31 March 2014

Kremlinology 45: Optics 2 #nlpoli

On Monday,  Danny Williams was actively campaigning with Danny Breen in Virginia Waters.

Breen posted this photo to Facebook:

Breen’s campaign is in serious trouble if the Old Man is knocking doors.



Kremlinology 46: Verb Tense #nlpoli

Premier-in-waiting Frank Coleman, anointed replacement for Danny Williams, turned up with CBC’s David Cochrane to explain to the On Point audience what he is all about.

Cochrane asked him about Danny Williams and the widespread stories about Williams’ support for Coleman’s candidacy.

What happened next is fascinating.

Kremlinology 44: Optics #nlpoli

Media previewDanny Williams appeared in Virginia Waters on Saturday  to campaign for Danny Breen, the Conservative candidate in the by-election.

Breen’s campaign wasted no time in pushing out pictures of The Appearance, like the one above, another one showing him with some young fellows out posting Breen campaign signs in the district, or the one below showing him with some volunteers in Breen’s headquarters.Media preview

Sharp eyes will notice that the shot of the two Dannys is actually from something else entirely, not the campaign, but that’s neither here nor there.

What is important to notice is that this is the first time the Old Man has turned out publicly for His party since Hisself left the leadership in an unseemly haste in late 2010.

That’s what makes The Appearance stand out. 

The Old Man has been content until now to do his work behind the scenes either directly or through agents.  The fact Hisself is out pressing the flesh among the faithful sends a bunch of potent messages.

28 March 2014

The Whizzo Quality Assortment #nlpoli

On the outside, the spring budget for 2014 looks like a delicious assortment of goodies for everyone.  You can tell it is delectable because everyone is shouting for joy and drooling over their good fortune.

There is not a single group who have had their hands out for government money that did not get something. And they are telling anyone who will listen just how happy they are. 

Once you bite into one of sweetmeats in the Conservative Quality Assortment budget,  though, the result might be a wee bit less tasteful.

27 March 2014

Talking about Change… #nlpoli

As you recover from what is hopefully the last big storm of the 2014 winter season, cast yourself in the role of Conservative party strategist for a second and think of what you might do.

Just to help you get your head in the right place, let’s go over the situation.

26 March 2014

Principle, Parliament, and Money #nlpoli

The House of Assembly unanimously voted in favour of a bill on Tuesday that gives the government permission to spend $2.8 billion as part of next years budget. 

Officially, it is called interim supply.  It’s “interim” because the bill fills in the period between the 2013 budget – the last time the House gave the government permission to spend money – and the 2014 budget bill that will give government permission for the next year.

Incidentally, on that basis, you can expect that the 2014 budget  will be something like $8.4 billion when finance minister Charlene Johnson reads the budget speech in the House on Thursday.

“Permission” is likely not a word you are used to hearing when it comes to the House of Assembly and budgets but in the Westminster legislatures like the one in Newfoundland and Labrador that’s exactly what the House does.  It gives government permission to spend public money.

25 March 2014

Will wonders never cease? #nlpoli

As it turned out,  the “robust” oversight of the Muskrat Falls project that everyone was making a big deal about a few weeks ago is  - as your humble e-scribbler suspected – an awful lot less than some thought it would be.

What a surprise.


How do they run things? Budget Lead-Up #nlpoli

Finance minister Charlene Johnson will read the new provincial budget speech on Thursday.

In keeping with the provincial Conservative tradition, though, they’ve been announcing bits and pieces of the budget already.  On Monday, for example, justice minister Darin King announced that the new budget would contain money for 20 new sheriff’s officer to provide court security and new lawyers and staff for the legal aid division

Both news releases specifically indicated that the money was from Budget 2014, that is, money that isn’t supposed to be announced until Thursday.  Reporters asked King if the finance minister would have money for these announcements.

24 March 2014

Setting the record straight on Meech Lake… again #nlpoli #cdnpoli

There may be nothing new in documents from the federal cabinet in June 1990 about the failure of the Meech Lake Accord. After all, Brian Mulroney and the federal Conservatives attacked Clyde Wells personally for the failure of the Meech Lake Accord.  Mulroney claimed there was a massive conspiracy to frustrate him.

The documents just confirm what we already knew.

But,  in the Canadian Press story about the notes from a cabinet meeting,  there is something new.  It’s a quote from a key player in the drama:

21 March 2014

Talk is cheap. #nlpoli

It was only a matter of time before the government that says more and more about less and less figured out that its best mouthpiece was Steve Kent, right, the minister of perpetual self-parody.

No one can talk more while saying little of substance and so it is quite natural that Kent – the ultimate Johnny-Cab minister -  was the centre of attention at a Thursday event announcing something called the Open Government Initiative. He took a microphone at one point and wandered around reading his script.  The effect was far less impressive than that description makes it sound.

He was demonstrating technology that was a couple of decades old to do something that researchers have been doing for almost a century:  ask a group of people to answer a bunch of questions.  There was nothing new in it at all.

20 March 2014

The Outsider #nlpoli

Frank Coleman told an audience of reporters and supporters in Corner Brook on Wednesday that he was in the Conservative Party leadership race to win it.

That’s novel, given that most people run in an election with the intention of losing.

There’s very short clip on the Western Star website of Coleman speaking.

Coleman apparently didn’t say very much. Let’s see if that changes over the next few weeks.


19 March 2014

Hmmm. That sounds familiar… #nlpoli

Premier Tom Marshall, in the House of Assembly, discussing what the provincial government can and cannot release:

There is nothing in the ATIPP legislation that prevents government, with the exception of some privacy information, from voluntarily releasing information that comes – we release reports all the time. The midwifery report, I think, and the bussing report, those reports were released and we will continue to do so.

Sounds familiar:

There’s nothing in the parts of ATIPPA that cover access to government information that “make it illegal under Bill 29” or any other part of the Act for the provincial cabinet to release information.

Cabinet can hand out an independent audit report, the papers on the FPI prosecution, anything they have on Muskrat Falls, or the recipe for Tom Marshall’s favourite cookies and sleep soundly at night that the release was legal. No one in cabinet will get a fine or go to jail.


Doing it exactly right #nlpoli

No one could have picked a better panel of three people to review the provincial government’s access to information law than the three announced by Premier Tom Marshall on Tuesday.

The panel will be chaired by former premier and retired chief justice Clyde Wells.  The other two panellists will be Doug Letto, a former producer at CBC television, and Jennifer Stoddart,  the federal privacy commissioner from 2003 to 2013.

The terms of reference – included with the release – are comprehensive and will allow the panel to review the operation of the provincial access law in all respects. 

18 March 2014

When “different” is “the same” #nlpoli

Only a couple of years ago, national media were writing about all the women running provincial governments across Canada.

No less a pair of authorities as Jeff Simpson and Kathy Dunderdale agreed that politics would be different because all these women were around and, aw shucks, the gals just do things differently from the men.

The experience has proven to be far less than the promise.

17 March 2014

The Apology Application #nlpoli

For anyone who thinks it is unusual for the provincial Conservatives to backtrack or apologise, recall, the massive deployment of cabinet ministers to the Straits-White Bay North by-election in the fall of 2009.

Then there’s the who transparency thing.

D’oh! Telegram shags up Muskrat Falls access story #nlpoli

According to a major Telegram story on Monday morning, the provincial government won’t be able to release some information about Muskrat Falls because of the provincial access to information  laws.

There’s only one problem:  the Telegram got the whole thing wrong.

The Insiders #nlpoli

The story of the 2014 provincial Conservative Party leadership contest is a study in politics on its most basic level.

It is a story of those with influence and of those who have less of it or none at all.

It is a story of how politics actually works inside the Conservative Party, instead of how we imagine it.

It is a fascinating story.

14 March 2014

Nalcor Oversight #nlpoli

The provincial government will be establishing a committee of senior public servants to co-ordinate information on Muskrat Falls for cabinet.

VOCM faithfully reported Premier Tom Marshall’s comments to reporters outside the House of Assembly.  The people want more, says Tom, so the Conservatives are going to give the public more oversight.  The new committee will receive monthly project updates and quarterly financial updates from Nalcor, according to the VOCM story. The committee will issue an annual report.

All new stuff supposedly.

Except it isn’t.

13 March 2014

All hail the Glorious Leader Trope #nlpoli

Province to deliver on promise of whistleblower law”  read the headline for the CBC’s online story about the provincial government throne speech read Wednesday in the House of Assembly.

About half way down the story,  it says that “Premier Tom Marshall is fighting back  against the perception” that the government he’s been a part of since 2003 is secretive. 

You’ll see the same idea in the Telegram’s story:

In today’s throne speech, Premier Tom Marshall made his most significant signal so far that the government is doing everything possible to be more open and transparent.

quoteLast week, everyone told us that public satisfaction with the Conservative administration went up because of Tom Marshall. Corporate Research Associates certainly credited Marshall with the boost in the news release that covered the release of their poll data. The panel on CBC’s On Point with David Cochrane [March 8]all agreed that Marshall might play a significant role because, after all, he was the guy who boosted that satisfaction number.

What’s interesting about this idea, that Tom Marshall alone did all this, is simply not true.

12 March 2014

Silence is the perfect expression of scorn #nlpoli

by JM and EGH

The BBC online news magazine carried an article on March 10 that should be of interest to all those following the Muskrat Falls debate.

Do massive dams ever make sense?” summarizes the work of researchers at Oxford University.  They studied more than 245 large dams completed between 1934 and 2007. 

A large dam is one with a wall height of more than 15 metres.  Muskrat Falls would meet the study criteria

The researchers found that dams ran 96% over their approved budgets, on average. One Brazilian dam went 240% over budget.  With few exceptions,  the researchers found that the dams were not economically viable.

11 March 2014

The Throne Game, updated #nlpoli

“On the outside, Shawn Skinner and John Ottenheimer are still mulling it over, “wrote Des Sullivan last Thursday. “The price tag of running a credible campaign still daunts them; if Frank Coleman confirms his candidacy, both will fold.”

VOCM reported on Monday afternoon that Frank Coleman would make his final decision on Wednesday. CBC’s David Cochrane  reported that same information on Monday evening and added an interesting extra bit of information: unidentified Conservative Party insiders told Cochrane that it is looking less and less likely that Coleman will run.

Premier KentCochrane also reported what he and others had been reporting since Monday morning.  Former natural resources minister Shawn Skinner and municipal affairs minister Steve Kent - right showing maturity and judgment - were collecting signatures for their leadership nomination.

Neither would declare they were in the race until, respectively, Thursday and Friday.

10 March 2014

Conservatives struggling for candidates #nlpoli

[Includes Hamlet update]

If David Cochrane’s sources are right,  Danny Breen won’t be running for the Conservatives in Virginia Waters after all.

That means that unless the Conservatives come up with an amazing and currently unknown candidate, they will likely not only lose the upcoming by-election but run the risk of coming in third place behind the New Democrats.

Breen has impeccable Conservative credentials.  He’s already well-known having done the impossible: been a strong, solid, and visible performer on St. John’s city council without succumbing to the drama-queen antics of some of his colleagues.

07 March 2014

Shawn: Prince of Denmark #nlpoli

The provincial New Democrats have dropped to single digits among respondents to the latest Corporate Research Associates quarterly omnibus poll.*

Other than that everything in the party choice results is the same as it was before Christmas. 

For the Conservatives – up by three points, but well within the margin of error of 4.9% for the unadjusted party support figures – the party has been at the same level in the polls since last May.

06 March 2014

The Satisfaction Delusion #nlpoli

You’ll hear Conservatives, Corporate Research Associates, and some commentators play up the fact that public satisfaction with the governing Conservatives has gone up in CRA’s most recent quarterly poll.

That’s wonderful but that poll and a couple of bucks will get you a nice hot coffee at Tim’s.  Other than that,  the satisfaction numbers don”t mean much.

Just to give you a starting point, here are the Conservatives’ satisfaction numbers since the last general election in October 2011.

How did the Old Man work? (Part 1) #nlpoli

The Premier’s Office is a tough place to work.  The demands on everyone in the place are constant.  The implications of what you are dealing with in the office can affect one person or the whole province but more often than not the consequences will be dramatic.

As much as we’ve had some insight into the Conservative administration over the past couple of weeks and the past couple of posts, testimony at the Cameron Inquiry gave us some insight into how things worked during Danny Williams’ time in the Premier’s Office.

Williams appeared before the Inquiry on October 28 and both his chief of staff and communications director appeared as well.

05 March 2014

How do they work, exactly? #nlpoli

As laughable as it is for the Premier’s Office to insist former Premier Kathy Dunderdale received only 46 e-mails in a single week and sent none, there are some other things in this little episode that are worth noticing.

Put ‘em all together with other information and you might have something interesting.  Not necessarily huge, but interesting and revealing.

04 March 2014

How did she work, exactly? #nlpoli

How odd that the Premier of Newfoundland and Labrador – arguably the busiest job in the province, bar none -  received only 46 e-mails in a one week period in January.

And how extremely odd that none them – apparently  - came from any of her staff, senior public servants, cabinet ministers or other politicians.

And how completely bizarre that in that same period the Premier of Newfoundland and Labrador didn’t send a single e-mail of her own to anyone about anything.

03 March 2014

Access to Information - some misunderstandings #nlpoli

A tale out of Ottawa reveals the extent to which access to information problems crop up in lots of places.

CBC News asked for a copy of a memo from the commander of the Canadian Army about leaks of information within the army.  CBC apparently had a copy of the memo or someone had seen it and so they formally requested a copy.

The tale gets interesting because of the internal dispute over how to respond to the request.  Most public affairs officers advised the commander to direct the CBC to file an access to information request.  Only one public affairs officer – a former political aide to Prime Minister Brian Mulroney – advised against that action and, ultimately, refused to be the one to tell CBC what to do.

The army relented, largely due to that refusal, and released the letter to the media without forcing them to go through the access process.

Nalcor following wrong energy path #nlpoli

Think back to last December.

A couple of Nalcor guys bragged about the company’s strategy of importing electricity when they needed during the months when prices were low and then exporting our own electricity when electricity prices were high.

Brilliant idea.  It worked for Hydro-Quebec for most of the past 50 years.

There’s only one problem:  it won’t work any more.