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.


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)


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.


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.



"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.


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

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.


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.


* 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.


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.



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.


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."


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.


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.


Mild winter.

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


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.


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


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.