30 September 2009

You know them as sooks, Ma’am.

In Corner Brook, they are apparently called penders, after the big sooky former mayor of the great city of the west.

Rather than be gracious in defeat, Charles Pender decided to moan and whine a bit:

“It wasn’t a one-on-one campaign,” Pender said. “I had other forces I had to deal with ... Mr. Greeley had a definite strategy with the support of Gerry Byrne’s campaign team, which is a formidable opponent, and Eddie Joyce bringing people to the polls all day in Curling.”

Pender must get the sooks from some of the company he’s been keeping since 2001.


Population and the economy

labradore may do more of his own with this, but in the meantime, it’s useful to steal his observations on the most recent quarterly population statistics.

He left them at Townie Bastard’s corner. Some people, including local media, took the wrong perspective which is not surprising since the StatsCan release wasn’t very clear on what’s been happening in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Anyway, here’s Wally’s take on things. Bear in mind he accurately predicted a recession in 2008 by noting the sudden change in in-migration and hence in population that took place in mid-2007:

The population bump from in-migration happens during every recession.

Out-migration hasn't really slowed down. Actually, it hasn't slowed down at all. International migration is stable at best; the last two quarters have been slightly worse for international immigration than the same time last year.
And the imbalance of deaths over births is trending in death's favour. This was the third consecutive quarter of natural population decline (more deaths than births). Six of the last seven, and eight of the past eleven quarters have seen negative natural population change. One more quarter, and there'll have been a full year of it - the first time for any province, I believe.

The only thing that's causing population growth is net in-migration, largely driven by people moving in from Alberta and Ontario.

Two guesses as to what's driving that. First doesn't count.

Now anyone who looks at the release and stopped for a second might have noticed that the increase was only about one quarter of one percent. And if that person had clicked back to the release before, he or she might have noticed the previous quarter where population declined in Newfoundland and Labrador.

But those wider points – about persistent out-migration and the deaths/births ratio – require a level of analysis that reporters just don’t have time to do.

Sadly for the reporting world, that’s where the real story sits.

You can find it over at labradore.


Predictable Update: You won't find the real story in a provincial government news release, as Jerome!'s effort Wednesday morning confirms.

Micromanaging health care = vague direction and uncertain authority

Back then, the Tories wanted to get out of the business of deciding how and where health care was delivered.  They wanted to get the department out of operational decisions.

From Our blueprint for Newfoundland and Labrador (2003):

Effectively Managing Health Care Services

The Department of Health and Community Services spends too much time micro-managing the health system, and too little time articulating policy. As a result, health care suffers from vague direction and uncertain authority, and managers continue to apply patchwork solutions to a system that is becoming more unmanageable every day.

In 2009, the cabinet decides what communities will have laboratory and x-ray service and the minister responsible tries to claim that the health regions made the choices when – quite obviously – they didn’t.

Odd that the people who had the right answer, consistently pick the wrong answer.


Municipal round-up

1.  St. John’s:  A bunch of things already noted.  Here are a few additional quickies:

Municipal politics has never been issue driven and that seemed to be the case across the board.  2009 confirms the iron law:  to get elected talk about anything but what you’ll be responsible for.  Tom Hann and Sandy Hickman both boosted their votes at large, Hann by talking about search and rescue and Hickman with ferry service at Port aux Basques.  Colbert reputedly took a holiday in the middle of the campaign.

Recycling is popular in the city, especially if you look at the trend to re-elect incumbents.  In Ward Three, voters elected a guy who used to be on council almost 20 years ago.

Cost per vote:  Sheilagh O’Leary brought up something about finances but it wasn’t clear if she was complaining about the cost of  campaigns or about the fact that campaign contributions aren’t tax deductible.

Doesn’t matter:  just take a look at what the candidates spent in the mayoral and deputy mayoral campaigns compared to the votes received.  Gigantic sums, even if some of its was comp/in-kind and the vote results were appalling. On the other hand, look at what other candidates in city-wide races did with only a tiny bit of spending. 

We’ll have to wait until the official reports, but a preliminary winner would be Gerry Colbert who spent nothing but sweat apparently and pulled in 16,000 votes.

2.  Paradise:  Ralph Wiseman loses either way.   As of last night, a 19 year old second year university student beat him by three votes.  If the recount affirms that victory, the voters just slapped Wiseman hard.  if he wins on the recount, they have slapped him hard and put him in a really tough spot for the next four years.  held have to radically change his approach or risk being run out of town on a rail.

3.  Corner Brook:  A last minute promise of hundreds of millions in a new hospital couldn’t save Danny and Tom’s hand-picked mayor.


29 September 2009

“Unsustainable” public spending: the fin min version

Former finance minister Tom Marshall said on Tuesday that he was once asked by an analysis for Moody’s bond rating service if he felt the growth in public sector spending was sustainable.  Marshall didn’t reveal his answer. 

The subject came up in a discussion with talk show host Randy Simms on VOCM.  Marshall noted that the province spends more per person than any other province in Canada. 

Simms suggested that high rate of spending was because of the geographical dispersion of the population.  He didn’t mention that costs in Newfoundland and Labrador are typically lower for many things, including wages.

At that point, Marshall noted that people not from here often don’t understand the issues and then mentioned in passing the comment from Moody’s.  He also referred to boosting spending based on oil revenues only to be faced with a problem when oil prices drop dramatically.

That matches recent comments by health minister Paul Oram that the provincial government’s spending levels were “unsustainable.” 

It doesn’t match claims by Marshall and other cabinet ministers up to now that the current administration was practicing sound financial management.


Ron Ellsworth: R.I.P

The big political story of the 2009 St. John’s municipal election has got to be the political implosion of Ron Ellsworth.

The supremely ambitious fellow burst on the political scene in 2005 with a big win in Ward 4.  His lust for higher office was no secret and in 2008 he ran for the deputy mayor’s job grabbing more than 19,000 votes.

But he fumbled badly a little over a year later, polling almost 7,000 votes less than he got in 2008 and going down to defeat at the hands of one of the weakest mayoral incumbents in recent St. John’s history.

Heck the top six at large candidates all polled more votes than Ron Ellsworth.

Talk about a political catastrophe.

And in record time.

Ellsworth may have made a furtive try at municipal politics in 1997 but when he came on so strongly in 2005, he seemed to be destined for bigger things.

A mere four years later, he is politically left high and dry.

Maybe he’ll do -  as the rumours suggest -  and look to replace Bob Ridgley as the Tory candidate in St. John’s North provincially. 

If he does, Ellsworth will need to find new help with his political advertising.  Whoever did the work for him this time did him a huge disservice at every step.  The only mayoral campaign that sucked more was the winner’s. 

The surprise upset in the election has to be Danny Breen’s victory in Ward One over incumbent Art Puddister.  That isn’t the way your humble e-scribbler called the race and this is one case where it is great to be proven wrong.

St. John’s city politics and its appalling mail-in ballot system are notoriously skewed in favour of incumbents.  Where else but at Tammany on Gower could the polls close at 8:00 PM and the election machinery – literally a machine – could declare victors two minutes later?

It normally takes a herculean effort to unseat a townie incumbent unless you have some kind of momentum behind you as a local celebrity of sorts.  Name recognition and affability often count for  more than any demonstrated knowledge or ability. 

Whatever Dan Breen did to win, he deserves much praise and a whole pile of credit. No one helped him outside of his driven campaign team and that should prove interesting if and when some of the moneyed interests come forward looking for friends to return favours.  

Meanwhile, in the deputy mayor’s race, Shannie Duff handily defeated Keith Coombs.

That wasn’t much of a surprise since Coomb’s resort to negative ads was a huge tell that his campaign was getting desperate.  he wasn’t helped at all by the poor timing of them since they hit the papers – who reads any more – and the airwaves after the crucial date for voting. 

Coombs might have beaten Duff in a old-fashioned race, but he and his crew should have know all that the mail-in ballot system changes the voting dynamic dramatically. 

Pushing poorly executed negatives ads too late in the campaign was just a waste of time and money.  Going negative may have suppressed some of Duff’s vote – which is what going negative does – but it also may have turned off some of Coombs’ potential supporters as well.

At this point, it doesn’t matter.  Keith will have two years to get ready for a provincial run or four years if he wants to try and pull a Sears.  Maybe he an Ron will get together and compare notes.


How many consultants does it take…

to figure out where to put a hospital?


And then, after a year of consulting, another two batches of highly paid, high priced consultants  will do some very expensive cogitating to figure out what services the hospital will provide.

As if the people already delivering health care services couldn’t figure out what services are needed in Corner Brook.

Still no word on when construction of the new hospital will start.

And then people wonder why government’s capital works budget is ballooning wildly out of control.


Bozosity Index 12.    You hire a big name consulting firm who brings in MBAs with one year of experience to re-think your corporate strategies.

28 September 2009

Freedom from Information: Right to Know Week 2009

labradore lays waste once more to the annual event called Right to Know Week.

At least this year the thing is pushed by the guy who actually cares about your right to know.

Last years’ release was from a guy more inclined to be concerned about frustrating your right to know.


Top 10 Warning Signs of Bozosity (plus a few extras)

Guy Kawasaki is smart.

After years of working among some of the most creative companies on the planet he invented the concept of a “bozo explosion.”  That’s what happens to great companies after a certain point, if the company isn’t carefully managed with an eye to continued success and innovation.

As Kawasaki rightly puts it, the whole process is depressing.

For your amusement, here’s his list of warning signs that a bozo explosion is underway. You can find this and whole lot more great ideas at his blog How to change the world.

1.   The two most popular words in your company are “partner” and “strategic.” In addition, “partner” has become a verb, and “strategic” is used to describe decisions and activities that don't make sense.

2.   Management has two-day offsites at places like the Ritz Carlton to foster communication and to craft a company mission statement.

3.   The aforementioned company mission statement contains more than twenty words--two of which are “partner” and “strategic.”

4.   Your CEO's admin has an admin.

5.   Your parking lot's “biorhythm” looks like this:

  • 8:00 am - 10:00 am--Japanese cars exceed German cars
  • 10:00 am - 5:00 pm--German cars exceed Japanese cars
  • 5:00 pm - 10:00 pm--Japanese cars exceed German cars

6.    Your HR department requires an MBA degree for any position; it also requires five to ten years work experience in an industry that is only four years old.

7.    Time is now considered more important than money so you have a company cafeteria, health club, and pet grooming service. Moreover, the first thing that employees show visitors is the company cafeteria, health club, and pet grooming service.

8.    Someone whose music sells in the iTunes music store performs at the company Christmas party.

9.    An employee is paid to do nothing but write a blog.

10.    The success of a competitor upsets you more than the loss of a customer.

Addendumbs (sic) to the list from readers:

11.    You have a layer of middle management who worked at big-name companies (usually consumer goods) who like to call meetings and designate “project leads.” (I experienced this first hand.)

12.    You hire a big name consulting firm who brings in MBAs with one year of experience to re-think your corporate strategies.

13.   Your company likes some of these MBAs and hires them away from the big-name consulting firm.

14.   Your CEO or CFO spends more time on CNBC than in the office

And then it got much worse Update:  The short list quickly became the Guy Bozofication Aptitude Test (it pays to read more than what google turned up).

15.   The front-desk staff gets better looking and less competent.

16.   The only time you see your CEO is when you're watching CNBC.

17.   You watch CNBC during the day and don't feel guilty.

18.   The ratio of engineers to attorneys dips below 25 to 1.

19.   The company has created a “company values” poster.

20.   “Leveraging core competencies” and “maximizing shareholder value” show up in official documents, in the same paragraph.

21.   New executives campaign to improve the product before they understand how to use it.

22.   Your company outsources its mission statement.

23.   Your CEO's chair is more expensive than your first car.

24.   You have more than two execs with the word “chief” in their title.

25.   The company becomes a schwag fountain: pens, bags, notepads, messenger bags.

Add two points for each

26.   Your CEO writes a book.

27.   Your CEO gets invited to the World Economic Forum in Davos where he gives advice to the presidents of Eastern European countries.

28.   Your company has a corporate jet.

29.   Your company hired a retired professional athlete as a motivational speaker.

30.   Your company hired a retired politician as a motivational speaker




Offshore board calls for land plot nominations

The Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board (C-NLOPB) today announced a call for nominations from industry stakeholders for lands in the offshore area that would be considered for a possible call for bids in 2010.

A call for nominations is a preliminary step prior to a competitive call for bids.  It  provides interested parties with the opportunity to nominate areas of interest to be included.   CNLOPB can also nominate lands on its own initiative for inclusion.

The offshore board is not bound to proceed with a call for bids in respect of any lands nominated, nor is a nominee obligated to bid on any lands nominated and included in a subsequent call for bids.

Interested parties will have until 4:00 p.m. on November 2, 2009 to submit sealed nominations to the Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board. Further information is available from the board’s website.


The 10-20-30 Rule of Presentations

You may know them as slides.

Or powerpoint presentations.

Or overheads.

Or, if you are really old, view-foils.

You have all been subjected to death by slide.  Here’s a simple rule to help you from slaughtering your audience next time you have to do a presentation:

Samsung and Ontario wind

Electronics giant Samsung is looking at building a 200 megawatt wind farm in Ontario.

The deal could include manufacturing of wind turbines or components as well as solar panels in Ontario.


27 September 2009

For the record: Danny Williams’ first speech from election 2003


The date:  September 29, 2003

The occasion:  Danny Williams kicks off the Conservative election campaign that, as things turned out,  would end with him as Premier.

How time flies and how things change in just six short years.

Back thing, all was roses just waiting on the horizon to be plucked.  All the problems of the past would be gone.

Worried about health care?

Worry no more:

Our plan will provide quality health care to Newfoundlanders and Labradorians when they need it, ensuring that there are more doctors and nurses in areas that are presently under-serviced. Patients will have access to a primary health care provider twenty four hours a day, seven days a week. And waiting times for diagnostic and treatment procedures will be reduced to times that physicians deem acceptable.

Six years later, all is well and the days of health care cuts are gone.

Concerned you might have trouble getting more care for a sick wife or husband in your retirement?

Worry no more:

Our seniors, those who have given so much to our province and asked for so little in  return, want to be independent, and to live in their own homes. We will give them that independence by expanding home care services and increasing supportive housing alternatives.

Yes, not just the same old, but expanded home care and increased supportive housing alternatives.

And six years later, those problems with home care are long gone.

Dilapidated school buses:

And to ensure our children’s safety, we’re going to upgrade and improve our school buses.

It only took six years and the public embarrassment of a CBC news story to bringing the existing fleet up to code.  No word yet on “upgrades” or improvements.

Some political parties enter election campaigns with a list of things they actually strive to do.

Others don’t.

The ones that try often succeed and the stuff that is left undone is usually there for a good and readily understood reason.

The ones that don’t,offer excuses.

Some of this speech is fascinating if only for the radical changes in six years, back then Danny Williams was ready to go to work in the thankless job of being Premier to inflict prosperity on Newfoundland and Labrador.  he was ready because, in his words, “it’s now time for me to give something back to the province that has given me and my family so much, to initiate real change and make a meaningful difference.”

In the event, he started bitching about public scrutiny right after he got elected and by the end of three years he was already moaning and complaining because people asked questions and disagreed with him.  By the end of year six, he was referring to politics as a “racket” and mused again how those who were out of it were smarter and better off.

ed and danny In 2003,  he could boast of the team Ed Byrne put together and the new members pulled on board.

That team spirit didn’t last long either.

Beth Marshall resigned from cabinet in 2004 complaining that Williams interfered in her department and ignored her in the process.

Ed Byrne quit in the midst of the worst political corruption scandal in Newfoundland and Labrador history since Sir Richard Squires and the Hollis Walker Inquiry.

Not only were members of the legislature bribing officials and bilking the taxpayer for millions, Byrne himself was funding the Progressive Conservative Party with illegally obtained cash. That included at least one of the Great Northern peninsula by-elections in 2001.  The full story hasn’t been disclosed yet.

Some opted to retire for their own reasons or due to ill health.

Former premier Tom Rideout, right,  went off in a huff over road paving. 

No word on exactly what Rideout has been doing since he left politics but it will likely prove to be entertaining once we all find out what it is.

sullivan At the end of 2006, Loyola “Rain Man” Sullivan, Williams’ financial right hand, left unceremoniously and in an unseemly hurry. he took a job with federal government as a fisheries ambassador.

Fabian Manning felt Danny Williams political boot on his throat or backside, depending on whose version you listen to. He landed nicely in Ottawa as a Conservative senator.

Paul-Shelley-HVR-2Paul Shelley, right,  slipped quietly away to a little job in the private sector.  He slipped away from that outfit, too,  before it went under.

Only a few of the old hands are left now and none of those serve in cabinet.

Roger Fitzgerald is the Premier’s faithful lapdog as the supposedly impartial speaker. 

Sheila Osborne is expected to leave before the next election. 

Terry French soldiers on as a parliamentary secretary, announcing the odd fire truck.

Of the crowd elected between 2001 and 2003, only Wally Young sits mute on the back benches.  Trevor Taylor, the fellow elected the same day,  is out the door too.

hickeylabradorian6Danny Williams now sits  surrounded mostly by the people he picked to run in the first place and entirely by people he picked to run the province. 

Like John  Hickey, right,  for example who launched a defamation law suit against former Premier Roger Grimes for something Danny Williams said.

How long Williams lasts, given his own mercurial nature and his comments about the “racket” he’d sooner be rid of, one never knows.

But six years ago, so much looked so different:

Thank you, and good afternoon everyone.

Almost two years ago I started building upon the team Ed Byrne had already assembled to represent the interests of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians.

As I look at the people who are able to join me today, and think of the others who are working in their districts or have made a commitment to seek the nomination, I am extremely proud of who we are and what we have to offer.

This team, our team, represents a real alternative to the current government.

And a new government is needed, because after fifteen years, it’s time for a change in Newfoundland and Labrador. It’s time for real leadership. It’s time for the new approach.

For months now, the Roger Grimes government has been desperately searching for a single issue upon which they can fight this election when they should have been governing our province.

First it was the fishery, then it was our relationship with Ottawa, and most recently it was automobile insurance.

Well, we won’t play that game.

This election is too important to be about any one single issue. We will make it about all the issues that are important to the people of our province.

It will be about making a meaningful improvement to the every day lives of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians so that we can live with dignity and self-respect through self reliance.

It will be about having a good job and having access to health care when we need it. It will be about providing our children with an education that allows them to compete for jobs and stay home in this province where they belong.

Above all, this election will be about the real leadership this province needs to capture the opportunities that are before us so that we finally achieve our true potential.

Ladies and gentlemen, these are the issues of the real world.

These are the issues that have been ignored by the Roger Grimes administration.

And these are the issues we will fight for.

Our people deserve no less and should expect no less.

And under a Danny Williams led government, they will get no less.

I believe the time has now come to take control of our destiny, to chart our own course to economic prosperity. That is what I stand for, it’s what our team stands for, it’s what the Progressive Conservative Party of  Newfoundland and Labrador stands for.

Today, we are presenting you with a plan to move us in that direction, a plan to get real results. It took us months and months to develop this blue print for the future, and I am very proud of it.

I call our plan the new approach, because it means focusing on the important issues in new and different ways, and making decisions for the right reasons, not political reasons.

It starts with helping those who need help most. Seniors, students and many others will benefit from our plan to immediately reduce provincial income taxes for low income earners.

Our plan will provide quality health care to Newfoundlanders and Labradorians when they need it, ensuring that there are more doctors and nurses in areas that are presently under-serviced. Patients will have access to a primary health care provider twenty four hours a day, seven days a week. And waiting times for diagnostic and treatment procedures will be reduced to times that physicians deem acceptable.

Our seniors, those who have given so much to our province and asked for so little in return, want to be independent, and to live in their own homes. We will give them that independence by expanding home care services and increasing supportive housing alternatives.

We will provide our children with a higher quality education by setting a maximum class size, beginning in our primary schools where they will not exceed 25 students per class.

We will also increase computer literacy and reduce disruptive behavior so that our children have a healthy learning environment.

We will also set performance standards to ensure our children’s education meets or exceeds what is being provided in schools in the province and the country.

And to ensure our children’s safety, we’re going to upgrade and improve our school buses.

We will freeze tuition for post-secondary students and make the remission process more efficient and accessible so that our young people have better opportunities to stay in the province that they so dearly love.

And I can assure you, we will grow our economy by creating an environment that allows businesses to set-up shop and expand, creating meaningful employment for Newfoundlanders and Labradorians as we go.

There will be a strong, vibrant and sustainable fishery.

There will be new opportunities in the Information Technology sector.

And we will open our doors to the world with an ever-growing tourism industry.

The one area where I believe I can most help Newfoundlanders and Labradorians is through job creation and economic development. That’s my background, and I now want to apply those experiences to the government of Newfoundland and Labrador.

I want to create new industries to slow down and eventually stop outmigration.

I want to give our rural communities a reason to believe that our way of life can not only survive but prosper. I want to give them hope and confidence that we can maintain and nurture our culture, our heritage and our pride.

Our plan for economic growth will provide a new approach to resource development that puts Newfoundlanders and Labradorians first. We will identify and capture opportunities for secondary processing whenever possible.

No more give-aways.

We will give Newfoundland and Labrador back to Newfoundlanders and Labradorians.

Rather than using our resources to create jobs for Manitobans, Ontarians, and Quebecers, our resources will be used to create jobs for our own people.

We are no longer prepared to sit idly by while our resources benefit the rest of Canada and leave us with a mere pittance of their true value.

And ladies and gentlemen, our plan will provide a new approach to dealing with the federal government. While others have remained silent until it became politically opportune to be heard, we will be aggressive and provide a strong voice that says very clearly changes are needed. We will lay out a rational and reasonable plan that cannot be dismissed. I will fight to ensure that we are heard.

I say enough is enough.

It’s time for real leadership.

It’s time for the new approach.

It’s time for a change.

And that change begins right here, right now.

This is our opportunity to stand up and be counted, to seize control of our own destiny, to make a real difference.

On a personal note, I’ve enjoyed more success in the business world than I ever dreamed possible. And I did it entirely in Newfoundland and Labrador, creating thousands of jobs for Newfoundlanders and Labradorians along the way. I have proven that it can be done, and if it can be done in the private sector, it can be done in government.

It hasn’t been easy. It takes a tireless work ethic, personal sacrifice and an unwavering commitment.

I’m prepared to offer that to the people of Newfoundland and Labrador because it’s now time for me to give something back to the province that has given me and my family so much, to initiate real change and make a meaningful difference.

But I can’t do that alone. That’s why I have spent more than two years assembling a first class team that has the energy, passion and commitment required to make real changes and meaningful improvements to the every day lives of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians.

We have a combination of proven legislators and new players that will bring innovative ideas to the table. This team presents a stark contrast and a strong alternative to a tired and weakened government that has been in office for almost 15 years.

We are ready to provide Newfoundlanders and Labradorians with the change that they so desperately want and deserve, and have the energy, passion and commitment required to work on your behalf.

But ladies and gentlemen, I want to be very clear. While we have developed a policy document that provides that new approach, there are no magic solutions or quick fixes to the problems facing this province.

These problems did not occur overnight and they cannot be fixed overnight. But with the team we have assembled, with real leadership and the new approach, these problems can be solved and will be solved. Together we have a vision of Newfoundland and Labrador, in control of our own destiny, united for the benefit of all.

That is my commitment to Newfoundland and Labrador, that is our commitment to Newfoundland and Labrador. By working with you, a Danny Williams led government will make a difference. A change of government will make a real difference to our province, our home, our families and our future.

On October twenty first, I respectfully ask for your support for a mandate to provide the people of Newfoundland and Labrador with real leadership and the new approach for a better future.

Thank you.



They came by bus and car…but did they bring diapers?

It’s one thing to protest openly again a government, especially the current one.

It’s another thing entirely when people are willing to burn gasoline to do it.

Flower’s Cove, the early report via voice of the cabinet minister:

People arrived in cars and by the bus loads to protest proposed cuts to lab and x-ray services at a rally on the Northern Peninsula over the weekend.  NDP Leader Lorraine Michael was at the rally in Flowers Cove yesterday.  She says the overall attitude of the people there was one of anger and betrayal.

Anger and betrayal?

Might that have something to do with Danny Williams comments the night of the 2001 by-election when said he would never forget the people of the region for voting Tory?

Might that be one of the reasons why Williams and his office are tossing every obstacle possible to prevent the release of the text of his speeches?

or could it be lines like this one, recounting the lighter moments of politics in June 2001:

And another voter who wanted change in the Northern Peninsula told me that politicians and diapers have something in common: they both have to be changed regularly, for the same reason.

Yessirreee, the crowd protested and burned precious gasoline to do it. 

That’s a sure sign people are unhappy with the government.

But if they brought huggies and pampers, then watch out.


MIA Update: New Dawn

You remember that one from last year. 

Around these parts, your humble e-scribbler called it the Matshishkapeu Accord since it seemed a bit like something cooked up by the Fart Man.

Then in the winter, the world learned the deal was completely off the rails.

By July, like Generalissimo Francisco Franco, the deal was still dead but Innu leader Peter Penashue hoped to bring it back to life in the fall.

Now in the fall, Peter’s not returning Rob Antle’s phone calls and the Premier’s office is saying naught either.

Not good.

Not good at all, since this is one of the key deals that have to be closed in order give the Lower Churchill hydro megaproject any hope of flying.

At least there’s a consistent silence on this one where both parties don’t want to talk.  On the Rhode Island memorandum of understanding, natural resources minister Kathy Dunderdale said one thing.  The Rhode Island governor’s office said something completely different.


More like the Omegas meet Spring Break

The annual homecoming weekend at Queen’s University in Kingston is turning out to be the annual reminder of why the university really isn’t the Harvard of the North, as some of its more pompous alumni like to claim.

Even eliminating homecoming weekend hasn’t stopped the Arseholes Gone Wild mentality that made homecoming weekend seem like a cross between Animal House’s Omegas and the idiocy of any spring break in Florida.


26 September 2009

Uncomfortable thoughts

One of the little stories that seemed to sail past most people was a report that three of the province’s four regional health authorities will finish the year with balanced budgets.

"The light bill goes up, the phone bill goes up, the oil bill goes up — that type thing," said Western Health finance committee member Tom O'Brien. "We submitted that to the government and [government] approved our budget with those inflationary numbers in it. So we'll have a balanced budget for 2009-2010.

The only one that wouldn’t is Eastern Health but given some of the issues involved, that’s understandable.

But Labrador-Grenfell,  Western and Central expect to balance their books by year end.

Last spring, Labrador-Grenfell Health estimated it would end its fiscal year with a $2-million deficit, but officials said Wednesday that's no longer the case.

"We have had a greater success in recruiting staff, with a greater number of nurses on staff that actually cuts down on our cost of providing services," CEO Boyd Rowe said. "When we don't have adequate numbers of staff, we end up paying a considerable amount of overtime."

How odd then that earlier this month health minister Paul Oram announced that government had decided to cut laboratory and x-ray service in Flower’s Cove and Lewisporte. he claimed the government needed to save money and that the cuts had been recommended by the health authorities involved.

Sure those two ideas were among dozens tossed out by all four regional health authorities back in February as possible cuts when they were asked  - hypothetically – what they could do to balance their budgets if they got funding frozen at 2008 levels.

But if the books are balanced the cuts weren’t necessary.

And if there was a problem with the government health budget generally, then surely it would have made more sense to do some serious thinking and announce a wide range of options with the new budget in the spring.  There was no rush to chop in September if things were okay and certainly there’d be no reason to cut only two.

That’s what one would expect from a government that generally practices sound financial management based on a genuinely strategic approach. That was the logical implication when Oram acknowledged what many have known for some time, namely that the current administration has been spending wildly, spending public money in a way that – in Oram’s word was “unsustainable.”

Such a government would not engage in seemingly capricious, apparently ill-considered and curious, bizarre cuts that seem to bear no connection to anything. Heck they aren’t even connected to a review of laboratory and x-ray service which isn’t even completed yet.

Such decisions would seem driven by something other than sound reasoning, logic, and a firm grasp of the whole picture.  They’d seem panicky.  They’d seem irrational, perchance even stupid given the political fall-out that’s resulted across the northern coast of Newfoundland.

And it would seem even more irrational, capricious, certainly foolishly stubborn  and – yes maybe even stupid – to persist in the irrational and apparently unnecessary cuts on those two communities once the backlash started  and the overall financial picture was shown to be something other than dire.

Events of the past couple of weeks make you wonder what is really going on inside the provincial government.  What is the real story behind the Flower’s Cove and Lewisporte cuts.

Was there more to Trevor’s departure than meets the eye? Was there something to be found in his comment to Randy Simms the other morning that we are facing the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression?  Taylor was known to speak bluntly and he certainly never spouted the “we are living in a bubble” rhetoric.

Once upon a time, not so very long ago, the good people of Newfoundland and Labrador would look on another administration and wonder what was going on.  Things sometimes didn’t make sense. 

The good people would stare in bewilderment since the leader was known to be a political mastermind.  Surely there had to be some Mensa answer they would rationalize, an idea incomprehensible to mere mortals as to why such bizarre things were occurring. 

Even went things looked insane they figured there had to be a plan behind it all. No one had to tell them that at a board of trade speech;  they knew it already.

Yet, despite their faith, they remained perplexed.




Your humble e-scribbler would suggest to these people that they think about the issue again, and about their conclusion, with one tiny difference:

Merely look on events without the assumption that there was some inscrutable genius at work.

Then look again at the conclusion they reached.

Invariably, inevitably, predictably, at the point they reached a conclusion once again – devoid of the assumed secret and unknown brilliance – their faces turned ashen.

And they would go very quiet.

Quiet isn’t a word you’d use these days in some parts of Newfoundland and Labrador, is it?  Places where the Great Tory Revolution supposedly started.

That must be a very uncomfortable thought for some people.


25 September 2009

Trevor’s greatest hit

In honour of Trevor Taylor’s departure from politics, here’s a link to a post on what he said is his proudest accomplishment in politics.

The fibre-optic deal may well prove to be the railway branch lines of the information superhighway.  It was also one of the finest examples of a government that can’t seem to figure out what it is doing or why it is doing it but it does know the public shouldn’t get any concrete information.

Just remember:  Trevor picked this as his own political monument.


Kruger announces two week shut-down

Kruger announced Friday that Corner Brook Pulp and Paper Limited - the only paper mill left in the province - will idle the entire Corner Brook facility for two weeks starting October 12.

The company cites the high dollar and weak newsprint prices as the reason for the shut-down.


Simple-minded indeed

The provincial government didn't "invest" money in Rolls-Royce at all.

It just handed over a half million in cash, no strings attached.

It wasn't a loan.

They didn't buy shares.

They just gifted the company with public money.


- The Telegram - St. John's, NL: Business | Investment more than just money: premier (view on Google Sidewiki)

h/t to the anonymous comment suggesting sidewiki.

Danny of the Dead

Don’t be surprised if you start hearing more of Danny Dumaresque in the weeks ahead as the former Liberal politician tries to raise his profile in anticipation of a by-election in The Straits-White Bay North.

The Other Danny is reputedly planning to turn up in Flower’s Cove for the Big Protest. That’s Step Two.  Step One was calling local radio shows.

The Liberal Party’s answer to Jim Morgan last tried for a seat in the 2007 general election.  He was defeated in Torngat Mountains by Patty Pottle and a gazillion personal phone calls from The Danny Hisself.


Another drop on the way?

Could be, at least if David Rosenberg is right.

Rosenberg, chief analyst at Glusken Sheff and Associates, thinks the current pricing in the markets is based on the false assumption that corporate profits and gross domestic product have already rebounded.

He basis his opinion, in part, on an analysis of the price to earnings ratio for stocks.

Furthermore, the stock rally is pricing in an employment rebound of 2.1 million and a rise in bank lending of 16.5% on average. But both employment and bank lending continue to decline.

At its current valuation, Mr. Rosenberg said the S&P 500 is priced for US$83 in operating earnings per share, which is nearly double from the most recent fourth quarter trend.

Meanwhile, consensus bottom-up estimates are predicting US$73 in operating earnings per share in 2010, with US$83 not likely until 2012.

Rosenberg’s analysis puts stocks overvalued by 20%.

In a similar way, oil has been over-valued considering the huge drop in American demand and corresponding high inventories. Prices have been dropping both for crude and refined products. NYMEX gasoline fell six cents per gallon and ICE Brent crude fell three dollars a barrel in the past 24 hours.


24 September 2009

Salty stories

Okay, so like all the Toronto media are worried about sodium in food.

The Grope has a story on it.

Ditto the national midnight Star.

And the mighty Ceeb! can’t be left out.

Lowering the sodium level in your diet is a good idea.

But if you really want a funny sodium story you have to look at anti-salt crusader Michael Bloomberg and his love affair with the shaker in NYC:

But Mr. Bloomberg, 67, likes his popcorn so salty that it burns others’ lips. (At Gracie Mansion, the cooks deliver it to him with a salt shaker.) He sprinkles so much salt on his morning bagel “that it’s like a pretzel,” said the manager at Viand, a Greek diner near Mr. Bloomberg’s Upper East Side town house.

Not even pizza is spared a coat of sodium. When the mayor sat down to eat a slice at Denino’s Pizzeria Tavern on Staten Island recently, this reporter spotted him applying six dashes of salt to it.



To the good people of Straits-White Bay North: you can vote today to replace Trevor

Forget protest in the streets.

Protest where it hurts:  the ballot box.

Danny Williams campaigned in your district in 2001 and held out the Tory victory there and across the road for Wally Young as proof times were changing in the Tory favour.

Well, times have really changed.  

If you want to send a message to the government it will never, ever forget, then there is a simple way to send a message.

Vote today.

It’s called a special ballot.


Every person can request a special ballot including:

  • an elector who has reason to believe that he/she will have difficulty voting on polling day perhaps due to work or personal commitments;
  • a student who is in attendance at a recognized educational institution either inside or outside the Province;
  • an elector temporarily residing outside the Province for a continuous period of less than 6 months who is unable to attend at either the advance or regular poll;
  • an elector who is incarcerated in a correctional institution or in detention at the Waterford Hospital;
  • a patient in hospital who will be unable to attend either the advance or regular poll.

All you have to do is contact the Office of the Chief Electoral Officer, otherwise known as Elections Newfoundland and Labrador.

There’s a form to complete and send in.  You can find it in pdf format here.

They’ll send you back a voter kit which you can use to cast your vote right now.

But there’s no election yet, you may be thinking.

Doesn’t matter.

Under section 86(4) of the Elections Act, voters who meet those criteria above can ask for a special ballot no more than four weeks before an election or by-election is called.  Well, you and the rest of the world don’t know when the thing will be called but we know when the earliest date is that it could be called.

That would be October 2, the day Trevor said he is quitting the House of Assembly.  Any of you who knew Trevor was going could have already voted.  But since the rest of us found out today, you should be able to get a ballot and vote right now.

There is no legal reason for Paul Reynolds to refuse you the opportunity to vote under section 86(4).

And don’t worry about the fact there are no declared candidates.

Under section 86.4, you can write in the name of the political party you want to vote for instead of the name of a particular person.  Once a candidate is declared for that party, the candidate will get your vote. 

Voting is your right.


Kremlinology 5: hard to swallow that

In other instalments in the Kremlinology series, we introduced you to Trevor Taylor. There were a couple of signs that things were not right with Trevor Taylor and his relationship with the current administration.

Until today he was a cabinet minister in the Danny Williams crew.  He’ll be resigning his seat in the legislature next week.

Taylor pulled pin unexpectedly Thursday, announcing he was off to a new gig with a not-for-profit interested in Arctic ecology.  According to Taylor, he is going for personal reasons.  He said he made the decision a month ago, told the Premier a week and a bit ago and dropped it on cabinet today.

There’s a new job waiting for him that will involve working with a not-for-profit on fisheries management in places like the Beaufort Sea.

The real reasons are likely contained in all the pre-emptive denials Trevor tossed out in his scrum:

  • He still loves Danny
  • No dissention or tension
  • Not running federally
  • Nothing to do with Flowers Cove

Politics is hard on the personal life and when things get tough on issues like Flowers Cove, forestry and the fishery – all big issues in Taylor’s neck of the woods -  family members often bear the brunt.   The fact that Taylor hasn’t been able to make any headway with his cabinet colleagues on those issues doesn’t help.

His tone during the scrum seems stressed.  This is  a guy who doesn’t appear to want to leave politics. If he has issues within his family, a job that will take him over North America and involve work at the opposite end of the country doesn’t sound like a recipe for spending more time with the kids, as the phrase goes.

For his part, the Premier praised Taylor and said it might take until next month to sort out a new cabinet arrangement. A permanent replacement for Taylor would take longer.   Taylor has carried a few stinky parcels for the current administration, including the fibre optic scheme. 

Maybe Taylor’s departure speaks to frustration at his inability to change certain minds in the Confederation Building.  He spoke about getting into politics to make decisions on certain things.  One of them was likely the fishery, interestingly a portfolio from which Taylor was ripped in favour of some old-fashioned thinking. 

Trevor Taylor is a relatively young man who – until today – seemed to have a bright political future ahead of him, especially in a post-Danny Williams Tory party.  The fact that he decided to pack it in, rather than stick it any longer, might be a sign that kremlinology sometimes works.

Any other cabinet ministers or back-benchers feeling political heat these days?


Can’t tell the candidate’s party without a score-card

Last time your humble e-scribbler checked, education was an exclusively provincial responsibility under the constitution.

Yes, the feds drop money into post-secondary education, but how it gets spent is a thing for provincial government authorities.

So if any order of government has to prepare young people for the future and a global, competitive economy, it would be the provincial government.

Research and development?

Both orders of government should be spending money on that.  The provincial should not be giving gigantic breaks to its buddies in the oil business.

So what exactly is Siobhan Coady doing calling on the federal government to deal with issues where the provincial government is apparently dropping the ball?

Apparently following the time honoured local political tradition of talking about things other than what your elected position deals with.

If you are running for school board, complain about the roads. If you are running for municipal government, complain about the hospitals, schools, and the provincial government in general.  If you are running for provincial office - blame Ottawa.

Or is it the other local tradition of talking about the need for more federal hand-outs to cover the bills for being more “independent”?  If that’s the case she has good company from at least one current politician and one wannabe.


Have not?

Forget all the talk about Newfoundland and Labrador being a have not province.  Figures from the federal finance department tell a different tale.























































Leaving out debt servicing , Newfoundland and Labrador topped every province in the country  in spending per person in 12 of the  21 years from 1986 to 2007.  The province has been in the top three in per person spending in all but three years in that period.

percapitasEven more surprisingly, Newfoundland and Labrador has been in the top spot in all but two years since 1994. 

And the gap isn’t a small one. 

In 2007, Newfoundland and Labrador outspent Alberta by $500 per person. 

In 2003, the last year of the Grimes administration, Newfoundland and Labrador spent about $1300 per person more than oil-soaked Alberta.


23 September 2009

Tom Marshall, Time Lord

Now that Tom Rideout is gone, another cabinet minister has been afflicted with the strange tendency to confuse time.

In this case, it is justice minister Tom Marshall and the confusion is over how long the Green bill was debated in the legislature.  Marshall issued a news release on Wednesday weighing into the controversy over an eight percent salary hike given to members of the province’s legislature in July.

Marshall said:

This compensation is clearly laid out in the act which was widely debated and reported upon by the media at the time of its passing.

Widely debated?

Try a portion of one day’s sitting right at the end of the spring session in 2007.  The thing was whipped through the House of Assembly so fast a great many details of it were not revealed to the public.

Like the fact that the spending limits and other provisions didn’t take effect until after the fall 2007 general election.

Neither aspect was discussed at the time, nor was there much public discussion of the appointment of the salary commission that was set to work holding public hearings while most people in the province were caught up with summer vacations and other such stuff.

Old habits die hard, and some  - like the inability to tell time – die even harder.


More problems for NALCO power line

Objections are now coming about the proposed power line that would skirt Gros Morne Park.

Hikers and outfitters are concerned the power line will affect caribou and spoil hiking trails in the area.

"We've been working for the past four years in the Portland Creek and Parson's Pond watersheds, and we're hoping that Nalcor will be able to compromise and find a more suitable route further east and north than the proposed route," said Paul Wylezol, chairman of the International Appalachian Trail of Newfoundland and Labrador.


Marine service facility in land-locked town gets free gift of taxpayers cash

Rolls-Royce marine is establishing what is touted  - by the provincial government but not the company - as a $10.5 million service centre in Mount Pearl.

Other Rolls-Royce marine service centres are located right next to the ocean, usually with wharf facilities as part of the complex, like the 40,000 square foot facility in Galveston, Texas or the 21,000 square foot plant  in Seattle, Washington.

Mount Pearl is land-locked.

Unlike the other Rolls-Royce service centres, the new one in Mount Pearl is actually quite far from the major shipping locales or construction yards where one might think it would be easier and cheaper to repair Rolls-Royce engines.

Of the great sea-faring cities of the world,  of all the great maritime cities of modern times, Mount Pearl isn’t a name that comes readily to mind.

So what exactly will these 36 employees be doing, one wonders.  Neither the news release from the company nor the one from its government benefactor gives any real indication.

Very odd.

But nothing is quite so odd as the idea of a multi-national company establishing a facility valued at 10 million bucks that needs a few hundred thousand – completely interest free – that they don’t even have to pay back to the public purse.  Supposedly this money will help defray the cost of equipment and training.

$500,000 against $10, 000,000.

Something doesn’t add up. 


The Kings of Cuts

There’s something about Paul Oram that just seems so familiar.

Maybe it’s his similarities to the equally-perfectly coifed predecessor, Lloyd Matthews.

Yes the father of the Premier’s Chief Publicist occupied the health minister’s office until early 1997 when he was hastily shuffled out.  There was a massive revolt against the way government was handling health care. 

Take a second and read the old news releases from those days though, and you’ll find more than a few things that seem oddly familiar.  Stuff like reviewing health care in central Newfoundland with an eye to what could get “improved”:

Health Minister Lloyd Matthews will take the next 6-8 weeks to fully evaluate and consider the recommendations of the report into health services in Central Newfoundland. KPMG Management Consultants recently presented the final report to the minister following four months of consultation with individuals and organizations throughout the region.

"This review is a comprehensive analysis of current and future health needs for the entire Central Newfoundland region," said Mr. Matthews. "The report looks at the network of primary, secondary, chronic and community based care, and makes recommendations on how these services can be better organized and coordinated to meet existing health needs and to reflect the emerging health needs of residents in the region."

The minister stated he would now be presenting this report to Cabinet for consideration. "Once government has had an opportunity to consider the full report, I will be able to provide further details on health services contained in the report, as well as outline future directions for health services in Central Newfoundland," said Matthews.

The minister thanked all individuals who made presentations or submissions to the consultants during the period of review, for their interest in health service delivery.

Matthews released the review in March, 1997, after announcing it had been received in early January.  The project started the previous June.   It recommended a number of things, including renovations to North Haven Manor in Lewisporte to ensure it could provide service out to 2005.

There are a lot of things in Matthews’ ministerial past that seem oddly familiar to the current generation, as well as a few surprising differences.

Matthews didn’t have much money to play with either as minister or as a member of cabinet generally.  Paul Oram and his cabinet colleagues  - by stark contrast - have access to more cash than any cabinet in the province’s history.

Oram talks about health care cuts.

Matthews’ review of health care in central Newfoundland could note that since the creation of new health care boards (re-organized out of existence by Oram’s clan), day surgery had increased by 70% in Gander. Note, for example, the reference to demographic projections for 2005.

There’s a sense of planning and organization to the whole thing.  The re-organization started with a view to changing how health care money was spent so more could be pushed toward front-line service.   It may not have worked out exactly as intended, but there was a long-range goal based on the knowledge that by 2005ish, the population would be pretty much where it actually turned out to be.  That brought with it certain predictable consequences and government worked to organize a system that could provide needed care within the budget likely to exist.

Sometimes, the differences are startling.  Back in the 1990s, the health minister could commission a report, get it and then release it within six weeks.  When was the last time Oram and his colleagues managed to get a report on the street within six months of getting it in hand? 

Compare as well, Matthews’ language to that used in the past 48 hours or so.  The emphasis on changes in the 1990s was ensuring that the government could continue to meet health care needs despite limited funds and what was anticipated to be skyrocketing demand. 

There’s a decidedly less positive sound to the way Oram put it:

“Our government faces a difficult decision to make regarding the types of services we can offer in the long-term, how much we can continue to invest as a province and identifying how we can improve the quality in our programs and services across the province.”

Still through it all there are some common threads, ones that transcend the superficial nonsense Oram got on with the other day by referring to cuts in the 1990s. 

He might do well to check with some of his predecessors, people who had a real hard time running the department but who managed to get through it with their reputation intact.  Roger Grimes would likely give him a good pile of advice. So too would Herb Kitchen or Julie Bettney.   Lloyd Matthews wouldn’t:  if memory serves, he got into political hot water largely due to the way he presented himself publicly.

How Oram handles himself might determine who really gets remembers as being the Kings of Cuts: Danny Williams and his crew or the guy Danny used to call the King of Cuts.


22 September 2009

Meeker gets behind the ad that is driving ‘em bonkers on The Hill

Geoff Meeker is back from vacation and is lighting things up at his Telegram blog, “Meeker on Media”.

The latest post is the text of an interview with the people behind a series of ads that are keeping political controversy alive in central Newfoundland.

“The reaction from the area MHA's has been disappointing to say the least,” said the spokesperson. “Clearly there are larger influences at work here. Susan Sullivan, whose light was shining so brightly (new MHA, cabinet appointment) has probably dashed her re-election hopes due to her inaction and complicity. Clayton Forsey and Ray Hunter have also placed themselves in jeopardy. Many say that Ray Hunter has achieved his goal of a two-term pension, so does not care either way (his record clearly speaks to this). Municipal officials have been even more inept – Mayor Rex Barnes and his council have failed to grasp the magnitude of this, and have, in fact, been shameless in praising the scraps falling from the provincial government table.”


Just bear in mind…

the guy who is trying to explain health care decisions is the same guy who is clued out about a bunch of other things.

He’s also gotten himself in hot water over conflict of interest and briefing books and he even briefly turned up with one of the infamous rings from the House of Assembly scandal.

Last summer, as markets were tanking, then-business minister Paul Oram talked about a booming local economy.  In January, he was talking about bright the future will be but with no talk of any big financial problems at home.  Thankfully, the guy has finally wised up, or so it seems when it comes to the unsound state of the provincial government finances.

All that coupled with the inherent contradictions between what Paul Oram has been saying, what the Premier has said publicly,  and what the record shows might just make this health care crisis bleed all over the local political landscape well into the fall.

That Oram-fuelled health issue is on top of the other problems on both the Northern Peninsula and in central Newfoundland related to forestry that just won’t go away no matter how much money the provincial government has been willing to toss at the two areas.

Of course, now Oram and the talk of unsustainable spending built on oil makes it look like it is money government doesn’t have.

It may ell be one of the most interesting fall seasons in a long while in this province’s politics.


Public money coming for Rolls-Royce

Paul Oram may be having trouble paying the health care bills but his predecessor, Ross Wiseman, apparently has cash for what appears to be an outright give-away to one of the great international symbols of luxury.

Yes, Ross will hand out taxpayer cash to Rolls-Royce.

“Contribution” is the word the provincial government likes to use when it hands over cash to a private sector company, not as a loan with interest.

Let’s see if that’s what it turns out.


Unsound financial management, the stunning Oram admission

In Budget 2009, we invested $2.6 billion in health and community services.  This is no doubt a significant amount.  This represents a billion dollar increase in the past five years.  While we would like to do everything and meet every demand, that investment is simply unsustainable.

Paul Oram, Minister of Health and Community Services, September 21, 2009 [video file]

Note the date.

Health minister Paul Oram admitted today that the provincial government’s financial management since 2003 has produced a level of government spending that is - in his words -  “unsustainable.”

That is not just Paul Oram’s word.

His remarks were approved at the highest level.

That word  - unsustainable - is the word that the Premier’s Office chose to describe the financial state of the provincial government.

Until now, the Williams administration has prided itself on exactly the opposite. This is a remarkable admission for the Williams administration, an administration that has prided itself on what it claimed was sound management of the public treasury.

Regular readers of Bond Papers have known it for some time.

The earliest use of the word “unsustainable” in connection with provincial government spending was 2006:

What no one knew was that oil would hit US$70 a barrel and the cash would be pouring in at a rate no one in the province had ever seen before. That allowed Danny Williams to avoid making a whole bunch of good decisions and to crank up spending to unprecedented and, and in light of the economic slowdowns, likely unsustainable, heights.

The word turned up again a few months later in a quick look at the 2007 budget:

The current and forecast spending increases are based on optimistic projections for the price of oil in the medium term. Any downward trend in commodity prices (oil, minerals etc) will quickly make the consistent spending increases since 2003 unsustainable. Fiscal reality in those circumstances - taking less money in than is flowing out - would require program cuts, job losses and/or tax increases to correct.

Take a second and go read that post.  You’ll find the “unsustainable” again:

That level of per capita spending [second only to Alberta] is unsustainable in the long run. As a recent Atlantic Institute for Market Studies assessment concluded:

“If the province fails to reign in its whopping per capita government spending (about $8800/person [in FY 2006]) and super-size me civil service (96 provincial government employees /1000 people) it will quickly erode any gains from increased energy revenues.”

That is exactly the situation Paul Oram described today.

Look through Bond Papers and you will see repeated warnings about the unsustainable growth in government spending since 2004/05. 

This is not an exercise in “I-told-you-so”;  let’s clear that out of the way at the start.

This is about something much more significant.

Point One:  The issues are not new and the implications of the issues aren’t new.

Go back further than 2006.

Go back to the early to mid 1990s and you will see forecasts that showed the demographics in the province for the time period we are currently in and that mapped out the implications for health care costs.  Some of those same ideas turned up here in several posts throughout 2007 and 2008 that discussed the very serious financial state facing the provincial government.

Point Two:  Fail to plan;  plan to fail.

The current situation is a direct result of a series of short-term decisions made by the current administration since 2003.  The short-term spending decisions took place in every aspect of spending;  health care just happens to be the one place in the budget where the demand for more spending is greatest and where the implications of spending are also proportionately great..

How do we know the decisions have been made on an ad hoc basis?

Well, the indicators are littered throughout the correspondence released today by the provincial government.

For starters, just look at the dates on the e-mails to the regions.  The provincial government only settled on its spending allocations in late February and even then, the decisions were preliminary.  

Since 2003, the budget process has slipped further and further back in time such that crucial decisions – like gross spending – are not made until a few weeks before the end of the fiscal year. The reality of these letters suggests that budget decisions were not made until well into the current fiscal year. 

Throughout the 1990s and into the early part of this century,  the big picture spending decisions were made before Christmas.  By the time late February rolled around, the individual line items had been settled such that there was very little to decide.  In those days, the only adjustments that came after February would be cuts based on any changes to federal spending.

But in a provincial government where cash hasn’t been an issue, there is really no reason why the annual budget process should be so far out of whack that major budget decisions are still not settled four weeks before the end of the fiscal year.

Secondly, notice that the direction from the department to the regions is simply to freeze spending at 2008 levels.  That’s a short-term decision if ever there was one, not the sign of a decision taken within the context of a longer-term plan.

Thirdly, take a look at the list of options offered up by the boards.  In Central, there is a wide and unconnected list.  On  the one hand there are major program shifts.  On the other, there is an inconsequential cancellation of a single position for a few thousand dollars.  In Western, the increased costs forecast include substantial amounts that have to be annualised.  That is, the initial amounts increase over time as with any program spending. 

None of this is a sign of planning either at the regional or provincial level.  Rather it suggests a series of ad hoc decisions being made in response to ad hoc direction from central authorities.  As can be seen particularly in the letter from Western region and Labrador-Grenfell, significant new projects were started in 2007 and 2008 which need to be continued.  Yet, in preparing for 2009, the long-term implications of these projects are called into question by a predicted downturn in the economy.

In truth, this inconsistent management situation matches up with what we have seen from the provincial government across the board.  Capital works projects take inordinately long times to get start.  Significant legislative measures get lost for upwards of two years and more before they are implemented.   All the delays cost money. 

Point Three:  The solution cannot be more of the same.

One of the most obvious implications of analysis done for the Strategic Social Plan approved by cabinet in December 1995 was that government needed to fundamentally change how it delivered some services if it was going to balance the demand with the ability to supply.

Unfortunately, one of the first acts of the Tobin administration in 1996 was to scrap the SSP and replace it with a pale imitation. Gone were the needed reforms.  What has occurred since 2003 has been a continuation of the situation post-1996, with predictable results.  Until now, the Williams administration has steadfastly refused to acknowledge it faced a very serious problem.

But acknowledging that a problem exists is the first step to setting things right.

With all that as the basis, the next few posts will lay out some ideas for producing fundamental changes aimed at providing a financially sound future for the province.


21 September 2009

The truth is out there…

It just ain’t coming from this Mulder.

labradore notes a curious commentary on Sean Cadigan’s recent history of Newfoundland and Labrador written by someone name Judith MacDonald Guy Mulder from Port Hope, Ontario.  The thing appeared in the weekend Telegram but isn’t online.

Ms. Mulder either did not read or did not understand Cadigan's book.  She mentions several things but does not present anything to rebut Cadigan other than merely to assert that he is just wrong. That is always persuasive.

With that said,  her major grievances appear to be that Cadigan :

  1. does not accept the anti-Confederate orthodoxy now in vogue, and,
  2. calls Danny Williams a "tycoon".

On the first of these he ought to be commended.

On the second, it is hard to fathom why she objects to calling Williams a word that means a powerful and wealthy businessman.

Isn't that what he is?

Cadigan’s book is worth taking the time to read if you have an open mind and can understand simple English.  The argument Cadigan offers is not complicated or hard to understand. Cadigan is a professional historian but his writing is, as the saying goes, “accessible” and the themes he weaves are equally easy to grasp. 

This is an exceptional overview of  Newfoundland and Labrador history that deserves to be read by more people.