31 May 2016

Martin continues to set provincial political agenda #nlpoli

On the surface, Ed Martin's statement on Monday confirmed what we already knew.

Dwight Ball knew about and approved of Ed Martin's severance payment from Nalcor.  Ball may not have known the precise detail of the amount Martin received from his severance  - about $1.4 million - and Martin's twin pensions.  James McLeod at the Telegram has chased down that angle on the story and is awaiting a reply from Nalcor about whether Martin took the lump sum payout option on his pensions.

But there is no doubt Ball knew about and approved of the arrangement to pay Martin severance even if the official story was that Martin said he quit.  Ball has said as much on several occasions, as noted by McLeod last week.  He's also made the fine - but entirely meaningless - distinction that he had no part in discussing the details of Martin's severance.

30 May 2016

The Running Man #nlpoli

With questions swirling about what Premier Dwight Ball knew about severance payments to former Nalcor boss Ed Martin and when he knew it,  Ball has asked the province's auditor general to take a look at whether or not it was appropriate to pay severance to Martin.

Different question.

That's a pretty transparent effort to run away from the controversy that exists purely because Ball refuses to tell the truth about what he knew and when he knew it.

29 May 2016

The Oracle of Brunei and The Prophet of Boswarlos #nlpoli

You know that the local news media are hard up for stories when they  post the musings about the current budget of somebody from Newfoundland currently swanning it in Brunei.

Well, it helps that the body is former Conservative finance minister Charlene Johnson, but if you look at what she said, it's hard to understand why she got any attention.

There are three things to notice about Charlene's ideas on how to save a penny or two that the local media didn't mention.

28 May 2016

The Oracle on the Parkway #nlpoli

Crude oil was trading north of US$50 a barrel for about 30 seconds this week.

What with the government's cash deficit being $3.0 billion and all, CBC had someone write up a little story about what that would mean for government finances.

You will see a lot of these stories when oil jumps because they are easy to write.

Could we be richer than we think? the headline asked.

Good question.

$1 change in crude prices brings the government an extra $23 million.  That means we could get an extra $230 million if oil averaged $50 a barrel this year instead of the $40 the government assumed in the budget. Extra 10 bucks a barrel, right?


So how much would crude oil have to hit in order to fix the financial mess for this year alone?

27 May 2016

Last Rites #nlpoli

This week Premier Dwight Ball became the punchline to a joke.

Ball spent yet another day not giving straight answers to simple questions about what they knew and when they knew about Ed Martin's severance.  For good measure,  the opposition Conservatives managed to drag natural resources minister Siobhan Coady into the mess.  She had the same lines as Ball.  That's no good for her.

The Telegram's James McLeod tweeted on Thursday that Ball had denied in the scrum that afternoon that he knew any details.  Then someone reminded Ball of his interview with  his answer to VOCM's Fred Hutton during a news conference on April 21, the day after Martin's resignation.  Ball said that he would be speaking with Nalcor board chair "Kenny" Marshall to find out details of what Ball described as Martin's severance.  Later that afternoon,  Ball told reporters about the other payments approved by the board that morning, confirming in the process that he had spoken with Marshall immediately after his morning interview with Hutton.

McLeod is apparently planning a piece for the paper this morning that tries to document the twists and turns Ball's version of events has taken.  If anyone can pull it off, McLeod can.  What he will be doing, in effect, is writing Ball's political obituary.

26 May 2016

Alarums and Excursions #nlpoli

Dwight Ball is hiding details of his involvement in the decision to give an enormous and unwarranted severance package paid to Ed Martin despite the fact Martin had quit as Nalcor's chief executive.

That became plain in Ball's responses to repeated questions from both opposition politicians and reporters on Wednesday.  They all asked Ball repeatedly if he discussed severance with Martin in either of two meetings the Premier had with Martin in mid-April. Ball's answer was deliberately evasive.  He had clearly rehearsed the wording precisely because he repeated it over and over and over again. The question required a mere yes or no in reply. Instead,  Ball said again and again that the matter of severance was one for the board.  Every word Ball said more than either yes or no confirmed that what he was saying was not true.

Ball also said repeatedly that he only became aware of the details of the severance on May 5. He stressed the word "details" because it is an important word for him.  Ball repeatedly stressed the word as if knowing the details of the severance were more important than knowing about and approving of the fact that Martin had received severance in the first place.

That's the sort of distinction that only comes to a certain breed of lawyers or people who would describe *themselves* political strategists.  They think this sort of thing is clever.  It isn't.  It is merely too cute by half.  Everyone knows the ploy for what it is.  It's as transparent as saying someone has quit an important job to spend more time with his family.  No one believes that one because we have heard the same lie so many times. Had we all played a drinking game with Dwight Ball on Wednesday, we'd be in hospital with acute alcohol poisoning for taking a shot every time he dodged.

25 May 2016

Ball digs himself deeper into hole #nlpoli

Dwight Ball's latest version of Ed Martin's departure from Nalcor only deepens the political quagmire into which the Premier and his staff have worked themselves with diligent effort and persistence.

Here's how.

24 May 2016

Red Flags #nlpoli

If you want to understand the depth of Dwight Ball's political problem,  understand that as of Victoria Day,  Paul Lane - never the sharpest of political knives in any drawer - has gotten the better of the Premier politically for the second time in a week and the third time in a year.

The first time was when Lane managed to get Ball to accept him into the Liberal caucus as a perfect "fit."  That's no mean feat given that at the time Lane was a big part of the Conservative goon squad along with Steve Kent and Sandy Collins. Overnight, Lane went from being an enemy to a close ally.

The second time was last week when Lane managed to get out of the Liberal caucus with Dwight Ball's unreserved endorsement. Had it been up to him,  Ball likely would have kept Lane in caucus. As it is,  Lane got away without a single critical word from the Liberals.  They even allowed Lane to frame his departure right down to the point of letting Lane's old political ally Steve Kent tell the world the Liberals had resorted to tactless move of sending Lane an email that he'd been voted out of caucus.  

That endorsement has now given Lane his hat-trick,  allowing to emerge on Monday as an apparently credible voice opposing the government and its very unpopular budget.  Lane can say all the things the other critics have been saying but without the stigma of being a partisan. Lane is supposedly a disaffected Grit who wanted to stay with the Liberal caucus, instead of being a Tory or Dipper. Lane can criticise the Liberals with all the credibility of someone even the Premier and the Liberals agree with:  they don't like their budget either.

23 May 2016

How government decides - From Bow-Wow to Basenji #nlpoli

The Liberals' signature policy initiative is Bill 1.

It is so important that it is the only piece of new legislation the Liberals have introduced in this session that is directly connected to their election promises.

Bill 1 creates a new appointments commission that is supposed to ensure individuals appointed to positions by cabinet will be selected as the result of what the proposed law calls a merit-based process.

A merit-based appointments process for every appointment is such an important policy for the Liberals that, when faced with their first significant appointment,  they abandoned their own process last week.

20 May 2016

How the other half pays #nlpoli

Brian Jones.

Statistics Canada can be your friend.  CANSIM 204-0001 to be precise.

You don't have to manipulate numbers.

There are roughly 221, 455 who earn below the $29,600 median income for all tax filers in Newfoundland and Labrador.  The figures are for 2013, but the general pattern still applies.

The average income in that group was $15,900.  The median income (precise half-way point) was $16,600.

Two things:  the average person in this income bracket will NOT pay any of the levy because their gross income is less than the floor on the program.

Second thing:  the amount of gross income for these focus would be something around $3.5 billion if we used the average figure.  That's twice what you claimed.  Note that they pay about five percent of the total provincial income government tax haul.

Among the crowd above the half-way point for income,  you have 197,380 people.  They make - on average - $71,400 each.  That gives you about $14 billion.

No matter how you slice it, the problem is not that we don't take enough from the folks in the top.  The problem is that the people on the lower side of the divide make so very little.  What we should be doing is trying to figure out a way to build those folks up, not find a way to suck more out of the other half.

You see,  those 221,000 folks paid an average of $700 each in federal AND provincial taxes. That's $155 million in total to both governments.  The other half of the population paid $2.8 billion.

If you have people making $3.5 billion who pay $155 million in tax, they are giving, collectively about four percent of their income to income tax.  The folks on the other side of the line are paying 20%, collectively.  That's five times as much.

And you have to remember that the bulk of those folks  on the high side of the divide are making a lot less than the folks on the sunshine list, on average. There's not a lot of room to suck cash from the middle, in other words.

The numbers tell one story, honestly, without any manipulation beyond addition, and the other math functions.

The numbers will lie if you try to do math using ideology.

Don't manipulate numbers, Brian.


A different kind of P3

Paul Lane won Mount Pearl-Southlands in 2015 by a mere 241 votes.

In 2011, he won a seat in the House of Assembly by 700 votes.

Anyone who tells you Paul Lane is a popular politician hasn't looked at the facts.

19 May 2016

Did you hear the one about the Lane and the Ball? #nlpoli

Paul Lane has taken Dwight Ball's measure.

How Ball and the Liberals respond to Lane's challenge will determine the fate of the administration.

You can tell by the way Lane threw down the challenge to Ball's leadership on Wednesday.  He voted with the opposition against his own caucus on an NDP motion about the budget. Then Lane announced he would be voting against the budget unless Ball made unspecified changes to the budget.

But Lane went a step further. He dared Ball to kick him out of the caucus:
Whether or not I remain a member of the Liberal caucus is totally in the premier’s hands. It’s not in mine. If the premier decides that he can’t have me there, I guess that’s his decision, and he’ll have to make that decision, he’ll have to stand by that decision.
That's not about Lane taking a position on a matter of principle. If Lane firmly believed the levy was such an evil thing, he'd cross the floor of his own accord. Weaseling about it, as Lane has done, is just a guy screwing over his colleagues. It's not brave. It's about the sort of pandering that got us in this financial mess in the first place.

18 May 2016

A dose of reality for Lorraine and her friends #nlpoli

During Question Period in the House of Assembly on Tuesday, Lorraine Michael asked the finance minister for the information that showed that 35% of the tax filers in the province account for 88% of the government's income tax revenue.

Lorraine should have been able to find the information for herself.

According to Statistics Canada (CANSIM 204-0001), the top 50% of tax filers in 2013 - all 197,380 of them - earned more than $31,400.  They paid an average of $14,200 in federal and provincial taxes and accounted for 94.8% of federal and provincial taxes.

So it isn't much of a stretch to see how a relatively small portion of the folks with an income in the province carry most of the tax burden.

The top 10% of tax filers in Newfoundland and Labrador  - 41,865 people - accounted for 51% of the federal and provincial taxes paid in 2013, the last year for which the table gives figures. They paid an average of $36,500 in federal and provincial income taxes. The thresh-hold to get into the 10% club was $89,200, which is less than Lorraine and her colleagues in the House receive as a base pay.

The median tax paid for the top 10% was $28,600.  That's an interesting figure because the median pre-tax income for the 418,000 or so people who filed taxes in this province in 2013 was $29,300.

But what about that One Percent Club?  Well,  the 3,135 folks who made more than $222,000 paid an average of $114,600 in taxes in 2013.  They accounted for 12.1% of federal and provincial taxes paid.

At the 50% level, 47% of the tax filing population paid 95% of the taxes.  Yes folks, that means about half the folks filing taxes accounted for about five percent of the government's total income tax haul.

At the 10% level, 10% of the tax filers covered 51% of the tax burden.

At the one percent level, 7.5% of the people filing taxes paid 12% of the taxes.

The information in plain view.  It's amazing that Lorraine and her friends find it so hard to believe there is no gigantic, secret stash of money hiding in the very small number of people who make a lot of money.


17 May 2016

Six Rationalisations Pretending to Be Policy #nlpoli

Policy solves problems.

At it's simplest level,  policy answers a question.

Cancelling Muskrat Falls is a good example.  We are facing a financial crisis.  Muskrat Falls is a huge expense.  There's the problem.  Turn it into a question and it becomes whether or not we should cancel Muskrat Falls.

To answer the question, you'd have to look at other issues. Muskrat Falls  was supposed to be the answer to our power needs. We'd have to look at that issue:  do we need the power?  We'd have to look at finances:  can we afford it? What would it cost to take one course versus another?  We'd have to ask about legal implications:  what do our legal commitments say we must do?

Implicit in those questions is the idea of alternatives.  What choices do we have?

A written report on those questions would have some structure to it.  You'd expect it to start out with a clear statement of the question the author reviewed.  It might even be posed as three options: continuing as we are,  halting the project completely, or an intermediate options like slowing the project,  cancelling bits of it, and so on.

The paper would review the existing state of the project and then project ahead based on what we knew.  Then it would have to branch off from today to examine each of the answers to our string of questions.  Given the size of Muskrat Falls and the complexity of itl you'd imagine any serious discussion of cancelling the project would take months to prepare, would involve a great many people, and would certainly take more than 10 sheets of paper.  Just to make sure you appreciate the magnitude of what we are talking about, go back and look at just a tiny bit of the paperwork prepared for the public utilities board review of the project.  The Manitoba Hydro report was enormous.

Now read the 20% of a document prepared for Dwight Ball's cabinet released to CBC under the access to information law.This briefing note is apparently about the implications of cancelling the project.

16 May 2016

Responsible Government #nlpoli

Many of you may not have heard of Jerry Dean until this past week.

Jerry is from Botwood. Last fall the people on Exploits district elected him as their member in the House of Assembly.  He's been a around the block a bit.  His official biography says he worked for Abitibi for 30 years and since 1997 he's been active on his town council and in some volunteer groups.

Last week Jerry said something in the House of Assembly that got some folks upset on Twitter. That helped get him some media attention  - here's the TransCon and CBC versions - and so the fellow has been getting a bit of a rough ride.

12 May 2016

Up the harbour and down the shore... once more #nlpoli

Here's another one that started life as a column at the old Independent

And, as with "The politics of history" it can serve as a reminder of just how little has changed in local politics over a very long time.

In this case, it shows how little has changed in a very short time.

As it turned out, Danny Williams and his colleagues didn't create private sector jobs.  They created public sector ones that they knew were unsustainable. 

11 May 2016

The politics of history (again) #nlpoli

Originally written for The Independent in 2003 "The politics of history" has become a post that continues to resonate with your humble e-scribbler if no one else. it first appeared in July 2005, came back in a reprint in 2010, and now re-appears once more.

Some of you will have read it at least once before. I you recall it, then you will probably feel those uncomfortable sensations of familiarity as you look at politics today and then think back on the recent past. Readers who have only recently discovered these scribbles will hopefully get a jolt out of it to make you think about the repeating patterns in local political rhetoric. 

Clearly we are not on a mere merry-go-round of words.  We are on one in which ideas and actions come back again and again.  The time between the repetitions seems to be decreasing. There is one glaring error in the post.  Voters are not getting better at spotting the charlatans. They embrace them more fervently than ever.

10 May 2016

Stunnel mania #nlpoli

Right off the bat, let's fess up to a mistake.

The 2004 research into the Stunnel cost "cost a total of $351,674, with a contribution of $281,339 from ACOA and $70,335 from the province." You can find the figures in the original news release from February 2004.

That means that the latest study into the potential for a fixed link between the Great Northern Peninsula and Quebec is a bit more than double the cost of the 2004 study.  But notice that the province is going it alone this time and to the tune of 10 times what it cost the provincial government more than decade ago to get to the same place.

In other words, the fixed link to the mainland is technically feasible but economically nutty.

09 May 2016

Choices and values: ideologically-driven nonsense versus reality #nlpoli

Memorial University history professor Robert Sweeny discovered something recent.  he discovered that the finance minister's budget speech and the Estimates contained two different sets of numbers.

Hot on the trail of this discrepancy,  Sweeny delved deeper. He clacked out a really long account - even by SRBP standards - of his search for the truth. Then the folks at theindependent.ca  posted the whole thing including a very big table documenting how some parts of the government were getting less money and others were getting more.

There was only one conclusion.  Well, only one for Sweeny.  This was all part of a vast international conspiracy.  "Cathy Bennett, the fast-food millionaire, has pulled a fast one on the public,"  concluded Sweeney. "The finance minister is either incompetent or dishonest—take your choice—but she most definitely must be held accountable, as too must Premier Ball. The very quality of our democracy depends on it."

If the quality of our democracy depends on the melodramatic twaddle Sweeny is peddling, then we are royally shagged.

08 May 2016

Measuring Thick: either or edition #nlpoli

While Des Whelan was clacking out his column for Saturday's Telegram one of the editors -  Brian Jones  - came at the government's financial mess from another direction the day before.

In the bizarro world of local politics,  people think that Des Whelan and the business crowd are on the Right while Jones and his friends in the NDP and the public sector unions are the Left.  Nothing could be further from the truth, as some famous politician once said.

"Bennett and Ball’s first tough decision was straightforward,"  wrote Jones. "It was to determine who is more important: the people of this province, or the credit-rating agencies in New York?"

It's telling that Jones sees it as a choice of one or the other. It's also revealing that he found it hard to watch what Jones described as "trolls, Liberal diehards and people secretly ashamed of having voted for Ball spout predictable putdowns."

What was his example of a put-down?  “'What’s your solution?' they demand, as if any and all alternative suggestions are automatically unrealistic and impossible."

If that is an insult, poor Jones isn't going to want to read any further.

07 May 2016

Measuring Thick: business edition #nlpoli

You cannot manage what you cannot measure, says Des Whelan, president of the Board of Trade this year.  Des gets a column in the province's largest daily newspaper.

Des is right.  You cannot manage what you cannot measure.

Unfortunately for Des, we can measure the Board of Trade's record on the public sector spending, debt, and policies over the past decade.

We call the measure  Thick.

Thick measures 4.

06 May 2016

Hole in ground to give Labrador "advantage of fixed link" to mainland: premier #nlpoli

The provincial government will spend $750,000 this year to study the feasibility of digging a hole from the Great Northern Peninsula to Blanc Sablon, in Quebec.

SRBP told you on Tuesday that the goof-ball idea - last dismissed as a waste of money in 2005 - will get another check to see if any of the stupid has worn off it in the past 11 years.

The goofiness doesn't end there.

The feasibility study came up in the House of Assembly on Thursday.

Apparently, the people of Labrador need a fixed link from the island to the mainland. People are wrong to dismiss the idea as a waste of money. That would deny the people of Labrador of a great opportunity.

Here's Premier Dwight Ball defending the feasibility study:
For the Member opposite to simply to say that it is a waste of money, to give the Labrador portion of this province the opportunity to see the advantage of a fixed link.
Doesn't Labrador already have a fixed link to the mainland?

Just a question.

05 May 2016

The other side of the hill - choices and values 2 #nlpoli

Wednesday's post - Choices and values - came from the perspective of someone outside the echo chamber of politics in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Ordinary voters - who mostly do not work for the government -  don't feel like the pain from this budget is shared fairly by all.  They just don't believe any assurances that everyone else will feel comparable pain in the future.

But on the other side of the hill, the politicians have a perspective that we shouldn't ignore either.

04 May 2016

Choices and values #nlpoli

Gerry Rogers, a New Democrat member of the House of Assembly, got a bit enthusiastic on Twitter the other night about "building [a] budget fr[om] set of values/priorities," as if that wasn't what every budget is.

David Easton, the American political scientist, described politics as "the authoritative allocation of values."  A budget is the way the government puts its financial resources to work to accomplish its goals.  The budget is a visible symbol of the political system at work.  it shows you what the politicians think is most important. The budget shows you what the politicians value.

In their hour-long show on CBC Monday night,  Premier Dwight Ball and finance minister Cathy Bennett talked about their values a lot.  You might have had to listen to find them buried under a bit of bureaucratic jargon but they are there.  You'll also have to look past false choices, as in Bennett's claim on Monday that the only alternative to the levy was "some type of [additional] cuts, and that wasn't something at this particular point that we thought made sense."

03 May 2016

Province to spend $750K to study feasibility of hole in the ground #nlpoli

At a time when the provincial government does not have any money to spend foolishly, it is hard to fathom why cabinet is taxing books to raise $1.0 million and yet spending $750,000 through the Environment and Conservation department to update a feasibility study done in 2004 into building a tunnel to connect the Great Northern Peninsula to Labrador.

It is putting a tax on knowledge to pay for stupidity.

We are talking about the Stunnel, or Stunned Tunnel. Regular readers will recall the Stunnel idea got some powerful support in 2003.  You'll find a post in 2005 that described the project as it stood a year or two earlier:
The Stunnel "would cost $1.3 billion or thereabouts. It would need an average of 1400 cars travelling across it per day, with a peak of 3, 000 per day, in order to be viable. Proponents also claim it would produce upwards of 40, 000 direct and indirect job during construction, although this would last for a total of three years. Using the ever popular argument, proponents say the Stunnel would be an engineering marvel and attract tourists from around the world. "
The original feasibility study cost only $100,000. As SRBP summarised in early 2005,  the study concluded you could build the cheapest option - a bored tunnel that ran an electric train back and forth - for about $1.7 billion. The government would have to put in pretty much all of that and it would take 11 years to finish.

We don't need to spend seven and a half times that much to figure out how crazy the Stunnel idea still is.

02 May 2016

A cut too far #nlpoli

There's a scene in the movie A Bridge too far where the British soldiers are trying to push down a road as part of a major attack on the Germans in September 1944.

The whole plan was built, according to the movie, around dropping parachute troops at key bridges and then having ground troops charge along a single road.  The soldiers on the ground had 48 hours to get to the last of the airborne soldiers, who were at Arnhem.  They didn't make it, hence the idea that the plan always involved going one bridge too far.

There are wrecks everywhere and the dead are everywhere after the first clash in the campaign.  As soldiers clear the way and take away the wounded, one officer looks up at another who is sitting on a scout car.  How do the generals expect them to keep up the pace under these conditions, the fellow asks looking up.  The fellow sitting on the armoured car has his binoculars and is scanning the road ahead.  J.O.E Vandeleur,  played by Michael Caine, looks down at his cousin, Giles,  and says:

"You don't know the worst. This bit we're on now?"

"Yes,"  says Giles, quizzically.

"It's the wide part."