Showing posts sorted by relevance for query patronage. Sort by date Show all posts
Showing posts sorted by relevance for query patronage. Sort by date Show all posts

22 August 2016

Message Control #nlpoli

Memorial University professor Alex Marland has a new book on the market.  Brand Command is about political communications.  Marland interviewed a lot of people and did a lot of research for this very big book that lots of people should read.

One of the big ideas in the book is that politicians these days are very keen on something called message control.  They have a fetish for consistency so that everyone is singing the same things from the same hymn book, as the metaphor goes. It's an old idea and there are many reasons why politicians like to be consistent.  For one thing,  repetition across many means of communication increases the likelihood the message gets through.

On another level, though,  consistent messaging means ultimately that actions match words.  The message of the words must match the message in the action that makes those words real.

In that sense,  message consistency is about credibility and values and trust. Politicians like to tell people what they believe in and  how they will make decisions. Voters don't spend a lot of time thinking about government so they want someone they can trust to make decisions they agree with or can generally trust are the right ones.  When political analysts talk about "connecting with voters"  that's what they are getting at. 

The real connection voters need to see is the one between the words used to make promises with the actions that follows.  That connection makes the words credible 0 literally, believable - the next time there are words about what the politician will do.

Anything that attacks a politician's credibility is bad and when - as in Ball's case - the wounds are all self-inflicted, then you know there is a huge problem.

So why did Dwight Ball fire John Ottenheimer?

27 July 2016

Good-bye John #nlpoli

In their last year in office, the provincial Conservatives went on a patronage bend on top of the patronage bender they started in 2003.  They came into office promising reform and - you guessed it - did exactly the opposite.  If there is no greater fraud than a promise not kept, then then Old Man and his cronies were the biggest political fraudsters in the history of political fraud.

We told you about this last July when Paul Davis appointed political operative John Ottenheimer to replace political operative Len Simms as head of the provincial government's housing corporation. After the Ottenheimer appointment, Davis and the Conservatives kept going with the questionable appointments.  The swap of the chief judge in Provincial Court remains highly suspicious and unexplained, as does the sudden firing of the High Sheriff.  The former is one the new Liberal administration genuinely could not do anything about.  The former High Sheriff is now suing the provincial government for wrongful dismissal.

The Liberals could have and should have done something about all the others.  It was a way of setting a new tone for their administration and demonstrating that things that are wrong cannot stand.  For some unknown reason, Dwight Ball would not commit to reversing the Ottenheimer appointment  - on principle - when Davis made it a year ago. When he took office, Dwight Ball decided to leave not only Ottenheimer but all the other Conservatives appointees in place.  And when he unveiled the new appointments commission, Ball had a third opportunity to set a new standard for government appointments by getting rid of the old, wrong ones.

He didn't.

Now, Ball has punted John Ottenheimer.  We do not know why.  No one from the provincial government did any interviews. The minister responsible for the housing corporation issued a news release announcing Ottenheimer's replacement.  Everything else that we know - including the size of Ottenheimer's severance - came from Ottenheimer himself.

06 January 2020

Patronage and pork #nlpoli

Think of it as classic political news in Newfoundland and Labrador.

VOCM headline: “Premier commits to fixing patronage issues in government”.

At the same time, some people in Western Labrador are  angry at the Premier for closing a small government office in Wabush.

In the VOCM news story, Premier Dwight Ball was referring to the controversy appointment he authorized at The Rooms. Many people consider that patronage because the person who got the appointment had previously been a political staffer in the Opposition office while Ball was Opposition leader.

What makes this a classic political story in Newfoundland and Labrador, though, is that no one sees the other job – the bureaucratic office in Labrador City – as patronage even though that’s what it is.

At the turn of the century, the provincial government relocated departments or bits of departments from St. John’s to other towns in Newfoundland and Labrador.  They called it “regionalization”.  The idea was to spread the “benefit” of government spending around the province instead of concentrating it in St. John’s.

We are not talking about putting a snow clearing depot for the west coast on the west coast.  We are talking about shifting the office of the fire commissioner with seven high paying jobs and putting them in Deer Lake, along with a bunch of people who run provincial parks. The aquaculture division of the fisheries department went to the coastal community of Grand Falls-Windsor, and the medical care commission offices – the folks who pay doctors for their services – went to GFW as well.

“You can do the work anywhere” was a common rationalization for the whole scheme and it certainly is true.  You *can* do these administrative jobs anywhere.  But it was more efficient in many cases to do them in St. John’s, which is, after all, the capital city and administrative centre of government. 

22 March 2013

House of Cards (Part B) #nlpoli

Continued from Part A

Terry Lynn Karl is the author of The paradox of plenty: oil booms and petro-states., one of the best known books on the resource curse or rentierism.  Karl described the essence of rentierism in an article she originally wrote in 2007 and revised in 2009:

Oil wealth produces greater spending on patronage that, in turn, weakens existing pressures for representation and accountability. In effect, popular acquiescence is achieved through the political distribution of rents. Oil states can buy political consensus, and their access to rents facilitates the cooptation of potential opponents or dissident voices. With basic needs met by an often generous welfare state, with the absence of taxation, and with little more than demands for quiescence and loyalty in return, populations tend to be politically inactive, relatively obedient and loyal and levels of protest remain low -- at least as long as the oil state can deliver.

In the extreme, oil wealth can disconnect a state from its population.  By the same token, oil can disconnect politicians from the population, transforming them from representatives who must satisfy voters in order to get re-elected to bosses controlling subordinates.

29 July 2015

As Karl’s mom would say… #nlpoli

For all their efforts, the NLHC cleaners couldn't get the smell of bacon out of Len's old seat.The Conservatives came to power in 2003 promising to do things a new way.

People thought that meant the Tories would do away with the practice of stuffing people into fat government jobs based solely on their political connections.

And so the Conservatives proved they were different by appointing failed candidate Joan Cleary to run the Bull Arm Corporation.  Cleary had absolutely no relevant experience, but they owed her some pork and so she got the high-paid job.

29 February 2012

And this surprises you because…? #nlpoli

Politics in Newfoundland and Labrador is about what the social scientists – like political scientists, for example -  would call clientelism.

You may have heard it called patronage.  Regardless of the word you use, the purpose is the same:

That isn’t just about giving party workers government jobs.  It’s basically one element of a system in which citizens trade their status as citizens for that of being the client of a particular patron.  The patron gets political power and the ability to dispense benefits of some kind.  In exchange, the client gives the patron support.

In healthy democracies, the people govern themselves.  They vote to elect some of their number to oversee the government.  The citizens expect those representatives to deliver public works and services fairly to all on the basis of need. There is no question that the representatives work for the citizens and must be accountable to them.

For people who don’t live in healthy democratic societies, elections are a game in which they can “lose their vote”.  What that means is that they could bet on the loser and as such not have any right to anything. People in those societies do not expect to see schools and hospitals built or roads paved in their area because it is their right to receive them.  They expect them only because they voted for the party that won the election.

And, implicitly, they expect to be punished when they lose their vote.

There are no ideological or philosophical differences between political parties.

Liberal, Conservative, New Democrat.

Red, Blue, Orange.

All the same.

Elections become little more than a case of auctioneering votes.  Danny Williams himself raised the sale of votes to a new level in his now infamous begging letters to Ottawa. And what he was doing, in a sense, would hardly have shocked politicians from the Quebec of old that Williams was so fond of bashing. It’s doubtful he ever got the joke in that.

Patronage is how things have been in this province for a very long time.  The only difference since 2003 is that the patronage is as unrelenting as the general indifference to it.

Road paving?  Decided by a political staffer in the Premier’s office, an approach termed “normal” by the Premier of the day.  The money was allocated in arbitrary amounts according to what way the electoral district had voted. Blue districts got one amount.  Red ones got less.

The Premier of the day loses a by-election and bitches because people were not grateful for all the pork he’d delivered to them.

Whether we are talking about fire trucks or backbenchers handing out cheques from government programs, it’s all part of the same political thinking that in its most naked form delivered us the House of Assembly pork barrel funding scheme. Tories, Grits and Dippers all swam in the trough.  Some of the newer ones elected after 2003 went at it worse than the crowd who’d been there a while. And they were unapologetic.

These sorts of societies thrive on the myth of the strong leader.  They cannot govern themselves, so the story goes and as a result, they need some strong man  - or woman – to do their thinking for them.

So prevalent is this sort of thinking in Newfoundland and Labrador that people don’t see it as odd at all. The news media seldom raise an editorial eyebrow.

So safely entrenched is this approach to politics that cabinet ministers these days can be pretty brazen about it.  Here’s how Fairity O’Brien put it before the last provincial election, defending the government against accusations of patronage spending:

okay, so the question here in my district is, and I am only speaking for myself, do you want four more years of what you’ve just experienced in the last eight, or do you want to sit in the Opposition, or whatever it may be…

Or if that wasn’t enough for you, here’s Darin King, as reported by the Great Oracle in the Valley:

A cabinet minister is unapologetic for the rash of pre-election spending announcements coming from the government. The MHA for Grand Bank, Darin King, announced some money for health care recently. There has been a steady stream of news releases, most announcing money that had already been allocated in the budget, over the past several months.

On VOCM Open Line with Randy Simms, King said he is dedicated to bringing in as much money as he can to his district.

No one should be surprised, therefore, if the patrons decide to slap a vassal that is getting a bit uppity. The provincial government secured the silence of many the “advocacy” group these past few years with dollops of public cash for this program or that one.  The FFAW was no exception.

Now that things have gotten a little tense in some circles and the FFAW and the NDP are playing rough, Darin King the fisheries minister has decided to stop the FFAW’s funding, as CBC reports.

And what’s more, Darin is pretty clear about why:

“It’s very, very tough to build a working relationship with a group that continues to criticize,” King said.

Now on one level this is just political sookiness from a gang of politicians who’ve never had to govern through a really tough period in their lives. Not that you’d know that, of course, for all the whining, moaning, bitching and complaining they and their Old Leader used to get on with.

But fundamentally, what King is displaying here is all the arrogant sense of entitlement to power, position and patronage that he and his colleagues have had since Day One. King is displaying the customary attitude of his party since 2003 to free speech.

They don’t like it.

The Telegram’s Russell Wangersky had a timely column, as it turned out, in the Tuesday edition of what was once the People’s Paper. He reproduces a relatively innocuous comment from a reader who wanted the letter published but only without a name attached to it.  The writer feared he would face some sort of payback.  As Wangersky put it:

The perception the letter-writer has, though, is clearly that reasoned debate is not without clearly perceived consequences in this province. Would there be retribution? I honestly don’t know. But there clearly should be a discussion about the fact that such a fear exists, if nothing else.

The provincial government admittedly has a long reach here: many are employed by it or have family members employed by it. Many businesses depend on the provincial government for some or even most of their business.

The fear of retribution is not new: whether it’s a reality or not is hard to know for sure. I know businessmen I’ve talked to in the province — and I’ve said this before — who are willing to talk a lot about Muskrat Falls in private, but who will never speak publicly.

Eight years of quisling hunts and savage personal attacks on “traitors” take their toll.  Don’t be surprised if some members of the legislature may well be finding that groups that once welcomed them to meetings and events are now routinely disinviting them.  They represent the wrong party.

So Darin King cut off the FFAW’s government funding because they’ve been too critical publicly.

If this surprises you then you are either a hypocrite or a very recent immigrant to the province.  This is old news.

- srbp -

12 January 2011

The persistence of patronage politics

Former auditor general Elizabeth Marshall made the news this past week in her new capacity as a Conservative senator from Newfoundland and Labrador.

Senator Marshall racked up $51,000 in airfares in a three month period, making her the senator from the province with the highest spending on travel.  According to Marshall’s staff the whole thing was for business class travel between St. John’s and Ottawa.  It’s really expensive to commute to work these days, especially when you live the better part of half a continent from the office.

Some people might credit Senator Marshall with uncovering what became known as the House of Assembly spending scandal.  She was trying to audit one member of the legislature almost a decade ago when the committee overseeing the legislature barred her from finishing the job.

When the scandal finally erupted into public view in 2006, the scandal shook the province’s political system.  Four politicians went to jail, along with the legislature’s former chief financial officer.  Millions of dollars of public money remain unaccounted for, despite an extensive police investigation, supposedly detailed reviews by Marshall’s former deputy and an investigation by the province’s top judge.

In one of those great cosmic coincidences, a local businessman involved in the scandal found out this week he’d be going to jail for upwards of three years. John Hand pleaded guilty to defrauding the public of almost half a million dollars.

Marshall didn’t actually uncover the spending scandal. She was focused on a particular member of the legislature whom she felt was using public money to purchase win and artwork for himself. A subsequent review by Marshall’s successor didn’t add significantly to what others had already found.

The more significant story, though, lay somewhere else.

Between 1996 and 2006, members of the legislature gave themselves the power to take money set aside to help them do their jobs as members of the legislature and to spend it on just about anything each of them deemed appropriate.  While some enriched themselves, and a few spent public money on women’s clothes, season hockey tickets or perfume, virtually all members of the legislature in that decade gave money to their own constituents.

In his lengthy report on the scandal, Chief Justice Derek Green described the practice  - and the problem - as eloquently as anyone might:

“First and foremost, the practice of making financial contributions and spending in this way supports the unacceptable notion that the politician’s success is tied to buying support with favours. Such things, especially the buying of drinks, tickets and other items at events, has overtones of the old practice of treating - providing food, drink or entertainment for the purpose of influencing a decision to vote or not to vote. As I wrote in Chapter 9, it demeans the role of the elected representative and reinforces the view that the standards of the politician are not grounded in principle. In fact, I would go further. The old practice of treating was usually undertaken using the politician’s own funds or his or her campaign funds. To the extent that the current practice involves the use of public funds, it is doubly objectionable.

Related to the notion of using public funds to ingratiate oneself with voters is the unfair advantage that the ability to do that gives to the incumbent politician over other contenders in the next election.”

For his part, former Speaker Harvey Hodder made plain his own attachment to the system this way:
"Some members, myself included, paid some of my constituency expenses out of my own pocket so I would have more money to give to the school breakfast program ... I don't apologize for that."
And former auditor general Elizabeth Marshall saw nothing wrong with the practice of handing out cash, often without receipt, with no established rules and for purposes which duplicated existing government programs.

What Chief Justice Green called “treating” is actually the old practice of patronage.  That isn’t just about giving party workers government jobs.  It’s basically one element of a system in which citizens trade their status as citizens for that of being the client of a particular patron.  The patron gets political power and the ability to dispense benefits of some kind.  In exchange, the client gives the patron support.  Explicitly or implicitly, as the Chief Justice stated, there's a connection between the favour and support.

In a model government bureaucracy, the rules that govern how a particular program works are well known.  Everyone in the society who meets the requirements would typically get the benefit of the program. 

But in a patronage system, the rules are hidden or there are difference between the formal rules and the ones that are actually used to hand out the benefit. The patrons and their associates control access to the benefits and so can reward people who comply with their wishes or punish those who do not.

There are as many variations on the patronage idea as there are societies.  The notion is well known in Newfoundland and Labrador politics. As political scientist George Perlin put it in 1971:
“Historically, the dominant factor in the Newfoundland context has been the use of public resources to make personal allocations or allocations which can be made in personal terms, in return for the delivery of votes.”
More recently, political scientist Alex Marland had this to say about the House of Assembly:
A final, but perhaps most critical, theme is the politics of deference towards charismatic power-hungry men and an outdated paternalistic ethos. Backbenchers, bureaucrats and journalists are scared to be on the wrong side of the executive for fear of harsh repercussions that can harm their careers. A massive spending scandal  occurred because, unlike Peter Cashin had done years before, nobody in the legislature had the courage or whistleblower protections to speak up about questionable expenses.  Political participation is sufficiently limited that interest groups prefer to meet behind closed doors and family networks continue to hold considerable sway within party politics. There is a historical pattern of democratic fragility and of  Newfoundlanders and Labradorians trusting elites to represent their interests.
Marland is understandably scathing in his criticism of politics in the province in the early years of the 21st century.  His assessment of the contributing factors  - way more than the paternalism mentioned above - is thorough and accurate even if his conclusion is a bit pollyannaish.

What’s more interesting is the way that seemingly unconnected events can relate to each other.  Those relationships explain much about the state of politics in the province.  Next, we'll add another element to the picture and discuss the Conservative leadership fiasco.*

- srbp -

*  In the original version this sentence read "Tomorrow" instead of "Next".  The second installment of this mini-series on patronage and local politics is going to take a bit longer to complete since so many rich examples can be found in current events.

22 January 2013

Verbiage Growth Strategy #nlpoli

Right on cue in the controversy over the population growth “strategy”,  a provincial cabinet minister issued a news release late on Monday and assured us that everything will be all right.

There is lots of bureaucratic jargon, like the trendy use of the word “inform”:

The Provincial Government has developed strategies focusing on youth, immigration, seniors and others. These efforts will help inform the development of the Population Growth Strategy.”

Aside from that, there’s very little of consequence in Joan Shea’s release. 

19 January 2015

Not fit for it #nlpoli

It’s not surprising that the provincial Conservatives and their supporters want to reduce the representations the people of the province have in the House of Assembly.

After all, the plan to cut 10 seats from the House of Assembly and make other changes in the interest of “modernisation” fits their pattern of behaviour over the past decade.

But there’s a bit more to it.

29 March 2012

They’re baaaack #nlpoli

Last December, your humble e-scribbler told you about the Liberal party’s renewal committee.

Well, it’s back, or it will be back according to an anonymous source quoted by the Telegram on Monday.

The thing was going to involve Dean Macdonald, Siobhan Coady and Kevin Aylward.  They would travel around the province listening to people and then report back at some point in the future to the party’s executive board. And then at some point after that all that listening and reporting would produce something called “renewal”.

Now the idea is still alive but, according to the Telly’s source, …

sources in the party indicate since then the project has grown, and when the announcement happens, it will likely include more prominent party members, and representation from different regions of the province.

There’s no talk of a deadline or a timeline according to the source.  The committee will just go on a do whatever it is they will do.

Two things stand out. 

First – what your humble e-scribbler said before Christmas still stands:

If the Liberals knew what to do or had a general idea of where to go, they’d do it.  Instead, they have adopted – in essence -  the fisheries MOU process.  That was a committee by another name and look at how successfully that worked out.

Adding more people to the committee or putting different people on the committee doesn’t change the fact it is still a committee that apparently lacks a focus, direction or purpose. 

So while they are off listening, lots of things are happening while the Liberals reach around in the dark trying to find themselves. 

Telegram editor Russell Wangersky described the party’s performance in the legislature in stark but honest and accurate terms.

Truly effective oppositions not only know the questions they’re asking, but they often have some knowledge of the answers, too.

Then, when governments prevaricate or trot out a handful of off-point bluster, the opposition members go outside the House and give the media the answers the government has been avoiding.

It’s a pretty simple formula, really. The goal is to establish credibility so that voters will see the opposition as a viable alternative in the next election.  The problem for the Liberals is that – very obviously – they just aren’t interested in getting back into power.

Government backbencher or opposition member, the gig is pretty sweet.  No heavy lifting and you are in out of the weather.  And these days you don’t have to show up very often.  You aren’t expected to know much of anything about anything.  There’s plenty of patronage to hand out if you are a government member and that’s what helps to put the votes in the box these days. Wangersky notes the speeches about money for the district. Patronage is why. 

There’s a good reason why the Tories went along with the House allowances scheme the Liberals proposed in the late 1990s. And there’s a reason they not only kept it going after 2003 but didn’t slack off until the Auditor General’s boys tripped over it.

Leave aside the criminals and look at the rest of the members.  The House allowances scheme was all about patronage, about handing out goodies in the district, about bringing back the spoils.  Chief Justice Green nailed it in his report.  The Telegram did, too, even if the truth went up Kathy Dunderdale’s nose sideways.

And on the opposition benches, the motivation is basically the same.  You could be assured that the government boys would look after you, too, even if the amount was less than what the government boys got. They’d toss road work and other stuff your way as long as you stood up and thanked them loudly in the House.

Then you can turn around and issue a news release about the wonderful pork you’ve been able to bring back for your peeps from the big treasure pile in Sin Jawns. 

The same sort of co-operation among the incumbents explains a lot of things, including the special ballots scheme from 2007.  Anything that helps incumbents stay in office is good, regardless of what party the incumbent represents. 

That community self-interest among the insiders is why the people who have been fighting hardest against the anti-democratic trends of the past decade aren’t Liberals or Tories. The only politicians fighting about sitting days or special ballots are New Democrats.  In Newfoundland and Labrador politics, Dippers are the ultimate outsiders.

That might wind up working for them, but that’s all something for another time.  For now, just understand that the Liberals are in no danger of suddenly catching fire politically.  The party apparatus is going to have a committee jerking off across the province.  meanwhile, the caucus is impressing no one in the House.

Second - consider that all this news for the Telly came from an unnamed source.  Someone disgruntled or someone who fancies himself an insider bent on proving it?  Either way, this sort of anonymous leaking is the sign of an amateur act.  it’s a big clue that the Liberals lack the internal cohesion and internal discipline needed to form a viable political party. 

Without the kind of professionalism successful political parties display, the Liberals are destined to stay exactly where they are, even if by some miracle the “renewal” committee manages to do something useful.

- srbp -

27 December 2010

The politics of history - editorial version

The history of politics in Newfoundland and Labrador is very much the history of patronage.

The practice is accurately described in this Western Star editorial titled “Independence” (04 September 1956):

If an electorate thinks that the prime purpose of democracy in action is to provide patronage for their particular constituency and the politician gets the feeling that in order to curry votes he has to descend to the level of the electorate, then it is understandable at least why he follows the path of least resistance, expresses no disagreement whatsoever with the party in power, thereby hoping to be able to wheedle from the government patronage and public funds for his constituency where votes will reward him by returning him to office again.

- srbp -

Related:  “The politics of history

10 October 2012

Another sign of the democratic deficit #nlpoli

If you have a few minutes to spare, flip through the provincial government’s 2012 budget.

Look for the work “donation”.

You won’t find it.  Nor will you find any amount of money set aside in the health department budget that would cover a donation by the provincial government to health care foundations operated in some communities on the west coast earlier this year.

30 September 2011

Townies and Baymen #nlpoli #nlvotes

Some people were surprised the other night when Danny Dumaresque told the very small audience at a Board of Trade economic forum that:

I would have to say to the mayor of this great city that there are a hell of a lot more priorities outside the overpass that need to be addressed before we start forking more money over to the City of St. John's.

Some people thought his remarks were stupid.

Danny is anything but.

What Danny Dumaresque said won’t hurt him one bit in the Isles of Notre Dame and Danny knows it.

What’s more, what Danny said is true, at least for the people who currently dominate the Liberal Party.  About 12 years ago, they started shifting the party focus away from the province as a whole to one that idealises an imaginary one.

Ruralism started to bloom in the brief period Beaton Tulk served as Premier.  It’s not surprising that Kevin Aylward brought Tulk back to play a key role in the current campaign.

Ruralists believe – as the Liberals’ centrepiece policy for the current campaign states – that:

The fishery is our province’s defining narrative…Our fishery has been our past and the Liberal Party believes it will be our future.

It is not just the fishery, though.  Ruralism, for all its romantic, reactionary beliefs, holds the fishery as the foundation of an entire culture with social and economic components.

The Ruralists flourished after 2003 and their philosophy was firmly entrenched after 2007.  Despite Kevin Aylward’s fervent efforts to pretend otherwise during the debate Wednesday night,  the party he now leads has written off anything east of Goobies.

To be fair, the Liberals aren’t alone in their Ruralist beliefs.  The provincial Conservatives carried on with the Liberals’ Ruralist agenda.  They kept the Rural Secretariat and married its assumptions with Danny Williams’ peculiar version of nationalism.

Again, not surprisingly,  Kevin Aylward proudly declared himself a staunch nationalist shortly after he took over as Liberal leader.  

At its miserable heart, though, Ruralism is really nothing more than old fashioned paternalism and patronage.  Grit or Tory, all the Ruralists really want to do is use public money to keep people in some parts of the province dependent on political hand-outs and therefore firmly under political control.  It’s a miserable, cynical ploy.

To make it clear that patronage isn’t just a favourite ploy for one party, consider that Conservative candidate Keith Russell made it plain enough on Thursday when he said to voters in central Labrador (via the Telegram) that

we have to be on government’s side to access government coffers…

Conservative leader Kathy Dunderdale repeated basically the same line while campaigning on the south eastern coast of Labrador on Thursday.  CBC’s Chris O’Neill-Yates tweeted it:


Abandoning the Avalon Peninsula doesn’t mean the Liberals are doomed as a political party.  They can still win plenty of seats and could well pick up a few this time around.  They’ll likely stay as the Official Opposition. What they can’t do, of course if form a government.  The Liberal strategy is as short-sighted in that respect as it is simplistic. 

Its narrow focus means the Ruralist Party, as it should now be named,  has had way more trouble than an opposition party normally would getting candidates in the last three elections.  In 2011, they’ve had to turn, once again, to dragooning political staffers to fill out the last remaining slots in the candidate roster.  The only thing Beaton Tulk didn’t do in his mad search for names for the ballots on the Avalon was hold a séance.

The Ruralist Party’s focus doesn’t mean they haven’t turned up some good candidates in the process.  George Joyce in St. John’s West is the best of the three candidates running in St. John’s West by a long way. 

In St. John’s Centre, newcomer Carly Bigelow has been kicking Shawn Skinner around. 

During an appearance on Out of the Fog, she popped Skinner’s eyes a bit when she reminded him that Tory policy is to keep public service pensioners on fixed incomes with no increases and then double their electricity rates.  He flipped but that pretty much sums up Skinner’s position. The truth really does hurt, as it turns out.

George and Carly could be easy choices St. John’s voters.  After all, a vindictive, patronage-addled Conservative administration can hardly shag the district for funds in retribution for voting the “wrong way”.  They don’t push pork into townie districts anyway, at least not like the do outside the capital city, so Sin Jawns voters have the opportunity to pick candidates on merit, rather than by party colour.

The Liberal Ruralists aren’t the only ones with problems in Capital City.

In St. John’s North, both the Conservative and New Democrat candidates  are running headlong into the problems with their platforms. 

An NTV profile of the district on Thursday evening’s news noted that the district has a very large percentage of people on fixed and low incomes.  Plenty of public service pensioners live there so incumbent Bob Ridgley must be having a hard time explaining Tom Marshall’s cavalier dismissal of their demands for a modest increase in pension payments now that the government has $4.0 billion in cash laying about.

Add to that the Tory plan to use the cash to double electricity rates instead and you have a very tough pill to shove down voters throats.  If you are a Tory that is.,

Meanwhile, Sin Jawns New Dem Dale Kirby is having an equally hard time.  His party backs the Dunderdale plan to force the people of St. John’s North to pay to ship discount electricity to Nova Scotians.

And then there’s the public sector pensions.

Not a peep in the NDP platform about it at all.

Kirby must be having a devil of a time explaining how the NDP party president and his colleagues didn’t think those pensions might be an issue. Talk about treating seniors with the respect they deserve.

Pensioners can take some cold comfort with the knowledge they weren’t the only thing Kirby and his colleagues didn’t know about.  They missed entirely the contracts that prevent them from introducing their new crude oil tax that was supposed to pay for some other campaign promises.

And if that wasn’t enough, there was another glaring Dipper gaffe in St. John’s.

Liberal Drew Brown is running an uphill fight in Signal Hill-Quidi Vidi  against  an entrenched NDP campaign that knows which way every blade of grass votes in the district. He’s another candidate who’d be far better than the incumbent.

But facing all that didn’t stop Brown from picking up on a glaring oversight in the NDP policy book: the party of supposed social responsibility has no platform plank on replacing the Dickensian-era HMP that happens to sit in Lorraine Michaels’ district:

“The existing infrastructure at Her Majesty’s Penitentiary is still abysmal, despite the findings of the 2008 ‘Decades of Darkness’ report on the state of the provincial corrections system,” Brown explained. “I find it really surprising that no one is talking about it in this election, especially considering the federal Conservatives’ forthcoming crime legislation is likely going to result in an increased number of prisoners going through the system.”

The Liberals plan to begin work on replacing the prison – and aggressively lobbying the federal government to cost-share the project – within weeks of forming the government.

“Without safe and effective prisons, our system of justice here in Newfoundland and Labrador is seriously weakened. Better conditions for the prisoners aside, the facility workers themselves deserve a safer workplace than the one they currently have,” Brown added. “It’s a government facility – the working conditions for employees at Her Majesty’s Penitentiary should be held to the same standard as any other government institution.”


So at about the half-way point in the general election, one party  - the Liberals – have voluntarily surrendered  a huge chunk of the voting population to the other parties.  They’ve left some very good candidates to fend for themselves.

Another party has just missed the boat entirely on core issues in the one region of the province where they are supposed to have such amazing support and affinity.

this is not a townie versus bayman thing, as much as some people might like to paint it that way.

It’s really about political parties that operate with limited political vision.

- srbp -

19 March 2013

The Origins of Rentierism in Newfoundland and Labrador #nlpoli


Over the next four days, SRBP will offer an interpretation of the political underpinnings of the current financial crisis.  This series goes beyond the immediate to place recent events in both historical and comparative, international perspective. 

The first two instalments briefly describe some characteristics of the political system and Newfoundland political history before 1934 and from 1949 to about 1990.  The third post will look at the concept of the rentier state and the relationship between dependence on primary resource extraction and politics at the subnational level (states and provinces).  The fourth post will place recent developments in Newfoundland and Labrador in the larger context. 


Before 1949, the Newfoundland government’s main source of income was taxation of imports and exports.  The Amulree Commission reported, for example, that the government brought in around $8.0 million dollars in the fiscal year ending in 1933.  Of that, 71%  - $5.7 million  - came from customs and excise duties.  The next largest amount was $700,000 (about 9% of total) that came from income tax while the third largest source of income was postal and telegraph charges totalling slightly more than $587,000.

Newfoundland also had almost no experience of local government before the Commission Government in 1934.  St. John’s was the only incorporated municipality and the city council was quasi-independent of the national government. 

Beyond the capital city, the national government “managed a highly centralized system through the stipendiary magistrates stationed in each electoral district, “in the words of historian James Hiller in his recent note on the Trinity Bay controverted election trial in 1895(FN 1).  The central government also appointed the members of some local  boards to manage education and roads.  The money for all of it came from accounts controlled by St. John’s.

The members of the House of Assembly had enormous control over government and that public money.

06 September 2011

Election 2011 and the Resource Curse

During the current provincial election you are going to hear a lot about natural resources and the need to spend the money that comes from it on all sorts of things.

The province’s New Democrats wasted no time in bitching that oil money isn’t being poured into rural Newfoundland and Labrador:
"We have to have a plan in rural Newfoundland to make sure that our fishery is maintained as the backbone of rural communities," she said.
The Dippers are also hopped up on spending the cash on education, mostly likely to help Nova Scotians get a cheaper education.

Of course, the province’s Conservatives have been on a spending spree these past couple of years.  They’ve dropping dropping money on everything anything from road paving to hockey rinks.

The provincial Liberals are on much the same sort of kick, especially for the fishery. All three parties want to take over federal responsibilities like the dozen or so jobs at a coast guard marine rescue call centre.  The local pols want to buy the jobs just to keep them in Newfoundland and Labrador.

In fact, if you look at most major issues in the province, the only disagreement among the three parties is how much is enough to spend.  On any given issue and any given day, the incumbent Tories will announce cash for something.  The other two parties will scream:  “not enough!”

05 November 2012

Kathy Dunderdale, give-aways, and the resource curse #nlpoli

Ontario has been interested in Gull Island since at least the 1990s.  We didn’t need Kathy Dunderdale to say that again as part of the advertising show she is mounting before finally admitting Muskrat Falls is a done deal.

As recently as 2005, Dunderdale and her friends turned up their noses at Ontario’s offer to help develop the Lower Churchill at no cost to local taxpayers.  The result: No development.

Instead of building the Lower Churchill for export  - profit for taxpayers -Dunderdale and her friends are forcing taxpayers to empty out their public bank accounts of billions in oil savings and then borrowing billions more in order to give cheap electricity to multi-billion dollar mining companies. Then those same taxpayers will pay themselves back through their electricity rates over the course of 50 years.

Whoever could imagine such a ridiculous idea?  Especially in a province where the overwhelming majority of the population pays very little, if any, tax.  

16 March 2011

Operation Ridiculous

Usually when one is in a hole, it is a good idea to stop digging.

There may be exceptions to this rule,  but for most occasions,  when you can no longer see over the edge of the hole even on your tippee toes, best thing to do is lay the shovel down and start figuring out how to get out of the self-inflicted predicament.

If your friends are in a hole, then you can offer them a hand up out of the hole.  Under no circumstances, though, should you start shovelling dirt in on top of them.  Jumping in with them may be noble but it is never sensible and if you are in the hole, it is never wise to start pulling the shite back in around your own feet.

Evidently, someone forgot to explain this subtle bit of mystical political knowledge to Premier Kathy Dunderdale.

Instead,  Premier (pro tempore) Dunderdale got hold of the Danny and Liz playbook, a portion of which Liz decided to continue this week in her ongoing campaign to destroy whatever shreds of her own dignity she might have left.

Remember that claim about not knowing about the appointment?  Well, kiss that nose-puller goodbye when the evidence is unveiled.  Elizabeth Matthews told the Telegram that in fact she had a copy of the order in council the Liberals released on Tuesday.

The she tried to turn the whole thing into a process story:

The job of vice-chair of the CNLOPB requires approval from the federal government and Matthews said she was not “informed in any official capacity” that she had been named to the board.

So she knew, but not officially and therefore she didn’t know.

Or did she?

Liz Matthews may well turn out to be the political progeny not of Danny Williams but of Tom “TimeLord” Rideout.  Liz knew but didn’t know.  Back in 2007, Tom wanted to explain that the Green report recommendations on allowances would come into effect tomorrow but in his world, tomorrow meant six months in the future, not the day after this one.

How in the name of heavens can anyone not wilfully and pathologically blinded by Danny-envy be surprised that the Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight, the crowd that brought you a low rent version of Doctor Who  - Rideout, Hedderson and Marshall editions - and the Abitibi expropriation blunder couldn’t even handle a simple appointment to a board whether out of unfettered lust for patronage or a secret John-Turnerish promise to Danny?


Who is shocked by this?

Didn’t think so.

Unable to hide from the media any longer, the person who actually made the Elizabeth Matthews nomination made a few comments today.  The result was, well, let’s just say that when she frigs up Kathy Dunderdale does not settle for half measures. She laid her shovel down alrightee and then dragged in a backhoe just to really bury herself.

Before going any further, let us remember that the core point Dunderdale could have used was simple:  appointment’s not done yet.  We’ll let you know when and if it is made. That is the same line Matthews could have used and it is the one Shawn Skinner could have tried. 

There might have been a bit of a stink about patronage or potential pork-barrelling but it wouldn’t have been half as bad as day after day of the appointee and a senior minister saying things that they both ought to have known were bullshit and that could be shown to be bullshit fairly easily.

Think of it this way:  they did not impeach Clinton for a quickie in the closet with a young woman a fraction of his age.  They got him for insisting that he had not had sex with that woman and then engaging in some amateur lawyer bullshit about the definition of “is” in order to perpetuate the patently ridiculous denials.

So take a gander at the raw footage of Dunderdale talking to reporters. 

Making it up as she goes along 

Dunderdale claims there is a regulation requiring first a board appointment and then the second stage of a vice-chair nomination.  She then claims that a letter conveys the official appointment.

Dunderdale knows or ought to know this is preposterous.  There is no regulation governing the appointment.  The Atlantic Accord implementation acts simply state that the nominee for vice chair needs the support of both the federal and provincial governments.  If both governments agree on the nomination, a board appointment can follow in due course.  Both governments can even agree whether it will be a federal, provincial or joint appointment.

Take a look at the order in council.  It is clear that Matthews is appointed with effect from January 1 and that – in addition – cabinet put Matthews forward as a nominee for vice-chair subject to federal agreement.  There’s even a reference to negotiating the salary for the vice chair’s job.

Simply put, Dunderdale is wrong.  You have to be on the board if you are vice chair but you don’t have to be on the board before becoming vice chair.

Let’s go one step beyond.  If, as Dunderdale claims, she never intended Matthews to sit on the board in any capacity other than as vice-chair, the order in council would have been written to say that.  More likely, it would have followed the agreement and approved the appointment and salary as already agreed.

Dunderdale defends her nomination of Matthews because she believes the former Williams communications aide is a “strategic thinker” who is articulate.  Clearly the events of the past couple of days speak to the contrary impression.  Articulate strategic thinkers don’t usually default to easily disprovable crap as the first thought.

Dunderdale claims that the process is not secret, that it has to be straightforward and done in public.  The events as they unfolded and Dunderdale’s own account of how things were supposed to happen make her claims about welcoming debate patently false.

Had things unfolded as Dunderdale intended, no one would have learned of the appointment until after it was copper-fastened, to use a hideous Dunderism.  Michael Connors of NTV (or so it sounded like) made the point in a question that an appointment to the board announced in December would have sparked controversy.  Indeed, it would have.

As for welcoming the chance to defend Matthews, it is almost laughable that both Matthews and Dunderdale talked about their willingness to defend the appointment only after Matthews quit the process and therefore made such a defence unnecessary. 

People who genuinely believe they can win don’t quit.  It’s that simple.  Everything else is nonsense.

As for what really happened, the full story may never emerge.  It is possible, for example, that Dunderdale – like her patron and water rights – got caught in a rather amateurish effort to engineer something for Matthews.  Heck, maybe the same legal geniuses behind that fiasco and the expropriation cooked up this scheme with their less-than-perfect knowledge of the law and procedure.

Faced with a federal twin vice-chair who might well have wound up as the official replacement for Ruelokke, any other schemes about changing the board using Matthews may well have been scuttled.

Then again, the simple fact that Matthews blew her own feet off with her patently false claims on Friday, coupled with industry and political pushback made the appointment too stinky to survive the very debate Dunderdale supposedly welcomed. Dunderdale and Matthews can talk all the brave talk they want:  fact is they lost.

The whole Matthews mess is almost too embarrassingly ridiculous to believe. Had it not unfolded in front of our eyes, anyone could reasonably reject it as too incredible to be true.

[But the fact is] you just cannot make this stuff up.

All we can do is wait to see what Dunderdale does next.

[Updated:  corrected typos;  subhead clarified;  words added in square brackets to clarify sentence.]

- srbp -


14 October 2014

The Manning – Coleman Correlation #nlpoli

Some people who read The Independent last week thought that there was a debate going on between Hans Rollmann and Drew Brown over Judy Manning’s appointment as attorney general and minister of justice, public safety, and whatever-the-department-name-will-be-tomorrow.

There wasn’t.

The pair agreed on everything, except one minor issue.

19 June 2012

Nalcor’s Dark Secret #nlpoli

Since its creation, Nalcor has existed in a perpetual conflict of interest of one kind or another. 

SRBP raised the issue of conflict of interest 2006 when Dean Macdonald – then chair of Nalcor’s board – accepted an appointment to the board of a company Nalcor was doing or was planning to do business with.

Nalcor has been in another sort of conflict of interest in it acted as lead negotiator for the provincial government and as an oil company at the same time.  On the one hand its interest should be in maximising benefits to the province while on the other hand, its interest should be to lower costs in order to maximise corporate profits. The two things cannot exist side-by-side as the Hebron agreement demonstrates.

Again, SRBP pointed this out in 2006 when the Hebron talks fell apart and on several occasions subsequently.

Time hasn’t changed much.

19 September 2011

Dippers on point for first CBC political election panel #nlpoli

Give the new Democrats’ Dale Kirby full marks for nailing natural resources minister Shawn Skinner hard over the blatant abuse of taxpayers inherent in having two partisans step down from their cabinet appointments to work on the Tory campaign.

Kirby, Skinner and Liberal Barry Snow made up the partisan panel for David Cochrane’s election show On Point.

The pair – Ross Reid and Len Simms – will slide back into their six figure salaries without so much as a hiccup to their pensionable time. The practice of sticking partisan loyalists into cabinet appointments destroys the impartiality and professionalism of the public service.

Skinner flopped sadly by claiming the pair were following policy and Snow imploded by siding with Skinner over the gross abuse of public money.

That was Snow’s second goof inside 60 seconds.  He started by blithely dismissed talk of Danny Williams and the patronage scandal as nothing proper to talk about.  He missed the political angle that Kirby jumped on to stick the knife in either on the one patronage angle or the other.

Kirby sank the whole thing by challenging Skinner to commit that the two hacks wouldn’t get their plums back.

Snow dropped the ball again when Cochrane handed him an easy one about Navigant and Muskrat Falls.  People were hoping that at the end of day, Snow had something to say besides “at the end of the day.”

He didn’t.

Kirby jumped on the “shocking lack of transparency” from Nalcor. 

Skinner had some talking points to use in response but nothing new.

As a final question, Cochrane asked Snow how paying for the fishery restructuring given that the Liberals planned to cut gas tax as well.  Snow started with ‘at the end of the day” and pretty much blathered from there.

Kirby hammered the memorandum of understanding that remains sitting on a shelf. He didn’t give any Earth-shattering new commitments but Kirby delivered some quotable lines.

At the end of the day, the Liberals will need to do a lot better than this if they want to remain competitive. Give him some briefing notes an some basic coaching and Snow might recover.

The Tories are weak.  They are an easy mark for even a modestly prepared opponent.

NDP scored big on the panel because they were ready and political.

The only downside for the Dippers and the upside for the Grits and Tories is that the On Point audience was probably pretty small.

- srbp -