31 January 2014

Chill up spine time #nlpoli

Two separate e-mails plunked the same article in the SRBP inbox on Friday.

Both highlighted the same quote from this National Post story on Muskrat Falls financing:

“The benefit of the guarantee was that no one had to look at the merits of the underlying project,” says Steve Halliday, managing director and head of global credit trading and distribution at TD.

So the investors bought into the project without looking at the merits of the project.

How many ways can that be bad for the people who will be stuck paying for it?


Doing it right #nlpoli

Premier Tom Marshall confirmed on Thursday that the provincial government will be doing the review of the provincial information and privacy law a year earlier than scheduled.

They will also be appointing three people to serve as the commission conducting the review.  The provincial government is also accepting nominations for commissioners.

While other details of the review aren’t public yet, the news so far is good.

30 January 2014

Competition #nlpoli

When they got up on Wednesday morning, everyone in the province who was paying attention knew that Bill Barry was going to launch his bid for the provincial Conservative Party leadership later that afternoon in Corner Brook.

Barry made his plans clear the week before.  He’s the only one definitely in the race so far.  On Tuesday night,  Barry posted an invitation on facebook for people to come out and join him if they were alienated from provincial politics and fed up with the way things were going.

Any news hunter scanning the radio dial on Wednesday heard about the Barry newser, but just before 8:00 AM,  VOCM news director Fred Hutton played the tape of an interviewed he’d bagged the night before with former Liberal leadership contender Cathy Bennett.  No one had heard from her since the Liberals elected Dwight Ball, but there was Bennett telling the audience of the province’s largest privately owned radio network that she was definitely running in Virginia Waters in the next election as a Liberal.

Gone was the Bennett of her campaign, at times brusque and stiff.  In her interview with Hutton, Cathy Bennett displayed displayed all the skills she’d learned from her hard months on the campaign trail.  She was articulate, confident and professional.  Bennett  affirmed her commitment to the Liberal Party and spoke confidently of the change she wanted to bring to the province as part of a future Liberal government. 

29 January 2014

The Hobby Garden of Meh, Whatever #nlpoli

What’s so striking about the race to replace Kathy Dunderdale as leader of the provincial Conservative Party is how spectacularly unspectacular it is so far.

Maybe things will change once the Conservative Party executive meets to figure out the leadership contest rules. But so far the whole thing has been decidedly dull.

28 January 2014

The Jim Bennett Effect #nlpoli

Having tried to slide by without renewing their party,  the provincial Conservatives are now talking up the joys of change.

They’ve talked about everything else. 

Change is the only thing they haven’t talked about.

So now it’s their new talking point.

Problem is that they don’t seem to be doing much to … well… change.

27 January 2014

Forget the rinse. Just repeat. #nlpoli

The same people saying and doing the same things as they have always done won’t change anything

A provincial Conservative started out the week explaining why he cut a deal with a couple of provincial Liberals so he could get re-elected.

As part of his speech on Monday, Paul Lane said:

While there are indeed many people doing quite well in this economy…there are still many people who are  not experiencing the positive impacts of our economy. As a matter of fact for many people, this economy is causing many people to fall further behind…

Those people include seniors, people with disabilities, people on fixed and low incomes, and in many cases, children. Government must focus on matters important to these people and the  “everyday person”, said Lane.

Another provincial Conservative changed his political life last week.  On Friday, Tom Marshall became the 11th Premier of Newfoundland and Labrador.  After talking the oath of office, Marshall said:

So it is therefore very important to me that all Newfoundlanders and Labradorians shall share fully and fairly in the benefits of our newfound prosperity, and have a voice in the way it is distributed.

So let us ensure that the fight against poverty and inequality intensifies in our province and we never forget the needs of those who are aged, who have disabilities, who are infirmed [sic], and who live on fixed and low incomes.

The words may be slightly different but there is no make that they both said the same thing:  government must now turn its attention to something new. 

There’s also no accident that the two said pretty much the same thing.  Tom didn’t figure out what to say after hearing Paul.  Far from it.  Much of what Paul said  - like when he spoke about “our” government - sounded like a speech he had planned for a Conservative audience.

What they were both reciting is the last script the Conservatives are turning to in their effort to find the magic message that they think will make the polls bounce upward again.

There was a lot of that  - reciting talking points - among provincial Conservatives last week.

24 January 2014

So when’s the next election? #nlpoli

Since Kathy quit and Tom Marshall taking over on Friday morning, people are wondering when we will go to the polls.

There’s talk about a snap election.

There’s talk about the clock starts ticking on Friday so the election has to be done within the next 12 months.

To help guide you through it, here’s an overview of the issue.

23 January 2014

Other people’s agendas #nlpoli

If you have not read Kathy Dunderdale’s resignation speech, take a moment and do so now.

What is most striking about the speech is that there is absolutely nothing anywhere in it that Kathy Dunderdale can claim as her personal accomplishment as Premier. There’s nothing she actually did during her three years in the most powerful political office in the province.

What Dunderdale talked about in the list of accomplishments are things that the Conservatives have done – supposedly – since 2003.

But look at the speech again.  There is nothing that Kathy set out to do and can now leave office safe in the knowledge she accomplished it.

Instead,  you will find a sentence toward the end, as she was clewing up, that mentioned something she hoped:

As the first woman to serve as Premier, I hope I have stoked the fires of imagination in young girls in our province and inspired them to consider standing for public office.

That is the only part of the speech where Dunderdale spoke with some personal conviction.  This was important to her.

22 January 2014

The Second Longest Slow Good-bye #nlpoli

Provincial Conservatives will get together on Wednesday morning and eventually admit the worst kept secret in local political circles:  the local Tories will have a new leader before the next election.

Kathy always was an interim leader.  The original plan was to keep her for a few months to keep the lights on and some heat in the office so the pipes didn’t freeze.  Once the 2011 election came and went, the Conservatives were supposed to dump her, hold a leadership and carry on from there.

As it turned out, Kathy Dunderdale just lasted a lot longer than people originally intended. 

Shifts and Changes #nlpoli

Kathy is going.

Tom Marshall gets to quit politics as interim Premier.

That’s if the reports on Tuesday night hold through Wednesday morning.

Here are some quick observations:

21 January 2014

Minister Lane #nlpoli

In all the political chatter on Monday,  no idea got a stronger negative reaction than the one from your humble e-scribbler that Paul Lane had secured himself a plum appointment in a future Liberal government, including a seat in cabinet.

For some reason, the idea of Minister Paul Lane just infuriated people.

Some said it was just not true.

Some said it was preposterous.

Others said that no one had made Lane any promises.

Let’s take a closer look at this.

Paul Lane: 2, Dwight Ball: 0 #nlpoli

Paul Lane scored big on Monday.

First, he secured his nomination and his seat in the next provincial election by running as a Liberal.  As long as the party continues on its current track, Lane will win easy re-election not on his own merits but – as in 2011 – on the coat-tails of the party he was hooked up with at the time.

To be sure, Liberal leader Dwight Ball insisted Lane has no guarantee of a safe nomination, but in practical terms, that is a huge nose-puller.  Incumbents are typically hard to unseat.  Incumbents with a year and a half of profile before the nomination are that much hard to beat.  And those with the enthusiastic and unqualified support of the party leader and the entire caucus likely could not be defeated with a crucifix, stake and a bathtub of Holy water.  Paul Lane is safe.

And then there is the little bonus Lane garnered on Monday that few seem to grasp at this point.  By convention, no party leader in Newfoundland and Labrador has ever left any of his opposition bench mates out of the fat once they win an election. 

In 1989, the only incumbent who didn’t get to cabinet was Kevin Aylward. That was only because Aylward had blotted his copybook not once but twice over the leader and his seat. Aylward eventually got his reward.  In 2003,  Danny Williams rewarded all of his caucus mates with plum jobs of one kind or another. 

These are the kind of rewards that require no overt promise. If asked, politicians can always quickly say they’ve made no promises. But everyone understands, with a figurative wink, that they’ll be looked after. 

Dwight Ball will have a hard time breaking that tradition. It’s part of the unspoken constitution of politics.  There are lots of things Ball and his people will say to justify Lane’s reward, when it happens.  Some of it might even be plausibly true.  But that doesn’t matter.  The fix is already in.  Paul Lane finished Monday with a guarantee of anything any ambitious politician would want: a secure future and, in all likelihood, a cabinet seat in a future government.

Evidently that is something the ambitious Mr. Lane he couldn’t get from the Conservatives.

20 January 2014

Terry Paddon’s Report #nlpoli

If you want to understand what the provincial government’s audited financial statements really mean, you will have to skip Tom Marshall’s comments last week and look instead at the lengthy set of observations from the Auditor General released on Friday.

Paddon’s comments are especially important for two reasons.

First of all, Paddon is the former deputy minister of finance.  He knows both the current situation and how the government got there.  if he is speaking this plainly now about the government;s financial position, you can imagine what he was saying as the current administration got itself into a mess in the first place.

Second, Paddon explains a great many things in plain enough English so that anyone can understand his points. As you will see, they are not what the government has chosen to talk about.

17 January 2014

The Consumer Economy #nlpoli

It’s the sort of thing that leaps out at you. 

As SRBP mentioned on Thursday, in her book Shopping for votes veteran political reporter Susan Delacourt put it in stark terms. Consumer spending has accounted for 60 to 70 percent of American gross domestic product since 1980.  In Canada, it’s been more like 52 to 58 percent nationally. “So when politicians say that they are focused on the economy,” Delacourt wrote, “what they often mean is that they are focused on getting Canadians to buy stuff.”

Well, here’s a pretty chart to give you some local figures.  They come from Statistics Canada CANSIM 384-0038 showing gross domestic product based on expenditure, in constant 2007 dollars.

16 January 2014

The Vibrant Unsustainable Super Energy Debt Warehouse #nlpoli

The Conservatives used to say that Newfoundland and Labrador was eastern North America’s energy warehouse.  Once Danny Williams ran for the hills and left Kathy Dunderdale in charge, she kicked everything up a notch.

Energy warehouse was too plain for Kathy, whose party ran on the slogan “New Energy” in the 2011 general election.

With Kathy running the place, it became a super warehouse.  “We are an energy super warehouse,” said Kathy countless times. 

The New Energy Party even clipped this bit of Kathy from the House of Assembly for its website back in 2011:

Mr. Speaker, this Province is an energy super warehouse. We have what the world wants. We will bring it to market. We will supply our own people, Mr. Speaker, and we will earn from those resources for generations to come.

“We will supply our own people, Mr. Speaker.”

15 January 2014

The 2012 Public Accounts #nlpoli

There is always something interesting in the province’s audited financial statements and – sadly – it is often at odds with what the politicians have been saying.

On Tuesday, the provincial government released the audited statements for Fiscal Year 2012 (01 Apr 12 to 31 Mar 13) and they are no exception.

14 January 2014

If Nalcor got the peak load wrong #nlpoli

The rolling blackouts on the island of Newfoundland could warn of bigger problems to come, if a new paper by the analyst JM is correct.

Underestimating peak load and the potential impact on the Muskrat Falls solution


13 January 2014

The Third Line #nlpoli

Most people in Newfoundland and Labrador never think about the electricity into their homes.  They don’t know where it comes from and they certainly don’t have any idea how it gets from the generating plants to their fridges, washing machines, and television sets.

People are thinking about those things a lot more these days, in the wake of the recent power supply crisis.

One of the issues you will likely hear a lot more about in upcoming hearings by the public utilities board is about a new power transmission line from the hydro generating station at Bay d’Espoir across the isthmus and on to Holyrood.

Here’s some additional information about the project.

10 January 2014

“Independent” Review #darknl #nlpoli

independent review


The Confidence Campaign #nlpoli #darknl

The provincial government started its campaign to gain control of the political agenda on Thursday with its announcement that it would appoint someone to do something sometime in the future.

The conventional media outlets didn’t report Premier Kathy Dunderdale’s announcement that way.  The Telegram, for example, called it an “independent” review but acknowledged in the second sentence of its brief story that Dunderdale “doesn't know the shape or scope of the review”. 

CBC went farther in its online story, saying that the “independent review” would “look at the current electrical system in Newfoundland and Labrador; how it operates, how it is managed, and how it is regulated as the province moves from an isolated system to an interconnected system.”

But really, all of that is just an unsubstantiated claim, given that the news release includes these words in a quote attributed to the Premier:

…over the next six weeks my government will work to draft terms of reference and identify an independent body to conduct a review.

09 January 2014

Smoke from the fireplace #nlpoli


Dunderstan #nlpoli

In January 2012, Ed Martin and his nasally drone ridiculed the idea of shifting demand for electricity from one part of the day to another so that his company wouldn’t have a problem meeting spikes in demand during the winter.

He dismissed the idea as “theoretical” even though it’s widely used across Canada in places where the electricity system is well managed.

Two years later, almost to the day, energy conservation and demand management are Martin’s best friend to help people get through what his Conservative friends are willing to concede was the current “inconvenience.” 

08 January 2014

Crises within crises #nlpoli

The action of the Soviet Union, Winston Churchill once said, “is a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma.”

Some people in Newfoundland and Labrador likely felt that way after Day Three of Kathy Dunderdale’s one woman crusade to deny that the province is experiencing a crisis.

Most people just cock their heads to one side and mouth the three letters W, T, and F.

07 January 2014

A tale of two crises #nlpoli

Kathy Dunderdale did two major interviews on the first working day since the start of the Nalcor generation crisis.

One was with registered Nalcor lobbyist Tim Powers (# 777504-14002) who is currently holding down a guest spot hosting on VOCM.  The whole interview is actually online at vocm.com.  The second was with CBC’s John Furlong on Radio Noon.  As of Monday night, it wasn’t online.  She also had a media availability later in the day with Earl Ludlow from Newfoundland Power.

If you heard both great interviews.  If not,  listen to the VOCM one. Powers repeated the interview on Monday night when he co-hosted the night-time talk show with Jonathan Richler.  You’ll hear a whole lot that confirms the observations we made here on Monday.  Let’s walk through the day.

06 January 2014

The Great Blizzard/Blackout 2014 #nlpoli

Some observations:

1.  Yep.  It’s a crisis.

When you have a major utility cutting electricity to people in a blizzard at random, for random periods of time because it cannot supply enough electricity to meet demand, you have a crisis.

That’s what it feels like to the people in it.  That’s what it is.

People never knew when their lights would be on or off, nor would they know for how long.  The Newfoundland Power and the NL Hydro operations people who briefed the public were straightforward and factual.  They did their jobs well.

The thing is that the public emergency system, including the politicians, didn’t clue in that randomly shutting off power to thousands of voters at a time over the course of several days might be a bit of a problem for the voters.

03 January 2014

The SRBP 9th Anniversary #nlpoli

It all started on January 3, 2005 and as of today, the Sir Robert Bond Papers is nine years old.

As your humble e-scribbler writes this on Thursday evening, the gang at Nalcor have managed the provincial electrical system so ineffectively that on the coldest night of the year so far,  they are forcing people to live for unspecified periods in complete darkness without heat so that Nalcor can cope with the load on the island transmission grid.

These same people are now building a massive hydro-electric project that will produce some of the most expensive electricity in North America and force those consumers currently freezing in the dark to pay for it.

Someone actually tweeted on Thursday night that this was Nalcor’s worst case scenario.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

Nalcor gambled and got it wrong.

Taxpayers are bearing the cost.

It’s the same as Muskrat Falls. And as SRBP enters its 10th year,  there’s something fitting about that situation, given the post from 3 January 2011 pointed out that the fact that consumers in this province are taking all the risk and paying all the bills remains one of the fundamental problems with the entire Muskrat Falls project.  


02 January 2014

The 2013 SRBP Themes (Part 3) #nlpoli

Government is about making decisions.

In trying to understand what is going on,  how governments make decisions is sometimes more important than what decisions get made.

That’s why SRBP has highlighted things about the structure and organization of government.  The past year was no exception.