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.