12 February 2009

The notional national media

Go to the Globe and Mail website.

Try and find a story from the February 11 edition by Rheal Seguin on a supposed border flap between Quebec and Newfoundland and Labrador.

You’ll to look a bit.  For some reason a story that was prominent is now buried away on the “Others” page instead of on the national politics section where it was.

The story is bogus.  There is no border dispute.  The matter was settled in 1927 and the Romaine river hydro-electric project isn’t even close to the 1927 boundary.  This is another of those Sasquatch hunter things about the Labrador border:  people keep hunting because they know it’s there but the only “proof” turns out to be fiction.

That’s because the border controversy, like the Sasquatch, is made up.

And the story is one of the problems when you drop into Newfoundland and Labrador every once in a while rather than pay attention to what is going on here on a regular basis.

You wind up hunting Sasquatch instead of looking at the case of a real undefined border – this one in the Gulf of St. Lawrence – which is impeding exploration for and development of oil and gas resources.

Meanwhile over at the National Post, a editorial on the latest federal transfer racket contains an astonishing amount of stuff that is not true.

Now Mr. Williams and his government have calculated that switching to the new formula would be better for the coming fiscal year — netting Newfoundland’s treasury and extra $1.3-billion to $1.6-billion — so they want to switch. However, in January’s budget, federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty eliminated that option.

Not so.

The amounts quoted were totals over three years, not one.

More importantly they are estimates.

The only figure that seems to be plausibly correct is about $400 million that won’t flow in 2009 but even that is based on:

  1. Estimates. 
  2. Projections based on current knowledge instead of the actual financial situation in February 2010 when Newfoundland and Labrador will chose which of two Equalization options it will pick for 2009.
  3. A set of choices that wouldn’t have existed at all if the current provincial government in Newfoundland and Labrador had gotten its way at any point in the recent past.

The National Post editorialist didn’t stop with those untruths.  It went farther with other things it actually labelled as true when they aren’t:

It’s true Mr. Flaherty and the Harper government eliminated the switching option without first consulting their colleagues in the Williams government. It is also true that this policy change only affects Newfoundland, even though the province is not singled out by name. And it is true the Harper government is tired of Mr. Williams and the constant bashing they take from him, all of which could lead to the conclusion that this is what Mr. Williams claims — an act of vengeance aimed at him and his province.

  1. It’s not really clear that the feds didn’t consult.  The provincial officials knew something was up in November last year.  What happened after that is a bit murky.
  2. The policy change affects all provinces receiving Equalization and provinces like Newfoundland and Labrador that are still affected by the program.  Ontario and Quebec aren’t going to draw as much from the federal teat as they would have under the program from 2008.  That’s been covered in other conventional news media.  Heck.  The changes are being made expressly to limit the impact on the program of having Ontario now drawing Equalization.

Now that last part – about being tired of the tirades  - is probably true. It’s quite the stretch though to go from that to suggest that this was a policy designed to screw over one province when the facts – as previously reported – show something else.

The relationship between the current provincial administration and the federal government – irrespective of political stripe – is dysfunctional.  It got that way as the result of a lot of hard work after 2003.  The dysfunction may be deliberate or it may be an accidental by-product of old-fashioned political posturing. That part doesn’t matter.  The fact is the dysfunction exists.

It can only change if the people  - it takes two to tango - who are causing or contributing to the dysfunction change their behaviour.

That change isn’t helped by newspapers that are notionally national printing bogus information as if it were fact.