27 October 2020

The importance of what we talk about #nlpoli

Nalcor will have to replace about 350 fibreglass beams used in the Labrador-Island Link because of a fault in their manufacture.

Nalcor discovered the fault during two incidents at Soldier’s Pond in August that caused the link to shut down on both occasions.

The public found out about the two incidents last week in a news report by allNewfoundlandLabrador.com on 21 October 2020.  They discovered the information in a report by Liberty Consulting to the Public Utilities Board filed 28 September 2020.

Nalcor chief Executive Stan Marshall - knowing about Liberty’s disclosure – held a news conference the same day to announce that the company had successfully generated power from the first turbine at Muskrat Falls. The news release, that is the thing most reporters relied on for their subsequent stories, Nalcor talked up the achievement of first power.

In his slide presentation, Marshall told reporters that there was no capital cost allowance for “replacement of fiberglass beams at SOP/MF (GE Grid’s responsibility)” along with three other items. 

But there was no context.

And so conventional media – like NTV – never mentioned the spectacular story.

So, you’d expect that a story about another management problem at Muskrat Falls combined with the failure of Nalcor to disclose it would give politicians something to talk about.

Opposition leader Ches Crosbie’s first question in the House of Assembly that day was about a young man who had gone missing in Vancouver.  His father is Crosbie’s constituent.

“Concerns have been raised, Crosbie began with the wonderful passive sentence that says nothing about who is raising concerns, “that the search was called off too soon and that clues have surfaced” about the young man’s disappearance.

 “I’d ask the minister if he’s spoken to his colleague in British Columbia to make the case for resumption of the search?”

 His second question was about pushing the government to bail out the West White Rose project.

26 October 2020

Husky and Come by Chance Updates #nlpoli

There is no good reason for governments to intervene in the oil sector even as much as they have.  It has nothing to do with the gibberish of "decarbonization" or whatever the greenies will yell down next to the peasants from the ivory tower.

It's just bad business. 

And bad business is the same as bad policy.


When Husky shut down the West White Rose expansion, that should have been a clue the company was in serious financial difficulty.

SRBP pointed it out plainly.  Husky's financial statements confirm  it.  Announcement of the sale of Husky to Cenovus came as no surprise. 

It was also no surprise that the current owners of North Atlantic Refining are exploring the idea of turning the refinery into a tank farm.  Rumour around town was that Irving was more interest in the storage potential than in using the refinery for anything more than a tank farm.

Neither of these stories will lessen demands from the local oil patch, from companies, and from the politicians for the federal and provincial governments to prop up this company or that project.

19 October 2020

Come by Chance and the Politics of Inertia #nlpoli

Is *this* the real El Dorado?

More than six months after they shut it down, the company that owns the Come by Chance oil refinery wants to sell it.

 And they want provincial taxpayers to pay.

According to Saltwire, “Glen Nolan, president of the United Steel Workers Local 9316 union, said that in recent conference calls officials of the province’s energy department indicated Silverpeak had floated” the idea that the provincial government would pay to keep the plant in hot idle mode.  

Between 150 and 175 workers have been laid off from the facility since February.  Another 60 or so are working to keep the plant ready to run.   

A deal with Irving – reported by Canadian Press and others as a done deal in late May – came apart for reasons that aren’t clear.

So while they are trying to sell the refinery Silverpeak wants the provincial government to pay to keep the refinery idled in a state where it could get back into production very quickly.  The alternative will be to mothball the refinery and lay off the remaining workers at the refinery.

The only company interested in buying the refinery – Origin International – doesn’t want to run it as a refinery.  But that hasn’t stopped the provincial government from talking it up and for representatives of the union at Come by Chance from being excited at the prospect.

It’s hard to imagine the provincial government won’t put up the cash.

13 October 2020

The state of news media in Newfoundland and Labrador - 1988 #nlpoli

Some observations on the state of the news media in Newfoundland and Labrador, circa 1988, from Dr. Susan McCorquodale,  "Newfoundland:  personality, party, and politics" in Gary Levy and Graham White, editors, Provincial and territorial legislatures in Canada, Toronto, University of Toronto Press, 1989)

Those who write about the relationship between politics and the press worry about such things as ownership concentration, or about the tendency of reporters to end up in comfortable public relations jobs with government.  For many years St John's was one of the few cities of its size to have two daily newspapers, both largely locally owned and operated. Today there is one daily, and it has been owned by the Thomson chain since 1970. It has become a newspaper which has gradually lost its 'bustle, resources and guts.'  Ironically, the author of this judgment, Michael Harris, is today editor-in-chief of a new weekly newspaper, locally owned, which has become a thorn in the side of the Peckford  administration to such a degree that the government has withdrawn all public advertisements from the paper and generally attempts to deny access to its reporters. In recent years regional weeklies have appeared, generally printed by one firm with feeds from the Telegram. For most of the media, news originates with the press release, the press conference, or the daily sittings of the House of Assembly. Generally, owners have not made the resources available for any sort of investigative reporting, and most journalists lack training and experience.


 As we have already noted, some twelve or thirteen of the cabinet ministers are authorized to hire press secretaries. The pay range is good, between $30,000 and $40,000*. Many of them are just out of journalism schools, and a few have been attracted away from the local media. The fear is that if the links become too close, the independence of the reporters is compromised by the possibility of civil service jobs. Added to this is some concern about the balance between the skills and resources of government and those of the local media. The journalists would seem to be on the weaker side.


*Roughly equivalent to $52,000 to $74,000 in 2020.  In 2019,  departmental directors of communication (comparable to 1980s-era press secretaries) earned between $78,000 and $102,000 with the Premier's Director of Communications drawing a salary of $121,000.

08 October 2020

How much is Churchill Falls worth? #nlpoli

 The public policy advantage of quantifying or estimating what the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador might get in revenue from Churchill Falls 21 years from now is that it takes discussions today from the world of fantasy and make-believe to something closer to reality.

Churchill Falls Generating Station

People talk about Churchill Falls as if it had magical powers.

It doesn’t.

But what’s it worth?

Well, since the subject relates to the recent Innu Nation lawsuit, Muskrat Falls mitigation, and what could be bone-idle curiosity for some people, here’s an answer.

This won’t tell you precisely what Churchill Falls electricity will be worth in 2041 but it will give an idea of what sort of revenue you could get.  If you aren’t comfortable imagining this is 21 years in the future, then imagine it is the numbers today – because that’s what they are – and the 1969 contract did not get renewed automatically in 2016.

All the information used here comes from sources that are publicly available in Canada and the United States.

Here goes.

07 October 2020

Innu Nation suing provincial government not HQ over Churchill Falls #nlpoli


Laws suits get filed in court.

Political claims for cash launch with a news conference, a website, and a deceptive news release that misidentifies the target of the action.

The Innu Nation statement of claim  filed in Newfoundland and Labrador  Tuesday is against the Churchill Falls (Labrador) Corporation as the first defendant in its claim for $4 billion in damages.  The provincial government owns 65% of CF(L)Co and Hydro-Quebec owns a minority interest (35%).

There’s no reason to sue HQ since it is a minor partner in the company that runs Churchill Falls and manages the reservoir built in the 1960s on land claim by Innu in Quebec and Labrador.  Whatever liability HQ might have would be through CF(L)Co.

Otherwise, Hydro-Quebec is just a customer for the power.  And if Innu Nation wanted to include the customers of the power, then it would have sued every single customer of CF(L)Co since 1971, which would include companies and towns in Labrador, Ontario, and the United States. 

There are lots of little clues in the claim that this is a political move, not a legal one.

05 October 2020

The New Colonialists #nlpoli

The New Colonialists
don't look like the old ones
The last day of September is known as Orange Shirt Day.

It is a day to remember residential schools for Indigenous people, which, as the national Truth and Reconciliation Commission said in its final report, “were a systematic, government-sponsored attempt to destroy Aboriginal cultures and languages and to assimilate Aboriginal peoples so that they no longer existed as distinct peoples.”

Across Newfoundland and Labrador, schools featured special events to tell the story of residential schools in Canada. CBC Newfoundland and Labrador ran two stories, one of which was written by a young journalist from Labrador whose grandmothers attended a residential school. His first sentence is both evocative and typical of the emotion that accompanies stories of residential schools.

“For years, the Lockwood School in Cartwright housed Indigenous children taken from their homes all in the name of "killing the Indian within the child."

Another of these “localizer” pieces – ones that give a local angle to a national or international story – explained that “[r]residential schools were established by the Canadian government in the 1800s, with a guiding policy that has been called ‘aggressive assimilation.’ The federal government sought to teach Indigenous children English and have them adopt Christianity and Canadian customs, and pass that — rather than Indigenous culture — down to their children.”  That one was written by a journalist from northern Ontario now living in St. John’s.

In 2017,  CBC reported on Justin Trudeau’s apology to Indigenous people in Labrador for the treatment they received in residential schools.   The CBC story at the time explained that “[b]etween 1949 and 1979, thousands of Indigenous children were taken from their communities to attend five residential schools that were run by the International Grenfell Association or Moravians.”

There’s only one problem with these stories: they aren’t about residential schools in Newfoundland and Labrador.

These stories about Canadian residential schools are imposed on something different, namely the schools in Newfoundland and Labrador, without acknowledging the meaningful difference.

The two are distinctly different.