30 September 2016

Jerome! rides again #nlpoli

Retired justice David Riche is the only independent person who has examined any information about Don Dunphy's death.

Hired by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police as an outside reviewer of its investigation into Dunphy's death,  Riche had an unusual but informed perspective.  Riche's comments to reporters last week about the Dunphy shooting and the police investigation did not fit with the carefully fabricated, self-serving comments made over the past few months by the police officer who shot and killed Dunphy.

That's why former justice minister Jerome! Kennedy smeared Riche this week.  Kennedy wants to damage Riche's credibility.  Kennedy represents the police officer who killed Dunphy and who will be,  not surprisingly, the focus of much of the public inquiry conducted by Justice Leo Barry.

The fact that Kennedy's unprincipled and unwarranted attack is so transparent in its purpose means it will be ineffective, at least as far as Barry's inquiry will go.  But the prospect that Kennedy will try to turn the make the inquiry a circus is cause for public concern and condemnation.

29 September 2016

The letter Peter Whittle got #nlpoli

This is the letter Peter Whittle got from his colleagues on the school councils federation executive. Whittle resigned today.

Samson sale price "reflective of risk": Galgay #nlpoli

Jonathan Galgay sent along an email to add some information to the post last week about the city's tax assessment for the property at 50 Beaumont Avenue, also known as I.J. Samson school.

He's adds some useful background about how the city arrived at a value:  the waited for the sale. 

Galgay also adds some other information that matches up - ironically enough - with the reasons the school-board offered up for the relatively low cost of the sale despite the fact it's a big piece of land in the centre of town.

"The sale price,"  Galgay wrote, "would have been reflective of the risk associated with the unknowns for the cost of environmental remediation , demolition of the building and uncertainty with regard to redevelopment potential related to the necessary rezoning of the property."

Exactly.  The property is worth what the market will pay for it.  And the property, as it is, comes with lots of risks, as Galgay noted.

Funny thing is that a couple of weeks ago, Galgay wrote to the provincial auditor general asking for an investigation into the process of tendering and sale of the land and building.  Galgay said he was "disgusted" by the sale.  Plus, as Galgay notes below,  the city can reassess the property as it is developed and increase the tax bill to reflect any future development. That's pretty much what folks in the real estate industry said two weeks ago.

28 September 2016

Through others' eyes #nlpoli

For Newfoundland's pseudo-intellectuals,  the Toronto Globe and Mail is a kind of one-handed reading material.  They use one hand to scroll down the Internet site looking at stuff.  They use the other to stroke the keys of their computer until it spurts indignation all over the screen about something someone in the Globe said or didn't say about Newfoundland.

They are an easy bunch to click-bait, as the Globe editors showed this past weekend. The province's gaggle of celebrities took to the Internet to slag columnist Margaret Wente or Confederation.  Hans Rollman exploded in a ball of perpetual, fabricated victimhood. Ed Riche pretended he was above it all and, always one to spot a hot, if insubstantial, trend,  CBC produced an online piece about the negativity.

On Monday, the corp even got Wente to suffer through an interview about her recent trip to Fogo Island. "Do you understand how wrong you were?"  Grand Inquisitor Debbie asked the penitent mainlander. "Do you repent your sins?"

Yes, said Wente looking like she was going to tear-up any second. "I got Newfoundland wrong,"

Never, in the history of journalism, has so much been made by so many about so little.

27 September 2016

No help, not my department, and missing records #nlpoli

Starting a little over a hundred years ago,  the Government of Newfoundland  publishing a list of public servants by name, showing their job title, the department they worked for,  the annual salary,and the Christian denomination to which they belonged.

Since 1981 and the passage of the first freedom of information law in the province,  anyone in Newfoundland and Labrador has been able to request information about people employed by the provincial public service.  You can get the title of a position, the name of the person currently holding the job and the amount paid to the person for doing the job.  The House of Assembly reaffirmed that right in the 2002 version of the access to information law,  the infamous Bill 29 amendments, and in the current version, drafted in 2014 by an expert panel.

Telegram reporter James McLeod sent a series of requests last winter to government departments and agencies.  He asked for a list of positions in which people on the government payroll made more than $100,000.  McLeod was trying to put together his own version of a so-called Sunshine List. Most organizations answered McLeod's request and provided him with the list.  There was no legal reason to withhold the information.

What the English school district did was fascinating.

26 September 2016

Illegal deletions okay in NL: access commissioner #nlpoli

Shortly after he took office a month or so ago,  newly appointed information commissioner Donovan Molloy told CBC there had been a "substantial increase" in the number of access to information requests since 2015 when the House of Assembly passed a new access to information law.

True, said the always accurate labradore, but that was only in relation to the two years when Bill 29 seems to have reduced the number of requests. People had filed 343 access requests up to the first part of August. That would work out to about "800-and-some requests completed for the year," according to labradore, "which would be something of a surge compared to Bill 29 levels, and even, to a lesser degree, compared to pre-29 levels.*

"But, apart from a hypothetical surge during the balance of the fiscal year, the statistics do not support the Commissioner’s concerns. ... To the extent that there has been a surge in request volume since the 2015 unravelling of Bill 29, that may just as easily be accounted for by the fact that, in the post-Bill-29 era, the public is simply more aware of their right to access public records, and, thanks to the elimination of application fees and the praiseworthy creation of an online filing system, more able to exercise that right."

Those comments are a good starting point, though for a couple of posts on the current state of the province's access to information law.  What you will see in this two-part series is that there are  enormous obstacles to public access to government information.  The obstacles come from the way bureaucrats apply the law.  They produce their own problems and, in one of the most serious obstacles, illegal censorship gets the seal of approval from the province's information access watchdog.

23 September 2016

Reforming the way government works #nlpoli

Conservative and New Democrat goons are fapping themselves into a frenzy on Twitter over Bern Coffey's appointment as Clerk of the Executive Council.  Qualifications don't matter, they would have it.  Bern Coffey's appointment is partisan just because Coffey is a Liberal and therefore it is bad.  No Liberals should be appointed to anything.

Derpy Conservative David Brazil dismissed Coffey in an interview with NTV News because Coffey has no connection to the provincial public service. He's an "outsider" supposedly. The facts are irrelevant: Coffey spent a couple of decades as a highly successful Crown prosecutor before he set out on his own about 16 years ago.

Dipper boss Earle McCurdy thinks Coffey is "lacking the right qualifications" although McCurdy had no idea what the right qualifications would be other than, say, not being Liberal.

For his part,  Premier Dwight Ball told NTV that Coffey's job will now involve "challenging" the province's public servants so that the government has the best information possible when making decisions.

Such is the shallow nature of provincial politics these days.  Even Dwight Ball's comments don't accurately reflect what is going on.

22 September 2016

City assessed school property at sale price #nlpoli

City councillor Jonathan Galgay attacked the school board and the provincial government over the sale of IJ Samson school for $189,000 after the purchaser put the thing on the market for 10 times that much.

Galgay wrote to the provincial auditor general asking him to investigate the sale.

Two things.

First,  a property is worth what the market will pay for it.  Galgay can get as excited as he wants but the fact is that the bids demonstrated the value of the property in the current market.

Second, Galgay might want to check out the official city hall view of 50 Bennett Avenue.

St. John's municipal records show that the City of St. John's assessed the former junior high school as a business property with a value of... wait for it... $189,000.

Seems awfully convenient that the numbers matched up like that.  If Terry Paddon investigates this sale, he should expand his inquiry to include city hall.  Something smells awfully funny. Well, besides the stink from the budget Galgay brought in last year

21 September 2016

Not talking but talking about something #nlpoli

It took them a few days but the folks at Nalcor managed to put out a statement that addressed the possible talks with Hydro-Quebec about the Lower Churchill.

They didn't post it to the Nalcor website or anything but a few people were flicking it around on Tuesday.  They must have tweeted it out or something.*

Anyway, here is a picture of it.

Now we can see what it says, line by line.

20 September 2016

Grits and Cons play dodge-fact over Labrador hydro talks #nlpoli

"There are no discussions between this government and the  Quebec government."

That's part of a statement sent out by email to local reporters from natural resources minister Siobhan Coady's office.  You can't find it on the government website or the party website.  Coady was responding to a release from provincial Conservative leader Paul Davis challenging Dwight Ball to state the administration's plans for the province's hydro resources in Labrador.

Words matter. No one has suggested that the two governments were talking about anything.  The talks would take place between Nalcor and Hydro-Quebec and, whether we take Nalcor boss Stan Marshall's own words or the local scuttlebutt,  the talks are going on between the two companies.

19 September 2016

Worst possible time for HQ deal #nlpoli

If the rumblings from Labrador are correct, an opinion column in lapresse - "Why Quebec should regain Labrador" - this weekend both fits right in and provides a cautionary tale for us all.

Pierre Gingras  - right - spent 31 years with Hydro-Quebec (1966 to 1997) building large hydro-electric projects like Manicouagan and James Bay.

Gingras thinks the time is right to rescue tiny Newfoundland from itself and a very old injustice done to Quebec.  After all,  Gingras notes, people in Quebec should recall that, owing to what Gingras calls the "shenanigans of certain [but unnamed] financiers"  the Privy Council  in London tore Labrador from Quebec in 1927 and gave it to the British colony of Newfoundland without any protest from Canada.

16 September 2016

Changes in the fishery #nlpoli

Your humble e-scribbler was on The Broadcast with Jane Adey, discussing the campaign to split the inshore fishermen from the FFAW.  Give it a listen if you missed it: CBC podcast.

Three points:

First, there are a couple of conflicts of interest inherent in the union.  One is the conflict between the interests of inshore fishermen on the one hand and the plant workers on the other.  The other is the conflict between the unions job of representing the workers' interests to the provincial and federal government versus the union's practice of taking cash from government to run projects and programs.

Both of these have been around for a while. They have been controversial.  But this is the first time anyone has raised it as a major political issue.

15 September 2016

Prov gov finances headed south #nlpoli

The Government of Newfoundland and Labrador is offering its bonds on the American market, according to Bloomberg News.  VOCM reported it locally on Wednesday.

The provincial government hopes that its high interest rates will attract investors.  "We are providing some of the highest yields in the country among provincial borrowers,"  deputy finance minister Donna Brewer told an investors conference in New York a couple of days ago.

Now you know what Anne Squires sounded like after someone gave her Ron Ellsworth's telephone number.

14 September 2016

The cost of silence #nlpoli

The St. John's Board of Trade and the provincial Employers' Council aren't happy that the government has shelved its plans for a mini-budget in the fall.

The appropriately-acronymed BOT even held an emergency meeting of some of its members, after which BOT president said his members were in a "sombre mood."  Employers' Council executive director Richard Alexander said the changes to the budget plan were "quite scary."

Now flip back a few weeks.  Word that bankruptcies in the province were up led a bunch of people to blame last spring's budget.  Richard Alexander is in that Telegram story telling folks the government should have slashed spending instead of hiking fees and taxes. There's another comment in there from a local bankruptcy trustee who essentially pulls an "I told ya so".  Back in the spring, the same guy warned that the budget would drive up the number of bankruptcies in the province.

That's all nonsense, of course.

13 September 2016

A no-holds-barred review #nlpoli

Bill Rowe started out with a bright future.

Rhodes scholar.

Youngest cabinet minister in the province's history.

Leader of the Liberal party.

And then he imploded in a fireball fuelled by unfettered ego and spectacularly bad judgement.  Knowing they were stolen, Rowe took police reports on a fire investigation involving a provincial cabinet minister and passed them around to every newsroom in town.  Correctly identified as the source of the leaked reports by a judicial enquiry,  Rowe's political career was over.

12 September 2016

Million dollar baby #nlpoli

The provincial government has paid more than $830,000 to Wade Locke and companies with which he is associated since 2003, according to information released under the provincial access to information law. The information covers 22 contracts and contract renewals for the natural resources and finance departments as well as the provincial energy corporation.

More than $75,000 of that total has come since the Liberals took office in December 2015. Nalcor hired Locke in mid-2015 to provide the company with an assessment of the economic impact in the province of the company's operations.  The initial contract, started in June 2015, was valued at $87, 891. Nalcor renewed the contract in August and December 2015 and again in July 2016.   The total value of the four contracts is $176, 791.

10 September 2016

Best Choice for Premier #nlpoli

Premier Dwight Ball has the lowest leader choice numbers of any Premier in Newfoundland and Labrador since November 2000.

The chart shows the Corporate Research Associates numbers in every quarter for every Premier in that period.

To help situate you in the long sequence,  there are a couple of points marked out.  That first peak is November 2003.  There was a big drop right after as Danny Williams and the Conservatives tried to trim spending.

Notice that next higher peak.  It was February 2005, right after Williams left Ottawa with a cheque for $2.0 billion.

09 September 2016

A clear course to dangerous political shoals #nlpoli

Lots of political activists are looking at the latest CRA quarterly poll.  The Liberals think it is great that they are rebounding so quickly.  Supporters of the other two parties think it is wonderful the three parties are tied and Paul Davis thinks it is great he is doubling Dwight Ball in popularity.

And sure, you can see that if you look at the numbers.  Here's the usual SRBP chart, updated to include these figures.  Bear in mind,  we've given the party choice here as a share of all respondents.  That puts the Grits at 23 with the Dippers and Cons tied at 22.

Reporters have been talking up the Liberal numbers, saying the party has rebounded.  And Paul Davis is vowing to stay on and fight the next general election based on this poll.

All lovely stuff and all of it really superficial.

08 September 2016

Dependence and Independence #nlpoli

For those who might be interested,  Tuesday's post on Churchill Falls and Wednesday's post on the road to Muskrat Falls are a summary of a draft on hydro-electricity development that's been in the works for a couple of years now. It was supposed to be the chapter of a book but it got out of control and might be worth turning into a book.

Sometimes you get caught up in the details of things so it's useful to take a step back and look at the broader themes that emerge from your writing.  One that hadn't appeared before now was the consistency that ran from Joe Smallwood in 1949 through Moores and Peckford in the 1970s and 1980s,  Wells and Tobin in the 1990s and finally Roger Grimes.  

Each of their administrations had as its goal the development of the provincial economy to the point that the provincial government would no longer be what Smallwood called a poorhouse. His vision was a "growing prosperous province of independent families."  That's not surprising if you know anything of Smallwood's experience in Newfoundland from the 1920s onward.  He had disagreements with the federal government, the most famous being the 1959 row over Term 29 payments.

07 September 2016

Jerusalem, Eldorado, and Perdition #nlpoli

Part I:  The development of our country

The Heritage Newfoundland and Labrador website "aims to provide school students and the general public with a wide range of authoritative information on the province's history, culture, and geography. It is based at the Memorial University of Newfoundland. Faculty, graduate students, and professional writers contribute articles, while undergraduate students provide support as research assistants."

That statement of authority is one of the reasons why the introductory sentence to its section on the impact of Churchill Falls is so intriguing:
The Upper Churchill Falls hydroelectric project remains one of the most notorious ventures in Newfoundland and Labrador's resource-development history.   
There is no such thing as the "Upper Churchill Falls" project.  There is no upper Churchill Falls or, indeed, a lower one.  There is simply Churchill Falls.

06 September 2016

Flip. No. Flop. No. No. Wait. Flip. ... #nlpoli

01 August 2016 - "Continuing continuity"
“This is not about cutting,” Ball told reporters on Thursday morning at a news conference. “This is about where we can create new sources of revenue for Newfoundlanders and Labradorians.” 
It may be different from what the budget said, or what people thought it said, but in truth abandoning cuts and looking for new money is what Dwight Ball promised he would do lst year. This is Dwight Ball's fetish for consistency even in the face of changed circumstances. 
This is the sequel to Continuity with Change.  
This is Continuing with Continuity.
22 August 2016 -  "Message Control"
Flip ahead three weeks from the big media briefing.  Ball does a bunch of media appearances the day after his political appointments' story broke.  He told VOCM that - hold on - we can expect more cuts in the fall from the mini budget.  "Expect service cuts" and "difficult choices"  the VOCM headline warned.   
Now, suddenly,  there's a return to the earlier plan. 
Which is it? 
When Dwight Ball says something,  how do we know what commitments we can believe and what ones we should doubt?
06 September 2016 -  No fall budget.  Just usual financial update:  Dwight Ball.

This is the sort of basic policy confusion that got Ball to 17% in the polls.  This is the sort of thing that will keep him there.  Ball's abysmal polling numbers will keep him mired in this sort of situation until he dunderdales* or until the caucus and party barry** him.


*  quits long after the party can do anything to change their own political fortunes.  After Kathy Dunderdale, who quit abruptly in January 2014, leaving her party another 22 months only to die at the polls in November 2015.

**  gets the flick.  After Leo Barry whose colleagues in the Liberal caucus ousted him as leader in 1987.

The development of our country #nlpoli

Today, the development of Churchill Falls is popularly perceived as a failure.  Newfoundland is portrayed as the victim of a shrewd and untrustworthy lot in Quebec.  They hoodwinked Joe Smallwood,  the Liberal premier of Newfoundland at the time, and have continued to steal from Newfoundlanders through the patently unfair 1969 power contract.

churchillfallssigning1969The Churchill Falls power plant cost a little over $1.0 billion (about $6.1 billion in 2015) to build between 1969 and 1971.  With an installed generating capacity of almost 6,000 megawatts,  it was one of the largest if not the largest hydroelectric plant in operation at the time.

Churchill Falls (Labrador) Corporation delivered the project on budget,  achieved initial operating capacity five months ahead of schedule and finished the whole project a year ahead of schedule.

Revenge for the humiliation of Churchill Falls remains at the centre of provincial politics, as it has since the late 1970s.  Redress of the grievance has been the most common term for the political goal of the Newfoundlanders, but as Danny Williams and the provincial Conservatives made it out in 2010, revenge was really their burning passion.  Muskrat Falls was not merely Williams' legacy.  It was the means by which Newfoundlanders would break what he called Quebec's stranglehold on his province's economic future in Labrador.

In this pair of posts, we will look first at Churchill Falls.  The second, coming tomorrow,  will look at the years since 1972, culminating in Muskrat Falls.

05 September 2016

Switching feeds #nlpoli

Some of you noticed a problem on Monday morning with the Twitter posts from SRBP.  You sent me a message and I fixed the problem.

The solution was to switch the autoposting to a new service and that seems to work just fine. You can tell the difference, by the way, because Feedburner used the google name in the shortened URL, while the new autoposter uses bit.ly.

SRBP has used Google's Feedburner service to autopost the morning offering.  That worked fine until this weekend.  Maybe it had something to do with the Twitter feed I installed on the blog on Sunday. Maybe.  But it doesn't matter.  Feedburner is history for Twitter.

SRBP will continue to use Feedburner to support the folks who get the morning post in their email inbox but for other services, SRBP now uses Twitterfeed.

Hopefully, that fixes the problem.  Sorry for any inconvenience.

As a reminder, for the next couple of days we'll be looking at Churchill Falls (Tuesday)  and the reaction to the 1969 contract (including Muskrat Falls) on Wednesday.

At some point in September, we'll also take a revised look at Newfoundland "nationalism."  That one has been brewing for quite a while but the Churchill Falls story is a good way to lead into it.

Also coming this month:

  • new installments in the Zero-Based Governing mini-series,
  • an overview of the phases of Newfoundland economic development,
  • Dwight Ball and the "we are learning" philosophy,
  • some observations on the politics of salvation,
  • the provincial government's role in the economy, and,
  • access to information under the 2015 law...  how are things going?
  • plus a few other juicy morsels as we head toward the Bond-iversary on January 3.  12 years coming up.


Supporting and Opposing #nlpoli

If you get any kind of enjoyment at all out of watching people tie themselves in knots,  point out to a New Democrat that their party supports Muskrat Falls.

Oooo - eee you are in for a ride.

But let's make it clear.  The provincial New Democrats most certainly do not oppose Muskrat Falls.

No sir.  Never have.

02 September 2016

Two for Friday #nlpoli

There's a long weekend coming up, so here is a simpler post.

There'll be an SRBP post on Monday but the biggie for the week should be Tuesday.  There's been so much talk about the Churchill Falls contract renewal on Thursday that we really need to take a look at Churchill Falls and compare and contrast the situation with Muskrat Falls.  Hopefully,  we can do that in one post.  If not, there'll be two back-to-back on Tuesday and Wednesday.

There are few more posts coming this fall that have been brewing for a while.  They are also related to one another, as it turns out,  although the connections might not seem obvious at first.

For those who wondered about it and who found the Zero-Based Governing post interesting,  there will be two more coming.  In the follow-up, we'll have a go at the Phase 2 part of the process for a couple of departments.  That's the more detailed functional analysis that will reveal the extent to which the number of departments as such is not an indicator of how big the government is.  After that,  a regular reader's experience in another province inspired a third post in that series that will look at the areas where federal and provincial jurisdictions overlap.

For today, though,  let's highlight some posts on other local political blogs.  labradore had a go at the electoral office on Thursday over the absolutely ludicrous amount of time they take to issue election reports.

When you've done with that,  Uncle Gnarley gnawed at Muskrat Falls and water management on Thursday as well.  Lots of detail.  Regular readers of Gnarley or here will find a lot of it very familiar but it is useful to bring it all back now and again, as Des does in fine style in this post.


01 September 2016

We won't walk to a nearby walking trail #nlpoli

The Town of Happy Valley-Goose Bay commissioned a consultant to look at possible future development of a sand pit in a residential area of the town. You can read the report at the town website.

The consultants first held a public meeting open to all town residents.  Then they tried other ways of soliciting opinions, like setting up a booth in the local mall. Then they did a survey of a sample of town residents.

Out of all that, the consultants figured out two interesting things.  First, they "determined that the individuals which would most effected [sic] by the development would live within a 400-meter radius of the area of interest."  Second, they community feedback through all those means told them that 400 metres was also "the maximum distance that the average person would walk to reach a park or recreation area."