27 February 2015

Language Problems #nlpoli

“Increasing taxes is not about solving the deficit, it’s about maintaining our programs and services that we have.”

That’s what Labrador and aboriginal affairs minister Keith Russell told the handful of people who showed up for the government’s pre-budget consultation in Happy Valley-Goose Bay.

The Conservatives are perturbed that the turnout for these sessions has been small.  Part of the problem was the tight timeline:  they only announced the dates last week and started the first session on Monday.  Another part of the problem is that everyone knows that the things are a farce. They aren’t interested in wasting their time.

People should turn out to these things, though, if only for the entertainment they offer,  not to mention the practicality of it.

26 February 2015

Nova Scotia won’t get Muskrat Falls electricity #nlpoli

As part of its deal with Nalcor,  Emera will get its electricity from Bay d’Espoir, not Muskrat Falls. 

The Business Post’s March 2015 edition reported that confirmation of the arrangement came from Emera Newfoundland and Labrador chief executive Rick Janega following a speech to the St. John’s Board of Trade on February 23. Janega took the view, though, that the company will get power from whatever source of generation was operating at the time.

As the Business Post reported, the “deal between Nalcor and Emera is not specifically to supply Nova Scotia with Muskrat Falls power, but
rather to supply the equivalent of 20 per cent of Muskrat’s generating capacity from any source.”

25 February 2015

Bond Raters and other things to wonders about #nlpoli

Cast your mind back a couple of years and you will probably remember finance minister Jerome Kennedy told us a couple of things.

One was that he expected the government would run deficits for three years, totalling about $1.6 billion.

The other was that surplus would follow after that.

Well, here we are three years later and the latest finance minister – we’ve had four in three years – is now saying we can expect to see another  five years of deficits before maybe, possibly, getting the budget into surplus in Year Six ALE. 

That’s ALE as in “after the latest estimate.”

24 February 2015

The Unsustainability Problem #nlpoli

The annual budget consultation farce started on Monday with a couple of sessions.

This year the provincial government has turned out a budget simulator that is supposed “to illustrate the tough budget choices” the provincial government is facing and “to promote a public dialogue on how we can set a sustainable fiscal course.”

The simulation can’t really do either of those things.  The information is relatively recent but the options to adjust income and spending don;t cover the full range of policy choices the government can make.  The ones it does offer are artificially limited to presented increases or decreases.  That’s a programming choice as much as anything else, but the reason for the artificial limitations is not important.  The fact is that the choices are deliberately limited.

The result is that people can’t really see what sorts of choices the provincial government might make to set a “sustainable fiscal course.” In that sense, the current “consultation” is as artificial as all the other ones the provincial government has run over the past decade or so.   People aren’t stupid.  They can handle the truth.

The politicians and bureaucrats can’t.

23 February 2015

The theory of everything #nlpoli

People are talking about the budget.

People are talking about Bill 42, the politicians’ decision to cut public representation in the House.

People are talking about the recent polls.

People are talking about the next election.

People have predictions about how this one or that one will play out.

But they are not looking at everything.

They are not looking at the whole board.

And you gotta look at the whole board, Sam.

20 February 2015

A cunning plan it ain’t #nlpoli

The whole “Paul-Davis-Decisive-Leader” thing doesn’t seem to be working for the provincial Conservatives.

The latest NTV/MQO poll puts the Liberals at 42, the Conservatives at 20 and the NDP at seven,  with 30% undecided.

In October 2014,  it was Liberals 37,  Conservatives 16,  NDP six, and undecided at 40.

In October 2013,  the Liberals were at 35, the Conservatives at 20, the NDP at 12, and the undecided at 32.

You can see the trend there of Liberal growth – up seven points -  while the Conservatives hover around 20.  The undecided is down.  Most of them won’t vote anyway.  And the New Democrats have dropped from 12 to seven.

19 February 2015

Stragedy and Polls: Chop House version #nlpoli

Public opinion polls are a really useful thing in politics.

The Liberals did a poll the weekend before the Liberals and Conservatives voted to slash public representation in the legislature.  They bought into the scheme in largest part because it looked hugely popular.

The problem with the poll results is that they didn’t tell the Liberals anything useful. You can see the same fundamental problem in the poll commissioned by NTV from MQO.

18 February 2015

St. Pierre shifting health care to Moncton, Halifax #nlpoli

Rising costs are forcing the government of St. Pierre to look at shifting health care for its residents to Moncton New Brunswick from St. John’s, according to Radio Canada.

The cost of having St. Pierrais treated by Eastern Health has risen 75% since 2010 despite a decrease in the number of people from St. Pierre and Miquelon seeking treatment in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Costs aren’t the only issue.  Eastern Health has only two translators to help St. Pierrais admitted to Eastern Health hospitals for treatment.  On top of that, the regional health authority is also not adept at identifying bilingual staff and making them available to treat the mostly unilingual French patients from the islands off the southern coast of Newfoundland.

Radio Canada notes concerns in the local business community at the loss of St. Pierrais coming to St. John’s for treatment.  Money that would be spent in St. John’s is now going to Moncton and Halifax,  according to Stephanie Bowring, an economic development officer with the Newfoundland and Labrador Francophone Economic Development Network St. John’s. 

The francophone federation is also concerned about the potential decline of French language service at Eastern Health. 

Health minister Steve Kent told Radio Canada that the increased costs were due to inflationary pressures.  Kent said it made sense to suggest Eastern Health could provide bilingual staff when French patients seek care but doubted that it would be possible to provide bilingual care 24 hours a day, seven days a week.


17 February 2015

Lighter and Lighter #nlpoli

Three separate stories over the past three days highlight changes to the local media world.

On Saturday, Telegram editor Russell Wangersky slammed the publicly funded CBC Radio for turning its morning show into the sort of light, fluffy morning program heard on commercial radio.

(Is "We're broadcasting from Tim Horton's" really that much different than that old private radio staple, "We're broadcasting live from L&M Carpeting, your best carpet buy in the tri-state area"?)

There are stupid host and guest tricks: let's make the mayor of Mount Pearl, Randy Simms, wear a party hat for that city's 60th birthday. Let's make him blow on a party horn. Let's Tweet the pictures. Let's dress someone up as a turkey and film them doing tricks.

He’s right.

But Russell is also wrong.

16 February 2015

Money and Politics – the Chronic Enforcement Problem #nlpoli

We can have all the rules in the world about how political parties and political candidates receive and spend money in Newfoundland and Labrador, but they are useless without meaningful enforcement.

It’s been illegal since 2011 for municipalities to make political contributions.  The association representing the province’s towns and cities knew about the 2011 amendment to the Municipalities Act.

The people at the electoral office didn’t.

12 February 2015

Money and Politics in Newfoundland and Labrador #nlpoli

Some people are making a big deal over the fact that the judge heading the boundaries commission made political donations to both the Liberal and Conservative parties in the province before he was appointed to the Supreme Court Trial Division.

Justice Robert Stack made donations totalling $1,718 to the provincial Liberal Party between 1996 and 2003 and $2,032 to the provincial Conservative party between 2001 and the time he was appointed by the federal government as a Supreme Court judge in 2009.

No one has actually explained how what is a normal activity for ordinary citizens in every province in Canada is problematic in this case.  There’s just the innuendo that goes with a comment like this:
“Nobody's really questioning that Justice Stack has the qualifications to do what he's being asked to do, it's about whether or not there are other connections that then make it a little more questionable.”  [See new comment by Kelly Blidook at end of post]
Insinuation and Innuendo aren’t evidence of anything except the exceedingly bad judgement of the people making the comments and the news media who are repeating them.

11 February 2015

The Boundary Commission Fun is closer #nlpoli

The Chief Justice has named Justice Robert Stack as the chair of the boundary commission appointed under the Electoral Boundaries Act.

We now have to get four other members of the commission, appointed by the Speaker of the House of Assembly so the whole crowd of them can start their 130 adventure.

Will it be done on time?  And if it isn’t,  will we be trooping to the polls on schedule in the fall to vote in 48 districts instead of 40,  as NHTV reported on Monday night.

Amazing as it is, some people still haven;t quite sorted it through.  Let’s save them further anguish and lay out the possibilities.

10 February 2015

The Other DarkNL #nlpoli

For as long as anyone can remember,  some people in Newfoundland and Labrador have had a love of conformity.

They loathe discussion and debate. 

They dislike democracy.

09 February 2015

Reforming the budget process #nlpoli

We already know that the provincial government won’t unveil its budget for the new year until late April or early May.

That’s not as unusual as it might seem.  In 2012, for example, they introduced the budget on April 24.  Five years before,  Tom Marshall read the budget speech on April 26.  The next year – 2008 – Tom again read the budget speech in the House in late April,  the 29th to be exact.

The fact the Conservatives aren’t planning to release the budget until a month or so into the new fiscal year – it starts on April 1 – isn’t surprising.  It isn’t unusual.  And odds are very good it isn’t related to the fact the federal government has delayed its budget until around the same time.

06 February 2015

Government by Committee #nlpoli

Politics in Newfoundland and Labrador (2015) – Part 5
In the fifth and final  instalment in this series on politics in Newfoundland and Labrador, SRBP looks at the latest move in continuing efforts by politicians in the province to make the House of Assembly irrelevant.
If you want to understand politics in Newfoundland and Labrador, look no further than Bill 42.  That’s the plan to cut eight seats from the House of Assembly before the next election.

Don’t look at the reasons the politicians offered for the cuts. Just look at who did it, what they did, and how they did it. After all, actions speak a lot louder than words.

05 February 2015

Elections and Voting #nlpoli

Politics in Newfoundland and Labrador (2015) – Part 4
The politicians in the province share a lot of common views and tend to agree on most things despite being organized into political parties that are – theoretically  - supposed to have some sharp differences among them.  The House of Assembly itself is organized to minimise the chances that the government won;t get its way, quickly.  

In the fourth instalment in this series on politics in Newfoundland and Labrador, SRBP looks how elections work.
Yvonne Jones was the first woman leader of the Liberal Party. 

She was the first woman to serve as leader of the official opposition and, more recently, she became the first women to represent Labrador in the House of Commons.

Yvonne Jones will go down in history for another accomplishment, though.  That one has nothing to do with chromosomes.

Yvonne Jones was the last person to be elected to the House of Assembly as an independent candidate.*

04 February 2015

The Dysfunctional House of Assembly #nlpoli

Politics in Newfoundland and Labrador (2015) – Part 3
In the third instalment in the series,  SRBP looks at the way the House of Assembly operates.
Liberal finance critic Cathy Bennett’s recent op-ed piece in the Telegram said that the provincial government’s current financial mess is about more than unexpected changes in the price of oil.
She’s absolutely right.

Bennett pointed to the Equalization offset transfers under the 1985 Atlantic Accord as the root.  The provincial government got about $4.6 billion under the deal.  “The province collected $4.6 billion in federal funding under the Atlantic Accord,”  wrote Bennett.  “A long-term financial plan should have been put in place to account for the future loss of those revenues.

Equalization transfers.

Sounds a wee bit familiar, doesn’t it?

03 February 2015

One Big Party #nlpoli

Politics in Newfoundland and Labrador – Part 2
The plan to cut public representation in the House of Assembly has drawn public attention to more than just the plan to reduce the number of elected representatives in the legislature by eight. 

In this new series, SRBP will examine politics in Newfoundland over the last 15 to 20 years The first instalment - “Making the rich richer” – and the second – “One Big Party” - look at the curious agreement among the parties on major public issues.

Cast your mind back.

Go back to 2008. Yvonne Jones was the leader of the Liberal Party. She was one of three members, sitting right next to Kelvin Parsons and Roland Butler, the sole Liberal survivors of a near sweep of the province by the Conservatives in the 2007 general election.

Jones turned up in the Telegram with what is, in hindsight,  a fascinating suggestion.
I always say that we're such a small province, when you've got three political parties, there's always a lot of energy and time and expertise spent in, I guess, staking out everybody's turf in the political arena...

I used to say to myself, "maybe we're expending it in the wrong direction? [sic]"...Maybe if a lot of that was just put into strengthening policy for people, we might end up with a lot better result at the end of the day.
Jones didn’t see any differences at all among the political parties. The members all believed exactly the same things. They wasted time and money “staking out everybody’s turf”, whatever that means. So Jones thought aloud that maybe it would be better if there were no parties, just a bunch of like-minded people, all working hard “strengthening policy for people.”

02 February 2015

Making the rich richer #nlpoli

Politics in Newfoundland and Labrador – Part 1
The plan to cut public representation in the House of Assembly has drawn public attention to more than just the plan to reduce the number of elected representatives in the legislature by eight.   

In this new series,  SRBP will examine politics in Newfoundland over the last 15 to 20 years  The first  instalment  - “Making the rich richer” – and the second – “One Big Party” - look at the curious agreement among the parties on major public issues. 
The provincial government subsidises tuition fees at Memorial University for Canadian undergraduate students. They go to school for fees far less than the cost of providing the buildings, technology, and instructors need to educate them.

The annual cost of the tuition subsidy is about $40 million, according to the most recent report by the province’s auditor general.  That’s part of about $388 million the provincial government provides to the university to fund its operations.

All three political parties support the subsidy. The Liberals started it and the Conservatives continued it. The New Democrats back it enthusiastically.

The tuition subsidy benefits Newfoundlanders and Labradorians primarily.  Over the past five years or so,  Memorial has been able to attract growing numbers of students from outside the province.  They come for the cheap education, not the quality of the education, although there’s no reason to believe that Memorial University provides a substandard education to anyone.  So lots of people benefit from the subsidy, many of them from outside Newfoundland and Labrador.

The tuition subsidy costs about 20 times what the cuts to the House of Assembly will theoretically save annually.