30 June 2016

Interprovincial migration for morons #nlpoli

Some people got really excited on Wednesday by a report from the Fraser Institute that claimed this province had seen its first population loss due to outmigration in a decade.

There ya go, they cried:  proof the budget sucks and is driving people out of the province.

Well,  err... no.

29 June 2016

The little savory details #nlpoli

Nalcor chief executive Stan Marshall said so much last Friday about Muskrat Falls, it's probably true that most people couldn't possibly take it all in.

One of the folks having a hard time understanding all this is Tom Johnson.  He's the guy the Conservatives appointed to serve as consumer advocate at public utilities board hearings.  In practice he has sided with Nalcor and the Conservatives on everything, including their plan to force consumers to bear the full cost of Muskrat Falls, no matter how much it cost in the end.

The past few days he's been turning up in the media saying that the government will keep the cost of electricity down so consumers don't see much of an increase.  Not much like supposedly what the Conservatives promised.  Even Nalcor hasn't been pushing that nonsense for a year or more so it's astonishing that Johnson sounds like he is still taking orders from Danny Williams' missus.

28 June 2016

Friends and enemies #nlpoli

Craig Westcott tells a story from his short stint as communications director for the Liberals in opposition in the last days of Danny Williams and the early days of his handpicked successor, Kathy Dunderdale.

"I kept after the very small caucus we had to keep asking questions,"  Westcott said in an email to SRBP, "hoping that even if the media ignored us, some of the folks watching at home would cotton on to how bad the deal was.  That might generate some heat. It kept the flame of criticism and skepticism alive."

"We looked at everything from the lack of documentation to support Nalcor's demand projections, to the big question of water rights, the actual usage of Holyrood as part of the island's power supply for the previous 20 or so years, the free power to Nova Scotia, the privatization of the Labrador to Island transmission line to give [Emera] a cut,  the free block of power to Nova Scotia, the likely cost of Muskrat Falls-generated power, which early on we pegged at over 20 cents per kWh, and on and on. The deal was so flawed it was difficult to find anything positive in it."

One major problem Westcott ran into was that the local media weren't interested. "[CBC's David] Cochrane tired pretty quickly of the Opposition asking questions on Muskrat," Westcott said.  "He complained several times that we weren't asking anything new. Some days he walked out of the legislature after Question Period and made a point [of saying] that he wasn't going to scrum our guys because we were still on Muskrat. The other legislative reporters would follow him out."

27 June 2016

A foundation of lies and deceit #nlpoli

You could feel the shock among the local media on Friday as Stan Marshall carefully dissected the insanity that is Muskrat Falls.

Didn't matter if you heard the voices on the radio,  watched them on television or read them online.   The reporters' emotional reaction transferred through whatever medium it was that conveyed their words.  Here it was laid out in stark detail:  billions over budget,  years behind schedule,  a financial burden for the province its people will be sorely pressed to bear and all of it built - in essence - on a series of false statements,  faulty assumptions, and anything but facts and reason.

Never mind that all of what Stan Marshall said was - in effect - already widely know and had been known for most of the preceding decade.  Here you had someone as rich or richer than Danny Williams telling them that Muskrat Falls was utter shite.  By the unspoken law of Newfoundland politics,  the poor benighted scribblers now had no choice but report it.

24 June 2016

11 minutes and 11 seconds #nlpoli

Dwight Ball was at Memorial University on Thursday morning to represent the provincial government in a joint announcement with Judy Foote on some capital funding to finish the new science building on campus.

The announcement is good for the university,  good for the economy, and good for everyone involved.  It's the kind of good news story Ball desperately needs after a hideously bungled couple of months

And Dwight Ball spent all 11 minutes and 11 seconds in a scrum with reporters afterward talking about emails, one of which was triggered by this tweet on June 5 by CBC's Jeremy Eaton.

Ball's message through the whole scrum was to deny any responsibility in his office for a relatively minor incident two weeks ago in which government spent a couple of hundred dollars tearing down a few hundred crappy signs.

23 June 2016

The truth behind the key message #nlpoli

Paul Lane, left (not exactly as illustrated),  says both the Liberals and Conservatives trained him to deliver scripted messages.  People are tired of that, Lane says.  "I believe people want the straight goods."

Straight goods.

The truth, in other words.


But did Paul actually say he would speak the truth?

22 June 2016

Foundations #nlpoli

Natural resources minister Siobhan Coady was the latest in a long line of energy ministers from this province who have done the annual pilgrimage to the offshore technology show in Houston in early May.  "With our unique location," Coady said of Newfoundland and Labrador, " we have built a solid foundation, have incredible prospects, and look forward to the many opportunities for exploration and development on the horizon."

Those foundations must have been built by the same crowd that were pouring concrete in Muskrat Falls.  Not even four weeks later the whole shooting match is caved in.

21 June 2016

Public interest served by contract disclosure #nlpoli

There's no small irony that NAPE is fighting to increase public disclosure of government spending while other public sector unions are busily trying to drag the public back into the Dark Ages by hiding the names of union members earning more than $100,000 a year in pay and benefits.

NAPE is trying to get access to contracts awarded by Eastern health to two privates companies.  The union appealed to the information commissioner and last week the commissioner issued rulings that Eastern Health should release the contracts.

NAPE is right:  it is in the public interest to have the contract details in public.  That's why the access law  says that it isn't an invasion of privacy to reveal the financial and other details of a contract to provide goods and services to the public.

That doesn't mean that NAPE is right that the public sector can supply the services in this case more efficiently than the private companies can. In fact,  there's good reason to believe that the public sector has a great deal of difficulty providing many services as cost-effectively as a private company can.

Regardless, the public has a right to know how its money is being spent and to make sure that citizens are getting the best return on their spending.  Competition between the public sector and the private sector might be a way of injecting some life back into the bloated, ineffective public sector and getting managers and workers alike to rediscover that it is is supposed to be about serving the public.


20 June 2016

Developing a sustainable, diverse economy #nlpoli

When it comes to developing a successful economic development strategy, Edsel Bonnell has advice worth heeding.

He co-chaired the team that developed "Change and Challenge," the 1992 Strategic Economic Plan. The SEP "called for a transformation of culture, away from a dependence on government initiatives and government control and toward one based on individual initiative and private-sector entrepreneurship.

"The plan did not promise easy answers, nor did it fixate on one sector of the economy or on large megaprojects. Change and Challenge represented the result of a long development process that was itself crucial. The long period of discussion and consultation both inside and outside government helped to develop a consensus among those who took part in the discussions."  

Everything in the SEP represented a departure from the unsuccessful approaches we had already tried in the province,  all the ideas we knew were unsuccessful and yet the ones that the  Conservatives put back in place after 2003.  In many respects, it's how we got into our current financial mess... again.  

The process  - "the long period of consultation and discussion" - was an important part of the SEP's success.  The discussions helped build a strong agreement throughout the province about what needed to be done to develop a sustainable, diverse economy.  Not surprisingly,  Edsel recommends we try the same thing again.  He's described the approach very simply in two recent letters to the Telegram:  June 13 and June 18.   

Edsel may be a bit optimistic about how fast we might develop the plan:  this fall would be very fast.  But there is is merit in the idea of bringing all the parties together to set an apolitical task force on the track to build a plan to get us out of the very big hole in which we find ourselves. The politicians can't do it alone.  The bureaucrats can't,  and the business community can't. Nor can ordinary citizens fix things all by themselves.


17 June 2016

Core Public Service Numbers #nlpoli

Somebody requested the number of public servants through Access to Information and the folks in the department answered only half the question.

But that's okay because the figures for the core public service are worth looking at anyway.

Regular readers will recognise the trend.  Starting in 2006,  the Conservatives went on a hiring spree.  They took the core public service from 6,792 in 2005 to 9,090 by 2011.  Bit of a steep drop between 2011 and 2012 and a steady decline since then.  As of the middle of May this year, there were about 7,978 people in the core public service. 

16 June 2016

The Budget and the Economy #nlpoli

The Conference Board of Canada says the recent budget has tipped the provincial economy into a recession next year.

Finance minister Cathy Bennett says that's bollocks.

Let's see which is right.

Making the best of a bad deal #nlpoli

Here's the short version of  the implications flowing from Nalcor's announcement on Wednesday:

1.  Continuing Muskrat Falls is a political decision already made by Dwight Ball despite the evidence. It's like Ball's inexplicable desire to keep Ed Martin despite the incontrovertible evidence that Martin had mismanaged Nalcor generally and Muskrat Falls specifically.

2.  That said,  Stan Marshall is at least making the best of a bad situation.

15 June 2016

Cash Debt and GDP #nlpoli

For those who find this stuff interesting, here are some numbers to mull over.

You may have heard of comparing the net debt to the gross domestic product. Somebody gave Tracy Perry a bunch of numbers to read out during the recent waste-of-time filibuster.  One of the problems with her numbers was that she wasn't always comparing apples to apples.  The numbers she used from the 1990s compared cash debt to GDP while the more recent figures use a completely different accounting basis to make comparisons.

There are problems with this, as we've noted before, not the least of which is that oil revenues tend to cloud the picture.So just for the sake of making a comparison,  your humble e-scribbler took the GDP figures presented in The economy, a document released with the budget.  For debt,  let's use the cash debt figures from the Estimates.  That'll make it easier to compare apples to apples over the next few posts as we wade through this.

It's all in millions of dollars.  In other words, the 31 thousand million means $31 billion.

14 June 2016

Marc "Two Engines" Garneau and Bad Decision-Making #nlpoli

Cast your mind all the way back to the last time Canada bought new fighter jets.​


 Lost most of you already.  

No memory back that far.

Well,  it was the late 1970s.  Canada needed new jets to replace the F-104 Starfighters doing duty for NATO,  the F101 Voodoos handling the defence of Canada role, and even the old F-5 Freedom fighters doing a stint on ground attack.

The finalists were the single-engined F-16 and the F-17/F-18.  The -17. for those who don't recall, was the land version of the -18.  Same aircraft just lacking the reinforced landing gear and other bits the navy aircraft needed to slam into carrier decks.

In the end,  the air force picked the -18, in no small part because it had two engines.  Lots of pilots said that when you are flying long stretches over the vast and largely empty North,  you needed the second engine in case one of them crapped out.

Now as we look at replacing those F-18s,  we are hearing precisely the same criticism levied by some like Marc Garneau at the air force's preferred choice, the F-35.  Only one engine.  No good.

The curious thing about that old F-16 argument is that it doesn't hold up.  The F-16 has proven to be a very successful aircraft still flown and loved by all sorts of pilots around the world 40 years after its introduction.  It's performed well in combat,  including in heavily defended hostile airspace where its many critics used to think it wouldn't survive.   The F-18 is also a very successful aircraft.  Available statistics suggest that the aircraft loss rates due to engine failure is comparable for the two aircraft.

Prejudices bolstered by misinformation is no basis for making decisions that affect people's lives. The story that a bunch of cabinet ministers will sort out the purchase of Canada's next generation  of fighter aircraft is troubling on two accounts.  First there is the prejudices issue.  Second, and just as important is that the cabinet ministers are unqualified to make such a choice. \

 To see how unsuccessful this approach can be we need only look at the Sea King replacement.  Close to 25 years after the air force picked the right aircraft, we are still struggling to get a new ship-borne helicopter in service.  The right choice - the EH-101 - fell victim to the political interests and whimsical decisions of the Liberals before the 1993 federal election. They not only cancelled the EH-101 purchase,  they delayed a decision on an alternative for years, needlessly. As it stands now,  the derivative of an air frame that first flew in the 1970s won't all be in service until 2021.  That's almost 30 years after the cancellation of the EH-101s.

Had the federal government gone ahead with the EH-101s at the time or had we bought EH-101s under a revised contract,  we'd have a proven, successful aircraft in service today.  As it is,  bad decisions have cost taxpayers billions in wasteful procurement and delays only to wind up with an aircraft that simply won't ever be able to do the job properly.  It would be hard to find a better monument to stupidity than the EH-101 cancellation and the subsequent helicopter procurement.  The current federal cabinet is in danger of making the same sort of bone-headed decision again with the new fighter aircraft.


13 June 2016

What's wrong #nlpoli

As with a lot of things in local politics,  the most interesting thing wasn't the fact that Steve Marshall barred Roger Grimes from a hockey rink Marshall owns.

What was fascinating was the response of plenty of folks in the province.  Some just blew it off as childish or small.  And at least one even tried the old game of blaming "both sides" for being a good example of what's wrong with local politics.

And in the process, they all approved of the behaviour.

10 June 2016

Turning Point #nlpoli

The Great Filibuster of 2016 came to an abrupt end on Thursday afternoon as the two opposition parties decided to pack it in, having gaining precisely nothing of any substance.

The filibuster confirmed the NDP are as politically impotent as they have always been.  Meanwhile, the Conservatives lack punch, depth, and direction.  The Liberals left themselves vulnerable and rather than do them lasting damage,  the opposition parties flinched at the crucial moment.  The result is that the Liberals now get to regroup and come back stronger, having learned powerful lessons out of the spring.

To give a sense of how ineffective the filibuster was, consider that on Tuesday and Wednesday, the Liberals were able to get two crucial pieces of legislation through the House.  In both the school boards election bill and the new greenhouse gas emissions bill, the Liberals got to calmly and rationally lay out the arguments in favour of their position.  The opposition meekly listened.

Environment minister Perry Trimper came away stronger in the public eye as a result.  Education minister Dale Kirby can be abrasive when riled but on this occasion he spoke eloquently about the bill the NDp had spent the earlier part of the session hammering him over.  Kirby also got to explain why full-day kindergarten was so important as part of the government's agenda.

Now with that in mind take a look at the CRA poll released on Thursday.

09 June 2016

The 'eart of Darkness #nlpoli

No one would be surprised if a cell phone video turned up in the next few days on youtube showing Dwight Ball before he broke his silence and talked to reporters on Wednesday.

The video would be Dwight himself, in his office in the middle of the night, hunched in the corner, staring off into the inky blackness, the only light a faint glimmer coming into a darkened Premier's Office through the large picture windows.

Out of the shadows of the grainy, found-footage clip would be nothing but his voice,  a raspy, dry-throated whisper  over and over :  " the 'orror.  The 'orror."

08 June 2016

The Fan Klub, Churchill, and taxes - update

As the provincial Conservatives and New Democrats filibuster the levy bill in the House of Assembly that Winston Churchill quote about taxes popped up again.

The ones pushing the quote hard on Twitter seem to be mostly charter members of the Danny Williams Fan Klub. That's not surprising given that responsibility for the financial mess,  the chronic, deliberate overspending and the morass at Muskrat rest solely on his shoulders.

07 June 2016

The House and Twitter #nlpoli

Guest post by Simon Lono

The latest House of Assembly Twitter flap raises more issues that it first appears.  Leaving aside the wisdom of the timing, it’s worth understanding why the point was raised at all.

The Telegram, in their Saturday thundering and mocking editorial condemned the whole exercise because “We actually have a right to know if you or your fellow MHAs don’t deign to come to work”.

This is true but ultimately irrelevant to the issue.  And like so many rules of parliament, pointing out absence or presence of members just seems silly until you examine why it’s there.

06 June 2016

Entitlements and examples #nlpoli

Canadian income tax law requires that all people over the age of 71 must take payments from their registered pension plan.

Lorraine Michael is over the age of 71 and so she is collecting her pension from the House of Assembly.  She's earned it.  She's got every right to receive it.

Michael is also collecting her full salary as a member of the House of Assembly. The Telegram's James McLeod broke the story last winter.  Michael said two things about it.  First, she felt she was entitled to even more money because she was doing extra work in the House of Assembly as the de facto leader of the third party.  Second, Michael told CBC she had to double dip because that's what the law said she had to do.

Well, no, it doesn't really.

03 June 2016

What's next for Nalco? #nlpoli

Just so that everyone is clear on this, it has taken Dwight Ball every single day from May 23 until June 2 to admit that he knew Ed Martin had received a severance payment on his departure from Nalcor despite the fact that Martin has supposedly resigned.

In effect,  Dwight Ball - as the chief representative of the only shareholder in Nalcor  - approved of the severance with his silence.  The same thing went for natural resources minister Siobhan Coady.

What's more, Ball reminded us all again that whatever happened with respect to Martin's contract was solely at the discretion of the Nalcor board, which has since resigned.


So what exactly has Dwight Ball's knickers in such a bunch?


02 June 2016

Priorities #nlpoli

While everyone has been pre-occupied with Dwight Ball's psycho-drama this past couple of weeks, odds are most people missed a little bill that went through the House.

The second Loan Act for 2016 set the maximum borrowing for the province this fiscal year at $3.4 billion.  An earlier version had set the borrowing at $1.6 billion but that was actually too low once the Estimates appeared and showed the cash required to balance the books was $3.0 billion.

Some people might a bit shocked by the apparent doubling of the borrowing requirement but that really isn't the figure.  The $1.6 billion was wrong at the time it appeared in the House.

What you should notice is that the cash deficit this year has already increased by 13% and that was before the House session even finished.  40% of government spending this year will come from borrowing.

Meanwhile, Dwight Ball is worried about being held responsible for $6.0 million in severance to Ed Martin.

Maybe Dwight  needs to give his head a shake.  That is, if he can find time to pull it out of his  backside.


01 June 2016

Anger Ball

Premier Dwight Ball got angry on Tuesday.

He's angry at the suggestion that he approved paying severance to Ed Martin.

Well, really he's angry at is how much Martin wound up getting now that the amounts are becoming known and unpopular but we'll get back to that.

There's actually no question that Ball was aware Martin got severance.  As the Telegram's James McLeod has noted,  VOCM's Fred Hutton asked specifically about severance on April 21.  Here's the exchange:
VOCM News Director Fred Hutton: Has Ed Martin’s severance been worked out yet?