30 November 2020

Worry, fear, and the Zero Risk Bias #nlpoli

 Accepting that life is all about risk is the first cognitive step.

Mark Kingwell, On Risk (2020)

The reporter just wanted to confirm how many active cases there were in the province. 

The question at last Monday’s news conference was simple enough.

 It’s a figure the Chief Medical Officer’s staff releases every day when they update the government’s COVID 19 page.

Dr. Janice Fitzgerald chuckled. 

She didn’t know.

And what’s more, it’s not a number people in public health pay attention to, according to Fitzgerald. 

People talk about it publicly, Fitzgerald said, but what public health is “worried about” are “the cases we don’t know about.”

She said the same thing a couple of days later at the next news conference that started with her rattling off the total number of cases since March, the number recovered, and the number of active cases.

So if Fitzgerald worries - her word - about unknown cases and things like active cases don’t bother her, then why does she talk about them?

24 November 2020

Did Breen bungle federal bus cash offer? #nlpoli

The federal government offered the provincial government its share of about $19 billion in COVID aid delivered to provinces in July.

There was another chunk earmarked for municipal transit systems.


CBC reported  at the time that "Newfoundland and Labrador did not apply for that [transit] money".  Apparently, "... the City of St. John's said any transit losses it experienced were minimal compared with larger cities."

"We wouldn't have a significant enough loss to make value of that," said [Mayor Danny] Breen.

Fast forward to November.

The city slashed the Metrobus budget by $800,000. As a result, the bus service will run through the winter on a reduced schedule and cut shifts for drivers.  Some will get papers to allow them to file for unemployment insurance.

Neither Breen nor any other councilors would do media interviews about the cuts. The city spokesperson sent out to shoo the media away offered no explanation for the politicians' sudden silence.

Maybe it had to do with the cash they turned down last summer.


23 November 2020

A pandemic of fear #nlpoli

 In Newfoundland and Labrador, politicians and public health bureaucrats are dealing more with a pandemic of fear than of disease. It is one they helped create.  It is one they sustain in the way they talk and act.  Let us hope that Monday’s news conference is not another of their super-spreader events.

On Saturday, the Deer Lake town council held an emergency meeting and decided to close the town hall and a local recreation centre for two weeks.  They also decided – apparently without consulting public health officials - to encourage all businesses in the community to shut for two weeks for all but essential sales and services. They’ve told people to stay home.  The local seniors home has stopped allowing any visitors.

Former Premier Dwight Ball tweeted a message from the town council Saturday evening (right).

There have been five new cases of COVID-19 in western Newfoundland, presumably Deer Lake.  They are all in the same household as the initial case, who brought the illness back from outside the province where he works.

The people of Deer Lake are afraid.  In that fear, they are like so many people across Newfoundland and Labrador. Their fear is not, as one might expect, the healthy respect of people who know a deadly disease when they see it.  Rather, their fear – like all fear - is borne of ignorance and suckled by misinformation, the most pernicious form of which comes from the provincial government on a steady basis.

16 November 2020

Policy Pixelation #nlpoli

The members of the House of Assembly voted unanimously at the end of October to set up a committee to decide how to give everyone in the province a cheque each month from government.

The motion started out with a few reasons why the members thought it was a good idea:  people across Canada didn’t all have the same income, people were getting such a cheque already from the federal government to cope with COVID, some people – no one indicated who they were – thought this was a good idea, and when people had more money they were generally better off.

When it came time to explain those things in greater detail, Jordan Brown, the New Democrat member who led the debate didn’t give a single bit of extra detail that showed he and his staff had done any research on it at all.

He just made flat, generic statements, including:

“There are a lot of geographical differences in regions throughout this country, too.”

“we do have very unique geographical challenges, we have a unique population. We have a lot of unique needs that make this province what it is.”

“A lot of the research that we've come across was actually Canadian research, Canadian led. As Canadians, we should be proud that we are actually looking at these things within our own country. We have a lot of the research and legwork already done here.”

“Just my observation of this province, we're a very societal province. We're very adapt. We're very caring. We seem to be a province that cares so deeply about everybody in it.

He mentioned five groups that signed a letter in favour of what they called a “basic income.”  Brown also added that a “Tory senator wrote a book on why we should do this as a country.” 

No details.  No evidence.  No specific information.

And most tellingly of all, not a single description of just what this universal basic income might look like.

13 November 2020

Sod off, Norm Doyle #nlpoli

Ex-Harper fart catcher
Norm Doyle
Veteran Connie hack Norm Doyle has finally aged off the public tit, on which he spent too much of his adult life.

Attention spans are so short in local politics these days that most people don't remember his stint as a fart catcher for Stephen Harper let alone his long time in provincial politics.

So let's refresh memories with a couple of examples.

Anyone who wants to get a more fullsome account of Norm's shallow and self-serving political career can use the search function in the upper left corner of these e-scribbles and enter "Norm Doyle".  

Lazy readers can click that link on Norm's name.

In his memoir published a few years ago,  Doyle whined about that time in 1989 when he and his crowd were turfed by voters into a batch of shitty offices in the Confederation Building.  

Your humble e-scribbler told the story more honestly than Norm ever would:

Doyle and his mates wound up in the western wing of the fifth floor in a part of the building they had not renovated since it was built in the 1950s. Sometimes water poured in when it rained. That’s the spot the Conservatives gave the Liberal opposition when, in their arrogance, the Conservatives figured that these offices were only ever going to occupied the Liberals or the New Democrats.  Doyle had never worked in the Opposition office  - despite the implication of one sentence in his book - and most of his colleagues couldn’t remember the time before 1972 when the Tories had won power from Smallwood and the Liberals.

By contrast, Doyle and his colleagues made sure their offices were well-appointed. They spared no public expense to fit themselves out in fine style.  Bear in mind that Doyle was part of a provincial government that was in very tough financial shape.  Among the Tories, only the Speaker worked in a place decorated in a style best described as a cross between a Turkish whorehouse and a set from Good Fells or Married to the Mob. The rest were lavish as lavish could be in a 1980s way.  Doyle doesn’t get into any of that but clearly, from the way Doyle describes the election episode, he still finds the whole thing painful a quarter of a century later.

10 November 2020

Bank of Canada ends provincial short-term debt backstop #nlpoli

The Bank of Canada will stop picking up provincial government debt effective 16 November, 2020, the Bank announced Monday.

The move reflects "the continued improvement in the functioning of short-term funding markets and financial markets more generally,” according to the announcement.

The last operation for the Provincial Money Market Purchase program will be 13 November 2020.

Under the PMMP, the Bank of Canada would purchase up to a set percentage of short-term debt (maturity less than 12 months) offered by any Canadian province.  The program began in March 2020 with a maximum purchase of 40%.  The Bank of Canada revised the limit to 20% in July and 10% in September.

The Bank introduced a similar program to purchase provincial bonds in May.  Under the Provincial Bond Purchase Program, the Bank of Canada will purchase  up to 20% of an issuing province’s “eligible assets outstanding” on the secondary bond market.

“The Bank’s purchases will aim to reflect a reference portfolio based in equal weight on each province or territory’s share of eligible bonds outstanding and their share of Canadian GDP.”

“Each issuer’s eligible share will be recalculated on a monthly basis. Actual purchases will depend on what is offered through the tender offer process and may differ from the reference portfolio.”

“The program will hold up to a total of $50 billion par value of eligible assets.”

The PBPP will end on May 6, 2021.


09 November 2020

Paging Dr. Freud #nlpoli

Moya Greene, head of the Premier’s Economic Recovery Team, told municipal leaders last week that the provincial government spends almost $2.0 billion less on health care than it actually does.


She said the government spent 25% of its budget on health care.  VOCM reported it: “Greene says healthcare is about 25 per cent of the province’s total expenditures, and that it is a conversation we have to have.”

The actual share in 2019 was 42% and the forecast share in 2020 in 37%. You can find the figures in the budget tabled in the House of Assembly at the end of September.

This is a really bizarro comment since Greene is already well into her job of sorting out both government overspending and re-organizing the economy.  She should have a handle on all numbers. 

After all, Greene and her provincial recovery team will deliver a preliminary report by the end of February. Sure she’s not due to have the whole thing finished until April, but the first deadline of February is really only about three months away, if you allow an interruption for Christmas.

But that’s not the only weirdness.

03 November 2020

Reality Control #nlpoli

The Memory Hole
Nineteen eighty-four is popular these days.

People think that the ideas in the book like the memory hole are modeled on communist or fascist dictatorships from the early part of the last century.

What those people forget is that George Orwell worked at the BBC during the Second World War.  As Dorian Lynskey noted in his recent history of the novel, Orwell thought that “radio, as it existed in the 1940s, [was] ‘inherently totalitarian.’”  

In Spain during the Civil War, he saw his first newspapers that “did not bear any relation to the facts, not even the relationship which is implied by an ordinary lie.” But it was in his exposure to radio during the Second World War that Orwell heard in all the propaganda on all sides very similar distortions of reality.

“This kind of thing is frightening to me," Orwell wrote in his 1943 essay Looking back on the Spanish war, “because it often gives me the feeling that the very concept of objective truth is fading out of the world.”

“After all, the chances are that those lies, or at any rate similar lies, will pass into history… Yet, after all, some kind of history will be written, and after those who actually remember the war are dead, it will be universally accepted. So, for all practical purposes the lie will have become the truth”.

This is only a small step to the slogan of the Party in Nineteen eighty-four:Who controls the past, controls the future: who controls the present controls the past.”

02 November 2020

The hard truth of reconciliation #nlpoli

Nick Youngson CC BY-SA 3.0 Alpha Stock Images
Reconciliation is a very popular word these days.

It comes out of the  commission appointed to investigate what happened to Indigenous people in Canada in residential schools run by the federal government.  The commission produced a lengthy list of actions needed to “advance the process of Canadian reconciliation.”

Leave aside the 94 specific actions the commission recommended.  There are really three key things that must form the basis of successful reconciliation.

The first is a willingness of the people involved to come to a mutual understanding.  Explicitly, they are going to be involved in something doesn’t just happen instantly.  It will take time. The people involved in reconciliation will need must *want* to reconcile if it is going to be successful.

The second is a desire to find truth.  That’s conveniently mentioned in the name of the commission:  truth and reconciliation.  But it is also important for people interested in reconciliation to come with the understanding that the truth to be found isn’t going to sit wholly on one side or the other. 

Third, reconciliation is going to take discussion.  Dialogue.  Communication.

On all three of those counts, events in Newfoundland and Labrador over the past few months have shown just how far we are – collectively -  from starting successful reconciliation.