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.

12 July 2019

The Slaughterhouse Five #nlpoli

Coupled with comparable high rates of staff changes in the senior ranks of the public service,  unprecedented staff turn-over in a critical part of Premier Dwight Ball's office raises questions that need to be addressed.

Premier Dwight Ball has entered the history books.

He has chewed up more communications directors than any Premier since 1972.

Word from the Confederation Building is that Erin Sulley, right, who left community television for the communications business only last October, is now the Premier’s Director of Communications.  It's the most senior political communications job in the provincial government

Sulley was host of Out of the Fog just before joining Ball's staff last fall in the media relations role. In what was a pretty clear conflict of interest, she also started writing a column for the Telegram at the same time.

08 July 2019

The Kick in the Guts #nlpoli

Those following the Muskrat Falls inquiry last week will likely have noticed that one of the big issues not discussed during Dwight Ball's testimony was the circumstances surrounding Ed Martin's resignation.

It bears on the inquiry since the entire episode goes to the heart of the government's relationship to Nalcor, which itself shaped Muskrat Falls, and to the resolution of the Astaldi mess.

Yet, for some reason,  Commissioner Richard LeBlanc does not want to hear about Martin's departure.

The incident that supposedly triggered Martin's departure (and that of the board) were a few sentences in the budget speech from April 2016.  Ken Marshall described it as a "kick in the guts" for the folks at Nalcor.

Your humble e-scribbler posted this as part of a bigger piece back in 2016 but just for the fun of it,  here are Bennett's words, in total:
As the province’s energy corporation, Nalcor belongs to every citizen of Newfoundland and Labrador
Since its creation in 2007, taxpayers have invested over $2.25 billion yet have received no dividends. For all corporations and their shareholders, this would be unacceptable. 
The previous administration allowed Nalcor’s organizational structure, compensation and benefits packages to grow beyond what taxpayers would consider reasonable, particularly given our current fiscal and economic circumstances. 
Through Budget 2016, initial steps have been taken to identify operational savings at Nalcor approximating $6.7 million. 
However, due to prior year commitments by the former administration, the required equity the province will need to invest in Nalcor this year is $1.3 billion, bringing the total investment by the people of the province to $3.6 billion. 
Further actions will be taken to maximize the return on investments made by our province. 
Like government departments and public entities, Nalcor will be expected to take a zero based budget approach to their administration and operations effective with Budget 2017. 
The Nalcor Board will be directed to review their operational structure to achieve efficiencies and develop a plan to bring their compensation, benefits, and gender equity policies more in line with similar positions in other public sector bodies. 
Work at the Muskrat Falls Powerhouse is significantly behind schedule. 
Faced with these schedule delays and expected cost increases on the project - a concern to all of us - government is doing and will continue to do everything possible to help get this project back on track.

Today's post was originally supposed to be a much longer look at Dwight Ball and Muskrat Falls.  This turned out to be a much bigger subject than anticipated.  Stay tuned for it to appear later this summer.

02 July 2019

Women in politics: women political staffers in Australia and Canada #nlpoli

Feodor Nagovsky and Matthew Kerby, “Political Staff and the Gendered Division of Political Labour in Canada,”  Parliamentary Affairs, 24 August 2018.
Summary:  While there is considerable research on elected legislators in a variety of contexts, the academic knowledge about their advisors is very limited. This is surprising, given a considerable portion of work attributed to legislators is performed by political staff. Further, political advising increasingly serves as a training ground for future politicians in many professionalised legislatures. 
We use a mixed-methods approach to understand how the influence of men and women differs in political advising positions in the case of Canada’s House of Commons, and how this may affect women’s political ambition. 
We demonstrate while close to an equal number of men and women work for MPs in a political capacity on Parliament Hill, men continue to dominate legislative roles while women continue to dominate administrative roles. Further, legislative work increases political ambition, which means more men benefit from the socialising effects of legislative work than women.

Marija Taflaga and Matthew Kerby, “Who Does What Work in a Ministerial Office: Politically Appointed Staff and the Descriptive Representation of Women in Australian Political Offices, 1979–2010”, Political Studies, 19 June 2019.
Summary: Women are underrepresented within political institutions, which can (negatively) impact policy outcomes. We examine women’s descriptive representation as politically appointed staff within ministerial offices. Politically appointed staff are now institutionalised into the policy process, so who they are is important. 
To date, collecting systematic data on political staff has proved impossible. However, for the first time we demonstrate how to build a systematic data set of this previously unobservable population. We use Australian Ministerial Directories (telephone records) from 1979 to 2010 (a method that can notionally be replicated in advanced democratic jurisdictions), to examine political advising careers in a similar manner as elected political elites. 
We find that work in political offices is divided on gender lines: men undertake more policy work, begin and end their careers in higher status roles and experience greater career progression than women. We find evidence that this negatively impacts women’s representation and their later career paths into parliament.