05 November 2013

Governing by polls: fracking version #nlpoli

There’s something wonderfully cute about the blind, unquestioning boosterism you get from some of the more aggressive groups of young political party supporters.

All parties have them:  the L’il Liberals, the Dinky Dippers, and the Tiny Tories. 

With the provincial Conservatives so low in the polls, the ones among Kathy’s Kittens that desperately want jobs on the Hill as political staffers have taken to tweeting more aggressively than Paul Lane updating the universe on where he ate his latest free meal.

No comment is too Tony-Ducey inane for them to make or – as it turns out – more honest than the Big Connies would like.

On Monday,  natural resources minister Derrick Daley announced the provincial government wouldn’t approve any onshore fracking application from oil and gas companies. 

Shortly after, one of the pint-sized politicos let this tweet fly:


So the provincial government policy was based on a public opinion poll.


You see, no less a person than the nominal head of the provincial Conservatives has insisted all along that nothing could be further from the truth.  Here is Premier Kathy Dunderdale in September 2013 (Gander Beacon) dismissing polls saying that her popularity was in the crapper and her party’s popularity along with it:
“I’ve said many, many times before I can’t govern by polls. Because if I govern by polls then I don’t serve the people of this province in the way I committed to do, in the the way they asked me to do.”
Right there.

In black and white.

Change the font to Tory blue and it says the same thing.

No governing by da polls, Mr. Speaker.

Not – Mr. Speaker -  in the public interest, Mr. Speaker.


Bit of a conflict in messaging there.  The young Conservatives insisted that their party polled young people, found out they were against fracking, and made a decision against fracking.  Kathy Dunderdale has said for months such a thing does not happen.

One of them is wrong.

But which one?

Normally, you’d go with the leader as the safe bet on Double Jeopardy.  This is Kathy Dunderdale, though, so you can’t always be sure that what she says is true.   Joan Cleary.  European trade deal.  Same problem.

Let’s check out what she said about fracking.

Back in September, around the time she came out against polls, Kathy Dunderdale said that the provincial government had no plans to introduce fracking rules.  The reason she gave – according to VOCM and Canadian Press – was that the provincial government already had a strict environmental review process with room for public input and scientific evidence.

No need for rules because the ones in place were already good enough.

Now it is November.  Polling month, as it turns out.

And suddenly the provincial Conservative crowd running the place put in place a new rule.  The “government will not be accepting applications,”  Dalley told the House of Assembly on Monday, “for onshore and onshore to offshore petroleum exploration using hydraulic fracturing.” 

This new rule will be in place until the provincial government takes a look at what other people are doing and gets some advice on what fracking could do in Western Newfoundland.  Once that is done, they will go around the province and ask people what they think.

On the face of it, there’s no reason for Dalley’s announcement.  He didn’t say there was any new evidence against fracking.  All Dalley said was that the provincial government was going to look into things.

At the same time, Dalley’s announcement does say that Kathy Dunderdale and her cabinet have no faith in the existing environmental assessment process.  They’d have to doubt the system in order to insist they cannot risk accepting any applications for fracking.

That is exactly the opposite of what Kathy Dunderdale said in September, of course.

It’s also the opposite of what Dalley’s predecessor said.  Tom Marshall, the Conservative king of Corner Brook, took a trip to Saskatchewan and pronounced fracking cool.  Here’s the Western Star story on his trip last August:
“They are not having any problems with it at all,” said Marshall. “I was surprised because I was looking at it negatively because all the information that I’ve been getting it’s been very negative.” 
But Marshall said what he saw and heard was positive. 
“They haven’t had any water contamination, they haven’t had any problems with water volume, they haven’t had livestock dying, they haven’t had earthquakes.”
Tom and Kathy were agreed.

So if Kathy Dunderdale and Tom Marshall were wrong about the need for new rules about fracking,  then odds are high she was also wrong about the role polls play in cabinet decisions. 

That fits with Dalley’s statement.  In the absence of any other possible cause, it makes sense that the provincial Conservatives took a poll, confirmed people were worried about fracking, and then decided to invent a rule against fracking based on the poll, not on the available scientific evidence or even Tom Marshall’s own fact-finding mission out west.

There were no odds, actually, that what Kathy Dunderdale said about polls was true anyway. These are the same Conservatives, after all, who are so addicted to polls that they orient government announcements to match the four times a year when they know an influential pollster is in the field.

The provincial Conservatives are so poll-addicted, so jonesing for a poll fixing-fix that they goose the Aqua Velva of public opinion polls, the VOCM question of the day. 

So yeah, we know the Conservatives are obsessed by polls. They are so obsessed, apparently, that an opinion poll was enough to make them ignore the available evidence they have already collected about fracking and turn against it. 

The poll  also made them turn against an environmental review process that was good enough for Muskrat Falls and Sandy Pond,  will be good enough for anything else, but that now cannot handle fracking for some completely unknown reason.

That’s not sound public policy.

That is not serving the people of Newfoundland and Labrador.

That’s just crap.