11 December 2017

Don't blame me (-dia) #nlpoli

Now that Muskrat Falls is officially a boondoggle,  all sorts of people are rushing forward to criticise it.

Others are also rushing forward to ensure we all know that they were on the side of the angels back in the day and so, as Brian Jones pleads this weekend in the Telegram, we shouldn’t “blame the media for Muskrat Falls.”

For the past year and a half,  Brian tells us,  people whom he calls “trolls” have been writing and calling him to ask why the local media did not reveal all the details about Muskrat Falls as the thing was unfolding.

“I always point out a basic fact,”  Brian says,  that “ the Newfoundland media, not just The Telegram, have covered every aspect of Muskrat Falls since at least 2010.”

Wonderful if it was a fact, but no.

Not a fact.

06 December 2017

Plain English , Disclosure, and Bad Public Policy #nlpoli #cdnpoli

Right off the start, let's affirm that Nalcor was created by an administration that was, from the time it took office, notorious for its efforts to flout the law in order to keep information secret.

Polling information was the first sign of the problem bit wasn't the last example.  There was a demand for $10,000 for copies of speeches delivered in public by the Premier to what ultimately became a complete re-write of the law in 2012 to make legal what the government had already been doing to keep all sorts of secrets.

It's easy, therefore, to believe that the Energy Corporation Act,  passed in 2007,  follows the same pattern.  In many respects, you'd be right.  For example, we do not know why the government created the energy corporation in the first place.  In second reading on the bill,  then energy minister Kathy Dunderdale famously spoke only 101 words in her speech introducing it.  Not a word of her comments then or later ever explained why the government was setting up Nalcor,  what it was supposed to accomplish and how it would be organised.

The sections of the Energy Corporation Act that everyone is now upset about came along in early 2008.  They were introduced, as the story went at the time, to address concerns from the major oil companies who would be part of a deal announced later that year to develop Hebron.

The issue for this post, though, is about the chronic misrepresentation of what those sections say whenever people talk about the current controversy over embedded contractors.  Here's the way James McLeod summarised the issue from a decision - not yet public - from the province's privacy commissioner:

The Energy Corporation Act, which is the law which creates Nalcor and gives it all its powers and mandate, says the company should withhold information “relating to the business affairs or activities” of any other company that Nalcor works with. 
The OIPC [Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner] ruled that billing rates of contractors would clearly apply, and that because broader information previously released by Nalcor could be used to calculate roughly how much individual contractors bill, individual company names tied to specific contractors should also be kept secret.
Section 5.4 of the Energy Corporation Act Act says that the chief executive office may withhold commercially sensitive information belonging to Nalcor and its subsidiaries and shall refuse to disclose commercially sensitive information for a third party. 

But you can't stop there because the section adds an important bit of information next:
where the chief executive officer of the corporation or the subsidiary to which the requested information relates, taking into account sound and fair business practises, reasonably believes...
falls into either of the two categories the section then describes, complete with characteristics.

In other words, there isn't mandatory, automatic, and broad secrecy for something that is vague.  The Act places the decision at the discretion of the chief executive officer AND gives that person some guidance as to what "commercially sensitive information" means.

In the embedded contractors case,  Nalcor boss Stan Marshall determined what would go out the door and what wouldn't, based on whatever advice he got from lawyers.  No one has apparently asked Stan to explain his reasoning and, for sure, no one at Nalcor these days is likely to volunteer a simple piece of factual information.  These folks, after all, still release pdfs of documents that are designed to frustrate copying and pasting for data analysis.

We can make a reasonable assumption, though, that because some of the contractors  - maybe the one-man shops - consider the information to be commercially sensitive for them,  Nalcor won't release it.  That's a legitimate protection of third parties. Nalcor just needs to explain that. 

As for the privacy commissioner, it's doubtful he buggered up the plain English of all this.  And from McLeod's story, it appears that the commissioner has picked up on the idea that two partial disclosures could lead to the disclosure Marshall decided against.  That's legitimate as well.

But before we think about changing this section of the Act,  everyone needs to get their facts straight, stop, and think hard.

Bad public policy usually comes from  a lack of consideration. That includes times when there hasn't been adequate debate in the House but it also comes, as in the recent Muskrat Falls inquiry, when the government makes a hasty decision based on something on Twitter or open line that itself was driven by a few noisy voices with a raft of agendas, interests, and knowledge. That doesn't mean we should not have an inquiry but it does mean government folks should have made a decision based on facts, information, and knowledge.

In the case of the MF inquiry,  three of the terms are actually already known and one of them - the PUB exemption - actually dates from 1998.  It looks for all the world like the folks who drew up the terms of reference didn't know the facts themselves or what they were really trying to find out.  They also left out crucial time periods (anything before 2012)  and crucial actors (all the politicians) in the debacle.  The PUB bit is actually just a sideshow.  The result will be a long, costly, and ultimately inconclusive commission that will miss most of the details needed to avoid a similar debacle in the future.  That's the opposite of what the government promised when it announced the terms of reference and the commissioner.

Words matter.  Disclosure is important.  Facts are crucial.

And in the embedded contractors story,  that last element is in short supply.  We could all make lots of mistakes as a result, just as we made lots of them in the past - like in Muskrat Falls - by ignoring facts that were,  as in the Energy Corporation Act,  in plain sight all along.

-srbp-

21 November 2017

Multiple Interlocking Rationalizations #nlpoli #cdnpoli

In announcing an inquiry into some aspects of Muskrat Falls on Monday, the Premier muddled up some numbers that suggest the confusion at the heart of Monday’s big news.  He said that the inquiry will explain how a project that was originally supposed to cost $5.0 billion at the wound up costing $13 billion or more.

Then he announced the terms of reference for an inquiry that focused on the pro forma exercise called “sanction” that happened when the project was supposed to cost $6.2 billion.  The $5.0 billion figure is from November 2010.  That’s when many of the crucial decisions took place but, as far as the terms of reference go, its outside the bounds of the inquiry.

Justice Richard LeBlanc also won’t look at the political decisions behind the project, the relationship between Nalcor and the Premier’s Office, the governance of the corporation, or any of the other major elements of what became Muskrat Falls. All of those aspects would explain the political foundation of the project the Premier mentioned in his news conference but none of them are covered by the inquiry terms.  Instead, the inquiry will focus on the internal management decisions at Nalcor after 2012.

The specific subjects of the inquiry are listed in Section 4, which contains four sub-sections labeled a through d. Let’s run through each of them.

Energy Demand and Sanction

Section 4 (a) directs the commissioner to inquire into “the consideration by Nalcor of options to address the electricity needs of Newfoundland and Labrador’s Island interconnected system customers that informed Nalcor’s decision to recommend that the government sanction the Muskrat Falls Project. 

One supporter of the project famously said there were “multiple, interlocking business cases” for it.  What Nalcor, the government and its supporters actually offered multiple, interchangeable rationalizations.

In November 2010,  the key argument for the project was breaking the stranglehold Quebec supposedly held on electricity development in Labrador.  The project would ship power to markets through Nova Scotia.  The mention of Muskrat as the least-cost source of electricity for the island is found in paragraph nine of what is essentially a 10-paragraph news release plus a list of highlights.
Right off the bat, Nalcor didn’t present the alternatives at the time of project sanction, which is the starting point for the inquiry.  That happened in 2010, although it didn’t really because there is no evidence Nalcor ever examined alternatives to Muskrat Falls. The only mention of alternatives has been to the isolated island scenario, which means Nalcor never evaluated all options anyway.

In 2006 Nalcor did evaluate alternatives to the whole Lower Churchill project but that was for a different concept:  the LCP was supposed to be about power for export only, with local needs as a secondary consideration.  That’s an important detail because another key aspect of the 2010 announcement was that this was the original LCP, but with the tiny dam built first.

There’s also no order in council in which the provincial government approved a proposal from Nalcor.  There’s only OC2012-130 that lets Nalcor use Crown land:

 Under the authority of section 7(2)(a) of the Lands Act, the Lieutenant Governor in Council is pleased to authorize the Minister of Environment and Conservation to issue a licence to occupy Crown land to Nalcor Energy for an area not to exceed 4.3 hectares within the fifteen metre shoreline reservation at Muskrat Falls, Newfoundland and Labrador, for the purpose of hydroelectric generation, subject to the terms and conditions normally applicable to the issuance of such licences.
It’s dated December 4, 2012, well before the infamous filibuster and the actual formal ceremony announcing “sanction.”

This section will also not touch on the decision to double electricity rates and the rationale for paying for the project, all of which was political and all of which was decided in 2010.

Key Points to Retain:

  •  Without an amendment, the inquiry can’t look at decisions taken prior to December 2012 since the terms specifically identify Nalcor’s proposal for sanction as the focus. That happened in December 2012.  
  •  here’s no indication Nalcor presented any project justifications in 2012.
  • There’s also no order-in-council in which cabinet “sanctioned” Muskrat Falls.  It isn’t clear, therefore, what the commissioner will be doing to meet the first term of the inquiry.
  • The inquiry won’t look at the political decision to force domestic users to pay 100% of the cost plus profit (doubling rates), which was taken in 2010, not 2012.

 Cost over-runs

Section 4 (b)  is about “why there are significant differences between the estimated costs of the Muskrat Falls Project at the time of sanction and the costs by Nalcor during project execution, to the time of the inquiry.”

Key Points to Retain
  •   This will be the guts of the inquiry.
  •    It will be technical. 
  •    None of it is political.

  
Hello, 1998

Section 4 (c)  is about “whether the determination that the Muskrat Falls Project should be exempt from oversight by the Board of Commissioners of Public Utilities was justified and reasonable and what was the effect of this exemption, if any, on the development, costs and operation of the Muskrat Falls Project.”

This one is weird, as if the person who wrote the term had no idea what end was up.  The decision to exempt the LCP from the public utilities board was taken in 1998 because the project was entirely for export.  The PUB was entirely about domestic rates.  In the original scheme there’d have been almost no cost to pass on to consumers.

In 2010, cabinet did not have to decide anything about exemption since it was done long before it took office.

So given the amount of time the Premier spent blaming the former Conservative government for the mess he and his colleagues have cleaned up (not really – ed.),  giving the inquiry the power to call Brian Tobin to the stand is just nutty.

Key Point to Recall

  •   The exemption order predates the Conservatives return to power in 2003.

Oversight Committee Mania

Section 4 (d) is about “whether the government was fully informed and was made aware of any risks or problems anticipated with the Muskrat Falls Project, so that the government had sufficient and accurate information upon which to appropriately decide to sanction the project and whether the government employed appropriate measures to oversee the project particularly as it relates to the matters set out in paragraphs (a) to (c), focusing on governance arrangements and decision-making processes associated with the project.”

The adequacy of governance structures is a political question  - or one about internal government operations - but this term is written to focus on what Nalcor told people in government at the time of sanction in 2012.  In effect the wording precludes any discussion of the long-standing relationships involved in decision-making by and about Nalcor and focuses on whether or not Nalcor told government enough.

Since it doesn’t look like the key decision for government was in 2012,  this one might wind up being a lot more fun than informative.  A clever lawyer – like Jerome!  - should have a field day with this bit. As well, since the term is written to focus on what Nalcor did,  the fact the government made a certain decision gives the politicians an automatic excuse, if they want to take it. 

That’s really part of the problem with the whole inquiry terms of reference.  It is structured on the assumption Nalcor brought this forward in the same way it pursued Cat Arm or one of the other projects.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  This one has been primarily about politics since 2003 and arguably as far back as 1998.  

With a faulty set of assumptions underpinning it, this circumscribed inquiry can’t possibly find any meaningful answers to how we got into this mess in the first place.

That last sentence is the big take-away.

-srbp-

SRBP has followed the Lower Churchill project more closely than anyone outside government.  There are both short posts and detailed ones covering the entire thing since 2003 up to 2017.  There’s a tab at the top linking to some of the posts and others are easily accessible by using the search function.

 Feel free to use it and if you want to pose a question on something you may have missed you can find me @edhollett on Twitter or at ed_hollett@hotmail.com

20 November 2017

When a change is not a change: the NDP and Muskrat Falls #nlpoli #cdnpoli

One newsroom.

Two different interpretations of  federal NDP leader Jagmeet Sing's position on Muskrat Falls.

In Sarah Smellie's online story,  Singh had a few concerns and is "not comfortable" with the project.
But he didn't outright condemn the project. 
 "Right now I'm concerned … I'm concerned about those two pieces and I want to make sure that those are addressed. I'm not comfortable with a project that doesn't have those things addressed."
Yet,  in the story that went to air,  the provincial NDP were opposed to the project, as provincial leader Lorraine Michael had always been according to the voice-over.

New Democrats bobbed their heads up and down approvingly because that is the story they want us to believe.  It is the story they fervently believe in their own hearts:  Lorraine Michael and the NDP have always opposed Muskrat Falls.

The problem is that the story isn't true.

02 November 2017

The Poppy

According to the Royal Canadian Legion's Poppy Manual, the Legion will never authorize  the display of a poppy on "blogs or discussion groups even of a remembrance nature, as the Legion cannot control the text content of such forums [sic]."

A symbol of the defence of freedom can't be displayed in Canada on a website where Canadians exercise their freedom of speech.

Remembrance is impossible when the Legion has already forgotten.

-srbp-




08 September 2017

Fixing the date or fixing the election #nlpoli #cdnpoli

Arguably,  Justice Gillian Butler’s decision in a six year old case on the special ballot provisions of the provincial election law is one of the most significant political events in recent years.

Butler ruled the special ballot rules are unconstitutional since they deny an individual’s right to vote under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.  Introduced in 2007 with unanimous support of all members of the House of Assembly, the special ballot rules allow people to vote at least four weeks before an election exists.

Among the first critics of the special ballot rules was Mark Watton.  He represented the Canadian Civil Liberties Association pro bono as an intervener in the case Butler heard.  In 2007,  though, Watton wrote a letter to the editor of the Western Star and later published it on his now-defunct blog nottawa.  SRBP reproduced it from the print edition.

The fight against the special ballot laws took four years to get to a court and another six for the case to end in a decision but the fight was worth it.

Most people likely haven’t read Watton’s letter and the fact it isn’t available online anymore means that people writing about the issue these days won't know any of the background to the story.  To remedy that and to give Watton his due,  here’s the letter in its entirety.

The provincial government might appeal the decision.  Hopefully it won’t since, as Watton explained a decade ago,  the law is unconstitutional.  There is no reason to disagree with Butler’s conclusion.  The only sensible task for justice minister Andrew Parsons and his colleagues is to introduce amendments to the especial ballot law in the fall sitting of the House. 

[Originally published in the Western Star and at nottawa,  Friday 14 September 2007]

28 August 2017

The Quebec Demon #nlpoli #cdnpoli

The fancy word for it is revanchism.

People who study words and language call it a borrowed word, meaning that we use it in English but got it from the French word.  In this case, it is the French word for revenge.

People familiar with history are most likely to associate the word revanchism with the struggle between France and Germany that lasted from 1870 until 1945.  The Prussians defeated the French in 1870 and took two territories – Alsace and Lorraine – that many in France wanted back. 

Desire for revenge for regain of the lost territories was an important aspect of French policy against Germany at Versailles in 1919.  The tension between the two countries lasted until, after another world war,  Germany was simply destroyed as a single country and France got the territories back.

07 August 2017

Muskrat, risk, and memory #nlpoli

There's a great column in Saturday's Telegram by Pam Frampton that anyone concerned about Muskrat Falls should read.  It's the latest in a string of columns that Pam's been writing about the troubled megadebt project and events in 2013 around the time that the major contractor on the project produced a memorandum about huge risks that needed attention.

In the very first sentence,  Pam mentions a book she's apparently just been reading.  It's called Megaprojects and risk.  It's written by three Scandinavian scientists who studied huge construction projects to try and find out why they tend to go wildly over-budget. They found that the folks behind gigantic projects over-estimate the benefits and underestimate the costs.

Note the date of Pam's column.

2017.

24 July 2017

Dunkirk (2017)

Reviewers have been so effusive in their praise for Christopher Nolan's Dunkirk that one suspects that something is very wrong here.  Their words are over the top and cliche.

The New York Times, for example, called it a "tour de force", "a brilliant new film",  and "a characteristically complex and condensed vision of a war in a movie that is insistently humanizing, despite its monumentality."  The Guardian called the film "structurally immaculate" and "a jaw-dropping spectacle in which the picture for the most part stretched beyond [the reviewer's] field of vision, both vertically and horizontally."  Vanity Fair, among others, calls the film Nolan's "most artistic, impressionistic film yet."

But the Vanity Fair reviewer gives us a clue that something is amiss here with his very first sentence. He describes the challenge of trying to find words to describe this film. "It was a dance piece, then a music video, then a poem, then a prayer."

These are bizarre ways to describe a movie about the defeat of Britain and France in early 1940 at the hands of an invading German army. Britain only avoided a catastrophe by a combination of muddling, luck, and improvisation. The story of Dunkirk is a spectacle in its own right. It is spectacular in the wider context of defeat and conquest at the opening phase of the largest war in human history. Thematically, Dunkirk is the antithesis to Normandy:  retreat in defeat versus attack leading to victory. Dunkirk: improvised. Normandy:  meticulously planned. The one is the prelude to the other.  This is a rich mine of a story.

There are lots of ways to describe such an event and indeed lots of ways to present the story.  But dance piece?  Music video? Poem you might buy into but it would be a great insult to Sassoon or Owen to liken their work to Dunkirk's pristine, one-dimensional soldiers, sailors, and pilots.

What becomes plain fairly quickjly in these effusively positive reviews is that the reviewers clearly know very little of the actual events or indeed or war movies as a genre. Go read the New York Times review of the one movie made about Dunkirk before now, the one made in 1958. Now look at the reviews of the 2017 movie. The recent ones seem thin. Insubstantial. Lacking in depth either of knowledge or indeed even of morality.

Even after that brief experience you should now be retching at the idea as war and the events at Dunkirk can be a rendered as a tour de force dance piece or a structurally immaculate music video.

17 July 2017

Traces of the Grossly Impudent Lie #nlpoli

There's a phrase in Pam Frampton's Saturday column on Muskrat Falls.

A bunch of words dropped in easily,  maybe offhandedly.

Nothing that really stands out.

Just a simple fact.

The kind of thing that you might just skip past, unless maybe you'd be writing about this project since before it was a gleam in some old twitchy-shouldered man's eye.

"Now, the project is more than 75 per cent finished, two years behind schedule and 70 per cent over budget."

11 July 2017

Heretics and Believers


Peter Marshall's Heretics and believers:  a history of the English Reformation from Yale University Press (2017) arrived as a belated birthday present on Friday past.  It's proven to be well worth the wait.  

"Heretics and Believers" by Peter Marshall


As the official blurb describes it, "Peter Marshall’s sweeping new history—the first major overview for general readers in a generation—argues that sixteenth-century England was a society neither desperate for nor allergic to change, but one open to ideas of “reform” in various competing guises. King Henry VIII wanted an orderly, uniform Reformation, but his actions opened a Pandora’s Box from which pluralism and diversity flowed and rooted themselves in English life.

With sensitivity to individual experience as well as masterfully synthesizing historical and institutional developments, Marshall frames the perceptions and actions of people great and small, from monarchs and bishops to ordinary families and ecclesiastics, against a backdrop of profound change that altered the meanings of “religion” itself. This engaging history reveals what was really at stake in the overthrow of Catholic culture and the reshaping of the English Church."

-srbp-

30 June 2017

Canada 150 #nlpoli #cdnpoli

From my paper "Two solitudes",  Dorchester Review, volume 6, number 1, spring/summer 2016:

"Newfoundland and Canada, separate countries for so long, exist as two solitudes within the bosom of a single country more than 65 years after Confederation. They do not understand each other very well. Canadians can be forgiven if they do not know much about Newfoundlanders beyond caricatures in popular media, let alone understand them. But Newfoundlanders do not know themselves. They must grapple daily with the gap between their own history as it was and the history as other Newfoundlanders tell it to them, wrongly, repeatedly. 
These solitudes are not fragments of the past of no consequence in the present. They are not without shape and substance in the world today. People who think of themselves as eternal victims of conspiracies will see conspiracies everywhere and act accordingly. For some Newfoundlanders,  the British bogeyman of 1914 became the Canadian and British bogey of 1949, and the Quebec bogey in 1969 at Churchill Falls, or the bogey of Ottawa and offshore resources in 2004. A century after July 1, 1916, the result of these two solitudes is a relationship between Newfoundland and the rest of Canada that may well be more distant than it ever was, but certainly is needlessly so."
For the full thing, buy the single issue or subscribe.

You'll get some thoughtful and thought-provoking stuff from writers across Canada.

-srbp-


23 May 2017

The Newfie Thing #nlpoli

Facebook has become hugely popular in Newfoundland and Labrador and, not surprisingly, some creative and enterprising fellow came up with a running joke - these days called a meme - featuring a fellow in a sou'wester.

You will find it called "newfie word of the day". The text that goes with the picture involves a joke based on some mispronunciation of a standard English word or phrase and out of that comes some sort of joke.

The one above is an example.  There are dozens more.  The thing is quite popular as you can tell by searching the Internet for "newfie word of the day".

Memorial University's political scientist slash sociologist Jamie Baker has discovered that the guy in the picture isn't a Newfoundlander.  He's actually Czech.  The picture came from a post on a Northern Peninsula blog by cabinet minister Christopher Mitchelmore.  It's about a Screech-in ceremony in the Czech republic that Mitchelmore ran during a visit there on one of his numerous globe-trotting ventures.

Baker posted the link on Facebook and asked folks to give them their thoughts. Feel free to do so by sending him an email:  jbaker at mun dot ca.  Baker's also written about about nationalism and racism, if this interests you. He got some notoriety last week not for this "newfie" meme story but for one on a paper he wrote about young people's attitudes to the word "newfie." He interviewed 30 university students and found that among the young people, the word is either an insult or no big thing.  You can find a CBC story about it, one from Radio Canada, and one from NTV.

15 May 2017

The unbroken machine #nlpoli

The Unbroken Machine coverThe best little book on Canadian politics and government in a long time.


Starting with the basics,  Dale Smith describes how the Canadian political system works and why things are like they are.  The language is plain and that makes the idea understandable for as wide an audience as possible.

Every politician, pundit, and plumber should have a dog-eared copy of The unbroken machine close at hand and check it before speaking about any current issue in Canadian politics. Smith's focus is on the federal system but the basic ideas - responsible government,  the role of the Crown and so on - apply in the provincial sphere as well.

Available in paperback,  pdf, and ebook editions from your local bookseller or online from Dundurn Press.

-srbp-



12 May 2017

Junk reporting of medical research

The Telegraph is a major conventional newspaper in the United Kingdom.

And it spreads fake news.

There's nothing surprising in that. Most conventional news organisations produce some amount of pure nonsense in the course of a year.  The crap content level varies from outlet to outlet and the people who work hard in pretty well every conventional news outlet also work diligently to get stories right.

But excrement seeps through.

It's a Law of Averages thing.

Anyway...

24 April 2017

Plain language, power, and politics #nlpoli

In the midst of a political controversy over recent fishing quotas in Newfoundland and Labrador, two people are talking about the need for better communication about science and the fishing quotas.

Jacqueline Perry is the regional director of fisheries management for the fisheries and oceans department of the Government of Canada.  "This is difficult stuff,"  she said, referring to reductions in quotas that the decisions that flow from the scientific information on fish stocks will have an adverse impact on people in the fishing industry.

"We are doing the very, very best that we can with the information that our science colleagues are able to provide to us with the input of industry. Are we getting it 100 per cent right? I don't know if we will ever know [about the precise size of fish stocks]."

In related comments,  the head of the Marine Institute's fisheries science program told CBC that the "fact that there is so much controversy is indicative that communication is a necessary component … If we're going to find a way forward, we're going to have to keep talking."  Brett Favaro said the Marine Institute will include course work in the master's and doctoral programs aimed at teaching scientists how to communicate their research findings more effectively.

He's talking about plain language, among other things.  Plain language or Plain English establishes some simple rules about the way you use words and sentences in order to ensure the greatest number of people will understand what you are saying.

14 April 2017

Monchy-le-Preux #nlpoli

Very few Newfoundlanders and Labradorians let alone very few Canadians have ever heard of Monchy-le-Preux.

People from St. John's might know of Monchy Street,  in the city's Rabbit Town neighbourhood. It is there alongside Suvla,  Cairo,  and Edinburgh Streets and a few others that seem to people unaware of Newfoundland's military past to have very little in common.

The streets are all connected to the Newfoundland Regiment during the Great War.  Suvla is where he regiment landed during the Gallipoli campaign.  Cairo is where it spent some time training before landing in Turkey.  Edinburgh is the city in Scotland where the Newfoundlanders mounted guard at the famous castle.and Cairo.  Hamel, another street in that neighbourhood, refers to Beaumont Hamel, of course.

And Monchy is Monchy-le-Preux.

03 April 2017

Ray and Robert #nlpoli

With the release of Ray Guy:  the final columns, 2003 - 2013,  almost every column Ray Guy ever published is now available in book form.

This compilation is edited by Brian Jones,  published by Creative,  and contains a decade's worth of writing Guy did for The northeast Avalon Times.  The topics are all familiar fodder:  provincial politicians.

Let's be clear about one thing up front.  You will buy this book to fill out your collection of Ray Guy's work.  You will not be buying it as a penetrating insight into a decade's worth of politics in Newfoundland and Labrador. Sure the cover blurbs are effusive in their praise - "brilliant writing"  and "unequalled style" - but by the time Ray was clacking out his opinions on Danny,  Jerome or Roger,  he was clearly tired.

What's more evident is that his touchstones,  his go-to references had become cliche,  stale and lifeless through overuse.  And what's worse, his writing lacked any sign of crispness, clarity, deftness of phrase, or any of Guy's other hallmarks.

27 March 2017

The Andrew Potter Affair #nlpoli #cdnpoli

For those interested in the controversy caused by an opinion piece in Macleans,  here are some useful links.

1.  "How a snowstorm exposed Quebec’s real problem: social malaise"  Sub-head:  "The issues that led to the shutdown of a Montreal highway that left drivers stranded go beyond mere political dysfunction"  Andrew Potter's original piece,  with some alterations and editorial notes that have been added since it first appeared.

2.  "This is not how a liberal society responds to criticism"  -  Andrew Coyne's typically cogent and eloquent criticism of the response to Potter's column article.  From the Montreal Gazette.

3.  "It was shoddy journalism that cost Andrew Potter his job"   - Chantal Hebert's typically cogent and eloquent examination of the response to Potter's column.  From the Toronto Star.

4.  From Joseph Heath, an academic's perspective on what he calls "l'affaire Potter".

5.  Many people have incorrectly stated that the vitriolic reaction to Potter's opinion piece is unique to Quebec.  Those people either are not aware of or have forgotten about the string of attacks perpetrated in Newfoundland and Labrador between 2003 and 2014 against individuals who were accused of pretty much everything folks have said Andrew Potter did or failed to do.

Here are a few stories and relevant SRBP posts:

2005:  "A vast and scenic welfare ghetto"  - Margaret Wente's original column in the Globe and Mail sparked some loud and widespread condemnation.  To find some of the reaction, you have to search the Internet Archive.  Other reaction will cost you a subscription to the NewfNat's newspaper of record, the Toronto Globe and Mail.

2005:  For others,  you need look no farther than Rex Murphy in the Globe whose entire argument is based on the premise that while others presume to be victims,  Newfoundlanders really are.   Rex becomes the Fifth Yorkshireman.

Various:  Quislings and traitors

2013:  "On bigotry and prejudice"

2016:  Margaret Wente, again,  only this time knowing how to provide the stimulus to get he neo-nationalist knees in Newfoundland jerking wildly. SRBP:  "Through others' eyes".

2016:  "Poor Russell's Almanack"

-srbp-


20 March 2017

Queen's Counsel and other things that sound alike #nlpoli

"The Honourable Dwight Ball, Premier of Newfoundland and Labrador, today announced this year's appointments to Queen's Counsel by the Lieutenant Governor in Council."

That's the lede from a news release issued in January about appointments for lawyers.  On Friday, there was a little ceremony at Supreme Court in St. John's where the lawyers appointed as counsel to Her Majesty received their new robes.  They are made of silk instead of ordinary material, hence the phrase "take silk"  when one gets a QC appointment.

Anyway,  the sticklers may have already noticed the problem with the government news release.

One is appointed *to* a council, which is a group of individuals, but one is appointed *as* counsel, meaning that one is an advisor.  So yes, one can be counsel to a council, which is what the Attorney General is, for example.  He or she is the government's chief legal advisor and so is the law counsel to the Executive Council.  The correct sentence would have been "announcement of lawyers appointed as Queen's Counsel" or something to that effect.  If there was a simple explanation of qualifications for getting this disctinction - like say, long service, it might have gone there as well.

The error in the government news release the sort of detail that is like nails on chalkboard to folks whose business it is to be accurate about such matters. Feel free to come up with a more modern simile for irritation.

-srbp-

When did it start?  Update:

The always annoying labradore produced a list via email this morning comparing every QC email issued since 1996. That's the year the government website went live.

The provincial government issued seven news releases between 1996 and 2003 announcing QC appointments. They described the appointment of individuals as Queen's Counsel.

Started in 2004,  someone decided to call them appointments *to* Queen's Counsel, which is wrong. 

There have been 11 such releases since 2004.










03 March 2017

A change is as good as a rest #nlpoli

After 12 years and two months, we are going to make some serious changes at Bond Papers.

For one thing, we'll be going from daily posts to weekly ones, most likely on Monday mornings. 

For another thing, there'll be a change of content.  There are some book reviews that have been in the works for a while. Those will appear over the next few weeks.  General political science and history posts will appear as will notifications of events. I may need to make some observations about public relations now and then. SRBP has always been a very personal thing for me and, as such, the truly personal stuff will stay.

Fans of the policy analysis and commentary will find it at aims.ca.  Long-time readers will know that the original idea for SRBP was for longer, detailed policy analyses. It turned into a blog, went through a number of changes of style and form, and has still been evolving up to and including these changes. In that respect, this next evolution - of doing policy research and analysis for an independent think-tank - makes perfect sense.

AIMS does some other regular public commentaries through conventional media and I will be producing those for Newfoundland and Labrador. Don't be surprised if you see some other efforts to make more people in Newfoundland and Labrador more aware of AIMS and the work we do.

Many of you have sent good wishes via Twitter, Facebook, and linkedin.  It has been truly gratifying to know that all this work has had an impact.  There are thousands of people I have gotten to know online. You have all made an impact on me, in return, in more ways than you realise.  Thank you for that and thank you for the good wishes.

Many of you have told me you want SRBP to continue. The simple truth is that it cannot keep going as it is, under the circumstances. Hopefully you will continue to follow the policy work I will be doing through AIMS and will check in at SRBP for your fix of Newfoundland and Labrador history that will turn up as time allows. If you feel so moved, you can always reach me by email at ed_hollett at hotmail dot com, the address I have been using since hotmail started.  I will try and answer as much as I can. Of course, if you see me anywhere around town,  you can always come up, introduce yourself, and say hello.  Contrary to rumours, I don't bite. You know what I look like.

After all that, look at it this way:  it is not like I am disappearing.  And, if other plans work out, you will have a book or two to read in the near future that have come out of SRBP.

Take care and keep an eye out for me.

Ed

 

01 March 2017

Barry Inquiry Phase 2

Phase 2 of the Commission of Inquiry respecting the Death of Donald Dunphy will take place on March 9.

It is a one-day symposium to discuss issues about public disclosure of information during a major investigation, use of force by poe, and investigation of serious incidents involving police officers.

There will also be a session on the use of social media and the potential for an infringement of civil liberties by police and government. Your humble e-scribbler will be participating in that portion of the discussion as part of the Ad Hoc Coalition of Civil Liberties.

-srbp-

28 February 2017

AIMS hires dedicated policy analyst for Newfoundland and Labrador #nlpoli

ST. JOHN’S, NL – The Atlantic Institute for Market Studies (AIMS) is pleased to announce the appointment of Ed Hollett as a senior research fellow with a focus on policy analysis, public affairs commentary and general outreach for Newfoundland and Labrador.

“At this pivotal time, we believe that Newfoundlanders and Labradorians should set their course for the future informed by entrepreneurial values like creativity, frankness and adaptability,” said Leo Power, AIMS vice-chair for Newfoundland and Labrador. “We want to present fresh ideas and stimulate discussion and debate in a way that embodies the values that we believe in.”

Power said that the new position serves two purposes. It establishes an AIMS presence on the ground in Newfoundland and Labrador to better serve the needs of the province. At the same time, it gives AIMS the opportunity to bring the unique perspective of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians to a wider audience across Atlantic Canada and throughout the country.

Marco Navarro-Génie, AIMS’s President and CEO, said that since its founding in 1994, AIMS has provided a distinct perspective on public policy issues facing Atlantic Canadians. The Institute publishes peer-reviewed policy studies, intended to inform policy makers and citizens. It also supports public discussion by publishing fact-based commentaries, having AIMS fellows appear on television and radio to discuss policy issues and hosting public events to disseminate its research.

"Mr Hollett’s communications experience, his policy expertise, and his love of his home province are tremendous assets for AIMS,” said Dr. Navarro-Génie. “We are very excited about this new initiative and the perspective he will bring. In the weeks and months ahead, you will be hearing and seeing more of what AIMS is about throughout Newfoundland and Labrador.”

-srbp-

Escape Hatch #nlpoli

Escape HatchHistorian Gerhard bassler's new book from Flanker  examines efforts by the Government of Newfoundland to develop local industry by recruiting immigrants from Germany, Latvia,  and Austria between 1950 and 1970.

Based in large part on interviews Bassler conducted for other research on Germans in Newfoundland,  this is a personal account of the men and women who came to Newfoundland and who, in many instances, stayed despite their initial impressions of the place and its people.

Bassler documents each of the industries created and, as such, this is a welcome companion to Bassler's biography of the architect of the program - Alfred Valdmanis - as well as Doug Letto's Chocolate bars and rubber boots.

Escape Hatch is available in book stores or online from Flanker.

-srbp-

27 February 2017

Davis' paranoia #nlpoli

Perhaps one of the most disconcerting aspects of former Premier Paul Davis' testimony at the Barry Inquiry last week is the clear evidence that he still lacks a level-headed, rational perspective on the events of April 2015 and afterward.

In response to questions,  Davis said that "very quickly [after the shooting] there were rumours that I had ordered an assassination and that was a concern."   As CBC noted in its story on Davis' testimony,  Constable Joe Smyth earlier had testified he was concerned about the conspiracy theories bandied around on social media.

One can only wonder why such lunatic ideas - obviously, insane notions unsupported by any evidence - would even cause Davis a second thought.  Most people would dismiss them immediately for the idiotic drivel they are.

But, by his own account, Davis gave them credibility and continues to do so.

One can only wonder why.

25 February 2017

A week and a verdict later #nlpoli


Last Saturday, this headline (left) in the Telegram prompted a storm of outrage from people who thought that it placed the blame for a sexual assault on the victim.

The words were essentially what the victim had said during her testimony in the trial.  They were also a more blunt version of what both the Telegram story and CBC's story said.

If the victim had been too drunk to recall details of what had happened the night of the assault, then logically she was too drunk to consent.

The jury of five women and six men delivered their verdict Friday.  They found accused attacker - a police officer, on duty at the time of the assault - to be not guilty of the assault.  A group gathered on the steps of the courthouse on Friday night protesting the verdict.

One of them carried a sign that was astonishing in light of the screams of outrage the week before at the Telegram headline.  The sign read "Too drunk to consent."

The headline and the subsequent controversy didn't have an impact on the verdict but the headline and the sign make an interesting contradiction.


-srbp-

24 February 2017

Asserting our Knowledge #nlpoli

Opinions are great things.

Everyone is entitled to them.

Not every opinion, though, is equal in value or validity or, as former CBC boss Tony Manera showed recently, in veracity.  Manera wrote an opinion column for the Ottawa Citizen that appeared on Thursday. He offered three changes to the constitution that he said would fittingly boost Canada's sovereignty in this the 150th anniversary of Confederation.

23 February 2017

More cuts. Some questions. #nlpoli

Flatter, Leaner Management Structure.

Put it all in caps like that and you have a handy acronym that bureaucrats can type over and over again without getting tired.

It's like the Government Renewal Initiative.  Internal government documents quickly started referring to the GRI.  And almost as quickly, the wags among the province's public servants started calling the regular meetings  GRIM in their schedules.

So Flatter, Leaner, Management Structure is FLMS.  Most likely folks would pronounce that with an "I" in there to make it a word:  FLIMS.

Then the wags will add a "Y" on the end.

There's your joke for the morning.

Now let's look at Wednesday's announcements.

22 February 2017

Canadian nationalism: left- or right-wing? #nlpoli

Economist Stephen Gordon argues that "in Canada, the nationalism is as likely to form on the left as on the right." (National Post, 2017).  What's more interesting, though, is that this might not make any difference when it comes to the political or policy consequences.
Nationalism is deeply-rooted on the Canadian left, and it’s not hard to imagine scenarios where the nationalist challenge comes from there. Some elements in the nationalist left — Maude Barlow, for one — find themselves both agreeing with the nationalism of Donald Trump and trying to avoid being associated with him. This stance may be harder to sustain if the flow of immigrants — and especially unskilled immigrants — increased sharply. If suppressed national wages and increased national inequality is enough for you to reject trade, then it’s not clear why you’d accept an immigration policy that has the same effect.
A dozen years ago,  philosopher Joseph Heath argued that nationalism in Canada and the United States formed on opposite ends of the political spectrum (US = right.  Canada =  left).
 "The central barrier to increased political integration between Canada and the United States is that there is almost no policy overlap between nationalist groups in the two countries, and thus fewer projects that can motivate these groups to set aside national partiality in order to participate in a joint undertaking."
-srbp-

21 February 2017

Paddon's report on Martin contract just bizarre #nlpoli

After a lengthy review,  Auditor General Terry Paddon said Monday that the provincial government hounded former Nalcor boss Ed Martin out of his job.  He had no choice but leave and since he never quit and no one fired him,  Martin was entitled to the multi-million separation payments he got

"The events which [sic] occurred in the months leading up to Mr. Martin’s cessation of employment and which culminated in the wording in the Budget speech on April 14, 2016 and subsequent comments to the media by Government officials were tantamount to constructive dismissal."

 What's truly bizarre, though, is the behaviour Paddon considered to be harassment.

20 February 2017

The Tory Race #nlpoli

Ches Crosbie announced last week he is going to take another shot at entering the family business. The son of former Mulroney cabinet minister John Crosbie will spend some time travelling the province, getting to know provincial Conservatives and building a campaign for the party leadership in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Ches, whose grandfather was a delegate to the national convention, tried for a federal nomination for the 2015 election.  The federal party rejected him, apparently because of some donations he'd made to the Liberal party federally.

That's really no nevermind as Ches has as good a shot at anyone of taking the party leadership.  If he did so,  Ches also has a shot at succeeding his father and his great grandfather.  They were both named John, both were cabinet ministers in St. John's and elder of the two Johns served briefly as Prime Minister of Newfoundland in 1918.  The younger John wanted the job but never got it.

Ches' launch last week was not accompanied by great hoopla but his media interviews were as polished as one might expect of a professional political family.  Crosbie undoubtedly had some help in getting ready from veteran political consultant John Laschinger.  He's an old family friend, having run John's campaign for the Tory leadership in the 1970s and later helped provincial Progressive Conservatives win general election after general election.

CBC confused by repetition of decade-old hospital promise #nlpoli

Maybe the poor folks at CBC were just confused.

Heaven knows it can be confusing with all the announcements of the hospital in Corner Brook since 2007.

"Price tag missing,"  the headline screamed, "as Corner Brook hospital finally gets green light."

The price tag should be missing because... wait for it... the government didn't give the hospital the green light.

Read the very first sentence of the official news release.

17 February 2017

The Mythical Golden Age of Newfoundland News #nlpoli

Ray Guy, on the endless search for truth in local newsrooms (circa 1974):
Sometimes you get the feeling that the newsrooms of the city are as divorced from reality as the earth is distant from the sun. Their almost exclusive stock-in-trade has become the reports of speeches, seminars, election campaigns, council meetings, legislative shenanigans, endless press releases…  All that is planned news, programmed news, bloodless mimeographed news, which touches not at all on the endless swirl of the sometimes-grubby, sometimes-heartening day-to-day life in the streets outside.
-srbp- 

16 February 2017

Alternative Facts: Prairie Dipper edition #nlpoli #cdnpoli

Erin Weir is the New Democrat member of parliament for Regina - Lewvan.

In the House of Commons on Monday,  Weir used alternative facts - i.e. stuff that is utterly false - in a speech on the European free trade implementation bill:
There was the AbitibiBowater case where that company shut down its last pulp and paper mill in the province of Newfoundland and Labrador. The provincial government reclaimed water rights that it had given to AbitibiBowater to operate the mills, but then the company challenged Canada under NAFTA for the loss of its water rights, which it was no longer even using for the purpose they were intended. Well, the previous Conservative government paid AbitibiBowater $130 million to withdraw that NAFTA chapter 11 claim.
Not true.

15 February 2017

S'truth and consequences #nlpoli

Truth and something else was clearly in the atmosphere this week as the Telegram's Russell Wangersky offered a few thoughts on the subject in his Tuesday column.
But if we reach a point where anything true can be discounted, and anything false can be announced as true, where do we go to ensure that we’re making the best decisions on everything from voting to retirement savings to whether our school system is working?
"If we reach a point."

Seriously.

As if in Newfoundland and Labrador, that point remains somewhere in the future.

As if the point  - where false is true and truth is not merely discounted but savagely attacked  - was not already a receding dot in the rearview mirror.

And, for the record, what Russell calls "the weakening, cash-strapped traditional media" played an essential role in pressing the heavy foot of government excess even harder on the accelerator in order to make the dot smaller.

14 February 2017

Trust, facts, and truth #nlpoli

Trust is the foundation of any strong relationship.  That's why a great many journalists, troubled at the decline of their industry, emphasise the importance of trust in re-establishing a solid relationship between the news media and the folks who used to be their captive market.

Canadian and American news media are in a comparable position of trust with their respective audiences.  A 2016 survey conducted by the Pew Research Center found that 22% of Americans have a lot of trust in local news organizations and 60% said they had some trust. (82% total) National media fared a little worse:  only 18% of respondents trusted them a lot while 59% had some trust in national media. (77%)

In its 2016 survey on Canadians and trust, Environics found that 44% of respondents trust Canada's conventional news media as an industry. About 50% said that editorial content - either major conventional media or online news sites - was their first choice as a source of information. Fully 53% picked the websites of major conventional news media as their first choice for information online.

Neither Canadians nor Americans are particularly inclined to trust social media. Pew found that only four percent of Americans trusted social media a lot. 30% trusted social media somewhat as a source of information.  Environics found that 31% of Canadians used their Facebook news feed as the first, second, or third preferred source for current news.  Only eight percent of that was as a first choice.  Bloggers: 14% in total and only three percent as a first choice for current news.

Conventional news media:  69% of Canadians want their news from them, with 38% ranking it as their first choice for current news.

So there you have it, journalists. The numbers aren't directly comparable but there's enough pf a similarity to come to the conclusion that Captain Sweatpants is not eating your lunch on either side of the border.

13 February 2017

Captain Sweatpants and the future of news media #nlpoli

The numbers are so large they take your breath away.

In a poll conducted for The Public Policy Forum for its recent report on Canadian news media, eight "out of 10 respondents said they actively follow the news (with education, not age, being the main determinant)."  As pollster Allan Gregg noted in an article for Policy Options, 93% of respondents to that poll said people get "more news today, more quickly and frequently than we ever have in the past."

And yet half of them had no idea that conventional media was facing a financial crisis so severe that many current media outlets are likely to vanish in the months and years ahead.

Doesn't fit together.  Doesn't make sense.  You just can't have all those people wired in and miss a story that was quite literally in all the newspapers,  on radio, and on television.

Doesn't make sense unless people aren't paying as much attention as they say.

10 February 2017

The Doldrums #nlpoli

MQO conducted a little poll in late January and found the party standings among voters remains where it was in November.

No surprise.

Nothing has happened in the past few months to move support for either of the three parties in the province up or down.  We are in the lull before the provincial budget coming in March or April. That lull isn't happening by accident.  The Liberals retreated last summer in the face of massive public rejection of their spring budget.  Since then the ruling Liberals have been virtually silent, cancelling planned budget cuts and other measures to cope with the government's financial crisis.

That silence resulted in a very slow climb in Liberal support from a low of 17% in May 2016 to about 27% of all respondents by the fall.  But look at the Conservative number.  It's basically the same as the Liberal one, given that the margin of error for the poll is plus or minus four percentage points.

09 February 2017

Sweat Equity - panel discussion #nlpoli

ISER Books and the Queen Elizabeth II Library will hold a panel discussion on the recent ISER publication Sweat Equity: Cooperative House Building in Newfoundland 1920-1974

Authors Chris Sharpe and Jo Shawyer will be joined by panelists Kim Blanchard, Stephen Jewczyk, and Jeff Webb to discuss the book, cooperative housing in Newfoundland, and current housing issues affecting the province. 

Admission is free and they've got snacks and refreshments.

Where:     Centre for Newfoundland Studies, Queen Elizabeth II LIbrary, Memorial University
When:      Wednesday, February 15th at 3:30pm.

-srbp-

08 February 2017

The Classroom Jungle #nlpoli

CBC aired the first  of three half hour programs on Monday night featuring a bunch of teachers talking about problems in the Newfoundland and Labrador school system.  The rest will come along over the next couple of weeks.

To be perfectly clear, CBC claims ownership of the programs but, by the looks of things, CBC had very little to do with the program content, at least in the first one. The provincial teachers union picked the people to appear and covered their travel, meals, and accommodations for one Saturday to record the three 30-minute programs.

It's an absolute fascinating insight into how news media have changed in a very short space of time. 

07 February 2017

Words and Violence #nlpoli

Canadian writer J.J. McCullough used a column in the Washington Post last week to ask a very useful question:  why it is that the progressive society in Quebec produces "so many massacres"?

Regular readers will recognise this question from SRBP last week.  McCullough also noted that Canadian conventional media are looking for familiar narratives in which to frame the story.  That basically fits with the stimulus for last week's post, namely Neil McDonald's trite opinion column on the shooting that framed the story in the context of Donald Trump's islamophobia.

McCullough says that Quebec is a sensitive topic in Canadian politics and media:
In a  2006 essay, Globe and Mail columnist Jan Wong posited a theory that Quebec’s various lone nuts, many of whom were not of pure French-Canadian stock, were predictably alienated from a province that places such a high premium on cultural conformity. She was denounced by a unanimous vote in the Canadian Parliament and sank into a career-ruining depression. The current events magazine Maclean’s ran a cover story in 2010 arguing that Quebec, where old-fashioned mafia collusion between government contractors, unions and politicians is still common, was easily “the most corrupt province in Canada.” That, too, was denounced by a unanimous vote of Parliament.

06 February 2017

Cultural Replicant Fade #nlpoli

The people of Gambo held their first mummers' parade the December before last.

The Gander Beacon,  the weekly newspaper that covers events in Gambo, featured some pictures of the parade and a write-up on it.  The town's recreation director organised the event and the handful of people who took part in the parade wound up at the local senior citizens home.

Gambo.  First mummers' parade, ever, in 2015.

Wonderful stuff, but awfully queer given that mummering or jannying is an incredibly old tradition among Europeans in Newfoundland and Labrador that only died down in the second half of the last century. People did all sorts of things and called it mummering.  In the version most would know, people would dress up in various costumes and go door-to-door in the community.  More often than not, they'd be invited in for some refreshments in exchange for music and dancing and the chance to try and guess the identity of the costumed revellers.

People settled in Gambo about 1857.  David Smallwood,  grandfather of the former premier, set up a lumbering business and sawmill at the southwestern end of Bonavista Bay around 1860.  In other words, Gambo is a place where mummering ought to be well-known.

03 February 2017

Full of sound and fury #nlpoli

Pity Earle McCurdy.  

The provincial New Democratic Party boss is rightly getting raked over the political coals for his Twitter comment that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau "sent a rookie woman minister" to announce that the government had abandoned plans for changing the way Canadians go to the polls.

The hyper-partisan attack by McCurdy and other New Democrats on Trudeau isn't about the issue itself. New Democrats know as well as Liberals that no one in Canada gives a rat's behind about changing the way we vote from first-past-the-post to something else.  That's why the Liberals shelved the plan.  Few people turned up at the hearings. Not many sent in comments on the initiative. Canadians don't care.

01 February 2017

No Market Research Required #nlpoli

In the House of Commons, members can put questions to cabinet ministers several ways.  One of them is called Questions on the Order Paper.

Ask a sensible question.  Get a sensible answer.

This is a truly amazing idea given that the House of Assembly got rid of the notion 20 years ago. Actually telling people something useful instead other uncommunication that remains all the rage in provincial government circles.

Bloc Quebecois member of parliament Marilene Gill put a Question on the Order Paper about Muskrat Falls and the recent federal loan guarantee for $2.9 billion.

Here are the questions from Gill and the answers from natural resources minister Jim Carr.  Note the underlined bits for anyone not aware of this information.

Populism: the lesson from Venezuela #nlpoli

Born and raised in Venezuela,  Andreas Miguel Rondon is an economist who now lives in Madrid.

He wrote for The Washington Post last week on the lesson Americans should learn from the Venezuelan experience with Hugo Chavez.  Trump may be a capitalist and Chavez may have been a socialist but the populist formula remains the same.
The recipe for populism is universal. Find a wound common to many, find someone to blame for it, and make up a good story to tell. Mix it all together. Tell the wounded you know how they feel. That you found the bad guys. Label them: the minorities, the politicians, the businessmen. Caricature them. As vermin, evil masterminds, haters and losers, you name it. Then paint yourself as the savior. Capture the people’s imagination. Forget about policies and plans, just enrapture them with a tale. One that starts with anger and ends in vengeance. A vengeance they can participate in. 
That’s how it becomes a movement. There’s something soothing in all that anger. Populism is built on the irresistible allure of simplicity. The narcotic of the simple answer to an intractable question. The problem is now made simple.
The solution?

Not so simple, but worth considering no matter where or when you encounter a populist politician.

-srbp-


31 January 2017

What is it about Quebec and mass killings? #nlpoli

Compared to the United States, there haven't been a lot of mass killings in Canada.

Period.  Full stop.

Canada is predominantly white and Christian and researchers tell us that across the world, men are usually the perpetrators of mass killings.  That's why what CBC's Neil Macdonald calls an inconvenient truth is really a penetrating insight into the obvious. Telling us that Canadian mass killers are white, male, and Christian is like saying that in Sweden, the mass killers are usually male blond protestants or that in China they are unlikely to be Africans.

Local news media in the post-factual world #nlpoli

Chris O'Neill-Yates is a veteran CBC journalist.  Like most people in her line of work,  Chris is on Twitter plugging both her own work and commenting on events in the world around her.

Not surprisingly, Chris has been fascinated  - appalled might be a better word for it - by events in the United States over the past year.  "Global media will face [a] credibility challenge in the next four years,"  O'Neill-Yates tweeted one day around Christmas. "There'll be those who report facts and those who report nonsense."

A Telegram editorial last week also chimed in on the issue of facts, in the way of even more recent events in the United States.
The message is clear: the media is now dealing with a situation where some believe they can simply make things up. 
We have to be more careful than ever to be accurate. We also have to be ready to clearly identify and call out both mistakes and lies for what they are, when they occur. 
We want you to consider the source, and not find us wanting.
Oh dear.

30 January 2017

Duff in the hole encore #nlpoli

Oh dear.

The CBC has gone off to the mainland to get Duff Conacher to make a comment about the need for political finance reform in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Three observations:

1.  There is a desperate need for campaign finance reform in Newfoundland and Labrador.  SRBP has been writing about it relentlessly for a dozen years.  By comparison, the conventional media simply couldn't be arsed to cover the subject more often than not.

When they did notice something was amiss, as in 2006,  they were inclined to follow the line set by the government-of-the-day rather than have a look at the facts for themselves. What they would have discovered in the massive patronage scheme that ran here between 1996 and 2006, for example, was that the the level of misuse of public funds went *up* after 2003.

And after that they'd have found all sorts of other odd things.  Donations by companies getting hefty contracts from government?  Absolutely, a problem. Tired of writing about it.  Finance minister and later premier Tom Marshall financed his entire election campaign in 2011 out of a series of seven cheques from construction companies all of which did work for the government as Marshall shovelled cash into capital works at an unprecedented - and unsustainable - rate.

But what about political donations by town councils and the police?  Or what about a politician who ran a charity while he was in office that was funded by his government salary)?

2,  Conacher knows shag-all about what is happening here, as some of his previous comments have shown.  That actually weakens the case for campaign finance reform here since he is going to miss more than he hits.

Duff's good for the penetrating insights into the obvious - we need reform because it lends itself to corruption - but as with the CBC story his ignorance of the particulars makes him look like a bit of a goof at best or a blind nob at worst.  You see, Duff's been stonily silent on far worse things between 2003 and 2015 than anything he said before 2003 or since 2015.

3.  Stunned as me arse or what?  You really have to shake your head in disbelief at Dwight Ball's comments in the CBC story.  His election platform included a promise to change the campaign finance laws.  Instead of playing that up, Ball goes on the defensive making he look like he opposes finance reform.

That's the kind of stuff that must leave everyone outside of the Premier's Office banging their heads on the wall in frustration.  Inside the office, it's likely high-fives all around as the boss nailed another one to the wall.

Nailed his thumb more like it.


-srbp-




Mean Tweets #nlpoli

In the United States,  a late-night television program created a regular feature that has celebrities read the comments made about them on Twitter.

The comments are - to borrow the words of Constable Joe Smyth - "rude, inappropriate, [and] hateful". He was speaking about comments aimed at politicians but his description of many Twitter comments.

Americans laugh at them.  Some of the celebrities offer a pithy comment in return or flip the bird.  But most laugh.

On Jimmy Kimmel's show they call the segment "Mean Tweets".

27 January 2017

Feehan, electricity prices, and the bigger problem. #nlpoli

Jim Feehan's proposal to change the way we price electricity in the province got some media attention -over the past 24 hours.

Feehan believes that we should set the base price of electricity in this province on the best export price rather than the current proposal to have electricity from Muskrat Falls sold in this province for a price wildly more than that.  Under Feehan's scheme,  the money to pay for Muskrat Falls would come from a reduced profit for Nalcor and hence a reduced divided for the taxpayers. As well, there'd probably have to be an additional tax created to cover off the rest of the costs.

As we noted here in a recent post, Feehan's suggestion doesn't represent any change from what is actually going to happen anyway. He just wants to present it to consumers in a different way.  That's not a bad idea since it is inherently more transparent.  You can see what is what.  Unfortunately, Feehan's idea misses entirely the core problem, which is the electricity policy inherent in Muskrat Falls in the first place.

26 January 2017

Faroese fishermen skirting Canadian port ban via St. Pierre #nlpoli

Fishing boats from the Faroe Islands are getting around a ban on shipping through Canadian ports by unloading their catch in St. Pierre first.  franceinfo reported on January 20 that a total of five trawlers would unload their catch in St. Pierre by January 25.  The fish - mostly cod but with some halibut bycatch - came from the Flemish Cap.

Three quarters of the catch would go to the Faroes and Denmark, according to the franceinfo report, but the shipowners could sell 25% of their catch to foreigners.  The Danish fishing boats employed 30 French dock workers to unload their catch and repackage it in shipping containers. The first ship unloaded 150 tonnes of cod.  Eventually 30 containers would go to Halifax for transshipment, according to a spokesman for the St. Pierreais fishing company involved in the work.

In 2010, Canada banned Faroese boats from using Canadian ports to offload cod and other species following accusations that the Faroese were overfishing outside Canada's 200 mile exclusive economic zone.  The 2010 ban was the culmination of a running dispute with Denmark about overfishing.

The Faroes are a Danish-owned group of islands approximately half way between Norway and Iceland, and about 320 kilometres north northwest of Scotland.

-srbp-


25 January 2017

Kevin, Donald, and Danny #nlpoli

Forum poll released on Monday showed 27% of those surveyed thought celebrity businessman Kevin O'Leary would make the best leader of the federal Conservative party with Maxime Bernier a distant second at 11% and Lisa Raitt coming in at a mere seven percent.

Among self-identified Conservatives,  O'Leary's support climbs to 31%, according to Forum and with Conservative voters from 2015,  O'Leary is the pick of 49%.   Among Conservative supporters,  Raitt comes in second.

No one should panic just yet since this is still very early days and O'Leary has to win the leadership before we need to wonder if he might become prime minister.  Then again,  when Donald Trump started his campaign, no one thought the guy would last out the primaries, let alone take the nomination, and then win the presidency.

Since O'Leary's never shown himself to be politically active or to have a concern for public policy before, you have to wonder how he managed to enter the race in such a strong position.

24 January 2017

Ratings trump truth: Justified edition #nlpoli

Updated (scroll to the -srbp-)

Someone in Gander Bay has been catching and selling quantities of smelt.

The Department of Fisheries and Oceans received complaints,  conducted in investigation, and laid charges against an adult who they caught in the act of selling fish to a fellow who turned out to be an undercover fisheries officer.  The basis of the charge is that it is illegal to catch and sell fish without a licence.

Now that you have those simple facts , take a look at the way CBC presented the story.

23 January 2017

Sovereignty #nlpoli

Newfoundland and Labrador is one of the very few countries on the planet that got itself into such a financial mess that it gave up self-government.  The people gave up their right and power to govern themselves. That is, they gave up their sovereignty.

They took it back in 1949,  no matter what sort of fairy tales some people continue to believe.  Now with massive public debt coming from chronic overspending and the crushing debt of the insane Muskrat Falls project, some people are raising the prospect that Newfoundlanders and Labradorians may once again see their sovereignty in jeopardy.

Energy analyst Tom Adams has raised the issue of sovereignty with Pete Soucy and Paddy Daly recently.  Muskrat Falls is likely to create such financial problems that the federal government will have to bail the province or Nalcor out, argues Adams.  And it is almost certain that the federal government would look for some "austerity measures", as Adams put it,  as part of whatever deal lets the money flow.

20 January 2017

Another premier... same health care facility #nlpoli

A gaggle of provincial politicians representing districts along the west coast of Newfoundland turned up in Corner Brook on Friday for another one of the set-piece media events that government's uncommunications bureaucracy loves if only for their mind-numbing sameness.

The headline on the news release is simple:  "Premier announces New Long-Term Care Facility for Corner Brook".  Construction will start this fall, according to the very first sentence.

120 beds for long-term care.  15 beds for palliative (end-of-life) care.  Another 10 beds for rehabilitative care.

The second paragraph - all in bold according to the template so folks know it is a quote from the most important person - starts with the obligatory statement that every action of government and its employees from bowel movements to budgets is guided by the latest Roadmap to Salvation announced last fall in  hideously expensive media event.   As polls showed, no one was impressed by it.