30 December 2009

Top 10 Stories of 2009

No need for elaborate commentaries for this one. 

Here are the 10 stories that  - in the not so humble opinion of your humble e-scribbler - had a huge impact on Newfoundland and Labrador in 2009 and/or which will continue to affect the province into the future.

Odds are this list will look like all the other locally generated lists of top news story for 2009, even if the ordering may be slightly different.

  1. Cougar 491:  A tragedy that prompted a genuine outpouring of sorrow across the province and left a mark on psyche of many that just won’t go away any time soon. A public inquiry will examine offshore helicopter safety and make recommendations in 2010.
  2. H1N1:  The health pandemic dominated the news in the front of the year and again in the fall. People changed their habits and many organizations changed the way they conduct their affairs:  for instance, shaking hands in greeting was out for a while in many churches. In the end, this province wound up ahead of the country in percentage of population inoculated.  That’s something everyone can be proud of.
  3. The Recession:  It’s been walloping Newfoundland and Labrador much harder than many have acknowledged and the effects of the largest global economic downturn since the 1930s are being felt in everything from layoffs and temporary closures at mines to a continued increase in people from  returning to this province other parts of Canada because they can’t find work anywhere else.  Expect the recovery to take a while.
  4. Hibernia South:  So many people lined up to criticise the Hibernia deal over the past 20 years and everyone one of them turned out to be full of crap.  From Ian Doig to Bill Callahan to Danny Williams, they were all dead wrong.  Danny Williams was so wrong about give-aways he used the Hibernia royalty regime as the basis for his deal to bring more oil into production. The royalty regime hashed out two decades ago and adjusted in 2000 will pour billions into the provincial treasury. The new deal added a couple of tweaks but all the heavy financial lifting is coming via the old deal. The new deal will bring new oil ashore, swell provincial coffers, produce more jobs and set a foundation for future developments around the Hibernia oil field.  The development deal didn’t need all the hype and bullshit the provincial spin machine laid on it:  it could stand up on its own merits and garner well-deserved credit for the administration that delivered the signed agreement.
  5. Double political suicide:  First Trevor Taylor, then Paul Oram.  Two stalwart Tory politicians ended their political careers  - unexpectedly - in the space of a couple of weeks last fall and in the process sent shockwaves through the provincial Conservative party. When Tony the Tory has to write letters to the newspapers defending his team’s future viability, you know the province’s governing Tories were badly shaken. In the subsequent by-elections, the Tories swept one and lost one.  More political changes may well be on the way in the run-up to the 2011 general election.
  6. AbitibiBowater:  A carry-over from 2008, the closure of the century old paper mill at Grand Falls in March shock the economic foundations of the central Newfoundland town. The reverberations are still being felt. Plenty of people never imagined the company was serious.  Surprise!  They weren’t bluffing.
  7. Have Province:  The provincial economy finally generates enough revenue so the provincial government can deliver its constitutional obligations without hand-outs from Uncle Ottawa. Announced prematurely in November 2008, “Have” status arrived in 2009, much to the chagrin of some politicians. 
  8. No Hydro Lines Through Gros Morne:  “The argument was made, quite rightly, by people that you don’t want to create an eyesore in…one of our best tourism attractions in the province.”  Amen to that. There were other political climb-downs in 2009, but this one stood out because it was the most unusual one for the provincial government to stand on its haunches about in the first place.
  9. The ABC’s are over/The End of the Ig-man: The rapprochement between the revanchist provincial Conservatives and their federal cousins happened quietly but the fact it happened will wind up having a profound impact on politics in the province.  That’s especially true at the federal level where the sitting members of parliament have already been dismissed by the national media as DW’s bitches.   What will they do when the next federal writ drops?  What price might the provincial Tories have to pay to get back in Steve’s good books?  Will the whole thing fall apart? Only time will tell. The other half of this story is the Ignatieff implosion.  So much hype; so little delivery.  When their boring stuffy academic  - and an economist to boot – is more popular than yours, you can be assured there is a giant political crisis desperately needing attention.  The second half of the problem:  Bob Rae as the only apparent alternative.  Nice guy but an aging former premier is not likely to catch fire with the electorate.
  10. Darlene Neville. As Russell Wangersky already noted, this is just the latest in a series of problems with people hired to fill important jobs reporting to the House of Assembly.  The problems aren’t confined to one office or to one government administration.  The offices are important ones, however, so there is a pressing need to sort out how they are filled.  Maybe one solution would be to get cabinet out of the game entirely and leave the running of House offices to a special committee of the legislature.