30 May 2014

Playing with the Ferryman #nlpoli

The ferry service between Newfoundland and Cape Breton is economically important to the province as a whole, but it’s especially sensitive for Port aux Basques.

Marine Atlantic announced a change in the summer ferry schedule on Thursday.  The company will reduce the number of crossings daily and put one of its ferries on stand-by in the event they need it. 

This isn’t the schedule the company announced in February for its busiest season of the year but, as the company spokesperson put it in this media interviews, their original projections turned out to be high.  As a result, the company has reduced the number of schedules crossings while keeping the option of adding capacity if bookings pick up.

29 May 2014

Grimes on Frank, Tom, and the Kami project #nlpoli

Roger Grimes’ is through his heart surgery and nice vacation and that has left him with a new vigour.

He called VOCM’s BackTalk on Tuesday to talk about the Kami project,  the Friday Night Massacre, and Humber Valley Paving.

15 minutes.

Worth the time.  [Youtube link]

Hat tip to Dave Adey for posting the audio. 

28 May 2014

Coleman, Marshall, and the Broken Chain of Accountability #nlpoli

The Telegram’s James McLeod started a story that appeared on 26 May with the following sentence:

Premier-designate Frank Coleman says he wants to run a premier’s office with fewer people, and he’s starting that already — six weeks before he becomes premier.

What neither McLeod, nor his editors, nor anyone else in the province’s news media seemed to wonder is how Coleman did that.  They’ve all treated events last Friday evening as normal.  They’ve reported it as routine.

According to NTV’s Mike Connors Frank Coleman said that he and Tom Marshall agreed to Friday’s events.  That is, they both agreed to sack all but a couple of Tom’s staff members and replace them gradually with people of Coleman’s choosing.

For his part, Tom Marshall insists that he appointed Coleman’s people and that there is only one Premier in the province.  That’s all beside the point, though, as Marshall well knows.

27 May 2014

Contrasting Speeches #nlpoli

Liberal leader Dwight Ball and Conservative leader-designate Frank Coleman delivered speeches in St. John’s last week and you couldn’t have scripted more startling contrasts.

Ball delivered a speech at an event that reflected his party’s standing in the polls:  more than 500 people who paid $500 a head to attend.

Coleman spoke to a small meeting of the St. John’s Rotary Club where the audience paid a few dollars to the Club.

Thanks to the Telegram’s James McLeod,  you can compare the two speeches.  Since James posted the speeches and Coleman’s scrum to youtube,  we’ll also give you those links.

Take the time to listen to the speeches yourself, but here are some observations about the pair of them.

26 May 2014

McGrath comments “preposterous”: surety association #nlpoli

From the industry association representing companies that provide sureties and other bonds, released May 26, 2014:

News Release
For Immediate Release: May 26, 2014

Recent remarks by Nick McGrath, Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure for Newfoundland and Labrador about the use of surety bonds on public projects are completely preposterous. So says Steve Ness, the President of the Surety Association of Canada.

“Mr. McGrath clearly doesn’t understand surety bonds; nor does he comprehend how they work to protect public construction buyers from serious losses.” said Ness. His comments were made in response to a statement made by Minister McGrath following the ministry’s decision to release Humber Valley Paving from its obligations to complete an unfinished project without making a claim on its performance surety bond. The government instead opted to see to the completion itself and has now retendered the uncompleted portion of the project. In explaining this controversial decision, McGrath stated: "If I had called in the bonds, I would not have got the job done on time and on budget," [sic (comma in original)]

The Friday Night Massacre #nlpoli

Frank Coleman recorded CBC’s On Point with Peter Cowan on Thursday or Friday afternoon.

During the show, Coleman acknowledged that he had a personal financial interest in a decision by transport minister Nick McGrath to let Humber Valley Paving out of a contract without calling the performances bonds associated with the project.  Coleman’s son –  connected to the company at the time - negotiated with department officials on behalf of the company.

Auditor General Terry Paddon is currently investigating the contract decision based on a request from Premier Tom Marshall.

Whether McGrath should have called the bonds is another question.  But Coleman told CBC that he had personally guaranteed the bonds.  As a result, he would have been personally on the hook for the bond despite the fact he had sold his interest in Humber Valley Paving three days before his son contacted the department about the contract. 

Whether McGrath would have called the bonds or should have is another matter.

Coleman recorded the show well before it aired.  But what happened on Friday evening caught everyone by surprise.

23 May 2014

Tom Marshall’s puppet government #nlpoli

Whatever is going on in the Premier’s Office these days, it isn’t an orderly and organized transition from one premier to another.

That’s certain.

Every transition from one premier to another since 1949 - whether it involved a change of party or not - has happened in a matter of a few days or at most a couple of weeks. Your humble e-scribbler was directly involved in two of them and is familiar with most of the rest.

News on Friday that Tom Marshall had fired all but two of his staff doesn’t look like any transition anyone has ever seen.

Politics and the Fishery #nlpoli

For those who missed it, here’s the podcast from the Fisheries Broadcast for May 22, complete with your humble e-scribbler talking about politics and the fishery.



Another inside deal #nlpoli

If you want to get a sense of how the New Democratic Party convention actually ran last weekend, take a few minutes and listen to Tony Adey’s interview on CBC’s Corner Brook Morning Show.

Adey attended the convention but announced afterward that he was leaving the party.  Adey believes that the convention was stacked and that more New Democrats want to see major changes in the party than the convention vote suggested.

He noted that the chair of the meeting wouldn’t allow debate on the motion about whether or not hold a leadership convention.  For all that, they still had to spend 45 minutes answering questions as many of the delegates couldn’t tell if a yes vote would mean the party wouldn’t have a leadership review.  Adey also said there was a discrepancy between the number in the room for the vote and the tally of ballots.  More people voted, apparently, than were officially in the room.

The most forceful point Adey made in the speech is that Lorraine Michael believes she can be Premier while many people in the party believe that Lorraine has to go so that the party can attract new candidates and move forward.


22 May 2014

Nalcor and Conflict of Interest #nlpoli

Is anyone else having trouble trying to figure out what all the fuss is about Cathy Bennett, Nalcor, and conflict of interest?


Here’s the story in a nutshell.

21 May 2014

Kremlinology 47: If only saying it made it so #nlpoli

According to New Democratic Party leader Lorraine Michael, the party convention this past weekend was “a room of people who are saying, 'we're new, we're moving forward.'" [quote via CBC]

Would that merely saying the words made it so.

The reality is that the party isn’t new.  They aren’t moving forward either, except in the sense that time moves only in one direction and the province’s New Democrats are willing to watch the clock.  

20 May 2014

Always read the large print #nlpoli

The Conference Board of Canada released a report last week that assessed economic performance in each of the provinces in Canada.

“The resource-driven economies of Alberta, Saskatchewan and Newfoundland and Labrador can boast A+ grades for their economic performance,” read the first sentence of the news release accompanying the report, titled How Canada Performs: Economy.

Amazing stuff and more than a few people  - most likely provincial Conservatives – stuck their chest out in pride.  They should have read the big print in the report.  The first sentence is more than a wee bit misleading.

19 May 2014

The left-wing conservatives #nlpoli

In 2010,  the provincial Conservatives had a chance to reinvigorate their party in time for the 2011 general election.  They deliberately stuck with an interim leader in order to avoid what they considered a potentially divisive leadership contest.

After the 2011 election, the Conservatives kept Kathy Dunderdale, even though she’s made it clear when Danny Williams quit in 2010 that she was planning to retire and had no further political agenda or objectives of her own.

Kathy Dunderdale finally decided to retire in 2014.  The Conservatives had a second chance to reinvigorate their party.  They chose to pass on the chance, opting for a leader picked by some sort of back-room deal.

16 May 2014

The Fruits of a Poisonous Shrub #nlpoli

Senator Fabian Manning says that the 2008 Anything but Conservative campaign is stilling hurting the province in dealing with the federal government.

“There's no doubt in my mind that the ABC campaign,”  Manning told CBC’s Fisheries Broadcast,” [that] we pay a price for that, and people can shrug it off and say, 'That's just an excuse,' but I've been around this game too long now to not know that without a voice here at the table we are at a major disadvantage." [via CBC]

The disadvantage Manning referred to was the lack of a regional minister in the current cabinet who represents a riding in Newfoundland and Labrador. Some people might be tempted to dismiss Manning’s comments at sour grapes. After all, the ABC campaign cost Manning not only his seat in the House but also his chance for a seat in cabinet.

On that point, though, Manning is right. The regional minister is a key player in Ottawa and the province has undoubtedly suffered to one degree another by not having such an influential voice at the federal cabinet table.

15 May 2014

The Bicycle Roads to Nowhere #nlpoli

Frecker Drive is a well-designed residential street in the west end of St. John’s.  The street is wide:  you can park cars on either side and still have space left for two cars to pass abreast easily along its entire length.

This is a residential street.  As you might imagine, it has its fair share of cars and trucks as well as the odd bicycle.  They’ve been able to live together safely on the street because it is wide and the traffic flow is relatively light.

When the city planners decided to bring bicycle lanes to the City of St. John’s a couple of years ago, they settled on Frecker Drive.  They banned parking from one side of the street.  And on both sides of the street they marked out two bi-directional bicycle lanes for the full length of the avenue.

14 May 2014

Getting On Point back from No Point #nlpoli

For years, the only public affairs show on television or radio in Newfoundland and Labrador was Issues and Answers.  NTV’s Sunday morning staple has long been ponderous and boring and it remains so. 

CBC’s On Point promised to add some life to the political world.  But while it was interesting early on and it’s had some big moments since then, the show quickly became yet another venue for government talking points or – even worse – the same tired talking heads.

The talking heads on any given panel seldom say anything insight or useful.  And, if you look at the people on the panel, they never seem to make sense.

13 May 2014

Promises, promises… 2003 contracts and tendering edition #nlpoli

In light of the controversy about Humber Valley Paving, here are some of the Conservative promises made in 2003 about contracts and public tendering, controls on political donations, special committees of the legislature, and disclosure of lobbying activities.

Each of them bears on the HVP tendering controversy in one way or another.  You humble e-scribbler has highlighted some of the sentences in bold because they contrast so starkly with that the Conservatives did once they got into office. 

Note the bit about revising the Public Tender Act.  The Conservatives promised it in 2003.  They gave notice that they planned to introduce a new public tendering law in the spring 2012 session of the legislature.  And then it disappeared.  They promised campaign finance reform and did nothing once in office.


12 May 2014

A beautiful waste

Exploring the world underneath New York City,  via The Atlantic:


The market is closed, Ken. #nlpoli

Part of the problem the folks at Nalcor have had in trying to build support for on Muskrat Falls is that they never explain things completely, in plain English.

The result is that they look like they are hiding something .That is, they look like they are not being candid or sincere.  They often come across as if they are not telling you the whole story.

Take as a fine example, the war of words that is erupting between Nalcor board chair Ken Marshall on the one hand and David Vardy and Ron Penney on the other. Marshall had a lengthy op-ed piece one Saturday,  Vardy and Penney had a rebuttal on April 19 and now Marshall is back again.

09 May 2014

Keep the momentum going #nlpoli

Frank Coleman’s idea for change in Newfoundland and Labrador is to keep everything the way it is.

As CBC reported in March, “Coleman said one of his priorities if he assumed the role of premier would be to maintain the economic momentum created by the Tories.”

He might even want to roll back the clock a bit, too, on some things.

But on economic policy,  Coleman is firmly committed to the Conservative plan to use public money to subsidize private sector businesses. 

Weak Questions get Weak Answers #nlpoli

Nalcor’s effort to have local taxpayers subsidize electricity exports to Massachusetts came up in the House of Assembly on Thursday.

Well, sort of came up.

New Democratic Party leader Lorraine Michael asked a couple of lame questions and got – not surprisingly  - a few equally lame answers.

Here they are, in their entirety.

08 May 2014

And no birds sang #nlpoli

Farley Mowat passed away on May 7, 2014, aged 92. 

The prolific Canadian writer and environmentalist was just shy of his 93rd birthday on May 12.

Mowat was also a veteran of the Second World War. In Canada, we mark the end of the war on May 8. He served as an officer with the Hastings and Prince Edward Regiment in Italy and northwest Europe. He led an infantry platoon in Italy.  Later, Mowat was an intelligence officer in Holland where, for a while,  he was part of the Canadian museum collection team  finding artefacts for the Canadian war museum.

Mowat wrote about his experiences in three books:  The regiment (1955),  And no birds sang (1979),  and My father’s son (1993).


Nalcor promising Boston cheap electricity courtesy of NL taxpayers #nlpoli

Muskrat Falls is over budget, big time. The latest estimate is $7.4 billion and climbing on a project that was forecast at $5.0 billion just four years ago.

The project will wind up behind schedule, most likely.

There’s a good chance Nalcor won’t have enough control over water flows on the Churchill River to meet its forecast firm generating capacity from the smaller dam let alone the theoretical project at Gull Island.

But that hasn’t stopped Nalcor from pitching Muskrat Falls and Gull Island to the good folks of Massachusetts with electricity at prices that would be – conservatively – about one third of what Nalcor’s owners will have to pay for electricity from Muskrat Falls.

07 May 2014

Power and Influence #nlpoli

If nothing else, the controversy over the sweet heart deal the provincial Conservatives cut with Frank Coleman’s son at Humber Valley Paving should dispel the fairy tale that Coleman and his family are political outsiders.

They are very much the quintessential political insiders.

Transportation minister Nick McGrath admitted to reporters on Tuesday that he’d never been involved in a negotiation before about road paving contracts like the one with Gene Coleman for Humber Valley Paving. 

That takes juice. In itself, that should give an idea as to why the deal stands out in people’s minds and why the Coleman influence is obviously so strong.  The Coleman influence is so strong, in fact, that it clouds people’s minds.

06 May 2014

HVP controversy deepens #nlpoli

[In a hole with a jack-hammer update  at bottom]

The controversy around Humber Valley Paving got worse for the provincial Conservatives on Monday as transportation minister Nick McGrath confirmed that he actually released $19 million in performance and goods bond’s supplied by the paving company despite the fact they failed to complete the tender as original awarded.

But that’s not all.

Put McGrath’s comments in the House on Monday together with media reports last week and you have a pretty clear picture of the pretty sweet deal McGrath cut with HVP.

05 May 2014

The House comes back… what’s on the menu? #nlpoli

Nice to be wrong update:  The Liberals started Question Period on Monday hammering the Conservatives over the Humber Valley Paving controversy.

This is a big story with huge implications.

Original post follows



As far as when Frank Coleman might find the time to get around to taking over the Premier’s job, not much as it seems. 

It’s till vague, undefined, and potentially will happen quite some time from now.

He appeared on VOCM Open Line on Friday and still talked about wanting to take the job some unspecified time after July 5th.  As for when he will get a seat in the House, Coleman is still talking – hypothetically – about some unspecified time in “the fall.”

Some people might think the cabinet shuffle changed a lot.  The Telegram editorial board is hung up on the cost.


02 May 2014

Cabinet Shuffle Bored #nlpoli

The provincial Conservative Party is in the midst of such an intense revival of interest only about a dozen people turned out on Wednesday night for the annual general meeting of the district association in Mount Pearl South.

They were there to elect delegates to the party convention in July.  Even though there’s no leadership contest, you’d expect that a party on the rebound might manage to attract more than 12 or so to a delegate selection meeting.

A few weeks ago all of 126 people turned out in Charlene Johnson’s district and that was when they actually still had a leadership race.  That’s 10 times the number that showed up in Mount Pearl.  It is still a far cry from what the Liberals – in about the same spot in 2001 as the Conservatives these days - managed to turn out in their leadership contest at the time.  It’s also a far cry from what Conservatives turned out in their past either.

Renewal and revival just aren’t what they used to be or what they seem or something.

01 May 2014

Muskrat costs at $7.4 billion … and climbing #nlpoli

After 13 days,  Nalcor boss Ed martin finally responded to a simple request from the Telegram’s James McLeod for an explanation of what impact a delay in construction might have on project interest costs.

Read McLeod’s original article from Wednesday Telly.  it’s a tidy summary of what Martin told him about that specific issue.

The problem for taxpayers is that Martin did his usual job of only talking about what he wanted to talk about. He didn’t try to explain the whole thing to McLeod in such a way that he could actually get the full impact of what was going on. 

Martin’s interview was highly political, in other words.  Unfortunately for Martin, McLeod posted back-up information consisting of the audio of the whole interview plus a couple of pages of background from Nalcor.  They reveal a lot more than the company has previously disclosed.