31 July 2011

The Summer of Love 2011

Five years after your humble e-scribbler first wrote about it, the world pretty much accepts the notion that the governing Conservatives time their communications to coincide with polling done by their contract pollster. A couple of university professors have taken up the task of documenting the extent of the poll goosing and talk radio stacking activities.

Well, labradore posted a couple of reminders last week about just exactly how intense this can get.

First, he show a chart comparing the number of releases issued in the middle of summer.  Not surprisingly, 2011 showed the heaviest news release output on record.  That’s not surprising because it is an election year and the the incumbent Tories apparently are having some problems with popular support.

Second, labradore charted the number of media advisories issued by the provincial government, by month from 1996 onward. No one ever said this poll goosing thing was something the Tories invented.  It’s just that they do it more aggressively than the gang that went before.

- srbp -

Triumph of the Brand Will

From one of the most successful political brands of modern times comes the secret of branding.

Forget what you learned in school.

Brand is not about qualities, values or indeed even anything real or tangible.

The secret for us now is the same with any marketing brand — whether it's Apple or Nike with the swoosh — having a brand and having a logo, it's about what you wrap around it, it's about what you make people believe it is and what it stands for,

“It’s about what you make people believe it is…”

Brand is an act of will.

- srbp -

29 July 2011

Politicians and illness

A day or so after Jack Layton told the country about his latest health crisis, CBC Radio’s noon-time show opened their phone lines so people could call in to talk about Jack Layton and his struggle with cancer.

Regular host Ramona Dearing chatted with Nancy Riche.  They were respectful and serious, as one might expect.  Some people called in to say nice about nice things about Jack.

And then after about five or six calls something very odd happened.

Well, actually didn’t happen.

No one called in to attack Ramona and the Ceeb for daring to discuss Layton’s personal business.  No one insulted and abused people for calling in to wish Jack a speedy recovery.

And that lack of abuse quickly spread to other media.

That is worth noting for a couple reasons. 

First of all, it puts paid to the excuse offered by long-standing apologists for the narcissist who used to be the Premier of Newfoundland and Labrador that the shitstorm of anti-media commentary in the wake of Danny’s heart surgery was just a spontaneous outpouring of disdain for reporters who had gone just a bit too far.  It was a very focused and pretty obviously organized bit of political theatre by a crowd known for their amateur dramatics.

Second of all, what Layton did and what happened afterward are what we have come to expect in this country of politicians.  We expect them to be frank and disclose illnesses that could affect their work.  Layton really didn’t have much choice in this case.  His cancer seems to be serious enough that the treatment will take him off the job for weeks.  The telling bit is that while might have successfully hidden his prostate cancer, Layton chose not to do so.  That is the key part:  he did the right thing.

We, the voters, showed that we can do the right thing, as well and act in a mature and responsible way.  Ultimately, we can lay aside partisanship in order to show some common decency and a touch of humanity.

Not everyone can do that, of course.  Just this past week, an articulate and thoughtful woman decided to try her hand at politics.  Pam Pardy Ghent announced she wants the Liberal nomination in Bellevue district.

Since coming back to Newfoundland and Labrador with her family, Pam’s been a reporter and a commentator. *

She also took a provincial government appointment to a board. That one ended rather sadly when she made a Facebook comment that the narcissist’s coterie decided was a bit much.

Pam would be a fine candidate regardless of what party she opted to run for. But there are still a few admirers of the Old Narcissist who just couldn’t resist reminding us of how much the province has matured since last December.*  They ran her down to the dirt online – anonymously, of course – mentioning only the one pathetic episode that came after her facetious comment bout the narcissist’s wedding tackle.

Incidentally, have a bit of fun and read one of the more popular posts from 2010 on how the Old Narcissist might finally leave office.  it is one thing that your humble e-scribbler raised the issue at all.  It is another that some people took issue with it.  One commenter of the anonymous variety – he uses a fake name - insisted Hisself would sail in triumph through an easy victory in October 2011.  Another who uses his own name and who is a fine fellow, couldn’t believe the Old Man would use Muskrat Falls as his legacy. 

But to get back to the state of the world these days, note the fact that the childish anonymous comments don’t happen as often as they used to.  Once upon a time, not so very long ago, you could hardly read anything political without Hisself’s legion of anonymous arseholes – there is no polite word for them  - spewing their bile everywhere.

Not so any more.

And that is a very good sign that the political disease that once gripped this province is fading fast. Regardless of which party comes out on top in the fall, we will hopefully see some healthy political maturity.

So to Pam, good luck in the fall election.

And to Jack, fight hard knowing that you are in the thoughts and prayers of millions of Canadians.

There is always a reason for hope.

- srbp -

* edit for sentence structure and readability

28 July 2011

Where isn’t the democracy in that?

Robert Doyle spoke to reporters recently on behalf of some independent drug store owners in the province.
Doyle complained about a change to regulations for the provincial government’s prescription drug program that required a drug store owner to give 120 days notice before withdrawing from the program. CBC quoted Doyle:
Robert Doyle, spokesperson of the Independent Pharmacy Owners association, said the move seems a little heavy-handed.
"Pharmacies could have to go to court and if found guilty, up to a $2,000 fine and six months in jail. So he's looking at putting a criminal offence against pharmacy owners," Doyle said.

Where’s the democracy?
Where indeed.

There is nothing in any provincial law that forces drug stores to accept payment from the provincial prescription drug plan. Under section 16, a drug store can ask for a provider number and get one.

The drug stores had to decide to accept payment from the plan in the first place.

But that’s not all.

Under the regulations approved on July 25, drug stores can legally withdraw from the program without any penalty. All they have to do is give 120 days written notice, post a sign in the drug store and send out letters to any patients they’ve served within the past 12 months.  That might sound like a bit of work but given that the drug stores should have contact information on file, it isn't half as hard as it looks.

If they do all that then – on Day 121 -  they aren’t accepting direct payment any more.


But not exactly.

Under subsection 4 of the regulations, the minister can “waive or shorten” the notice period. Any drug store owner who is seriously pissed off enough that he or she doesn’t want to accept direct payment from the provincial drug program can easily write and ask the minister for the period to be shortened or suspended entirely.

In other words, anyone who wants out can get out today, right now, no waiting.

None of them will ask for a waiver.

None of them will issue the 120 day notice now required.

That’s because this dispute isn’t about democracy any more than it is about rural versus urban this or that.

It’s about money.

Everything else is nonsense.

- srbp -

Follow the money

Anyone who wants to understand the current racket between the provincial government and some drug store owners need only follow the money.

It is the local version of something that started in Ontario in 2010. CBC has a decent background note that explains the issue.

And if you want to understand why the pharmacy owners caved in so quickly and abandoned their threat to stop accepting direct payment from the provincial government drug program?

Well, see if you can find out how much of their drug sales come from the provincial government’s drug programs for seniors and low income Newfoundlanders and Labradorians.

- srbp -

27 July 2011

Turd Buffing

Russell Wangersky’s column on Tuesday discussed some of Nalcor’s efforts to deal with criticism of the Muskrat Falls project. He notes the company letters to the editor and interviews efforts are respectful and low key but…
The problem is, the letter-writers keep coming at the issue from different directions, barbarians storming the Nalcor castle from the front and back, above and beneath, and that leaves the Nalcor responses — “Muskrat Falls is the best of the two major options we considered” — looking stilted and formulaic.
Not only that, but as in many bureaucracies, it takes a while for Nalcor to respond. 
When it answers a letter-writer five days after the letter appeared in the paper, that’s a major rear-guard action. 
It’s not helped by the fact that the responses are seamless but remarkably similar — a variety of people write or respond on Nalcor’s behalf, and magically, they all sound exactly the same. 
The mantra’s getting stale. 
It’s not always on point, either.
That pretty much sums it up.

If Nalcor is having a problem with its public communications – and they are – the problem isn’t with the people in the corporate communications shop.  The public relations gang at Nalcor are among the most professional bunch you will find anywhere.  Your humble e-scribbler has known some of them for years and has gotten to know the others by firing off e-mails to ask questions about a bunch of different Nalcor projects. They know their stuff.
The problem is higher up the corporate food chain.

Take, for example, the idea that Muskrat Falls will double the price of electricity in the province. Your humble e-scribbler reached that conclusion early on by taking what then-natural resources minister Kathy Dunderdale said in an interview and doing a bit of simple math.

Her replacement called VOCM’s Open Line show on Tuesday to deny that, among other things. Shawn Skinner said simply that it wasn’t true.

And that was it.

He didn’t point to a brochure mailed out to every household.  Skinner didn’t point everyone to a website, nor did he say that anyone can find the rights of it somewhere else.

He just said that it wasn’t true.

Yep and the cheque’s in the mail, I’ll respect you in the morning, we never expropriated the Abitibi mill and I’m from Ottawa and I am here to help.

Take as another example the idea that Muskrat Falls is the lowest cost way of getting the electricity Nalcor says we will need within five years.  Never mind that the demand forecasts don’t say what they claim they say or that five years comes before Muskrat would come on the grid.


Let's just look at the lowest cost claim.  Kathy Dunderdale, Shawn Skinner, Ed Martin and Nalcor veep Gil Bennett all say the same thing.  They are on message.

But they don’t produce a single shred of evidence to back the claim.

They either didn’t look for the lowest cost option  or they don't have the information [they claim they have];  that is, the information [they have] contradicts their claims.

Those are the only two reasons for not releasing even the teensiest shred of evidence to support two essential bits of the Muskrat Falls story.  They are the essential bits, just to be clear, because they affect consumers directly and they are key bits of Nalcor’s rationale for building the project:  it’s the cheapest and it will help keep your electricity prices down.

The technical term in the public relations community for a project like Muskrat Falls is turd.

As in you cannot buff a turd.  No matter what you do the thing will still be dull, ugly and smelly.

If you want to know why this thing is being rammed ahead at full speed despite the lack of convincing evidence to support building the enormous debt load on taxpayers, just consider what Fortis chief executive Stan Marshall said about projects involving government:
“Governments … their agenda can be very, very  different than a private enterprise.”
Muskrat Falls is not about providing low cost electricity to Newfoundlanders.  It isn’t about having electricity to sell at a profit to mainlanders. Nor is it about thumbing our collective nose at Quebec.  And it certainly is not about replacing the thermal generating plant at Holyrood.

Muskrat Falls is the crassest of crass, cynical political ploys. 

Danny Williams desperately needed  to leave politics saying that he had succeeded where everyone else had failed.

Williams spent five years desperately, secretly, trying to get Hydro-Quebec to take an ownership stake in the project.

No matter what he offered, they didn’t want it.

He flipped his lid.

He tried Emera.

They thought the price was too steep. They didn’t trust him.

So Williams sweetened the pot:  Newfoundlanders would carry the full cost, plus a guaranteed profit no matter what.  Nova Scotia would get electricity at a big discount plus Emera could get a piece of the transmission pie inside Newfoundland.

Emera couldn’t refuse.

Williams left.

His chosen successor took over.  Williams’ legacy now became the Tory bid for re-election.  Tons of pork to spread around now and maybe in one more election. Think of it as a giant pile of dog crap turd in a paper bag on Confederation Building’s front steps and set to burst into flames a decade from now, by the time people stomped out the flames, Dunderdale and her crowd would be long pensioned off to Florida.

You can’t buff a turd, but if you stick to the message track you can force other people scrape it off their shoes long after you are gone.

- srbp -

26 July 2011

Paternalism in Pictures

People are talking about fire trucks, paving and other forms of patronage doled out by the provincial Conservatives for Election 2011.

The always acidic labradore has it in pictures, over time.

- srbp -

Plastic, packaged and preaching to the choir

While some people may be excited about the fact that all three party leaders in the province are on Da Twitter, a close look at how political parties in newfoundland and Labrador are using, or not using social media, shows that there is a lot less here than meets the eye.

NTV aired two stories last week about social media and the upcoming provincial election.  Your humble e-scribbler is in both, along with local blogger and former candidate Stephen Eli Harris.  The first piece – here – started from the news that Kathy Dunderdale is the first Premier to use Twitter. The second one – here – built off the fact that the provincial government’s energy corporation is also using Twitter as part of its campaign to gain support for its Muskrat Falls megadebt project.

Do a quick Internet search and you will find plenty of commentary and analysis on the Obama campaign and social media.  Some of the more interesting assessments compare how the republican and Democrat campaigns in 2008 differed.  The Republicans preached to the choir.  That is they used social media as a way of speaking to people who were already committed Republicans or who were leaning heavily that way.

The Democrats used social media as a way of tapping into a large pool of swing voters, alienated voters and independents. The used social media to draw potential voters to core materials and give them plenty of options to take action in support of the campaign.

Both strategies are built around the basic point that social media offer some pretty potent ways to reach voters who are now tuned in a great many places besides television, radio and the local newspaper.

In the upcoming provincial election, you will see that the Conservatives have a heavy Twitter presence. The New Democrats are using it and some Liberals have discovered that it exists.

The more important thing to notice is the content.  The Conservatives tend to spout their talking points or spit out meaningless pap about getting a haircut. The New Democrats tend to retweet campaign news from the party president or leader.  In short, they are packaged, plastic and preaching to the choir. 

One exception that stands out: Jerome Kennedy, with this tweet:

"the harmonies of new floods", "the thunder of insentient seas", "eternal pathways of fire"- E.J. Pratt's "Newfoundland". Required reading.

The dunderdale2011.ca website doesn’t have any sign of an effort to attract supporters, engage them and turn them into activists.  Sure, there’s a “Get Involved” button but it takes you to some sterile text:

There are many ways you can get involved in our Party.

In the lead-up to the general election campaign in October 2011, you may choose to volunteer with your local district association in support of your Progressive Conservative candidate.

You may wish to serve with Young Progressive Conservatives, the Progressive Conservative Women’s Caucus or the provincial campaign.

If you wish to get involved as a volunteer, please contact our Party office:  blah blah blah

This is not about pulling people in and turning them into activists.  This is a website about pushing information out, most likely to people who are already converts.  And if you think about it in light of the leadership controversy earlier this year,  that’s basically the way the party runs.

Ditto for  the NDP website.  For starters it’s just a sub-page from the national NDP site.  The buttons that look like ways to get involved are just e-mail forms to fill out so somebody can contact you later.  The Twitter button takes you to the leader’s feed.  As this is written on Monday evening, the last update was 24 hours earlier.

They’ve got a map of where they have candidates for the election.  That’s right above a list of nominated candidates:  14 as of July 25. The individual candidate web pages are pretty bare.  There’s not much there beyond some basic biographical information.

Ditto ditto the Liberal website.  it hasn’t been updated in a couple of months.  if you click the “where we stand” button you will find the party constitution.  No sign of a platform or policies. The news page is up-to-date with releases as recently as Monday. 

That’s the one clue on this website that there’s an election on.  There is a link to something called candidate nominations but it is a pdf of candidate profiles and pictures.  It’s out of date, to boot.

Of course, that’s pretty much consistent with political parties that aren’t interested in drawing in new supporters based on a platform aimed at voter interests.  As your humble e-scribbler noted for NTV, you are going to have a hard time sliding a sheet of paper between the parties on major issues. The one thing they will all have in common is a commitment to spend gobs of public cash:  pork is the priority. Likewise, for all parties – but especially the current incumbent Tories, it will be yet more  paternalism.

Local political parties all practice a form of defensive politics that involves a combination of preaching to the people they already have while repeating whatever it is the other guys have been doing that worked before.  The more aggressive forms of the defence – like the Tories in 2007 – also use heavy doses of Republican-style attack politics to suppress the opponents.  It can work spectacularly well.

Well, sort of.  The 2007 Tories won a landslide of seats but they actually didn’t get any more votes.  What they managed to do was demoralise the Liberals whose lacklustre campaign couldn’t draw anyone out.  The Liberal vote collapsed and that made it easy for the Tories to pick up seats.

But the Tories actually got fewer votes in 2007 than they did in 2003.

That isn’t what you may think if you only listened to the superficial media reports that did nothing more than repeat the intensive hype coming from the Tory camp.

The current Tory strategy is essentially a pledge for more of the same. For the campaign, that seems to mean yet more of the same but without the small-minded, vicious personal attacks that were Danny Williams’ stock in trade.

Other than that, there’s nothing really new in their campaign at all. Social media could let voters see real people and let that personality energise the campaign. Instead, they get some cross between Max Headroom and Johnny Cab.

Don’t be surprised if the parties have to struggle to get their voters to the polls.  The Tories are almost certain to face that problem. The other two parties don’t stand much of a chance at pulling new voters to their cause and they too will work to get the same people to the polls again.  Some individual campaigns might stand out but at the provincial level, the campaigns are pretty much brain dead.

And growth isn’t really what they are doing even if, as with the New Democrats, they are claiming that miracles are about to happen.  Consider that for all the hype, the Dippers only have 14 candidates in place.  That’s roughly the same number as the Liberals. None of them has a name or a profile outside of their own community or in some cases outside their own household.

For parties trying to take down an incumbent government, social media should be the tool of choice. What’s so interesting about the current election campaign and social media is that neither political party in the province is doing anything but using the new, revolutionary tools, to spit out more of the same old anti-revolutionary crap.

At this point, that’s the story of social media and the 2011 election.

-srbp -

25 July 2011

An endorsement that rings a little hollow

It is always funny listening to Cynthia Downy endorsing anyone for political office.  Not so long ago she was running for Stephen Harper and saying all the things about Stephen Harper she now says about Kathy Dunderdale.

The Politics of Perpetual Panic

Danny Williams’ legacy in Newfoundland and Labrador will be one thing:  the politics of panic. The old drama queen was always in a panic over something or other that was the gravest threat to something or other since the time of the last great upset to end all tirades.

Just like their role-model who seemed to spend almost every second of his seven years in office pissed-off, ticked-off or just plain old angry, the gaggle of politicians who came to office around him can’t function without something bunching their undies in the cracks of their arses.

His chosen successor, Kathy Dunderdale, is due the title of Chief Knicker Knotter.  Evidently running the Telly 10 caused the spandex to ride up Premier Kathy Dunderdale.  She could not wait to catch her breath after the race to let the world know that privatizing search and rescue service is just “not on.”

As the Telegram reported, Dunderdale told reporters that:

“As soon as I heard the speculation Ottawa might be considering that, we contacted the Prime Minister’s Office immediately and said again to them the health and safety is the number one priority in this province. It’s an issue to which we’re highly sensitive, we’re still very, very upset over the Marine Sub-Centre, and we’re not letting that go. So please do not exacerbate this any further.  And, before you have any consideration at all about changing the way you do this business, you come to Newfoundland and Labrador and you talk to the government of Newfoundland and Labrador and you talk to the people involved in this industry before you take any moves whatsoever.”

Leaping is not confined to one particular political stripe.

Liberal member of parliament Scott Simms spent a bunch of time late last week telling any reporter who would listen that any move to privatize search and rescue would mean the death of gander and the squadron there.

Not to be outdone, Bloc NDP defence critic Jack Harris said that search and rescue is a core defence function.  He would defend the virtue of the sainted men and women of the Canadian Forces.  Too bad that Harris spent time after the Cougar 491 tragedy trying to pin responsibility for the deaths on 103 Squadron in Gander.  “Off-station” they were, according to Harris even though that – even at the time – completely false. 

And when most people caught onto his initial bullshite, Harris shifted to another bunch of foolishness about response times.

By now, savvy readers picked up the key word in Dunderdale’s warning. 

Go back and read it again if you need to.

Right there at the beginning.




You see, this all started from a story about the federal government’s ongoing struggle to find a replacement for the 40 year old Buffalo aircraft that fly in western Canada long after they should have been retired. In that context, National Defence wants to discuss all options, including contracting out instead of purchasing and operating the aircraft themselves:

The Conservative plan to purchase new fixed-wing search-and-rescue planes has been stalled for years. The government is now trying to kick-start the program, which is estimated to cost $3 billion.

On Wednesday, the government informed companies that it would hold consultations on the project.

The session will include discussion on potential procurement approaches for a fixed-wing search-and-rescue project, including Alternate Service Delivery options, the government noted in its message to companies.

All we have is speculation.



There’s nothing concrete.

And yes politicians from Kathy Dunderdale to Jack Harris are attacking the speculation with everything they’ve got.

Only morons react to speculation.  That used to be one of the first things they taught you in politician school. 

After all, if people like Jack Harris knew anything about search and rescue themselves (Hint:  he knows jack], they would at least consider the possibility that contracting out for fixed wing search and rescue support could actually improve search and rescue service in the country.

Maybe contracted fixed-wing SAR flights coupled with military SAR helicopters would give better coverage at the same overall cost. Maybe, contracting out a bit of the work would let the federal government expand the number of fixed wing SAR aircraft such that the east coast would get dedicated SAR aircraft.  Right now, Hercules based on Greenwood do SAR in addition to doing transport duties.  That’s far from ideal.

Incidentally, your humble e-scribbler discussed some ideas for improving SAR in 2009 when the ghouls and panic puppies were working themselves into a lather about this on another occasion.

But notice that in that sentence about considering, your humble e-scribbler used the “could”.  Conditional language.  That’s because without knowing for sure what the cost and other implications might be,  there’s no way of knowing whether contracting out search and rescue would be good or bad.

And maybe, as the Ottawa Citizen story notes, the air force folks will raise enough of a stink themselves that this idea will die quietly. The again , they might go along with it.

After all a whole bunch of people got their knickers in a bunch almost 30 years ago when the Canadian Forces retired the old Tracker aircraft.  The federal fisheries department contracted out the surveillance flights and got better coverage with a new aircraft.  Meanwhile, the Canadian Forces continued to patrol offshore.  The two work quite well together with the military concentrating on Canada’s military security needs while fisheries looks after the civilian things.

SAR is a lot like that, actually.  It’s a civilian thing that should be handled, at the very least,  by the coast guard not the military. Farming it out to the private sector might not be a bad idea, if it improves the service  - shorter launch  times there Jack Harris? - without increasing costs.

Might even be better if the service came from a company based in Newfoundland and Labrador.  Maybe Jack Harris should check with the folks at Provincial Aerospace.  After all, they operate from his own riding.

Of course, folks like defence critic Jack Harris should know that.

He and his ilk don’t care about those sorts of issues because, like other politicians of the Danny Williams era, it is more important to be in a perpetual panic than to know what is actually going on.

- srbp -

Nalcor ignores natural gas, local studies back cheaper alternative to Muskrat Falls project

The provincial government’s energy corporation didn’t study natural gas as an alternative to using Muskrat Falls to replace the Holyrood generating plant according to the company’s final written submission to the environmental panel reviewing the project.

Nalcor dismissed natural gas as “purely hypothetical” since the major oil companies have not identified a “viable business case” (p. 20). The company cited testimony given to the environmental panel to justify its decision.

But information given to the panel in testimony at a hearing into the project in St. John’s on August 4 didn’t come from the major offshore companies.  Some of the information came as hearsay comments from two private consultants interested in developing a natural gas storage facility near Stephenville and from Nalcor’s own vice president Gilbert Bennett.

Neither Bennett nor the consultants could cite specific information.  Neither told the panel, either,  that assessing development of offshore natural gas is hampered because the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador still hasn’t developed a natural gas royalty regime, despite commitments to do so in 1997 and again in the provincial energy plan issued in 2007.

That’s the same plan that committed the provincial government to developing the Lower Churchill.

The other source Nalcor cited to dismiss natural gas is testimony by NOIA president Bob Cadigan at the same April hearing. 

The panel was interested in the prospect of using natural gas from the offshore just for Holyrood and not for export. And when asked by the environmental assessment panel for specifics on a natural gas development, Cadigan didn’t have any information about the viability of natural gas as a replacement for Muskrat Falls of any sort. 

Instead, he relied on the project proponents and their assessments:

And in terms of that feasibility,  I think -- you know, I believe that the province and Nalcor have looked at a global -- from a global  perspective or high level at the opportunities available, and I would be surprised if it was an economically viable source to replace electric 18 generation from Holyrood [p. 141]

NOIA is comprised of supply and service companies for which Muskrat Falls represents a very lucrative business opportunity.

What none of the project boosters talked about were studies done within the past decade on offshore gas development.

A 2005 discussion paper prepared for NOIA by Dr. Stephen Bruneau looked at six options for getting additional electricity for the island grid. Bruneau concluded that development of only 60% of the known gas reserves at Hibernia, White Rose and Terra Nova would give enough natural gas to power a Holyrood size generating plant at full capacity, 365 days a year for over a century.  That would displace 500,000 tons of greenhouse gases each year.

Bruneau estimated the cost of a pipeline to bring the gas ashore to be $300 million. Another $400 million would build a natural gas generating plant, with another $112.5 million needed to build a short on-land pipeline and build natural gas handling facilities at sea.  Total cost would be less than $1.0 billion.

Nalcor estimates the Muskrat Falls project will cost  at least $6.2 billion, with the resulting electricity costs at least 14.3 cents per kilowatt hour.

In contrast, Bruneau estimated the cost of electricity from a Holyrood natural gas plant at five cents a kilowatt hour.  Surplus gas could be converted to liquid natural gas and stored, according to Bruneau, or exported to the American market:

Associated gas transferred to the Island via pipeline is economical and is a wise choice for Newfoundland and Labrador energy strategy. It
will result in lower electricity prices, improved environmental stewardship, will attract major industry including LNG export opportunities, and, is economical to begin IMMEDIATELY.

Bruneau’s conclusions are supported by a 2001 study for the provincial energy department that looked at the feasibility of piping natural gas and gas liquids from the offshore using a pipeline. That study concluded, among other things, that the resources examined by the study could be developed economically even in a low price environment.


- srbp -

24 July 2011

Rumpole and Food for Thought

The Mighty Ceeb is at it again with another story that distorts the information they started with.

Severe crime soaring in N.L.” screams the website headline. The second paragraph:

Statistics Canada reported that while reports of crime across the country are declining, Newfoundland and Labrador reported significant increases in crime. Violent crime in the province was up by 13 per cent in 2010, and up by 29 per cent in St. John's, the most significant increase in any Canadian city.

But wait.

Royal Newfoundland Constabulary chief Bob Johnson points out that two murders in the capital region compared to none the year before will skew the statistics if that’s all you count on.

Some might blame Stats Can.

Nice try, but take a look at the table and see the numbers.

Sure the province went up on the combined set of measures Statistics Canada calls an index. But the province is still below the national average.  The violent crime severity index at 70.2 is lower than larger provinces and less than half the numbers for Manitoba and Saskatchewan.

Here’s the original Stat Can table.  Click on it and you should get a larger version:


Stat Can issues regular news releases on crime statistics.  As such, anyone using the figures can make easy comparisons rather than just rely on the year over year change Statistics Canada used this time. you can find the crime severity index for Nl for 2007, for example:  61.8

At the end of a simple search and few comparisons and you can see Chief Johnson is pretty much spot on.  And in relative terms, the provincial score on these crime indices is below the national average and significantly better than in other parts of Canada.

Consider, too, that these figures don’t look at the rate of solved crimes.  That is, there’s no measurement here of how many of these crimes didn’t wind up with an arrest and/or conviction.   When miscreants can get away with their crime, odds are – one would suspect – that crime becomes attractive.

And if that doesn’t persuade, consider these words rom the police chief.  They are an accurate reflection of reality in the province’s booming capital city:

Johnston pointed out that in the case of the murders, the victims and the people charged knew each other. Apart from convenience store clerks, most citizens of St. John's — and Newfoundland and Labrador — are not likely to encounter serious or violent crimes close up.

"Even though the numbers are going up, violent crime in St. John's hasn't been spilling out into the streets where ordinary people, innocent bystanders, would be affected," said Johnston.

None of that is reflected in the CBC’s headline.

But then again, if it didn’t bleed, it wouldn’t lead.

If it bleeds, it leads?  Now where did you last hear that line used as a criticism of a media outlet?


Food for thought.

- srbp -

The Politics of Public Spending

Check the local media for the past week and you’ll see a sudden bunch of stories about the series of fire truck announcements provincial politicians of the Tory persuasion are making across the province.

Voice of the Cabinet Minister’s got one.

CBC’s got one.

Apparently there have been 19 announcements or unveilings of new fire trucks, with three more to come.

Municipal affairs minister Fairity O’Brien insists this is just routine stuff and has nothing to do with the provincial election coming in October.

Now ordinarily that would be such a nose puller of a line that one would involuntarily scream “bullshit” at the top of one’s lungs. 

Except that it is Fairity O’Brien. 

In fairitiness to Fairity, the guy who probably can’t remember the name of the  district St. Anthony is in and who bullshitted about planning and emergency response likely does not know that what he said about the fire truck and the truth are two different things.

So let’s just say he has a particularly virulent case of pinochiosis.

And that he’s more full of shite than usual on top of that, besides.

The announcements are all about politics and the upcoming election.  Even Fairity knows it.  As Geoff Meeker pointed out, here’s what Fairity said in his rambling answer to a question on an open line call-in show about the pork announcements.  After denying they were political, O’Brien said:

okay, so the question here in my district is, and I am only speaking for myself, do you want four more years of what you’ve just experienced in the last eight, or do you want to sit in the Opposition, or whatever it may be…

Now sending such an incredibly weak minister as O’Brien out to defend blatant pork-barrel politics is a sign of arrogance or cynicism.  Take your pick which it is; either way is bad.

O’Brien threat, however is one thing:  stupid.  Were Fairity and his colleagues to punish a district for voting for an opposition member, they would only be cutting their own political throats. Ask the Tories from the 1980s what that sort of political extortion netted them. 

Better yet, ask the Tories on the Great Northern Peninsula what even the mere perception of a political vendetta – the air ambulance decision – has netted them since the Tories lost the Straits and White Bay North by-election.

Not much of any good would come back the answer.

If Kathy Dunderdale wanted to send a stupid message to voters about patronage and voting, then she evidently picked the right fellow.  Fairity O’Brien did a fine job for her.

The Tories might have a bigger problem.  They might be faced with an electorate that knows full well this is all about pork and that realises they win pork no matter what way they vote. He who lives by the hock might wind up dying by the hock, so to speak.

All three political parties in the province will be running campaigns this fall built around delivering ever increasing amounts of pork in exchange for votes.  All three political parties agree that the provincial economy is going gangbusters.  So basically there’d be no legitimate reason to justify cutting back any spending.

The choice for voters this fall is not between fire trucks and no fire trucks. It is over how many fire trucks they want. 

Or a search and rescue centre.

Or an offshore supply base.

If you want to see naked electoral pork-barrelling in action, don’t look at fire trucks.

That’s old hat.  The first election fire truck announcements came in 2007.

Look instead at Bay Bulls.

The provincial and federal governments held separate announcements this week to give cash to the same project.  They held separate announcements so the provincial minister – in trouble in his own district – could get some free advertising for himself without the original tree hugging federal cabinet minister horning in.

Federal cash of $1.0 million for an expansion to Pennecon’s offshore supply base at Bay Bulls met the investment criteria for a provincial program.  Now the province will kick another half million.

$1.5 million in public money for a project estimated to cost no more than $2.1 million in total.

The job haul? 

Maybe 15. 

$100,000 per job.

The Tories hand out millions of taxpayer dollars to private businesses, often free of charge  The Newfoundland and Labrador NDP want to give Nova Scotians a free university education. The Liberals and the New Democrats want to give rich people in the province a break on their Hummer fill-ups and cut the cost of heating their luxury homes. Next thing you know the Liberals will resurrect that God-forsaken Stunnel idea just to mark themselves as the stupidest of stupid political parties.

But seriously: the Tories ran in 2007 on the argument that the Liberals would bankrupt the province by spending like drunken sailors.

They simply can’t make the argument any more. No one will believe it is possible to bankrupt the place after Fairity and his buddies spent the last four years spending on anything and everything imaginable.  And they really will find it hard to accept that money is tight if every political party in the province wants to double electricity rates in the province and double the public debt at the same time through this insane Muskrat Falls megadebt project.

Happy days are indeed here again, b’ys.

The only thing missing is the Fonz.

Now that you are squirming a bit, think about what might happen if at the same time people had three parties offering variations on a pork-flavoured platform, they also realised that neither of the leaders would be in their jobs four years from now.

And then wonder what all that might mean in an election where there is nothing to chose from and turn-out might drop by 20%, mostly consisting of Tory voters.

After all, that’s what happened in 2007.  Liberal vote collapsed.  Tory vote declined and the same New Democrats turned out in 2007 that had turned out in 2003.

It could give new meaning to the politics of public spending.

- srbp -

22 July 2011

Containing Ottawa’s Skyrocketing Power Bill

by Tom Adams and Brian Lee Crowley

[Note:  the authors prepared the following commentary to coincide with the recent energy ministers meeting.  It has appeared in other publications across the country.]

Federal taxpayers are exposed to an explosion of liabilities to fund provincial electricity misadventures, the worst of which are undermining Canada’s international trading reputation. A federal-provincial energy conference in Kananaskis, Alberta running until July 19th threatens to up the ante.

Last week, Texas energy titan T. Boone Pickens launched a $775-million
NAFTA challenge alleging the Ontario government has discriminated against his privately owned wind energy company. Pickens is demanding that the federal government pay up.

The federal government is also defending protectionist elements of Ontario’s controversial Green Energy Act against a challenge Japan has launched with the support of the United States and European Union at the World Trade Organization.

Ontario is not the only province with electricity initiatives undermining Canada’s trading reputation and sending the bill to Ottawa.

Last August, a NAFTA dispute panel obliged federal taxpayers to pay the industrial firm Abitibi-Bowater $130 million after the government of Newfoundland and Labrador confiscated electricity generation assets. Far from holding the Newfoundland government responsible for shafting federal taxpayers, Prime Minister Stephen Harper instead promised loan guarantees for submarine transmission connections
required by a Labrador power megaproject with very dubious economics.

With the subsidy offer, Harper effectively rewarded Newfoundland’s government and further impaired Canada’s trade reputation in an unsuccessful bid to win seats on the Rock (although the Conservatives did pick up a seat in Labrador).

Newfoundland justifies its power scheme on the basis that provincial power costs are going to soar anyway, eventually making pricey Labrador power relatively cheap by comparison. Most of the new Labrador power, however, is earmarked for the Maritimes and potentially New England. Unlike Newfoundland, those markets have access to North America’s glut of natural gas, a key factor driving down average power rates across the U.S.

Any subsidies to Labrador power are likely to attract yet more trade complaints from generators in New England, particularly those now selling significant amounts of power into the Maritimes. International competitors of export industries in Atlantic Canada may also complain.

The Newfoundland government estimates that a federal subsidy for the Labrador power project in the form of a loan guarantee will cut local power costs by 6 or 7 per cent. Likely cost over-runs could push the value of the federal guarantee much higher.

The Kananaskis meeting provides a platform for provincial governments and lobby groups to push the federal government deeper into provincial electricity matters. Many, including the governments of Ontario and Newfoundland & Labrador, have demanded federal subsidies to interprovincial transmission projects. Ontario also demands federal subsidies for its nuclear expansion ambitions.

The federal track record in the electricity business is dubious, as illustrated by its recent cut-the-losses exit from nuclear power development and marketing. Even if the federal record in the electricity business was solid, using the federal spending power to buy its way into provincial energy affairs now will annoy our trading partners, promote inefficiency and create jurisdictional confusion.

The federal government should focus its electricity sector involvement first on its core constitutional responsibility for interprovincial trade and commerce. The best way to make Labrador power truly competitive against abundant natural gas is to avoid hugely expensive long distance submarine transmission and to instead achieve the best possible economies of scale with more affordable transmission over land.

To reach markets in Ontario or the U.S. Northeast, Labrador power must transit Quebec, which has its own electricity export ambitions. If those provinces cannot negotiate a mutually agreeable solution, the federal government should act to ensure the constitutionally-guaranteed freedom of interprovincial trade. Ontario and Newfoundland should not require Quebec’s approval to move electricity any more than Alberta needs Saskatchewan’s permission to move natural gas to Manitoba, Ontario and Quebec.

Naturally, Quebec does not welcome another big hydro-power competitor, particularly while market prices are low. However, to maintain its access to electricity markets in the United States, Quebec already accepts the U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s non-negotiable rules compelling them to open their market to electricity imports. The constitutional powers that the U.S. relies upon to promote highly successful inter-state trading are similar to our own federal
government’s constitutional authority, which Ottawa has always been reluctant to exercise in the electricity sector.

Canadians too should be entitled to an open national electricity system, where no province can hold its neighbours hostage and Canadians can buy and sell power freely. The federal government should keep federal tax dollars out of the electricity sector. Any subsidies to the sector create unfairness to taxpayers across the county and harm Canada's trading reputation, vital to our long term economic interests. Instead Ottawa should use its legitimate powers to create an open national electricity market that treats everyone transparently and fairly.

- srbp -

Tom Adams is an independent energy and environmental advisor. He has held a variety of senior responsibilities including Executive Director of Energy Probe from 1996 until September 2007, membership on the Ontario Independent Electricity Market Operator Board of Directors, and membership on the Ontario Centre for Excellence for Energy Board of Management. His guest columns have appeared in many major Canadian newspapers. He has been a media commentator for 20 years and a lecturer in energy studies at University of Toronto. He has presented expert testimony before many regulatory tribunals in Canada on a wide variety of energy subjects. He has made presentations to Legislative Committees in Ontario and New Brunswick, academic, regulatory and trade conferences, the Atomic Energy Control Board, and the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission.

Brian Lee Crowley has headed up the Macdonald-Laurier Institute (MLI) in Ottawa since its inception in March of 2010, but he has a long and distinguished record in the think tank world. He was the founder of the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies (AIMS) in Halifax, one of the country’s leading regional think tanks. He is a former Salvatori Fellow at the Heritage Foundation in Washington DC and is a Senior Fellow at the Galen Institute in Washington. In addition, he advises several think tanks in Canada, France and Nigeria.

Crowley’s published numerous books include two bestsellers: Fearful Symmetry: the fall and rise of Canada’s founding values (2009) and MLI’s first book, The Canadian Century; Moving Out of America’s Shadow, which he co-authored with Jason Clemens and Niels Veldhuis.

Crowley twice won the Sir Antony Fisher Award for excellence in think tank publications. From 2006-08 Crowley was the Clifford Clark Visiting Economist with the federal Department of Finance. He has also headed the Atlantic Provinces Economic Council (APEC), taught politics, economics and philosophy at various universities in Canada and Europe.

Crowley is a frequent commentator on political and economic issues across all media. He holds degrees from McGill and the London School of Economics, including a doctorate in political economy from the latter.

21 July 2011

Bullshit then or now? Nalcor boss changes story on natural gas and Muskrat megadebt project

Ed Martin dismisses the idea that natural gas might be a sensible replacement for burning Bunker C at Holyrood.

Here’s the whole story from VOCM in the event they disappear it:

Nalcor has considered - and rejected - the use of liquefied natural gas at the Holyrood generating station as an alternative to Bunker C oil. Because of the current and projected cost of oil, Newfoundland and Labrador's energy corporation has decided to develop Muskrat Falls hydroelectric power on the Lower Churchill River.

Nalcor CEO Ed Martin, speaking on VOCM Open Line with Randy Simms on Tuesday, said the corporation would have to construct a plant to liquefy the natural gas, which is a very costly venture. The other alternative is to tap in to the international market for natural gas and have tankers, which are supplying markets abroad, offload material for Holyrood.

But from the that was then, this is now file, Martin didn’t always think that way.

A mere seven months ago, Martin sang a very different tune.

Back then, turning natural gas to electricity was one of the great opportunities that lay in building a line from Newfoundland to Nova Scotia. The Telegram covered Martin’s speech to the Board of Trade

Many of those opportunities flow from the Maritime link connecting the island portion of the province with the rest of the North American electrical grid.

One example: the possibility of generating electricity from natural gas, also known as gas-to-wire. It’s also an alternative to building pipelines to export natural gas.

So the question is:  was Ed Martin bullshitting in December or is he bullshitting now?

- srbp -

Former Tory fin min not giving up in fight against Muskrat

Former Conservative finance minister John Collins is fighting the Muskrat Falls project as fervently as ever. 

The 80-something has a new letter in the Telegram taking issue with recent comments by Nalcor boss Ed Martin and natural resources minister Shawn Skinner.

The basic issue here revolves not around the Holyrood close-out, nor around Labrador/island inter-tie (both much needed and long delayed by Hydro), but on the need to develop Muskrat Falls itself at this time.

Question: do panic conditions really demand a $3 billion Muskrat Falls plant and dams now? The answer: no.

Collins demolishes the argument the project is needed to meet demand with a simple fact drawn from Nalcor’s own documents:

Documented demand needs in 2010 are 30 per cent less than in 2004, when no panic was cited nor acted upon, so that particular point is moot.

He then points out that Nalcor has offered no “credible account of investigations” to prove any of its claims about the need to build Muskrat falls now.

Collins is right.  For all the effort Nalcor and the provincial government is putting into selling this project they haven’t provided the simplest of answers to the simplest of questions.

The haven’t provided them because they can’t.

Either that or the answers prove there is no need for the megadebt project.

In April, Collins wrote the Telegram to argue that

“even the export of power doesn’t seem to be rendering enough to justify the cost of generating the power. The only benefit to the province seems to be closing down the Holyrood [generating plant], and  I think there are other ways of doing that.”

- srbp -

Nurturing a democratic revolution

Public life in Newfoundland and Labrador remains as fundamentally undemocratic as it ever was.

Paternalism remains the order of the day.  As three sitting members of the House revealed, they they are the face of government in their districts. 

Never mind that neither of them is actually in government.  As members of the legislature, each member has but one job:  to hold the government to account for its actions.  They do so on behalf of their constituents. Doesn’t matter if they sit on the government back benches or the opposition benches.  Their job is to serve the people of the province and the House.

By that measure, none of the current members do their jobs very well. 

The House of Assembly sits  - on average - the least number of days of any legislature in the country.  Members have little time to study any legislation the government proposes.  From the government side, members usually read prepared speeches full of officially sanctioned drivel.

The opposition members of the legislature are no better.  Liberal and New Democrat alike, they tend to rely heavily on official government statements for what they know and say about a bill.  Their comments in an afternoon sitting of the House are often laughable paraphrases of what officials told them in a morning “briefing”.   One need only look at the Hansard record of speeches by Lorraine Michael and Yvonne Jones on the day their rolled over and helped the government in the Abitibi expropriation fiasco to see this situation plainly.

The House has no functioning committees to review legislation. The Committee of the Whole remains nothing more than a hollow exercise in form over substance. The public accounts committee – once the means by which the legislature reviewed all public spending – remains as dead as it was during the darkest days of the recent patronage and corruption scandal. 

As amazing as it is to say, the House of Assembly in the early 21st century has reverted back almost to what it was before the collapse of Responsible Government in 1934.

The House of Assembly is reduced to a form of Punch and Judy show. And to compliment it, recent changes to the provincial access to information laws have systematically reduced public knowledge of government actions when the legislature is not sitting.

The people of Newfoundland and Labrador have turned their backs on politics in increasing numbers.  Voter turn-out in recent general elections and by-elections is at historic low levels.  They know that they have little control so there is no incentive to take part. 

Even the appointed House officers – the Speaker, and the watchdogs of privacy, children’s interests, elections and public accounts – are bumbling and useless. Some offices have been or are filled by political hacks who do not even pretend to be impartial.

A modern, prosperous province deserves a healthy thriving democracy.  Nothing short of a spiritual revolution can reform public life in Newfoundland and Labrador and raise it to the standards that the ordinary men and women of the province deserve.

Here are some ways to do that.

For starters, we need election finance reform:

  • Ban corporate and union donations.
  • Only individuals should be able to contribute to political parties to a maximum of $5,000 a year.
  • Ban “in kind” contributions to parties and candidates.
  • Limit election, by-election and leadership campaign fundraising and spending.
  • Limit spending by political parties and third parties during elections and during the years between general elections.
  • Require full disclosure of donations when they occur, with additional monthly updates on the Chief Electoral Officer’s website.

Piece-meal and largely unnecessary changes to elections in the province from 2004 onward have produced an electoral system that is an embarrassment in a democracy worthy of the name. Electoral reform should include the following measures to break the influence of money and to restore some power to the backbenchers and opposition members:

  • Remove the provision that the resignation of a premier triggers a general election.  Overbearing ego created it and it serves no useful purpose.
  • Eliminate mail-in ballots and the current system that allows voting before an election writ is actually issued.
  • Restore the mandatory 90 day period in which a by-election must be called to fill a vacancy.  The 2004 change to 60 days proved unnecessary and, as in 2007, produced the laughable case of a by-election that was called but never actually held.
  • Cut off incumbent expense charges, cell phones and other perks of office 45 days in advance of a fixed election date. This will discourage campaigning at public expense by incumbents.
  • Compel members not seeking re-election to vacate their offices and cut off their expense accounts 45 days before a fixed election date or 30 days after they announce their intentions publicly, whichever saves the public more money.
  • Introduce amendments to the House of Assembly Act that set mandatory sitting days (for example 50 days in the spring and 40 in the fall) for the House of Assembly with cash penalties for each member if the House does not sit the prescribed number of days.
  • Introduce amendments to the House of Assembly Act to establish legislative committees, set the number of hearing days they must sit.
  • Make the membership on the committee a function of House seniority regardless of whether a member is on the opposition benches or government back benches.
  • Give the committees research and administrative staff to be hired by the Speaker.
  • Update:  To go along with this, some other changes to funding would follow:  the office of the leader of the opposition would get funding for administrative positions such as chief of staff, executive assistant and communications director.  Caucuses would no longer get funding for staff and research positions.  Instead, every member would get a standard allotment for a constituency assistant, a travel budget etc. to support individual work as members.
  • Update:  The Public Accounts Committee should be the only one with an opposition majority and an opposition chair. 
  • Cabinet minister would only be allowed to serve on the House of Assembly management committee.
  • Introduce legislation to limit the size of cabinet and the number of government party members who may draw extra payments for government duties.  Exclude those members drawing extra pay from committee work.
  • Strengthen the conflict of interest rules for politicians to limit their business and other interests while serving in the House. 
  • Add charities to the list of prohibited interests that members may have, especially once they sit in cabinet.
  • Extend the prohibited period for doing business with government after leaving office to five years for all politicians and political staff.
  • Former cabinet ministers should be barred from any dealings with all government departments, not just the one for which they last served as minister.

To restore the integrity of the House of Assembly officer appointments, nominees should be vetted during public hearings by a House of Assembly committee on appointments.  Nominees should come from a publicly advertised competition, although the list of potential candidates may include recommended nominees from cabinet.

Existing legislation should be amended to allow that officers can only be removed by the Speaker with the concurrence of the committee.  Any suspension or removal from office while the House is not in session must be the subject of a public hearing at the next sitting of the House.

And that’s just the start of it.

In future posts in the series, we’ll look at changes to the province’s access to information laws and reforms to senior appointments.

There are more than 15 good ideas for a stronger Newfoundland and Labrador.

- srbp -

People unfamiliar with the legislature might not understand how some of these changes could produce a dramatic difference in the House.  Let’s see if this helps:

  • Banning corporate and union donations breaks the influence of big money on party policy and shifts power back toward individuals.
  • Adding charities to the conflict of interest guidelines closes a gigantic loophole in the current conflict guidelines that has proven to be a major problem in the United States. 
  • The new committee structure is intended to restore some power to the legislature and to individual members of the House and help break the centralization of power in the first minister. Among other things, it breaks the patronage hold that Premiers have on perks and bonuses that are often held out as a way of influencing members unduly. 
  • Individual members should be able to develop a profile, reputation and a power base that would make them contenders for cabinet based on merit rather than obsequiousness and pliability.
  • Funding committees instead of caucuses prevents majority parties coupled with a biased Speaker from doing as the Conservatives did in the current legislature with funding for the official opposition.
  • Cutting off expenses before a fixed election levels the playing field between incumbents and challengers at the district level.

20 July 2011

From the Earth to the moon

Forty two years later, the American manned space program is about to die.

For the first time in half a century the United States will not have the ability to send humans into space and bring them home again.

How truly sad that is.

- srbp -

Rumpole and the Cardinal Rule

St. John’s lawyer Averill Baker is pissed that the Crown prosecutor is trying to remove her from a case because she represented the victim in the savage beating her current client is accused of visiting on his head.

He’s facing a second degree murder charge for allegedly shooting his accomplice in a botched armed robbery.  The fellow is also facing an attempted murder charge for the beating of baker’s former client.

Lisa Stead sent Baker a letter. According to Baker, Stead wrote that she will ask a judge to remove Baker if she shows up in court representing the fellow accused of .

Seems the Crown tucked the fellow in in 2005 for possession of stolen goods and possession of marijuana for the purpose of trafficking.  Baker represented him at the time. 

What’s more, Stead advised Baker that she may be called as a witness in the case.

A couple of things stand out from the CBC account of this and Baker’s comments.

First, she says that she represented the victim in the current case  for “half a day” in 2005 and therefore knows nothing else about the fellow and his life.  While there may be no connection between the brief appearance in court and the conviction, the two things don’t look good together. 

Baker might have been better off walking from the current case given the fairly obvious conflict of interest.  Any cross examination of the victim in the current case would be fraught with problems.  On the face of it, one would be hard pressed to see how that would do her current client any good.

But second and perhaps more important than anything else, there’s the line at the end of the CBC story:

Baker said if the Crown comes up with other charges to attempt to make her be a witness, she will apply to Newfoundland and Labrador Supreme Court to rule on malicious prosecution.

This suggests that – contrary to her earlier assertion – Baker may know something of her former client’s business or his relationship with the fellow she now represents that she claims.  The charges mentioned here seem to be related to Baker, not her current or former client.

Let’s hope someone at CBC misunderstood.

Otherwise, the implication for Baker’s client is one thing.

The implication for Baker is another, and it is not good.

Not good at all.

In fact, the implications are so serious this might be a case where the lawyer needs to get some legal advice before saying another word.  There’s a reason why lawyers often advise their clients to first of all follow the cardinal rule:  shut the f*ck up.

- srbp -

Making the Most of Our Energy Resources, Part II – Oil and Gas in the Future

Without new oil and gas discoveries, the Newfoundland and Labrador petroleum industry will dry up within a couple of decades.  There hasn’t been a significant discovery in the offshore since the 1980s, with the exception of one find in the Orphan Basin.

The problem isn’t a lack of oil or gas.  The geological estimates back up the notion there is plenty more to find. The problem is no one is looking for it hard enough to find it. 

To give you a sense of how low exploration levels are now compared to a couple of decades ago, take a look at this slide.  It’s taken from Wade Locke’s recent presentation for the Harris Centre. 


Low exploration levels is one of the most important problems facing the oil and gas industry.  It’s not a new problem.  It’s not the only problem.  There are others, all of which centre on the basic challenge of how we can make the most of our oil and gas resources now and in the future.

Here are some basic ideas that can help us to get there.

For starters, Newfoundland and Labrador has to be an attractive place for investment, exploration and development. Oil and gas is a highly competitive industry, especially in the exploration sector.  There are only so many exploration dollars to go around.  There are only so many rigs to go around and there are plenty of places in the world where companies can find oil and gas, develop it, get it to market and make a lot of money.

Sending delegation after delegation to oil shows in places like Houston doesn’t produce a single new exploration well. What the local oil and gas industry needs is a stable, predictable environment.  That is something they haven’t had for a while.

One of the easiest things for the provincial government to do is set an offshore oil royalty regime and a gas royalty regime.  The provincial government had an oil royalty regime but the 2007 energy “plan”  to replace it with something else.  Not surprisingly for the current administration, there is no sign of a new oil royalty regime four years after they promised it.

Ditto a natural gas royalty regime. The current administration promised one in 2007 but they still haven’t delivered.  In fact, the provincial government has been working on development of a gas royalty regime for the past 14 years and still they haven’t managed to produce anything but a discussion that went nowhere.

With the royalty regime set, there’s no need for the provincial government to hold up any developments while it “negotiates” with a developer.  That’s the sort of thing one might expect in a banana republic.  It isn’t what happens in mature economies.

In the same way, the provincial government should set – or allow the offshore regulatory board to set – basic rules for local benefits.

The current administration held up the Hebron development and in the end settled for a royalty regime only marginally better than the generic regime. But any gains on so-called super royalties were offset by give-aways on the front end of the royalty structure and on local benefits in the form of research and development spending commitments.

Standard royalty and benefits regimes that work across a variety of price ranges and that work fairly for the resource owner  - i.e. taxpayers - and the developer will promote stable economic development.

The provincial and federal government should also implement a policy of merit-based appointments to the offshore regulatory board.  The Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Regulatory Board is one of the most important agencies in the province. The most recent fiasco with efforts to stuff a former political staffer into a job she was unqualified for highlight the potential damage that politicians can do to an important official body.  At the very least, the provincial government should advertise for applicants for board appointments based on well publicized criteria. Board appointees should serve for fixed terms and each appointment should come with a publicly available expiry date. The offshore board is no place for political hacks and cronies.

While the offshore oil and gas industry is well developed, the oil and gas industry that lies exclusively within provincial jurisdiction is not.  As a way of encouraging development of a well-managed industry within the borders of the province, the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador should develop a regulatory board to administer lands, manage reservoirs, serve as a repository for information on oil and gas and generally serve as the focus of industry regulation from the three mile limit inward. 

The new oil and gas regulator should complement the work of the offshore board.  Naturally, the new board will assume some of the roles assigned to the old provincial petroleum directorate as well as ones that have grown up within the oil and gas division of the natural resources department. The new onshore regulatory board should also administer new, standard royalty and benefit regimes for any future developments.

Other elements of the 15 ideas (and more) also will apply to the oil industry.  For example, breaking up the energy company and either privatizing it or forcing it to function like other companies would break its strangle-hold on the local business environment.  This would inevitably allow for new life and energy in a sector that is rapidly becoming stagnant.

Without new life in the province’s energy industry,  the future looks bleak.  Staying on the current path is not a practical option. 

These are a few ideas to stimulate life and growth and to create a future for the province and its people that works.

- srbp - 

19 July 2011

Like Momma always said…Part Deux und Trois

The only funnier thing than a guy up on assault charges claiming he is a wannabe Tory candidate are opposition party politicos who campaign for the incumbents.

In the past couple of weeks, comments coming from both parties have highlighted positive economic news.

Liberal leader Yvonne Jones did it before she headed back to Labrador for a series of meetings. She issued a news release that mentioned how the Labrador economy is booming.

Then  provincial NDP president Dale Kirby tweeted a link to a Globe and Mail story about how well the provincial economy is doing in comparison to the rest of the Atlantic provinces.

Wonderful stuff.

Except that in both cases, Jones and Kirby wound up reinforcing the classic argument for staying the course and keeping the current government in power. Things are going well, say the incumbents. Don’t risk all the good times by changing horse in the middle of the stream of cash and jobs.

Opposition parties need to draw attention to things the incumbent party isn’t talking about. There are plenty of issues. Some of them are ones the incumbents just don’t give a frig about but opposition voters do.  Some are issues the incumbents haven’t figured out are potentially decisive. Others are ones the incumbents will scream blue murder about because they are sore issues.

But talking about how good things are under the current administration?

Not really a message that says vote for me, the leader of the party that didn’t deliver all this good stuff.

It’s good for them to be positive, you say.  Otherwise the opposition parties would be all negative.  No one likes it when you are negative.  More people would listen to the opposition parties if they weren't negative all the time.

Well, for starters if you think that way, then you are – without question  - an ardent supporter of whatever incumbent government we are talking about.  Either that or you make Pollyanna look like a suicide waiting to happen.

Only incumbent politicos and their staunch supporters dislike it when others talk about problems.  Face it:  problems exist all the time.  They may not be big problems but they do exist.  It’s natural for people to talk about them if for no other reason than they would like the incumbents to fix them.

But incumbents hate people talking about problems.  The longer the incumbents are in office the more they dislike problems.  The longer the incumbents are in office, you see, the more likely it is that they caused the problems.

Incumbents also know that problems energise the opposition supporters.  After all, talking about the problems at the time are what helped get the incumbents elected in the first place. 

It seems like ancient history these days, but those who can recall the period between 2001 and 2003 will remember Danny Williams talked relentlessly about problems.  He was angry.  He stayed angry even after the 2003 general election. In fact, Danny stayed angry right up to his last days in office.

Tories  - and Danny lovers - don’t see it that way, of course. They think he spoke the truth.  But that’s what one would expect Tories to say, just as Liberals would have said the same sorts of things the last time Liberals were in power.

And when the incumbents hissed at Danny that he was too negative, he just ignored them and carried on about his business.  Danny carried on because he knew what opposition politicians are supposed to do if they ever want to get back into a government office again.

- srbp -

18 July 2011

And Harry won't be running either

Conservative cabinet minister Harry Harding won't be seeking re-election in this fall's general election, according to media reports on MOnday..

Free tuition at NL university for Nova Scotians: NL NDP leader

The Newfoundland and Labrador local of the New Democratic Party wants taxpayers in her province to give Nova Scotians free tuition at Memorial University.

Sounds idiotic, doesn’t it?

But that’s exactly what she wants to do, at least if you follow the thrust of Lorraine Michael’s July 8th news release.

In the release the NDP leader said that “free tuition is essential to ensuring that all of Newfoundland and Labrador’s young people get equal access to education they will need for their own, and by extension, all our prosperity.”

Wonderful stuff.

Then she cites in study released by her party president Dale Kirby, wearing his education professor hat.

Kirby and his colleagues surveyed Memorial University students from Maritime Canada and asked them some questions about why they decided on studying at Memorial University. As the executive summary in the report notes, the number of Maritime students at Memorial went up “ten-fold’ in the past decade or so. And as the report also notes, there have been other reports, most notably by news media, in which Maritime students identified cost as one of the big reasons for them coming to Memorial. They can study at a comprehensive university that has a decent reputation overall(outstanding in some faculties) and they can do it cheaper than they could at Dalhousie or Acadia or University of New Brunswick.

They come here because the tuition is cheap, they said. 

So, reasons Michael, free education for Nova Scotians will benefit Newfoundland and Labrador.

She does not explain how. 

Odds are she can’t.

That’s not important, though. 

In the world of Conservative-style retail politics, all a political party has to do is offer this sort of cash incentive to win votes. It’s like the one about cutting taxes on gasoline or home-heating products.  None of those ideas make any sense except as a way of luring voters:  give us your vote and we’ll give you cash.

The foolishness of the free tuition idea is actually right there in Michael’s release. All you have to do is think about it for a second.

You see all those Maritime students frig off back to Nova Scotia or New Brunswick or Prince Edward island once they get their Memorial University degrees.  They only come here because they can get a decent university paid on the cheap.  They don’t spend four years at Memorial because they plan to settle in Hibb’s Hole once the drinking…err…studying is done.

And if lower tuition is already bringing in the mainland students in droves, then odds are free tuition will attract droves more. The university will have to hire more professors and build more classrooms and laboratories.

And who will pay for this?

Why the taxpayers of Newfoundland and Labrador, of course.

Now think about that a bit more.

In a province where the government is facing a pretty severe financial problem because of foolish spending, the New Democrats want to spend millions more to make university education free.  Then they’ll have to spend hundreds of millions more making the university larger to accommodate all the new students.

And where will thousands of those students come from?

Why Nova Scotia, of course, the most populous province in Atlantic Canada.

Now where else has Nova scotia cropped up lately?


Of course.

Lorraine Michael, Kathy Dunderdale, and Yvonne Jones want to spend billions on this Muskrat Falls project so they can ship cheap electrical power to Nova Scotians.  Newfoundlanders and Labradorians will pay the full cost of the power plus a profit for Nalcor and Nova Scotia-based Emera so that Nova Scotians get a break.

And this is how Newfoundlanders and Labradorians will gain a long-term benefit from their natural resources:  by selling discount electricity to Nova Scotians

That sounds an awful lot like this education scheme Lorraine and Dale have cooked up.

- srbp -

15 July 2011

Telly takes wind out of Muskrat

The Telegram editorial on Thursday linked the Muskrat Falls project with the recent announcement by Kruger Inc of a wind energy project in Quebec:

Power, apparently, is cheaper in Quebec. Hydro-Québec says its 2,000 megawatts of wind power are being purchased for an average cost of 8.7 cents a kilowatt hour. That's a huge difference - especially because we're also supposed to be selling power into North American markets.

But you have to wonder - if Hydro-Québec is bringing 2,000 megawatts of wind power on stream at 8.7 cents a kilowatt hour before Nalcor brings 824 megawatts of power on stream at 14.3 to 16.5 cents a kilowatt hour, who will be subsidizing the off-island sale of power of Muskrat Falls to make it competitive with power that costs a third less?

And just why is Muskrat Falls clearly the provincial government's only choice - and Nalcor the only possible supplier - to meet our energy needs again?

- srbp -

Did I say yes to Muskrat? I meant “no”: Jones

Political decisions in Newfoundland and Labrador are apparently like the local weather at least as far as the current crop of party leaders in the province is concerned.

Wait a minute and everything changes.

Kathy Dunderdale set the standard for indecisiveness with her on-again, off-again subsidies for Danny Williams’ latest gaggle of professional jockstraps.

Now it’s Yvonne Jones’ turn.

In an interview with NTV’s Issues and Answers last week, Jones said that as Premier she’d hand over responsibility for deciding the fate of the Muskrat Falls to the Auditor General. 

And if he ruled the thing was good, then that was good enough for Jones.  She’d go along with it.  Jones sounded positively giddy at the thought of all the jobs and electricity to fuel develop in Labrador.  She claimed there’s 700 megawatts need for mining developments.  That’s pure crap, of course.

Well wait a minute, or in this case a couple of days, and Jones wants to scrap the deal now. That’s what she says in the latest news release from the Opposition Leader’s Office

The reason Jones changed her mind is an interview with Vermont Governor Pete Shumlin on CBC Radio.  Shumlin noted, among other things, the problems with the current projected prices for Muskrat Falls power. 

“If the power is too expensive for residents of the United States, how is it affordable for us, when Premier Dunderdale wants to charge us more for it than consumers outside the province,” Jones said. “Kathy Dunderdale is content to saddle this province with generations of debt for a project that doesn’t make financial sense.”

Quick!  Get the smelling salts.  Regular readers of this corner are swooning at this revelation. After all, it’s not like your humble e-scribbler hasn’t been pounding the drum about how uncompetitive the Muskrat Falls power is on the markets not just today but well into the future.

In fact, there’s even a comment from Kathy Dunderdale  - from last fall - about the lack of American markets for the super expensive Muskrat power.

And if none of that rings a bell, don’t forget the Rhode Island memorandum of understanding.  Kathy Dunderdale told the legislature one story.  Turns out that, to paraphrase a famous politician, nothing Kathy said could be further from the truth:

As far as we can determine, there is no legislative hold up here in Rhode Island, it is more of a question of cost.  While the power generation is inexpensive, the cost of transmission adds to the final price. The possibility of purchasing power is still alive; it may be a topic of discussion at the conference of New England Governors and Eastern Canadian Premiers that is happening today. Interest in purchasing renewable energy remains. 

Yes folks, there you have it from 2009:  New England states are interested in buying energy from renewable sources but the damnable costs of transmission are a problem.

That post did not make the local media sit up and take notice.  It took two years and another governor for them to figure it out.

Anyway, scuttling the deal is Jones’ latest position. Once she gets a few phone calls from people who want jobs on the project or from business owners anxious to suck harder on the public debt tit, she’ll swing around again.

- srbp -