31 December 2015

Consistency #nlpoli

"We need to find a way to bridge us [from] where we are currently until the commodities rebound and be [sic] the significant contributor we need them to be." That’s what Premier Dwight Ball told NTV’s Mike Connors in an interview that will air in full this coming Sunday.

The words are very familiar. 

We heard them just a few short months ago.

"I have laid out a five year plan,” Conservative finance minister Ross Wiseman told the House of Assembly last spring, “to bridge the commodity revenue dip and get us back to surplus, step by responsible step." 

30 December 2015

Advice #nlpoli

New governments often wind up in a bit of a pickle.

They walk into a new job where they are supposed to be the folks in charge, but they very often aren’t the people who initially know how everything works. They don’t know how to get things done but they have things they need to accomplish.

The folks who do know how everything runs are the public servants.  According to the theory,  the public servants are supposed to be the impartial professionals who give every government expert advice n how to handle every problem.  They are supposed to be separate from the politicians.

The theory is one thing. 

Practice is another.

29 December 2015

Do election signs work? #nlpoli

Apparently, they do.

In four randomised field experiments, researchers at Columbia University found that lawn signs increased vote share by about 1.7%. They published results of their research online on Christmas Day.

That isn’t going to win an election single-handedly but it could be the difference in a tight race. The advertising didn’t drive turn-out but it did increase awareness of a candidate.

Sasha Issenberg, author of The Victory Lab, looked at lawn signs for Slate magazine in a 2012 article. Issenberg noted studies that showed a correlation between signs and voting. In one study, “households that displayed either an American flag, football insignia, or campaign sign were 2.4 times more likely to have a resident who voted in the elections than houses which had none of the three.”


28 December 2015

Top SRBP Posts of 2015 #nlpoli

1.  The Dunphy Shooting:  Serious questions  In January, we are supposed to get the results of the police investigation into the shooting of Don Dunphy.  Then there'll be a public inquiry.  Maybe then we'll get the whole story into both the shooting and the efforts to spin the story over a couple of tweets that ended with the shooting death of their author.

2.  DHDM 2:  St. John's East  The biggest political upset in recent newfoundland and Labrador political history was Nick Whalen's defeat of Jack Harris in St. John's East.  Harris and his team were beaten by a young upstart who worked really hard.  The NDP campaign was hampered by a combination of arrogance, the incompetence of the national campaign, and just sheer laziness on the part of the local NDP.  For Whalen supporters, the night was all the sweeter as the upset in St. John's East became the story out of Newfoundland and Labrador, replacing the heavily spun story that Seamus O'Regan,  the good friend of the prime minister and guaranteed cabinet minister was really where all the news would be.

3.  Rumpole and the Family Compact  The last year of the Conservative term in office was marked by a series of abusive appointments.  None was more odd than the sudden switcheroo of Pam Goulding and her husband, Mark Pike, as chief judge of the Provincial Court.  Pike had a year left in his term of office and was certain not to be re-appointed by a new Liberal administration in light of Pike's disastrous term. As the story filtered out of the Confederation Building some people within the government at the time tried to get Pike appointed to a second term a year early.  When that provided to be impossible, the people looking to manipulate the appointments process did the next best thing:  Pike quit inexplicably and cabinet stuffed his wife in the job.

23 December 2015

The Merry Christmas Financial Update and other sick jokes #nlpoli

First, anyone who keeps talking about the two percent HST cut simply has no idea what the hell is going on in provincial finances.


Give it up.

You are only embarrassing yourself.

Second, absolutely no surprises in the latest update on provincial government spending. Well, no surprise for anyone who has been following SRBP faithfully.

For the rest of the folks out there,  the whole thing probably came as quite a shock.

22 December 2015

Blind in one EY #nlpoli

The new Liberal administration is firmly, irrevocably committed to completing the Muskrat Falls project regardless of the final cost to the people of Newfoundland and Labrador.

We know the Liberals will build the MF project because Dwight Ball said precisely that several weeks ago. We cannot let it fail,  Ball told a CBC audience in September.

We know Ball is committed to building Muskrat Falls because he told reporters on Monday that “cancelling this project is not what this review is about.”

Ball and the Liberals have argued for some time now that the problem with Muskrat Falls was nothing more than bad management.  To prove this, Ball and natural resources minister Siobhan Coady announced on Monday that they would send an accounting firm back to do what the same firm just finished doing a few months ago.

21 December 2015

Mr. Speaker Osborne #nlpoli

Members of the House of Assembly had the good fortune of having two fine candidates for Speaker.

While SRBP endorsed Scott Reid, the House made an excellent choice in Tom Osborne. Tom is the longest-serving member in the House having first been elected to the House in 1996. He held a number of cabinet portfolios in the first Williams administration before crossing the floor to sit as an independent. he eventually joined the Liberal caucus.

Osborne brings considerable experience to the job, plus he brings a reputation for fairness and integrity. He is well-liked and widely respected.

18 December 2015

Adios comments section

The comments section at SRBP is gone,  this time for good.

The theory was great.

People could offer their own views on your writing and then you could have an exchange of views based on mutual respect,  even if the conversation got animated.

In practice,  online comments – whether on blogs or on conventional media sites – quickly became the domain of  arseholes.  They post under a variety of fake identities and spew what most arseholes spew. More often than not the same arsehole had multiple identities to increase the quantity of mayhem.

So it is that newspapers have started to shut down the comments functions on websites.  No one will mourn their loss.

Scott Reid for Speaker #nlpoli

Liberal member of the House of Assembly Scott Reid is a candidate for Speaker of the House.

By the looks of things,  members will have a competition for the Speaker's chair.  That will be a first.
In the past,  nomination of the Speaker was treated as a prerogative of the Premier.

Having a competition for Speaker will be a key element of reforming the House and separating the House from the control of the government.  Scott Reid has the personal integrity to uphold the traditions of the House,  to protect the rights of members, and to resist any efforts to curb the legislature.

Reform of the House is an important feature of the Liberal platform.  Reid has the professional knowledge as a political scientist and the experience as a political staffer to guide the reform.  Scott also has the personal qualities the new Speaker will need to work with both his newly elected and veteran colleagues to bring about that reform.

The Speaker has significant responsibilities to manage the statutory officers, such as the child and youth advocate,  the privacy commissioner, the chief electoral officer,  and the auditor general.  Scott's personal commitment to the integrity of those positions will be crucial to successfully reforming the way those positions have been filled and the way the incumbents fulfill their responsibilities to the people of Newfoundland and Labrador.

Scott will likely have competition from Tom Osborne.  Osborne has wanted the Speaker's job for some time now.  Kathy Dunderdale saw to it that Osborne didn't stand a chance after the 2011 election.  Tom Osborne would be a fine Speaker.

But for your humble e-scribbler,  as good a man as Tom Osborne is, Scott Reid is the choice.


The Quick Clay Dam #nlpoli

A very short post by James Gordon at Uncle Gnarley contains a whole lot of information about the dam Muskrat Falls.

Gordon is a retired professional engineer with a 60 year career that took him to projects in 15 countries. He knows about hydro-electric dams. Six of Gordon’s projects won awards of excellence for design.

Gordon took a look at the plan for Muskrat Falls. Here are a couple of key points.

Nalcor plans to use the North Spur as a key part of the dam. “The hill consists of three layers of sand, and two layers of quick clay, sloping downstream, on a deep foundation of quick clay extending down to far below tidewater.”

Even after Nalcor takes measures to counteract the tendency of quick clay to liquify when it is disturbed, two layers of quick clay will remain within the main body of the dam.

“To my knowledge, Gordon wrote, “quick clay has never before been used to form part of a dam structure, nor has a dam been built on a quick clay foundation.”

“Since the design of the North Spur dam is without precedent, and the consequences of a failure are catastrophic, it becomes imperative to have the design reviewed by an independent panel of experts – a Review Board, to provide added assurance that the design is acceptable.”


17 December 2015

Changing the direction. Changing the tone. #nlpoli

A month ago,  a CBC “analysis” by David Cochrane warned against a band of Liberals running the government with too much power.

Two weeks ago,  another CBC “analysis” by David Cochrane told us that Dwight Ball was an “unlikely” fellow to be Premier who now faced an enormous task of dealing with the government’s financial problems based on a campaign platform that was, supposedly, “greeted with enormous skepticism in the final week of the campaign.”

And now we have the latest Cochrane “analysis” that tells us that the public service is liking their new bosses.  The administration has been delivering on “Ball's campaign promises of evidence-based decision-making and to bring [sic] stability to cabinet by ending the practice of frequent shuffles, thereby leaving ministers in place long enough to build command of their portfolios.”

What changed?

Well, it certainly hasn’t been Dwight Ball and the Liberals he led to a substantive victory in the recent election.

16 December 2015

The Bonds of Muskrat Falls #nlpoli

15 minutes.

That’s all Tom Marshall said it would take to sell out the bonds on Muskrat Falls.

He also said that a federal loan guarantee would lower electricity prices for consumers from Muskrat falls.

The price one wasn’t true at all, as it turned out, and the bonds aren’t all that popular either.

15 December 2015

Revisiting the spring budget: a little thought experiment #nlpoli

Last spring,  SRBP looked at some speculative budget projections using some different prices for oil and  assumed growth in revenue from non-oil sources.

The results weren’t pretty.  The only way to get to a surplus was if you managed to hold spending constant.  Even a modest increase in spending would throw everything out of whack.   And in the one scenario where you got a surplus, it vanished as oil production dropped.

Well, folks, reality turned out to be uglier than the optimistic forecast of the provincial government at the time and its pet economist, Wade Locke.  The assumed average price of oil last spring is now a distant memory.  The most recent forecasts from the United States suggest oil may hover around US$50 a barrel until we are into the next decade.

So let’s take another look at those figures.

14 December 2015

Baker Ball's Dozen: three challenges facing the new administration #nlpoli

The new Liberal administration will take power later this morning.

Dwight Ball will lead a cabinet of 12.

This is only the fourth time since 1949 that we have changed the party governing the province. It’ the second time we have done so in this century.

The task ahead of the new cabinet is daunting. From 11:00 AM this morning, everything is down to the baker’s dozen of them. Here are the challenges they face.

13 December 2015

The deficit in perspective: HST version #nlpoli

Some people are upset that the provincial sales tax won’t be going up by two percent.

The current harmonized sales tax rate is 13%.

If you wanted to – if it was even possible to – raise enough money to balance the books by hiking the sales tax – the new rate would have to be 41%.

That’s 14 times higher than the cancelled increase.

It’s a bit more than triple the current HST rate.



11 December 2015

The Tory-gram Returns #nlpoli

And there it was.

Top of the front page. 

Screaming headline.

Economist warns Liberal plan doesn’t make sense.

Right underneath a picture of the new Liberal Premier-in-waiting and the new Prime Minister smiling as they met in Ottawa.  Title: Happy Liberals.

About as objective as Fox News and then you read the story.

Their economist shitting on the Liberals is….

wait for it…

Wade Locke.

Hands up who didn’t just piss themselves laughing?

10 December 2015

Friends in high places: changing the HST in a hurry #nlpoli

According to a statement from the federal finance department on Wednesday,  “the federal government will take any necessary steps to ensure that the [HST] rate increase does not come into effect on January 1, 2016.” [CBC]

That came out of the first meeting between Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Premier-designate Dwight Ball.

Ball wrote two federal cabinet ministers last week asking them to do what they needed to do in order to halt the two percent increase in the harmonized sales tax included in the provincial Conservatives’ spring budget.  Ball promised last spring to roll back the rate hike.

He issued a news release about his letter a couple of days before he met with Trudeau. Local media covered it.

But what would have to happen in order to halt the hike?

Good question.

09 December 2015

Two solitudes #nlpoli

CBC and the Telegram  carried a story on Tuesday that the province would be hit by a “mild recession” next year. There’s not much real news in that since oil and minerals will all be down in price for the foreseeable future. Major projects are coming to an end.  All known.  All foreseen. But since the Conference Board of Canada issued the release and used the words “mild recession” and so that makes it news.

Later on Tuesday,  everyone carried the story that Premier-designate Dwight Ball had written to the federal government to try and forestall the two percent hike in the harmonised sales tax. Same thing:  news release, therefore news.

At the risk of repeating the same thing again, let’s just recall that the latest change in oil prices means that 36% of government spending this year will be covered by borrowing from the banks.

The sales tax hike won’t make much of a difference this year.  The  $50 million or so it will bring in between January and March will amount to precisely 1.6% of the revised borrowing. It was frig-all before oil dropped. It is even moreso frig-all now when compared to the magnitude of the provincial government’s financial problems.

We can say that revenues won’t be much better next year.  This is another point worth bearing in mind.  The local media have habitually followed slavishly behind the provincial government’s lead over the past decade and talked about last year, not the year coming up. and in truth.  Well, this whole HST thing is another example of chasing mice when the deer are just over the hill.

08 December 2015

The Hundred Days #nlpoli

“A new government has a very small amount of time in which to lay the groundwork for its term of office. It has about six months to show things are different and about a year to start showing signs of results. In fact, they really have about 100 days to make a mark, and when it comes to things like re-organizing the departments and getting political and public service staff changes made, they have even less than that.

“The reasons are pretty simple: The outside world wants to figure out what government they really elected. For the government itself, they need to sort out the basics so they can cope with the onslaught of demands that come with the force of a three inch fire hose. Put another way, the new government has a short time to take control of the public agenda. That’s the only way they can filter the workload down to a manageable level, let alone do the things they want to do. Without control of the political agenda, they become followers rather than leaders.”

That’s the first two paragraphs from a column your humble e-scribbler wrote for The Independent was back when it began. It appeared in January 2004 after the Conservatives under Danny Williams had gone through a few less-than-stellar moments.  Go back and read the whole thing to see if any of it applies to current events.

07 December 2015

Townies and Baymen (again) #nlpoli

Last week’s post on the political narrative war currently under way was a combination of two separate, but related ideas.

The incoming Liberal administration – like all political parties – is faced with the challenge of identifying itself or defining itself in the public mind.  Inevitably, that also involves the image of and the public attitudes toward the leader.

We’ll turn to the narrative war but first, let’s unbundle the other part of the post, the bit about townies and baymen.  That’s both the most provocative bit for some people and also the bit that is an exploration of some much bigger ideas in Newfoundland politics over the past century.

04 December 2015

Voter turn-out #nlpoli

Political scientist Stephen Tomblin is concerned about the low voter turn-out in the recent elections.

Tomblin thinks it is a sign that voters are disconnected from the political system.  The recent lacklustre election didn’t have the political parties connecting with voters in a meaningful way.  There are lots of issues politicians could have discussed with voters but they just didn’t bother.

Tomblin makes some good points but there are some things about recent elections we should consider as we try and put some meaning on the recent election.

03 December 2015

The real Ministry of Magic exposed #nlpoli

The information the Conservatives leaked to David Cochrane Tuesday on the budget update confirmed the extent to which they are actually the ones who have been running the finance department as if it was a ministry of magic.

The cash deficit this year looks like it will wind up being almost $3.0 billion.  Bear in mind that the budget the Conservatives introduced last spring called for a 12% increase in spending  - although they talked about restraint - and for borrowing $2.1 billion to cover a record deficit.

Incidentally, the accrual deficit figures leaked to Cochrane by the Tories leave out the $900 million the Conservatives planned to borrow for public works.  You need to look at the cash numbers to understand the magnitude of what the Tories did last spring.

02 December 2015

The Narrative War #nlpoli

The day after a massive Liberal victory in the general election,  CBC’s David Cochrane posted an analysis piece on the new administration.  CBC distributed it nationally.

Cochrane described Dwight Ball as a man “unlikely” to be Premier:

Four campaigns. Two losses. Two wins.  By a combined 75 votes.

Cochrane’s account leaves out relevant context.  When it comes to describing how the Liberals won,  Cochrane focuses not on anything the Liberals did but rather a string of Tory blunders that  - according to Cochrane  - made it easy for the Liberals to win the election essentially by accident.

And now, as Cochrane’s story goes, Ball The Unlikely will have to face enormous financial problems using a plan that Cochrane claims “was greeted with enormous skepticism in the final week of the campaign.”

01 December 2015

Election Results #nlpoli

Doing things differently.

That’s what the Liberal campaign was all about.

Now we have to see if Ball and the Liberals actually put that into action.