31 October 2016

Ball, Bennett, Williams, and Marshall #nlpoli

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

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

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

28 October 2016

Sunshine, lollipops, and fluffy kittens #nlpoli

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

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

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

27 October 2016

Three for Thursday #nlpoli

Quebec opposes more federal cash for Muskrat Falls

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

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

Expect as much sunshine as they can imagine

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

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

26 October 2016

The Mustafa Principle #nlpoli

Go back to Friday's post about false choices.

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

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

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

So what changed?

Truth and Reconciliation #nlpoli

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

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

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

25 October 2016

Small town politics in the big city newspapers #nlpoli

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

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

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

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

Sure.

A vintage Globe performance all-'round.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-srbp-

24 October 2016

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

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

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

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

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

21 October 2016

False choices #nlpoli

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

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

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

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

20 October 2016

The Reverse Midas Touch Rides Again #nlpoli

The crowd running this place these days has an unrivalled ability to look at a problem and find the worst possible response imaginable.

On Wednesday,  natural resource minister Siobhan Coady and environment minister Perry Trimper announced that the government would tell Nalcor to keep flooding the Muskrat Falls reservoir but at the same time, they will have to cut down more trees and clear more vegetation from the flooding area.

This solves nothing.

19 October 2016

Rumpole and Reversible Error #nlpoli

Brian Tobin's favourite judge may be on his way to the Supreme Court of Canada but along the way he will probably have to answer a few questions about his decision in the appeal in R v S.B.

The case is on its way to the Supreme Court of Canada and Rowe will have to appear before a House of Commons committee before his appointment is confirmed.

Justice Malcolm Rowe wrote the decision with Justice Charles White concurring.  Chief Justice Derek Green dissented.

In the original case,  S.B. was acquitted by a jury of "two counts of sexual assault upon C.M. in addition to six charges of assault (five against C.M. and one against another complainant), one count of assault with a weapon (against C.M.) and one count of careless use of a firearm." (R. v S.B.,  2014 NLTD(G) 84)

In the appeal,  Rowe wrote that notwithstanding "the serious errors made by the trial judge outlined above, the jury verdict should not be set aside. I have reached this conclusion with reluctance given the unfair manner in which the complainant was dealt with." (2016 NLCA 20)

18 October 2016

The War of the Flea Circus #nlpoli

Muskrat Falls has become a three-ring flea circus.

In the first ring, we have the political ambulance chasers, a.k.a. Maudie Barlow and the Council of Xenophobes. The Safari Saviours rolled into town last week, issued a fill-in-the-blanks news release, and then frigged off having successfully tutted a few tuts and gained the media coverage they wanted,.

They, at least, want to end the project, which is more than you can say for the folks staging all sorts of protests here and there.  The folks in the third ring are likely the majority of folks in the province. They want Muskrat Falls finished,  no matter what the cost.  The only difference between Gil Bennett and Bill Gauthier is that Gil actually wants to spend less public money on a project that never made any sense at all.

In the centre ring of the circus we have the province's New Democrats and the self-described "progressive" white folks in the south.  The Dippers sent a letter to the Premier on Monday demanding that he open the House of Assembly "forthwith" in order to give the circus a bigger stage.  Make no mistake,  the Dippers don;t want to stop the project either.  They just want to slow things down a bit.  The NDP, like the Liberals and Conservatives and the overwhelming majority of people in the province want Muskrat Falls at any cost.

The Dippers, like some others, just want you to think they are against the project.  That is the flea in our flea circus.

And that, of course, is the flea in our circus.  It is the thing people insist is there  even when it obviously is not.

17 October 2016

Caribous, Choice, and Craziness #nlpoli

For a while, it looked like one of the island's major communities wouldn't be able to put a senior hockey team on the ice for the new season.  Low ticket sales were threatening the Clarenville Caribous.  After a bit of publicity,  the team managed to sell enough tickets to finance the team.

There's no way of knowing if changing demographics were affecting the Caribous.  Clarenville has enjoyed a small boom driven largely by Hebron construction at Bull Arm. As that project is winding down,  the local economy is likely to shrink a bit.  Maybe some folks didn't want to shell out for hockey tickets given the local economic slow-down and the potential for more taxes or cuts coming from the provincial government.

We shouldn't be surprised, though, if more and more of these sorts of stories turn up as our population shrinks,  gets older, and migrates into some of the major centres, particularly St. John's.  After all, we've heard from municipal leaders over the past couple of years that some towns are having a hard time finding employees or even enough people to form a council.  In some places, councilors are picking up garbage and doing other jobs that the town would normally hire someone to do.

14 October 2016

Refitting the USS Nimitz (CVN-68)


Ordered in 1967,  laid down in 1968,  launched in 1972 and commissioned in 1975,  USS Nimitz is the lead ship of  a class of 10 aircraft carriers in the United States Navy.  They form the backbone of American naval power in the world.

The ships in the class will be replaced by the Gerald R Ford class.  Current plans call for the navy to retire the Nimitz between 2025 and 2027.

The video documents part of the recent repair and refurbishment of the Nimitz at the naval shipyard in Bremerton, Washington.  It highlights refurbishment of the rudder,  catapult, and anchors and chain as well as the fabrication and installation of new sponsons on the hull.

-srbp-

13 October 2016

The politics of Sally Albright #nlpoli

A surprisingly large number of people loved Monday's post about the political impotence of protesting against Muskrat Falls now that the thing is pretty much finished.

As if to confirm their impotence,  some of the protesters turned up on Tuesday at the government's dog and pony show.  The Premier cut out the back door to avoid them but most of the participants went out the main entrance and stepped around the folks laying about at the protest.

There was a bit of cynical joke, of course, because what was going on inside the "consultation" was a display of political irrelevance for all the folks in the building.  The whole idea of these consultations is to make people feel like they are playing some role in making government policy when, in reality, they are just being played for fools.

12 October 2016

Eeyore and the Blustery Day #nlpoli

Premier Dwight Ball stood up before a hand-picked crowd at The Rooms on Tuesday and told them they were there to help develop a strategy for the future of our province.  They would look over some ideas the government crowd had worked up,  sit around tables talking with "facilitators" as part of this gigantic consultation, and then the government crowd would figure out what the final strategy should look like.

In his speech,  Ball said that we were in the current financial mess because the crowd running the government before now had followed a strategy of strategies.  They'd have a strategy for ever problem. One year they came out with 10.  All developed according to the same basic formula:  issue - idea - consultation - cogitation - strategy.

The Liberals would do things differently, Ball said. How they would be different he could not say. Maybe it was that instead of doing a health strategy and a n innovation strategy and a fisheries strategy, Ball and his crowd were going to have One Big Strategy.

But somehow,  the same was different to Ball's way of thinking and all would be wonderful as a result.

11 October 2016

The Bigger Picture #nlpoli

Whatever the provincial government is doing about its own spending or the provincial economy generally or whatever it is up to starts at 9:00 AM.

They announced an invitation-only event by Twitter a week or so ago that made it sound like the Premier would be the key player all day.  On Friday, the official announcement made it plain Ball is showing up for the kick-off and wrap-up. Another announcement had him with another minister doing a funding announcement at 10:00 AM.

Oh yeah, and that invite-only thing had transmogrified into a case where "the general public" can participate by live video using social media.

There you have it:  can't tell you what they are doing because they do not know what they are doing, otherwise known as "making-it-up-as-they-go."

No encouraging at all, but let's skip over that sort of eye-roll inducing stuff and think about some of the bigger issues.  We can then keep an eye open to see how they turn up - *if* they turn up - in this stunt at The Rooms.

10 October 2016

Politics as masturbation #nlpoli

"I am warning you.  Don't make me wear my pikachu costume."
Demonstrations at Memorial University and at Nalcor headquarters on Friday show the extent to which Newfoundland politics has become little more than irrelevant stunts staged chiefly for the personal amusement of the folks with the expensive cellphones.

The protesters do not want to stop the project. A few people who turned up *think* that was the goal. But the university students' union representative quoted by the Telegram about aboriginal rights made it plain in her CBC interview she wasn't interested in stopping the multi-billion dollar blunder cum boondoggle. said exactly that.

Just as well.  The project is basically unstoppable and has been for years. That is also the position of all three political parties in Newfoundland and Labrador:  we cannot afford to let this project stop.

07 October 2016

Sweat Equity - new ISER book on housing policy #nlpoli


Sweat Equity

Cooperative House-Building in Newfoundland, 1920–1974

C.A. Sharpe and A.J Shawyer 

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"The lack of decent urban housing — a problem neither new nor unique to Newfoundland — was widely recognized during the twentieth century. After numerous piecemeal attempts to find a solution, a remarkable and successful government-supported “sweat equity” program was established in 1952, where homes were built cooperatively and, upon completion, became owner-occupied. This labor (about 2,000 hours per man) was accepted in lieu of a down payment. 

"Tracing public policy during the Commission of Government and the early days of the Smallwood administration, and sourced from archival material and interviews with surviving members of the cooperatives, Sweat Equity outlines how people in Newfoundland tried to solve the housing shortage themselves by building more than 500 houses in the 1950s and 1960s.

"This critical monograph-length study — the first of its kind on the subject — is the story of how the Commission of Government and the then new provincial government recognized the desperate need for decent accommodation and what they did to provide it."

Available online from the Institute for Social and Economic Research or in bookstores.

-srbp-

06 October 2016

Canada's Dippers: taking the democracy out of politics #nlpoli


The guy who didn't know what electoral district he lived in  likes proportional representation.

Provincial Dipper boss Earle "More Austerity" McCurdy was so excited Wednesday that he talked to a parliamentary committee about it and even got all frothy about it on Twitter.

If proportional representation is such a wonderful thing, then Earle must have included it in his party's election platform last fall.  Right?

Go check it out.  

Look for any reference at all to proportional representation. 

We'll wait.

Take your time.

The trouble with transparency - CADO version #nlpoli

"How do you deal with a government computer system that is hopelessly out of date it wants you to 'update' your Internet browser to a version that is actually three version older than the one you are using?"

That would be the online search for the government registry of deeds, companies, and lobbyists.  The thing was already ancient in 2009 when SRBP first wrote about it. The thing was nine years old then. These days it is around 16 years old and is still chugging along.

Someone else took a poke at the database by asking for an electronic copy of the record through the access to information law. In addition to requesting the data,  the person offered an observation that the database wasn't truly access as required under the access law because the software was so old:  "I am of the opinion that these records are not truly available to the public. Currently a user must access this database online using Internet Explorer 7, which is no longer supported by Microsoft, and leaves the end user vulnerable to malware spyware. I doubt Ministers would be permitted to use IE7 at Confederation Building due to the threat of digital exploits. The CADO system built by x-wave is incredibly outdated."

05 October 2016

The trouble with transparency #nlpoli

Last week, the provincial government's communications gang tweeted a picture, which we have reprinted on the right. It was supposed to show where Premier Dwight Ball is on his little sojourn to tomorrowland that he calls "our fiscal future."

You can see how they have crossed off a whole bunch of milestones on the way along.  Supposedly we are now at the "Focus and Refine" stage.  Next thing to come is the "Report of Choices" due at some unspecified point in the fall. Notice the diamond-shaped point there called the fall fiscal update.

The Liberals haven't told us when the update will come.  First we have to get through this thing on October 11 at which a bunch of hand-picked leaders from various "sectors" of our society will get to see what choices the government has already made for "our fiscal future."

This is "consultation" in GovSpeak. In LibSpeak, it is Transparency,  one of the Five Points of the Liberal Plan for Strategic Word Capitalization.

04 October 2016

The Strategic Two-Step #nlpoli

There's a sheet of paper taped on the underside of one of the drawers in the Premier's desk on the 8th Floor.

It's very old.  No one knows for sure how long it has been there but there are countless rings from countless coffee cups on it and more than few circles from the underside of rum bottles.

On the back, there are a couple of spots where it looks like people jotted down messages and phone numbers. You know, like someone had the sheet laying around on the desk and it just happened to be the closest bit of paper handy.

You can barely make out  "Doyle - Panama" and long string of digits including what looks like a bank account number after the word Caymans.  In another corner there's a woman's first name with couple of numbers and a note :  "Frank - call her back for Christ sake.  Gerry"  

On the other side, the words are in Courier 10 point from an IBM Selectric.

At the top, in all caps and underlined, it reads  WHEN IN TROUBLE...  The first bullet is one word:  Pander.   The second bullet is:  Pick a fight with Ottawa.

03 October 2016

The Way Forward #nlpoli

Last December, Dwight Ball laid out his plan to deal with the provincial government's financial problems.

Ball made the comments to CBC's David Cochrane a week or two after he'd been sworn in.  This was after he'd been briefed on the provincial government's financial situation, so he'd had a chance to get over any shock and figure out a plan to cope with an unprecedented financial mess.

Depending on whether you go with what Ball said last year or what he said at the Liberal fund-raising dinner last Thursday,  Ball was totally shocked to find out how bad things were or didn't bat an eyelid because he knew exactly how bad things were.  Take your pick.

Either way, here's what the newly minted Premier said were his three ways to handle the unprecedented financial mess: