the Family Feud

The crew that put together's CBC's usually fine "Reality Check" can be forgiven if they missed a few points by a country mile in a summary of the Family Feud.

Forgiveness is easy since the issues involved are complex and  - at least on the provincial side since 2003 - there has never been a clear statement of what was going on.  Regular Bond Papers readers will be familiar with that.  For others, just flip back to the archives for 2005 and the story is laid out there.

Let's see if we can sort through some of the high points here.

With its fragile economy, Newfoundland and Labrador has always depended on money from the federal government. When they struck oil off the coast, the federal government concluded it would not have to continue shelling out as much money to the provincial treasury. N.L.'s oil would save Ottawa money.

Not really.

Newfoundland and Labrador is no different from most provinces in the country, at least as far as Equalization goes.  Since 1957 - when the current Equalization program started - the provincial government has received that particular form of federal transfer.  So have all the others, at various times, except Ontario.  Quebec remains one of the biggest recipients of Equalization cash, if not on a per capita basis than on a total basis. Economic "fragility" has nothing to do with receiving Equalization.

In the dispute over jurisdiction over the offshore, there was never much of a dispute as far as Equalization fundamentally works.

Had Brian Peckford's view prevailed in 1983/1984, Equalization would have worked just as it always has.  As soon as the province's own source revenues went beyond the national average, the Equalization transfers would have stopped.


That didn't work out.  Both the Supreme Court of Newfoundland (as it then was called) and in the Supreme Court of Canada, both courts found that jurisdiction over the offshore rested solely with the Government of Canada.  All the royalties went with it.

In the 1985 Atlantic Accord, the Brian Mulroney and Brian Peckford governments worked out a joint management deal.  Under that agreement - the one that is most important for Newfoundland and Labrador - the provincial government sets and collects royalties as if the oil and gas were on land.

And here's the big thing:  the provincial government keeps every single penny.  It always has and always will, as long as the 1985 Accord is in force.

As far as Equalization is concerned, both governments agreed that Equalization would work as it always had.  When a provincial government makes more money on its own than the national average, the Equalization cash stops.

But...they agreed that for a limited period of time, the provincial government would get a special transfer, based on Equalization that would offset the drop in Equalization that came as oil revenues grew.  Not only was the extra cash limited in time, it would also decline such that 12 years after the first oil, there'd be no extra payment.

If the province didn't qualify for Equalization at that point, then that's all there was.  If it still fell under the average, then it would get whatever Equalization it was entitled to under the program at the time.

The CBC reality check leaves a huge gap as far as that goes, making it seem as though the whole thing came down to an argument between Danny Williams and Paul Martin and then Danny and Stephen Harper.

Nothing could be further from the truth, to use an overworked phrase.

During negotiations on the Hibernia project, the provincial government realized the formula wouldn't work out as intended. Rather than leave the provincial government with some extra cash, the 1985 deal would actually function just like there was no offset clause. For every dollar of new cash in from oil, the Equalization system would drop Newfoundland's entitlement by 97 cents, net.

The first efforts to raise this issue - by Clyde Wells and energy minister Rex Gibbons in 1990 - were rebuffed by the Mulroney Conservatives.  They didn't pussy foot around. John Crosbie accused the provincial government of biting the hand that fed it and of wanting to eat its cake and "vomit it up" as well.

It wasn't until the Liberal victory in 1993 that the first efforts were made to address the problem.  Prime Jean Chretien and finance minister Paul Martin amended the Equalization formula to give the provincial government an option of shielding up to 30% of its oil revenue from Equalization calculations.  That option wasn't time limited and for the 12 years in which the 1985 deal allowed for offsets the provincial government could always have the chance to pick the option that gave the most cash.  It only picked the wrong option once.

The Equalization issue remained a cause celebre, especially for those who had been involved in the original negotiations.  It resurfaced in the a 2003 provincial government royal commission study which introduced the idea of a clawback into the vocabulary.  The presentation in the commission reported grossly distorted the reality and the history involved. Some charts that purported to show the financial issues bordered on fraud.

Danny Williams took up the issue in 2004 with the Martin administration and fought a pitched battle - largely in public - over the issue.  He gave a taste of his anti-Ottawa rhetoric in a 2001 speech to Nova Scotia Tories. Little in the way of formal correspondence appears to have been exchanged throughout the early part of 2004.  Up to the fall of 2004 - when detailed discussions started -  the provincial government offered three different versions of what it was looking for.  None matched the final agreement.

The CBC "Reality Check" describes the 2005 agreement this way:

The agreement was that the calculation of equalization payments to Newfoundland and Labrador would not include oil revenue. As the saying goes, oil revenues would not be clawed back. Martin agreed and then-opposition leader Harper also agreed.

Simply put, that's dead wrong.

The 2005 deal provided for another type of transfer to Newfoundland and Labrador from Ottawa on top of the 1985 offset payment.  The Equalization program was not changed in any way. Until the substantive changes to Equalization under Stephen Harper 100% of oil revenues was included to calculate Equalization entitlements.  That's exactly what Danny Williams stated as provincial government policy in January 2006, incidentally.  The Harper changes hid 50% of all non-renewable resource revenues from Equalization (oil and mining) and imposed a cap on total transfers.

As for the revenues being "clawed back", one of the key terms of the 2005 deal is that the whole thing operates based on the Equalization formula that is in place at any given time. Oil revenues are treated like gas taxes, income tax, sales tax, motor vehicle registration and any other type of provincial own-source revenue, just like they have been as long as Equalization has been around.

What the federal Conservatives proposed in 2004 and 2006 as a part of their campaign platform - not just in a letter to Danny Williams - was to let all provinces hide their revenues from oil, gas and other non-renewable resources from the Equalization calculations.  The offer didn't apply just to one province.  Had it been implemented, it would have applied to all. 

That was clear enough until the Harper government produced its budget 18 months ago. What was clear on budget day became a bit murky a few days later when Wade Locke of Memorial University of Newfoundland began to take a hard look at the numbers.

Again, that's pretty much dead wrong.

It became clear shortly after Harper took office in 2006 that the 100% exclusion idea from the 2004 and 2006 campaigns would be abandoned in favour of something else.  There was nothing murky about it at all. So plain was the problem that at least one local newspaper reported on a fracas at the Provincial Conservative convention in October 2006 supposedly involving the Premier's brother and the Conservative party's national president. That's when the Family Feud started.

As for the 2007 budget bills which amended both the 1985 and 2005 agreements between Ottawa and St. John's, there's a serious question as to whether the provincial government actually consented to the amendments as required under the 1985 Atlantic Accord.

The story about Equalization is a long one and the Family Feud - a.k.a the ABC campaign - has a complex history.  There's no shame in missing some points.  It's just so unusual that CBC's "Reality Check" was so widely off base.


Inconsistencies ?

Brian Crawley, chief of staff, Premier's Office, in testimony at the Cameron Inquiry on the extent to which he involved himself in departmental business:

Mr. Crawley:  At this stage of the game our role would have been very much just to have been advised of it , and I would have treated this issue the same as , you know , 99 percent of the other issues that come forward , you know. It's the department's job to manage it and if there is something there we should be aware of , I would expect to be made aware of it.

Commissioner : So forgive me , but that means no role , doesn't it?

Mr. Crawley: Yeah , no role in the sense of we actually have to do anything.

[Emphasis added]

Then there's this curious extract from the memos, e-mails and other documents that show the extent of government interference in efforts to hire a new president at Memorial University.

imageCurious because it seems to run contrary to Crawley's assertion that his office doesn't get involved in departmental business, at least not usually.

"I understand Brian C[rawley] will have called you on behalf of the Premier with the details."

That's a reference to the Premier's chief of staff and a call Crawley apparently made to education minister Joan Burke "on behalf of the Premier."






And how long will it take some people to notice the flat lines?

That Family Feud thing is really having an effect on the election campaign.


19 September 2008

Layton to Danny: Anything you want

The first response is in to the latest round of begging letters to Ottawa, to quote Jack Harris, and if Danny William endorses any federal leader this time out, Jack's likely to get the nod. 

Jack Layton said "yes" to pretty much everything Danny Williams asked for.

What a shock.

The first letter begs for cash.

The reply begs for votes.

Anyway, Jack Layton's NDP will campaign to restore air force training in Goose Bay which would be exactly the training Jack Layton campaigned against in 1994 and his party has worked against federally since then.

Layton even lifts a page from the 2006 and 2008 Conservative election platform, promising to create a "territorial defence battalion" - whatever that is - in St. John's.

Jack even agrees to get involved in a thinly disguised request for financial assistance to a troubled private sector land development on the island's west coast.  That would be the "Air Access" bit of the begging letter.

Apparently unregistered lobbyists for private companies don't bother the Orange crew when votes are at stake.

Ethics, schmethics.

Take power out of the hands of lobbyists and ensure all decisions are made in the open by:

  • Obligating lobbyists to file annually a declaration of their political work.
  • Toughen penalties for violations of the Lobbyists Registration Act.
  • Ensuring lobbyists’ fees are disclosed and profit-based contingency fees banned.

Talk about desperate.  The NDP war room must be quickly hiding all those posters railing against corporate welfare bums.

Jack is a bit cute, though.

He complete ignores the Williams demand on Equalization, just giving a short, vague comment. That's okay, Bond Papers readers already found out about the Orange Rod.

Layton praises the equity stake in offshore oil now owned by the province but neglects to mention that an NDP government would busily suck away more cash from the corporation to Ottawa.

So Layton stands a good chance of getting Danny's blessing.

Of course, since Williams has already endorsed  - and then shagged over - first the Liberals and then his federal brothers and sisters in the Conservatives, the New Democrats are pretty much the only ones left of the major parties he hasn't introduced to his own shaft.