07 March 2018

No room for dissent? No time for silence. #nlpoli

The controversy about The Rooms' recent request for proposals is not about Muskrat Falls.

Maybe someone at The Rooms or within the provincial government thought that was the problem when Des Sullivan raised concerns about it.  After all, Des is well known as a critic of Muskrat Falls.  That might explain why Dean Brinton, The Rooms' chief executive,  issued a very short statement that apologized for using Muskrat Falls as an example when explaining the Crown corporation's policy about conflict of interest for advertising agencies responding to the proposal request.

Let us assume that Brinton made a really superficial mistake because otherwise  his response is insulting and condescending.  Any reasonable personal understood our ought to have understood that Sullivan was concerned about the implication that critics of the provincial government could not bid on government work.

Brinton didn't deal with that at all.

20 February 2018

TDIH: "Quebec paper reports Lower Churchill agreement" #nlpoli #cdnpoli

Two decades ago, there was talk of a deal to develop not one, not two, but three dams in Labrador.

The story broke in a Quebec newspaper,  Le soleil,  on February 19 and the next day the Telegram did a front pager written by business editor Chris Flanagan.

"The big bonus for Newfoundland from a deal to develop the Lower Churchill is not simply cheaper electricity and a transmission line from Quebec,"  Flanagan wrote, "but an opportunity to send natural gas-generated power the other way, says a Quebec journalist with high level sources in both provinces."

"The Newfoundland government has done studies examining the potential of bringing ashore natural gas from Hibernia and other sites on the Grand Banks, using it to produce electricity and selling it on the North American grid, said Michel Vastel, a veteran political correspondent and business writer with the Quebec newspaper, Le Soleil."

Vastel told The Telegram his sources were in both provinces and that the provincial government in Newfoundland and Labrador had studies supporting development of offshore natural gas. 

"In his 'briefings,' from high-level sources, Vastel said reports have estimated Newfoundland's average rate will increase 30 per cent over the next 20 years -- an increase that won't happen if the Lower Churchill goes ahead."

The idea had its critics.  "Stan Marshall, the president and CEO of Fortis Inc., which owns Newfoundland Power, has said a transmission line to St. John's makes no economic sense.

Here are some key details of the deal that never was:

  • "...Newfoundland will receive approximately 800 megawatts, Labrador 200 and Quebec 2,100 from the Lower Churchill. Construction of the project will create 12,000 person-years of employment and power is expected to be on the grid by 2007."
  • "The Lower Churchill hydroelectric project consists of Gull Island, with a generating capacity of 2,264 megawatts, Muskrat Falls, at 824 megawatts and Upper Lobstick, at 160 megawatts for a total of 3,238 megawatts. The cost of the project, including transmission lines, is estimated at $12 billion."
In the talks actually announced in early March 1998,  the two provinces set aside $20 million to study Muskrat Falls and focused instead on expanding Churchill Falls and building Gull Island.
20 years later we got one tiny dam and big transmission line for that.

The Telegram included a cost of the transmission line from Labrador:  "According to several news reports, the Churchill-to-St. John's transmission line -- including an underwater component across the Straits -- would cost about $2 billion, and is to be financed by Ottawa."

"The federal government's major benefit would come from reduction in greenhouse gas emissions that will go a long way to helping Canada reach emission targets established at the 1997 Convention on Climate Change in Kyoto, Japan."


03 January 2018

Politics and History: SRBP at 13. #nlpoli

The week before Christmas, I dropped by The Rooms for a quick check of some government documents in the provincial archive.

The last time I'd been there, a major public display covered the Newfoundland experience in the  First World War.  The provincial government is, at least on paper, still in the midst of its official celebration and commemoration of events a century ago. In practice though, the official celebration ended in the middle of 2016 and the Centennial of Beaumont Hamel. With the exception of a small, sparsely attended symposium at Memorial University, events to mark one of the most significant periods in Newfoundland and Labrador history are now over. What was so striking about The Rooms is the complete absence of any Great War commemorations beyond the travelling exhibit from the mainland about Vimy Ridge.

This fits with an emphasis on celebrating the slaughter in 1916 and that is all most people know of the Great War and Newfoundland.  It drives home the more troubling aspect of this historical blindness since the war had a far greater impact on Newfoundland in 1917 and 1918 than it had had in a single day on the Somme.  The story is far more relevent today than Beaumont Hamel ever could be.

In April, 1917 the Newfoundland Regiment fought at Monchy-le-Preux with as dramatic a result as the one of Beaumont Hamel the year before.  This battle as well as others through the spring and summer put a further strain on manpower, already severely tested in 1916. The result would be a conscription crisis that lasted almost a year and that was marked by both rural/urban and Protestant versus Roman Catholic divisions. Recruiting had been consistently most successful in St. John's, while in rural areas proportionately fewer men volunteered.

One popular view  held that the burden of the war had been born predominantly by Protestants from St. John's while those from the bays, particularly Roman Catholics, had shirked their national responsibility. Regardless of whether such views were right or wrong, they revealed the deep divisions within the country and a lack of understanding of one part for another that has echoes in the current day's debate about resettlement.

The recruiting problems mixed together with allegations of profiteering by Water Street merchants and an increasingly boisterous opposition to greet Prime Minister Edward Morris on his return from Imperial War Cabinet meeting in the spring of 1917. There should have been an election that fall but Morris had already  decided to introduce legislation in the House to postpone the election for a year due to the wartime contingency. He tried and eventually succeeded in forming a coalition government with the opposition Liberal and Unionist parties.

With Morris nominally serving as Prime Minister, opposition Leader W.F. Lloyd took on the role of deputy prime minister. In a secret agreement with Lloyd and union leader William Coaker, Morris agreed to resign by the end of the year with Lloyd as his replacement. In addition, the new administration created a Department of Militia to take over the administration of the war effort from the volunteer National Patriotic Association. In the event, the new department was no more successful than the NPA had been recruiting but at least some of the stink of corruption that attach to the NPA with allegations of wartime profiteering had gone.

On the Sunday nearest July 1, the country marked the first anniversary of the tragic day in 1916. This was one of the first four commemorations established throughout the Empire. As such, the event was worthy of commemoration in its own right and yet the day passed in 2017 without any mention in the official Centennial commemorations.

 No sooner had Morris announced a coalition, that he boarded a steamer and returned to England. He resigned in December 1917 and was created Baron Morris of Waterford early in 1918. Lloyd's coalition served through to the end of the war in the Paris peace talks in 1919 before he was replaced by Richard Squires. Morris was last of the long serving prime ministers of Newfoundland. His successors lasted short periods, some only a matter of a few days, in a fluid political climate of shifting coalitions and alliances.

Richard Squires only stands out because of the allegations of corruption in his first administration and because of his return to office in a second administration shortly before the collapse of responsible government. Through the entire period of the 1920s, the government struggled with mounting debt and difficulty in meeting its financial obligations while the politicians fought among themselves.


02 January 2018

Bridging to Nowhere... or not #nlpoli

Since December 2015,  Dwight Ball has been talking about the federal government as the source of cash he wants to tap into.

Specifically he has been talking a lot about how Newfoundland and Labrador is being screwed because it cannot collect Equalization.  Ball's whining about Equalization is part of his strategy to avoid making any real changes to the strategic trajectory set by the Conservatives in 2007.  Essentially it is about spending as much as you can for as long as you can. 

With that in mind, here are three choice quotes from Issues and Answers'  year-ender with Premier Dwight Ball. 

After Lynn Burry points out that the provincial government pays 83% of the cost of health care, up from the days when the province and federal government split the cost 50/50 the Premier said:

"I agree the Equalization program does not work for Newfoundland and Labrador."

Three things, mostly for Lynn Burry.

1.  Health care is entirely within provincial jurisdiction under the constitution.  The federal government isn't actually supposed to put *any* money into it.

2.   The federal government covered half the cost of everything in Newfoundland and Labrador at one point because the provincial government was so poor it couldn't pay for provincial services on its own.  That's why every Premier until Danny Williams came along wanted to get Newfoundland and Labrador off the dole. Williams and every Premier since him, including the current one,  has been trying to get back on it.

3.  Federal health care funding never came from Equalization.  It has always come under a separate funding arrangement.  At one point they called it the Canada Health Transfer and it went along with social services funding in the Canada Social Transfer. Now the federal funding is combined under one thing called the Canada Health and Social Transfer.

"What is it about Newfoundland and Labrador that you can define us as a 'have' province?"

The answer is simple and, in some ways it is astonishing that over the past 15 years provincial politicians can get away with talking utter nonsense about a really simple thing like Equalization.  Politicians from all parties trot out this foolishness  and reporters just lap it up or, in Lynn Burry's case,  fuel the idiocy with questions that are just set up with the same stuff.

Equalization takes money from the federal government's general revenue and gives it to provincial governments that don't make enough money on their own to come up to a common, national income standard.   The governments use that money to deliver services that are entirely provincial under the constitution.  That means the provinces are supposed to make enough money on their own to cover those costs. 

The transfer of federal cash is based on the recognition that all provinces are not equal in their ability to raise cash, so the federal government steps in to give some a hand.  That way Canadians are not short-changed if - and here's the kicker - the provincial government spends its money appropriately.

Four provinces make more than the standard income.  They are known colloquially as "have" provinces:  British Columbia,  Saskatchewan,  Alberta, and Newfoundland and Labrador.

"Have not" means you don't bring in enough cash on your own to make ends meet and so you get a hand-out.

If Dwight Ball really speaks to the Premier of Nova Scotia and moans that this province does not get Equalization,  he's lucky Stephen McNeil doesn't punch him in the bake and then kick him in the goolies just for good measure. Like most Premiers, McNeil would give some part of his anatomy to be raking in as much cash as Dwight Ball does every year.

Newfoundland and Labrador *is* a have province by any measure.  It takes in more money per person than any government in the country save Alberta.   The problem is that successive provincial governments have spent even more than that again.  There's no good reason for the overspending.  That's why the government is in the hole all the time.

"...Equalization is not the answer to our revenue or deficit problem."


If it is not the answer to our problem, why complain about not getting any of it?