29 May 2015

Parting Gifts #nlpoli #cdnpoli

Peter MacKay may have quit federal politics but that didn't stop him from porking up the federally-appointed courts before he left.

On Friday, MacKay appointed former provincial Conservative Party president Cillian Sheahan from Corner Brook to the Trial and Family Division of the Supreme Court of Newfoundland and Labrador.

That was one of about a dozen appointments MacKay made on his last day in office.

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More delays in taking out the trash #nlpoli

On Monday,  municipal affairs minister Keith Hutchings announced that the provincial government was setting back the clock on the provincial waste management strategy.

Well, they sort of announced it. 

You see, the news release posted by the government uncommunication elves buried the news under a lot of self-congratulation.

And what they didn’t bury they just left out altogether.

28 May 2015

Yesterday #nlpoli

The news should have been good.

Party leader Dwight Ball announced on Wednesday that the Liberals had rid themselves of the debt the party has carried around since the 2003 election. As Ball explained it, the party negotiated with the three banks involved and persuaded them to write off the interest and penalties. The party had then paid off the $500,000 that remained.

The Liberals’ opponents have used the debt as a rod to beat Grit backs. Can’t manage the province’s accounts if you can't handle your own, the Conservatives joked.

As it turns out, that joke was on us: the Conservatives couldn’t handle the public accounts themselves. They promised to pay down the debt and make everything right. Instead, and starting from Danny Williams, they racked up debt after debt. They spent every nickel the provincial coffers could suck in and borrowed more besides.

The party debt was a big cloud hanging over the Liberals’ heads. Getting rid of it was supposed to be great news.

And it would have been had Dwight not buggered up the announcement.

27 May 2015

Conservatives abandon ridiculous position on European trade… again #nlpoli

In January, trade minister Darin King wrote a letter to his federal counterpart about the European trade deal.
King said the provincial government would:
  1. withdraw from any trade talks OTHER than the one about the European trade deal, and,
  2. should “the federal government fail to honour the terms of the June 2013 agreement to establish a fisheries fund, you will appreciate that the Province will reconsider its support for CETA.”
On Tuesday, King announced the provincial government would:
  1. resume participation in all the ongoing trade talks, and,
  2. accept the European trade deal, but not the bit on minimum processing requirements.
That last one will leave Canada open to a challenge by Europeans if - and only if - the provincial government ever invokes minimum processing requirements in dealing with a European company. There’s not much danger of that since the provincial government has been granting more and more exemptions from the out-dated policy.

Besides, the federal government is already working on a mechanism to pass the cost of any damages from a trade dispute on to the province that caused them. They started work on that little gem after the current Conservative administration in this province violated the North American free trade deal and seized hydro-electric assets belonging to three companies under an entirely false pretense.

When Darin King said the government would “let the chips fall where they may” he knew full well that the provincial government would take it in the neck if it ever used the minimum processing requirements provisions of current legislation.

What you have here is a climb down. The provincial government position was always a transparent pile of nonsense. As CBC’s access to information research confirmed last week, the provincial government has been granting more and more exemptions from the minimum processing regulations. In practical terms, that means they have already abandoned MPRs and won’t use them to trigger any CETA problems.

What local media still haven’t reported is that the heart of this dispute has been a political fraud by the provincial government. It tried to radically alter the deal in 2014. The federal government rebuffed the provincial government’s effort to rejig the deal. Faced with no prospect of success in its scam, the provincial government abandoned its ludicrous position.

Both the Liberal and NDP criticised the government for submitting to federal perfidy. Nothing could be further from the truth, of course, but the truth never stopped a politician in this province from opening his mouth before. Tuesday was no exception.

Incidentally, the letter from King to his federal counterpart as well as the news release that King issued on Tuesday are both pretty vague about what the provincial government is actually doing. King explained the details to reporters.

This is the second time the provincial Conservatives have abandoned a stupid position on the European trade talks. The first was Danny Williams’ refusal to take part in the talks in the first place Williams claimed he needed to protect the seal hunt.


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26 May 2015

The party is over #nlpoli

There are times when you wonder why anyone pays attention to a crowd like the Atlantic Province Economic Council.

They showed up in St. John’s on Monday to tell us that the major major projects that have been driving the economy are winding down.

And they charged $230 to anyone who wanted to show up for that insight or for the other one quoted in the CBC online story:  the “party had to end.”

APEC?

No.

Try PIFO.

Penetrating Insight into the F**king Obvious.

25 May 2015

Everything will be fine. Or not. #nlpoli

This pretty picture shows a very ugly problem.

non oil revenueLook at the point (2008) where the red and blue lines separate.  The area in between represents the annual deficit the provincial government has been running. It is the difference between the amount government spent (the blue line) and the amount of income the government had from everything that wasn’t oil and minerals.

All that space in between those two lines is debt.  It is either borrowing from the banks and other lenders or it is borrowing from ourselves through spending all our one-time oil money. If the government spends as they indicated in the budget, about two thirds of that gap on the far right is borrowing from the banks.  One third is from oil money.

Just for a bit of fun,  let’s project ahead into the future a bit to see what might happen.  We’ll use the oil price projections the government used.  And we’ll use the most recent oil production figures from the offshore board. You might be surprised at the results.

22 May 2015

A week of truth for the Conservatives #nlpoli

Not that we didn’t know the provincial government had already granted exemptions to its supposedly sacred minimum fish processing requirements, but CBC this week gave us an insight into just how often the government has waived the MPRs.

In 2010,  the provincial government approved 11t exemptions out of 19 requests.  In the last six months of 2014 alone,  it approved 27 out of 29 requests. 

That’s quite a jump.

The wild spurt of exemptions came at exactly the same time  - ironically enough - that Premier Paul Davis was insisting that MPRs were an essential part of the government’s efforts to keep fish processing jobs in the province.

They were so important that he and his colleagues would only give them up for a $280 million slush fund of federal cash controlled by the provincial government.

21 May 2015

TBT: a cabinet divided #nlpoli

The latest case of the Premier and one of his ministers saying different things can’t be put down to brain farts.

You also cannot dismiss this because fisheries minister Vaughan Granter can’t speak in short spurts or whatever the heck that line was from last weekend’s On Point.

This one is a case of two cabinet ministers saying two different things.

Oil Royalty and Oil Price Forecasts (2015) #nlpoli

Don Mills says people in Newfoundland and Labrador have a false impression of the state of the provincial economy.

Wade Locke says Mills is full of it.

Locke productionTo bolster his argument, such as it is, Locke released a raft of pretty charts a couple of weeks ago.

One of them included a slide showing projected offshore oil production. (right)

20 May 2015

Brain Farts #nlpoli

Some people have a hard time with the idea that a great many political decisions are not the product of deep thinking, extensive research, and agonizing debate.

They come from brain farts.

captain_dildoYou can hear that pretty clearly in the most recent episode of On Point. The political panel talked about a couple of cock-ups by the Conservatives last week.

 In among the few nose-pullers the panel tossed out, the basic elements of the story were there.

19 May 2015

Political Pandermonium #nlpoli

You can tell the election is already going on.  You can tell because of what some of the political workers are doing.

The Liberals are going door-to-door.  They are meeting voters.  They are asking for their votes.  Then the campaign workers write on Twitter and Facebook.about the “glorious day” of campaigning  they’d had.

Politicians tweet as well. The candidates tweet about their campaigning. The elected politicians tweet about the meeting they went to, or a government comment, or questions in the House of Assembly. 
Lane 24 MayTaking a lesson he learned from Reform Conservative turned Grit turned provincial Conservative Steve Kent, provincial Connie turned Grit Paul Lane goes places,  takes a picture of himself there, tweets it, and then frigs off somewhere else. The selfie makes it look like he stayed at the event.  That’s how he can be in so many places at the same time.

Lane also posts ridiculous pictures like this one about the May 24 weekend.  It’s a stock photograph of an Adirondack chair on a lake somewhere else in North America.

He used the same picture in a string of tweets over the weekend. People on Twitter made fun of Paul.  It looks like Lane had these pictures made as fridge magnets. Paul needs to decide if he has a moustache or not.

18 May 2015

Owing it forward #nlpoli

The provincial government will balance its books this year by borrowing $2.1 billion.

Lots of people don’t know that,  as Michael Caine would say.

The government included in its budget plans this year a hike in the HST of two percent.

The tax hike will bring in $200 million.

That $200 million will just about cover the interest in one year on all the new debt the provincial government plans to add between now and 2021.

The $2.1 billion this year is the tip of a very big iceberg of new debt, you see. The new debt will go on top of the other $12 billion we already owe. The total cost just to pay the interest on that debt in 2021 will be $1.0 billion.

When people found out about the HST hike, they lost their minds.

Fast forward to 2017.

15 May 2015

Never heard anyone say that before #nlpoli

“This may be our last shot at it,” said captain of industry Paul Antle this week as he set off to find other captains of industry to help him save the province. .

Gotta get off the oil, see. The Tories have frigged everything up..

Not so very long ago another rich guy-turned-politician said pretty much the same sort of thing.

The Liberals had cocked things up so badly – said captain of industry Danny Williams - that he was trying to get oil royalties that Ottawa was taking.

They weren’t really doing that, as Williams later admitted, but hey,  why let the facts get in the way of a good story.

“Williams provided [Macleans scribbler Paul Wells with] chapter and verse of his battle with Ottawa for a bigger share of the wealth generated by offshore oil. He passionately advanced the idea that this is his province's last, best hope to become a have rather than a perennial have-not.”  That was December 2004..

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14 May 2015

And it’s only Wednesday #nlpoli

Imagine, if you can, what it must be like to be Sandy Collins.  Sandy is a very young man who is -  right now -  living the first line of his epitaph.

Imagine, if you can do two at one,  what it must be like to be Veronica Hayden.  Veronica is Paul Davis’ principal assistant.

Both took to Twitter last weekend to harass Liberal leader Dwight Ball over the fact that he seemed to be saying contradictory things.

They must have been feeling very proud, strong, and determined.

And then it was Monday.

13 May 2015

A Memorial at Gallipoli #nlpoli

The provincial government announced four years ago that a caribou memorial at Gallipoli would be part of the Honour 100 commemorations to make the 100th anniversary of the First World War.

For those who don’t know,  the Newfoundland regiment fought its first battles on the Turkish peninsula from September 1915 to January 1916.  Gallipoli is the only major battle site from the First World War that doesn’t have a caribou memorial.

That’s why the provincial government announcement in 2011 was such welcome news.

That’s also why it came as such a disappointing shock to so many people on Monday to learn that not only had the provincial government scrapped the memorial but that they had done so because they could not find $500,000 in the budget to cover the cost. That is precisely what odds and sods minister Darin King told the House.

12 May 2015

When is a cut not a cut? #nlpoli

A couple of years ago, the province’s auditor general noted that a Crown agency responsible for developing an integrated health information system was paying salaries to its employees that were way outside provincial government guidelines.

The Telegram reported last fall that the problem was still unresolved 18 months after the auditor general issued his report. This was no small matter. Salaries grew 354% between 2007 and 2012, according to the Telegram. In one case, the salary for a senior executive member jumped by 119%.

Last week, and in the wake of an updated report by the province’s auditor general, Canadian Press reported that health minister Steve Kent had cut salaries at NLCHI. They’d save $50, 000 in one case and altogether the salary cuts would save $330,000.

Small problem.

11 May 2015

Ethnic identity economics #nlpoli

Wade Locke and Don Mills are two of the faces most associated with the current Conservative administration in Newfoundland and Labrador, aside from the politicians, that is.

Mills played a key role in Danny Williams administration.  Mills polling firm provided government with quarterly surveys.  Williams also tried to manipulate Mills’ survey results for questions on local politics that Mills used to market his research company.

The quarterly polling was key to Williams efforts to silence dissent and maximize his own freedom of political action.  The more popular Williams became, the less likely were any opposition politicians or news media to question his decisions. 

And for everyone else, the Conservative message was that any dissidents were out of step with the majority of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians.  Mills’ polling purportedly showed that Williams and his party were popular to an unheard of degree.  “He’s right because he’s popular and he’s popular because he is right,”  was a common Conservative talking point.

That’s why it has been so interesting the past few months that Mills has been criticising the provincial Conservatives in Newfoundland and Labrador.

08 May 2015

Trends: corpse kicking after a lost decade of delusion #nlpoli

Don Mills is the latest fan of the provincial Conservatives to turn on them savagely.

The St. John’s Board of Trade had Don back to deliver a luncheon speech this week.  According to CBC,  Mills said:

"The downside of Danny Williams, and I have a lot of respect for him, is that he doubled the provincial budget within that timeframe too," …  "He left the province with a structural budget problem that is going to be difficult to fix."

Mills also endorsed the private sector as the engine of economic growth, something Williams firmly opposed.

A decade ago, Mills couldn’t say enough about Williams the Wonderful.  Now,  Mills cannot distance himself enough from Old Twitchy and his legacy of what Mills calls “a structural budget problem.”

07 May 2015

The Fourth Party #nlpoli

A Telegram editorial on Wednesday contained a curious comment.  

The subject was news that broke this week about the provincial government;s energy corporation.  Two senior corporate officials are refusing to testify in a court case in Quebec over contending interpretations of the 1969 power contract between Churchill Falls (Labrador) Corporation and Hydro-Quebec.

Nalcor is refusing to respond to the Quebec court’s order, insisting that the order must come from a court in this province.  Now the entire court case is extremely important because it is crucial to Nalcor’s entire scheme for Muskrat Falls.  The fact that Nalcor is thumbing its nose to a legal process that it is a party to, through its majority ownership of CFLCo is both troublesome and needlessly offensive.

But that’s not the curious point from the editorial.  Whoever wrote the commentary added this bit toward the end:

It’s possible they are simply mirroring the intransigence of their Quebec counterparts to co-operate with actions in this province — as, for example, Hydro-Québec did in refusing to participate in PUB hearings on the water management agreement.

The problem with the statement is that it simply is not true.

06 May 2015

Austerity #nlpoli

All this talk of austerity, gutting the public service….

Then you look at the salary costs, from the provincial budget.

There’s something that just doesn’t add up.

austerity

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05 May 2015

The Red and the Black: budgets and politics #nlpoli

The annual budget is probably the most political document of any government in a Westminster style parliament like ours.

At its simplest and most obvious level the budget is the formal statement of a government’s priorities.  Once approved by 1the legislature, it gives government the legal authority to spend money.

The budget is, in that sense,  the most obvious display of what political scientist David Easton defined as politics:  the authoritative allocation of values.

There’s more politics to the budget than just that, however.

04 May 2015

Fearful Symmetry #nlpoli

There are a couple of constables in an office over in the basement of the old Memorial College building at Fort Townshend, right next to where the USO building used to be.  They handle all the mysterious calls about weird goings on,  sort of like a local version of the X-Files.

So the scuttlebutt has it at the nearby Timmies,  the boys got a call Thursday afternoon about the time Ross Wiseman was reading his budget speech.  The workers over a Colonial Building said they saw two fellows come out of the old House of Assembly Chamber,  arm-in-arm. 

NPG x75140; Sir Richard Anderson SquiresThere was one older fellow, a bit on the round side,  who walked with a limp.  The other fellow walked very straight and had a really high collar on his shirt.  Sorta like Don Cherry would wear one of the workers said.

The two fellows went out the front door of the building, the workers inside said.  The only problem was they didn’t open the door.  They just walked through it.

01 May 2015

Conservatives stay the debt-building course #nlpoli

Budget 2015 offered absolutely no surprises.

On major areas the Conservatives continued their policy of spending more than the provincial treasury can afford.  That’s been their trade-mark since 2003 and it became etched in stone in 2009.

As SRBP forecast a couple of weeks ago, the Conservatives raised a modest amount of money through a two percent hike in the provincial sales tax and a variety of small fees.  They added some new tax brackets at the upper end of the income scale.  The small twist in that one came from the actual release of the proposal by Memorial University’s economics department.  They recommend an improved rebate scheme to transfer the additional tax revenue to lower income residents.

Other than that, the Conservatives borrowed heavily. The deficit is a record for any government since Confederation. Your humble e-scribbler knew it would be bad.  It was worse than imagined.  That’s because – contrary to the forecast – they didn’t reduce capital works spending.

Lots of people are focused on the tax increases.  They amount to slightly more than than 10% of the total deficit. In the bigger scheme of things it is nothing.  It is just laughable for anyone to call this budget “tough”. 

Let’s look at some specific points.