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.

The Beginning

By Christmas 2004,  the dispute with the federal government had descended into public anger and the now famous removal of flags from provincial government buildings. Fundamentally, though, the public discussion was no deeper than it had been six months or even a year earlier. Most people didn’t know what was actually going on and neither the governments nor the conventional media seemed either interested in or able to provide the kind of detailed information about the dispute to help people understand.

There was more to it than what turned up on the radio, in the newspapers or on television.  Which is to be master? gained a bit of media attention. but the long-winded and rather dry paper didn’t work. Blogs and blogging were relatively new at the time and it seemed like one way to go.

The provincial government set the political climate for the next few years in those early days. “Those of us who disagree with the government's position run the risk of being labelled as traitors or worse,”  that first post noted.  “The premier has publicly discouraged debate in the House of Assembly.” 

So SRBP appeared.  One of the first posts was a condensed version of that original paper.  “What Danny wants…” summarised the changing provincial government position.  The information in the post came from media reports and government documents released under the provincial Access to Information Act. 

That was followed over the next couple of weeks by a clause-by-clause review of the Winnipeg offer,  a plain-language explanation of Equalization, and a comparison of the final deal with what Danny Williams and the provincial government said they were looking for a year earlier.

The Boilerplate

That was the beginning.

And now it is 10 years and more than 7, 450 posts later.

If we assume an average of 750 words for each post that works out to more than five and a half million words on everything from the history of Newfoundland and Labrador to defence and the fishery,  from breast-feeding and birth rates  to the provincial government’s financial policy and freedom of information.

An average of about 10,000 visitors read Bond Papers each month.  Last month, there were more than 30,000 page views.  26% of them  read SRBP using Internet Explorer.  23% read Bond using Chrome, while 21% each used Safari or Firefox. 

59% used Windows but the second largest operating system was for iPad (12%) with Mac close behind at 10%.  Seven percent of users read SRBP on their iPhone.  Blackberry accounted for fewer than one percent of reader devices last month.

Most readers are in Canada or the United States, but in December,  SRBP gained the attention of a significant number of readers in Europe.  French and German Internet addresses made those countries third and fourth on the top 10 list of reader countries.

There’s no way of knowing exactly who reads SRBP are but if experience is any guide they include premiers, cabinet ministers,  politicians, federal and provincial public servants,  local business men and women,  lawyers, teachers, economists, university students, political activists, and reporters in newsrooms locally and nationally.  There are also plenty of people who are just interested in what is going on in the province.

A List

It took a year to settle into the routine of writing regularly.

Three things from that first couple of years stand out, in hindsight.  They show there was a lot more going on in local politics that met the eye.

  • Budget Politics   Provincial government spending turned up as an issue. A post in November 2005 warned about the way the finance minister misreported provincial finances.. The next spring,  the budget post noted a 10% increase in spending tied to the 2007 election. 
  • The Danny Brand.  In 2006,  you will find posts about the three main elements of the Conservative communications strategy.  First was the focus on Danny Williams. Second was the role that talk radio played.  Third was poll goosing, introduced in a series of three posts in the fall and – at the time – dismissed as fiction. Yeah.  Right.
  • Big Political News.   The House Spending Scandal and Hebron both dominated politics in 2006.  SRBP dug into both with vigour. 

All around the circle

The longer SRBP goes on, the more you wonder if it is possible to run out of things to write about.  Politics is such a rich vein of ore, though, as 2014 proved,m that there will always be something worth discussing.  Danny Williams was back – he never left – and the provincial government is in another racket with the federal government. 

There will always be something to write about because the reasons for writing remain the same.  The original idea – to promote discussion – remains the most important.  But,  to steal some words from an anniversary post in 2010, there are now some other reasons to keep Bond Papers going for as long as possible.

Bond Papers provides a point of view that you just don’t find in many other places, if at all. Offering another point of view has become   the second reason for writing.

So much of what does get talked about these days in Newfoundland and Labrador is based on false information. No one can make a sensible choice based on myth and fantasy.

And that has become, again of necessity, the third reason for writing:  Bond Papers is a source of information.  All those links in the posts are there to  take readers back to where the information came from in the first place. Readers are supposed to make up their own minds.

In a democracy, everyone gets to make the choices. So when people read something here, they don’t have to just accept that it is correct. They can go and think about it, find the original information, and make up their own minds. People have a right to accurate, complete information.

Today Bond Papers marks its first decade.  As part of the anniversary, I’ve asked some people to write a guest post about politics in the province over the past decade and the changes that have taken place.  They’ll appear as they arrive.  In the meantime,  there’ll be more of what has kept the blog going for the past decade.