26 May 2020

Fighting the Boogeyman with Dwight, John, and Janice #nlpoli

Ontario Premier Doug Ford pleaded with Ontarians to get tested for COVID-19 on Sunday, even if they were not showing any symptoms. He repeated the call on Monday after a weekend gathering saw thousands pack a Toronto Park and the number of new COVID infections climbed for the eighth straight day.

In St. John’s on Monday, chief medical officer Dr. Janice Fitzgerald warned Newfoundlanders and Labradorians that “as we move around more” we will see more cases of the disease in the province. Asked by a reporter if there could be asymptomatic people in the province, Fitzgerald said there as no way to be sure. They could be out there, infecting people.

That sounds reasonable enough until you realize that there is only one active case of COVID-19 in the province and that person is in hospital, where he or she has been for weeks. The last reported cases were on 07 May.  Even then, there was some question that one or both might have been false positives.  But in any event, we are now more than the incubation period of the virus.  Fitzgerald described it as almost three weeks, which would be one and a half times the incubation period for the disease.

The province’s borders are sealed to all but a handful of people and those are subject to monitored isolation for two weeks before they can move around. Health minister John Haggie has described that two-week wait – the worst-case incubation period for the disease – as the best test there is for it.

Haggie has also used the prospect of cases suddenly springing up and swamping the health system as a reason for the very slow relaxation of the province-wide lockdown.  He hasn’t gone to the spectre once in a while.  It is a frequent explanation for the government’s approach to COVID-19.

You can understand why Doug Ford and his officials talk of asymptomatic cases or new outbreaks.  They are staring at a dramatic surge in cases after cresting the first wave and reducing the number of active cases. But in Newfoundland and Labrador, Haggie and Fitzgerald have gone beyond prudence or a reasonable dose of caution. They are basically dismissing evidence and justifying their decisions to restrict just about every aspect of life in the province because they think there’s a boogeyman out there.

24 May 2020

In front of your nose #nlpoli

Orwell, c. 1940
Colourised by Cassowary Colurization

A truly free and democratic society must be based on fundamental rights and freedoms that individuals may enjoy and that are restricted rarely and only to the extent necessary to protect other rights.

In Canada, 38 years after the proclamation of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, this should be well understood.

But in Newfoundland Labrador, these rights are foreign ideas not well understood or generally accepted.

The latest example of how easily fundamental rights can be denied with popular support is the decision, supposedly taken by Brian Jones alone, to stop writing a column for his employer The Telegram.

He did so in the midst of a controversy over a column that appeared on May 20.  There was nothing remarkable about this column compared to the thousands of others he has written in his long career as a journalist and editor, except that this time, Jones aimed his characteristically malodorous vowel movements at public sector workers. 

20 May 2020

The Authoritarian Impulse #nlpoli

Special Measures Enforcement
Jim Dinn used to be a teacher.

As head of the provincial teachers’ union, he spearheaded a drive against the public’s right to know how politicians spent public money.

And now he is a member of the provincial legislature.

Let’s talk about rights,” said Jim Dinn on May 5, explaining why he felt it was a good idea to give the minister of justice the power to send police out to take people away to a detention centre. 

Not a judge. 

A politician.

“Funerals, people can’t be present for the passing of their loved ones. It is my right to attend a funeral, peaceful gatherings, …  for me, it’s the fact that I can’t be around my grandchildren. Now we have the double bubble and I’ll do anything to defend it. Weddings – all of them are rights. I took my mother to the hospital the other day. I couldn’t even go into the hospital with her. That’s my right, to go with her. I could not go.”

Not rights at all, really.  Things people like to do.  Things they expect to do.

But not the same as voting, speaking one’s mind freely, or – and this is the important one for this discussion – not having the police kick in your front door and spirit you away to some detention centre somewhere in the province because a minister said it was okay.

This is the kind of stuff they used to do in Argentina when the junta’s agents would disappear people.

They do it all the time in North Korea.

But in a democratic country like Canada, even in an emergency, we do not allow arbitrary arrest and detention, let alone do so quite so cavalierly as Dinn and the other members of the House allowed.

But in Jim Dinn’s world, this sort of thing is no biggie.  He felt it more important not to be like the United States.   

Not satisfied with his frighteningly shallow argument, Jim then praised himself and his colleagues for their “collaboration, co-operation and self-sacrifice” in attending the House of Assembly for a few minutes one afternoon to pass a few pieces of legislation.

13 May 2020

Terra Nova field production halted for up to two years #nlpoli


No one should be surprised that the partners in the Terra Nova field are planning to lay up the production platform and will likely stop production from the field until 2022.

There are five perspectives we can bring to bear on this one event.

FPSO:  The pandemic knocked the planned refit of the Floating Production Storage and Offloading platform off schedule for 2020 anyway.  The operators needed to lay the ship alongside until a yard opened that could do the work.

Field:  There’s no sense in selling off a highly valuable asset very cheaply if you don’t need to do so.

The glut of oil and the downturn in policies make it sensible to shut down production from the field.
Terra Nova oil is light and sweet.  It is cheap to produce and easy to refine. With the FPSO paid off long ago, the Terra Nova operators can leave the very profitable field in storage until prices rebound and deliver the kind of higher profits that the field can generate.   

GNL:  The provincial government will take a serious financial hit with Terra Nova out of production for a couple of years.  But, as with the company perspective, it’s actually in the public’s long-term interest to leave the highly profitable oil in the ground rather than sell it off cheaply.

Provincial society and politics: Unfortunately, 15 years of using public money to buy political favour has produced a situation in Newfoundland and Labrador that is much like the one in Venezuela. So many groups across the whole of society are so addicted to public spending that they will treat this smart and understandable move as a catastrophe.

Expect calls for federal welfare for oil companies to become louder along with renewed demands for a federal bailout of the provincial government.

Federal Government:   The federal government will provide some financial assistance to governments, companies, and individuals across Canada to deal with the pandemic, but it has neither the political will nor the financial muscle to bailout oil companies and provincial governments.  There is no support for such moves at the bureaucratic level nor is there any support for bailouts at the political level either.


-srbp-

12 May 2020

Ferkakte #nlpoli

In the past 36 days,  the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador has reported no new cases of CVD-19 on 21 of them.

Three weeks worth of zero.

More than a month in which the reproduction rate for the virus is well below the level in which the disease would be considered under control.

The number of active cases n the province outside hospital all date from the middle of April and later, for the most part.  The four cases in hospital have been there a long time and likely are four people with very serious illnesses besides CVD.

And yet the provincial government lowered its restrictions very slightly on Monday, warned that it would take at least 28 days to see if it might be possible to safely loosen up restrictions a bit more.

The ferkakte alert system announced by the provincial government on 30 April 2020 is full of contradictions and confusion. There are too many to list.  The "plan" is full of other things, too.

06 May 2020

The Bow Wow Parliament creates a Kangaroo Court #nlpoli


The Bow Wow Parliament
The first casualty of the current pandemic in Newfoundland and Labrador was democracy and on Tuesday, the pandemic added to its draconian toll.

A handful of members of the House met with the permission of a government official and passed without much discussion a measure that created a kangaroo court in which the official could apply in secret to two cabinet ministers, obtain a de facto conviction of someone without what lawyers call due process, and then send off the police to scoop up the hapless person who may or may not have violated a health order under the health protection law. 

Health minister John Haggie introduced the amendment. He shed no light on why the government had banned all non-residents from entering the province except people in two special categories.  Haggie did not explain why the restrictions that had been in place were not working. He gave no indication why he and his colleague the justice minister needed the powers of a judge already set out in another section of the health protection law to enforce any orders.

When his turn to speak came, opposition leader Ches Crosbie spoke briefly about what he referred to as new police powers that would be used to enforce all the chief medical officer’s special orders.  He noted the concerned expressed to him by lawyers that the recent travel ban was illegal and/or unconstitutional. 

Then Crosbie said that he and his caucus had decided to vote for amendment in exchange for a promise the government would:   
  1. read a submission from the Canadian Bar Association about the travel ban, and 
  2. ask the chief medical officer to amend her improper travel ban to allow a few categories of exemptions they wanted.

That is all.

Such are the intellectual, ethical, and legal standards of the Bow Wow Parliament.

05 May 2020

Troubling travel ban may be illegal, unconstitutional #nlpoli

Government of Newfoundland and Labrador
 guards at COVID-19 Border Check Point
(not exactly as illustrated)
No other province in Canada has banned travel into the province by non-residents in the way Newfoundland and Labrador has done during the current public health emergency.

Under Special Order No. 11, issued on 29 April 2020, “[a]ll individuals are prohibited from entering Newfoundland and Labrador, except for the following:
a.  residents of Newfoundland and Labrador, 
b.  asymptomatic workers and individuals who are subject to the Updated Exemption Order effective April 22, 2020, and 
c.  individuals who have been permitted entry to the province in extenuating circumstances, as approved in advance by the Chief Medical Officer of Health.”
There is a definition of resident provided in the order.

There is provision for an exemption granted by the Chief Medical Officer but no indication of the reasons why such an exemption might be granted, or the time delays involved.

The power to do this comes from section 28 (1) of the Public Health Promotion and Protection Act.

In making the announcement, the chief medical officer offered no explanation or justification for the except that she felt it necessary to amend the existing restriction on individuals entering the province in order to deal with COVID-19.

There have been no confirmed reports of travelers violating the ban.  Rumours about tourists, covered by news media the day before the new order, lacked any evidence either that tourists had entered the province.  There is no information in public that any travelers had violated restrictions on people entering the province and caused a new outbreak.

To the contrary, the number of active cases in the province continues to decline, with very few new cases having been reported in the past two weeks.

In response to a reporter’s question about the constitutionality of the ban, health minister John Haggie replied on Monday that section 13 of the public health protection law says any measures imposed during an emergency should be limited to what is necessary. 

04 May 2020

The trouble with bubbles #nlpoli

Another type of Bubbles

Stay in your bubble.

A cute, clever little phrase that Newfoundlanders and Labradorians have been hearing for weeks.

We all assume it means something like protect yourself as you go about your daily life. 

Or stay at home unless you have to go out.

And if that’s what it meant, if that’s all the phrase was, then the notion of a bubble is innocent enough.

Last week, though, Newfoundlanders and Labradorians found out “bubble” was something else.

As the province’s chief medical officer unveiled what she called the strategy for living with COVID-19, she outlined a series of what she called Alert Levels.  In Alert Level 4, people would be able to mix their one bubble with another bubble.

Except that the bubble mixing was allowed to start while we are still in the current state of alert with all its greater restrictions.

People wondered if they could safely mix with more than one bubble.  Like say, in families with two sets of grandparents close by.  Would they be able to go over and check on both of them without having to look at them from outside the house?  What if they had to go over and help out with a problem with the house. The kids would love to see nan and pop and maybe that would boost morale.

No, came the reply.  One bubble and one bubble only.  You pick.

Bollocks said your humble e-scribbler.  Inherently and in the circumstances in the province mixing more than two bubbles at the moment has about the same risk as mixing one bubble.

Whoa there, said someone else. There was a mathematically knowable risk of mixing more than one extra bubble right now.  Better be safe than sorry.

Not a mathematical problem at all, said your humble e-scribbler in reply.

Oohhh yes, it is, said the knowledgeable one, missing the point.

The difficulty is not in the math but in the concept.