31 January 2013

Demographics in pictures #nlpoli

If you look at nothing else this week, take a look at a comment by  Matthew Kerby called “’Representative’ by population in Newfoundland and Labrador”. 

Before Kerby was a political scientist at the University of Ottawa, he practiced the craft at Memorial University.  He still takes an interest in the goings-on down this way and the population growth strategy caught his attention.

He’s got a good handle on the problem, noting the financial implications for the provincial government.  To illustrate the population trends, Kerby took the provincial government’s own forecasts and produced a set of animated graphics that show changes in the population over time.

The pictures show the population in five year age groups.  Males are on the left and females are on the right of the centre line.  The length of the bar horizontally shows how many men or women are in each age group.  Watch any one of the charts over time and you can see all those dimensions change simultaneously.

As Kerby notes, the changing demographics will have impacts on everything from government revenues from taxes to the demands for spending.

Go to Kerby’s commentary and you can find all the regions.  Just to illustrate what he’s done here, let’s take a look at the one for Grand Falls-Windsor, Baie Verte and Harbour Breton.

[Original disappeared from the provincial government website]

The numbers start in 1986.  Notice that the population is shrinking as it gets older.  Note that this trend starts right from the beginning. 

Not last week. 

27 years ago.

Now Ross Reid has to come up with some brilliant ideas to cope with this trend.

We should wish him good luck.

He’s gonna need it.

-srbp-

30 January 2013

Pigs and Cows The Facts are Straight #nlpoli

-srbp-

Denine to challenge Simms for mayor’s job #nlpoli

If the word from the west holds true, Randy Simms won’t have too much time to worry about caribou and on-air meltdowns

The talk show host is going to be locked in a fight for his seat as Mayor of Mount Pearl from former Conservative cabinet minister Dave Denine in this fall’s municipal election. 

Apparently, Denine can’t find something better to do with himself and his hefty pension(s) than go after the part-time job he left when he got into provincial politics.a decade ago.  According to word coming from the Pearl, Denine is about to start raising cash and getting set for the municipal election in the fall.

Despite claims from Conservative circles in December 2010 that Tory incumbents would all run again, Denine was one of the crowd elected on Danny Williams’ coat-tails who cashed in his chips before the 2011 general election.

Denine held a bunch of posts during his time in cabinet.  After a couple of controversies in municipal affairs over disaster response and fire service, Williams stuffed Denine into a few inconsequential portfolios.  He racked up his pensionable time quietly after that.  Williams could always count on Denine to nod on cue.

-srbp-

29 January 2013

Rinse. Repeat. #nlpoli

Not one, not two, but three provincial cabinet ministers announced a five year ban on hunting George River caribou on Monday.

This is a very serious situation, they said.

It must be serious.  They had very glum faces.

If people don’t stop killing caribou, then bad things will happen, they said.

Justice minister @King_Darin said law enforcement officials were around and well…you know what that could mean.

Uh huh.

28 January 2013

The New Sexism #nlpoli #cdnpoli

As the story goes, the crowd currently running this place were all set to issue a news release that the first woman premier in the province’s history was announcing the appointment of the first woman clerk of the House of Assembly.

Then someone quietly pointed out that another Premier had already done that.

In the 1970s.

Her name was Elizabeth Duff.

25 January 2013

Too amazing to believe #nlpoli

Every day in Newfoundland and Labrador, the news is like some kind of perpetual, live edition of Ripley’s Believe it or Not. 

Here’s a sample of what your humble e-scribbler learned on a sick day:

Why would a member of parliament visit his own riding?  Only in Newfoundland.  Or in this case Labrador.

A mayor wants people with money to come to his city and invest it!  The truth is really stranger than fiction.

Politics in Newfoundland and Labrador involves lots of patronage.  Freaky, man, even if the CBC online story doesn’t actually give any kind of back story to it.

-srbp-

24 January 2013

Communications and Management Problems #nlpoli

The Auditor General’s annual report on departments, agencies and Crown corporations doesn’t have any one bit that would kill any provincial administration.

What the report does contain is a collection of examples of fundamental rot within the administration.  From the hiring problems at College of the North Atlantic, to lax inspections for liquor licenses and pesticides, to the string of problems in municipal affairs you get a picture of a government that simply doesn’t have any sense of purpose or direction. 

23 January 2013

One Newsroom. Two Stories. @nlpoli

For the English crowed in Newfoundland and Labrador, @cbcnl gave its audience one story from the Auditor General’s report.

They focused on horrendous salary increases in one government agency.

From the Radio Canada desk in the same newsroom comes a completely different story that fits exactly with the Big Story that has been dominating headlines since the Premier warned of layoffs and spending cuts late last year.  The Radio Canada headline translates roughly to “Alarming increase in public spending in NL”.

The Annual Mixed-Message Season #nlpoli

Right after Ross Reid’s new job, Jerome Kennedy’s trip back to the finance ministry was the second most overblown story of the past week or so.

Most seem to think Kennedy is headed back to finance in order to tackle the public sector unions as part of the upcoming budget. That gives a bit too much credit to the individual in all this.  The budget isn’t handled by one person: it is the productive of collective action by a committee of ministers called the treasury board and ultimately by cabinet.

As the recent Telegram editorial on Kennedy’s appointment noted, the budget is all but finished at this point.  They are absolutely right.  What has normally happened in January since 2003 is essentially about the government delivering some kind of message or other.  In January 2008, part of the message was about a pile of new spending right after the 2007 election. And then right on the heels of that  - in the same year - was finance minister Tom Marshall and his debt clock warning about impending financial doom.

Sound familiar?

22 January 2013

Verbiage Growth Strategy #nlpoli

Right on cue in the controversy over the population growth “strategy”,  a provincial cabinet minister issued a news release late on Monday and assured us that everything will be all right.

There is lots of bureaucratic jargon, like the trendy use of the word “inform”:

The Provincial Government has developed strategies focusing on youth, immigration, seniors and others. These efforts will help inform the development of the Population Growth Strategy.”

Aside from that, there’s very little of consequence in Joan Shea’s release. 

21 January 2013

Populations #nlpoli

Ross Reid has a new job. 

He used to be federal fisheries minister. 

Since 2003 or so, Ross has been a deputy minister in the provincial government.

Lots of people got excited last week when Premier Kathy Dunderdale announced that Reid would be deputy minister responsible for the provincial government’s population growth strategy.

Yeah, well, maybe people need to take a closer look before they get their knickers in a bunch.

20 January 2013

General Ignorance #nlpoli

CBC’s Heather Barrett had a solid commentary this weekend on the recent revelations about how much young people in the province’s university don’t know about stuff.

Lack of inquisitiveness.

Well, young people aren’t the only ones who don’t know basic stuff.

Remember this cabinet minister?  As we told you in 2009,

According to Oram, the cod moratorium took place in the “early to mid-1980s”.

If you think that was a slip of the tongue consider that according to Oram, once the moratorium started,  we then turned to diversifying the economy with mining for things like iron ore and uranium.  Iron ore mining dates back to the 1890s, not the 1980s and as for uranium, there isn’t a functioning uranium in the province at the moment.  There never has been one. There are prospects but no actual mine.

The Lower Churchill will start up within the coming year (i.e. 2009) according to Oram, even though the thing had not even started the environmental review process when he did the interview.  It won’t complete the process until 2010-2011.

Oram wasn’t the only politician at the time who suffered from this problem, nor has it gone away.  Plenty of politicians today are afflicted with general ignorance.

Fortunately lack of information is a correctable problem. It just might not be correctable before the pols do massive damage.

-srbp-

18 January 2013

Dunderdale hits churn record for 2012! #nlpoli

A retroactive appointment announcement issued Thursday secured Premier Kathy Dunderdale’s record for the most changes in the senior ranks of the public sector in recent history.

On December 11, Dunderdale announced an appointment that brought her total of appointments to 47.  On January 16, though, she announced that Ross Reid had taken up a new job, effective December 16.

That brings her total of actual appointments in 2012 to 48.

SRBP forecast in October 2012 that the Premier was on track to hit a record 49 changes in the provincial public service.  She passed the previous record – 39 – in October.

But wait.  An announcement on November 01 included two implicit future changes.  If we followed the accrual method of accounting for this stuff, then you would add those two to Dunderdale’s total for the year.  Bingo:  51 changes in the senior public service that, according to the Telegram, comprises 85 positions.

-srbp-

The vanished Labrador fibre optic plan? #nlpoli

A bit more digging has turned up a CBC story from December 2010 that first reported Nalcor’s plan to include fibre optic cabling with the Labrador-Island Link for Muskrat Falls.

CBC reported that “Nalcor will use some of this [fibre optic] capacity. The rest will be for sale to companies like Bell Aliant.” 

For some reason, though, that option has vanished from any public discussion.  The only reference to fibre optics in the submission to the public utilities board was to a system that would do nothing more than allow for Nalcor’s control of the transmission system. That doesn’t appear to take up all the fibre optic capacity that is planned or that could be included in the LIL.

The sale of fibre optic capacity to private sector companies could deliver high speed Internet service to some parts of Labrador more cheaply than current arrangements. It could also be a source of new revenue to both Nalcor and to Emera. The Nova Scotia company has a minority interest in the LIL project separate from its interest in the Maritime Link.

Curiously enough, in 2010,  the provincial government cancelled a request for proposals issued in 2007 for management of a high speed internet system in the province.  In January 2010,  cabinet cancelled the tender, citing escalating costs.

A report by the province’s auditor general in January 2011 included this comment from the province’s innovation department:

Feasibility and Status of Line to Labrador

The department views network connections to Labrador as a priority and an essential part of advancing broadband infrastructure in the province. INTRD remains committed to finding a feasible way to achieve this goal. In this regard, discussions have been ongoing between INTRD and Nalcor Energy on ways to achieve Labrador-related GBI objectives.

-srbp-

17 January 2013

Nexans to build Muskrat Falls underwater cable #nlpoli

Nalcor has awarded a contract valued at more than $106 million to Nexans Norway AS to construct the underwater cable for the Muskrat Falls project, according to a news release issued on Tuesday by Nexans.

Neither Nalcor nor Emera apparently issued any new releases on the tender.  The only reference to the contract award on Nalcor’s website is a tiny mention buried away on the project benefits and tendering page.

The news release from the successful company included a passing reference to a fibre optic cable of unspecified capacity to be included with the high voltage direct current electricity lines.

The expressions of interest document from Nalcor issued when the competition started in 2011 included reference to fibre optics “for temperature sensing and potential telecommunications”.

According to the Nexans news release:

The HVDC cables will be manufactured at NVC, Nexans’ factory in Tokyo, Japan.  Nexans will supply: three lengths of mass impregnated submarine power cables rated at 350 kilovolt (kV), with an integrated fibre optic element; three underground cables that will be used for the land connections at either side of the strait; accessories comprising of joints, spares, and terminations.

According to Nalcor’s submission to the public utilities board review in 2011-2012, the Labrador Island Link will include fibre optic cable along its entire length on the island in order  “fulfill the communication requirements between the converter stations.”

-srbp-

We can get there from here #nlpoli

People across the province are astounded that some students at Memorial University cannot correctly identify countries, continents, and oceans on a map of the world.

Geographic illiteracy shocks people.  Well, it should, just like they should be appalled that 44% of the people over 15 years of age in this province read below the minimum level needed to function in modern society.  And they should be left speechless at the idea that 66% of the people in Newfoundland and Labrador over 15 years of age lack the numeracy skills for modern society.

16 January 2013

Happy Talk #nlpoli

Cuts.

Layoffs.

A couple of tight years.

Hard times.

Premier Kathy Dunderdale, finance minister Tom Marshall, and natural resources minister Jerome Kennedy have been preaching that since before Christmas.

Apparently, a couple of Conservative politicians didn’t get the memo.

15 January 2013

No obligation to take electricity: Emera CEO #nlpoli

From the Chronicle Herald:

Emera CEO Chris Huskilson says there are several options available to Nova Scotians to meet future energy needs, but he insists the arrangement with Newfoundland and Labrador represents the best opportunity.

“It is not something (Nova Scotians) must do because Emera is bringing it forward, it is something they can consider and decide,” Huskilson said in an interview Tuesday.

“We have not signed anything that would obligate Nova Scotia customers to take this energy. All we’ve done was sign something that creates that opportunity.”

-srbp-

The cost of not doing the math #nlpoli

Natural resources minister Jerome Kennedy admitted over the weekend that he had not done the calculation to figure out if the equity stake in Hebron was worth the cost compared to just a change in the royalty regime.

CBC’s David Cochrane put the question to Kennedy after seven minutes or so of Kennedy’s recitation of talking point after talking point about the Hebron project and the impact of the massive increase  in costs.  In response to Cochrane’s relentless, detailed questioning, Kennedy tried every folksy analogy in his arsenal of banalities.  He talked about putting away money for your children’s education.  He tried the bland admonishment that the government would look after the future, not just do what was immediately popular. 

Kennedy even tried to suggest questions about public finance  - and the impact of spending billions on resource projects – should go to Tom Marshall.  Since the provincial government struck a deal with the Hebron partners in 2007, the estimated cost of the project has tripled.  Cochrane noted the cash commitments.

And finally with his acknowledgement he hadn’t done the math himself, Kennedy blinked on a basic element of the provincial government’s strategic plan.

14 January 2013

Putting selective “facts” on the splitting table #nlpoli

Premier Kathy Dunderdale wants to have a  “conversation” about the provincial government’s financial mess and the ways we might fix it. That’s what she told CBC’s David Cochrane in her year-end interview. 

One of the things Kathy wants to talk about is taxes, specifically the number of people not paying the bulk of the taxes the provincial government collects.

Kathy doesn’t really want to have a conversation, of course.  Kathy likes jargon.  She uses jargon a lot.  She thinks it makes her sound smart.  It never has.  Kathy uses jargon so much that It just makes her sound like someone trying to sound smart.

11 January 2013

Snow Day Entertainment

 

The world is full of some really dumb, really lucky people.

-srbp-

10 January 2013

High-Value Delivery #nlpoli

Two cabinet ministers trekked up the Southern Shore on Wednesday to hand over a cheque for some government cash to a local group of seniors.

Of course, they dragged their political staff with them.

The value of the cheque was $2,000.

09 January 2013

Beyond the “clutches of Quebec” #nlpoli

Another perspective on Muskrat Falls, via the Ottawa Citizen, and a previous attempt to run electrical power from Labrador through Nova Scotia:

Pickersgill took the matter to the R.B. Bryce, the cautious deputy minister of finance, who identified several problems in a memo to his minister. First, the federal government could only provide a loan at per cent as Ottawa had done for transmission lines between Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, amortized over 40 years. Second, the federal government had to avoid the impression that Ottawa was conspiring with Smallwood to outflank Quebec.

When Smallwood discussed the matter with Pearson and finance minister Walter Gordon in Ottawa in February 1965, they offered no help and advised him to work and resolve his differences with Lesage. Ottawa’s decision narrowed Newfoundland’s choice to a single option: negotiate with Quebec or leave Churchill Falls undeveloped.

-srbp-

08 January 2013

A Manufactured. Right. Here Mess #nlpoli

The Premier, the finance minister, and their favourite economist are talking about tax increases, layoffs, and spending cuts.

They are talking about cuts and layoffs at a time when the provincial government has more money coming into its accounts than any government in the history of Newfoundland and Labrador before 2003.

The provincial government finances are in a mess.

07 January 2013

$#*! da Premier says: Freudian slip edition #nlpoli

Premier Kathy Dunderdale, quoted in the Globe and Mail in a story on sanctioning of the Hebron project:

Our goal has been to ensure that Newfoundlanders and Labradorians are the main benefactors with respect to our natural resources,

Benefactor.

A benefactor is someone who delivers a benefit to someone else.

She is a bit like Dubya sometimes.

-srbp-

The Hebron Complications #nlpoli

The partners in the Hebron project sanctioned the development on New Year’s Eve and announced the decision on Friday.

The new cost estimate to build the gravity base and bring the oil field into production is $14 million.  As CBC noted on Friday, the capital cost estimate for the project increased from $8.3 billion to $14 billion over the past 18 months.  That’s a 69% increase for those doing the math.

“But much of the increase of billions relates to increased construction and drilling costs,”  CBC reported on Friday, “ plus current market and foreign exchange rates.”  The partners expect to produce first oil from the field in 2017.

04 January 2013

Tom Johnson is Redundant #nlpoli

Pity Tom Johnson.

The St. John’s lawyer landed a steady source of billable hours when the provincial Conservatives made him the consumer advocate at the public utilities board.

Tom has been doing a fine job of advocating for consumers, even if his version puts an interesting twist on what he is advocating for consumers to do.

Take last year, for example.  Johnson advocated during the Muskrat Falls hearings.  He advocated  for the Muskrat Falls project.  That means, in effect, that consumers will be forced to pay for the entire Muskrat Falls project in their electricity bills, plus profit for the companies involved. 

Well done, Tom.  Consumers will be thanking you in the future.

In the meantime, though, Tom is not resting on his laurels.  This time, Tom is hard at it advocating during an application by Newfoundland Power for its return on equity. 

03 January 2013

Bond Year Eight #nlpoli

On SRBP’s eighth anniversary, a sampler of some January commentaries:

-srbp-

Bravery and Democracy #nlpoli

“It is easy to be an armchair critic, tweeted natural resources minister Jerome Kennedy before Christmas, “but It takes real courage to stand for election.”

In another context, John Steele offered this opinion about your humble e-scribbler.:
“One thing that I respect about Ed is, he’s got balls enough to put his name to stuff. He’s not anonymous, so I respect that.”
The word “democracy” derives from the Greek words for people and power.  Democracy is a form of government in which everyone may participate equally and fully in making decisions that will affect them.
 

02 January 2013

Some books for the New Year #nlpoli

Shannon Ryan’s A history of Newfoundland in the North Atlantic to 1818 is an engaging, accessible account of the English in Newfoundland from the earliest arrival through to the end of the Revolutionary and Napoleonic wars.

The publisher’s blurb:

The waters off Newfoundland, in the North Atlantic, held the world’s most abundant supply of codfish, which, when discovered, was in great demand. Unlike the fur trade—the other major early commercial activity in what is now mainland Canada—the production of codfish did not require year-round residence. It did, however, require numerous men, young and old, for the fishing season, which ran from spring to early fall.

This successful English-Newfoundland migratory fishery evolved into an exclusively shore-based, but still migratory, fishery that led to the formation of a formal colony by 1818. Shannon Ryan offers this general history as an introduction to early Newfoundland. The economy and social, military, and political issues are dealt with in a straightforward narrative that will appeal to general readers as well as students of Newfoundland and Labrador history.

Pick it up from your local bookstore.  You can also buy the paperback online from Flanker Press:

 

or order the e-book version:

Ebook Listing

And if that whets your appetite, you can also hunt down a copy of Jerry Bannister’s The rule of the Admirals:  law, custom, and naval government in Newfoundland, 1699-1832.

-srbp-