12 November 2019

The importance of what we care about #nlpoli

When we do not talk about the most vulnerable people in our society – sex workers and people in homeless shelters to name just two groups – we tell the world that our community does not care about them.  Last week’s spectacle in the House of Assembly showed the world that the 40 people who Newfoundlanders and Labradorians elected to represent them and run the province do not care about very much at all.

Alison Coffin and Ches Crosbie
talk to reporters on Friday about Gerry Byrne.
(Not exactly as illustrated)
A 23-year-old man lay on the pavement in downtown St. John’s last Tuesday night, the blood running out of him and mingling with the rain on the cold pavement.

He died outside a shelter for homeless people. The community learned very quickly that it was a shelter, that it was a rental property, and that police frequently visited the place to deal with disturbances among the people who came and went from the place with great frequency.

We learned that information because neighbours put it on social media, where the local conventional media – newspaper, television, and radio - picked it up and repeated it.  Before anyone knew who the young man was, or what had gone on, they had decided what the issues were in the story.

That morning, in the House of Assembly,  the opposition parties asked for the Premier’s opinion on the fact that provinces in Canada received transfer payments from the federal government because they  - unlike Newfoundland and Labrador – didn’t make enough money on their own to meet the national minimum government income standard.  There were questions about flooding in a district on the west coast, a couple of questions about specific constituents who needed government money, and about the deaths of a couple of million salmon in a fish farm a couple of months before.

There was only one question thread - about ferry service to northern Labrador - that stood out for its consistency and seriousness - and the only question about homelessness was about people with high paying jobs in western Labrador who had to couch surf.

The morning after the death,  the few questions related to the murder were generic:  “’What plan does the government have’  to deal with crime and homeless in St. John’s?” opposition leader Ches Crosbie led with.  His second question was about a growth in payments to temporary shelters run by landlords, not not-for-profits.  That story had been in the local media before and brought back because of the assumed connection in media reports between the for-profit shelters and the murder.

Attention then turned to a general discussion of health care.  By the time the official opposition was done, the New Democrat leader Alison Coffin’s question about homelessness was also generic: 
“APEC reports that despite growth in the oil industry, our province is struggling. Homelessness, addictions, cost of living, bankruptcies, gangs, unemployment, electricity rates, out-migration are all on the rise.

“I ask the Premier: Will Advance 2030 address these pressing issues, or will we continue to stumble forward?”

That was the lone NDP question before her colleague got back to the dead salmon.

04 November 2019

The New Welfare Bums #nlpoli #cdnpoli #ableg

Lunacy is always easier to spot in other people.

There is a Liberal conspiracy to rob Alberta of its precious fluids.
People in Newfoundland and Labrador got a taste of lunacy a few weeks ago when Albertans – including people originally from Newfoundland and Labrador – blasted them for returning six Liberal members of parliament in the general election.  Albertans took it personally since they believe there is a plot by the Liberals to rob the province of its precious fluids.

Albertans believe lots of crazy things.  Premier Jason Kenney shares the view of a raft of people in Alberta and other parts of Canada.  They think the rest of us across Canada are welfare bums. They claim that provinces that collect Equalization and other transfers from the federal government deliberately don’t develop their resources so they can sponge off Alberta and Ontario.  The money for Equalization, so this argument goes, comes from Alberta and Ontario.

Jason Kenney said it in a speech recently.  You can find examples of the same view from the Fraser Institute and the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies. They use other words for it – perverse incentives, Equalization discourages development  - but basically the message is the same.  Slash the federal handouts and the welfare bums will be forced to develop resources like Alberta did.

28 October 2019

Roger Grimes: the unlikely reactionary #nlpoli

What is happening in Newfoundland and Labrador is not merely polarization in public opinion.  Polarization implies that people are within the same community or see themselves as being within the same community.   
What we are seeing increasingly is the tendency to fragmentation. People do not listen to differing opinions.  They do not see or understand what is happening in their own province but identify with and frame their world in the context of what is going on elsewhere. 
If you think Roger Grimes is a reactionary, then we are in a far darker place as a society than anyone currently realises.
 Roger Grimes used to be head of the provincial teachers’ union. He got into politics after that, served in several cabinet posts, including natural resources and then wound up as Premier for three years.  This past summer, the provincial and federal governments appointed him as chair of the organization that regulates the offshore oil and gas industry.

Given his experience, Grimes is a logical choice.  In the new role, he chairs the board and that’s all.  The job used to be combined with the administrative head of the organization but the two governments who share management of the offshore through it decided it was a good idea to split the two jobs. That gives him a bit more latitude to speak his mind on subjects, something Grimes has never been afraid to do.

He spoke to an oil industry meeting on Thursday.  His message was simple:
“Don't ignore them [climate change activists].  Engage with them. Educate. Make sure that everybody understands — and I'll say it one more time — everybody needs to understand that it's not an either-or proposition.” 
“You can [develop oil and gas resources] and save the planet at the same time.”

23 October 2019

Politicians shirk their duty... again #nlpoli

If the Auditor General starts the investigation of wetlands capping as requested by the Public Accounts Committee, then she will be acting illegally.

The Auditor General has no authority to conduct a review requested by the Public Accounts Committee of the House of Assembly under any provincial statute,  regulation, or constitutional practise.

Section 16 of the Auditor General is explicit about the subjects that the Auditor General may review, if requested by either the Lieutenant Governor in Council,  the House of Assembly,  or the Public Accounts Committee.  They are:

  •         [matters] relating to the financial affairs of the province or to public property, or
  •      inquire into and report on a person or organisation  that has received financial aid from the government of the province, or   in respect of which financial aid from the government of the province is sought.

In August 2019, Crosbie asked the Public Accounts Committee of the legislature to look into why the environment department had not issued a permit for wetland capping.  Specifically, Crosbie asked for an investigation of a “breakdown in communication that resulted in the flooding of the Muskrat Falls reservoir in violation of an agreement between the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador and the Innu Nation, the Nunatsiavut Government, and the NunatuKavut Community Council to abide by the recommendations of the Independent Expert Advisory Committee, which directed that wetland capping must precede any such flooding. ”

There is no way that the plain English meaning of section 16 can be stretched to cover a “breakdown in communication” of any kind. Crosbie tried to make the issue a financial one by noting in his letter to the Public Accounts Committee that the government allocated $30 million for wetland capping and some it had been spent.

22 October 2019

The Difference between Then and Now #nlpoli

A few months ago, SRBP wrote a two-part piece that described the change in the way politicians, bureaucrats, and the public looked at management and control of offshore oil and gas resources.
It’s worth looking at this again in light of a couple of recent developments.

In broadest terms,  the provincial government’s original objectives in the negotiations that led to the Atlantic Accord – the one signed in 1985 – were: 
  • Provincial control and administration, 
  • Revenue that would end dependence on federal hand-outs, and
  • Local benefits.

Since 2003,  the provincial government has dropped provincial administration and control and local benefits from its list of expectations.  Revenue is the only concern left of the original ones and even that one has become simply money.  The notion that the revenue would disconnect the province from federal hand-outs has also gone by the boards.

The 2005 revenue transfer agreement between Ottawa and St. John’s – deliberately misnamed by the provincial government as the Atlantic Accord – was initially about a transfer similar to Equalization and equal to the amount of revenue the provincial government collected each year from the oil companies as royalties under the 1985 agreement.

The argument for the 2005 transfer was based on lies and misrepresentations.  For example, the provincial government sets the amount of revenue it collects from the offshore as if the resource was on land and within provincial jurisdiction. It gets all the money. Politicians and other people claimed that the provincial government only received as little as 15% of what it should get. 

That wasn’t true and, in the end, the 2005 arrangement did not change the Atlantic Accord at all.  Nor did it change the operations of the Equalization program.  The 2005 agreement simply transferred $2.6 billion to the provincial government from Ottawa.  The only connection to the 1985 agreement was that the federal and provincial government used oil royalties and Equalization as the means to calculate the amount.  

21 October 2019

Regional Parties from another Region #nlpoli

The 2019 federal election in Newfoundland and Labrador is the tale of one of the most uncompetitive elections in recent memory.

The advance poll numbers make the point.

Newfoundland and Labrador
Number of Electors
Coast of Bays–Central–Notre Dame
Long Range Mountains
St. John's East
St. John's South–Mount Pearl

Nationally, turn-out in the advance polls set a record.  That continued a trend over the past two elections that saw an increase in the number voters casting ballots earlier than the official polling day.   Not so in Newfoundland and Labrador. Elections Canada provided more opportunities to vote in advance so that could have produced higher turn-out across the province. But it didn’t.

All but one of the races in Newfoundland and Labrador saw fewer than 10% of eligible voters turn out in the advance polls.  The one race presumed to be highly competitive – St. John’s East – saw a turn-out of 11%, which is the same advance poll turn-out  in that same riding in 2015. In other ridings in the province, the turn-out was the same or lower than 2015.

St. John’s East may return Jack Harris as the member of parliament after rejecting him in 2015.  They may not.  The race is close but whether or not they return Harris to Ottawa, the real story in that riding is that the provincial New Democrats could not find another candidate except this 32-year veteran of provincial and federal politics.  There was no competition for the nomination. 

15 October 2019

No change in the weather? No change in we. #nlpoli

The problem we have is not a lack of options and opportunities to sort out the government finances ourselves.  The problem facing Newfoundland and Labrador is that the leading people of the province, not just the politicians but all the leading people,  don't have the stomach for making the kinds of decisions needed. They don't even want to talk about sensible things. They talk about foolishness like Equalization or fight against imaginary "austerity" instead.
SRBP, "Sovereignty",  January 2017

Lately, Alberta economist Jack Mintz likes to remind Canadians that Alberta is pissed off with the federal government.  The Alberta government is running massive deficits but Mintz thinks Ottawa is to blame, not, you know, the provincial politicians who actually made the decision to spend more provincial tax money than the provincial government takes in.

Mintz turned up in the Toronto Star and CBC Radio last week pushing Ottawa to bail out  Newfoundland and Labrador.  He’s hooked up with a shadowy new outfit calling itself the Schroeder Institute that also launched itself last week with a campaign to get Ottawa to funnel money to Newfoundland - as Schroeder’s Twitter feed keeps calling it – to stave off financial catastrophe in the province.

Then local musician and business owner Bob Hallett took 2,000 words on CBC’s local website to deliver the same message:  Newfoundland’s financial mess is Ottawa’s responsibility to clean up.

That’s a wonderful sentiment sure to get lots of support from people in Newfoundland and Labrador who are worried about their future.  Sadly for those people, Schroeder, Mintz, and Hallett rely on a string of old fairy tales that have been long debunked – not to mention stuff that is just wrong – to make their case. They also are a reminder that wisps of air and pixie dust are a piss-poor foundation for successful policy against very real problems.   That is, after all, how Newfoundland *and* Labrador got into its current mess in the first place.

30 September 2019

Disconnects and Infection #nlpoli

The handful of people who pay close attention to politics in Newfoundland and Labrador are probably scratching the barely-healed-over scabs on their head in the latest round of bewilderment.

Tory leader Ches Crosbie announced last week he had named a philosophy professor at Memorial University to head up a task force of people he didn’t name - because he hasn’t figured out who they are - to develop a strategy to combat climate change.  Philosophers are widely known for their skills at developing effective public policy, by the way.

Anyway, Crosbie announced his latest policy brainstorm the week of a global protest for action against climate change so Ches’ finally honed political nerves were probably jangling hard enough to make him spit out a hasty announcement.

If that wasn’t obviously funny enough, the punch line to this own-goal of a joke was delivered, appropriately enough, by Crosbie himself.

You see Ches has spent his time as leader of the local blue team viciously fighting *against*a measure that would help fight climate change. Not only that, but Crosbie started out his tirade against the fight against climate change by encouraging the Premier to join with Doug Ford in the philosophical fight against those people Ches has now decided to cuddle up with.

Not once.  Not twice.  But 13 times. 

23 September 2019

Perceptions of Racism in Newfoundland and Labrador #nlpoli

VOCM's Question of the Day is not a reliable gauge of public opinion.

But the three times that VOCM asked about race in the province over the past five years,  the answers stand out in light of events in the province in the same period.

Here are the polls and responses:

18 September 2019

Dippers go home #nlpoli

The latest quarterly poll from Narrative Research shows that a gaggle of folks who were likely New Democratic Party supporters returned to the fold in the past quarter and are now happy to identify as New Democrats once more.

So while this is good news for Alison Coffin and the NDP,  it really puts everything back in the space the parties occupied before February 2019.  That's when things were decidedly beige.

You can see this in the chart at right by looking at the orange line (NDP party support) and the green line (undecided, no choice, refused to answer, will not vote).  What you also see there is that generally polling from other firms has picked up the same basic pattern.

16 September 2019

More to the Trimper Affair #nlpoli

The most important implications of the Trimper Affair escaped notice.

In the midst of all the public commentary about the Trimper affair last week – strikingly racist as it was in some respects – even the people ostensibly supporting the Innu missed the most obvious and most meaningful aspects of it.

The most striking was the skillful way in which the Innu Nation organization obliterated Perry Trimper as a political force and imposed its will on southern politicians from all parties.  The Innu Nation project against Trimper displayed a sophisticated understanding of how the media works in the province, a solid appreciation of the weaknesses of the governing Liberals under Dwight Ball, the organizational cohesion to implement a simple but effective plan, and, above all the will to do it.

Equally compelling to watch was the speed with which the Premier’s Office slit Trimper’s political throat.    While southern newsrooms and Twitterati neither knew about nor cared about the wider context of the story that unfolded in front of them last week, Dwight Ball and his staff either knew or ought to have known.

After all, Ball had brought Trimper back to cabinet only the week before he resigned.  The environment side of Trimper’s portfolio would bring him in direct contact with the sensitive issue of Muskrat Falls and others throughout Labrador and Newfoundland that would involve dealing with organizations representing Indigenous people.

Certainly, Ball and his staff would have noticed that Trimper took – literally – a dozen votes out of Sheshatshiu in the general elections.  Of the two polls in the community, Trimper got five in one and seven in the other.  His Conservative opponent garnered 238 votes.  An unaffiliated candidate took three votes in each poll. 

Ball and his staff, admittedly down by three key people since the election, should have anticipated problems might come up with Trimper.  Yet, Ball brought him back to cabinet and at the very first sign of trouble, Ball disowned his minister. Ball’s statement issued Thursday evening said - in effect – that Trimper did not represent the government.  The statement was blunt and simple.

09 September 2019

Finding a family doctor #nlpoli

Holyrood is the latest place in Newfoundland and Labrador to go through what is, in many parts of the province, a regular event.

One of two family doctors in the community is leaving practice and so people are left without a family for a period of time.

According to Corporate Research Associates,  about 10% of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians did not have a family doctor in 2017.  That's about 525,000 people and typical of the situation across Atlantic Canada.

People wind up without a family doctor for two reasons, basically.  Some people never have a family doctor.  Typically, that’s by choice but people in remote communities may go their entire lives without a family doctor regardless of whether they want one or not.

The other folks without a family doctor find themselves in this situation because of something the family doctor decided.  The doctor may retire or just close the practice (to move somewhere else) leaving people without a doctor for a few months or for however long it takes to find a new doctor.

How many doctors are there?

One of the problems the public has in trying to figure out if there is a serious problem in health care these days is that we do not know how many doctors are actually practicing medicine.

The College of Physicians and Surgeons of Newfoundland and Labrador issues licences to doctors annually.  About five years ago, the College changed the way it publicly reports its licensing statistics. 

03 September 2019

The Political Doldrums #nlpoli

Last week,  Newfoundlanders and Labradorians got a few reminders of the magnitude of the political problem they face in addition to the financial and economic problems already lurking.

The most obvious  was word that one of the longest-serving members of Dwight Ball’s inner circle has decided to leave for the private sector.  Joy Buckle is the third senior staffer to quit Ball’s office in as many months. Her departure will affect both Ball’s office and its ability to manage the day-to-day business of government.  It will also affect party election readiness, such as it is anyway.  

Buckle’s departure may be the most obvious indicator of how big a problem the province faces, but its significance is not.  Buckle continues a pattern of staff turn-over in Ball’s office and the senior ranks of the public service in the very short time he has been Premier.  

And in that respect,  Ball’s premiership has carried on the pattern of the Conservatives after 2010. A decade of political uncertainty – if not outright instability -  has meant that administration after administration has been unable to come to grips with the financial problems facing the province.  This is the reminder of how big is – how incredibly persistent is – the political problem in Newfoundland and Labrador.

26 August 2019

Balancing the Economy #nlpoli

Both Delia Warren and Dwight Ball believe that we need to diversify the provincial economy and reduce our dependence on oil.

They both believe that our future should lie with more renewable energy.  Delia thinks there is room for things like wind farms.  Dwight, an original and enthusiastic Muskrateer, thinks we need to develop Gull Island as quickly as possible.

Both Delia and Dwight are wrong.

19 August 2019

Captain Dildo, Dwight Ball, and the New Approach to Old Stereotypes #nlpoli

Last week, the Premier’s Office sent out a picture of the Premier standing next to the mascot of a town in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Nothing odd about it until you realise the mascot is called Captain Dildo and the Premier named Ball is standing to the left of the figure, which is slightly taller than him.

A dildo and a ball. 

Easy pickings for the jokesters out there. 

At least he is not Da Wight Ball, a wag observed.  No, came the reply, he is Da Weft Ball.

Some people might struggle to understand how the Premier and his staff could be beweft themselves,  beweft… err.. bereft… of a stwategy….

No, stragedy.



05 August 2019

Restoring Power: destroying the monster #nlpoli

The threat from Muskrat Falls can only be removed by concerted action that addresses the project’s financial burden, restores integrity to the system of electricity regulation, and that breaks, once and for all time, the fundamentally corrupt relationship between the provincial hydro-electric corporation and the provincial government. This is the only way to restore power to the province’s people so that they may control their own future.
And there shall be plans,  and planning for plans...

This weekend, there’s a story at CBC about a recent study done by a provincial government department into why people from this province leave and what it would take to get them back. Don’t be bothered by that sense you’d heard the story before because you had.

Danny Williams and an unidentified aide unveil
the New Approach, 2003 (not exactly as shown).
Some things are best left buried.
The new CBC story came out of a recent two-parter in The Independent. That came out of questions raised in the House of Assembly in June about the bits the government had cut out of the report it commissioned in 2018.

Everyone fixated on the bits the government cut-out in the recent story but there’s something in the conclusions.  The people surveyed were all under age 35, had higher education, and marketable skills.  They left either to find work or find better work and they would come back to the province if they could find a job or a situation here comparable to the one they already have.

This is something people in this province have known for the better part of a century and it is certainly something the provincial government has known for at least 30 years or more.  Not even a hint of exaggeration in any of that.

The study is part of the current administration’s effort to develop a plan to replace the strategy developed by the crowd that ran the place before now to attract what Danny Williams used to call the homing pigeons back to Newfoundland and Labrador.

And the key feature of the ex-pat report is the same as the key feature of a study on immigration or young people who were thinking about leaving the province.  If there are jobs, they will either stay, come back, or come here in the first place, depending on the current physical location of the group you are studying.

29 July 2019

Cannabis and culture #nlpoli

Politics and policy are much more complicated things than they appear to many people. Change is possible, but effective change can only come if we see the world as it is, not as some people imagine it might be.

Canada’s legal cannabis policy in most Canadian provinces is a failure.

There are not enough legal cannabis stores to meet demand.  The gap in price between legal and illegal cannabis is growing.  The supply of legal cannabis is spotty and there are still complaints about the quality of what stores have on their shelves. By contrast, the illicit market is apparently thriving. 

The reason that the policy failed is that it was driven by established bureaucratic interests from law enforcement and health and addictions who opposed legalization in the first place.  That led to a policy that placed the maximum emphasis on restriction and limitation of access.

What most governments in Canada ignored is the highly developed, private sector alternative that had been delivering cannabis to retail customers across the country for decades.  The industry survived despite the most severe restrictions that Canadian law could impose.  It *was* illegal to possess cannabis, after all, under any circumstances, for most of the last 60 years or more.

Governments just don’t do “business” very well.  They aren’t organized for it and – what’s more important – the people inside the organizations don’t think about problems the same way people in business do.  In fact, they don’t think about most things the way people outside government do. 

26 July 2019

Osborne whistling past financial graveyard #nlpoli

Moody’s delivered a clear and serious message to the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador on Wednesday night by lowering the government’s credit rating.  The credit rating action came after a series of consistent warnings by Moody’s since it last lowered the government’s rating of credit-worthiness in 2016.

Wednesday’s downgrade suggests that Moody’s has doubts the provincial government can hit its target of balancing the provincial budget by 2022.  While Moody’s changed its trending to stable from negative,  bear in mind that Moody’s rating period ends before the government’s budget period expires.  It doesn’t mean – as both finance minister Tom Osborne and NDP leader Alison Coffin suggested on Thursday - that everything is fine.

In a news release issued on 24 July 2019, Moody’s cited three major reasons for the downgrade:
  1. “Newfoundland and Labrador's elevated debt and interest burdens”, 
  2.   “continued expectation of material consolidated deficits over the next 2 years”, as well as
  3.  “heightened credit risk stemming from the large debt level and weak financial metrics of Nalcor, the province's wholly owned utility, which raises the likelihood the province will need to provide financial support to, or assume debt service from, Nalcor.

Finance minister Tom Osborne dismissed the downgrade, telling reporters that the downgrade was “not a reason for alarm” and “nothing to be alarmed about”. Osborne said lenders were not surprised by the action, which would be true since both the warnings from Moody’s and the province’s failure to heed them have been well known for two years.

Osborne *is* whistling past the financial graveyard here as he responds to the short-term political imperatives of his own party as opposed to the longer-term interests of the province.  As SRBP noted in January, the provincial government abandoned its deficit plan from 2016 within 18 months of starting it. The spring budget understated the government’s financial state.   

The motivation was purely political just as the reaction to Moody’s is political.  If re-elected,” SRBP noted before the May election, “Dwight Ball is unlikely to make any changes to the government’s current trajectory unless forced to do so. The members of the Liberal caucus, primarily interested in securing their pensions and possibly becoming ministers in a post-Ball Liberal administration, would have no interest in doing anything that would jeopardise their political future.”

22 July 2019

Luncheon Speech: From Muskrat Falls to the Future #nlpoli

Please note time change

Your humble e-scribbler will be speaking to the St. John's Rotary Club about getting beyond Muskrat Falls.

That's Thursday, August 1, 2019 at the Sheraton Hotel Newfoundland.

Luncheon starts at 12:30 PM 1:00 PM with the talk at around 1:00 PM  1:30 PM.


The background to the Rotary speech:   

1.  Restoring Power:  Mitigating the entire impact of Muskrat Falls. (April 2019)
2.  Restoring Power:  The tax option (July 2019)

15 July 2019

Restoring Power: The Section 92A Option #nlpoli

One of the potentially most valuable revenue sources would be a new tax on electricity production that could yield upwards of $450 million a year. The bulk of the tax would be paid by Emera and Hydro-Quebec, both of which currently profit from free or near-free electricity through two patently unfair agreements. 
The basic problem of the Lower Churchill was always how to pay for it. 

Everyone who tried to build it before wanted people outside the province to use the electricity and pay for the whole project, with the profit flowing to the people of Newfoundland and Labrador.  When they couldn't get that to work, they simply didn't pursue the project. 

The politicians and bureaucrats behind what became Muskrat Falls were smarter.  They decided in a meeting at The Rooms in April 2010 they would force the people of Newfoundland and Labrador to pay for the entire project through their electricity rates, even though they would use very little of it. The benefits would flow outside Newfoundland and Labrador. 

The Dwight Ball-Ches Crosbie rate mitigation scheme is still about having Newfoundlanders and Labradorians alone pay for Muskrat Falls with others reaping the benefit.  On top of that, the Ball-Crosbie approach includes money that doesn’t exist.  Their scheme also doesn’t address other problems with Muskrat Falls that are as troublesome as the problem of the government’s proposed scheme to have only one small group of people bear the whole cost.  So, it won't work.