30 January 2015

Gil Bennett: fact checker #nlpoli

Gil Bennett, Nalcor vice-president in charge of the Lower Churchill project, took some exceptions to comments in yesterdays posts on Muskrat Falls and electricity prices.

Rather than go back and deal with his comments in a re-write of the original post, let’s deal with Bennett’s comments here and link the two together so people can get the full effect.

For those of you who didn’t read the original post, go back and do so.  It will help.  In this post, Bennett’s tweets are in bold print.  Your humble e-scribbler’s reply is in regular type.

29 January 2015

Nalcor: the power of hubris #nlpoli

On the last electricity bill to arrive Chez Scribbler,  the price per kilowatt hour was a little over 11 cents, all in.

On Wednesday,  Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro applied to the public utilities board for a six percent reduction in electricity rates pending a thorough review of electricity prices now that oil has dropped through the floor.

Nalcor claims that Muskrat Falls is the lowest cost way of meeting electricity demand on the island in the future.  The truth is Nalcor didn’t produce any evidence that they compared potential sources of electricity before they decided to build Muskrat Falls in 2006.*

28 January 2015

Acting Like a Leader #nlpoli

In his first major public appearance since cutting public representation in the House of Assembly last week,  Premier Paul Davis flatly rejected the objections of the province’s municipalities and a gaggle of academics.

The cuts to the House of Assembly will go ahead.

When another government asked a commission to go out, ask people and come back with alternatives, it didn’t work, according to Davis.  So this time we set clear rules.

Davis talked a lot about process with reporters during a scrum.  Everything was just the way it was supposed to be and people will get a say, even if the say is all but meaningless.

People can talk about the details of all this until they fall over dead.  This is not about cuts to the House, democratic renewal, saving money, or anything else of the sort.  This entire House cutting exercise is designed to show Paul Davis looking like a leader.

27 January 2015

Opposition grows to antidemocratic House cuts #nlpoli

Municipalities Newfoundland and Labrador,  the umbrella organization that speaks for the province’s towns and cities, doesn’t like the plan to slash the number of representatives the people of the province have speaking for them in the House of Assembly.

“We believe that a reduction in representation will have serious implications for municipal governments and the communities they represent, “ MNL posted to its Facebook page on Monday.

Easy and frequent access to our MHAs is critically important to municipal leaders. So much of municipal work is done in partnership with the provincial government, and any erosion of this relationship would set us back - particularly in rural communities. Effective democracy comes at a price. We need to think long and hard before we decide that price is too high.

A group of university professors also released a copy of a letter they sent to members of the House of Assembly.

26 January 2015

A swing and a miss #nlpoli

The usual round of Saturday chores this weekend brought with it the usual accidental meetings with all manner of friends and acquaintances.  Even the least political among them wondered what went on in the House of Assembly last week.

Good news.  There is help for them.

Your humble e-scribbler laid out the positions of the various players before the debates started.  There was a comment on Tuesday, another on Friday, and a more detailed description of the political landscape the morning  the debate started in the House of Assembly.

On top of that, two news reports appeared over the past weekend – from CBC and the Telegram -  purporting to tell the inside story of last week’s emergency debate in the House of Assembly.  They cover different aspects of the goings-on.  The CBC one in particular adds a bit of detail but generally confirms what the Tories were up to.

Pull back from all the details, though and a much clearer picture emerges.

23 January 2015

The Fraser Institute and Laughably Flawed Analysis #nlpoli

The latest Fraser Institute assessment of the financial management prowess of premiers is to sound economic analysis what homeopathy to curing cancer.

The Fraser Institute issued a news release on the first anniversary of Kathy Dunderdale’s departure from politics that declared her the best fiscal manager of all the country’s premiers. 

That wasn’t sarcasm.

That’s what they said.

22 January 2015

Review faces stiff competition from province’s politicians #nlpoli

If Paul Davis and his beleaguered band of provincial Conservatives started the week on a high,  it didn’t last very long.

They opened the House on Monday to debate a bill that would reduce the size of the House of Assembly by 10 members.  They had the instant support of the Liberals and, going into the session, they knew that Ball and the Liberals had already agreed that the fall election would now come sometime in 2016.

They announced another ridiculous twist in the already ridiculous fight over European free trade.  The media reported the whole thing positively at first, although before the day was out major economic groups in the province had slammed the provincial government for their anti-trade stance.

On top of that,  the three maritime premiers were in town for a meeting of the Atlantic premiers council.  Reporters asked them about the feud.  We’d be ticked off too, in the same position, they agreed, but if there’s federal cash to be had, we want a piece as well. That does nothing except highlight why the provincial government was just plain dumb when they passed on the original deal and tried to turn it into something else.

Okay, so Monday wasn’t really all that high, but when this time last year,  the Conservatives were being burned in effigy for heat and light as people sat around in a blackout caused by the provincial energy corporation, Monday was pretty damn good.

Then Tuesday came and, in the hideous cliche of hack television reporters,  things went horribly wrong.

21 January 2015

Abbott and Costello meet the Trade Deal #nlpoli

If you are confused by the provincial government’s struggle over free trade with the European trade, find comfort in the fact you are not alone.

Pretty well everyone is confused by what the government is up to. 

That includes, incidentally,  intergovernmental affairs minister Keith Hutchings and industry minister Darin King, who announced on Monday that the provincial government was pulling its support for every free trade negotiation Canada has going at the moment except for the European trade agreement.

20 January 2015

Ballsiness #nlpoli

Before Christmas, Liberal leader Dwight Ball had been calling for an election as soon as possible.  After Christmas, faced with the chance to chop a few seats from the House as he had already pledged to do, Ball was quick to agree both to the cuts proposed by the Conservatives and to a delay in the election at least until November. 

Ball’s hasty decision will cause him two very serious problems, as we have already noted.  Now that the bill is in the House there are new dimensions to the problems faced by Ball and the Liberals. 

19 January 2015

Not fit for it #nlpoli

It’s not surprising that the provincial Conservatives and their supporters want to reduce the representations the people of the province have in the House of Assembly.

After all, the plan to cut 10 seats from the House of Assembly and make other changes in the interest of “modernisation” fits their pattern of behaviour over the past decade.

But there’s a bit more to it.

16 January 2015

Anti-democratic, regressive, and unprincipled #nlpoli

The idea of reducing the size of the province’s legislature because the provincial government has a massive financial crisis didn’t get any smarter when the provincial government announced its plan on Thursday to slash the House from 48 seats to 38.

People who want to start government cutbacks at the top should expect a reduction in the number of departments and a cut to the size of cabinet and the senior ranks of the public service. 

Bow WowWhat the government is proposing is to slash the board of directors in response to a problem with the company caused by lousy management.  In other words, they want to start by cutting the people responsible for keeping an eye on management in the first place.  That sounds just as screwball an idea as it is… if your goal is to get the company back on a sound financial footing.

Cutting the House to save money – the government’s goal, endorsed wholeheartedly by opposition leader Dwight Ball – is anti-democratic, regressive, and unprincipled.  The New Democratic party’s outgoing leader may be screaming now but she’[s already on record supporting the cuts for the same reasons.  She’s equally guilty of backing an anti-democratic, regressive, and unprincipled move.

SRBP dissected the idea on Tuesday.  That post still says it all.


15 January 2015

Separated at birth: Boyle edition #nlpoli


Scottish comedian Frankie Boyle

NDP leadership rules screw local businesses #nlpoli

Any of the small, local printing companies who usually make a fair bit of cash from political campaigns can keep their printing presses chilled during the upcoming NDP leadership campaign.

Any candidates who make it past the other restrictions must print any campaign materials like flyers and householders in unionized printing plants. The campaign rules released on Wednesday are plain:

“Candidates shall not use non-unionized companies for the production of any campaign material.,  where such services are available.”

That’s great for the largest printer in the province but it shuts out pretty every other shop. 

Dictatorship of the CEO

The party executive will appoint a chief electoral officer to oversee the leadership contest.  Under section 13,  the CEO has the unrestricted right to expel a candidate based on nothing more than a written complaint that a written complaint from a candidate or party member who feels “feels aggrieved by the words or actions of another candidate.”

The CEO can “deal with the complaint in whatever manner she feels is appropriate, including, in severe circumstances, the disqualification of a candidate from the leadership race.”

There is no right of appeal for any decision by the CEO.


The campaign rules refer to a list of “active” members of the party.  Each candidate will get a list once they’ve been approved.

There’s no definition of “active” member in the party constitution. That leaves the door open for a Cabana-style manoeuver in which party insiders invent conditions and rules to suit their own purposes.

There’s no word yet on the convention itself and how that will run.


14 January 2015

NDP votes for “More of the Same” #nlpoli

Gerry Rogers is smiling again now that Earle McCurdy has agreed to be the NDP Kevin Aylward.

If Earle had decided to stay retired,  Gerry was the substitute leader the key inside factions of the party had tapped to fill-in until after the next election.  Rogers would have had to take one for the team, just like her Liberal namesake did in 2007.

Now that McCurdy is in, the party executive will announce some leadership process that either completely avoids a convention (like the Conservatives in 2010) or puts up a sham competition (as in the NDP 2014 leadership review).

Drew Brown recently likened the next NDP leader to the Liberal’s last-minute substitute in 2011.  Fair enough.  Any possible change for the party will come in the future.

13 January 2015

All NL parties agree to anti-democratic, regressive cuts to legislature #nlpoli

Whenever the provincial government gets into financial trouble, someone will suggest that one great way to save money would be to cut the number of members in the House of Assembly.

Some people make the suggestion because they think members of the House doing nothing anyway. Others suggest that cutting the House is a way of sharing the pain of cuts coming to government generally.  And others justify proposed cuts to the House of Assembly because other places with a larger population have fewer politicians to represent them.

None of those are valid reasons to cut the House budget.  Reform of the House of Assembly should be about representing the people of the province more effectively. It should be about reducing the control of monied interests, including unions, and increasing the influence of ordinary people.

Cutting the number of members  as proposed by Dwight Ball, Lorraine Michael, and Paul Davis, is solely bout appearing to save money or share the pain of government cuts.  In truth,  such a move will only serve to concentrate power in our province into the hands of an ever smaller group of individuals, many of whom are unelected and unaccountable.  It is as regressive and anti-democratic idea as one may imagine.

12 January 2015

Roger Grimes: savage political attack dog #nlpoli

Maybe it was the headline on John Ivison’s opinion piece in the National Post that threw them off.

Spat over $400M N.L. fund could make federal government look bad to European trade partners

Provincial Conservatives, their patronage clients, and their paid staffers were all over Twitter all weekend tweeting touting the support in Ivison’s piece for their fight with the federal Conservatives over a federal cheque for $280 million.

Pay up feds, says Ivison, and end this dispute because it looks bad.

The problem for the Conservatives is that if you read the whole Ivison column, this is not a great endorse of the provincial Conservatives’ desperate political ploy.  It offers sensible advice in that both sides need to get this dispute settled now,  but Ivison gets there based on all sorts of half-baked ideas.  That much of it shows the extent to which observers both at home and outside the province don’t really understand what’s going on here. 

And if you follow the piece through to the end, you see just exactly how bad a position Paul Davis and his crowd really are.

09 January 2015

The challenge of Hebron and old people #nlpoli

The C.D. Howe Institute released a policy brief on Thursday that argues that demographic changes will hit the people of Newfoundland and Labrador very hard in the years ahead.

This is not a new issue, as the report notes right at the beginning.  In fact,  the crowd at the C.D. How Institute make it pretty clear everyone knew the problem was coming.  The only question was whether the impact would be gradual over time or we’d hit it like a wall.

Pay attention to this little report. If you have been asleep for the past 10 years take the few minutes to skim the words, charts, and graphs.

08 January 2015

Cluck, cluck, cluck #nlpoli

Say what you want about Lorraine Michael,  but you have to admit that she knows what she wants to do.

Lorraine has spent her adult life as an advocate.  That’s another word for someone who talks about things.  She’s done it quite a bit and, as she made clear Tuesday, Lorraine intends to keep talking about stuff.  Lorraine doesn’t want political power.  She just wants to advocate stuff.

When other people do something Lorraine has been talking about, then she counts that as on of her accomplishments.

And if someone threatens Lorraine’s position as an advocate, she has been remarkably adept at screwing them up.  She did it again on Tuesday.

07 January 2015

Lorraine says good-bye, sort of #nlpoli

Her voice tinged with emotion,  Lorraine Michael announced to a gaggle of reporters and her supporters at Confederation Building on Tuesday that she would step down as party leader as soon as the party could find a replacement.

Lorraine would stay on in politics, though, and promised to run in the next provincial election. 

Interestingly enough, there have been rumours of growing discontent within the party with Michael’s leadership since last spring.  And in December, rumblings started that some within the party wanted Lorraine to go.  They were supposedly shopping around the idea of an interim leader.  Other versions, as turned up by the Telegram’s James McLeod on Twitter had Michael thinking about quitting.

Whether or not any of that scuttlebutt was even remotely true, Lorraine Michael’s decision puts the NDP in a rough spot, as if being a political void wasn’t bad enough.

06 January 2015

Comparative Hydro Costs #nlpoli

Konrad Yakabuski’ s column in the Monday Globe is an interesting one for people in Newfoundland and Labrador for a couple of reasons.  ‘

First of all,  Yakabuski pointed out the “broader credibility problem facing all of Canada’s provincially owned electric utilities.”

Second of all,  for all those people in this province who are complaining that the Liberals won;t release any of their policies before the election, we have had lots of time to debate the energy policy of the current administration for a decade.

For all of that time, the people currently bitching about the lack of policy debate didn’t want to debate that energy policy despite the mounds of evidence that what the provincial government was doing with the former hydro corporation was headed for bad policy.

05 January 2015

Fishing for support #nlpoli

When the going gets tough, the tough go fishing.

In this case,  a bunch of politicians in a tough spot with voters are fishing among a small bunch of politicians in Ottawa for support in their campaign to turn a deal achieved in 2013 into something else entirely.

This isn’t really news, by the way, but in the world of the provincial government these days, intergovernmental affairs minister Keith Hutchings sent out a news release on Friday to tell  everyone what was reported before Christmas.  That is,  Keith and Premier Paul Davis are trying to get federal members of parliament and senators a from Newfoundland and Labrador to back the provincial government in its latest war with Ottawa.

03 January 2015

10 years later #nlpoli

Today marks the 10th anniversary of the first Sir Robert Bond Papers post.

In July 2004,  I wrote and released a paper that tried to “examine offshore oil revenues and the Atlantic Accord in light of what the Accord actually provides.It was an attempt to evaluate the provincial government's proposal based on what had been made public to that point.”

Which is to be master?  was supposed to be the first of a series of papers on different public policy issues.  Each would have a different author.  They would appear from time to time in order to foster “public discussion of issues affecting Newfoundland and Labrador.”  The title of the series was going to be The Sir Robert Bond Papers.

02 January 2015

The Void #nlpoli

For its last editorial of 2014,  the Telegram decided to discuss the fate of the province’s New Democrats.

A quick summary:  things were good for the Dippers.  Now things are not so good.  This isn’t just a local thing.  It’s happening nationally.  Lorraine Michael has said in year-end interviews she likely won’t be around for long after the next election.

Lorraine has been wonderful, the editorial says. It good that she’s going to leave.  After all , why “would Michael want to obscure her legacy by presiding over such lean times?”

Talk about ending on a wrong note.