31 October 2011

Jingle Bell Walk/Run for Arthritis


Come Jingle With Us!

17th Annual Jingle Bell Walk and Run for Arthritis!

Sunday, November 13, 2011



What does the Jingle Bell Walk and Run look like?

  • People can come dressed in great Christmas costumes to start the festive season off early! Take a look at some of last year's participants in the picture above.  
  • All participants are given jingle bells to wear as they complete the walk/run to make some noise about arthritis.
  • Participants may run, walk, wheel or jog for a distance of 1km or 4km- Jingling the whole way!
  • Enjoy delicious McDonald's muffins and coffee, Central Dairies milk and yogurt, and apples, bananas and cake!
  • There are tons of greats prizes to be won, and something to suit everyone's tastes! 
  • Face paintings by Miss Newfoundland and Labrador is sure to be something the kids will look forward to!
  • Join us this year for an afternoon filled with festive music and great company! We look forward to seeing you there!

This year, The Fry Family Foundation and VOCM Cares are each donating $20 to The Arthritis Society for every finisher!

Therefore, just by coming out and crossing the finish line you will be raising an additional $40 for The Arthritis Society!

Registration Rates:

Adults - $35 or fundraise a minimum of $65
Youth - $20 or fundraise a minimum of $20
Family - $90 or fundraise a minimum of $150 

Start a Team and Sign up Today!

If you would like to join the fight against arthritis - Register Here!

Early Bird registration will take place at The Running Room, November 9th from 6 - 8 p.m.  9 Rowan St., St. John's

For more information, please visit www.jinglebellwalkandrun.ca or contact:

Amy Tiller


579 - 8190

Quick Links:

Online Registration - Start Today!
Jingle Bell Walk and Run Poster
Jingle Bell Walk and Run Pledge Form

Truth in small things #nlpoli

If the truth may be found in the smallest of things, then the shifts and changes in Kathy Dunderdale’s second cabinet reveal a great deal.

“It is very important to me that our government operates as efficiently as possible, while providing quality programs and services that meet the needs of the people of our province,” said Premier Dunderdale. “Re-aligning departments and adjusting ministries to ensure they are best positioned to take on the challenges and opportunities before us is very important.”

Here’s how the official news release laid out the re-aligning and adjusting:

  • Combine the old Human Resources, Labour and Employment department with the post-secondary education section of the Education department to create the  Department of Advanced Education and Skills.  The new department will “focus on supplying highly educated graduates and skilled workers for a fast-growing economy.”
  • Merge the aboriginal affairs department with the Intergovernmental Affairs department to create the Department of Intergovernmental and Aboriginal Affairs.
  • Put the Business department with Innovation, Trade and Rural Development to create Innovation, Business and Rural Development.

This release puts the big information at the back end.  Eliminating the business department ends an eight year fiasco. In effect, the Conservatives created the “business” department in 2003 by breaking off some sections of the industry, trade and rural development department.  Now they’ve just put it all back the way it was, complete with the Beaton Tulk-era Rural Secretariat

After eight years of accomplishing nothing, the Conservatives have just put the economic development resources of government back to where they were in 2003. Danny Williams created the department to give a vehicle for his personal business acumen to create thousands of jobs and single-handedly produce a economic miracle in the province.  Williams did nothing while he was minister of his own department, often going weeks without meeting his deputy minister. He handed it off to a succession of second and third tier ministers like Fairity O’Brien or Paul Oram.  Even someone like Ross Wiseman couldn’t do anything except make speeches and hand out gobs of free cash to private companies.

The result of those eight years is a very fragile economy is is more heavily dependent than ever on government spending. The new minister – Keith Hutchings – has exactly zilch in the experience department when it comes to economic development:

Mr. Hutchings graduated from Memorial University with a Bachelor of Arts, Majoring in Political Science and obtained a Certificate in Public Administration from Memorial, as well as an Occupational Health and Safety Program from Ryerson University in Toronto.

Mr. Hutchings’ professional career has included 11 years with the Workplace Health, Safety and Compensation Commission. He also served as Chief of Staff and Executive Assistant to then Leader of the Official Opposition in the Provincial House of Assembly (1996 -1998) and successfully ran his own consulting business.

The Intergovernmental and Aboriginal Affairs department basically recreates what used to exist 20 years and more ago as the Intergovernmental Affairs secretariat, and adds Labrador Affairs and the non-profit and voluntary secretariat for good measure. The first two are relatively small, functionally oriented sections that could easily be rolled inside the Executive Council where they once lived.  The latter two sections are meaningless political sops that serve only to increase bureaucracy without enhancing service delivery. Dunderdale could have eliminated them entirely while likely improving the overall efficiency of government.

The ministry went to newbie Keith McGrath in order to make sure there was a cabinet minister from Labrador. This reorganization is a minor administrative change.

The new Advanced Education department actually combines the pre-2003 post-secondary education ministry with the department that handled job training programs.  That’s it. 

The organization makes sense if it was aimed solely at ensuring that the provincial job-training resources lined up to meet – belatedly – the labour crunch in the province. 

Adding Memorial University to the mix could severely hinder the university’s development by burying it inside a department aimed at something other than what it does.  Memorial doesn’t exist in order to be a glorified trade school.

This is Joan Burke’s big reward for backing Dunderdale, nothing more, nothing less.

What’s more interesting about the labour market focus of the department is that it won’t include any of the labour relations elements.  They are all part of the provincial government’s traditional function of regulating industry and ensuring a healthy and productive labour relations climate.

But under the most recent re-organization, the Workplace Health, Safety and Compensation Commission reports to the government services department and the labour relations agency reports to the environment department. Such a re-alignment ensures that the “silos” the new minister claims the re-organization would cure remain in place.

In  every other respect and distinct from these three adjustments, the departmental organization stays the same. 

When it comes to who got a new job and who didn’t, those seemingly small points also tell a larger story.

Besides Joan Burke, Susan Sullivan got a big reward for her political loyalty to the Premier. She takes over the health portfolio.  Sullivan may not feel quite so lucky in a few weeks or months – health is a difficult portfolio – but it is the largest department and the one that typically goes to those the Premier holds in high regard. If she does well, Sullivan could become a contender to replace Dunderdale when the Premier leaves before 2015.

Jerome Kennedy’s new gig at natural resources gives him a well-deserved respite from the health minister’s job. Kennedy took over that job at a hard time and navigated the department though some tough times.  he got out of it with both his health and his reputation intact.  That’s a rare achievement.

At natural resources, Kennedy faces the challenge of mounting problems with the Muskrat Falls project.  Kennedy can be a forceful proponent for an argument like Muskrat Falls.  He can also be a diligent house-cleaner when problems occur. if Dunderdale had to kill off Muskrat, Kennedy could handle that effectively too.

In the next four years, Kennedy will also have to deal with the border issue in the Gulf of St. Lawrence and the future of a string of law suits related to the Lower Churchill. 

Danny Williams appointed Kathy Dunderdale to natural resources safe in the knowledge that he was really looking after things.  He didn’t need a minister who understood much and Dunderdale fit the bill.  With Kennedy, Dunderdale has a minister who will – in all likelihood – lead this crucial department in more than name only and take the heightened public profile along with it.  Kennedy could be well set when Dunderdale leaves.

Kennedy’s appointment as Government House Leader is a clear sign the Conservatives are going to approach the legislature with a strong arm and an iron fist.

Darin King took the poisoned chalice of fisheries in the recent cabinet shuffle.  The provincial Conservatives haven’t been able to find a policy they can all agree on.  As a result, the fishery remains a festering political pustule that breaks from time to time, splattering the minister of the moment. King can kiss his leadership aspirations good-bye.

Derrick Dalley got the Conservatives’ community pork portfolio as minister of  tourism, culture and recreation.  He succeeds Terry French who got a quiet and relatively easy portfolio in what is usually the home of ministers on the way into cabinet or those on the way out.

- srbp -

30 October 2011

Coming up next week at SRBP…

On Monday:  Detailed commentary on Kathy Dunderdale’s second cabinet and her reorganization of departments, including some of the comments from posts that hit Number One and Number Nine last week.

On Tuesday:  “Financing Post-Secondary Education” - another instalment in the 15 Ideas series.

On Wednesday:  "The Value of Nothing and Nothing of Value:  Democratic Reform Revisited"

- srbp -

29 October 2011

What he said: education bureaucrats version #nlpoli

The Telegram’s Brian Jones puts the new school board policy on  dishonesty in the correct perspective:

Behaviour is not separate from their beloved “academic outcomes” (curses on educational jargon; in former times, teachers simply and more accurately referred to “results”).

In fact, behaviour is an essential aspect of academics.

Responsible parents encourage their children to be diligent, hardworking and interested in their studies: put in effort; don’t be lazy; do your best.

The district’s new policy on cheating makes a mockery of parents’ efforts.

More importantly, the policy mocks students who don’t cheat. It insults their honest efforts to study and to learn.

Read the whole column.  Jones nails a bunch of other aspects.

- srbp -

Traffic that was more sworn on than sworn in #nlpoli

  1. Kent demoted by Dunderdale (Yep, your humble e-scribbler got the Steve Kent thing in Number 9 spectacularly wrong)
  2. Astroturf
  3. Tory snouts back in trough
  4. Churn baby churn
  5. The rewards of planning an organization
  6. The Best Case/Worst Case Scenario
  7. The Insiders on Polls during Elections
  8. And then right on cue…
  9. The indelicate art of cabinet-making (Yep, your humble e-scribbler got the Osborne thing spectacularly wrong)
  10. Why should anyone care?


- srbp -

28 October 2011

Quickie Cabinet Reaction: Happy Campers #nlpoli

  1. If you don’t want the job, then quit:  All these people in cabinet and every one looks like they have had something shoved up inside them, sideways.  Even Kathy Dunderdale herself looks sour as sour can be in the picture illustrating the online CBC story.
  2. Big Winner:  The NDP.  The insurgent Dippers got a huge boost from Kathy Dunderdale as she seemed to take some policy advice from Danny Dumaresque and the Liberals.  By leaving out representation from Mount Pearl and St. John’s, Kathy Dunderdale gave the four Dipper MHAs every excuse they needed to hammer away at the provincial government on every issue from roads to health care.  The Tories at Tammany Hall  - Doc O’Keefe chief amongst them - won’t be able to cope with the political fall-out, especially if Dunderdale has to cut and chop anything. In fact,  if Doc and the gang are serious about changing municipal funding options, Kathy Dunderdale just gave them all the big middle finger.  That just plays into the Dipper expansion plans.
  3. Big Loser:  Darin King.  With this appointment, Kathy Dunderdale sent Darin to his political doom.
  4. The people who whispered in The Sister’s ear about a wellness portfolio need to check their sources. You know who you are.
  5. Lorraine Michael needs Cultural Awareness Lessons:  On Thursday, NDP leader Lorraine Michael told reporters “I really don't think we need two ministers for Labrador, one called the Minister of Labrador Affairs and the other Aboriginal Affairs. I think it's totally unnecessary.”  There are aboriginal people all across the province.  Michael displayed a truly remarkable level of ignorance by trying to claim that the aboriginal affairs a portfolio is only related to Labrador.

- srbp -

New technology and medicine

Via kevinmd.com, an article by medical student Alex Chamessian on how he uses his iPad as part of his education:

I’ve tried to incorporate iPad into patient care and education as much as possible.

One salient example is from my recent pediatrics rotation. Our team cared for a newborn who was showing signs of what appeared to be benign neonatal sleep myoclonus. The baby’s mother was very disturbed by the sight of her new (and first) daughter contracting during her sleep. When I was presenting this case on rounds, I pulled up a Youtube video of benign neonatal sleep myoclonus and showed it to the parents and the rest of my team. When the mom saw the video of someone else’s baby twitching like her own, she was reassured that her daughter’s condition was fairly common and of little concern. Likewise, the rest of my team, which included residents, medical students, nurses and attendings, got a better view of what benign sleep myoclonus looks like. This particular experience showed me the great power that iPads and similar technology can have at the bedside.

Accessing medical records is also a big part of patient care. Most patient information is electronic at Duke and we have a dedicated system for managing that info. With the Citrix receiver program, I can tap into our EMR system via my iPad. This ability has been most useful on rounds. There have been several times where key patient labs were still pending at the time when we started rounding. With my iPad, I’m able to periodically check for lab values; more than a few times, I’ve been spared from having to omit lab values in my presentation because I was able to retrieve them while on foot.

You can check his own blog – Dr. Willbe – for the continuing adventures of a medical student.  Take the time.  It’s well written.

- srbp -

Cabinet swearing in at 10 AM #nlpoli

Kathy Dunderdale will be at Government House to see her second cabinet sworn in at 10:00 AM..

SRBP will will have the run-down later on Friday.


- srbp -

27 October 2011

Kent demoted by Dunderdale #nlpoli

There’ll be no chance to run the wellness department around Kathy Dunderdale’s cabinet table for Mount Pearl wunderkind Steve Kent.

The Big Scout took a major kick in the parliamentary goolies on Thursday, getting punted from the Premier’s good graces to take up the job of deputy chair of committees in the House of Assembly/

Sure there’s a little extra in the pay packet compared to your average member of the legislature but as the third in line to the Speaker’s chair, Kent basically gets to do nothing more exciting than chair a few committee meetings when the House sits.

And under the Tories, that’s not very often.

Before this, Kent managed to finagle a job as parliamentary secretary for forestry and agrifoods, a sort of half-minister reporting to the natural resources minister. 

Normally a parl sec gig is the gateway to a cabinet appointment but not for the ambitious young fellow from Mount Pearl.

Maybe his demotion had something to do with his lack of enthusiasm for the Old Woman who replaced the Old Man.  We told you about Steve’s sudden website make-over back in August. He dumped Danny – after the better part of a year  - but in the remake, there was no sign of Kathy.

Kathy’s absence was very conspicuous.  As SRBP put it in August:

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.

As it turns out the nada on the website mirrored the nada for Steve in cabinet appointments.

Did anyone see Paul Lane picking up a new suit at Tip Top by the Village Thursday night?

- srbp -

The indelicate art of cabin-making #nlpoli

  1. If Ross Wiseman is the new Speaker because Tom Osborne withdrew, that’s because Osborne knows he’s going back into cabinet.
  2. Tom should send a thank you note to Gerry Rogers, the Skinner-skinner. 
  3. Steve Kent will get a cabinet post, most likely something light and fluffy. Think intergovernmental affairs and the voluntary sector.  There are lots of made-up cabinet posts and plenty of light and fluffy caucus bodies competing for them but Kent’s been around since 2007 and Mount Pearl usually gets a minister. 
  4. As much as you could run the place with about a third fewer ministers than the current cabinet has, Dunderdale likely won’t cut many posts, if any.  She needs to keep the ambitious crowd on her benches under control for a while, especially in light of the serious kick in the stones the party took in St. John’s.
  5. The huge upset along the Burin peninsula will mean that both Darin and Clyde will get cabinet jobs. What cabinet jobs they get is another matter. Jackman might not get fish back considering he made a balls of it already.
  6. If Dunderdale is serious about restructuring the fishery, she’ll need someone with a titanium spine and nothing to lose politically to take the job. Her only caucus member with those criteria  - Jerome! - is already busy and would be better deployed in another portfolio.
  7. Marshall will likely stay on in finance. Dunderdale’s choices are limited. if you didn’t leave him there, where else could Tom go?
  8. Education needs a shake-up. Unfortunately, there are few choices to shake it up and lots of resistance from the school board mafia led by Darin King to any substantive changes for the better in the province’s education system.
  9. Natural resources is a plum job even though Dunderdale will likely keep her fingers in most of the major issues. As much as someone like Jerome! could deliver a major shakeup to a department is long overdue for a gutting, odds are this little plum will be kept for close friends of the Boss.  Due rewards for their service to the Dunderdale cause:  Joan Burke and Susan Sullivan. Take yer pick.
  10. Fairity O’Brien could get left on the benches as a thank you for his loyalty to the Old Man.  The only more fitting political reward would be fisheries minister with a mandate to overhaul the industry at no cost to the treasury.
  11. Whoever gets tourism, culture and recreation will be Dunderdale’s new pork and patronage czar.  Terry French did that job so admirably during the Old Man’s second term that he is due a promotion. 

- srbp -

26 October 2011

Tips for Highly Effective Blogging

Via copyblogger, two posts – written a year apart – on the habits of highly effective bloggers. 

The 16 tips are pretty simple and pretty straightforward but they are as tight a summary as possible of what it takes to produce a successful blog.

- srbp -

The Insiders on Polls during Elections #nlpoli

Just when you thought it was safe to stick your head up now that the poll-talk was gone, along comes three party insiders talking to Peter Mansbridge about polls.

Take the time to watch this video. The front segment on polls is short. You will learn a lot about how political strategists use their own polls to drive campaign decision-making.

And you’ll also hear a pretty frank and largely dismissive discussion about the polls you read in the media.  Most of that discussion will sound very familiar to you. 

The simple answer as to why the public polls are so spectacularly wrong is, as David Herle notes, that the public polls don’t look at voters.  They are actually looking at the population as a whole and with turn-outs dropping, those polls just don’t do a very good job at picking up on opinion in a progressively smaller bit of the electorate.

People lie to pollsters.  What a shock.  People lied to pollsters regularly and quite openly in the polls in this province during the recent general election. 

The pollsters won’t talk about that or their abysmal accuracy because the polls they release are marketing tools.  The media won’t talk about the wildly inaccurate polls because they are marketing tools for them as well.

Kathleen Monk adds a nice bit of colour on how the NDP used polling to determine the emphasis they placed on Jack during the last campaign compared to anything else.

And Jaime Watt adds the fine touch of noting that party people use a bunch of different information – he calls them data points – to figure out what is happening with the campaign.  Polling is one thing.  Canvassing is another and cash flow from donations is yet another of several points.

That last one will tell you why the spreadsheeters like threehundredeight.com go off in the trees.  Not only are they relying on inherently faulty data – those inaccurate public polls – but they rely on basically one type of data to try and forecast how seats were going.

Just to give you a sense of how inadequate that approach can be, realise that your humble e-scribbler chewed over with a colleague used a variation on the poll analysis approach. It turned up some curious things as the polls flowed in the last provincial election.  As the NDP numbers grew and the Tories dropped,  a bunch of seats showed as coming into play.

St. John’s Centre and East would look like they were swinging.

But so too did Virginia Waters.

And Bellevue.

And the Isles of Notre Dame.

The only way you’d cross those off the list of seats that might actually swing is by pulling in other sources of information.  The Straits never showed up on the chart and, frankly, without any signs of anything from that one seat, no one likely saw the change to the NDP coming.

For what it’s worth, your humble e–scribbler’s sister dazzled some of her townie Tory friends by naming seats in Sin Jawns that definitely flipped to the NDP. She never told them where she got the information but it came from an analysis of the polls and other tidbits.

You work with what you’ve got, even if it some of it is inaccurate, but with enough data points you can still build a pretty reliable picture of what’s going on.

The townies never saw  the changes coming largely because the media never reported any of the battle.  But after the votes were counted, her friends figured she was some sort of magician or witch.  A little information can make a lot of difference.

- srbp -



Why should anyone care? #nlpoli

We can often see things more clearly when we compare one item  to something that is supposed to be similar to it.  It's one of the simplest ways we can learn. Babies learn to do it at an early age and comparing is at the heart of the old Sesame Street song about One of these things.... 

You can do it with objects, or, as in this post, with political parties and people.

Let's look at the Liberals and the New Democrats in this province. 

This week the New Democrats and their leader Lorraine Michael did a couple of things worth noting.  On the front page of Tuesday's Telegram, underneath a picture of singularly the most incompetent and nakedly-biased Speaker the legislature has had since Confederation (except for the guy who had the job right before him), there's another story about a protest in front of the Confederation Building. There’s a picture of a bunch of people who want the House of Assembly to open this fall for a regular session. 

The guy shown in the picture holding a megaphone has been camped out on the Hill since last week. it’s a great sign of free speech in a province where speaking your mind publicly has been known to get you attacked by friends of the incompetent Speaker.

And right there in front of the crowd listening to the guy with the microphone are NDP leader Lorraine Michael and newly elected Skinner-skinner Gerry Rogers, also a New Democrat member of the legislature.

Basic political issue:  House of Assembly ought to be open so the politicians can debate and discuss important issues.  NDP right there.

One of the issues the NDP would like to discuss is how the provincial government builds ships for the provincial ferry fleet.  The New Democrats would like to see a long-term policy that lays out the plans for maintaining the fleet and building new and replacement ships.  The New Democrats think this could lay the foundation for the shipyards around the province. With some guaranteed local business, the companies could plan for the future and take on steady work from elsewhere.

The ferry contract is an issue on the Burin peninsula, especially in Burin-Placentia West where the Marystown Shipyard just finished building two ferries but can't get started on the third and fourth because of some unspecified problems.  With no other work at the yard, the provincial government work is important.  The New Democrats don't hold that district in the House, although they came close in the recent general election. But the shipyard policy has implications that reach beyond one district.  The policy will affect provincial budgets just as surely as it can affect the smaller shipyards in the province, subcontractors who do work for the shipyards and  - it almost goes without saying - the people who ride the ferries daily in order to live their daily lives.

Compare that to the provincial Liberals.  By virtue of the fact they have one more seat than the Dippers, the Grits are the official opposition party in the legislature.  They get a bigger budget and their leader gets some extra money to have an office and staff comparable to what a cabinet minister would have.

That reflects the importance of the position in our system of government.  The leader of the opposition, after all, should be someone the lieutenant governor is supposed to be able to call on to form an administration in the event the current one fell. People tend to forget that, but it is the way our system is supposed to work.  It is one of the ways we could avoid having elections every five minutes during a minority parliament, but that's another issue.

Last week, the Liberals got together for the first time since the election.  They called the media together for scrum about the House being closed until the spring.

The media - not surprisingly - wanted to talk about the Liberal leadership.  Fill-in leader Kevin Aylward has been invisible since the election.  He didn't win his seat.  People are wondering what Kevin plans to do and how the Liberals plan to handle the House.  The grim-faced gang stood in front of the reports and Yvonne Jones - the person who, in effect, never stopped being Leader of the Opposition, answered questions about the leadership question.

And then they got around to talking about the House.  Scrum over, all but one of them headed back to their districts.  They'll come to town again to be sworn in later this week and then, if the usual pattern holds,  they'll head back to their districts as fast as they can.

In the scrum, one of the reporters asked Jones about prospective leader Dean MacDonald and his support for Muskrat Falls. The caucus is basically holding the leader's job for Dean, when and if he wants it, incidentally. Whether this is the arrangement they cooked up before Jones "stepped back" from the leader's job  - Dean and Yvonne didn't have a lengthy meeting to talk finances - or if it is a post-election plan or even a desperate caucus hope, the job is Dean's.

And on the controversial project, Jones answered that until someone could show the benefits to the province and since Muskrat Falls brought no benefit to Labrador she was opposed to it regardless who was backing it.

The contrast in the two parties could not be any more stark.  On the one hand, you have a party that is active on the local political scene demonstrating their position on an issue and garnering some coverage on their stand in the meantime.  The Dipper leader spoke out about an issue  that doesn't affect her district directly.  The Dippers took a position about shipbuilding based on the wider provincial impact.

Contrast that with the Liberals and Jones' position on Muskrat.  Her opposition to the project is framed not on the numerous policy problems with it but on the absence of apparent benefits to a specific part of the province.  She noted that the project didn't deliver benefits for one particular spot.

In truth, that last bit is the key bit about the post-2003 Liberals.  It's all very local, and very much about individual districts.  And if you take Jones' comments to their logical conclusion, you can see pretty quickly that her opposition would melt away once someone delivers some pork to address her concerns.  String a couple of power lines into Jones' district, talk about making power available for local industry in Labrador and she'll be standing by ready to wave flags and cheer for the mega-debt disaster.

Now to be fair, the NDP is backing Muskrat Falls whole-hog.  Their conditional endorsement  - if it is viable - is so lame as to be laughable.

But look at the difference in how the Liberals tackle an issue and how the NDP does.  For the Liberals, there is no provincial perspective, at all.  Everything starts and ends in the specific districts the party members hold.  Yvonne Jones  - and hence the Liberal Party - won't be speaking about shipbuilding generally because it doesn't bother anyone in her district.  She would talk about one ferry boat, though, because it does affect her district.  Jones will even talk about a wildly, insanely ludicrous idea like the Stunnel because - you guessed it - the end point would be in her district.

And as for everywhere else, who gives a flying frack?

It isn't just Jones who operates this way.

It isn't just Danny Dumaresque.  The only difference between Danny D and the rest of the Liberals running in the last election was that he just said it out loud.

It's all of them.

And that difference between the Liberals and the NDP is why one is on the rise in the province and the other is pretty much irrelevant to the political future of the province.

Liberals these days will talk about all the work that the party needs to do to rebuild.  The party's ersatz Danny-in-Waiting said it last week, too, using the Danny-esque hockey metaphor.

But what the Liberals seem to be missing is that the party is way beyond the point where a few meetings and a couple of warm bodies will put them back on the road to power. 

Even if Dean MacDonald comes back and rolls up his sleeves as passionately as any passionate windbag politician ever did, people in the province will need a reason to get involved with the party.  They will need to have a reason to give money or offer up as candidates or even to take the simple step of giving Liberals a vote in 2015.

Right now, the party has spent eight years telling more and more voters in the province that they aren't interested in anything about them.

53% of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians listed health care as a top concern during the last election.  The Liberals held out fisheries ideas from the 1970s as their major policy statement.


The result is a party that is at a record low in the polls and - despite having one more seat than the NDP - is not a viable alternative to the ruling Conservatives. 

Take a look at the chart, just to make sure the message is plain.  This ain’t 1985, Toto. 

The inevitable message the Liberals have been sending for the past six or seven years is that the Liberal Party doesn't give a rat's ass about anybody outside the few districts they currently hold. 

An active Liberal made a few comments on a post from Monday.  He finished up by asking your humble e-scribbler:

So in your opinion the work starts with making good policy, and then building from there. I don't disagree. As i said, there is lots of work to be done. I'm not one of the Liberals you refer to as waiting for a savior. That is not how I see the Party getting out of this.

Curious on your thoughts: who should be doing the policy work that you see as the first step? Caucus? The leader? The executive? A committee of the board?

The comments from your humble e-scribbler weren’t about  policy, incidentally, but those questions go to the heart of the Liberal problem.

To get at the Liberal problem, you’ve got to get even more basic.  When people say the Liberal Party doesn’t speak to people any more what that means is that the party no longer gives people a reason to support it. 

If they want their party to survive in the future, Liberals have to figure out why anyone should care about the Liberal Party.  It's a simple enough thing to state. The answer isn't implicit in it.  And it goes to the heart of what any political party is about:

Why should anyone care?

People need a reason to get involved with a political party.  Usually it’s the chance to fulfill some personal ambition or to take part in a campaign that will accomplish some sort of bigger purpose. People will need to know that the Liberals are the ticket to something other than political obscurity.  That’s for the political activist types.

For voters, it’s not much different.  Some will want to be part of something, even if it is just the winning side.  Others will latch onto specific people or specific ideas.  And still others will respond to the notion of getting some tax breaks or some such..

But at the very least, the party needs to offer something no one else does.  They’ve got to look like they are going places and that they have the stuff needed to form a government.

Right now, the Liberals have none of that.  They also have no plan to get any of it.  If the Liberals wait around until Dean shows up – and it is a question of if Dean shows up – they will have what they have right now, plus Dean.

What they’ll be missing is what they are missing now:  credibility. 

And they still won’t have the answer to the simple question of why anyone in the province should care about the Liberal Party.

Working out the answer to that question will unlock all the other answers to all the other questions.

Let's see if anyone tries.

- srbp -

25 October 2011

Tory snouts back in trough #nlpoli

In a characteristically display of arrogance and entitlement, Kathy Dunderdale today reappointed two of her key political hacks – Len Simms and Ross Reid – to their patronage jobs in the provincial public service.

What makes the whole sordid business that much more distasteful is that Dunderdale tried to make it sound as if the whole exercise was legitimate:

In keeping with Provincial Government policy, they had resigned from their respective positions to work on the October 11 election campaign.

The two buckos resigned their positions knowing full-well they’d get them back inside a month. 

Of course, if any other deputy ministers resigned in order to work for another political party, you can be damn sure Dunderdale would never have reappointed them at all, let alone do so as swiftly as she hooked her own two back up to the trough.

Those appointments got buried in another release on yet more changes to the senior public service.

The record-setting churn in senior management continues.

- srbp -

And then right on cue… #nlpoli

Someone starts talking about dumping military infrastructure that serves no military purposes any longer.

Then your humble e-scribbler reminds everyone not to worry since bases like Goose bay are far more important for the political pork value than their military value.

And right on cue:

First one politician launches into a defence of the pork base, while a new politician – who actually campaigned against the base at one point in his political life – now staunchly defends the pork he and his new political friends are pouring into the base.

Stuff like paving the runway at the base.





Seems that the value of paving the runway depends on who is running the asphalt spreader.

In 2005, when the federal Liberal government paved the runway, one of Peter Penashue’s new political friends – the Pavement Putin of the Permafrost – had this to say:

We got $10 million in an announcement to put new paving on the runways up there, but I can tell you, $10 million of asphalt on the runway is not going to bring the allies back.

Asphalt, like shit, takes on a sweeter aroma for some people if they and their friends are spreading it.

- srbp -

Disconnect in the Brain Housing Group #nlpoli

The provincial Conservatives are a weird bunch.  They want to fight the provincial debt by increasing it.

They are nominally Conservative but their spending of public money is anything but prudent.

Via labradore – who else? – come two posts and with them two pretty charts that show the change in government spending since 2003 (less debt-related spending).

That’s budgeted spending, above. 

The second chart gives the annual spending on programs plus the percentage change from the previous year.

Just keep those in mind whenever you hear a provincial politician talking about the Conservative’s great record on controlling public spending or, as labradore points out, Kathy Dunderdale’s whacked-out claims that the Tories have already reduced.

- srbp -

Back to the Future #nlpoli

The Department of National Defence will freeze the size of the Regular Force and sell off property in an effort to cut spending and control budgets, according to David Pugliese.

The man knows what he is talking about. 

Take it as a given that this is what DND is planning to do.

You can also take it as a given that one of the properties on the block is Goose Bay.

Liberal Sen. Colin Kenny said closing bases and selling off surplus property is essential since unwanted or underused facilities are costing the military hundreds of millions of dollars annually to maintain. Up to 25 per cent of DND’s facilities, some of which date back to the Second World War, could be sold or shut down, said Kenny, the former chairman of the senate’s defence committee.

He said Goose Bay in Newfoundland and Labrador is a good example of a site that has become redundant to military needs.

“It’s been kept alive by political pressure,” Kenny noted, “and it’s costing millions to keep operating.”

He said any closure should be accompanied by a financial package to help communities and workers involved and money from the sale of properties should be funnelled back into the defence budget.

People in Goose Bay will get their knickers in a knot.  Provincial politicians will beat their chests and spit and foam and stamp their feet.

And nobody will notice that DND has been down this road before and never sold off bits of stuff he was supposed to sell.

Like the airfield at Eastern Passage, Nova Scotia.

In the 1990s, DND figured out it didn’t need the Shearwater base that was home to the Canadian Force’s maritime helicopter fleet.  So they proposed to sell off the airport and all the prime real estate that went with it.  The helicopters would move to  Greenwood out in the Annapolis valley.


Well, 15 years later, the only bit of the old Shearwater that isn’t still owned by National Defence is one runway.  Everything else is still where it was.

And the taxpayers of Canada are still pumping cash into upgrading and repairing and refurbishing one of the oldest air bases in the country.

Now, to be sure, Shearwater still has an operational purpose.  While the air force could have moved it’s helicopters out to Greenwood,  having the helicopters at Eastern passage makes it just a wee bit easier to marry them up with the navy when the ships deploy.  In fine weather you can fly the Sea Kings on or off the ships.  If the weather is crappy, you can just bring the ships alongside the Shearwater jetty and winch them on or off.

Goose Bay, on the other hand, simply has no operational purpose for the Canadian Forces.

Still,  if you dig around the records of previous efforts to sell off all the surplus military infrastructure, you are bound to find an example that fits the Goose Bay situation.

You see, as much as DND will talk about selling off places like Goose Bay, the odds are it will never happen.

As much as it makes sense, the politicians can’t afford to let it happen.

- srbp -

24 October 2011

Astroturf #nlpoli

Sometimes the people using fake names online screw up their little game.

This little gem came from the Telegram last week and a letter to the editor in favour of free tuition at Memorial University.


Janice and Babs should have talked to herself before she hit “submit” the second time.

- srbp -

The rewards of planning an organization #nlpoli

While the Liberals in this province shuffle aimlessly toward the political gloom, their Nova Scotia brothers and sisters actually have enough cash in the bank that they can take $2.3 million and put it into a new thin-tank.
Nova Scotia’s Liberals have long been dogged by their controversial trust fund. 
But the Grits finally put the decades-old issue to bed at their annual general meeting in Halifax on Saturday. 
Liberal Party president John Gillis said the party is divesting itself of $2.3 million in the fund to help establish a think-tank, the Allan J. MacEachen Institute for Public Policy and Government. 
Gillis told the meeting the new institute will honour a distinguished Nova Scotian who has dedicated his life to public service. A retired senator, MacEachen was a long-time federal Liberal cabinet minister and is an Order of Canada recipient.
Just think about that.

Meanwhile, the local Liberals are the better part of a million bucks in the hole with not much chance of paying it off in the near future.
- srbp -

Hydro concerned about contacts with power lines

From Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro:

Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro (Hydro) fears that an increased number of recorded contacts with power lines by members of the general public and contractors could eventually lead to a fatality. Hydro recorded two more power line contacts last week, bringing the total to 12 contacts in 2011 and 51 contacts since 2007.

Last week's line contacts involved one in Wabush, Labrador, when a contractor hooked a cable causing a utility pole to break, and another in Ming's Bight on the Baie Verte peninsula when a member of the public cut a tree that fell across a power line. Fortunately there were no injuries; however, both these incidents resulted in power outages to surrounding communities and Hydro's customers.

"These most recent line contacts are similar to contacts we've been seeing over the past few years, and it's deeply concerning," says Jim Haynes, Hydro's vice president of regulated operations. "We're lucky there have been no injuries; however, if this alarming trend of power line contacts does not stop, it's only a matter of time before someone is seriously injured or killed."

The majority of these incidents have involved contractors and operators using large equipment such as excavators, dump trucks, booms, cranes, tractors and trailers, particularly in areas such as Wabush were there is heavy construction activity.  Other power line contacts have involved members of the general public engaged in construction projects around the home and trimming or cutting trees for firewood near power lines.

Haynes says that by taking the time to plan carefully and to identify overhead and underground power lines before starting work is critical to preventing injuries.  In the case of tree trimming and cutting, it's important to carefully assess your surroundings to ensure you are within a safe distance of avoiding a tree falling onto a power line.

"Cutting trees for firewood is common near some of our lines, and the best advice we can give is to avoid it altogether," stresses Haynes. "We urge people to move into parts of the woods where there is no possibility of contacting a power line when the tree falls. It's better to put the extra effort into finding a suitable location to cut firewood than to risk serious injury or being killed, which could certainly happen if these types of incidents continue. People need to start considering the danger of doing any type of work near power lines."

"Our priority is to ensure the safety of our employees, contractors and the general public."  said Haynes.  "Contact with power lines is extremely dangerous and can be fatal. We need all members of the public to be aware of the dangers associated with electricity and to take the appropriate precautions when working around power lines, and this includes cutting trees. We ask them to look up, keep back and call ahead to stay safe around power lines."

Specific requirements for maintaining clearances and providing worker training are mandated by the province's occupational health and safety regulations. Special permits are required when working near energized power lines.  Operators of equipment with the capability of contacting overhead or underground power lines must attend an approved power line hazards safety course.

Hydro reminds contractors and the general public that working around electricity requires their complete attention. Accidents can be prevented with proper planning, worksite evaluation and adhering to safe distances. For more information on working safely around electrical equipment, visit HydroSafety.ca or call 1.888.737.1296.

- srbp -

The Best Case/Worst Case Scenario #nlpoli

So there you have it.

The Liberal caucus, less a vacationing Jim Bennett,  met last week.

They decided Kevin can keep the job of Liberal Party leader and all the glory that involves these days.

He can keep it some time next year, as VOCM reported it. 

Fact is, Aylward could be there longer.

What Aylward will do as party leader is unclear. 

Why he was away from the caucus meeting that secured his future is equally unclear.  The unspecified party business excuse is a bit like “to spend more time with my family”.  It is a stock political excuse to be trotted out, when needed, even though everyone knows it is complete bullshit.

You can tell the caucus is enthusiastic about the future.  You can see it in the looks on their faces in the scrum afterward when they told reporters about their momentous decision.

As for Yvonne Jones,  the local media are reporting that she doesn’t want the leader’s job.  What they all missed is that Jones has the de facto leader’s job she supposedly doesn’t want and the hefty extra salary to go with it.  She has the plum spot in the opposition benches in the House of Assembly.  She makes staffing decisions.  Jones controls the budget.  She gets to ask the first questions in the  daily Question Period – when the House is sitting – and she’s the one the media will go to for comment.

Jones just announced to the world on behalf of the party leader what the party leader will do.

Yvonne Jones is the party leader for anyone who is paying attention.

From Yvonne’s standpoint, this is a best-case scenario.

So now what?

Well, that’s the political worst case scenario if you are one of the handful of people left in Newfoundland and Labrador still supporting the provincial Liberals.  While there will be lots of talk about stuff that needs to happen on the glorious march back to power, recent history will tell you that none of it will happen.

The party simply doesn’t speak to anyone anymore and outside of the 10 or 11% of the electorate who voted for them, they don’t speak for much either.

With the leadership set up of Jones-Aylward, there’s obviously no cohesion or shared sense of direction.  What the Liberals are left with is to keep going in circles for a while.

And that may be a long while, given that Saviour Messiah Dean the Magical Wonder Pony may not really want the job in the future just like he hasn’t really wanted it in the past.

In the meantime, you can count the number of minutes before the jokes start flowing from the Tories or Dippers about whether the Grit leadership creature is straight from Dr. Doolittle – with two heads – or the Pushmi - Pullyu’s other bits stuck together.

pushmiNews of the Liberal leadership arrangement is met with both dancing for joy and chin-pulling scepticism, right, at a rally of all 11 Liberal Party supporters left in the province.

(Not exactly as illustrated.)

Indecision and inactivity over the course of four years are what led to the recent fiasco capped off by one of the most spectacularly inept and incompetent campaigns in recent political history.

More indecision and inactivity  - guaranteed under the current leadership arrangement - won’t make anything better.  Well, not if the goal was to challenge the Tories for the government in 2015, it isn’t.  At this rate the Liberals will be fighting for the life and struggling to hold onto the opposition in 2015 as the Tories and Dippers duke it out for power. 

As it stands today, the Liberal Party faced a near death experience a couple of weeks ago, a real “holy f***, that was close” moment.

Now that the danger has passed, they want to get right back to the old ways of doing business that put the party in his current sorry state.

The party needs to change.

A credible political party cannot afford to have a repeat of recent history including the way Jones left the job a few weeks ago and the board picked her replacement.

Change means things have to be different.  More of the same is not an option.  Change also means that so many people within the party will have to give up the traditional Liberal Party delusion that some saviour, some messiah will appear and make all the problems go away.

The party also can’t afford to try and recycle someone – whether Aylward, Efford or Jones – even on a temporary basis.  Temporary has a tendency to become permanent, especially when the shock of a near death experience wears off.

That was the SRBP call on October 13, in what turned out to be a truly Kreskin-like moment.  And then the caucus decided to follow right on with an ad for a new Messiah

No matter what the Liberals do next,  they’ve pretty much sealed their political fate.

-srbp -

23 October 2011

“What is it do you want?” #nlpoli

“Do you want legislation well-prepared or do you want us to think seriously about the impacts that this is gong to have? (Like), is there is a sentence here that could be written one way and we think it means one thing but it could be interpreted another way and have a detrimental affect on people?”

That’s Kathy Dunderdale, lately chief excuse-monger of the former Republic of Dannystan on why she and her colleagues can’t seem to extract their collective thumbs from their collective anal sphincters long enough to deliver a piece of legislation – whistleblower protection – having promised it so long ago, people can’t even remember how long it is they’ve been committing this particular Great Fraud.

There is no greater fraud, after all, than a promise unkept. Some politician used to run around saying that about everyone else.

Well, anyway, since Kath is wondering, we could start with a premier who can speak in coherent English sentences.  Maybe then she wouldn’t be so afraid of the language and what one sentence might mean if you say it backwards while dancing around naked in the moonlight on a winter solstice [such] that government has been paralysed over this particular promise.

On the other hand, if you were part of a government that fracked up on such a regular basis, then maybe you’d be a little fearful of those letters and bits of punctuation.  Thanks to these goomers, you may recall, the people of the province now own a gigantic environmental mess in the middle of Grand Falls-Windsor.

It’s going to be a long four years.

- srbp -

* edit to clarify a sentence.

21 October 2011

“And one fine morning…”, or change versus more of the same #nlpoli

 Wanted: One Saviour  
No experience necessary 
Apply:  Liberal Party of Newfoundland and Labrador

Since Joey died – politically, that is - the Liberal Party has often wandered the political desert of Newfoundland and Labrador.

They are out there again, searching for the a saviour who will - single-handedly and by sheer force of his magical personality - lead them back to the corridors of power just as Joe S did long, long ago.

In another world, Danny Williams would have been the Liberal Jesus-de-jour. 

Would have been, that is, except his Mom wouldn’t let him.

So instead, Danny transformed the provincial Conservatives into a crowd of drooling arse-lickers the likes of which the province hasn’t seen since the 1960s.

Inside the party, Williams surrounded himself with a bunch of people who, when they were not tugging forelocks, apparently believed the Danny-love they felt as they looked out Mordor’s windows would one day be Darin-love or Dunder-love or [insert-name-of-generic-Tory-here]-love. They are getting a rude shock.

The Liberals flocked to his nether regions, too, lips primed for fish kisses just as their fathers did and their fathers before them. Decades of conditioning is hard thing to break.

You’ll still hear them on the open line shows, pining for Danny’s posterior.  I am a Liberal, said one fellow on Thursday’s call-in show, but I backed Danny and I’d do it again.  Lots did.  Like Kevin Aylward, for example, and the people who are behind Aylward’s recent sojourn as fill-in Liberal leader.

One of the perennial saviour-wannabes of recent times  - Dean MacDonald - popped up this week delivering a speech on leadership and vision to the members of the Conception Bay Area Chamber of Commerce.

The story made it to the front page of the Telegram on Thursday, right up at the top above everything else. 
On cue, both NTV and CBC obliged the saviour-in-waiting with fawning, gushing interviews about his intentions, vis-a-vis the salvation thing.

And Dean, coquettishly protesting that he did not wish to be coy, was coy.

At least one of the interviewers asked about Danny and well, like he’s a Tory and like Dean’s a Liberal, so like what’s up with that? 

What’s up with that was obvious from Dean’s speech and from his comments during the interviews.

Dean lambasted Kathy Dunderdale for all the things he either praised Danny for or ignored when Danny did them. Unsustainable public spending?  That was Danny’s stock in trade.  Dean loved Muskrat Falls and then talked about the need for everyone to put politics to one side and get down to the political job of negotiating business deals. 

Sound familiar? 

It should.

Dean MacDonald is fond of saying things that are absolutely correct.  He did it a couple of years ago when he told a bunch of young Liberals that in politics you needed to distinguish yourself from the Other Guys.

And just as he says things that are correct, Dean likes to stand up for exactly the opposite of what he advocates.  In Gander in 2009,  Dean proceeded to explain  - as he did in his interviews on Thursday - exactly how he supports the same political ideas and piss-poor management that got the province into the mess it’s in.

No change. 

Exactly the same.

And therein lies the problem.

The province needs real change.

Dean MacDonald is just more of the same.

Dean would be so much more of the same, in fact that it is like something out of a Brian Tobin speech:
So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.
- srbp -

20 October 2011

Who leaked the amalgamation report? #nlpoli

Was it a city councillor with an axe to grind?

Do the neighbouring municipalities have a mole at Tammany at Gower?

- srbp -

The Dysfunctional Dunderdale Administration #nlpoli

Kathy Dunderdale thinks the provincial legislature is dysfunctional.

Well, if the House sat more often than it has since Dunderdale’s been a member, they might be doing better.

Dunderdale as premier is carrying on the tradition of her predecessor of avoiding the province’s legislature as much as possible. As labradore pointed out on Wednesday,  Newfoundland and Labrador has had the shortest election campaigns in the country and gone the longest period between voting day and when the legislature sat next.

In 2007, the Tories – Dunderdale was deputy premier – went 153 after the election before they showed up in the legislature.

SRBP has been pounding on this issue since 2006. Dunderdale is continuing her predecessor’s ignoble tradition.

Uppity Datelabradore produced another picture that shows the time lapse between voting day and Throne Speech.  The results for some provinces changed dramatically. 

But guess what?  Newfoundland and Labrador still drags its ass across the finish line in the democracy marathon.  Or sprints effortlessly to an easy win in the anti-democracy dysfunction.

It all depends on how you look at it.

Either way, it’s nothing to be proud of.

- srbp -

PPM: Controversy, Accountability and Disclosure #nlpoli

On October 3, Liberal leader Kevin Aylward issued a news release in which he claimed that the second MQO poll released the Friday before had been “bought and paid for by the Tories.”

In the release, the Liberals also claimed that “[t]he Dunderdale Government has bought and paid for this online survey.” 

The Liberals had no evidence to back their claims that the poll was fabricated.  They offered no evidence to refute the polls findings.

In 1989, faced with a partisan poll scam, the Liberal campaigned released its own internal data that proved to be far more accurate than the one released by the Conservatives’ pollster.

In 2011, the Liberals didn’t have polls, let alone ones that could give numbers different from the ones MQO produced.  The release served only to keep alive a bad news poll for the Liberals for the third week of the campaign. The release looked much like a desperate effort by a disorganized campaign fumbling about for anything that could stave off collapse.  The release reeked of desperation.

That desperation became all too apparent as NTV, Environics and then CRA polls appeared all conducted around the same time as the MQO one and all showing numbers that showed the Liberals in more or less the same place as MQO.

Industry controversy, too

After the campaign, CRA president Don Mills complained publicly about campaign poll reporting.  The Telegram quoted Mills:
“There’s a lot of people who say online research is just as good as telephone research. That has not been proven to be true and we have recent examples in Atlantic Canada where a competitor of ours has used an online methodology and have not got it within the margin of error they quoted” he said.
Of course, Mills’ poll didn’t come any closer, but his comments did point to problems with the publicly released polls.

Industry Standards

The Market Research and Intelligence Association represents Canadian market research and public opinion firms.  MRIA has established standards for the public release of polls by firms.  The standards include these provisions:
1) Please include the following key facts in the report:
  • Sample size, and population surveyed (who was included)
  • Sponsor of study (who commissioned the research)
  • Survey method (e.g. telephone, on-line, intercept)
  • Timing (when the survey was done)
  • Statement of sample error/margin of error (i.e. "+/- 2.5% 19 times out of 20")
2) Please make the following facts available to the public upon request (if not included in report):
  • Name of practitioner (company conducting research)
  • Sampling method (e.g. random, custom list)
  • Weighting procedures (statistical weights, if used)
  • Exact wording and order of questions
3) Always differentiate between scientific (most public opinion polls) and non-scientific studies (reader/viewer polls or other "self-selection" methodologies). 
4) Where appropriate, use the caveat that research is not necessarily predictive of future outcomes, but rather captures opinion at one point in time.
What’s the problem?

Both the Aylward and Mills criticisms are rooted in one problem:  a lack of disclosure of details of the polling not just by MQO but of all the firms that released polling during the election.

MQO only confirmed its research was done independently of its clients once Aylward raised the issue.  But even for the sake of its own public image, MQO‘s two releases didn’t offer a great deal of information that would have avoided that controversy or the issue Mills raised.

How do the firms stack up?

A simple reading of the first MQO release suggests that it meet those MRIA standards exactly, as limited as they are, with respect to what must be included: 
The poll was based on a sample of 413 Newfoundlanders and Labradorians, with a margin of error of +/- 4.9%.  It was conducted between Friday, September 16 and Sunday September 18, 2011.
The release did not indicate the type of survey (telephone, online etc).  It did identify the company that conducted the work  - part of the “on request” information but didn’t release any of the other information in the same section.

If this release complied with the MRIA standard, the poll was a sample of all people in the province regardless of whether they could vote or not (“Newfoundlanders and Labradorians”). That would make it difficult to compare the poll to any others or even to the voting population as a whole.

There’s no indication of how MQO selected the sample, either.  Was it a randomly selected sample or was it something else?

The second MQO disclosed some additional information but that just raised questions about whether or not the second poll could be  compared to the first:
The poll was based on a sample of 464 residents of Newfoundland and Labrador, with a margin of error of +/- 4.6 per cent. The research was conducted via phone and online between Wednesday, September 28 and Friday, September 30, 2011, using MQO’s research panel iView Atlantic. The sample was weighted regionally to ensure proper representation of the province as a whole.
Again, the sample appears to have been drawn from people resident in the province, regardless of age.  The second release includes information on how MQO collected the data – “via phone and online” – but it isn’t clear how the sample was selected if MQO a previously screened research panel.

The other firms aren’t necessarily any better, though. Consider how Canadian Press described the Environics poll:
Unlike traditional telephone polling, in which respondents are randomly selected, the Environics survey was conducted online from Sept. 29 to Oct. 4 among 708 respondents, all of whom were chosen from a larger pool of people who were recruited and compensated for participating. Environics then adjusts the sample to reflect a broad spectrum of the population.
The non-random nature of online polling makes it impossible to determine statistically how accurately the results reflect the opinions of the population at large.
More information in many respects right down to the fact that participants in the panel were recruited and paid for participating. And to be fair to Environics, this is the CP version, not necessarily the exact description the polling firm gave of its sample and population (who they were studying).

And then there’s how CRA typically describes its quarterly omnibus:
These results are part of the CRA Atlantic Quarterly®, an independent survey of Atlantic Canadians, and are based on a sample of 400 adult Newfoundland and Labrador residents.  The survey was conducted from August 15 to August 31, 2011 with overall results for the province accurate to within + 4.9 percentage points in 95 out of 100 samples.
Some information is missing – presumably it was a random sample – but CRA appends to the release a table of data, the wording of questions and comparative data for several previous polls.

Even with industry standards and even considering the firms involved  are all MRIA members – MQO and CRA are Gold Standard members – the polling firms don’t follow the same practices in how they report polling information. 

Why Disclosure is Important

For those who might think Mills’ criticism about the online panel are accurate, check Geoff Meeker’s post on the controversy.   Meeker put the question of the panel to MQO and got a written reply.  Included was this description of the panel composition that – from MQO’s standpoint – justified including a margin of error while Environics did not:
iView Atlantic is a probability-based panel, meaning that every member of the population has an equal chance of being selected for participation.
These are not esoteric issues.  The MRIA news release accompanying the disclosure standards included these comments by the past president of MRIA’s predecessor organization:
"All of these reporting items create transparency in the polling process and help the public establish an informed opinion about the results of a poll…If we want people to take part in the democratic process, we must be certain they have confidence in the way we conduct our business, from the time they answer our questions through to the results being published."
Ensuring public awareness of opinion research techniques and issues also fulfills objectives set out in the MRIA Code of Conduct. Members of the public should be able to have complete confidence in the poll results they see as well as in their ability to compare results from different research methods.

Given both the controversy in the recent election and the variation in the amount of information polling firms released – even with established standards -  the MRIA has some work to do.

The American Example

With a larger polling industry, more election polling and a much wider experience with controversy, the American polling industry has much more stringent disclosure standards than those of MRIA. None of the polls released during the Newfoundland and Labrador election came even close to the American standards. 

Few Canadian polling firms typically come close to the American standards, but then again, the local controversy is merely one part of a much larger issue in the Canadian industry.  Perhaps it is time for MRIA and its members to review their existing standards with an eye to making them more prescriptive.

The American Association of Public Opinion Research also promotes education for journalists on polls and polling in order to improve knowledge of industry standards and practices. AAPOR has also developed an online course for journalists run in co-operation with  the Poynter Institute.

The National Council on Public Polls has also compiled a list of 20 questions journalists should ask about polls.  The information contained in the questions and answers includes plain language discussions of margins of error and sources of error.

- srbp -

19 October 2011

Amalgamation #nlpoli

The only way anyone should agree to amalgamation on the northeast Avalon is if the entire crowd at Tammany on Gower - council and senior staff alike - have absolutely nothing to do with the administration of the new city.

As a townie, there is no way your humble e-scribbler could sleep at night if the crowd on Gower Street currently wreaking havoc on common sense got the chance to spread their ways to anyone else in the province.

- srbp -

PPM: The Polls and the Local Media #nlpoli

All daily media in the province reported polls released by polling firms during the 2011 general election

They reported the polls as the firms released them.  That is, they did not question or alter the presentation of the numbers, nor did they discuss the different methodology used to generate them. This CBC report is typical.

The second MQO poll, released on September 30 stands out in particular as a result of the way it was reported.  This poll prompted a news release from Liberal leader Kevin Aylward that we’ll discuss in greater detail in the final segment of this series.

What’s most interesting about the second MQO poll is the way the firm reported the results for a question it asked on the leaders’ debate. 

One can make a theoretical argument about eliminating undecideds in the presentation of a party choice question. Some pollsters would claim this would allow you to match their poll result with the popular vote on election day.

But there’s no reason to alter the presentation of the results in such a way for any other sort of question.  Yet that is exactly what MQO did with the leaders’ debate question.  For some inexplicable reason, MQO reported the results in such a way that they placed the emphasis on those who watched the debate.  They then presented their responses as if those who reportedly watched the debate was 100% of the sample.

When asked about the leaders’ debate, 34 per cent of those polled said they watched the televised leaders’ debate on Wednesday, September 28. Of those respondents who watched the debate, 36 per cent felt Kathy Dunderdale won the debate, while Lorraine Michael was seen as the winner by 22 per cent, and six per cent said Kevin Aylward came out on top. The remainder of respondents said there was no clear winner of the debate.

The result was this sort of presentation in news stories:

The poll poses serious questions for Kevin Aylward and the Liberals who have been struggling through the campaign with an accumulated debt and difficulty with recruiting candidates.

Of respondents who had watched the leaders' debate on Wednesday night, only six per cent said Aylward won it. By contrast, 36 per cent chose PC Leader Kathy Dunderdale and 22 per cent chose NDP Leader Lorraine Michael.

"The remainder of respondents said there was no clear winner of the debate," MQO said in a statement.

In the rush to write a news story, no reporters caught that 66% of the respondents didn’t watch the debate.  They didn’t adjust the rest of MQO’s numbers accordingly. The result is that MQO’s misleading presentation of its results survived into news casts.

Aside from the MQO and Environics polls released by the companies themselves to all media, two of the province’s major media outlets commissioned polls for the 2011 election.

NTV commissioned their usual pollster, Telelink, to conduct a poll similar to ones they have done with Telelink on several occasions over the past six years.

The poll served the usual purpose.  It gave NTV exclusive news content as well as a marketing opportunity.  NTV was also able to ask a question on Muskrat falls similar to one from an NTV/Telelink poll in February.  As such, NTV was able to describe not only the results of the new poll but the trend – in this case a decline in support – from the earlier poll.

The Telegram commissioned CRA to conduct a poll with what turned out to be the largest sample of any poll conducted during the election. 

Consistent with experience elsewhere, the Telegram used the poll to generate large amounts of original content in addition to reaction pieces.  The poll was the centrepiece of the paper’s election coverage over three days, beginning on October 6. 

The poll, however, did not add significant new information to any other poll results.  The Saturday edition  - October 8 - featured responses to questions on the so-called rural-urban divide.  However, the questions – which party do you think best deals with rural issues and so on – basically mirrored the satisfaction questions without adding significant depth or colour to public understanding of the issues and public opinion. “Satisfaction” questions ask respondents to indicate how satisfied they are with government performance on a given topic. 

The Saturday edition of the Telegram also reported on another key question.  The Telegram asked respondents which party they would chose if Danny Williams was still the Tory leader.

Curiously,  the Telegram found that health care was overwhelmingly the major issue for respondents, just as CRA polls for the provincial government reported for the past year.  However, the Telegram did not probe any dimensions of that opinion.  What is it about health care that people are so concerned about?

The most significant aspect of the media and polls during the 2011 election was not what the media reported of specific polls during the election.   Rather it was the conclusion that news media drew from the CRA quarterly omnibus results and then the subsequent polls.

The Tories were assured of a massive majority, so the interpretation went.  The only thing potentially worth watching was a race for second place in poll results.

You can see the theme in national media – CTV or the Globe for example – and you can also see it in local coverage.  The CBC interpreted the second MQO poll with a particularly strident emphasis on the supposed loss of ground by the Liberals in the poll.  The decline, incidentally, was well within the margin of error.  The CBC characterised the change in numbers as “freefall.”

What this interpretation missed as a result was the dramatic battle between the New Democrats and the Conservatives in St. John’s.  No daily media in the province reported it before the election results on October 11.  In the October 8 edition, for example, the Telegram election coverage made no mention of the battle beyond the NDP confidence in seats changing hands. 

If they missed entirely a pitched battle right under their noses, it is no surprise that they also missed the Liberal campaigns in western Newfoundland that resulted in the party winning enough seats to continue as the official opposition in the House of Assembly.  The Liberals, as one wag noted, refused to follow the media script and die on cue.

By following the polls – marketing devices for the polling firms and for some news outlets – the news media missed the news in the local election.

- srbp -