03 May 2016

Province to spend $750K to study feasibility of hole in the ground #nlpoli

At a time when the provincial government does not have any money to spend foolishly, it is hard to fathom why cabinet is taxing books to raise $1.0 million and yet spending $750,000 through the Environment and Conservation department to update a feasibility study done in 2004 into building a tunnel to connect the Great Northern Peninsula to Labrador.

It is putting a tax on knowledge to pay for stupidity.

We are talking about the Stunnel, or Stunned Tunnel. Regular readers will recall the Stunnel idea got some powerful support in 2003.  You'll find a post in 2005 that described the project as it stood a year or two earlier:
The Stunnel "would cost $1.3 billion or thereabouts. It would need an average of 1400 cars travelling across it per day, with a peak of 3, 000 per day, in order to be viable. Proponents also claim it would produce upwards of 40, 000 direct and indirect job during construction, although this would last for a total of three years. Using the ever popular argument, proponents say the Stunnel would be an engineering marvel and attract tourists from around the world. "
The original feasibility study cost only $100,000. As SRBP summarised in early 2005,  the study concluded you could build the cheapest option - a bored tunnel that ran an electric train back and forth - for about $1.7 billion. The government would have to put in pretty much all of that and it would take 11 years to finish.

We don't need to spend seven and a half times that much to figure out how crazy the Stunnel idea still is.

02 May 2016

A cut too far #nlpoli

There's a scene in the movie A Bridge too far where the British soldiers are trying to push down a road as part of a major attack on the Germans in September 1944.

The whole plan was built, according to the movie, around dropping parachute troops at key bridges and then having ground troops charge along a single road.  The soldiers on the ground had 48 hours to get to the last of the airborne soldiers, who were at Arnhem.  They didn't make it, hence the idea that the plan always involved going one bridge too far.

There are wrecks everywhere and the dead are everywhere after the first clash in the campaign.  As soldiers clear the way and take away the wounded, one officer looks up at another who is sitting on a scout car.  How do the generals expect them to keep up the pace under these conditions, the fellow asks looking up.  The fellow sitting on the armoured car has his binoculars and is scanning the road ahead.  J.O.E Vandeleur,  played by Michael Caine, looks down at his cousin, Giles,  and says:

"You don't know the worst. This bit we're on now?"

"Yes,"  says Giles, quizzically.

"It's the wide part."

29 April 2016

Flying the checklist - Government's comms problem Part II #nlpoli

The Liberals under Dwight Ball have had a steady run of problems with managing issues, policies, and positions.  The current mess they face with the 2016 budget is really nothing more than a very big version of the problems they have had continuously for the past 18 months.

Last year, some Liberals thought they had solved the problems by changing around some people who had the word "communication" in their job title. Nothing changed. That confirms that the problem isn't at the level of the people they changed around. The problem is higher up the decision-making chain and has much more to do with how the Liberals look at the world than it is with how a particular staffer does a job.

That was the point in Tuesday's post.  Today, we are going to look at another aspect of the Liberal problem, namely the organisation they have taken over in government.

28 April 2016

Not fit for it, indeed #nlpoli

Once upon a time not so long ago, you would think politics in this province was a mash up of  Nineteen eighty-four and Animal Farm.

These days,  the Orwellian times in which Danny Williams thrived seem a kindergarten compared to the Franz Kafka novel in which we now dwell.

"Before any election the [Auditor General] should make public the financial state of the province,"  some fellow said on Twitter Wednesday morning. 

"This  should be done yearly by a non-partisan person. hold the gov accountable, TO US VOTERS,"  said another fellow in reply.

"It's already done,"  said one of the Known Critics.  "It's called the Public Accounts."

"REALLY???"  replied the US VOTERS guy.  "Liberals say this, PC'S say that.. which is it? who do ya believe?"

27 April 2016

Winston Churchill and taxes #nlpoli

You have probably seen the quote and a picture of Winston Churchill flying around Facebook or Twitter since the provincial government introduced its budget in the House of Assembly a couple of weeks ago.

"For a nation to tax itself into prosperity is like a man standing in a bucket and trying to lift himself up by the handle."  Winston Churchill.

People don't like the massive jump in taxes and the creation of new fees and charges like the levy. They pass this around as their statement of protest.

Three things to know about the quote, besides the fact that Cathy Bennett used it in the budget debate last year to argue against a hike in the HST:

26 April 2016

MQO poll shows big Liberal slide #nlpoli

Just for the fun of comparison, here's the CRA polling results for a year covering the last time the provincial government saw a change of party and the new crowd introduced a killer budget no one expected.

The Conservatives dropped from 55 points in November 2003 to 33 points in May of the next year.

They only climbed out of the hole by abandoning their austerity program and launching a costly jihad against Ottawa.

Delivering a bad budget is one thing.  Delivering a bad budget very badly is something else entirely.

That's why, As bad as the polling numbers are for the Liberals in MQO's April 2016 poll, there is nothing in it that's surprising to anyone paying attention to local politics.

The Government's ongoing Communications Problem - the political side #nlpoli

To understand the communications problem the Liberal administration faces,  look at the first and so far only decision they have taken on communications to date.

Everything stays just as it is.

Nothing changes.

Nobody changes.

The official excuse a Liberal minister will offer when asked is that the cost of severance would be too great to get rid of them all.

But as bizarre as it was to leave directors of communications for Conservative Premiers in charge of communications for a new Liberal administration, the partisan bias of some of the folks in the jobs isn't the point.

The problem is that their entire approach to communications has been an obvious, dismal failure for five years.  Today, we'll take a look at the political problem the Liberals have.  On Friday, we'll dissect the Conservative mess the Liberals continue to use.

Ring access ruling blames wrong culprit #nlpoli

To understand why access commissioner Ed Ring's ruling issued last Monday was troubling, you have to know some back story.

Ring was ruling in an investigation over an access request for two reports that should be in the Premier's Office.  An access request for copies of the reports got the reply that the office doesn't have them.  The actual response used the bureaucratic phrase "no responsive records."

Whoever went looking for the records appealed to Ring, Ring's office investigated, and then the report came out.  Ring chastised the Premier's Office for not keeping better track of its stuff.  In essence, he laid the blame for the missing files on the current crowd in the office.

That's wrong.

25 April 2016

More worrying wobbles #nlpoli

You have to get very seriously concerned when a cabinet minister can't or won't answer a simple question that has only one, simple, direct answer.

Next week,  the provincial government,  the province's access to information commissioner, and some agencies will appear in court to deal with an application from the teacher's union and the nurses' union to roll back the clock on the public's right to know. Bill 29 did not go far enough for them.

The law says what it has always said:  the public can find out the name of the person in a public service position, the position the person occupies, and the remuneration the person gets for doing the job.  It's a fundamental point and the words are written plainly, in black letters, in the current access to information law, just as they have been in every access law since the first one in 1981.

Asked about the challenge to public access to information from some public sector unions,  Siobhan Coady told the Telegram's James McLeod "I will talk to Justice on what their position is, and I’ll have to get back to you on Monday."

How exactly can the minister responsible for the public's right to know not know what the government position will be?


22 April 2016

Not just another pretty face #nlpoli

Stan Marshall is the guy who should have been running Nalcor in the first place.

Well,  if you wanted to make a successful business out of Nalcor, Marshall is the no-guff leader you'd want.

Marshall's resume speaks for itself.  His knowledge of the electricity business is unrivalled in the province. His experience in running a profitable corporation and expanding it internationally is undeniable.   During his 20 years at the helm of Fortis,  as the Telegram's Ashley Fitzpatrick reported in 2014, Marshall grew the company's assets from $1.0 billion to more than $18 billion.

21 April 2016

Offense and Defense #nlpoli

If you're not on offense, you are on defense.

And in politics, if you are on defense, you are losing.

The Liberals wound up on the defensive yet again Wednesday with the resignation of Ed Martin and the entire Nalcor board.

To be sure, Williams-era appointees like Martin or former board chair Ken Marshall have been responsible for the mess that is Muskrat Falls. The province will be better off seeing the backside of them if only because they can no longer make a very bad situation they alone created all the worse.

The political problem for Premier Dwight Ball and the Liberals is in how Martin left.

20 April 2016

Getting while the getting is good. #nlpoli

As if on cue,  Danny Williams' publicist tweeted praise for Ed Martin as soon as news broke that Danny Williams' right-hand for so many years was leaving the energy corporation Williams created.

Almost an hour later, she flipped out a statement from the former Premier himself praising Martin, Nalcor, and Muskrat Falls in terms that were eerily similar to ones Premier Dwight Ball had used when he announced Martin was leaving Wednesday morning.

Reporters raced across town in a late winter storm to get from Ball's scrum to hear what Martin would say. Martin began with a recitation of his accomplishments and threw heaps of praise at the men and women of Nalcor.  He spoke in the most glowing terms of everything Nalcor was doing including Muskrat Falls.

And then he explained that he was leaving.

Time to go.

In 2010,  shortly after unveiling Muskrat Falls,  Danny Williams quit suddenly, unexpectedly too.

Time to go, he'd said.

Actions and words #nlpoli

The provincial cabinet has known since January - at least - that the powerhouse at Muskrat Falls is only 15% completed despite a huge payout to the contractor.

That's what Nalcor reported to the committee of provincial bureaucrats named by the Conservatives to get a report from Nalcor every now and again.  They can't do anything else except receive the reports and pass them on to cabinet.  They still do it under the Liberals.

The company hired by cabinet to conduct yet another review of information supplied by Nalcor that government already had included a little table of progress on major components at Muskrat Falls.  The powerhouse is a major component.

But it isn't on EY's table, shown at right and released earlier this month.  It's lumped in with "spillway" and shows it is supposedly almost 40% complete.

There's a lot of difference between 15 and 40.

19 April 2016

Responsibility #nlpoli

In the middle of all the screaming as the government unveiled its budget on Thursday,  the editor of a regional business magazine asked,  apparently in all seriousness,  "Biggest question of #Budget2016, How did NO ONE know that prev gov't spending was so out of line with revenues?"

Writing from her sabbatical in far-off England,  a CBC reporter with more than 20 years experience offered that the budget had "the reek of the wickedest hangover after a long, massive binge to end all binges."

"In 23 years in the biz,"  said the one to the other,  "what I'm seeing from afar looks like no other budget I've ever seen."  

"Same,"  said the other to the one.  "I've been following budgets around Atlantic Canada for 18 years and can't remember anything quite like this."

The simple observation on the second point is that we have seen budgets precisely like this one before, at least in the extent that it raised taxes and fees on all sorts of things.  We went through it routinely in the 1970s and in the 1980s and even into the early 1990s.  Budgets just like this one are well within the experience of both those observers' lifespans in this province and certainly within their professional lifespans.

So in observing the observers,  your humble e-scribbler found their shock a wee bit curious.  The only thing that was even more bizarre was the question about how no one had seen any of this coming.

18 April 2016

The Austerity Budget Pantomime #nlpoli

According to the Oxford dictionary, financial austerity means "difficult economic conditions created by government measures to reduce public expenditure."

Reduce government spending.

Three key words.

The most important is reduce,  meaning to lower or to  lessen.

Keep that in mind.

15 April 2016

The Rasputisa and the 2016 Budget #nlpoli

The speech finance minister Cathy Bennett read in the House of Assembly on Thursday was as horrible as the reaction most of the province have been having to it.

That's not surprising given that the entire budget communications program was the product of precisely the same folks who delivered repeated political and policy disasters for the former Conservative administration.  And if that wasn't bad enough, everyone - the Liberals included  - picked the anniversary of the Titanic disaster to deliver a very hard budget.

To get a sense of the problems with Thursday's budget, take a look at two fine examples of just how politically tone deaf the speech was.

The first one:  "As our Premier has said, knee-jerk reactions have created mistakes that, unfortunately, Newfoundlanders and Labradorians are paying for now."

Bennett's speech writer didn't give an example so folks will likely fill in their own.

14 April 2016

The Incrementalists #nlpoli

Today is budget day.

There's been lots of speculation flying around, most of it a confirmation that people have little real information about anything. If you have been paying attention, though, you can probably make a fairly good guess at what Thursday's budget will look like.

What follows is based entirely on what Dwight Ball and his ministers have done and said in public, combined with a general knowledge of the provincial economy, the budget process and that sort of thing.

Read this now and in a few hours you can see how close this is to the actual budget.