31 August 2011

Jay Rosen on Political Reporting

The problem with horse-race reporting and an alternative approach.

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NL ratepayers to carry full cost of Muskrat Falls plus more #nlpoli

If there is anyone left who doesn’t understand who will pay for Muskrat Falls, let him or her read the joint review panel report:

The Panel notes that the main driver for the Muskrat Falls projected cash flow provided to the Panel comes from Nalcor’s projected Island domestic rates that continue to escalate by two percent per annum even after Project debt payout. There are also questions about the regulatory treatment of Muskrat Falls by the provincial Government and the Public Utilities Board. It is not clear how much of the overall Muskrat Falls cost would be permitted to be passed on to the Newfoundland rate payer and what the implications are for the ability of Muskrat Falls to generate a long-term revenue stream for the Province. [ Emphasis added p. 24]

If you use electricity in Newfoundland and Labrador, you will pay the entire cost of Muskrat Falls and its transmission lines to the island and tidy “return on equity” that actually will exceed the original forecast.

Not bad at all, if you aren’t one of the people who will be forced to pay for the project.


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Political Reporting 2011

As we slide into the fall general election’s open campaign period, some of you might find it interesting to ponder Jay Rosen’s recent post about the current state of political reporting in the United States and Australia.

This is more a thought post than anything else.  Your humble e-scribbler started chewing over some observations about politics and political reporting a while ago.  The ideas are still swirling around and sometimes it is useful to just post them as part of a thought-exercise in progress.

Rosen is a journalism prof at New York University.  He’s been blogging since 2003 about journalism, so yes, folks that makes him a very early adopter of the form.

Political reporting is off track, Rosen argues.

So this is my theme tonight: how did we get to the point where it seems entirely natural for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation to describe political journalists appearing on its air as “the insiders?”  Don’t you think that’s a little strange? I do. Promoting journalists as insiders in front of the outsiders, the viewers, the electorate…. this is a clue to what’s broken about political coverage in the U.S. and Australia. Here’s how I would summarize it: Things are out of alignment. Journalists are identifying with the wrong people. Therefore the kind of work they are doing is not as useful as we need it to be.

Rather than suffer through a short-hand version of Rosen’s post, take a second a go read it for yourself.  It isn’t very long and Rosen does makes his points rather neatly.  If you’ve got the time, wander through some of the links he offers up at the end.

There are a bunch of ideas running through Rosen’s post and the links.

There are the three ideas Rosen holds as part of the problem he sees in current political reporting:

1. Politics as an inside game.

2. The cult of savviness.

3. The production of innocence.

Politics is an inside game and some reporters present themselves as insiders – as savvy – and as people who can get inside the deepest recesses of political campaigns and bring audiences an informed, accurate and detailed discussion about the strategy and tactics.

Interesting concept.

Except that, with very few exceptions nationally and none locally, the reporters can never get inside, have never been inside. 

They only know what people who genuinely are inside will tell them. 

And given that none of the reporters have ever been inside a political campaign as a campaign participant, they can’t authoritatively discuss what is going on authoritatively based on experience..

And yet some reporters do it.

At the same time, the same reporters will insist they are merely observers who have no stake, or role in the politics and political process at all. 

That’s the innocence Rosen talks about.

Now Rosen has his own conclusions about how journalism ought to be done.  That’s all fine and good.

What savvy news consumers reading this might want to think about is that how the news gets reported to them can affect their perceptions about the political process generally and about the particular campaign.

While reporters are discussing strategies, tactics, how many candidates have been nominated or about a particular parties debt problems, there might well be other things they aren’t reporting.  Those other things could be as important or even more important to public perceptions of the campaign.

Rosen also offers a little graphic representation people can use to plot reporting.


And the way Rosen describes the four sectors:

Bottom left: Appearances rendered as fact. Example: the media stunt.

Top left: Phony arguments. Manufactured controversies. Sideshows.

Bottom right: Today’s new realities: get the facts. The actual news of politics.

Top right. Real arguments: Debates, legitimate controversies, important speeches.

Here’s one example from the local political scene to get you started.

Manufactured controversies:  Danny Williams and Quebec.  That one pretty much screams contrivance, right down to the complete misrepresentation of what the Quebec energy regulatory decided on Nalcor’s wheeling application and what the wheeling application was all about.

What would you put in the other sectors?

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30 August 2011

Random Post in Latin: People Called Romans, They Go the House


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Uniting the Left: a reminder

So with the Liberal meeting in Ottawa, the idea of uniting the left is coming back around again.

Not surprisingly, Liberal leader Bob rare is pissing on the idea.
Now Bob’s reasoning may be somewhat different than the one your humble e-scribbler offered last June but the point still holds up:

Meanwhile over on the left, the New Democrats united with the other left wing party – the Bloc – and became the official opposition. Now they’ll basically face the same sort of question the Conservatives already addressed.  There’s no guarantee how they’ll answer it nor is there a correct answer.


Do they head toward the centre, as other successful left-wing parties have done, or will they continue to embrace their ideological base and potentially kiss power good bye? 

Put another way:  Is Jack Layton going to emulate Tony Blair or Michael Foot?

And that’s really the point.  The left wing in the country is already united.  The Bloc and the NDP merged even if the Blocists weren’t willing partners to the political marriage.

Put another way, the Bloc NDP essentially pulls together the ideological left in the country.  At the same time, the NDP is well on its way to morphing from being a national party with representation in all the regions of the country to a party representing regional interests nationally.

Meanwhile, the Liberals remain a coalition party that has, historically, shifted ideologically from the centre left to centre right based on the dominant trends in the country.

So if Denis Coderre wants to frig off to join the Bloc NDP, he can certainly go ahead.

But since the ideological left is already united, why would the Liberals – a federalist party of the political centre that long ago rejected reactionary politics of the left and right – ever want to join with the Dippers or the Connies, for that matter?

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*  edit to eliminate repetition.

Muskrat Falls: lost opportunity


The claim: 

Nalcor stated in its final submission to the Panel that without the Project the Province would lose an opportunity to create long-term revenue to fund social programs. [Joint Review Panel, final report, Page 18]*

The reality:

Further, Nalcor indicated at the hearing, … that the shareholder [i.e. the provincial government] might forgo dividends so that not much of a revenue stream is expected from Muskrat Falls for distribution. [Page 24, Emphasis added]

The only ways the provincial government can make any money from Muskrat Falls is if it takes dividends from Nalcor, if it claims rent from the water lease, or if it taxes electricity production.

The provincial doesn’t take dividends from Nalcor at the moment.  Odds are it won’t if the provincial government carries on with the Muskrat Falls project.

So far there are no plans for electricity taxes.

And while the details of the water lease aren’t public, the provincial government could also simply let Nalcor have the water rights with a very small rental charge, if it imposes any rental at all.

So how – exactly – will Muskrat Falls create “long-term revenue to fund social programs”?

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Note:  the full report doesn’t appear to be online. The executive summary is available for the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency.

Update:  The full report is online.  No fewer than three e-mails (including one comment) gave the link.

Dead Robots in Heat

So the old poll goosing habit dies hard.

There’s the robot poll goosing of the Question of the Day at Voice of the Cabinet Minister. Think about it:  such a habit, they’ve now automated the process.

And in its editorial on the last Monday in August, the Telegram editorialist reminds us all of another old poll goosing habit the provincial Conservatives have:

Cheers: to numbers and money. Maybe you like Lotto 6-49 or LottoMax. Here’s a set of monied numbers for you to choose from: 29, 30, 39, 23, 19, 32 and 43. Those are the weekly numbers of funding announcements (and announcements of pending funding announcements) made by the provincial government as it staggers along under the weight of its campaign cash backpack. This past week has marked the heaviest handouts to date, with money for everything from turbot to rock-climbing to airline subsidies. Premier Kathy Dunderdale pointed out recently that past governments made announcements right up to the start of the official campaign. “I’m not going to do that,” Dunderdale told reporters. “By the end of the month, these announcements will conclude.” Nice to know there is a scheduled end to the non-pre-election spending program.

Yes, friends, the government’s pollster is in the field in August and so it is time for the quarterly gush of money announcements all in an effort to ensure the governing Tories’ polling numbers stay up.

The intensity of the activity this summer, though, stands out.  It stands out because they Tories seem to be trying to prop up the last media poll before the fall election.  The party has been having an especially bad time since Danny Williams left them unexpectedly – and rather hurriedly – last December.

Kathy Dunderdale’s popularity numbers are low. They are slow low and the trending is such that any further drop would really start to shift public perceptions of the election outcome in October.  They might not be quite so willing to accept that the ruling Tories are guaranteed of a majority if Dunderdale’s numbers in August continue the downward slide.

The media might not be able to ignore the trending.

You see, even aside from the year long trending downward for the Tory polling numbers, the change in Liberal leader, the disastrous Muskrat Falls review report and/or or the orgy of coverage of Jack Layton’s funeral might cause a shift of its own.

Get that story  - that Dunderale is in trouble - running around in September and see what happens. That prospect likely frightens the living crap out of the Tory party campaign managers.

Heck, it would frighten any political insider no matter what the party.

And it will definitely scare the crap out of Kathy Dunderdale.  Her length of time as Premier is inversely proportional to the number of seats she loses in October.  The fewer she loses, the longer she can stay.

If she drops below 34 seats in total  – the magic number for some local politicos – you can expect Dunderdale to go within 18 months.

With that on the line, there’s no wonder that the Tory party poll goosing efforts are in some sort of manic overdrive this month.

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Rumpole and the Black Letter

Local barrister Averill Baker is threatening to sue the Crown prosecutors for persecution based on their recent application to have her tossed off a case for being in a conflict of interest.

The nature of the conflict of interest is complicated.  There may be much the public doesn’t know from court documents that earlier were sealed.

Ms. AB once represented the victim in a break-in her late client was alleged to have conducted.  In the course of the break-in and attempted robbery is alleged to have shot one of his alleged co-conspirators.

A conflict of another sort apparently broke out in the court room when the lawyers and the accused got together to hear the judge’s decision on the conflict of interest.

The accused, Philip Pynn, kept trying to interject.  The judge ordered him to clam up and when he didn’t, reminded the young fellow he could have the Sherriff’s officers gag him.

Bit extreme, but not something judges are known to do for people who aren’t disrupting proceedings.

In any event, the judge told Ms. AB she had to stand aside.

Ms. AB found it all troubling.  As CBC reports,

"This is a sad day," Baker said.

"I have lost one of my most important clients, as I say, he's been with our firm since 2005, and we were the victims of an attack by the Crown," said Baker.

One might think so.

Think that way, that is, unless one was familiar – as Ms. AB ought to be – with the way the courts have ruled on the business of conflict of interest.

The court standard is laid down in the decision on an application in R v. Brissett.

The Crown applies for a disqualifying order, on account of alleged conflict of interest, removing the Defendant’s two solicitors of record from defending him on charges of the first degree murder of Demar Ranglin and the attempted murder of Joseph Cunningham.  No date has been scheduled for the trial.

To this point, Mr. Brissett has been represented by Mr. Stephen Bernstein and Mr. David McComb.  The prosecution submits that because Mr. McComb previously acted as counsel for Mr. Cunningham, his current counsel, both of whom practice in the same law firm, are in a conflict of interest position in purporting to defend Mr. Brissett in a trial where Mr. Cunningham is not only a principal Crown witness but also an alleged victim of one of the crimes charged.

As it turned out, the firm acted for the fellow so long ago that neither of the two partners could recall it.  But that’s as maybe, as far as the courts are concerned.

The court laid out the principles succinctly.

First,  there was the matter of the timing of the application.  The Crown must raise the conflict issue as soon as possible.  Incidentally, in the case with Ms. AB, they did so almost immediately after laying the charges against Pynn.

Second, was conflict and the duty of loyalty to the client.  That’s essentially the nub of the problem:  one cannot serve two interests simultaneously.

Third, there’s the duty to preserve client confidences.

Fourth, the duty of confidence continues – as the lawyers put it – after the retainer ends.

Fifth, the right to counsel of choice is not absolute. in other words, you don’t always get the lawyer you want, especially if he or she must be disqualified.

After going though the details of the case, the judgment posed a simple set of questions.

[75]…Would a fully informed reasonable observer seeing these circumstances of successive representation perceive any or all of the following:

(1) a realistic risk or possibility that confidential information secured by the law firm in its retainer by Cunningham would be used in the attempt to discredit Cunningham in Mr. Brissett’s trial?

(2) that Cunningham would likely hold the belief that a cross-examiner from the law firm which previously represented him was in a position to challenge aspects of his testimony based on knowledge originating in prior confidential communications made as a client of the firm?

(3) that Cunningham would be more likely to agree with leading questions and suggestions by a cross-examiner from the law firm that had represented him as a client for fear of disclosure of some confidential information divulged to the law firm when a client?

(4) that a lawyer from the firm which had Cunningham as a prior client might be less effective aggressively cross-examining Cunningham on behalf of Mr. Brissett on account of undue caution relating to the apparent use of confidential information previously obtained from the witness/prior client?

[76]     In my view, a reasonable member of the public would, on the record here, answer these questions affirmatively and, as a result, have significantly less confidence in the administration of criminal justice should counsel from the Robbins, Bernstein firm be permitted to cross-examine their prior client – the concept of undivided loyalty and public faith in the justice system would be significantly tarnished.

Even with what is in the public, it would seem that Ms. AB was in a pretty clear violation of the principles described in Brissett. The fellow she once represented would inevitably be called as a witness. 

Ms. AB would have to cross-examine him and – at that very point – she’d be caught with a conflict of interest, even if only in appearance.  If there was anything more involved that the public doesn’t know, the the conflict could well be more than just a matter of appearance.

Ms. AB can fulminate all she wants.  The black letter of the law would seem to be firmly against. That’s likely why, at an earlier hearing, she didn’t bother contesting the application. Initially she’d talked tough but in the end, she didn’t do anything.

If someone offers to bet on Ms. AB suing the Crown over the whole matter, then take the bet.

She’ll likely back off that one too.

Black letter, and all that.

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29 August 2011

Robots in Dead Heat

As labradore notes, the latest question of the day online poll at Voice of the Cabinet Minister comes close to setting a record for vote totals.

It is second to another question about Muskrat Falls from last December.

Just so everyone is clear:

  • Both the “Yes” and “No” votes are the result of someone deliberately dumping huge numbers of votes in here using computer programs.
  • The governing Conservatives have been at this foolishness for years and used to get paid political staffers to sit there and manually click the button whatever way they wanted to see the vote go. It seems they’ve now deployed computers.
  • Someone else has been auto-voting for the past three or four years likely just to frack with the Tory staffers.
  • As labradore notes, VOCM disabled the “Yes” option over the weekend so that the people trying to push the vote against the government’s preferred answer to the question couldn’t get any more votes in.
  • VOCM will report these results as if they were news.  Call-in hosts will use them to prompt calls, most likely without mentioning that the thing is complete bullshite.


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Random Post in Latin: rebellious edition


Sic semper tyrannis

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Nalcor Royalties: yet more information

Nalcor estimates the company will pay anticipated royalties to the provincial government totalling  $2.06 Billion dollars.

That’s from the second post in what has become a miniseries.

Nalcor followed up with some further information on how much oil they estimate is involved and how much they estimate the gross revenues will be.

Here’s the verbatim paragraph from Nalcor’s e-mail:

Nalcor Energy's total anticipated royalty payments of at $2.06 Billion dollars is included in a total projected gross revenue of $7.58 Billion.  These revenues are expressed in nominal terms meaning they are the sum of un- discounted cash flows.  The calculation uses the "PIRA Brent Reference" pricing issued November 2010.  Each project has a different oil price project owing to its differences in crude quality.  As an approximation, $92/bbl [$92 per barrel] in 2010 [dollars] can be used escalated thereafter. Total Nalcor Energy reserve volumes used for the calculation was 52.8 million barrels (proven and probable).

Nalcor may not have to pay any royalties from Hebron even though Nalcor’s projection assumes it will.

Under the Hebron financial agreement, the provincial government can exempt Nalcor from paying any royalties at all on its 4.9% interest.

The escalation is two percent per year.

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Paving the way

Paving and asphalt companies in the province gave $52, 575 in political contributions to the provincial Conservatives between 2004 and 2009, according to figures available from the province’s Chief Electoral Officer.

But the same companies gave a mere $500 to the provincial Liberal Party and not a penny to the New Democratic Party.

By contrast between 1996 and 2003, paving companies gave $52,565 to the provincial Liberals.

But unlike their tight-fisted way with the opposition after 2004, the companies gave $35,150 to the province’s Conservatives while they were in opposition. 

They gave nothing to the New Democratic Party.

paving donations

What’s also noticeable when you chart the donations by party and year is the second dramatic shift after the Conservatives came back to power in late 2003.

The biggest donation periods before 2004 were in the election years of 1996, 1999 and 2003. In other years, the total politically donations dropped off dramatically.

But under the Conservatives, spiked in the 2007 election, but they also stayed relatively high in 2006 and 2009.  They jumped again in 2009 to almost $15,000. 

Road paving and politics became an issue last week when former Conservative Brad Cabana publicly recounted what he said were comments made by tourism minister Terry French at last fall’s provincial Conservative Party convention.  Cabana told a local talk show audience that French suggested Tory party volunteers hit up local paving companies for campaign donations.

French called the same show and said that he did not remember saying any such thing.  He also called Cabana a scumbag and a political prostitute.

After that episode, your humble e-scribbler scanned the official election contributions records available from the Chief Electoral Office for records of donations by any companies with the words “paving” or “asphalt” in the company name.

Other companies may be involved in the road paving business.  They may or may not have made political contributions in the period for which records are readily available.

While the information above doesn’t support or refute Cabana’s contention, the pattern of the contributions and the changes after the Conservatives came to office are curious.

This isn’t the first time someone has drawn a connection between provincial road paving and politics.  labradore has blogged extensively on the pattern of paving contracts and road construction work that has tended to favour Conservative districts over Liberal ones since 2004.

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28 August 2011

Random Post in Latin: Coat of Arms edition


Quaerite Prime Regum Dei

Coat of Arms

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JFK’s speech on religion and politics

Religion played a huge role in the 1960 presidential election.

Specifically, Republicans questioned how John Kennedy would govern, given that he was a practicing Roman Catholic.   A group of 150 Protestant ministers and laymen publicly opposed the idea of a Roman Catholic president.  In a public statement, the group  -including Rev. Dr. Norman Vincent Peale – stated that, among other things, they felt it "is inconceivable that a Roman Catholic President would not be under extreme pressure by the hierarchy of his church to accede to its policies with respect to foreign relations.”

While the Republicans did not use the religion issue as part of the national campaign, the issue continued to dog Kennedy throughout the race.

A speech to Greater Houston Ministerial Association in September 1960, right,  proved to be Kennedy’s definitive statement on the subject.

The campaign used film of the speech in television advertising and ran it repeatedly throughout the fall of 1960, especially in areas where there was a heavy Roman catholic population.

In her definitive study of presidential advertising, Kathleen Hall Jamieson demonstrates that the Democrats used Kennedy’s speech both defensively and offensively.  They used it to rebut the Republican attacks and at the same time tried to motivate Roman Catholic voters.

National Public radio produced a transcript of the entire speech.  As Jamieson notes, some consider this to be Kennedy’s best speech. At the opening, Kennedy lists what he considers to be the real issues of the campaign.  

He then turns to a series of statements of his own views, that flow from this introduction:

But because I am a Catholic, and no Catholic has ever been elected president, the real issues in this campaign have been obscured — perhaps deliberately, in some quarters less responsible than this. So it is apparently necessary for me to state once again not what kind of church I believe in — for that should be important only to me — but what kind of America I believe in.

The structure of the speech -  a series of paragraphs starting with “I believe…” deliberately mimics the structure of any statement of faith.  Kennedy continues to recite the articles of his own political faith including the separation of church and state, that effective places his critics in the position of doing the very thing they attack Kennedy on. 

He finishes his statement of political faith with words every member of his audience would know:

But if, on the other hand, I should win the election, then I shall devote every effort of mind and spirit to fulfilling the oath of the presidency — practically identical, I might add, to the oath I have taken for 14 years in the Congress. For without reservation, I can "solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the office of president of the United States, and will to the best of my ability preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution, so help me God.

You can find the video of the speech on youtube:

JFK on religion and politics

These days, Kennedy’s campaign could not rely on broadcasting the speech in five minute and the full 10 minute airings as part of their ad campaign. 

This is a short speech.

The words are compelling and Kennedy delivers it reasonably well.

The subject was highly controversial in a way that few mi9ght appreciate these days.

But the audience has changed.

Modern audiences simply won’t sit still for a talking head that goes on about any subject for nearly 11 minutes.

They definitely would find Kennedy’s speech itself taxing.  The sentences are much longer than the short statements that modern audiences are used to hearing. While it suits the immediate audience, the speech demands that people be familiar with the subject and with a great deal of history, including more recent events at the time.

Still, there are quotable bits likely crafted to make them fit with a potential series of short spots:

These are the real issues which should decide this campaign. And they are not religious issues — for war and hunger and ignorance and despair know no religious barriers.

The first sentence doesn’t stand on its own, however. 

You’d have to hear the list of real issues to get the full effect.

While Kennedy runs them off effectively enough, the transcript would have great visual impact if the issues came not as a series of clauses separated by semi-colons but as a bulleted list:

I want to emphasize from the outset that we have far more critical issues to face in the 1960 election:

  • the spread of Communist influence, until it now festers 90 miles off the coast of Florida;
  • the humiliating treatment of our president and vice president by those who no longer respect our power;
  • the hungry children I saw in West Virginia;
  • the old people who cannot pay their doctor bills;
  • the families forced to give up their farms;
  • an  America with too many slums, with too few schools, and too late to the moon and outer space.

Still, each one is expressed simply enough.  The last point relies on the repetition of the word “too” – “too many slums”,  “too few schools,” “too late” to space.

All the same, the speech is extraordinarily well written both for its time and for today.

It reflects the input of Kennedy’s political staff – like ted Sorensen – and undoubtedly the campaigns advertising staff as well.

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27 August 2011

Muskrat Falls: what an independent review really looks like

The provincial Liberals included a handy table with their Friday news release on the joint federal/provincial environmental panel’s report on Muskrat Falls.

The chart compares what the environmental panel said would be a thorough, independent review of the province’s energy needs and what the Conservatives are setting up through the public utilities board.

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MF Traffic Report

Turns out the MF deal is a mf, at least for the political fortunes of the gang who cooked up the scheme to ship discount power to Nova Scotia paid for entirely by the taxpayers of Newfoundland and Labrador.

The week that an environmental panel demolished the foundation for Danny Williams’ retirement scheme and Kathy Dunderdale’s bid for the history books, here’s what the readers of the Sir Robert Bond Papers picked as their top 10 posts:

  1. NDP avoids straight answer on Muskrat Falls
  2. A monstrous abuse continues
  3. Subsidizing subsidized industry…somewhere else
  4. Joint environmental panel slams Muskrat Falls
  5. The Power of Confusion:  the Three Amigos Update
  6. Layton’s Legacy
  7. Venus in Furs:  Muskrat Falls edition
  8. Bury my lede at Muskrat Falls and Random Post in Latin:  ALF edition
  9. Misleading the House:  recall the whole power recall story
  10. Muskrat falls fails joint federal/provincial environmental review

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26 August 2011

Three MF Amigos split up #nlpoli

Liberal leader Kevin Aylward may have personally been waffling about Muskrat Falls a week or so ago, but his position has shifted:

An Aylward led government would immediately halt all spending on this project and establish a truly independent analysis to look at all options for meeting domestic energy demands.  The review currently before the Public Utilities Board is not a true independent review.  It is limited in scope and resources and is designed to provide government and Nalcor with a predetermined result.

That’s the last paragraph in a short, simple news release that Aylward issued Friday.

That leaves just Kathy Dunderdale and Lorraine Michael of the NDP struggling with their positions.

Michael is still talking about getting more information but her fundamental problem of privately supporting an unpopular deal remains.

In a news release Friday, Michael said:

NDP Leader Lorraine Michael (MHA, Signal Hill-Quidi Vidi) said the government’s release of the Report of the Joint Review Panel into the Muskrat Falls project may be a step towards the transparency she has been asking for, but it raises more questions about the project.

She said the provincial government should stop “pouring money into the project” and that “[w]e need to have a broadbased [sic]independent analysis.” It appears, though, that Michael is still limiting herself to a discussion of developing Muskrat Falls, as the Conservatives and Nova Scotia new Democrats are proposing as opposed to looking primarily at options to meet domestic energy needs.

Meanwhile, Kathy Dunderdale and the Conservatives are ploughing ahead. Dunderdale seemed to be confused about the panel’s rejection of the premises on which she is pursuing the megadebt project.  According to CBC,

"We're on the same path," Dunderdale told reporters in St. John's Thursday. "We're not misaligned. We absolutely agree."

“We” is apparently the provincial government and the panel.

skinnerNatural resources minister Shawn Skinner, left,  told a radio call-in audience on Friday that the joint federal/provincial review panel report was just more wonderful and informative information in a decades long and ongoing process of study, review and information gathering in which no decisions have been taken or will be taken any time soon.

Of course, that just makes it all the more embarrassing that the provincial government’s energy corporation couldn’t supply the review panel with simple, straightforward explanations of the reasons why it wants to pursue the project and what the implications will be.

After two years of review and months of public hearing’s and after giving Nalcor a second chance to correct deficiencies in its presentation, the panel concluded:

Need, Purpose and Rationale

… the Panel concluded that Nalcor had not demonstrated the justification of the Project as a whole in energy and economic terms, and that there are outstanding questions related to both Muskrat Falls and Gull Island regarding their ability to deliver the projected long term financial benefits to the Province, even if other sanctioning requirements were met. The Panel therefore recommended that the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador carry out separate formal financial reviews before sanctioning either Muskrat Falls or Gull Island to confirm whether the component being considered for sanction would in fact deliver the projected long-term financial benefits. [Page 3, Emphasis added]

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Random Post (Not) in Latin: no garters, no glory edition


Honi soit qui mal y pense

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Muskrat Falls fails joint federal/provincial environmental review #nlpoli

… if the recommended economic and alternatives studies show that there are alternative ways of meeting the electricity demands of the Island over the medium term in a manner that is economically viable and environmentally and socially responsible, the Muskrat Falls portion of the Project should likely not be permitted to proceed for purposes of meeting Island demand.

Joint Fed/Prov Environmental Review Panel for  the Lower Churchill Project

The official news release said that both the federal and provincial governments would “take the time required to review the Joint Review Panel’s findings” on the provincial Conservatives’ plan to develop hydro-electric power on the lower part of the Churchill River. 

Then, “after consulting with Aboriginal groups", …the “governments’ responses to the Joint Review Panel report will then be made public.”

The report of the five-member federal/provincial environmental review turned out to be so bad Kathy Dunderdale’s dream election project that neither she nor environment minister Ross Wiseman could wait.

The report appeared at 2:20 pm.

Wiseman issued a note to reporters at 2:25 pm telling them he’d be available for a scrum at 2:45 pm.

No sooner were reporters back in their offices than another note arrived  - at 3:25 pm - telling them Kathy Herself would speak with them back at Confederation Building at 3:45 pm.  Apparently, Dunderdale left them cooling their jets for another 20 minutes beyond that before she showed up to crap on the panel and, at the same time, claim that their rejection of her election campaign centrepiece was no biggie.

Dunderdale said that in her review she could not find where the panel specifically found a problem with Nalcor’s proposal.

The simple answer is:  everywhere, on the major issues of economic viability, need and export markets.

For example, the report dismisses Nalcor’s claim that Muskrat is the only viable (i.e. low-cost) way of meeting the island’s energy needs. They recommend instead that the whole thing be reviewed by an independent organization.

There’s nothing in the report regular readers of these e-scribbles haven’t heard in one form or another already. 

What makes the joint review panel’s report so devastating for the Dunderdale project is that the five members have studied the entire project since 2008. That includes a round of intensive public hearings that only concluded earlier this year.  The panel received hundreds of letters and submissions from experts and from concerned citizens.  Nalcor even got the chance to add information after it was warned in January 2010 that its submissions failed across the board to provide any justification for the project.

The joint review is the first and so far only independent review that has been or will be conducted of the project. Nalcor has hired its own consultants but they cannot be considered independent. 

The province’s public utilities commission will be paying for an appraisal of the project but the parameters for that appraisal review have been carefully set by Nalcor and the provincial government to produce the result Nalcor wants.

The report also destroys the New Democratic Party’s election position on Muskrat Falls that was based in part on the argument the project was economically viable.

New Liberal leader Kevin Aylward will hold a news conference at noon to discuss the report.  This will be his first major test having so far given only weak comments about the controversial plan that will double the public debt and dramatically increase provincial electricity rates while providing subsidised power to Nova Scotia and other export destinations.

The joint review panel released an executive summary on Wednesday that details the conclusions they reached in the full report.

Here are some highlights, with some comments from your humble e-scribbler in square brackets:

Need, Purpose and Rationale

… the Panel concluded that Nalcor had not demonstrated the justification of the Project as a whole in energy and economic terms, and that there are outstanding questions related to both Muskrat Falls and Gull Island regarding their ability to deliver the projected long term financial benefits to the Province, even if other sanctioning requirements were met. The Panel therefore recommended that the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador carry out separate formal financial reviews before sanctioning either Muskrat Falls or Gull Island to confirm whether the component being considered for sanction would in fact deliver the projected long-term financial benefits. [Page 3, Emphasis added]

[Note:  Megaproject proponents over-estimate benefits.]

Alternatives to the Project

… the Panel concluded that Nalcor’s analysis, showing Muskrat Falls to be the best and least-cost way to meet domestic demand requirements, was inadequate and recommended a new, independent analysis based on economic, energy and environmental considerations. The analysis would address domestic demand projections, conservation and demand management,
alternate on-Island energy sources, the role of power from Churchill Falls, Nalcor’s cost estimates and assumptions with respect to its no-Project thermal option, the possible use of offshore gas as a fuel for the Holyrood thermal generating facility, cash flow projections for Muskrat Falls, and the implications for the province’s ratepayers and regulatory systems.
[Page 3, Emphasis added]

[Note:  This basically states that the panel flatly rejected Nalcor’s claims about Muskrat as the only viable way to meet projected needs in the province. Since that’s the core argument Nalcor and government have advanced for the project,  it leaves the entire government/Nalcor position without any foundation.

The panel gave a laundry list of things that Nalcor’s presentation should have included but didn’t.  Regular readers will know already that Nalcor simply didn’t bother to study natural gas alternatives even though preliminary work suggests it is a cheaper, viable alternative to meet energy needs in the province.]

Alternative Means – Construction Sequence and Pace, and Reservoir Preparation

…The Panel concluded that for reservoir preparation purposes, the two reservoirs [Gull Island and Muskrat Falls] should be considered differently because of their different characteristics. The Panel recommended applying the ‘full clearing’ option to the Muskrat Falls reservoir because it would be technically and economically feasible and would not negatively affect the construction schedule. [Page 4]

[Note:  This recommendation relates to the Nalcor plan to build one reservoir and then another at some underdetermined later point.  The Panel recommended applying lessons from one project to another.  The most significant implication of the recommendation cited here is that Nalcor would have to spend an additional $200 million to clear cut the reservoir.  This would reduce greenhouse gas emissions and the release of potentially harmful by-products from rotting wood in flood zones created by the dam[s]].

Atmospheric Environment

The Panel concluded that with appropriate mitigation, including use of best available technology, air pollution and noise would be localized and temporary in nature. While the exact markets for much of the power are not yet known, the power produced by the Project would very
likely displace more greenhouse gas emissions than the Project would cause. Moreover, the Panel recommended that Nalcor make all reasonable efforts to ensure that power from the Project would be used (a) to back-up wind power and other intermittent renewable sources of
energy, (b) to displace energy from high greenhouse gas emission sources, and (c) not to displace conservation and demand management or power from renewable sources. [Page 4]

[Note: “While the exact markets for much of the power are not yet known…”.  That pretty much says it all.  They don’t exist yet.  But when and if they do, odds are the whole Lower Churchill will do some nice green things.   Note that last bulleted recommendation. Conservation and demand management are two parts of a strategy that could help meet the island’s energy needs without Muskrat Falls.]

Economic Impacts

… the Panel concluded that considerable uncertainty exists regarding the Project’s ability to deliver financial benefits to the Province in the order of magnitude projected by Nalcor. There are also questions as to how any such benefits might be distributed by the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador.

Concluding Thoughts on the Final Project Decision

The Panel concluded that if the recommended economic and alternatives studies show that there are alternative ways of meeting the electricity demands of the Island over the medium term in a manner that is economically viable and environmentally and socially responsible, the
Muskrat Falls portion of the Project should likely not be permitted to proceed for purposes of meeting Island demand.

If market access for Gull Island were resolved based on reasonable transmission costs and the Gull Island facility were to be developed first, or a joint sanction decision were to be made, the  Panel believed the situation would be different. The Gull Island facility would produce more
power at a lower unit cost and therefore would offer much greater potential to provide lower cost power to Newfoundland and Labrador and generate revenues for the Province.

- srbp -

25 August 2011

Random Post in Latin: voice of the guns edition


Quo fas et gloria ducunt

- srbp -

Joint environmental panel slams Muskrat Falls #nlpoli

The federal and provincial governments released the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency review of Kathy Dunderdale’s Muskrat falls project.

Big fail, across the board.

Like no one could possibly have seen that one coming.

More to follow…

- srbp -

Compounding the abuse #nlpoli

It wasn’t bad enough that the province’s special ballot laws make a mockery of democracy.

For the 2011 general election, the province’s elections office is opening 12 special offices across the province in addition to the existing 48 electoral district offices specifically to handle special ballots.

Let’s hope there are no close contests in any seats.

Can you say Sally’s Cove, boys and girls?

- srbp -

NDP avoids straight answer on Muskrat Falls #nlpoli

You can tell if a provincial opposition party politician supports Kathy Dunderdale’s Muskrat Falls plan by how many words it takes to explain his or her position.

New Democratic Party leader Lorraine Michael proved the point on Wednesday with a news release posted to NDP website and a statement issued to the media but not posted on the website that repeats the release’s content in slightly different words.

The total word count?  More than 550.

Read it all, though, and you still won’t have a clear answer whether or not her party supports Kathy Dunderdale’s plan to hike electricity rates in the province, double the public debt and ship discount electricity to Nova Scotia at the expense of taxpayers in this province.

The news release claims it is going to give Michael’s position on Muskrat Falls. 

But it doesn’t.

Instead, Michael launches into a claim that the provincial government and Nalcor haven’t told the public how the company has spent $348 million the provincial government transferred to the company in the current fiscal year.

Then-Opposition Leader Yvonne Jones questioned the same transfer, incidentally back when provincial finance minister Tom Marshall introduced the budget in April.

But unlike Lorraine Michael, Yvonne Jones wasn’t concerned at the time whether or not the money was spent properly on Muskrat Falls.  Jones thought the money could be better spent on other things.

Still, even if Nalcor did tells Michael exactly how it spent the $348 million, the people of the province won’t be any closer to knowing whether or not Michael really supports Kathy Dunderdale’s Muskrat Falls plan but is afraid to admit it publicly.

What’s really cute about Michael’s claims about transparency and accountability is that she worked with the provincial government in 2008 to pass amendments to the energy corporation’s governing statute that frustrated genuine public accountability. The Liberals did the same thing.

At the time, Michael was generally satisfied if Nalcor filed reports in the House of Assembly. Michael’s comments on one amendment are typical:

This amendment, I think, does assure the thing that is at the basis of our responsibility, that the public of this Province will be informed of what is going on through the usual process which is the tabling of the information here in the House of Assembly. That is how the public learns anything that has to do with the Crown, through tabling here in the House of Assembly. We now assure that our accountability to the public is assured. We, I think, are showing that we believe in the transparency, openness and accountability that we say we stand for by now having this amendment.

There’s no indication Nalcor failed to abide by the legislation Michael endorsed in 2008, incidentally so it is more than a wee bit hypocritical for Michael to be taking pot shots at an “accountability” regime she helped create..

Throughout the whole release and statement, Michael never does give her position on Muskrat Falls.  Instead, she repeats the general party policy that supports “any development that is economically viable, environmentally sustainable and beneficial for the people of the province…”.

Kathy Dunderdale will tell you that Muskrat Falls meets every one of those criteria.

So far Lorraine Michael hasn’t shown any sign she’d disagree.

Just to give you a sense of the NDP position, take this Twitter exchange about the NDP position. 

St. John’s East NDP candidate George Murphy followed his leader and avoided a simple answer to the simple question:

Question: @GeorgeMurphyNDP @dalegkirby So you support it, George?


Answer:  @edhollett @dalegkirby If it's economically viable...wouldn't you?


Q:  @GeorgeMurphyNDP @dalegkirby Do you support the deal, yes or no?


A:  @edhollett @dalegkirby Ed..I can't make it any simpler than that...I just said 'if it's economically viable"...


Q:  @GeorgeMurphyNDP @dalegkirby You say yes you support the deal or no you don't. Simple answer.


A:  @edhollett @dalegkirby Jees Ed...I can't be any clearer than what I said. If it's economically viable. Wouldn't you?


Followed almost immediately after by:

C'mon Ed..If it was an economically viable project, would you support it? Yes or no. Simple answer...

Q:  @GeorgeMurphyNDP @dalegkirby The more you dodge, the worse it looks, George. Is the problem that you don't have enough info to assess viability?


George didn’t reply.

The problem for the NDP is that Muskrat Falls is a serious wedge issue that could cause major problems within the party itself.

On the one hand, Michael is already on record supporting the loan guarantee through her appearance at Jack Layton’s last national campaign appearance in St. John’s. 

Michael also knows that the NDP government of Nova Scotia backs the deal as does the national NDP.  Ultimately, Nova Scotia Premier Darrell Dexter carries a lot more weight in Ottawa with the national NDP than Lorraine does.

On the other hand, many of the NDP’s current and potential supporters in Newfoundland and Labrador are leery of Kathy Dunderdale’s plan for the public debt and their electricity rates. They are also pissed at the idea Nova Scotians will get cheap electricity paid for by taxpayers in this province.

Openly endorsing the deal could cost Michael and the NDP a great many votes especially among disaffected Tory voters in metro St. John’s who could be looking for a safe place to vote against the Muskrat deal.

They won’t find a safe anti-Muskrat haven in the NDP.

Put it all together and you have a news release that – like candidate George Murphy – doesn’t give a simple answer to a simple question.

Lorraine Michael tries to sound critical of the provincial government but, behind closed doors and the backs of hands in whispered conversations, the NDP is backing Dunderdale to the hilt.


The missing NDP statement from 2011.

Michael demands Muskrat Falls transparency, proposes Nalcor conservation division

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Newfoundland and Labrador New Democratic Party leader Lorraine Michael (MHA, Signal Hill-Qidi Vidi) today released a statement outlining her party's stand on the Muskrat Falls development. She also called on Nalcor to create a separate energy body mandated to help Newfoundland and Labrador families save money through programs that maximize conservation of energy resources.

The NDP supports any development that is economically viable, environmentally sustainable and beneficial for the people of the province, Michael said. However, the invisibility cloak that has been draped over the project by Nalcor and the Dunderdale Conservatives makes it impossible to assess how responsibly they are spending taxpayers' money.

"Last Friday's media event only served to reinforce the grave concerns we have about the way this important development is proceeding. Now the Dunderdale Conservatives are not immediately releasing the environmental assessment," Michael said. "The people of this province have already spent $348 million this fiscal year alone on Muskrat Falls – that is $700 from each man, woman and child who lives here. That investment should buy us some transparency.

"If we had spent the $348 million directly through the Department of Natural Resources, for example, the people of Newfoundland and Labrador would have access to the budgetary process, with line items to show exactly where the money has gone.

"As it stands, with Muskrat Falls being handled through a Crown Corporation created by this government, we are supposed to blindly accept government assurances that they are spending responsibly. I'm sorry, but the people of Newfoundland and Labrador deserve more than the 'Trust us' they are getting from the Dunderdale Conservatives."

The NDP is also calling for the creation of a body within Nalcor dedicated to energy conservation.

"Our approach to our valuable energy resources can not be simply to develop them and use them up," said Michael. "We need practical programs that will help Newfoundland and Labrador families save money while at the same time conserving our resources. The best place for this to be done is within the crown corporation mandated to oversee energy usage.

"Every resident of Newfoundland and Labrador should be getting the maximum possible for their household energy spending. And every resident of this province should be asking the government, 'What am I getting for my seven hundred dollars?'"

24 August 2011

Random Post in Latin: ALF edition

Sic transit gloria mundi.

- srbp -

A monstrous abuse continues #nlpoli

While there will be a general election in Newfoundland and Labrador this fall, there isn’t one at the moment.

And yet, the province’s chief electoral office is proudly encouraging people to cast a special ballot if they need to do so. 

People who don’t live in the province might find this very odd but such is the reality  in the undemocratic former republic of Dannystan.  Changes to the province’s electoral laws made before the 2007 general election created a situation in which people can vote in an election that doesn’t exist. You can be your own electoral grand-pa, as it were.

Now some of us have been criticising this monstrous abuse of democracy since it began. But in the current election people can get a very good sense of how the special ballot provisions of the Williams Election Act rob voters of their right to choice.

Under the Act, a person can request a special ballot and vote for the candidate or party of ones choice any time up to four weeks before a writ is issued for an election.

Sounds good so far.

One small problem.

What is a candidate?

Well, under the Act, a candidate is a person nominated to be a candidate under the rules laid out in the Act. One of those rules is that the person must be nominated by:

by filing the nomination paper with the returning officer between the date of the proclamation commencing the election and the close of nominations.

Date of the proclamation… that’s what people mean by dropping the writ.

And that won’t happen for some three or four weeks yet, just as the special ballot section of the legislation already acknowledges.

So without a writ, there can be no nominations and without nominations  there can’t be any candidates.

But one can vote for a political party.


That might work.

Except for people like John Baird. He’s the fellow who had planned to run for the Liberals in the upcoming election but who decided to run as an independent candidate instead. 

“Independent” is not a political party.

Nor is “non-aligned” which is the word that will appear on the ballot next to Baird’s name at some point in the future.

For now, any people who needed a special ballot in Terra Nova district and wanted to vote for John Baird won’t have that opportunity.

If the election turns out to be close, as it sometimes is, those few ballots John Baird won’t get - and all the affiliated, party-approved candidates  can get - could make all the difference in the world.

Special balloting makes a mockery of democracy.

- srbp -

The Power of Confusion: The Three Amigos Update #nlpoli

Premier Kathy Dunderdale doesn’t understand the criticism of the federal government’s recent announcement of a loan guarantee for the Muskrat Falls megadebt project

Provincial NDP leader Lorraine Michael, for one, has been crapping on the announcement, saying that it isn’t a loan guarantee at all but “an agreement to agree”.

Check that link and you’ll also find new Liberal leader Kevin Aylward quoted by theindependent.ca saying:

This is not a legally binding offer and the Harper government can still back out of it,” Aylward said in a statement. “It’s no wonder Premier Kathy Dunderdale didn’t show up for the press conference.”

Kathy Dunderdale is right to wonder why Michael and Aylward are criticising the loan guarantee.

After all both Aylward and Michael support development of the Muskrat falls project as Dunderdale is proposing.  All three want to saddle the provincial taxpayers with guaranteed high electricity rates and a huge increase in the public debt.

Plus, they all agree it is a good idea to send discount electricity into Nova Scotia and anywhere else people want it, all thanks to the people of Newfoundland and Labrador.

You can tell the two other party leaders back the deal if for no other reason than because they do not criticise it.


Their comments on this federal announcement is a criticism of Dunderdale for not being farther along with the negotiations (Michael) and for not nailing Harper down on the guarantee. (Aylward)

Kathy didn’t hold Steve’s feet to the fire, or words to that effect.

Just to test this out, try this:  if you get the chance to speak with Lorraine and/or Kevin ask them whether or not they will kill this deal.

Yes or no.

The more words they have to use to explain their position – without first saying yes or no – is a sign of how strongly they want to support this deal.  The reason they can’t be open in the love for Muskrat is because they think their are votes to be had by appearing to oppose the deal.

Will you kill the deal? 

Yes or no?

Try it.

You might be quite surprised at the replies.

- srbp -

23 August 2011

Subsidizing subsidized industry…somewhere else

“Curiouser and curiouser”, cried Alice, so overcome by the photograph that she momentarily forgot how to speak English properly.

“Is it some sort of uniform?”


“Might well be,”  her companion said, “since they are all members of the Muskrat Club.”

“And who is that man there on the end,” asked Alice.  “The fellow doesn’t seem to belong.”


Let us look at the provincial government’s official news release and see.

“Book ends!” Alice’s companion exclaimed.  “The Governor of Rhode Island on the left standing next to the Blue Queen and on the right, the man who runs Rhode Island’s  largest energy consumer.”

A plastics company.

Seems the Rhode Island state legislature plans to give the company a million dollars to see if it will grow larger.

“The money was going to be a loan but now it is a non-repayable contribution,”  explained Alice’s companion.

“A gift, then,” said Alice, unhelpfully.

A non-repayable contribution,” her companion corrected.  “There’s a difference.”

“Where?” asked Alice, looking about. “I don’t like differences.  No two are ever the same. That’s why they are called differences, don’t you know.”

Her companion went back to his reading.

The state government is also helping Toray install a new solar power system to help power the plant.

“And so he talked to the Blue Queen,” said Alice, as she checked under the chesterfield for the difference, “who is an expert is giving gifts…”.

Her companion coughed.

“alright then, non-repayable contributions,” continued Alice, pronouncing the words very carefully.

At once, Alice gave up looking but still seemed quite satisfied that she had, at last, got the hang of the contributions.

After a long pause, Alice looked at her companion.  “Rhode Island?  Isn’t that the place where the Blue Queen once tried to sell electricity before?”

“Yes,”  her companion replied. “But the electricity was too expensive for them to buy. So now the Blue Queen knows that if she sells power to them she will have to give it to them for less than it cost her to make it.”

“What a very odd idea,” said Alice.

“And much less than the people who own the electricity will have to pay for it.”

“Odder still,” exclaimed Alice.

She made a face and rubbed her chin as if in thought.

“I suppose the Blue Queen does not really know where she is going, “ said Alice after a while.

“When you do not know where you are going, you might think that any Rhode will get you there.”

- srbp -

The secret of life, comedy, and politics


The ever watchful labradore notes that after Danny Williams mucked around with the appointments for the Order of Newfoundland and Labrador, they have taken place in November.

No one would be surprised to find out that this is a month when the government’s official pollster is in the field.

In Election Year 2011, the appointments announcement arrived in August.

Not surprisingly, the government pollster is in the field at the moment as well.

- srbp -

Venus in Furs: Muskrat Falls edition

There’s a kind of political writing that makes you squirm.

On the face of it, and in isolation, a sentence can be perfectly correct.  The problem comes when the politician, political staffer or bureaucrat puts that perfectly correct statement in another context where it’s purpose is to make other stuff that isn’t so correct seem better.

Think of it as the reverse of guilt by association.

The good sentence makes the bullshit seem better than it actually is.

You can find an excellent example of this sort of writing in a statement Kathy Dunderdale issued on Monday about a sooper sekrit visit by two New England governors this past weekend to tour the Churchill Falls hydro plant.

It was sooper sekrit because Kathy didn’t bother to issue any sort of notice that the two governors would be dropping by.

That way no one could ask them any pesky questions.

Kath just got to send out a bullshit statement telling us what these two fellows may well have thought.

In any event, here’s the sentence:

Creating revenue from our development of the Lower Churchill with the sale of excess power, and doing so in a way that maximizes benefits to the people of Newfoundland and Labrador, is an exciting prospect.

As sentences go, this is one that not even its mother could love.

It’s passive, for starters.  We don’t know who will find that creating revenue is exciting.

Then there’s the phrase “creating revenue”.  Blech!  Truly horrid.  “Creating revenue” sounds a bit like it means making a profit when it could be as simple as bringing in some cash even if it is a lot less than one needs to pay the bills.

Then consider this revenue will come “with” the sale of power.  Not through the sale, as in,  getting cash as a result of selling power, but “with”:  as in, creating revenue goes alongside of and may not be connected to the power sale.  Don;t ask how.  this is just looking at the words.

Once you get beyond that, there’s that little subordinate clause stuffed in the middle:  “and doing so in a way that maximizes benefits to the people of Newfoundland and Labrador”.

What exactly does it mean?

Whatever it means, though, the sentence seems to be saying that selling power from the Lower Churchill would be exciting.

Not is.

Not will.

But would be.

It’s a prospect, after all and prospects are things that are indefinite.  Uncertain.  Conditional.

And that certainly is true:  selling power from the Lower Churchill would be exciting. People have dreamt about it for decades in this province.

The only problem is that any sale of Muskrat Falls power outside the province using Kathy Dunderdale’s scheme will be a gigantic money loser.

Electricity is forecast to be so cheap  - outside newfoundland and Labrador only - that the incredibly expensive stuff from Muskrat Falls will only flow outside the province’s borders if the taxpayers of the province carry the whole cost and a handsome profit for the two companies involved.

Yes, selling power like that would be exciting, if only in a Marquis de Sade kind of way. 

Masochists everywhere would sign up for that in an instant. If you tossed discount video of flogging in on top of the pillaging of household bank accounts needed to prop up the little scam, you could probably make more money from the Internet porn rights than you would from selling Muskrat Falls power to New England.

But anyway, the truth of the sentence is still there – somewhere – and it appears in the government’s news release in order to make the rest seem better.

How can you be sure?

Because the last sentence in the release piles on the raft of reasons why Muskrat Falls must go ahead:

But it only complements the reason why we are developing Muskrat Falls – to meet our own electricity needs in the most cost-effective manner and to stabilize rates over the long term. Job creation, attraction of industry, and the creation of significant income for business, not to mention the environmental benefits, make this development the right one for our province and one that the rest of the country and North America has its eye on.

Yes, folks.  The only thing Muskrat won’t do is cure cancer.

Give it time, though.

It wouldn’t surprise your humble e-scribbler if a Nalcor release popped up one day promising amazing health benefits from Muskrat.  it’s about the only thing, the megadebt project won’t do.

After all, as you should know by now, people who push megaprojects over-estimate the benefits and under-estimate the costs.

- srbp -

22 August 2011

Layton’s Legacy

As far as Jack Layton’s political legacy goes, Shakespeare got it wrong.

The good he did will not be interred with his bones.

Jack Layton was a man of good will who sought to do good in politics.  You’ll hear lots of that in the days ahead from all sorts of people.

There’s more to those comments, though, than the easy cynicism that even the most miserable bastard who ever lived will be borne to his grave by mourners hailing him as the greatest saint who ever lived.

For Jack Layton, the praise is sincere.

The loss is real.

The grief is genuine.

The pain, palpable and deeply so.

Jack Layton was a reminder that men and women of good will can make a difference in politics, for all the right reasons. 

The good that Jack Layton did will not go into the grave with him so long as those of us who remain act with that in mind.

- srbp -

On the Summer Reading List

The Oprah Winfrey Book Club this ain’t, but for those who might be hunting around for something to read, consider these books your humble e-scribbler picked up recently:

  • fishbookHow to write a sentence and how to read one by Stanley Fish.  This may be a New York Times bestseller but this is a book aimed at writers and fans of the art of writing.





  • Split-second persuasion by Kevin Dutton.  An accessible compilation of recent ideas and theories about how people form opinions and how others influence them.





- srbp -

Misleading the House: recall the whole recall power story

Why would Nalcor mislead the people of Newfoundland and Labrador, asks finance minister Tom Marshall with all the seriousness he can muster.

Yes folks, the fellow with one of the worst cases of pinocchiosis politica ever seen in this province wonders how people at a Crown corporation who hang out regularly with politicians some of who are infected with P. politica could catch the same disease.

Let’s leave the question of motivation out for a second and look at whether or not Nalcor and the provincial government are misleading people about Muskrat Falls.

The answer is undeniable:  yes, they are.

Take recall power as a classic example.

The province will need more electricity within the next decade, according to Nalcor.  For the sake of this post, let us assume that this is correct.

And what’s more, let’s go with the idea that the extra electricity is measure on the scale of several hundred megawatts.

Where to get that extra juice?

Muskrat Falls, says Nalcor.  Gigantic project, but we have to do it because the power is needed and it will be cheaper in the long run.

Again, for the sake of this post, let us allow all those things.

Recall power, sez someone on a morning open line show.  Bring power back from Churchill Falls.

Not enough.

Only 300 megawatts, total.  Some is already sold and used in western Labrador and the rest just isn’t enough to meet the need.  One of Nalcor’s communications people even sends the radio show host and e-mail making the point.

While the information is correct, it leaves out a whole bunch of other stuff.

And that’s what makes Nalcor’s version of recall power grossly misleading.

Under the law that is supposed to ensure the people of the province get the electricity they need at the lowest possible price, the public utilities board could recall as much electricity from Churchill Falls as the people in the province need.

Churchill Falls (Labrador) Corporation – the people who make the power – and Hydro-Quebec – the people who buy it – would get paid for their lost power.  They’d get compensation.  

We don’t know at this point how much the compensation would be but the cost would be not even half what Muskrat Halls power will cost people in this province.

Heck, your humble e-scribbler would lay odds it would not even be  even ten percent of what the Muskrat falls power is going to cost local taxpayers.

All the provincial government would have to do to make that happen is tax take back an exemption Nalcor got from the provincial government while Beaton Tulk was interim Premier.  The exemption makes sure the PUB can’t control electricity in the province.  It also ensures Nalcor doesn’t have to deliver power at the lowest cost to consumers, if the company doesn’t want to do that.

All that Nalcor would have to do is run a line from Churchill Falls to Soldiers Pond. And gee, isn’t that line what they already have planned and costed at less than $2.0 billion.


Job done.

Total cost:  not even half of the current estimate for Muskrat Falls and all the transmission lines.

No question:  Nalcor is misleading the people of the province about recall power.

But why would they do it, asks the finance minister?

Well, only the gang at Nalcor can say for sure, but let’s just recall what Fortis boss Stan Marshall said once about the problem with Crown corporations like Nalcor and expensive projects:

“Simply when things go wrong we’d like to be able to rectify them,” he told reporters.

“If you’re going to go in with a partner you’ve got to know that partner very, very well, have a lot of commonality.

“Governments … their agenda can be very, very  different than a private enterprise.”

Government’s agenda can be different from that of private enterprise.

In other words,  Crown corporations might do things for political reasons instead of sound business reasons. Muskrat Falls gave Danny Williams the political cover he needed to quit politics.  Now Muskrat Falls is the Tory party’s election platform.

Nalcor couldn’t disown this project even if they wanted to.

It’s politics.

So they have to tell only half a story, like the misleading story they tell on recall power.

Or, for that matter, like the story Tom Marshall tells about the public debt.

If Tom Marshall wants to know why Nalcor misleads people, he need only look in the mirror.

- srbp -

Churn baby churn

Kathy Dunderdale is setting a record for changes in the senior public service.

Dunderdale upped her score last week with a single announcement that made seven changes at the executive director and to assistant deputy minister levels. That brings her total since taking office to 16 announcements involving 26 positions.

By comparison, in 2009 and 2010 Danny Williams made changes to 28 positions in the senior public service each year.

Frequent changes to senior management have been linked to problems in administration. They might explain the  delays and massive cost overruns the current administration has been experiencing since 2003.

- srbp -

20 August 2011

Twitter Psychology Insight

Via the always insightful Neville Hobson, came a link to a wonder little diagram that summarises the results o a recent survey of Twitter users.

You can find Neville’s post at the bizarrely named nevillehobson.com.

And you can find the original at whitefireseo.com.


For those who are tweeting during the election campaign, see if any of these insights match up to what you see in real life. 

Don’t just look for the positives, that is the people who are obviously applying these ideas even if they never heard of them before.

Look at the people who might be running against the tide and judge their performance.  Are they succeeding or failing?

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Playing in Traffic, August 15 to 19, 2011

There will be some other big news next week, but for now, here’s what SRBP readers wanted this past week:

  1. Sun TV/Fix News wannabe?  VOCM hits new low.  (The story disappeared the next day)
  2. Westcott packs it in.
  3. Bloc NDP MP backs Tory Dunderdale
  4. Separated at birth:  the eyes have it edition
  5. No man is an island:  Mount Pearl edition  (Kent changed his website within two days)
  6. A cause for grave concern
  7. Feds to announce MOU on loan guarantee
  8. Three parties, two leaders, one policy, no sense
  9. Then again…election news mine edition
  10. Great Gambols with Public Money:  Sprung Cukes 4

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19 August 2011

No Kathy for Kent

Danny’s gone from Steve Kent’s website.

In fact, the website that hadn’t been updated since 2007 is gone entirely, replaced with a new one.

So hasty was the old one hauled down – after it featured prominently here – that there’s even a note apologising for any technical glitches.

Conspicuously absent from it is any reference to the Old Man’s replacement, Kathy Dunderdale.

The old one proudly proclaimed Steve to be a Dapper Dan man, right there in the upper left hand corner where eyes always go on an English language website.


First thing you see on the Old Site? 

The Old Man!

First thing you see now?

Not Kathy.


Where once you had Steve Kent, proud, strong and determined member of Danny Williams’ team. now you’ve just got this bland, generic website for the member of the House of Assembly for Mount Pearl North.

Same URL.

Different content.

Now when asked Steve might say the site is paid for by the taxpayers out of public funds so it can’t bear a partisan label.  The advertising policy, dontchya know, old chap.

Watch out for the early onset pinocchiosis there if he tries that excuse.

Of course, if that old site was paid for by you and me, then it was clearly violating the policy. Something would have to be done to make sure Steve wasn’t breaking the rules.

If it’s out of Steve’s own pocket, then this would be even weirder than it already is, but that’s another issue.


On the old version of the site, all Steve would have to do in order to stay within the guidelines is take off the party logo and delete any references to it in the text.

On the new version of the site - stevekent.ca  - you could have the same sort of thing. But there isn’t anything like it.

Nothing about Steve’s boss in his capacity as parliamentary secretary. 

That’s a government job, not a House one or a party one.

And his boss is the Premier. Steve could mention her – just like he mentioned Premier Dan – and he’d still fit the policy barring partisan advertising.

So why doesn’t Steve-o have his boss’ picture and tons of information about the government on his website?

Really good question.

Aside from one side-on shot at some event or other, Kathy Dunderdale is a big black hole on Steve Kent’s website.

Talk about negative space.  Kathy’s absence just screams at you.

Steve could even have links to government news releases and a reference to the department he works for.

But there’s nada.

Stay tuned, gang. 

Kent’s website could duck into a phone booth and change again into Super-Tory any second now.

Stranger things have happened.

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