30 December 2016

2016 in books #nlpoli

1.  Brand Command by Alex Marland.  The book that political marketing and communications academics will be quoting for a while to come.

2.  Observing the outports by Jeff Webb.  An accessible examination of the role the new university, its professors, and students played in the social and economic changes in Newfoundland and Labrador during the first 30 years after Confederation.

Two copies at Broken Books by the war memorial.

3.  Beating against the wind by Calvin Hollett. On one level,  a history of a theological dispute among Anglicans in Newfoundland 150 years ago but on another a book offers greater insight into the country and the people who built it. History from the ground up.

In the interest of full disclosure, Hollett is no close relation relation but a key figure in the book - Thomas Edward Collett of Harbour Buffett  - is my maternal great-great-great grandfather.

4.  Conflicted colony by Kurt Korneski.  A study of five conflicts that broadens and deepens our understanding of Newfoundland in the 19th century by applying a new lens to our view.  Far from being culturally or politically homogeneous,  Newfoundland in the 19th century was a frontier where diverse groups formed and reformed relationships in a constantly changing environment.

5.  Sweat equity by Chris Sharpe and AJ Shawyer.   This is the story of how the Commission government and the new provincial government after 1949 first recognised the desperate need for decent housing and then tried to meet the need using the resources available.

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Top 10 Posts of 2016 #nlpoli

These are the posts you read the most of all.

01.  Balls digs himself deeper into hole - May 2016 and yet another twist in the tale of Ed Martin's departure from Nalcor,  Dwight Ball knew and when he knew it.
02.  A no-holds-barred review - Bill Rowe's latest book, reviewed.  Shoulda been the No Punches Pulled review.  No holds barred was John Crosbie's 1997 memoir.
03.  Jim Thistle, 1954 - 2016
04.  Anger Ball - June 2016 - Dwight's head exploded
05.  Thank you, Danny Williams - Hebron is on the way but it won;t be as lucrative as people might hope.  Prices are down, Hebron oil will be discounted by the market, and to cap it all,  the development agreement with the province included a huge give-away on royalties.
06.  Worst possible time for HQ deal - Lots of talk that there's a deal in the offing between Hydro-Quebec and Nalcor.  Not a good time for it.
07.  Water rights, Muskrat Falls, and the Muskrat Falls Disaster - Controlling water flows on the lower Churchill River are crucial to operating Muskrat Falls properly.
08.  The Rasputitsa and the 2016 Budget - We are still mired in a financial sinkhole
09.  Not just another pretty face - Stan Marshall
10.  From a decade of prosperity to $2 billion deficits:  what happened?  (Roger Grimes)

-srbp-

29 December 2016

Reality Check: gas tax and debt/deficit #nlpoli

Comment on Twitter:
"If my household spends too much and goes into debt I don't expect others too pay for my mistakes, yet govn makes us pay for theirs."
Reality Check:
The provincial government is your household.  It's heavily in debt and seriously overspending. No one else is going to pay for it.  This one is on you and the rest of us. Glad you understand the principle, though, and will cheerfully help clean up.
Comment on Twitter:
When the gas tax was introduced Ms. Bennett promised: "that as oil prices rise the gas tax will go down"
Reality Check:
That bit in quotes isn't anything Cathy Bennett ever said.  Nobody has been able to find any comment anywhere that comes close to saying that the tax will go down as the price goes up.  That implies the government has some maximum price in mind and it suggests the tax will go down proportionately as gasoline increases.  
Here's finance minister Cathy Bennett during the budget speech:   "Effective June 2, 2016, gasoline tax will temporarily increase by 16.5 cents per litre. This tax increase will be reviewed ahead of the fall 2016 supplemental budget."  She said the same thing in the House of Assembly during the spring session. 
In the fall, the government opted not to have a supplemental budget and they didn't review the gasoline tax.  Bennett just promised there'd be "more clarity" come the spring budget.The closest anyone could find - including the guy who tweeted the comment - was a comment by the person who wrote a CBC story.   
Nothing from Bennett, though.
Meanwhile, if someone does find a quote that Bennett said the tax will go down as the price goes up, this post will change.   Stay tuned.

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Fact-checking CBC and Food Banks #nlpoli

The headline on the CBC story just felt wrong.

The kind of over-the-top exaggeration that just sounds biased.

Distorted.

Wrong.

"Food bank need jumps in N.L., ending years-long trend."

The first sentence was the same:  "After six years of near-consistent decline, food bank usage has jumped in Newfoundland and Labrador."

The second sentence, though, wasn't quite so emphatic.  Now there was just a change from 2015 to 2016 in the proportion of people in the province using food banks.

Time to check the data:  in this case, a report from the national food banks association. You cand find the same data and more besides in a report from the group Canada without Poverty.

The Tibb's Eve Accord #nlpoli

Health minister John Haggie said that the health deal signed with Ottawa on Tibb's Eve was the best deal that could be got.

Haggie's probably right.  At least, the deal contains a clause that if another province gets a better deal, we can opt for that one instead.

It's been so very long since we've seen federal-provincial rackets over money that most people in Canada seem to have forgotten what they look like.  Stephen Harper didn't run federal-provincial fiscal relations like other prime ministers so the provinces stopped squabbling publicly.  Even Paul Martin was basically about handing out cash so, aside from premiers who postured entirely for the show of it, there was never really much of the sort of disagreement and negotiation that Des Sullivan reminded us all about on Monday past.

28 December 2016

Bullying and Bennett #nlpoli

Cathy Bennett is the finance minister.  She's one of the most powerful and influential people in the province, bar none and certainly she is among the most powerful and influential women in the province.  If you just counted politicians, her role as finance minister puts her among the most influential people in Canada at the moment.

Shortly before Christmas, Bennett held a news conference to say that she had been bullied by people making comments on social media. Some of the people were anonymous and at least one of the comments Bennett complained about came from a group that was specifically protesting the government's budget.  In fact, every single comment Bennett mentioned, no matter how harsh,  came as a result of the spring budget.

Bullying is an interesting word to use here because it involves a power relationship.  What Bennett claimed  - in essence - was that anonymous people on the Internet were more powerful than she was. Lots of people were quite quick to agree with her. People like Lana Payne, an influential union leader, who devoted her Christmas Eve column in the Telegram to affirming that Bennett was weak and impotent because she was a woman in the face of anonymous men  - or people she assumed were men on social media.

27 December 2016

Policy is people #nlpoli

Kim Keating is a member of the newly-appointed council to advise the provincial government on oil and gas issues.

She's a professional engineer,  a senior official with a local company in the oil and gas business, and in the recent past she was the president of the St. John's Board of Trade the year that the Board wholeheartedly endorsed Muskrat Falls.

That's important because the Board not only endorsed Muskrat Falls for all the benefits that flowed to companies like the one Keating works for, but also because the Board was willing to trade away free enterprise in order to get those juicy business goodies. A key element of making Muskrat Falls work was the creation of a monopoly for Nalcor so that the company could force local consumers - and local businesses - to pay whatever it would take to satisfy Nalcor's creditors.

In other words, no matter how high the price for the project went,  local consumers would be stuck with the costs. Keating and her associates were okay with that.

But there's more to the issue than that.

23 December 2016

Canada-NL Health Deal: Warning Signs #nlpoli #cdnpoli

Late Friday evening, the provincial government announced it had signed a deal with the federal government on health funding.

We don't know what the arrangement is on the annual increase in funds but if it looks like what New Brunswick bought into,  Newfoundland and Labrador won;t see anything significant.  Once we've got more details, we'll get back to you on that.

As for the money tagged for home care and mental health,  there will be another $160.7 million over 10 years.  That works out to $16.7 annually. Since we get $738 million annual now from both the Canada Health Transfer and the Canada Social Transfer,  that works out to an annual increase of  zero point two percent (0.2%).  New Brunswick's deal got them zero point three percent (0.3%).

These health transfers will be delivered based on the population.  Since the government's own optimistic forecast has the population shrinking over the next decade, we may well wind up with less money from Ottawa at a time when our demand for health care funding will increase.

-srbp-

Es ist ein ros entsprungen

21 December 2016

Spin, illustrated #nlpoli

Spin is a bit more than a mere biased interpretation or a clever reframing of an idea.  In other words, there's more to it than saying the glass is half full rather than describing it as half empty.

Spin is deliberately deceptive.

On Wednesday,  the folks at Nalcor announced they had a new contract with Astaldi valued at more than $1.8 billion.  Nalcor boss Stan Marshall told reporters and they all dutifully repeated the comment that the new contract would add "$270 million" more to the $11.4 billion estimated cost of Muskrat
Falls.

The original contract with Astaldi had a value of  CDN$1.0 billion.  Astaldi actually booked the contract at about CDN$1.24 billion.  That was 2014. In its online account of the latest twist in the tale, CBC actually inflates the announced price of the original contract to the number Astaldi claimed in 2014.  Make no mistake:  Nalcor pegged the cost of the contract at $1.0 billion. Period.

By late 2016,  after Nalcor disclosed that the company had completely screwed up the contract, Nalcor folks started to describe the original value of the contract as $1.1 billion and allowed that a "bridging agreement" meant Astaldi could earn up to another $150 million by meeting performance milestones on construction of the powerhouse.

So now we have a new contract that increases the original contract by $830 million,  not the $270 figure Nalcor used to describe the increase in their most recent estimated cost of the whole project.

Why against $11.4 billion,  $270 million sounds like nothing at all and it is precisely that deceptive comparison  - dutifully repeated by every reporter on Wednesday  - that Nalcor is relying on to mask the real magnitude of Nalcor's shag-up with the Astaldi contract. In truth,  the new Astaldi contract is responsible for an 83% cost overrun on the contract price of the powerhouse and we are not done yet.

The original estimated cost of the dam and line to Newfoundland was supposed to be $5.0 billion.  We are now more than double that figure and well on the way to tripling it.

-srbp-

Ding dong merrily on high

20 December 2016

Gender Gap - Sunshine edition #nlpoli

The House of Assembly passed a bill during the last sitting that would allow the government to publish a list every year of all the people working for government who make more than $100,000 a year.

With all the fuss about the so-called Sunshine List,  maybe it is worth taking some time to have a look at some of the information we already have, thanks to Statistics Canada (CANSIM 111-0008)

 In 2004, 396,050 people in the province reported an income.  6,500 of them made $100,000 or more.  That's 1.6%.*

1,010 of them were women, which works out to zero point two percent of all people with incomes. That leaves about 1.4% (5,490), namely the men,  who earned more than $100,000 in 2004.  Women made up 15.5% of the people who made more than $100,000.

Now flip ahead to 2014.  The number of people with incomes grew by 6% (25,100) but the number of folks making more than $100,000 grew by 443% (28,840).

People making more than $100,000 made up 8% of people with incomes in 2014. Interestingly, 6,320 women made more than $100,000.  Interestingly the male/female ratio of folks in the income category stayed very much the same.  18% of the folks earning more than $100,000 were women.

That jump in the percentage of people making large salaries mirrors what James McLeod found in the public sector. Unfortunately, the Telegram has disappeared McLeod's blog posts in their redesign of the Telly website.

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* Re-written for clarity.

19 December 2016

Gender Gap, 2004-2014 #nlpoli

In 2004,  the median income for men in Newfoundland and Labrador was $10,000 higher than the median income for women.  By 2014,  the gap in median income between men and women in Newfoundland and Labrador had grown to $16, 130.

The median income for women had grown $8,810 between 2004 and 2014.  But the median income for men grew by $14,940.

That's a pretty chart showing the median income in Newfoundland and Labrador for the period 2004 to 2014.  The data is from CANSIM 111-0008.

Turquiose line = men.  Red line = women.  Orange is the median income for both sexes.

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15 December 2016

The Darker Side #nlpoli

The day after Cathy Bennett talked about the hate-filled and threatening messages she'd received after delivering last spring's budget, the echo chamber that is Newfoundland politics had already absorbed the story and claimed it confirmed  that men were the only perpetrators of the violence that was aimed exclusively at women politicians and political activists.

In itself, the speed with which familiar, affiliated voices appropriated the story is a reminder of the extent to which social media  - and media generally - is not so much the vehicle of open discussion aimed at finding truth from facts as much as it is another battleground in partisan warfare that unfolds along predetermined lines.

CBC Radio Noon asked a question for its Wednesday show:  "If Finance Minister Cathy Bennett were a man, would she be such a target on social media?"

The answer is "yes" although that's not the way the show and its guest answered the question.

14 December 2016

Brutal #nlpoli

Any Liberals who thought they were out of the political woods got a harsh reminder of the truth on Tuesday.

Their leader remains as unpopular as ever.

According to Angus Reid, only 20% of respondents to their recent poll thought Premier Dwight Ball was doing a good job. That's scarcely changed since last spring.

75% disapprove of the job Ball is doing.

Corporate Research Associates showed a curious 10 point jump in its leader-choice question last time around.  Bit of a different question, to be sure, but folks might want to notice that CRA winds up being a bit of an outlier in this respect. Other pollsters had results for party choice through October and November that were all pretty much the same. Seems odd that everything else would track but that something like support for party leader would be well outside the margin of error of the polls.

Maybe CRA was little bit high.

Maybe.

-srbp-

Townie Elite #nlpoli

Add Townie Elite to your online reading.

Peter Jackson spent 25 years at the Telegram, where he used to write a regular column.

Now he's decided to come over to the dark side and offer his opinions online through a blog. These are early days for the Elite.  He only has one post up so far.  Get into the habit of reading him early on.  Peter is the kind of guy you won't always agree with but you can count on him bringing his strongly-held views to the table every time.

If we are lucky, Peter will do more than just clack out opinion pieces.  His wife is a talented artist in her own right and between the pair of them,  Townie Elite could evolve into an eclectic mix of music, writing, politics, journalism, and philosophy.



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13 December 2016

Unacceptable #nlpoli

Finance minister Cathy Bennett did something very brave on Monday.  She did something far braver than carry on without disclosing some of the horrendous abuse she and her family has suffered since last spring's budget.

She talked publicly about the threats and abuse.  One cannot watch the video of Bennett talking about the events and not be touched by the trembling of  her lip,  the quivering of her voice as she discusses hateful comments aimed at her relentlessly.

Well, that is,  not if one is a compassionate human being in any event.  Far too many people took to Twitter to continue the attack on Bennett whether by dismissing the remarks as nothing or to justify the attacks. Just to make sure everyone understands this isn't bile coming from men alone, aimed at woman, take a look at the remarks offered by a prominent artist in the province, herself the mother of three girls.

12 December 2016

Six dollars and eighty cents #nlpoli

We should pay members of the House of Assembly a good salary because they do a hard job that demands much of them and their family.

It is a thankless job but it is an important job for our province and its people.  One of the hazards of the job is that they must take a lot of personal criticism from ignorant people. Sometimes the ignorant people are on Twitter, as in the past week or so, and sometimes, the ignorant folks are other politicians, like in 2014 when Dwight Ball condemned their pension system or in 2015 when he arbitrarily decided to cut public representation in the House of Assembly.

We should not make decisions based on ignorance even if, as in this case, the ignorance is widespread.

09 December 2016

AIMS refutes austerity hysteria #nlpoli #AIMS

From the latest Atlantic Institute for Market Studies paper:

"Measuring Austerity in Atlantic Canada investigates whether the use of the term austerity in the context of Atlantic Canada’s public finance is accurate. The author examines public accounts data from the four provinces, adjusting for inflation, to determine the annual amount of program expenditure in absolute and per capita terms. He also calculates the relative increase or decrease in spending from year to year, establishing the trend in provincial government expenditures in Atlantic Canada.

"The report offers three main findings:
  • The budgets of southern European countries such as Portugal, Italy, Greece, and Spain (the so called “PIGS” nations) have experienced genuine austerity following the Great recession. These countries had to cut their government spending by up to a quarter, over as few as two fiscal years.
  • Provincial governments in Atlantic Canada have increasingly spent more money on programs — in absolute and per capita terms — between 1980 and 2016. Per capita program expenditure in Newfoundland and Labrador saw the greatest increase at 113.7 percent. Prince Edward Island’s growth rate was the slowest at 61 percent over the examined period.
  • A shifting demographic landscape in the region — notably its aging population — does not suffice to explain these significant spending increases. While the school-age population has dwindled in the four Atlantic provinces, education spending continues to grow, showing that spending increases cannot be a response to demographic changes.

"The report concludes that the use of the term austerity in relation to fiscal policy in the Atlantic Canadian provinces is hyperbolic, inappropriate and inaccurate.

"All governments spend more money than they did a generation ago, with only minor blips of restraint and no sustained or disciplined effort to cut spending significantly. The nature of Atlantic Canadian public finance, therefore, is not one of austerity but of consistent spending growth over a sustained period."

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08 December 2016

Poll numbers not very comforting #nlpoli

A little over a month ago,  only about 16 or 17 percent of respondents told pollsters they thought Dwight Ball was the best choice for Premier.

In November, 27% of respondents picked Ball above Paul Davis and Earle McCurdy in Corporate Research Associate's quarterly survey.

That's a big jump in 30 days.

The only thing that changed in those 30 days is that folks finally got the message Ball has been sending since July:  all those layoffs and cuts we had planned for the fall are off. If public perception of Ball is that closely tied to whether or not he carries an axe,  his political fortunes will rise or fall with the provincial government's financial state.

07 December 2016

Megawreck #nlpoli

Over the past couple of weeks, the people of Newfoundland and Labrador have been shown more and more the lunacy that is Muskrat Falls.

Nothing better exemplifies the crazy world of the Muskrateers than Dwight Ball's claim in interviews that he has wrestled the project back under control.  Not long after, we learned that problems with the cofferdam and the powerhouse go back to the summer and yet the public have only just learned about the cost over-runs that will continue on a project that is as far from under control as possible.

We don't need to review all of this because you can find posts about the decision-making failures at Muskrat Falls long before now.  In light of the recent revelations, it's worth going back tos ee how may of the problems turned up way before anyone started building.  So enjoy these posts from 2012 on decision-making.

Try not to cry.

"The past decade has shown that even the best owners and contractors have been largely unable to scope, define, plan, estimate and execute these mega-projects with any sort of predictability. Cost overruns of 100% or more have been widely reported, along with years of schedule delays. In fact, such experiences are so common there is even a word for it: a 'megawreck'." (Westney Consulting Group)
For fun, take a look at a post from February 2012 about the cost of Muskrat Falls and the impact on consumers.  When Danny Williams set us down this road,  Kathy Dunderdale said the thing would raise electricity prices to something like 17 cents a kilowatt hour.  

The most recent estimate - now long out of date  - was for about 21 cents a kilowatt hour.  When people talk about the new loan guarantee shaving off a bit of the cost, understand that the loan guarantee will only have an impact on future cost increases.  In other words,  we are still talking about consumer prices of at least 21 cents a kilowatt hour.  Remember that number.

In February 2012,  Nalcor calculated the cost of service price for Muskrat Falls electricity, including the approved rate of return was 21.4 cents per kilowatt hour. That's not the cost of electricity to consumers but even at that point,  Nalcor was talking about taking consumer prices from around 11 cents a kilowatt hour to 17 cents in order to cover off the cost of Muskrat Falls.

That 21.4 cents didn't include construction of the transmission facilities or any of the subsequent cost over-runs on the project. The cost of the project is roughly double what it was in February 2012.

Now do a bit of math.

Try not cry.

-srbp-

Faint hope #nlpoli

Nalcor won't be able to install a boom upstream from the powerhouse construction.  The result is that there will likely be damage to the dam construction, according to Nalcor boss Stan Marshall.

Well, likely if the winter is normal or colder.  But maybe not.

"It’s weather dependent,"  said Marshall. "So if we have a very mild winter, we probably won’t have any damage at all. If we have a severe winter, we’ll probably have substantial damage to the structure."

Local knowledge would put it a little differently.

A "mild" winter usually means thicker, harder, ice.  The thaw-freeze cycle of a "mild" winter puts about three additional feet of thick, solid, concrete-like ice on the bay and rivers and lakes as the surface melts, floods, refreezes, and repeats.

Yeah.

Mild winter.

Looks like there's another thing the geniuses at Nalcor got right about Muskrat Falls.

-srbp-

Get Knotted Doc O'Keefe #nlpoli

No one should be surprised that St. John's mayor Doc O'Keefe is huffing and puffing over comments by former mayor Andy Wells to the effect that O'Keefe's crowd had been doing things improperly if not illegally at city hall.

"You've got a council that's been profligate, wasteful, irresponsible and certainly immoral and possibly illegal," Wells told reporters outside Monday night's council meeting.  It's along the lines of Well's comments last September.

There's only one reason O'Keefe is pissed:  Wells is right.

And for the first time in a long while someone is calling out the arrogant, secretive O'Keefe on the shit-show he's been running in the city for the past five or six years.

06 December 2016

Policy and sausages #nlpoli

People like to think the world we live in is run by some sort of magically rational process and the folks in charge are all much smarter than the rest of us.

This brief sketch from an early Simon Pegg television series is actually much closer to the reality some times than any of us would care to admit.



So just enjoy the humour in it.

Under no circumstances should anyone imagine that similar conversations have happened over the past six years about things like frazzle ice, cofferdams, electricity prices, or the 1969 power contract.

No.

Because that would involve both the minister and the official being complete dullards and everyone knows that could never happen.

-srbp-

05 December 2016

Mazel Tov Cocktails #nlpoli

Scottie Nell Hughes is one of the legion of ident-a-bots who turned up on news programs during the recent American election spouting lines from the Trump campaign. She's already famous as the one who gave us the mazel tov cocktail flub.  She grabbed some headlines last week for making the comment that there is no such thing as facts.

Specifically, Hughes said that "...one thing that has been interesting this entire campaign season to watch, is that people that say facts are facts—they're not really facts. Everybody has a way—it's kind of like looking at ratings, or looking at a glass of half-full water. Everybody has a way of interpreting them to be the truth, or not truth. There's no such thing, unfortunately, anymore as facts."

01 December 2016

Setting the agenda #nlpoli

In a set of media interviews this week, Premier Dwight Ball thought he would be talking about what's he learned in his first year in office, what motivates him, and the great plans he has for the future. The election was on November 30, 2015 and Ball took office on December 15.

As the result of  a tweet at 6:00 PM on Wednesday evening, everyone else will be talking about the fact Ball is already working on his third communications director after only 11 months in office.

Then they will wonder how long before Ball is starting in on his fourth... and then his fifth.

-srbp- 

29 November 2016

Down due to illness - updated

Update (30 Nov 2016):  A trip to the doctor on Tuesday proved to be the best thing to do.  The cold is on the run and regular screeding will resume Monday morning.

Wait Times:  Trip to the doctor prompted a review of the file only to discover Eastern Health had not responded to a  rheumatology referral sent by the old scribbler's GP in May 2010 when the scribbler's arthritis reawakened after 30 years in remission.

6.5 years.

Nil response from Eastern Health.

Another close family member is well into the second year if not the third with no response on a rheumatology referral to Eastern Health.

Original Post (29 Nov 16):  A cold has sidelined your e-scribbler for a couple of days.  Regular screeds will resume shortly.

-srbp-

Waiting for Fidel #nlpoli #cdnpoli

From the National Film Board:

"This feature-length documentary from 1974 takes viewers inside Fidel Castro's Cuba. A movie-making threesome hope that Fidel himself will star in their film. The unusual crew consists of former Newfoundland premier Joseph Smallwood, radio and TV owner Geoff Stirling and NFB film director Michael Rubbo. What happens while the crew awaits its star shows a good deal of the new Cuba, and also of the three Canadians who chose to film the island."


28 November 2016

The graveyard of ambition #nlpoli

Think of it as an inside joke.

James McLeod interviewed Premier Dwight Ball about the horror show that has been Ball's first year in office. "Ball also came under heavy fire,"  McLeod wrote, "for his handling of Nalcor Energy and perceived dishonesty about what he knew about outgoing CEO Ed Martin’s exorbitant severance package." McLeod quotes Ball:  "'I understand why people would suggest that, well, this guy, I can’t trust him, simply because of the HST or because of this or that.'"

This or that, of course, would be Ball's claim that he knew nothing of the plan to pay Ed Martin any form of severance although he'd quit as the head of Nalcor. That's the sort-of joke part. I can see, said Ball understatedly, how people might think I have some trouble telling them the straight story.  Subsequent evidence made it pretty clear Ball knew about severance payment Martin got, even if it was only to the extent he believed Martin was entitled to a severance payment under his employment contract and didn't know about the elaborate fraud perpetrated by the Tory-appointed Nalcor board.

25 November 2016

Fractured Fairy Tales: Jerry Earle edition #nlpoli

Via VOCM,  the reaction of NAPE boss Jerry Earle to a study that showed the provincial government is overloaded with provincial public servants compared to the situation in other provinces:
Earle says while that might be true, there are good reasons, given the province's geography and demographics. 
He says even comparing Newfoundland and Labrador to the rest of Atlantic Canada is not comparing "apples to apples."
 Okay.

Jerry is actually right.  And wrong.

24 November 2016

The future will be something #nlpoli

The association representing the province's offshore supply and service businesses paid a consultant from London to look at the potential for development of the oil located in very deep water offshore Newfoundland.

As CBC's Terry Roberts tells us,  the goal of the exercise was to help NOIA members get ready for a possible increase in deep water exploration.  Land sales offshore the past couple of years have been extremely good.  Companies bid huge amounts of money for the chance to explore offshore.

The offshore regulatory board offered 13 parcels this year.  They accepted proposals with a little over $500 million for exploration on about 1.5 million hectares.  In 2015,  the offshore board accepts proposals totalling $1.2 billion on 2.5 million hectares.

That looks really good.  The consultants said so.  Could be a massive boom in exploration, they said.

23 November 2016

Population density and just dense #nlpoli

The Government of Newfoundland and Labrador is in financial trouble.

It will spend this year about $3.0 billion more than it will take in.  In fact,  this year, as last year,  banks and other sources of borrowing will be the largest single source of income for the provincial government.

Newfoundland and Labrador is not a poor place, not by any stretch of anyone's imagination.  In absolute terms, the government will bring in more than twice as much than it did 25 years ago.  Inflation has not doubled in that same period.

Leave out the borrowing for a second. On a per person basis, the provincial government will bring in more revenue this than any other province in the country, bar none.

The problem we have is that government will spend so much more than it brings in.  That's what a deficit is:  spend more than you make.    Simple idea.

And yet so many people just keep trying to blame our problems on the federal government for not giving us handouts.

Unopen Government #nlpoli

The idea of open data has been around for a while.

In government, it means that government would make information like census data,  statistics,  licensing information easily and freely available for anyone to use, free of charge and any restrictions. It's a way of sparking creativity, crowd-sourcing new information, and basically spending less time and scarce resources in government trying to hide useful information the public should have anyway.

Officially, the provincial government here adopted the idea as official policy in 2014 but they have been typically very slow to put anything into action.

Case on point:  an access to information request for data collected from caribou monitoring collars.  The maps in the download are all stamped with a restriction that they are for the use of the original recipient only.  No one bothered to black them out, which would be the easiest thing to do... if the restriction didn't still apply.

More importantly, though,  the request was just for spot data shown on maps, as opposed to the actual latitude and longitude tracking information.  A government genuinely committed to open data would have just dumped this stuff into the public domain in the first place, in bulk. That would have saved the expense of converting it into maps into the first place for this request, no matter how small the dollar cost actually was.

There is soooo much that begs to be fixed in the provincial government's access to information world.

-srbp-

22 November 2016

un autre pet de cerveau de Jones #nlpoli

Labrador member of parliament Yvonne Jones got so effercited at the prospect of more hydro-electric development with Hydro-Quebec that she wanted to offer arctic and sub-arctic regions outside Labrador as potential customers for surplus Muskrat Falls power.

Seriously.

There are people in Labrador slaved to diesel generators.  Some of them can see the wires from Muskrat Falls headed off to the island.  No Muskrat juice for them, said Nalcor, because it wasn't cost effective.  And Jones knows this because the dweebs at Nalcor told her this when she was the member of the House of Assembly representing them.

Plus...

School Board Elections #nlpoli

Some folks were a bit agitated over the weekend about how hard it is going to be  - supposedly - to vote in the school board election.


Voter turn-out may be down, according to Amanda Bittner, a  political science professor at Memorial University.  According to the Telegram, Bittner "said a lack of accessibility to voter information has made it hard even to figure out where to mark a ballot. After visiting the officialwebsite and scrolling through a 364-page PDF of polling stations, she was not convinced it did the process any favours."

Bittner said that “at first it took a while for me to figure out, well, how do I actually figure out who’s going to run? How do I figure out how it works if I could nominate somebody? Every single step along the way has been a bit confusing, and that’s definitely something we don’t want if we care about turnout...".

Problems with a website will keep voters from turning out?  

Well, no.

21 November 2016

Poor Russell's Almanack #nlpoli

​Pity Russell Wangersky.​

Somebody is telling Russell he is part of the elite and Russell doesn't like it.

Not me, writes Russell, in one of his columns last week.  

No elite here.  And to prove the point, he rattles off the mundane list of things that make up his typical day.

All wonderful stuff and all necessarily irrelevant since Russell is precisely what he denies being.

18 November 2016

Canadian war grave destroyed by illegal salvagers #nlpoli

A recent survey of the waters around Indonesia by researchers using three-dimensional sonar imaging has confirmed that illegal salvagers have decimated the graves of thousands of Allied sailors who died during the Second World War when their ships were sunk by enemy attacks.

One of the British ships was HMS Exeter,  a British cruiser sunk by the Japanese during the second Battle of the Java Sea.  Among the dead on March 1, 1942 was 19-year-old Able Seaman Michael Fleming, the son of Richard and Christine Fleming of St. John's.

Fleming,  right,  was a member of the eighth contingent of Royal Navy volunteers to leave Newfoundland during World War 2.

According to The Guardian, the British ministry of defence has expressed serious concern about the illegal salvage and asked the Indonesian government o investigate and "take appropriate action" to prevent further disturbance of British shipwrecks that are also the graves of British servicemen and women.

17 November 2016

Canadian soldier dies on Jordanian training mission

Major Scott Foote, a logistics officer with 1 Canadian Division in Kingston, Ontario, died on Thursday while on a training mission in Jordan.  Foote was found unconscious in a gymnasium and was pronounced dead when efforts to revive him failed. His death is not combat-related.

Foote was working in Jordan as a liaison officer within the Canadian Defence Attaché’s office. He was part of the Canadian Training Assessment Team supporting Operation IMPACT,  part of Canadian efforts to assist Jordan to strengthen security and stability in the region.

Originally from New Harbour,  Foote was a graduate of Memorial University and the Marine Institute. His career of more than 25 years  in the Canadian Army included a posting a staff officer in the headquarters of the Allied Rapid Reaction Corps.  

He leaves a wife and son, living in Kingston, Ontario. 

-srbp-

Political campaigns matter #nlpoli


bialik-turnout-nov15-1New information calls for a change in perspective.

Turns out that the drop in turnout identified by the initial vote results wasn't as big a drop from 2012 as initially reported.  The folks at fivethirtyeight.com have figured it out.

 About 58.1 % of eligible voters turned out,  down  from 58.6% in 2012. The turn-out in 2000 was about 54%. Contrary to the impression some folks have,  turnout in American elections is actually up lately. The recent election may wind up having a bigger turnout than any election between 1972 and 2000.

Ego and folly #nlpoli

“When the situation was manageable it was neglected, and now that it is thoroughly out of hand we apply too late the remedies which then might have effected a cure. There is nothing new in the story. It is as old as the sibylline books. It falls into that long, dismal catalogue of the fruitlessness of experience and the confirmed unteachability of mankind. Want of foresight, unwillingness to act when action would be simple and effective, lack of clear thinking, confusion of counsel until the emergency comes, until self-preservation strikes its jarring gong–these are the features which constitute the endless repetition of history.” 
Winston Churchill,  Hansard, 02 May 1935
______________________

"If there's a deal to be had that will benefit Newfoundlanders and Labradorians,"  Premier Dwight Ball in the House of Assembly on Wednesday, "the responsible thing to do is not ... [to] let our past inhibit and restrict where we could be in the future."

That's actually a clean version of the quote.  In the heat of the moment in the House, Ball injected another phrase - "we learned from our history" - in the bit taken up by the ellipsis (three dots).

Ball's performance in the House on Wednesday,  indeed the way he has approached rumours of talks that have been abundant since last spring, make plain that Ball is very much inhibited, bound, and restricted by the history of the Lower Churchill.  He is extremely sensitive about the politics and the history.  That is the only reason he would really be quite so ridiculous as to claim there are no discussions and then at the same time talk as though there are talks underway.

16 November 2016

Ball, Coady confirm secret talks with Quebec on Labrador hydro #nlpoli #cdnpoli

Premier Dwight Ball confirmed in the House of Assembly on Wednesday that officials from this province are talking to officials in Quebec about significant development of hydro-electric assets on the Churchill River.

We know that something very serious is going on  - in secret  - because of the way that Ball and natural resources minister Siobhan Coady answered questions in the House from opposition leader Paul Davis about recent media reports about comments from Quebec and Ball's reply to the story.  Ball was very obviously playing with words at every turn in the House. Every answer to an opposition question had a too-cute-by-half quality to it,  giving the unmistakable feeling that Ball wasn't telling anything close to the truth.

Ball has done this before, most recently when ambushed by reporters on his return from a golf and hockey vacation in the middle of the Muskrat Falls protests.  With his public support in the low double-digits,  and with a severely damaged reputation from his performance in the the Ed Martin fiasco in the spring,  Ball's passive-aggressive performance in the House on Wednesday betrays a rather curious strategy.  Ball's performance just reinforces the negative impressions people have of him  - he has trouble telling the truth - without winning him any new supporters.

The Sunshine List Case hits the court #nlpoli

The public sector unions' attack on freedom of information is finally in front of a judge.  The unions want to  block disclosure of the names of public servants in response to a request from the Telegram's James McLeod for a list of public service positions in which the person holding the job makes more than $100,000 a year.

McLeod is compiling the list because both the former administration and the current one have committed to publishing one but haven't done so yet.  Several other provinces publish similar lists of public employees who make more than $100,000 a year.

The union's says it's okay to disclose the position title and income but McLeod shouldn't  have the name of the person holding the job.  It's a insane argument since there is no practical way to withhold either of the three elements of the request - name, position, salary - such that a person couldn't make up the list after a couple of requests. It's an insane argument from because the unions don't oppose disclosure of the name and position separately from the salary.  Well, at least they haven't objected so far.

But the position taken by the unions doesn't make sense for a bunch of other reasons.

15 November 2016

General Ignorance: Economic Version #nlpoli

Of all the people in Canada who know something about the Equalization system,. none of them sit in the House of Assembly.

Item:  Kevin Hutchings, a former cabinet minister, asked the finance minister why the provincial government had not gone to war with Ottawa to get some Equalization. Hutchings had a letter in the Telegram on Monday confirming for its subscribers that he hasn't got a clue.

The Tories tweeted this:
MHA Hutchings "why have liberals not worked to secure modernized equalization formula tied to fiscal capacity?"
Okay.

Equalization is a program introduced in 1957 to make sure that all provincial governments have at least the same basic fiscal capacity to deliver provincial services.

Since 1957.

Based on provincial fiscal capacity.

The federal government figures out an average for provincial governments. Fall above the line you get squat. Fall below the line you get cash. The work out the fiscal capacity as being so many thousand dollars per person in the province.

Item:  In reply to the question,  finance minister Cathy Bennett says the provincial government has been talking to Ottawa about bigger hand-outs and, oh yeah,  the current Equalization formula is the one Hutchings and his crowd negotiated.

On that second point,  errr,  no.

The federal government puts the thing in place.

There are no negotiations.

Item:  For the record,  the provincial government doesn't get Equalization because it makes too much money.  We are a "have" province.

As the governments own visiony documenty thing stated just last week:  "Even in 2016-17, Newfoundland and Labrador has the highest per capita revenue ... among provinces."

That is supposed to be a good thing.

And it is.

Our government brought in more money per person than Alberta.

The problem is that bit where the three dots were in the original quote.  We also spent the most per son of every government in the country.

On what basis does a politician from this province think for one second that we have a right to be like Danny-Williams-rich and then go looking for welfare because we couldn't make ends meet AND get pissed off when they don't give it to us?

Seriously.

Item:   "Mary Shortall, president of the Newfoundland and Labrador Federation of Labour, says cutting back at this time is not the right approach. She says the public service is the main driver of the local economy." [VOCM]

The provincial government is in financial trouble *because* "the public service is the main driver of the local economy."

But Mary wants to keep going down a road that ends in catastrophe for everyone, including all the people in Mary's unions.

If you want to understand why the government is a mess, you now have a really good idea.

-srbp-

The Trump Election #nlpoli

All you will ever need in order to understand the recent American presidential election is contained in this little chart.  It appeared within about 24 hours of the polls closing on Tuesday, November 8. 

Lots of people will look at it and imagine it shows the need for electoral reform in the United States. Others will see the weakness of one or another or both of the candidates.  Still others will see in the American election some indictment of the news media coverage.  All sorts of people will see all sorts of things.

But very few will see the decline in voter turnout for what it is:  the result of strategic decisions taken by both parties, but especially by the Republicans, in order to win the election.

14 November 2016

Leaders and salaries #nlpoli

Donald Trump says he won't even take one dollar in salary as president.

Sounds familiar.

In Newfoundland and Labrador,  Proto-Trump said the same thing.  His fan club insist the Greatest One never took a penny of salary.

That was, at best, a fib.

His best shot #nlpoli

The most important measurement you need to take of Dwight Ball's great vision for the provincial government is that this is his one, best shot.

That shot consists of a hackneyed, worn-out, tired list of all sorts of things that government departments are already doing,  things that won't materially affect the problem or government's deficit or the economy, or that are just irrelevant to the problem that continues to loom over all our heads.

Take as a good example, the commitment to improve breastfeeding initiation rates from their current 72% to something like the national rate of 90%.  It sounds like a great idea since breast-feeding is a good way to improve babies' health. Healthy babies mean healthy adults and healthy adults cost less to care for than the crowd currently filling our hospitals. What's more, it sounds like there is a measurable target, going from 72 to 90 and all that.  Lots of evidence in there for the evidence based fetished among you.

But it isn't.

10 November 2016

Citizenship and Newfoundland's decision to join Canada - Raymond Blake #nlpoli

From Ray Blake's recent post on the Acadiensis blog:
Approaching the constitutional politics of Newfoundland in the 1940s from the perspective of the rhetoric surrounding citizenship provides a multi-dimensional framework that allows us to see how a majority of voters who had not traditionally imagined themselves as citizens demanded in the political debates of the 1940s certain protections, to secure certain benefits, and to be guaranteed particular capacities. It was on the basis of the discursive framework of citizenship that voters made claims on their political community. In this, voters in Newfoundland were no different than those throughout Canada, Britain or Australia, for instance, who wanted better quality education, better health care and better public services. After the Second World War, Newfoundland, like societies elsewhere, insisted that citizenship in liberal democracies had to bring real material benefits and provide a measure of security to all citizens and that may have been the main determining factor in Newfoundland’s decision to choose Canada.
-srbp- 

Why national history matters - Jerry Bannister #nlpoli

"Nations matter. National cultures matter. And national histories matter,"  historian Jerry Bannister writes in his commentary on the American presidential election just finished.  "As we try to understand what has happened in the United States, we should keep those three things in mind."

Bannister notes that historians are increasingly drawn to interpretations that cross national and international boundaries, drawing attention to ever larger patterns and force that shape events.   "Well," Bannister interjects, "if we ever needed a reminder of the importance of national history, we got it last night."

"Despite all the ink spilled on connections across borders and links across the Atlantic world, American history diverges in critical ways from Canadian history.  For all of our similarities as continental neighbours, our political cultures appear to be going in opposite directions. Those differences may seem minor to some, but this morning they feel more important than ever."

This matters,  as Bannister concludes,  because as "we search for answers and understanding, we need to reconsider the importance of national history, national institutions, and the road not travelled."

Read the whole post at the Acadiensis blog.

-srbp-

09 November 2016

The real news in one sentence #nlpoli

According to its supporters, we need to have a special office for search and rescue in St. John's because Newfoundlanders spoke English so poorly that no one could understand us.

Lives would be in jeopardy because Merv Wiseman lost his job. Wiseman was one of the loudest critics of the federal government's 2013 decision to close the Maritime Rescue Sub-Centre.

That's the full extent of the argument advanced by Wiseman,  then-member of parliament Jack Harris, and a raft of others.  There were all sorts of hysterical claims about the decision, including the old chestnut that the evil Stephen Harper Conservatives were punishing the people of the province for something or other.

Well, the federal Liberals have promised to put the office back.  It will take them another two eyars, meaning that we will have a total of five years without it.

08 November 2016

Apparitions #nlpoli

You can go back to September 2006 and find one of the earliest references at SRBP to the impact the aging, shifting population would have on Newfoundland and Labrador.  The argument in the speech came from projections dating back to the early 1990s.

There was nothing radical or new in any of it.  In the decade after that post, the provincial government ignored the projections,  ignored the obvious implications of an aging population, and did all sorts of things to make matters worse.  Along the way,  SRBP and labradore have written about the problem and the fact that the politicians were making it worse.

Now that the problem has actually been in our faces for five or six years,  you are seeing more and more references to the changes in some parts of the province.  Like say the Great Northern Peninsula, where one town has lost 10% of its population every year since 2011.   That town likely won't be there within the next five years.  Other towns are in worse shape already.  Still others will be in the same position before too much longer.

There used to be some nice illustrations of how the population is changing.  SRBP included a link in a 2013 post that also included a commentary by Matthew Kerby, then a political scientist at Memorial University. The illustrations are gone. The facts are still there.

The Premier is supposed to release his vision plan for the provincial economy in the decade ahead.  Pay close attention to what he releases.  So far,  the Premier has ignored the bigger picture just like his predecessors did.  If Dwight Ball's plan doesn't take into account the impacts of demographics, then it will be less a vision and more another government nightmare.

-srbp-

07 November 2016

Politics and Theatre

Adam Schiff is a United States congressman representing the 29th district in California.  He's a Democrat.

His fictional namesake was the Manhattan district attorney in the original series Law & Order.

Adam Schiff's successor as district attorney was Arthur Branch,  played by actor Fred Thompson.

Thompson served from 1994 to 2003 as a United States senator from Tennessee. He was a Republican.

-srbp-

Appearance #nlpoli

What you know of the world outside your immediate physical sensation - what you can touch, taste, feel and so on - is a mental construction.

It is a fiction.

That doesn't mean it is all false. All fiction has some element of the concrete amid its vapour. Nor does it mean that appearance is reality, as many mistakenly assume.

We share a lot of that fiction with everyone else. The thing is, we all run slightly different versions of the same story in our heads. From time to time, our fiction runs up against a different version of events.

That's when things get interesting.

04 November 2016

North Spur sideshow #nlpoli

Jim Gordon, an engineer previously critical about the design of the Muskrat Falls dam has revised his opinion.  Gordon had earlier believed that the landmass known as the North Spur was potentially unstable and could collapse under certain conditions.  He's now revised his view based on new evidence.

For all the concern lots of people have had about this issue,  it was never really a show-stopper for the Muskrat Falls project.  As it is, Nalcor has taken measures to reduce the amount of water in the clay, thereby limiting the potential for landslides.  In the worst case, Nalcor would have just extended a conventional concrete dam across the same span.  That would have driven up the cost of the project, but since the government is already committed to finishing the project at any cost that was nothing to worry about.

Natural resources minister Siobhan Coady has been in the witness protection program for months. The most folks have heard from her is the odd statement issued by her office.  A staunch and unquestioning supporter of the Muskrat mess from the beginning, Coady issued a statement about Gordon's change of opinion Thursday evening.

Coady's comments come across like a "told-ya-so" from one of the last die-hard boosters of the boondoggle. There's basically Danny Williams, Ed Martin,  the rest of the Tory party... and Siobhan Coady.  That's probably why her statement sounded like the sort of politically tone-deaf statement made famous by her predecessor Kathy Dunderdale, another unflinching charter member of the Muskrateer's Club.

Coady should save her energy for 2019 when she has to face voters' wrath for the insanely and needlessly high electricity bills Coady's project will bring.

-srbp-

Feds offer more help with Muskrat #nlpoli

The federal government delivered a $2.9 billion additional loan guarantee Thursday in time for the Liberal Party convention this weekend in Gander.

The added guarantee is less than the provincial government wanted - they went looking for $5.0 billion, apparently - but it will help to defray the escalating cost of the project.

The federal government can justify the money in a number of ways.  The most significant justification for helping with the debt is that the provincial government is in desperate financial shape. The federal government had the choice of helping or of almost certainly taking over the provincial government as a bankrupt in short order. As it is, the federal government may well have to take the government in hand in a few years' time anyway.

The $2.9 billion in the new loan guarantee brings the total backed by the federal government to $7.9 billion. At the rate things are going, the project may well cost another $7.0 billion beyond that before things are done.

The federal government will charge one half of one percent as a charge for the loan guarantee.
-srbp-


03 November 2016

Muskrat Math #nlpoli

Stan Marshall told the province Tuesday that the people of Newfoundland and Labrador can never get their money back on this pig of a project called Muskrat Falls.

On Wednesday, people were bending their brains trying to figure out how this happened.  Must be a recent thing.  Blame it on fall in prices.

Well, no.

"Never get our money back" was the entire premise of Muskrat Falls from the day Danny Williams announced it in November 2010.  Amazing how folks missed these details.

The polls remain discouraging for Liberals #nlpoli

Heading into their convention this weekend,  the provincial Liberals have another poll that confirms what all the other polls have said for the past six months or so.

For those misled by reports about the MQO poll like CBC's initial one, see the bit down below.

Here's what you get when you take all the polls over the past six months together,  and make allowances for variations like the margin of error.

Three points:
  • Only about 16% of respondents think Dwight Ball is the best choice for leader.
  • If an election were held tomorrow,  somewhere between 20% and 25% of voters would pick the Liberal.  
  •  About 60% of people think the government is headed in the wrong direction.
Not good.

All the reboots and changes and visions have done precisely nothing to change public attitudes about the Liberals and their leader.

02 November 2016

How much do we owe? #nlpoli

CBC Radio Noon had board of trade president Des Whalen in the studio on Monday.  

Board of Trade thinks the debt is about $13 billion today.  Don't talk about Muskrat Falls.  That's in the past.  Yeah, well, when your humble e-scribbler challenged Des on the numbers the best he could come up with was "it's a really big number."

Kid you not.  That was all he had.

For the record, here's a table that shows the provincial government's total liabilities, taken from the annual Auditor General's reports.


If you cannot make out the picture as it is, you can click on it or read on for the high points.

The total of everything you owe, right now,  is about $29 billion. The St. John's Board of Trade says it is only $13 billion.  Yes,  well it hasn't really been that number low 2004.  The Board of Trade's favourite project - Muskrat Falls  - adds another $15 billion onto that $13 billion right there. Whelan got hung up on the idea the other crowd actually reduced debt.  The numbers make it plain that they didn't.  There's $28 billion without batting an eyelid.

Things get worse from here.

The Muskrat Circus rolls back into town #nlpoli

Stan Marshall appeared out of the shadows on Tuesday to do a round of interviews with every media outlet in town.

He told NTV what he told everyone else:  the cost of the protests and the environmental work coming from the agreement that ended the protests will slow the project and cost money.  Stan also said something that is true but that upset a lot of people.  We don't know for sure that the clearing  called for under the agreement will actually reduce the methylmercury output from the project.

In the CBC version of his interview, Marshall acknowledged that the folks at Nalcor hadn't always done a good job of explaining what was going on with the project.  Marshall pointed out something that is both undeniable and true:  lots of people involved in the protests really had no idea what methylmercury was. They were legitimately afraid but they were afraid of the unknown.

01 November 2016

Building higher walls #nlpoli

A new government security policy does everything short of banning people from Confederation Building altogether.  Visitors to the main government building in St. John's now have to enter through a single entrance in the basement of the building at the back.  There's no parking available and the whole thing is so congested that on busy days people will have to line up out through the door into the parking lot to get into the building.

The real reason for the change is budgetary.  The politicians can save a few bucks by cutting off public access to the Confederation Building through one or two doors. Tight behind that as a reason for the new policy was a poop-in-the-shorts over-reaction to the recent protests.

So out-to-lunch are the folks behind this scheme that they forced toddlers from the staff daycare to make the trek outdoors to the entrance on the other side of the building when they tried to go on a parade through the building to show off their Hallowe'en costumes on Monday.

Just to show you how crazy the Poopy-Pants Brigade are about this security stuff,  take a look at the hastily scribbled sketch at the right. Confederation Building day care is located behind the East Block in a space that used to be occupied by the roads testing crowd from motor vehicle licencing.

To get in the main building,  the kids have been traipsing for years along the short route to where the X is.  This year the urchins had to take the other red line around to the only way visitors are now allowed in the building.

Mind you, the official reason for the policy is - as James McLeod reported in the Telegram on Saturday - concern about the safety of our politicians.  "Multiple sources also indicated that government MHAs have recently been receiving death threats,"  McLeod wrote.
"The number of threats that are coming in to MHAs is really, really ramping up. There is a significant risk threat,” one source said.
And, at that point,  you should smell a rat.

31 October 2016

Ball, Bennett, Williams, and Marshall #nlpoli

One of the things finance minister Cathy Bennett told NTV's Issues and Answers this weekend was that the Premier Dwight Ball scrapped the fall mini-budget in September in favour of his own Grand Strategy for Moving Forward in a Generally Advancing Fashion with Vision.

Ball scrapped the financial course laid out in the budget because of the way people reacted badly to it. If anyone asked Ball asked him about it,  he would deny the polls had anything to do with the change of plans. Then again, last week's marathon meeting had nothing to do with protesters at Muskrat Falls either.

The change of direction actually happened much earlier than September.  Dwight Ball made it pretty clear last summer he'd reverted to his old plan.  That consisted of keeping government on the strategic course the Conservatives set in 2006ish:  spend as much as possible and change government organisation and spending only by the smallest necessary to shift money from one spot and put into another.

28 October 2016

Sunshine, lollipops, and fluffy kittens #nlpoli

Finance minister Cathy Bennett read words that tried to make the provincial government's financial situation sound better than it was forecast to be last spring.

For all the wonderful words in Bennett's scripted remarks, Bennett could not hide the truth. Her tone of voice was more sombre and depressed than if Premier Dwight Ball had been there himself - rather than in Ottawa for a Memorial University fund raising dinner - and had done his very best Eeyore impression. Bennett was so stiff and wooden in her delivery that it seemed like her motions were written down as well, in stage directions: "As you can see from the slide  [look at slide,  pause,  then look back at script]...".

Then there was the bizarre bit at the end where Bennett thanked people. The reference to her cabinet and caucus colleagues, in the back of the room, seemed like a very obvious attempt to make it appear that they were firmly behind the government's actions. It was so obvious though that it would have the opposite effect.

27 October 2016

Three for Thursday #nlpoli

Quebec opposes more federal cash for Muskrat Falls

The Government of Quebec has always opposed federal loan guarantees for Muskrat Falls on the grounds that it skews the hydro playing field.  This week, they just renewed their objections as the provincial government tries to score a second $5.0 billion guarantee.

Speaking of Ottawa and the loan guarantee,  Dwight Ball is skipping the financial update this morning to go to Ottawa.  Ball's doing a Memorial University alumni dinner but is he going to meet with anyone to talk financial aid for the province?

Expect as much sunshine as they can imagine

The midyear financial update is coming at 11:00 AM this morning.  There was supposed to be some word on the gas tax.  Expect some concrete information on when they will start to eliminate it. Invariably the provincial spring budget contains some fictitious numbers.  Over the past decade the government loved to low-ball tax revenues.  This would inflate the deficit and make it look much better at Christmas time, when the Conservatives used to do the mid-year update.  We might see a few of those little surprises.

What you will most definitely not here is any talk of cuts to spending by the government.  Those days are over.  And if finance minister Cathy Bennett hints at cuts, expect a long season of protests from now to the spring as people apply the Mustafa Principle in spades.

26 October 2016

The Mustafa Principle #nlpoli

Go back to Friday's post about false choices.

That's where you will find the explanation for the 11 hour marathon meeting.  The final agreement is more about the Premier's need to appear to be in control than it is about the substance of the decision.  That's because the government had already agreed to the major demand for clearing.

This was always a simple choice between clearing or not clearing the Muskrat Falls reservoir area of soil and trees before the final flooding.  In the meantime, Nalcor needed to hold back water to avoid an accidental, uncontrolled flood that would damage the work site.

The government accepted the major demand last week when they accepted the notion of some clearing of soil and vegetation.  Some morphed to all in the final version and, in the meantime, Nalcor gets to carry out its planned hold-back of water.

So what changed?

Truth and Reconciliation #nlpoli

Long ago, so long ago no one remembers when, they did away with Virtue in Newfoundland​ politics.  To be on the safe side, they slit the throats of her twins, Truth and Justice, and tossed the little corpses on top of their mother's still-moving body before leaving the three in a shallow, unmarked grave in the woods.

Newfoundland politics is a daily metaphor of that Original Sin. This fall, we are seeing the crime repeated everywhere with more people drawn in than ever before. Such is the power of modern media.  Such is the state of democracy that mortal sin, like political power, is no longer the exclusive domain of the rich and powerful.  Everyone can get their taste.

There is no monument to Virtue and her murdered children but if Muskrat Falls is ever finished, we can perhaps use it to remember what happened, who was involved, and why.  That is the only way you can reconcile,  the only way you can sincerely balance the accounts  - financial, historical, political - one with the other.

25 October 2016

Small town politics in the big city newspapers #nlpoli

The federal Liberals created a new process to pick judges for federal court appointments.  The process - as the Globe pointed out on Thursday - was to ensure they could ensure future appointments would be more reflective of the diversity of the country.

On Saturday,  the Globe editorial praiased the recent announcement of a white, middle-aged man with no experience on the bench before taking a political appointment to the trial division in NEwfoundland and Labrador in 2001 as the first appointment to the Supreme Court of Canada from Newfoundland.

This appointment, heralded widely in Newfoundland as recognition of the province's identity, was not a case of playing identity politics, according to the Globe editorialist.

And,  the appointment of yet another grey-haired white guy was an affirmation of the government's new diversity process in appointments.  This was a triumph of qualifications over political connections.

Sure.

A vintage Globe performance all-'round.

The editorial is quite obviously the result of something other than an unbiased assessment of anything.

Is it the result of some connections between the Globe and the folks behind the appointment?

Or is it yet another case of the Toronto Globe passive-aggressively poking at the Toronto Star?

The Star featured a story on Friday about Rowe's decision in R v. S.B.  “I think, by and large, what (Rowe’s) decision shows is that the criminal justice system is really quite bankrupt when it comes to dealing with our huge social problem of sexual assault,” [University of Ottawa law professor Constance Backhouse told The Star], “I think it says more about that, than it does about Justice Rowe.”

And a couple of days earlier, the Star editorial pointed out  - no d'uh - that Rowe hardly stands an appointment that reflects diversity. Qualified - yes.  Diverse - no even close.

News and editorial opinion, as it seems, is like politics. It is nothing if it is not local.  And, as in this case, it is nothing but local.

Why people ever thought the Globe was more than a small town newspaper is amazing.

Why people put so much stock in anything in its pages is an even greater mystery.

-srbp-

24 October 2016

The political dynamics of Muskrat Falls #nlpoli #dip-o-crites #cdnpoli

The people of Labrador who have now occupied the work camp at the construction site are exercising the only political influence they have in the only way they have been able to influence events thus far on this project.

There'll be a post later in the week to run through how we got to this place.  For now, let's just understand the political dynamics right now. People ignored by everyone else in discussions about this project have taken the only action they knew how to take. This is one of those disjointed protests that happens every once in a while.  It has a life of its own.

Outsiders see it from their own perspective.  Remember that as you see New Democratic Party politicians federally and provincially or local townie celebrities or mainlanders professing their undying solidarity with the indigenous people of Labrador in their fight against blah blah blah. Yeah. Whatever.

In 2010 and in every year since then,  these same people sided with the people building this project in Labrador. They backed the project despite the fairly obvious lies the proponents told, despite the many financial problems with the project, and despite the environmental problems including the problem with methylmercury. These folks had other interests then and their actions now are driven by interests other than the cause of the protesters.

21 October 2016

False choices #nlpoli

It's not often you can see a "half-way" compromise as plainly as the one the provincial government announced on Wednesday about Muskrat Falls.

Government's starting point was to flood the reservoir now and not do any additional clearing of the area to be flooded.  The protesters wanted to hold off on flooding for a bit and to clear vegetation and topsoil from the flood area.

On Wednesday government opted to flood now but to do some clearing, plus have some folks do a study to see if more clearing would be good.  That's pretty much half way between the two positions.

And not long after that, you could see plainly that the attempt at compromise had no effect.