27 July 2020

Dwight and Tom's legacy: more of the same #nlpoli

Herb Kitchen died last week.

He was the minister of finance in the early 1990s who brought down the difficult budgets, starting in 1991 that were part of a plan that turned the provincial government around.

The deficit at the time was about $300 million and the total budget called for spending of around $3.2 billion. 

Finance minister Tom Osborne announced on Friday that he will need to borrow $3.2 billion to close the gap between what the government will spend (about $8.9 billion, plus more money for Muskrat Falls) and its income.

Officially, Tom Osborne’s deficit of $2.1 billion for 2020 will be 25% of spending compared to less than 10 percent back in Herb’s day.  But if you wanted to compare apples to apples, then we should use that $3.2 billion cash figure, which works out to a deficit three and a half times the size of the one Herb Kitchen brought to the House of Assembly 29 years ago.

Thank God Herb didn't live to see what a mess the provincial deficit will actually be.

20 July 2020

Change versus more of the same: Summer 2020 edition #nlpoli

Spring 1994.

At the point Clyde Wells spoke to the graduating class of Memorial University’s business school that year, the administration he led had already started getting government spending under control and transforming the economy.  Wells goes through all of that with the class, why government was undertaking the changes, and what he hoped would be the outcome. 

Give the speech a listen.  It’s only 38 minutes and it is striking on a few levels.  First of all, think of the last time you heard a Premier speak to an audience in Newfoundland and Labrador this calmly, rationally, and with as much detail.  This is not a speech of clever quips or turns of phrase.  This is basic information.

13 July 2020

The challenge of change #nlpoli

Change is hard.

 It's even harder when no one wants to change.

Our Former
Dear Premier
Some people outside the Liberal Party have been obsessed lately with the leadership contest currently going on.  They seem to think that one person can make all the difference in how the provincial government will tackle its considerable financial problems.

Well, the belief that the Premier is the strong man or woman responsible for everything is part of our post-Confederation political culture. The strongman myth – a local version of the Latin American caudillo or the Soviet/Russian personality cults - has only grown in strength since 2003 despite the ample evidence it simply isn’t true.  There are many factors that determine what the government does and those will affect the choices the next premier and the administration he leads will make.

Rather than look at the individuals who might wind up as Premier next month, let’s take a look at those other factors.

07 July 2020

Muskrat committee flags cost risk for potential alternate transmission software #nlpoli

At the end of December 2019,  the Muskrat Falls Oversight Committee added development of alternate protection and control software for the high voltage direct current transmission system – that is, the Labrador-Island Link  - to its list of risks the committee is monitoring for potential added project costs.

Alternate software and syncronous condensers
are major project cost risks.

The reasons for the concern are contained in the section of the report on a visit by the Independent Engineer to the software development team:

“While the plan still shows expected completion of the factory acceptance tests (FAT) by June 9th, 2020, there is little confidence that the target will be met. Progress velocity remains in risk category ‘red’.”

The report received by the oversight committee in late February 2020 also noted that the number of “outstanding bugs that will be identified/ remedied at later stages presents an unknown risk to Project schedule and S/W [software?] performance.”

The Independent Engineer’s site visit to the GE development team also observed that “GE’s project plan does not include full regression testing of the completed software release or provides time allowance for bug fixes between the project phases. That raises a question if that approach will ensure full functionality of this critical component.”

The Independent Engineer was supposed to do a site visit in the first quarter of 2020, but COVID-19 forced postponement.  In the report on this period received by the oversight committee on 15 June 2020, the committee noted that the software development and schedule remained a “key project risk.”

The Q1 2020 report also noted problems with another, unrelated issue: “Soldiers Pond synchronous condensers vibration and binding issues root cause and remediation remain ongoing. When Unit 3 bearings and housing were removed corrosion and damage was [sic] observed.”

At the recent annual general meeting, Nalcor chief executive Stan Marshall apparently made no mention of the ongoing difficulties with the P and C software and the synchronous condensers.  Media reports just talked about the impact of COVID-19 that forced closure of the work site for a couple of months.


06 July 2020

Building on our successes #nlpoli

"First and foremost, be totally honest with the electorate,”  former Premier Clyde Wells told Anthony Germain on CBC’s Sunday Edition last weekend.  He was giving some general advice to the next Premier on how to handle the provincial government’s enormous financial problems.

“Don't go sugar-coating anything. Fully disclose what you're doing [and] why you're doing it. Have a logical plan that will treat everybody fairly.”

Right after honesty,  came communication in Wells' approach.  Hes told Germain that he took every opportunity to explain what was going on and why it was happening to the public.  He made a couple of televised province-wide addresses to do just that.   

People didn’t like it at first.  The opposition parties and the unions criticised everything.  That’s what they are supposed to do.  But, as Wells, pointed out, “the people of the province come around. In my case, it was proven that they come around, because in the 1993 election, after four years of the most severe cutting, we had an increased majority.”

Few Premiers have done that in Newfoundland and Labrador since 1855 and none have done it since Wells.  In 2007, with bags of cash, great times, and no opposition to speak of, the governing Conservatives won more seats than they did in 2003 but they did it with fewer votes.  In 1993, the Liberals got *more* votes than they received in 1989.

But that doesn’t really tell the whole story.

What started in 1989 was a change in strategic direction for the provincial government and the province. 

The provincial government didn’t just cut spending and eliminate jobs in the public service.  Reforms to health care and education organization and governance were supposed to shift power out of the bureaucracy in St. John’s and hand it to people in the regions where they lived. 

Education reform was tied to improving economic performance and opportunities laid out in the Strategic Economic Plan.  The plan was the product of a two-year-long process spearheaded by the economic planning group, appointed by cabinet in the summer of 1990 under the chairmanship of the Premier's chief of staff, Edsel Bonnell.  The group brought together a diverse set of individuals with an equally diverse set of ideas. There were within the group contending ideas, as former chairman of the Economic Recovery Commission Doug House describes in his book Against the tide. 

The process the SEP team used overcame those differences and built a consensus on a future direction found on three fundamental changes, as laid out in the introduction to the plan:

  • A change within people. There is a need for a renewed sense of pride, self-reliance, and entrepreneurship. We must be outward-looking, enterprising, and innovative, and to help bring about this change in attitude we will have to be better educated. During the consultation process, most people agreed that education is essential to our economic development.
  • A change within governments. Governments (both politicians and the bureaucracy) must focus on long-term economic development and planning, while still responding to short-term problems and needs. Government programs and services must place a greater emphasis on the quality of the services provided and on the client. Changes in education, taxation and income security systems are also considered critical to our economic development.
  • A change in relationships. To facilitate the necessary changes in the economy, new partnerships must be formed among governments, business, labour, academia, and community groups. In particular, better co-ordination between the federal and provincial governments in the delivery of business and economic development programs is needed to eliminate duplication and to prevent confusion for those who use them.

What happened in 2003 abandoned that strategic approach in favour of (once again) using provincial spending as a substitute for economically and environmentally sustainable private sector development. Megaprojects were all the rage and economic development became basically an exercise in handing out cheques.  Changes to education and health care governance put power back in the hands of the central bureaucracy and minimised the connection between schools or hospitals and the communities they served.

In every respect, the current financial and organizational mess of the provincial government is the result of the strategic change of direction after 2003.   Dwight Ball’s “Way Forward” stays within all the same strategic premises. Not surprisingly, it hasn’t fixed the problems.

Any proposal from any political party that doesn’t change the strategic direction of the province won’t succeed in fixing the current financial problems the provincial government faces.  That doesn’t mean going back to the 1992 strategic plan, which was designed for a different situation. 

It means using the same integrated approach, though, starting with the understanding that only a strategic shift will work.  The process is important as:  strategic change is only possible with a consensus across the province. A strategic consensus is essential because making strategic changes will require a commitment that will last beyond one four-year administration.

That consensus will only come with a lot of public discussion and debate. There will be differences of opinion.  There needs to be a lot of disagreement to make sure we explore all the options before setting on a new strategic plan made up of elements that can work.  

The new strategic plan must shift the focus of economic development from government to the private sector.  Government needs to create the environment in which the private sector can succeed while protecting the public interest through proper regulation.

The plan needs to focus not on specific topics – like substituting “tech” for the current obsession with oil – but on creating an environment in which the private sector can respond to market forces.  We cannot know what will be important in the future.  Instead, we need to create the economy that can best respond to shifts.

The lesson from the 1990s is that Newfoundlanders and Labradorians can solve their own economic and financial problems. Wells’ interview this past weekend is the first he’s given in almost 30 years and it is a reminder of what happened here, not in Saskatchewan or Iceland. 

We’ve been ignoring what happened in the 1990s in Newfoundland and Labrador.  People are casting about for some easy answers to their current problems that don’t involve actually changing anything. Unfortunately for them, more of the same simply isn’t an option.  

Well, the answers are right in front of use.  We just have to decide to build on our past successes rather than continue with tales of doom and gloom that get us nowhere. After all, it’s not like we haven’t faced bigger problems than the ones we have today and solved them ourselves.


Guiding Principles for Economic Development

from the

1992 Strategic Economic Plan

  1. The Province must focus on strategic industries. With increasing competition in world markets and limits to growth in primary- resource industries, the Province must target high-value-added activities in which we have, or can develop, a competitive advantage.
  2. Our education and training system must adapt to the changing labour market demands for a highly skilled, innovative, and adaptable workforce. In an increasingly knowledge-based economy, it is critical that governments, business, and labour work together to improve the level and quality of education, training, and re-training.
  3. Newfoundland and Labrador must be competitive both at home and in world markets. To improve our prospects for economic growth and  development, and to maintain and expand local and export markets, the province must diversify its economic base by producing goods and services that are internationally competitive in price, quality, and service.
  4. The private sector must be the engine of growth. While it is the role of government to create an economic and social environment that promotes competitiveness, it is the enterprising spirit of the private sector that will stimulate lasting economic growth.
  5. Industry must be innovative and technologically progressive to enhance productivity and competitiveness. A competitive advantage can be created by integrating advanced technologies in the workplace with the innovation, skills, and creativity of our people.
  6. To achieve economic prosperity, there must be a consensus about the need for change and a commitment from governments, business, labour, academia, and others to work together in building a competitive economy.
  7. Government policies and actions must have a developmental focus where the client comes first. The structure of government must be streamlined, efficient and responsive to public needs and to changes in the economy.
  8. The principle of environment must be managed to ensure that development can be sustained [economically and environmentally] over the long term.  


29 June 2020

All the news the mob will let us print #nlpoli

Saltwire laid off a hundred or so people last week, 25 of them in Newfoundland and Labrador.

The most recent cuts are the result of revenue drops due to COVID but Saltwire has been hacking and slashing at its operations across the region since buying up a raft of dailies and weeklies from TransCon a few years ago.   In Newfoundland and Labrador, The Telegram is the only daily left.  The rest - more than 15 dailies and weeklies – have been closed.  Their replacements are a couple of weekly freebie mailbox-stuffers.  Editorially, Saltwire is now well on the way to becoming the same thing: a generic content generator with a local label slapped on it. 

To appreciate what is going on here, you only have to look at The Telegram’s circulation.  The public only has ready access to data for about a decade  - 2008-2016  and  2015 – 2018 -  but that, coupled with a bit of recollection from a veteran observer of local news media, gives an idea of the dramatic decline of print media.

The Telegram’s paid circulation dropped about 60% to 65% between 2008 and 2018, the last year for which we have figures.  Monday to Friday, the paper has dropped from between 25,000 daily subscribers on average to about 10,000 in 2018.   The weekend edition is currently around 14,000 paid down from 41,000 in 2008. 

16 June 2020

SCC decision complicates school budgets for fall 2020 #nlpoli

The provincial government’s budget problems, the amount it spends on education, and its plans for the fall living with COVID-19 just got a whole lot more complicated thanks to the Supreme Court of Canada decision on Friday in a case involving minority-language schools.

Francophone Newfoundlanders and Labradorians are constitutionally entitled to educate their children in their own language at public expense if they have as few as one student in a community.

In its decision in Conseil scolaire francophone de la Colombie‑Britannique v British Columbia (2020 SCC 13), a majority of Supreme Court of Canada judges ruled on Friday that, in general,  minority-language students should get their own school if the government gave one to the same number of majority-language speakers somewhere in the province.  The Court said that this approach would promote fairness and make sure public funds are spent wisely.

The Court said that minority language rights are protected in the constitution because schools help preserve the language and culture of official-language minorities.  The majority determined that all children deserve the same opportunities as well as the same quality and experience at school. The Court said that going to a small school should not mean students get a worse education.

What that means for Newfoundland and Labrador is that the threshold for providing a francophone school in the province is now the smallest school size in the English-language system.  A quick check of school statistics shows that Newfoundland and Labrador currently has schools with four or fewer students and some that appear to have only one student enrolled in 2019-2020.  In 2018, the English school district voted against closing very small schools despite the provincial government’s severe financial problems.

15 June 2020

Racism in Newfoundland and Labrador #nlpoli

Some people in Newfoundland and Labrador are talking about racism.

This is good.

Unfortunately, they are talking about racism somewhere else.

This is bad.

And, they aren’t really talking about racism with the intent to do something about.  They are talking about something completely superficial and meaningless.

That’s worse because nothing will change in Newfoundland and Labrador, where racism is so commonplace that most people don’t even realize it.

You can see how disconnected the racism conversation in Newfoundland and Labrador is from the local reality by the talk of tearing down a statue to an obscure Portuguese explorer who may or may not have taken 57 slaves from somewhere in North America to Portugal.

If you are looking at that and scratching your head a bit, well, you should.

We know very little about Gaspar Corte Real.  On his one voyage early in the 16th century, Corte Real led a small fleet of three ships, only two of which made it back to Portugal after stopping *somewhere* along the coast of northeastern North America. The one with Corte Real on board disappeared.

And everything about him disappeared into the ocean, or would have had the Portuguese government not resurrected him and embellished his story as part of a campaign in the 1960s to win some support for Portugal at time when its dictatorial government was involved in human rights abuses and a bloody colonial war in Africa.

As part of the campaign, the Portuguese government gave the provincial government in Newfoundland and Labrador a statue, which has stood in plain sight but entirely invisible since 1965. 

Flip ahead to 2017, when, in the midst of a national flurry of stories about statues somewhere else, a reporter for the Telegram looked around to see if there were any dubious statues that could be hauled down here.  It was the ultimate local angle approach to a national and international story since pretty much everything in the story is unsourced. 

The claim about 57 slaves in the story comes with no attribution or source and the source cited in the Wikipedia entry on Corte Real gives the Telegram story as the source.  The number is absurdly precisely, given the fact there is very little known about the guy.  But in all likelihood, Corte Real did what pretty well every European explorer did at the time.  He landed, captured some locals, and brought them back to his country.  

Doesn’t make it right by any measure but that really isn’t the point. The story about capturing slaves and that he was a slave trader is an invention of very recent writers.  We do not know very much of anything with any certainty about him beyond that he existed,  was from Portugal, and may have reached some part of North America around the time that John Cabot sailed from England to what is now Newfoundland.

Three years after *that* story from the Telly, the statue has come back into view as a result of a local demonstration inspired by events in the United States.  Even after the Telegram story, an astonishing number of people – including many who supported the local demonstration – did not have a clue who Gaspar Corte Real was.

They just wanted to haul down the statue.

But what does that have to do with racism in Newfoundland and Labrador?  

Well, nothing at all.  The statue isn’t there to praise slavery and racism.  That’s what the controversial American statues are all about. Edward Colson, whose statue wound up in Bristol harbour last week, made his fortune in the European slave trade.  He was English.  Bristol was his home port, and well, you can see a direct line.

But Corte Real?

There isn’t a line.

There isn’t anything.

The people fired up about Gaspar Corte Real are not really interested in doing anything about racism in Newfoundland and Labrador.  They are just sending a message about themselves.  The statue isn’t about history, it is about today and about consciously avoiding any concrete action to acknowledge racism in Newfoundland and Labrador.

An empty gesture is easy.  It requires no effort.

But the thing is, many of the folks ready to pull the statue down, were alive in 2007.  That’s the year that they and their neighbours elected a government with one of the largest majorities in the province’s history.  A part of the platform was a policy to give women $1,000 for every baby they bore, along with another hundred bucks a month for the first year of the baby’s life.

This was an answer – supposedly – to the province’s declining population.  It looked an awful lot like the sort of pro-natal policies in nationalist and ultranationalist countries around the globe.  And just so no one could misunderstand what it was about, the Premier even made that plain at the news conference when he made the campaign commitment.

“We cannot be a dying race.”

Not a single reporter asked what race the Premier meant.

Not a columnist nor editorialist asked the question.

A couple of reporters dismissed your humble e-scribbler’s efforts to ask the question with the admonition that “we all know what he meant” or words to that effect.

Truth is, people *did* know what he meant and they were just fine with that move as part of a larger effort to create a closed society defined along what one throne speech referred to as a nation made up of many nations.

Sounds wonderful but when you live in a province in which 96% of the population is made up of locally born descendants of Europeans from the British Isles, the dying race in the 2007 policy wasn’t anyone with dark skin. The reference to nations looks suspiciously like someone substituted the word nation for what people used to call race.

Even then, though, there as something that was about dividing people according to their ethnicity. Sectarian education, and the associated division of government spoils, and electoral districts, along religious lines also paralleled a division between ethnicities:  English and Irish chiefly.  So, the attention paid to European ethnicity after 2003 – the celebration of “Irishness” is part of that - harkens back to the old days.

Separating people into groups and discriminating among them on that basis is an essential feature of political culture in Newfoundland and Labrador because it is an essential feature of the society and culture in the province.  The signs of it may be less formal, less obvious today than it was 20 years ago but the signs are there is you understand what you are looking at.

The whole thing is built around definitions of us and them, of defining who is the same and who is other.  We do that effortlessly internally in the same way we do it externally as well.  After 2003, we had a litany of stories about foreigners who were supposedly trying to rip us off.  Federal Liberals in Ottawa, mainland companies like Abitibi or ExxonMobil, and - at the zenith in 2009 – the vast and nefarious “Quebec” conspiracy to shag us at every turn.  “Their” agents were everywhere.

This tendency lives with us today.  The ban on travel during the pandemic reeks of xenophobia.  Those who are not from here come off as filthy (disease-carriers) who cannot be trusted to follow the rules. The government announced the policy after lurid tales of tourists surfaced from Bonavista.

“I met a couple from Nova Scotia,” the mayor of Bonavista told CBC.  “I also met a couple from Quebec. I've seen some of the American licence plates — I have yet to speak to any of them in person but we do see them around and we see them going to the drive-thru that's still operational, we see them going to the coffee shops, as well as some of the local grocery stores.”

“If you come from away, stay away,” the province’s health minister said.

If that filthy, untrustworthy outsider tone wasn’t clear when the government first announced it, then the exemption policy on 05 May certainly rang the gong.  People who could get in were some version of locals. It was a call to tell what Danny Williams once called homing pigeons that they could come back.  But the others were barred, even if they owned property here and even if there was a constitutional guarantee that as Canadians, they had a right to move about the country

These are all old subjects for regular readers of these e-scribbles. Other people's bigotry and prejudice and racism turn up frequently in 15 years of posts. Very little has changed.  So commonplace are racial slurs that a young man from the west coast recently noted on Twitter that he had used an ethnic slur to describe himself, without realizing it was a slur.  A young woman on Twitter, self-identified as Indigenous, did not bat an eyelid as she attributed attitudes and beliefs to someone else based solely on her perception of the other person’s race. Or consider the dispute between the Innu and the NunatuKavut people, that includes arguments that are based on race and racial purity.  

Racism is so common an element in local culture that the recent stories about anti-black racism are hardly astonishing.   What is remarkable, though, is the intensity with which some people carry on about an irrelevant statue.  

The reason is simple to understand, of course.  It is like the plastic bag ban. The largest source of plastics pollution in the province is from plastic fishing gear.  No one would lift a finger to deal with it, though, because to do so would challenge a large and influential part of the economy and society. It would take work. So folks settled for a meaningless display, satisfied their consciences, and went on to other things.

Getting rid of a statue no one knew anything about and cared even less for allows the people who want to trash it to signal their virtue as they do nothing to address the problem of racism in the province.  It is an expression of power and privilege.  In its own way, the statue crowd are as plain a reminder of who has power in the province and who doesn’t and that is what will make ridding Newfoundland and Labrador of racism such a long and difficult struggle.


09 June 2020

Mimicry and Pantomime #nlpoli

A couple of thousand people turned out in St. John’s on Saturday for a rally organized by a new group calling itself Black Lives Matter NL.  They listened to speeches, raised their fists, and did all the things one would expect at a rally to draw attention to anti-black racism in Newfoundland and Labrador.

There is anti-black racism in Newfoundland and Labrador, as much as people want to turn a blind eye to it.  Many of the people on the receiving end of the racist behaviour came here when the economy was booming.  The racism  - petty, vicious, ugly - was there if you wanted to see it.  And now that the economy is not booming, racists are expressing themselves more aggressively.

There was nothing particularly remarkable about the weekend protest except that it took the murder of yet another black man by police in the United States followed by two weeks of growing protests across the United States to spark anyone locally to notice what is and has been a problem here for some time.

There have been some brief flurries of public comment about racism here recently, but what makes this weekend’s demo rather unusual is that it took such overwhelming events in a completely different culture and country over two full weeks to spark a bit of stirring locally.

Not an issue, say some most likely since it was all for the good.  Well yes, it is good to see issues of race and racism raised in Newfoundland and Labrador.  And were this the only example of a local action spurred by international events, then we might well just ignore.

Except that it isn’t one, odd example.

01 June 2020

The facts of the case #nlpoli

From the start of the pandemic, the provincial government  took decisions for political reasons, not medical ones.  It continues to do so.  It is clear that the provincial government has maintained very tight restrictions on the public far longer than necessary and that far more extensive efforts to control the public since 30 April are not based on evidence and medical necessity.
This is fundamental mismanagement that is harming the province and its people. 
The root of the problem is the political divisions in cabinet. The prospect of a new Premier to replace Dwight Ball brings with it the chance to sort out the problems and get the province ready to deal with COVID-19 for as long as necessary.  
The current situation is unconscionable.
Whatever it takes

The government's own advisors give evidence
that contradicts government's decision.
The Chief Medical Officer disclosed the first case of COVID-19 detected in Newfoundland and Labrador on 14 March.  The woman had recently returned from a cruise in the Caribbean.  Public health officials had tested 114 people half of whom had tested negative for the disease.  They and another eight besides were quarantined at home as a precaution.

The government’s first action attributed to COVID-19 came two days later.  At a news conference, Premier Dwight Ball, health minister John Haggie, education minister Brian Warr, and chief medical officer Dr. Janice Fitzgerald sat literally shoulder to shoulder behind a long desk.

We are “in uncharted waters” Ball told reporters.

Effective immediately, Ball and Warr announced, they had closed the province’s schools and daycares as well as College of the North Atlantic.  The move sent 74,000 children home along with thousands of adults across the province from the post-secondary college.

Haggie told reporters that effective immediately, the province’s health system had stopped all elective, diagnostic and surgical procedures. 

Ball said that public servants were also going to work from home, effective immediately.

“We will do whatever it takes, when necessary, to ensure your safety,” Ball said.

Asked about the impact of public cries to close schools as other provinces had done, Ball said "You always listen to people. We want to do what's best."

Ball and his ministers made the decisions to close schools, hospitals, and the provincial government that Monday morning.  There was a single case of COVID-19 in the province.

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 and 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.


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.