30 November 2009

CBC SAR story grossly misleading

A CBC story on search and rescue off Newfoundland and Labrador seriously misrepresents the conclusions of a study conducted by air operational research and analysis staff of the Canadian Forces.

CBC’s online story claims in its title that “St. John’s [is the] best SAR base for oil: DND”. 

The story also claimed that:

The 2000 report for DND, titled The Impact of Offshore Oil Operations on East Coast Search and Rescue, questioned whether Gander was the best location for DND to base its Cormorant SAR helicopters.

But the report itself -  linked on the same CBC web page  - tells a very different story. Incidentally, the report, really just the slides and notes for a presentation, is also erroneously dated 2003 in the pdf version title even though the document clearly comes from December 2000. 

A detailed version apparently released in 2001 is mentioned at the end of the slides but CBC makes no reference to it in either the on air or on line stories.

The DND report looked at the impact offshore oil-related flights might have on search and rescue services.  It did not question “whether Gander was the best location” for search and rescue service in Newfoundland and Labrador.   The goal of the research was to determine what impact – if any – offshore flights to oil rigs would have on search and rescue service

In order to conduct the study, the researchers reviewed information on search and rescue performance generally in eastern Canada.  They then projected the potential impact of offshore helicopter operations.  They used several scenarios to try and forecast the potential impact  because, as the study notes, there was only two to three years of data on which to base experience.

As it turned out the DND study, like offshore board projections, grossly over-estimated the number of crashes in the offshore.

The conclusions – listed clearly on Slide 37 of the presentation – show that Gander is clearly the optimal location of search and rescue service based on a number of factors including weather. 

While the modelling used in the report appeared to show St. John’s as a better location for what it terms “Cougar-related” incidents,  “since incident rates for Cougar will probably be quite small, the analysis performed on the historic data should prove greater utility in a direct comparison of Gander with St. John’s.” 

In other words, because Cougar was unlikely to have a high number of incidents, the overall experience operating from a permanent base in Gander would likely tip the scales in favour of the continued use of Gander as the operating base.


The Twelve Days of Nothing

Unless Danny Williams plans to expropriate something or unilateral declare independence from Canada, this fall sitting of the House of Assembly will be one of the shortest and least productive in living memory.

That’s counting – it should be noted -  the short and very unproductive fall sittings of the legislature since Williams took power.

Overall, the House of Assembly now sits annually for fewer days than Tom Rideout was Premier.

That’s 43 for those who don’t recall.

That’s also about half the number of sitting days a decade and more ago.  There were plenty of days in the spring and the fall where members sat in the legislature and they had plenty of time to discuss and debate legislation.  Plus the legislation they debated was substantial stuff.

This fall sitting – delayed supposedly to allow for a couple of by-elections -promises to be even shorter and lighter than usual.

For starters, the House only sits for a few hours each afternoon from Monday to Thursday, anyway. It used to sit five days a week but under amendments brought in during Brian Tobin’s tenure, the house added enough hours so that members could shag off home or to sunnier climes for a long weekend.

Wednesday afternoons are still given over to debate opposition motions.  That leaves three debate days per week for government business.  And with about two hours per day, that adds up to a total of six hours a week in which the members of the legislature will discuss whatever happens to come forward from the government benches.

The House will likely sit for no more than three weeks so, all told, there will only be 12 days of the legislature this fall.

And that would be 18 hours of debate time.

Once that’s done, we won’t see them back until after Easter, most likely.

Meanwhile, don’t count on much happening.

Last fall,  the House debated 38 bills.  That included 15 amendment acts, mostly for minor changes to existing legislation.  Another 13 were one-clause wonders that repealed an obsolete statute or one that would be replaced in the spring sitting.  They could have been handled in a single bill or, more likely included as transitional clauses at the end of the new midwives act or whatever the new bill would be called when it came into effect.

The remainder were new statutes.

It’s pretty bad when 73% of the legislation in a sitting is either minor amendments or busy work.  That’s really all it was:  legislation to make it look like government was doing something when, in fact they had nothing at all.

But it’s not like there aren’t plenty of commitments – some dating back to 2003 – that still haven’t seen the light of day or are otherwise in some sort of political limbo.  Your humble e-scribbler has even gone so far as helping out by providing draft legislation on one of the government’s biggest commitments from 2007:  a whistleblower protection law. Still, they wind up resorting to busy work.

Now to be fair, a couple of the amendments last fall had serious implications.  Bills 63 and 64 created a new regime that further shields a whole new class of government records from scrutiny under the province’s open records laws.

For all the implications of the bill, though, it wound up getting only got cursory discussion.  New Democrat leader Lorraine Michael even breathlessly  endorsed the bill as if she was a Tory backbencher:

We have an excellent committee and this committee will be accountable to the minister. This committee will be the committee that will determine how the government records are managed. This committee will be the committee that will establish and revive schedules for the retention, disposal, destruction or transfer of records. They will make recommendations to the minister respecting government records to be forwarded to the Archives, will establish disposal and destruction standards and guidelines for the lawful disposal and destruction of government records and make recommendations to the minister regarding the removal, disposal and destruction of records.

The committee may well be excellent but Lorraine’s grasp of the legislation was evidently limited.

In any event both bills sped through the house over a few hours in December.

And that was it, except for the flurry on December 16 in which the government was able to ram a bill through the House seizing the hydro assets of at least three companies, quashing an active court case – find another such statute in the country – and generally creating as gigantic legal and financial battle which has not yet been settled.

We might only hope that something quite as entertaining come sup again.

But then again, maybe not.  The opposition parties went along with the seizure bill without so much as a question.

Let’s see if the 2009 fall sitting winds up being a productive time or, as past experience shows, winds up being a raft of busy work spread over 12 calendars days.


88 and a wedgie!

There’s an old Newfoundland joke about a fellow jumping up and down on a manhole cover on a street in downtown Ottawa.

A crowd gathers to watch the guy.  They are amazed at his exuberance in jumping up and down and yelling “87!” at the top of every leap.

Finally one of the mainlanders strikes up the courage to ask what he’s doing.

“Jumping up and down,” sez the Newfoundlander.  “You should try it.  Lots of fun."

So after a couple of minutes the fellow puts down his briefcase and steps forward to take his spot. The Newfoundlander steps aside.

The mainlander jumps up and as he does, the Newfoundlander whips the manhole cover out.  The poor mainlander drops straight into the sewer.

The Newfoundlander pushes the cover back in place and starts jumping again, a big grin on his face.

“88!” he yells.

Danny Williams could be that Newfoundlander.

And Michael Ignatieff is the hapless fellow staring down at the open sewer beneath his feet.

The Ig-man, you see, deigned to visit Newfoundland and Labrador on Friday and pledged any government he leads will be a “good partner” and pay for the Lower Churchill.

According to a story in the Saturday Telegram  here’s what Ignatieff told reporters after the Board of Trade luncheon:

When it comes to the Lower Churchill, the federal leader said every Canadian wants the project to be developed and pledge the Liberal’s support [sic] for it, if his party takes office. [Telegram, Saturday Nov 28, 2009, p.A5, “Ignatieff says Harper lacks vision”,  not on line]

Now Ignatieff didn’t offer to foot the whole bill,  but the actual words and their meaning has always been no never mind in the world Danny Williams’ lives in.  If Williams wants to make the claim, he will.  Not a single politician or reporter in the province will take the time to find out what – if anything – the other party actually said.  They will do as they have always done:  accept Danny Williams’ version at face value, even if there is evidence readily available which contradicts his claim. 

At the very least, Williams will use Ignatieff ’s naive comments as a political poker to ram into whatever part of Ignatieff serves Williams’ purse.  He did it to Paul Martin.  He’s done it to Stephen Harper. 

And if Danny Williams wants to impress Stephen Harper as a way of mending broken fences between the federal and provincial Conservatives, Ignatieff has given Williams the perfect weapon with which to beat Liberal candidates about the head.  Some will undoubtedly sheer off, as they have sheered off in the past desperate for any sign of Williams’ favour.  Others will feel the pain as their leader’s words are pounded at them from every corner.

If that were not bad enough, Ignatieff also waded into the transmission corridor issue, talking about getting Newfoundland and Labrador power to market.   Ignatieff ’s advisors should have warned him off such an issue since it is entirely fictional.   They didn’t or he ignored them.  Either way, Ignatieff ’s comments on transmission corridors will do do nothing but give Williams a wedge for himself or for Stephen Harper to use between Ignatieff and provincial Liberals in New Brunswick and Quebec. 

Maybe none of that will occur.

But if recent history is any guide, Michael Ignatieff just set himself as the next federal political leader to jump up off the manhole cover in the modern-day incarnation of a very old joke.


28 November 2009

Bucking the NB Power Hysteria

Tom Adams and Brian Lee Crowley take a look at the NB power sale in this weeks Globe.  it’s worth the read if only since it ignores the hysteria being fomented by opponents of the deal including New Brunswick’s version of Talk Show Sue, none other than Danny Williams.

Not quite so useful a contribution to any understanding of the issue comes from Canada’s Ersatz George Will ©.

Jeff Simpson displays as appalling a level of ignorance about energy issues in Newfoundland and Labrador as his column on Friday showed about the province’s demographic issues.

Viewed from St. John's, the Hydro-Québec offer is part of a decades-long effort to prevent Newfoundland from being the principal beneficiary of Labrador's huge hydro potential. If N.B. Power falls into Hydro-Québec's hands, then the massive Quebec utility will geographically encircle Newfoundland.

Viewing the world from St. John’s but understanding the issues, your humble e-scribbler has a completely different view.  And so do plenty more. 

But Safari Jeff wouldn’t know that because he likely flew in, did the hob-nob stuff a columnist of his august stature does and then frigged off back to Toronto.

For those who missed it, you can find his demographic nonsense dissected at labradore.

In a nutshell, it goes like this.  Safari Jeff states in his lede that:

For the first time in almost four decades, the population of Newfoundland and Labrador has actually grown.

The reality is that Newfoundland and Labrador’s population has grown many times in the past four decades.

The "first time in almost four decades" claim is true... if you start counting your four decades in 1993.

Yep and that “viewed from” line should have included the words “by Danny Williams” right after “St. John’s”.


The Curious Drop Two: site design and content?

Some people left interesting comments on why some local news websites have experienced apparent traffic drops over the past 12 months or so.

Another comment came on Friday as an aside in a conversation.  Maybe it was tied – as the suggestion went – to the change at the vocm.com website.


The start of the drop predates the change-over, although the drop seems to accelerate somewhat after July 2009.  The website changed some time in June.

And that wouldn’t explain the corresponding – although less severe  - drop at the Telegram.  The Telegram has also changed its website content over time, adding some blog space and bumping up its “breaking” news space to the point where you can sometimes get one line virtually all of what will eventually appear in the next day’s print edition.

That should have produced an uptick in traffic, especially from news junkies who will click the three local sites to see what is going on right now.  That’s likely what the Telly editors thought when they went down the road.  More eyeballs can and should produce an upward trend in readership and that helps sell more hard copies.  It should also help boost revenue from advertising online.

Now the other part of the VO conversation was a comment that the site is appalling.  Yes it is, agreed your humble e-scribbler.  It is an assault on the eyeballs, for the most part. 

The news content is also curiously presented, as labradore noted on Friday.  A story on the by-election in Terra Nova features a giant odd-angled shot of Hisself.  it’s got the “WTF-I-never-knew-you-were-behind-me” look to it. Good on Linda or whoever it was for carrying on the fine Scott Chafe tradition of getting the flag in the shot, too.

If the site change didn’t cause the drop, it sure as hell didn’t arrest the development.

The whole thing is rather curious.

And the cogitation on it continues here and  - very likely – at the newsrooms involved as well.


27 November 2009

Constant motion = more delays and nothing new

In the perpetual shuffle process that is the provincial cabinet and senior public service under Danny Williams, three more changes took place on Friday.

Terry French, a parliamentary secretary and by-election organizer finally got his reward of a the extra salary that comes for sitting at the cabinet table.  He’s the last of the crowd elected before 2003 to get the extra.

Tom Hedderson evidently did such a miserable job in fisheries that he has been relieved of that purgatory and given the patronage portfolio.  Meanwhile, Clyde Jackman must be wondering who he pissed off to get fisheries from Tom Hedderson.

All in all, this turned out to be a set of appointments of such monumental nothingness that it makes one wonder why it took the Premier two whole months to figure out what to do.

You may recall that these shuffles were the cascading effect of Trevor Taylor’s departure  - which the Premier knew of before it happened and could therefore plan to handle – and the resignation of Paul Oram.  he lashed a few people into temporary jobs to get over the immediate hump, then lashed up a few more to cope with Diane Whelan’s illness.

Well, after all that time, the Premier didn’t do very much for all the cogitating he supposedly wanted to do. Perhaps he was too busy trying to figure out how many of his personal political staff could crowd into the backrooms of Sandy Collins’ campaign headquarters to make sure Sandy won the by-election in Terra Nova. The answer:  all of ‘em. 

All this comes on the eve of what will be a shortened fall session of  a provincial legislature with the ignominious distinction of sitting annually for fewer days than Tom Rideout was Premier back in 1989.

Very little legislation is likely to come forward.  There is plenty that is missing in action:  Grenfell autonomy, whistleblower protection, midwives.

As noted here before, the seemingly perpetual micro shuffles coupled with a few other things seem to produce a government which cannot actually do very much. 

They talk a lot about doing stuff but produce very little of substance.

And when they do produce something worthwhile, like say an act to provide for sustainable economic development, they don’t proclaim the thing.  Two years and not a peep on it.

Even a strategy on how to keep young people from,leaving the province to find work took 18 months, cost untold thousands and ended up with some really obvious ideas.

The first one was:  “create jobs”.

No wonder people sometimes wonder if your humble e-scribbler makes this stuff up.

Would but that were true.


The curious drop

Take a break from all the kerfuffle in the universe and take a look at some interesting statistics on two local media websites that anyone can find using Google trends.

These are 2008 daily unique visitor figures for vocm.com and thetelegram.com.


These are the 2009 figures for the same sites.

locals2009 Now if you can’t quite pick out those numbers, be assured that they have dropped. The Telly website has dropped from an average of over 3,000 unique visitors per day to something around 2,000 by rough estimate while at VOCM, the daily traffic has dropped by about half.  It’s gone from over 6,000 unique visitors per day to as few as 3,000 in early October.

For those who don’t know, the Telly is the province’s major daily newspaper.  VOCM is the flagship of Steele Communications.  The company is the province-wide commercial radio entity, operating both AM and FM outlets across the province.

Now without access to listener data for VOCM or more current daily subscription data for the Telegram, it’s hard to know if this is unique or part of an overall pattern of decline in audience. 

In 2008, the Telly was showing about 22,000 paid subscribers each the weekday and 41,000 for the Saturday edition. The company axed its Sunday edition in 2008 and at the time of its demise, the Sunday paper was pulling no more readers than the weekday editions.  That may have boosted the Saturday numbers somewhat subsequently but it would still be a far cry from the 60-odd thousand and more the Telly used to print a decade and more ago.

Things are not any better at the Mother Corp.  The figures below are for the main cbc.ca site, not the local version, but the numbers are not encouraging either.

ceeb08At the national level, the mighty Ceeb is having a bit of a problem of its own.  It’s online audience has fallen from somewhere around 150, 000 uniques a day down half that much or less in 2009 (below.   ceeb09

Now there’s no big analysis here.  This is just one of those things your humble e-scribbler noticed in passing and then filed away to think about. That’s the way online writing actually happens:  it’s a work in progress and many times thinking evolves over time.  If it really works people can bring ideas to the table, and in the mix of discussion new ideas emerge.

That’s really one of the big strengths that online writing on current affairs has over all traditional media.  It really can become much more of a collaborative experience or a shared experience of discovery and understanding. 

Maybe that’s where this will lead, to an examination of the local media websites and the impact online writing has had on some aspects of local news media.  Maybe it will lead somewhere else.

In any event,  this is some of the curious information that sometimes pops up.  What it means will be something for another day.


26 November 2009

The Terra Nova by-election result

Just to drive home the point on just how inaccurate CRA polls really are here are some comparisons using the Terra Nova by-election.

Actual Turnout
Actual, Percent, Turnout
Percent, All
CRA Nov Turnout
Corrected All
CRA, Corrected, Turnout

Total Eligible

The first column shows the actual turnout vote along with the number that didn’t show up.

The second column shows the turnout divvied up among the three parties, with the people who didn’t vote discounted. That’s basically the way CRA does its numbers as a percentage of “decideds”. Everything that didn’t make a vote choice is lumped in a big pile and tossed to one side.

The third column shows the actual percentages for each category, including those who didn’t vote.

The fourth column is where it gets funny. If we take the actual turnout of 4358 eligible voters and divide them according to the shares that CRA projected, this is the percent and the number you get. As you can see, these numbers aren’t even close to the actual result in any way shape or form.

That fifth column uses the corrected CRA results and plots out the projected returns in comparison to all eligible voters. Frankly, this is the one that CRA results should most closely model.

Well, it should but it doesn’t. You can see the undecided, will not vote is way off. The Tory vote is inflated, the Liberal vote is pushed down and the NDP number is pretty close to right, relatively speaking.

Then in that last column and just for even more fun, there’s a comparison of the CRA figures – corrected as a percentage of all – and then reapportioned as the turnout vote.

Well that one is a wee bit closer to what actually happened but for some bizarre reason CRA just can’t seem to get that Liberal vote even close to right.

Now to anyone who really wants to think hard about the results consider column three as your food for sustain you over the long cold winter. A higher percentage of people stayed home in Terra Nova than turned out to exercise their democratic right.

Almost half the voters in Terra Nova district opted to sit out rather than get involved.

Someone needs to probe the reasons why but your humble e-scribbler would venture there is a something that would motivate those people to get out and vote. There is something that none of the parties has currently figured out.

But if someone could energise those people, you could actually defeat any one of the existing parties – including Hisself – and do so handily. What would motivate those voters might even peel voters away from one or more of the other piles.

Now there’s an interesting idea to give some people the cold sweats at night.


Spending scandal widens

The Royal Newfoundland Constabulary laid charges today against a man identified as owning one of three companies involved in the House of Assembly spending scandal.

John William Hand, aged 68, is facing charges of fraud, fraud against the government and breach of probation.  According to CBC Here and Now, the breach of probation charge stems from a previous conviction related to the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency. The Telegram has details online.

Hand had not been previously identified as connected to the three companies:  Zodiac Agencies, JAS Enterprises and Cedar Scents International. 

The companies supplied souvenirs, pins, fridge magnets and other similar items to members of the legislature. Auditor General John Noseworthy alleged the companies received $2.65 million improperly in the period from 1998 to 2005.


How the Tories get 28% more votes thanks to CRA

Support for the ruling Conservatives went down in the last quarter compared to three months earlier. But you’d never know that if you read the news release from Corporate Research Associates.

That’s because CRA torques its news releases. Here’s how CRA presents its information in a misleading way.

1. Release early, for no apparent reason. CRA normally polls in one month and releases results early the next month. For the November polls, CRA has sometimes released results as late as December 12.

For some unknown reason, CRA released the November 2009 report a week earlier than usual.

Coincidentally it was right before a crucial by-election.

2. Release out of sequence. CRA usually releases the Newfoundland and Labrador results last, cycling through its other provincial quarterly results before getting to Newfoundland and Labrador. For some unknown reason, CRA released the NL results first AND posted them online before the end of business the day they were released.

3. Reporting as share of decideds boosts apparent results for Tories by 28%.

cra november 09The chart at right shows the CRA number in red and the correct number in blue.

There’s a huge difference between the two. It shows the Tory support as being 17 and 18 percentage points higher than it actual is in CRA’s polling.

Put another way, CRA’s way of showing the numbers inflates Tory support by 28%. You get that number by taking 17 percentage points as a share of 60 percentage points. In the last result, the Tory number is artificially inflated by 24% because of the dubious reporting method.

And not everyone does it. In fact, researchers shy away from this sort of reporting because it distorts results.

Just check the other pollsters and see what they do. You’ll be surprised.

4. Hide the trends. Reporting results as a share of decideds masks the real trends, or, as in the past three quarter gives the wrong trends. Tory support isn’t up and stable, as suggested by the CRA torqued version. CRA’s own numbers - presented more accurately - show support for the Tories going down.

And what’s more it has been declining steadily since November 2007.

So what would the ordinary Newfoundlander or Labradorian think if they heard that from news media instead of the torqued version? The partisans won’t care: they’ll be leaping forward to note the Tories are still miles ahead of the opposition. Anyone using that line is likely a Tory partisan or one being spun by them.

But if ordinary people had heard the whole story presented accurately over time, would their opinion change over that same time?

Bet on it.

Now there’s also a suspicious pattern of results through 2009 – varying over nine months by less than one half of one percent - but that’s a whole other issue.

5. Don’t tell what you know and can tell.

As we know from polls released through access to information in September, CRA knows a lot more about public opinion in the province than they tell.

Opinion results vary by region of the province. Opinions sometimes run differently in one region compared to the overall picture. They also vary by age, sex, education and income.

If ordinary people knew all that, perception of continued high satisfaction across the province or increasing voter support would change and odds are it would change radically.

But people can’t know since CRA hides information from the public.

6. Don’t tell all you know. The people at CRA know they ask questions on behalf of the provincial government - yes, they pay for questions every quarter - but ethically it can’t report those results. However, the people at CRA also know that information they can’t say tells a very different story from what they do say.

Did you know last August that people were actually dissatisfied with government performance on something like health care?

Well, that story in the Telegram didn’t get as wide coverage as the original torqued news release which was carried by most media, including VOCM.

CRA could find a way to tell all they know, ethically, if they wanted to.

7. Report questions you didn’t ask. CRA routinely tells you that people in the province are completely satisfied or mostly satisfied with the ruling Conservatives.

They only problem is that is an answer they never got.

CRA regularly asks about satisfaction but they use a standard break-down that gives respondents a moderate option - “somewhat” - and a high option: “mostly”.

They report two high options that CRA never asked. You can see this in Table 3b in the link above. The question is described one way at the top and another way at the bottom.

And before you try it, remember that it is very unusual for people to respond outside the range they are given.

But if they got ones outside the range, ethically CRA would have to report the full range of responses including the information on the scale as they set it up themselves. If there were no “somewhat” they’d have to say that.

But since they don’t report that way, you can be pretty much guaranteed, CRA is torquing the meaning but changing respondent answers. The moderate category “somewhat” becomes the high end category “mostly” and “mostly” becomes “completely”.

Couple that with the data they withhold – variation by region, age sex and so on - and you can get a very different picture of the province’s people and their opinions than the one offered up by CRA every quarter.

No matter what way you slice it though, CRA results are presented in a way that is misleading and in some cases it is grossly misleading.

And when will conventional news media start questioning what they are getting when the evidence of torquing is overwhelming?

Good question.

But as you can see, there are lots of ways to goose a poll.


25 November 2009

Humber Valley Resort sold

The troubled Humber Valley Resort, which last year went into bankruptcy last year, has a new buyer according to the trustees Ernst and Young.

No details have been released but the deal may close as early as December 18.


Now that’s really suspicious

Corporate Research Associates polls like clockwork every November.

The provincial government knows that because because they buy the quarterly omnibus.

Since 2006, CRA has released it’s November results as follows:

2006:  December 12.

2007:  December 6.

2008:  December 9.

That’s the data available on line. 

Go back before that and you will likely find the results released typically in the first week of December or later, depending on how the calendar falls in a given year.

Here’s a little challenge for you:  find the last time CRA released a quarterly omnibus poll on or about November 25, that is a week before the end of November.

Odd coincidence that there is a by-election in this province on the 26th, isn’t it?


24 November 2009

Rutter to gain from US defence contract

Local manufacturer Rutter technologies will likely profit from a US Army contract worth $2.2 billion for General Dynamics’s London operations to deliver 724 LAV II light armoured vehicles by 2011.

The order is through the Army’s Security Assistance Command, meaning the vehicles are likely destined for delivery to another country, potentially Saudi Arabia under a request from 2006.

BISON recoveryThe LAV II was first produced in 1996.   The photo at right – by Sergeant Frank Hudec, Canadian Forces Combat Camera – shows a Canadian Forces LAV II (Bison) recovery vehicle.

According to the official news release the order is for 10 variants.  Although the release doesn’t give a destination that is consistent with the Saudi request for its national guard. The original order was valued at US$5.8 billion including all the associated weapons, equipment ,  spares etc.

For the past 15 years, Rutter has been producing electronics and electromechanical subassemblies for General Dynamics’ light armoured vehicle family.

LAV_III This includes the LAV II vehicles as well as the more recent LAV III/Stryker vehicles (left) for the Canadian Forces and the US Army Stryker divisions.  

In 2007, Rutter landed a $1.25 million contract to build components for the RG-31 mine resistant armoured vehicle. 

rg-31The RG-31 is derived from South African Nyala, right.



Ready, Aim, Fire Truck!

Seems the use of fire trucks as polling season props just never gets old.

This one even made CBC supper hour news.


How many cabinet ministers…

does it take to fight a by-election?

Most of ‘em if reports from the wilds of  Terra Nova are any sign.

The politicos from all sides have piled into every available space in the last few hours leading up to polling day this Thursday. Things are so thick with volunteers that there is a danger some of them might wind up sharing a lunch table at Sheila’s.  Imagine how bad things would get for space if Tom Hedderson and Roland Butler wound up grabbing a few winks at opposite ends of a couch. 

Even Hisself has been campaigning heavily in the district, as one might expect.  Well, his truck has been sighted.

One major difference from The Straits:  only Hisself is allowed to take to the fine airwaves of voice of the cabinet minister’s talk shows to discuss the wondrous glory they are discovering in rural Newfoundland.  

At least that lesson has been learned. 

By the way, has anyone asked Kevin O’Brien what district he is in this time?


Danny Williams, Hydro Quebec and Churchill Falls: that was then, Part 2

From  the Telegram December 4, 2002, and a story of a rally in St. John’s:

Williams added, “Two million dollars (a day) — $60 million a month, that’s what we’re losing on the Upper Churchill and (the government is) telling us we’re living in the past. Well, there’s 39 more years of that that we got to live with. Our position here tonight … is that there should be no deal on the Lower Churchill until there’s redress on the Upper Churchill.”

No deal without redress?

What an idea.


Danny Williams, Hydro Quebec and Churchill Falls: that was then edition

In light of Kathy Dunderdale’s revelation of secret efforts to start talks on the Lower Churchill with Hydro Quebec as part owner, it’s interesting to go back and look at what Danny Williams used to say when other people tried the same thing.

The year is 2002.  In fact,   the release came  two days shy of one year before Williams won the 2003 general election as it turned out.

Back then, redress for the 1969 contract was an integral part of Williams’ policy and the thought of splitting one (1969 and redress) from the other (the Lower Churchill) was anathema:

…Yet, Roger Grimes has categorically stated that the Upper Churchill and Lower Churchill agreements are separate entities. In referring to this new agreement, he recently said, ‘Let's not be stuck in the past.' I say those who do not learn from the lessons of history are doomed to repeat them. Nobody wants to see this province walk away from the only lever we have to seek some form of redress from the Upper Churchill. I don't accept Premier Grimes' position. [Emphasis added]


Who would have thought that a mere three years later, Danny Williams would be trying to recreate Roger Grimes’ policy to the letter?


The full text of the news release:

Williams calls for more
information on Lower Churchill

ST. JOHN'S, October 24, 2002 — Danny Williams, Leader of the Opposition and MHA for Humber West, today called on Roger Grimes to provide the people of Newfoundland and Labrador with additional information on the deal now being finalized with Québec to develop the Lower Churchill.

"We are asking for additional information on this deal to develop the people's resource so that we can understand exactly what is being proposed and possibly offer a few suggestions that may be able to help the process. Unfortunately, because it is being negotiated in secret, we know very little about this deal and therefore are not able to provide constructive thoughts and suggestions as to how it can be improved," Williams said in a news conference.

"The agreement-in-principle reached between Québec and Newfoundland and Labrador involves new concepts and new ideas that were not previously discussed. It is fundamentally different from the principles agreed to with Québec in 1998. In fact, this entire arrangement sprang out of nowhere just days after talks between this province and Alcoa fell apart. There has not been a single update provided to the House of Assembly. We were not able to ask a single question in the legislature on behalf of the people, which is our right and duty as the Official Opposition. The government has an obligation to provide the people with this information in order to allow meaningful debate."

Williams outlined a number of concerns with the limited details of the deal as described by Premiers Grimes and Landry. "The principles do not appear to address the future energy requirements of the province. This is further evidence that our province does not have an energy plan. Roger Grimes has stated that there will not be a transmission line to the Island. Therefore, the Island will never have access to clean, cheap and renewable hydroelectricity.

"This should be of great concern as this province presently uses almost all of the hydroelectricity at its disposal. All new developments must be powered by conventional fossil fuel energy sources. That places this province at a serious disadvantage when competing for new industrial developments, even more so now that the government of Canada plans to ratify the Kyoto Accord.

"This agreement will see all of our hydroelectricity shipped exclusively to Québec so that it can become the supplier of choice for cheap power. Québec will be in an excellent position to attract new investors. Obviously, Québec has an energy plan to attract new investors. My question is simple: what will we use to attract new investors?"

Williams also pointed out that this agreement fails to seek redress for the Upper Churchill contract with Québec, which has been a key objective for successive Liberal governments. "The Upper Churchill power project must be the most lopsided agreement ever signed in the history of Canada. Prominent Newfoundlanders and Labradorians, such as Chuck Furey, a former energy minister, and Vic Young, former president and chief executive officer of Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro, have stated that any deal to develop the Lower Churchill must address the incredible loss suffered by this province through the Upper Churchill. I agree.

"Yet, Roger Grimes has categorically stated that the Upper Churchill and Lower Churchill agreements are separate entities. In referring to this new agreement, he recently said, ‘Let's not be stuck in the past.' I say those who do not learn from the lessons of history are doomed to repeat them. Nobody wants to see this province walk away from the only lever we have to seek some form of redress from the Upper Churchill. I don't accept Premier Grimes' position."

- 30 -

Husky updates White Rose oil information information

Husky Energy announced on Monday an update to its drilling program related to the White Rose production project.

According to Husky North Amethyst E-17 (inside the area of production license 1007) drilled in 2008 has shown an estimated 60 million barrels of petroleum in place.  A further assessment of results from exploration well E-09 (within the area of production license 1006) the discovery “contains an estimate of discovered PIIP  [petroleum initially in place0 of 100 to 250 million barrels (best estimate of 170 million barrels) of light crude oil.”

That isn’t what the cbc.ca/nl online story says, by the way.

In any event, you can see both wells marked on this close-up of a map produced by the offshore regulatory board.

map - Husky announcement 23 nov 09 

Now it is interesting to note that the legend for this map shows something rather odd when you match it up with the news release.

legend According to the legend – and if your humble e-scribbler is interpreting this correctly - North Amethyst E-17 is marked as an abandoned well using a symbol that appears to represent a dry hole. 

E-09 is marked as an abandoned well with oil and gas showing.

Plus, these two wells appear to be part of different structures:  North Amethyst and Hibernia Formation.

That’s something for your humble e-scribbler to follow up on with the offshore board for clarification. 

If you look at the release again, though, it doesn’t actually appear to add any new information to what has been announced previously. 

In early 2008, North Amethyst was said to hold about 70 million barrels of proven, probably and possible reserves.  That was based on delineation from 2006.

Now that isn’t the specific result from well E-17;  that was the result for the entire North Amethyst structure that is part of the satellite development. E-17 is actually quite far north of the glory hole for North Amethyst

This announcement on November 23 appears to deal with the structure E-09 explored  - if you read the release a certain way - back in the 1980s.  This announcement on Monday just reassesses old data.

So does the announcement on 23 November show  more oil or is it the same oil as before just described differently?  Good question.

It might be instructive to look at the fine print at the bottom of the release:

Discovered petroleum initially-in-place is that quantity of petroleum that is estimated, as of a given date, to be contained in known accumulations prior to production. The recoverable portion of discovered petroleum initially-in-place includes production, reserves and contingent resources; the remainder is unrecoverable. A recovery project cannot be defined for these volumes of discovered petroleum initially-in-place at this time. There is no certainty that it will be commercially viable to produce any portion of the resources.

Now this doesn’t mean the White Rose project and the extensions are not occurring.  Rather, there might just be some confusion in media reports about what this announcement means.


23 November 2009

Five years of secret talks on Lower Churchill: the Dunderdale Audio

In early September, natural resources minister Kathy Dunderdale revealed that the provincial government tried unsuccessfully for five years to get Hydro-Quebec to take an ownership stake in the Lower Churchill project.

A key component of the offers to HQ included the pledge to set aside any talk of redress for the 1969 Churchill Falls contract.

The talks were never revealed publicly until Dunderdale’s admission.

The news was all the more astonishing given that Premier Danny Williams stated repeatedly between 2001 and 2005 that he would not cut a deal with Hydro-Quebec on the Lower Churchill without some from of compensation – redress – for the inequitable 1969 contract that sees Hydro-Quebec buy virtually all the Churchill falls output for fractions of a cent per kilowatt hour.

To date, not a single conventional media outlet has reported Dunderdale’s comments.

Amazingly, not a single conventional media outlet has picked up the very obvious point about setting aside any grievance over the 1969 contract despite Williams repeated pledges to make redress a part of any Lower Churchill deal that involved Hydro-Quebec. 

That grievance is a core part of Williams’ intervention in the New Brunswick Power proposal.  On Friday, he noted the appropriateness of the Atlantic Premier’s meeting at Churchill Falls since “it symbolizes exactly what's happened to Newfoundland and Labrador at the hands of Hydro-Quebec.”

While excerpts have been posted at Bond Papers and at labradore previously, this is the first time, the audio file has been posted: Kathy Dunderdale, September 4, 2009, live on VOCM Open Line with Randy Simms (he’s the fellow pictured with mayoral chain ‘round his neck).




22 November 2009

The Blog versus the Lobby: a U.K. perspective

Here’s a short piece in which Paul Staines a.k.a Guido Fawkes looks at the difference between his online work and the journalists who cover politics for the mainstream media.


The persuasion business on Capitol Hill

From Friday’s New York Times, four views on the art of persuasion as practiced in the United States Capitol using the health reform bill as the centrepiece.

There’s reference in the article to the Johnson Treatment. To get the full effect, you can find the famous 1957 series of four photographs of then-senator Lyndon Johnson at work, by NYT photographer George Tames.


21 November 2009

Kremlinology 12: Dead caribou edition

Odd -  dontcha think  - that members of the Innu Nation chose the last part of last week to challenge the provincial government on caribou hunting in an area where previously they’d been generally supportive.

Every year, usually in the spring, some Innu from Quebec cross the border and take down a few of the very few remaining caribou in the Red Wine herd.  There’s always a flurry of news coverage and righteously indignant news releases from the provincial wildlife minister.

This year, the controversy arose in November, coincidental with the Churchill Falls/Lower Churchill meeting of Atlantic Premiers and involved some of the Innu from Sheshatshiu.

The spokesperson was Peter Penashue who – again just coincidentally -  has also been front and centre lately, discussing the latest round of never-ending discussions to finalise a land claims deal that was supposedly finalised last fall and which Penashue recently said actually wouldn’t be done for another three years or so.

On the caribou issue, Penashue was hammering away at the supposed lack of consultation between the Innu and the provincial government on wildlife management.

More interestingly though, here’s how the Globe contrasted Penashue from five years ago when the Quebec Innu were doing the spring hunt and Penashue today:

"No one knows for sure if Red Wine woodland caribou were killed, or, if they were, how many," he wrote then in The Globe and Mail.

"The hunt in the Red Wine caribou range was not just an illegal protest, it was completely inconsistent with Innu values. ... Putting a threatened caribou herd at further risk can never be justified on the basis of aboriginal rights."

He said last night that "I obviously wouldn't concur with" that statement now, saying that he had lost faith in the provincial government's ability to manage the caribou.

Interestingly, Premier Danny Williams described the Innu land claims agreement as being crucial to the Lower Churchill:

Williams recently told a Telegram editorial board that if the New Dawn Agreement with the Labrador Innu isn't ratified, the Lower Churchill deal would die.

That’s from a story in the Saturday edition which isn’t on line.

The timing is rather interesting, though. 

If the Innu were really close to settling the land claims issue with the provincial government that is so crucial to the Lower Churchill project, then it seems odd the point man on the New Dawn agreement would be out on such a particular day in such a conspicuous way tackling the provincial government for its lack of consultation.

We’ll all know something is up for certain – he said perhaps only somewhat facetiously  - if the Fan Klub starts linking Penashue to Hydro Quebec and Shawn Graham.

And the Pentavaret.


Monopoly: Labrador Morning version

Thankfully there are still some places in the province where a sense of humour hasn’t been surgically removed.

The crowd up in Labrador took advantage of the Friday meeting in Churchill Falls to have a little fun in the midst of all the heavy discussing.

Give it a listen.  It’s funny stuff.


Yet more on the NB Power, Hydro Quebec, Danny Williams racket


1.  Shawn Graham had some strong words in advance of yesterday’s meeting of the Atlantic premiers. At the end of the meeting things were not much different.

2.  An independent panel will review the NB Power deal.

3.  A quick review of recent events will show that as far as the argument goes from Newfoundland and Labrador, something under the bed is still drooling.

4.  Note the reference in that 2006 post to selling power by avoiding Quebec.  Little did your humble e-scribbler  - or anybody else in the province for that matter – know until recently.

4.  The completely invented (i.e. false) nature of some of the comments used in the pure emotional arguments about the boogey man are glaringly obvious if you know something of the actual story.  Danny Williams said yesterday that “it's obviously symbolic that we're here today at the place where the original Upper Churchill deal was done.”  That’s in the Telegraph-Journal story in the first link.

Apparently they were in Montreal, not Churchill Falls.  Yes, Williams was being his usual hyperbolic, figurative, never-literal self, but that sort of comment is taken as fact by too many people – perhaps even Williams himself – given how little is evidently known about the 1969 boogey man in the first place.

Take as another f’rinstance, the tale of Ottawa’s role in the whole affair as described in the story about the power corridor

5.  And if you want a sense of the reason why hysteria, fantasy and emotion are so powerful, consider Russell Wangersky’s observations on the nature of modern media and the audience they work hard to serve.

We're conditioning ourselves to expect the crack cocaine of immediate gratification - and when we can't get that short, sharp shock immediately, we move on to somewhere where we can.

Indeed we are.

And his words are worth the time given that so much of what he says is both a cause and a symptom of a very current issue in the province. It’s a topic tackled around these parts before:

On another level, though, what the Premier meant in that case is actually irrelevant. What it is simply worth noting that not a single reporter thought it worth asking a simple question. Not one thought to ask what he meant, just to be clear. Inquisitiveness - supposedly at the core of the journalistic profession, let alone the source of our species' progress - was absent.

Not one wanted to know.

Reporters reflect the society in which they work. There's no way of knowing if the Internet has changed the way people are thinking or if it merely facilitated a trend already present. Television was decried as an idiot box and in some respects, Carr and others are simply transferring the epithet to the box sitting on or under many of our desks.

The source of the change is not as important as the consequences of the shift, the lessening desire to know things.

Chenza at court, the court of silence, as the Tamarians would say.


20 November 2009

Danny Williams, Hydro Quebec and the Lower Churchill

For the record – via labradore – with full audio of natural resources minister Kathy Dunderdale's September 4 comments to randy Simms of VOCM Open Line to follow:

Y’know, the Premier has gone to Quebec, and gone to Premier Charest, and, y’know, we’ve had NALCO(R) visit y’know Hydro-Quebec, I’ve been meeting with Ministers and so on. And we say to them, okay, y’know, we’ll set the Upper Churchill to one side, but, y’know, let’s sit down and have a talk about this Lower Churchill piece.

Y’know, we know that we have to have a win-win situation here.

Because we, as I’ve said earlier this week, we know that if you don’t have win-win you have win and poison pill. Because that’s what we’ve got with the Upper Churchill. So we can have a win-win situation.

We know that if you come in here as an equity player that you have to have a good return on your investment. And we want you to have a good return on your investment.

But it also has to be a good deal for the people of Newfoundland and Labrador.

Now we have been with that message back and forth [i.e. to Hydro-Quebec] for five years. No, sir. No, sir. There is no takeup on that proposal.

That’s right folks. 

Danny Williams tried unsuccessfully and in secret for five years to sell a chunk of the Lower Churchill to Hydro Quebec with no redress on the Churchill Falls contract. Oddly enough that put Williams efforts at selling the Lower Churchill – without compensation for Churchill falls right back to around the time he said no deal was possible without compensation.

As CTV reported in April 2005:

Williams reiterated Monday that any deal with Quebec will have to include some kind of redress to the province for the unfair split of profits from the Upper Churchill.

But he offered no specifics on what redress could entail.

Update: In December 2002, Williams told a crowd gathered to protest a deal on the Lower Churchill that

“Our position here tonight … is that there should be no deal on the Lower Churchill until there’s redress on the Upper Churchill.”

That was reported in the Telegram on December 4, 2002 in a story titled “Tories rally – election style”.


The Tempest Tick-Tock: key events in the Hydro Quebec and NB Power tirades

It helps to put a timeline on things sometimes.

May:  While a bill that is supposed to create the energy corporation is introduced as the first bill of the session, the text of the bill doesn’t show up until near the end of the spring 2006 session. The record for the bill is bizarre.  It shows the bill passed through second reading and committee stage four days after it passed first reading.


June 4 and 5:   In a couple of short sessions and with very little public debate and discussion, the legislature passes two bills revamping the hydro corporation and creating the energy corporation.  This amounts to a massive  reworking of the province’s energy corporation, originally created in 2006.  

Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro forms the initial core of the company but internal structure  creates series of interlocking directorates of subsidiaries.

NL Hydro retains exemption given in 2006  to EPCA restriction that electricity producers in province delivering to customers in province may only be engaged in electricity activities.  PUB must still set Hydro rates to ensure profitability.

At some point in the re-organization, CF(L)Co becomes a subsidiary of NALCOR instead of CFLCo.  This makes NLH – the Lower Churchill proponent – equal within the internal corporate structure  to the company that was once its subsidiary.

June 13 and 14: In a high-speed process and with very little debate or public scrutiny, the  House of Assembly amends the Electrical Power Control Act 1994 (EPCA) to lay out method for making water management agreement where two projects exist on same watercourse.   Amendments to take effect on date set by cabinet. 


June 3 and 4:   At high speed and with very little debate, the legislature approves major changes to the energy corporation legislation. Includes significant changes to the rules governing creation of subsidiaries, as well as massive changes to the province’s Access to Information laws to shield the company activities from scrutiny.  Cabinet retains the ability to transfer any function to the energy corporation it wishes to transfer, regardless of what it is about. 

June 3 and 4:  At high speed and with very little debate, the legislature passes a water rights management bill later revealed to strip CF(L)Co of its lease to Churchill Falls.

December 16:  Surprise seizure of hydroelectricity generation and transmission assets of three private sector companies on the island of Newfoundland (AbitibiBowater, Fortis and ENEL).  Assets assigned to NL Hydro.  NALCOR given responsibility for all government negotiations with Abitibi on compensation.


January 16:  EPCA  amendments made in 2007 come into force.  Amendments are gazetted along with regulations but there is no news release or other public notice.

April:  Talks start on water management agreement between Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro and CF(L(Co) .

August 31:  Ed Martin (CEO of provincial energy corporation) tells Toronto Star that he :
… doesn't see the Quebec issue as a major stumbling block, as regulation requires the province to allow access to its grid in return for a set tariff. Hydro Quebec and Nalcor are just working out the details. 

Any costs to Ontario would build in the price of that tariff, but what's most important is how that final cost would compare to the next-best alternative. [Emphasis added]
01 Sep:  Emergency session of the legislature called for September 8 to deal with amendments to 2008 water rights legislation. 

Amendments and session are given rather benign description initially:
"This amendment is necessary in order to facilitate an agreement between Nalcor Energy or its subsidiary and CF(L)Co," said Minister Dunderdale. "As these negotiations are currently underway, we wanted to get into the House early and make this amendment to avoid any uncertainty to the parties involved. We thank the opposition for their cooperation on this matter and we look forward to further discussion on the amendment when the House reconvenes next week."
03 Sep:  In a speech to a national audience, Premier attacks Hydro Quebec for supposedly throwing up roadblocks to lower Churchill development.

04 SepDunderdale reveals the full  - the real - story.  (Locals media have not covered Dunderdale’s comments two and a half months later)

09 Sep:   Amendments pass in House emergency session.  True nature of story is revealed in comments during the debate:
“They [Churchill Falls (Labrador) Corporation lawyers and directors] felt that we had extinguished their rights to the whole watershed area that they require to produce electricity in the Upper Churchill and that would cause them some concern,” said [natural resources minister Kathy] Dunderdale.
Unspecified time in September:  Deal reached with CF(L)Co on water management.

October 23:  According to NALCOR, this is the date the CF(L)Co board met and rejected the deal agreement.

October 29:  NB Power deal.


19 November 2009

The Genie with the Centre-Parted Hair

There are strange things done ‘neath the midnight sun but nothing quite as curious as the goings on the campaign trail in Terra Nova district last week.

Liberal leader Yvonne Jones apparently found that Tory leader Danny Williams was showing up at places where she had booked meetings or scheduled visits but always about an hour in advance.

Maybe he was there to dispense a little wisdom.  Maybe he was campaigning in the time-honoured tradition of Newfoundland politicians.

Anyway, Williams and his entourage were gone by the time Jones showed up.

In one case – as it goes in versions have arrived at the doorstep of your humble e-scribbler - Jones had scheduled a private meeting with one business in the district.

The operators of the business were surprised to find Williams on their doorstep an hour before the meeting proudly announcing he was there and ready to meet.

No one was expecting him – apparently - since there’d been no contact about his arrival or having a meeting with him.

Maybe Danny should try the same approach with Hydro Quebec.


The Philosopher’s Stone at Work: the Hebron fiscal agreement

Consistent with government policy of selling off energy assets – converting principle to cash - clause 8.4 (A) of the Hebron Fiscal Agreement exempts the NALCOR oil and gas corporation from provisions of the agreement that allow government to treat the company differently from other offshore oil companies.

Sections 8.2 and 8.3 shall not apply to OilCo as long as OilCo is a Crown
corporation of the Province.

The words “as long as” suggest a provision to cover off the potential sale of NALCOR’s oil and gas subsidiary.

It wouldn’t be necessary unless the current administration anticipated selling the asset at some point.



18 November 2009

Kachanoski new MUN President

Memorial University Board of Regents chairman Bob Simmonds announced today that the board selected Dr. Gary Kachanoski as the new president and vice-chancellor of the university.

The experienced academic administrator and internationally renowned scientist will take up the post in July 2010.

This ends a two year search process which include an appalling level of political interference by a previous education minister in the university’s autonomy.

Changing a number of key players involved in the previous fiasco, including the appointment of Simmonds as regents chairman, got the process back on track and let it proceed with evident integrity.

The result is a solid choice well ahead of the forecast conclusion to the process in 2010.


Danny Williams and the Philosopher’s Stone: Converting Principles to Cash


“It's giving away their future.”

Danny Williams on the NB Power sale


At the heart of a little flame war last week on one local blog came a rather surprising nugget of hard news that Newfoundlanders and Labradorians likely have never seen and may well never see covered at all – let alone in depth -  by local media.

Telegram blog writer Geoff Meeker noted a comment by Premier Danny Williams in the House of Assembly on April 30, 2008.  In answering an opposition question about putting $100 million into debt reduction for Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro, the Premier said:

It was a previous Liberal government that wanted to actually privatize Hydro. This particular government wants to strengthen Hydro, wants to make it a very valuable corporation: a corporation that will ultimately pay significant dividends back to the people of this Province; a corporation that perhaps some day may have enough value in its assets overall as a result of the Hebron deal and the White Rose deal, possible Hibernia deal, possible deals on gas, possible deals on oil refineries and other exploration projects, where hopefully we might be able to sell it some day and pay off all the debt of this Province, and that would be a good thing. [Emphasis added]

That’s right.

Danny Williams spoke publicly about selling off some or all of the province’s energy corporation to pay down public debt.

CBC’s provincial affairs reporter David Cochrane added to the discussion online and offered some additional insight into the Premier’s thinking:

We pulled him outside for a scrum to ask about it. Even before we asked a question he clarified his comments. He said he misspoke in the legislature. He wasn't talking about selling Nalcor. He was talking about selling the individual assets it acquires.

For example, if the Hebron stake is eventually worth 5-billion [sic] dollars and someone wants to buy, Williams said he would consider selling it to reduce debt.

That was consistent with past comments he had made when the government rolled out its plan to revamp Hydro into an energy company.

As established in the first part of this series – Control and Resources -  that isn’t what Williams had been saying consistently at all.

To the contrary, selling any asset of the energy corporation would run directly counter to the stated goal of acquiring control over the province’s resources and hence its development and future.  Being masters of our own destiny is tied directly to resource ownership.

But Cochrane was right:  Williams had talked about selling some or all of the energy corporation before.  As Cochrane showed, Williams had mentioned the idea in October 2005 in a story Cochrane had done on Ed Martin’s arrival as chief executive officer of the fledgling corporation that would be eventually known as NALCOR Energy:

Williams says his top priority is for the company to become an investor in every form of energy development – or, as he calls it, to get a piece of the action.

"I would like to see Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro gain a strong asset base, so in fact then the government of Newfoundland, as a shareholder, also benefits from that asset base," he said.

"If energy continues to grow in value as it is now, perhaps what we could now buy for a billion dollars could be worth $10- or $20 billion in 10 or 20 years' time, which means that those assets have a value whereby we could pay off our debt," Williams said. [Emphasis added]

The 2005 comment is not as clear as the 2008 version in the legislature but they are along the same lines. 

And certainly in 2005, Williams wasn’t splitting hairs over regulated (electricity) versus non-regulated (oil and gas) assets as Williams apparently did in the unreported portion of the media scrum in April 2008.  As Cochrane described it:

Williams did not say he would sell off all the assets (i.e power generation and transmission capacity). He was talking energy assets in the oil and gas sector.

Now while it doesn’t appear that Williams has said this “many, many times” as Cochrane asserted elsewhere in that comment, there is no question Williams has spoken of selling off some or all of the energy corporation in order to pay down public debt, if the price was right.

Nor is it the only reference to selling energy assets, even though the idea is not contained in the energy plan or the campaign manual.   In a clause of the New Dawn agreement, released in September 2008, one provision covers the potential sale of the Newfoundland and Labrador interest in the Churchill Falls (Labrador) Corporation:


On the one hand, the Williams administration has a clear policy connecting the principle of control of energy resources with ownership of equity stakes in energy projects.

Yet at the same time,  the Premier has spoken publicly about the potential that these assets could be sold to reduce public debt.

And on top of that, an agreement with the Innu Nation includes a specific provision covering the potential sale of the Newfoundland and Labrador majority shares in the company that operates the  Churchill Falls power complex.

Clearly the two notions cannot live in the same space.

Well, they can actually if one considers another statement by Danny Williams which describes another aspect of his political philosophy:

What I said before and I said going in, this is about principles, but it's also about money as well. At the end of the day, the promise and the principle converts to cash for the bottom line for the people of Newfoundland and Labrador.

That’s a comment Danny Williams tossed out in November 2007 during the racket about broken political promises with Stephen Harper.

Williams used the word “principles” in the familiar sense.  A “principle” is a fundamental rule.  A “principle” may also be expressed as a value like openness, honesty, or integrity.

The dispute was a matter of principle, in that sense; a promise made is a commitment to act that must be fulfilled.  If someone breaks his or her word without good cause or explanation, the relationships between people can no longer function.

lead But “principle” in the way Danny Williams used it on that occasion in 2007 identifies the “principles” as nothing more substantive than the basis for a claim of damages or the source of a grievance.  Relief or compensation can be had by identifying a sum of money, or, as Williams puts it: “the principle converts to cash.”

The notion is hardly surprising for a lawyer who spent a lot of time arguing for damages for his clients, even if there are few others who would – on the face of it – accept that principles of any kind can be transformed to coin.

Yet Danny Williams obviously operates on the belief that he has a political Philosopher’s Stone in his pocket.  Like its legendary alchemical predecessor that converted base metal to gold, this stone would convert electricity and oil into dollars.

The curious thing is that none of this has been reported clearly and consistently within the province.   It is doubtful that a majority of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians know anything but the old and familiar notion that links control of resources with the future. 

Yet there is no mistaking that the Williams administration has another policy firmly in place  - at exactly the same time - which would allow for the sale of resources in a fashion that directly contradicts the notion of control on which the administration claims popular support for its policies.

Little wonder in April 2008 then that Danny Williams responded so strongly when reporters asked him to scrum on his statements.  Again, as the CBC’s David Cochrane described it:

We pulled him outside for a scrum to ask about it. Even before we asked a question he clarified his comments. He said he misspoke in the legislature. He wasn't talking about selling Nalcor. He was talking about selling the individual assets it acquires. [Emphasis added]

In the end, the reporters in the scrum opted to report nothing of the comments at all, including the Premier’s “clarification.”

Regardless of what the reporters decided on that busy work day, the Premier’s comments and the unsustainable internal contradiction in them are obvious in both the Premier’s criticism in the legislature of Hydro privatisation on the one hand and then the expressed interest in flipping assets to pay off debt on the other.  It doesn’t matter how often the Premier said it.

The comments take on new importance though given the Premier’s recent attack on the sale of NB Power to Hydro Quebec. 

And at the same time, as the province faces tight provincial finances, the question of exactly what is government policy on energy, control and sale of resources to meet financial needs deserves to be answered clearly and unequivocally.

Such a question can only be answered, however, if someone deigns to ask it.


17 November 2009

The fix is in

As of September 22, the presidential search committee at Memorial University had 40 names to review and two whole stages of sifting left before they came up with a name.

The time line in September 2009 was that the “committee and consultants plan to continue efforts in the coming months with a view to concluding a successful search by early 2010.”

Well, something shifted, big time.

According to CBC, there is an announcement scheduled for noon on Wednesday.

All things considered the sudden conclusion of the whole exercise is rather odd.

Sounds very much like a convenient fit turned up out of the blue. 

Of course, this wouldn’t be the first time that organized, professional searches were interrupted by outside interference from a political source in the current administration.

Maybe Andy Wells is getting tired of the PUB.

Unconspiratorial Update:  There’s an excellent chance this thing was done professionally and the choice will be very good, unlike the political mess the last time. 

How can you tell?  Lips are zipped all over town.  When it’s political, everyone knows what’s up.

Meanwhile, some eagle-eyed observer noted all the government appointees to the board of regents whose term expired in October or whose term will expire this December.


Danny Williams and the Philosopher’s Stone: Control and Resources

“Securing equity means having greater leverage to control our own destiny.”

“The principle of making our own way and taking control of our resources is the right one.”

Two quotes from the Speech from the Throne,

House of Assembly, March 2008


Control is a key principle in Danny William’s political philosophy.

Control of the province’s natural resources is a core point in most of his administration’s public statements on oil, natural gas and electricity.

The word occurs twice in his recent letter to Shawn Graham about the proposal to sell NB Power to Hydro Quebec. There’s the reference to “New Brunswickers who no longer control their energy destiny.” Then there’s the contrast: “ But we took control of our own destiny and Nalcor Energy is now a crown jewel in our province’s energy assets.”

Williams also raised the concern about control of transmission routes supposedly resting in the hands of Hydro Quebec and of the control of rates resulting from the sale of NB Power.

Energy and control go together, as Williams made clear when he announced in 2006 that the provincial government would “go-it-alone” on the Lower Churchill. he made the following comments in the House of Assembly on May 8, 2006:

“...but the big message here is that we are masters of our own destiny, that Newfoundlanders and Labradorians are in control of this project for the benefit of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians."

- "By taking the lead we are in full control of the project, unlike the circumstance with the last government; that project, basically, was going to be controlled by Quebec. It would have been marketed, it would have been financed, the transmission would have been done by Quebec. The control of the project, the project management, would have been done by Quebec. As well, if there had been an overrun on the project, the last Lower Churchill project that was proposed by the Grimes government, in fact, we could have lost the project; because, if there had been an overrun, we would not have been in a position to be able to finance it….”

But control is not just a principle behind energy initiatives. Being “masters of our own destiny” is the same idea in other words and it crops up repeatedly in Danny Williams’ speeches and comments as an idea central to government policy.

Control is a principle of the administration’s policy. It is a guiding rule, an essential quality, or the basis for action.

Control in the Energy Plan

The relationship between resource control and equity is established clearly in the Conservative party’s 2003 election platform.

The section on resource development puts it this way:

The power to control development of offshore oil and gas is of little value unless the Province has the know-how to deal with technical issues and field assessments equivalent to the expertise of the major oil companies, and sufficient ownership in production licences to influence development decisions.

  • A Progressive Conservative government will either restructure Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro as an energy company, or create a new Energy corporation, with a mandate to retain equity in the Province's oil and gas resources. This will be done on a go-forward basis.

The relationship is mapped out more plainly in the 2007 energy plan released in time for the 2007 election campaign. So important is control that it is the second principle guiding the plan, after sustainability:

Our Principles

1. Sustainability

2. Control

We will exercise appropriate control over the development of our resources to ensure they are managed and used in the best interest of the people of Newfoundland and Labrador. We will assume an ownership interest in the development of our energy resources where it fits our strategic long-term objectives.

The idea is repeated again in what, by now, is a familiar formulation in a discussion of energy resource management (p.13):

We will take more control than in the past over the development of these resources and the benefits they generate.

Having identified the importance of control and the connection to management, management, the plan then re-affirms that equity stakes in energy projects are the first lever used “to ensure sound and effective management and to maximize benefits over the long term.” (p.18)

Control and equity stakes are thus intimately connected in the Conservative philosophy.

The 2003 campaign platform identified the key role to be played by a new energy corporation in holding the equity stakes and thereby serving as the means by which the provincial government would exercise the sought-after control of energy resources.

As well, the energy corporation has other key control responsibilities set out in the energy plan:

- “If the Provincial Government [sic] lifts the moratorium [on small hydro projects], it will institute a policy that the Energy Corporation will control and coordinate the development of small hydro projects that meet economic thresholds and are viable for an isolated island system.”

- “One of our goals is to maximize our benefits from resource developments. We believe this means the Energy Corporation should control the development of all small hydro developments for the benefit of all electricity users and determine whether to do this alone or with private sector partners.”

- “To maximize these benefits [from wind power], the Provincial Government believes the Energy Corporation should control the development of all wind projects and determine when to develop alone or with private sector partners.”

- “Due to the strategic importance of generation and transmission to the future of Newfoundland and Labrador, the province, through NLH [Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro], will retain ownership and control of its existing transmission and generation assets”

To anyone familiar with the Williams administration, none of this will be new. in fact, it will be so familiar that one might wonder the point of such an extensive recitation of the relationship between the principle of control and the idea of equity stakes in Danny Williams’ philosophy.

That will become clear in the second instalment of this series.