16 September 2014

The Ins and Outs of Newfoundland Politics #nlpoli

Ralph Champneys Williams was a career British public servant who came to Newfoundland as the Governor at the tail end of one of the greatest periods of political turmoil in the country’s history.

Sir Robert Bond went to the polls in the 1908 at the head of the Liberal to face his rival Sir Edward Morris, the Leader of the Opposition and head of a coalition of Conservatives and some others under the name of The People’s Party.

The result was a tied election.  Unable to form an administration that could survive the election of a speaker.  Bond went to the Governor to advise him to issue a writ for a new election.  The Governor – Sir Williams MacGregor – refused to issue the writ and instead called on Morris to form an administration.  He was in the same position, of course, and, when the House could not elect a Speaker,  MacGregor dissolved the House on Morris’ advice.  Morris went to the polls as Prime Minister and won a majority.

Williams arrived in Newfoundland in the wake of two years of political upheaval.  He found himself in a place that was likely very strange to him.

15 September 2014

Insider baseball, again #nlpoli

Paul Davis delivered one of the shortest victory speeches Saturday night of any person elected to lead a party in power.

Davis said very little but what he said might reveal much:

This weekend we started down a path, a path to rebuild the PC Party of Newfoundland and Labrador, and I ask all of you to work with us as we work together and continue on that path to rebuild our party for the future and prepare for 2015. [via The Telegram]

Davis wasn’t alone in saying that. Rebuilding the party in order to defeat the Liberals was a common theme.

After a while, though, it seemed a bit…well… odd.  After all, Davis was the leader of the party in power, with a majority of seats in the legislature.  Sure, the party is in second place in the opinion polls but that’s not the same as the result of an actual election.

14 September 2014

Premier Paul Davis #nlpoli

It took one more ballot than expected but Paul Davis is the new leader of the provincial Conservative Party and the Premier-designate of Newfoundland and Labrador.

The Conservatives spent a lot of time talking about the value of the leadership in rebuilding the party. A majority of the delegates didn’t vote for that, though. Paul Davis was the candidate who talked the least about substantive change in the party’s direction as government.  At the convention, very few of the Conservatives themselves talked about change beyond getting the public to vote for them again.  That was Davis’ core message. 

If you go back to the Abacus poll released during the campaign,  you can see the results of the vote mirrored in the results.  Davis was the choice of a plurality of the respondents and had the support of a higher percentage of those who had voted Conservative in 2011. Of the three candidates,  all were the second choice behind the Liberal’s Dwight Ball as the choice for Premier.  The key thing for Conservatives would be that Davis was closer to Ball than either of the other two.

13 September 2014

Disconnection Trending #nlpoli

Tom Marshall got lots of coverage for his little ego-stroking farewell in the tradition of his ego-stroked predecessors.  The media advisory billed it as a thank-you to public servants and by jingo the local media reported it extensively and called it exactly that.

The one who organized the little show for him got a nice parting gift from her current boss.  Marshall appointed Kathy Dunderdale’s former communications director, whom Tom kept around, to the most senior communications position in the provincial government on Friday.  Milly Brown will be assistant secretary to cabinet for communications. 

Brown succeeds another of Kathy Dunderdale’s former communications directors,  Glenda Power, whom Kathy rewarded with a sweet little promotion in 2012.

There are a few things about this and the other goings-on the weekend that are worth mentioning because they are part of the pattern.

12 September 2014

The Spectators and the “Me” Generation #nlpoli

The official media advisory describes the event at Confederation Building this morning as an opportunity for Premier Tom Marshall to thank public servants “for the support provided by their work over his time as Minister and Premier.”

In reality, this is another one of the grandiose celebrations that have become the trademark of Conservative Premiers first elected in 2003.  Danny Williams gave himself an enormous going-away show when he decided to leave office suddenly and unexpectedly in 2010.  Kathy Dunderdale, Williams’ hand-picked successor, did much the same thing when she decided to leave office suddenly and unexpectedly earlier this year.

And now the third member of the Williams dynasty,  his trusty and well-beloved right hand, is going to make a grand spectacle of his own in the main lobby of the Confederation Building on this the occasion of his imminent departure from office.

11 September 2014

At last! #nlpoli

Without a doubt,  this is the most interesting, entertaining and revealing thing to come out of the Conservative leadership campaign.

This could probably use a bit of writing and editing to tighten it up, but fundamentally, it’s the kind of thing that distinguishes John Ottenheimer in a positive way in the leadership campaign.  Where Steve Kent came off looking a little desperate and nasty in his most recent debate appearance and Paul Davis has just flat out flat-lined,  The Big O just gave everyone a real glimpse of himself.  it’s the kind of thing that could swing some people his way, especially if it is part of a trend.

At last, there’s some sign of freshness and life in the Conservatives.


10 September 2014

Ragging the puck #nlpoli

The Conservatives will have a new leader this weekend. 

Tom Marshall will resign as Premier not long after and the new guy will take over. Terry French announced last week that he will resign from cabinet and leave politics “later this month.”  That fits too, because the new premier will need to swear in a new cabinet.

And at some point we’ll have an election

So when will that election happen?

Good question.

09 September 2014

Everything has a price #nlpoli

Danny Williams famously once said that at some point,  “principle converts to cash.”

When his old friend Tom Marshall named a court house after Williams,  the former Premier said this to reporters about his emotions: "I can't put a price on it."

He may not be able to convert his emotions to cash at this point, but how curious that he ties the two things together so effortlessly.


A fitting reminder #nlpoli

Tom Marshall has a few days left as premier so he figured the best thing to do would be to name the courthouse in Corner Brook after Danny Williams,  Marshall’s patron.

One of the reasons Marshall gave for his decision was that the province has not done as well as the time when Danny Williams was Premier. 

Marshall couldn’t have found a more fitting legacy for Danny Williams if he had really tried. After all,  The courthouse and Williams go together

08 September 2014

Trash, Give-aways, and Conservative Policy #nlpoli

Friday is trash day in the world of political communications. It’s the day when you slip out stuff that is unpleasant in the hopes people will miss it.

If you can slide in another story, like say the completely unnecessary appointment of a finance minister who will have the job for a mere two weeks or so, it’s possible you can bury one load of trash under another.

That’s what happened last Friday in St. John’s.

05 September 2014

They’ve got a little list #nlpoli

Justice minister Terry French announced on Thursday that he’d be resigning in a couple of weeks time to take up a job in the private sector.  French’s announcement looked like an effort to get in front of rumours that have been circulating for a while in some circles and that intensified in the past couple of days.  It didn’t look like a well rehearsed or planned thing.

This was also the same day that Charlene Johnson confirmed she is quitting politics to go live in Brunei where her husband has been working for an undisclosed period of time.  Johnson told reporters that she and her husband had actually decided over a year ago that she would leave politics.  It’s still curious that with all the work- and health-related reasons Johnson offered for taking a year or more to leave actually, she couldn’t manage to hang on for just a couple of days or weeks longer.

In any event, we found out that Johnson really wasn’t leaving now for family reasons after all.  There was some other reason for her to go, not that it matters at this point.  What does matter is that she has gone.  In a couple of weeks, Terry French will go and that means the provincial Conservatives will face three by-elections before Christmas.

04 September 2014

Voter Choice #nlpoli

When Kathy Dunderdale jumped or was flicked out of office in the first part of 2014,  CRA boss Don Mills issued a release covering his company’s February 2014 self-promotion poll that claimed that Tom Marshall was doing wonders for the Conservative party because public satisfaction with the government was up in the poll.

NL government satisfaction improves with new leader” said the headline. Unfortunately for Mills and CRA,  that headline connected up two things  - government satisfaction and new leader – in a way the poll data didn’t support.  You see, satisfaction went up the quarter before that as well, with the old leader.

There’s just no connection between “satisfaction” and the public choice for best party to form government or for best premier.  The Conservatives have strong satisfaction numbers and yet a clear majority of respondents want to vote for some other party to run the government and someone other than Tom to be Premier.

Skip ahead six months and Mills is at it again.

03 September 2014

Johnson to give colleagues the finger on Friday #nlpoli

Finance minister Charlene Johnson will be leaving politics on Friday, September 5.

Under changes that Johnson and her colleagues made to the provincial election laws, that means the Premier  - whoever it is at the time - will have to call a by-election no later than November 5 and have the by-election over by later than December 5.

He’ll also have to call one in the seat the current Premier Tom Marshall has said he will vacate as soon as is humanly possible after the Conservative leadership convention on the weekend of the 13th and 14th of September. 

Johnson’s resignation really put the screws to her soon-to-be former colleagues. They went from having to fight one by-election – which they stand to lose unless its Ottenheimer the Premier – to having to fight two, pretty much at the same time.  The problem is, the Conservatives don;t have the resources to fight two by-elections at opposite ends of the province on the same day. Unless Ottenheimer takes the leadership and runs in Humber East,  the Conservatives are likely to lose both by-elections before Christmas.

So much for morale.

Meanwhile, the double by-election makes it even less likely the new Premier  - whoever he is – will have a fall sitting of the House.  He’s more likely to put off the sitting until the spring, then unveil a new throne speech and a budget before heading to an election, if the polls turn around.  The official excuse won’t be about the by-elections:  it’s more likely to be some guff about having to  give the new cabinet (and an off-the-street appointee or two) the chance to come to grips with their new jobs.

Everyone will be waving to Charlene on Friday but in a few weeks time, they’ll be likely giving her back the finger she’s giving them this week,  family reasons, and all.


Pension deal = good news #nlpoli

Three things:

1.  The agreement to deal with the unfunded pension liability is a good thing for workers and for taxpayers.  It deals with a substantial financial problem, which is the bonus for taxpayers, while preserving defined benefit pension plans for workers, which is the big win for them.  The costs are relatively modest in terms of increased premiums, averaging, and early retirement age.

2.  This is only part of the province’s financial problem.  It’s the easiest one to deal with.  The others – Muskrat Falls and the embedded unsustainable overspending – are much larger financially and it will fall to the next administration after the Conservatives will have to deal with.  Coming to grips with them won’t be easy by any means.

At least Tom Marshall took care of the problem he created.  In an interview with CBC on Tuesday,  Marshall tried to blame others for the problem and claim credit for fixing it for himself,  but as with pretty much everything a provincial Conservative politician says,  nothing could be further from the truth. 

Efforts to deal with the unfunded liability started in 1997.  A decade later,  the problem with less than half the size it is today.  Instead of dealing with it then, Marshall began the program of fiscal mismanagement that ballooned the unfunded pension liability and added all the other financial mess that we’ll be cleaning up for decades to come.

3.  The St. John’s Board of Trade,  the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, and other similar lobby groups should be ashamed for providing false information to the public while pretending it was truthful and unbiased. Even in an election year, some politician would be doing a public service by issuing an appropriate tongue-lashing to the crop of bullshit-mongers running those two groups.  The Board of Trade in particular has a lot to answer for.  They have screwed taxpayers twice;  first by being party to the Muskrat Falls mess and then by attacking public sector workers with falsehoods.


02 September 2014

Nalcor and the Eff In Way #nlpoli

Over at Uncle Gnarley,  JM’s at it again with the first of a two-parter on Nalcor and its problems with forecasting for Muskrat Falls.

Nalcor assumed that they would get 830 megawatts of electricity out of Muskrat Falls in the winter months when demand is highest.  That’s the number they gave everyone else and, as you can tell by the language Nalcor uses, it was an assumption, not a solid forecast.  Now they say they should be able to get 673 MW at Soldier;s Pond from Muskrat Falls.  That’s a difference of 157 MW, not an inconsiderable difference.

01 September 2014

Family reasons #nlpoli

The story flopped out on Friday morning,  broken by VOCM, based presumably on information that came directly from Charlene Johnson herself.

We can presume that because as the rest of the newsrooms caught up to VOCM,  Johnson confirmed that the story was generally true.  As CBC reported, “Johnson said she wants to leave because of family concerns. Her husband now works overseas. As well, she is the mother of a young daughter.”

The eulogies for her political career were quick and generally laudatory. Some picked up on the line from her commentary that she was leaving because of family considerations and pronounced it entirely right and just.  Her husband was working out of the country and her young daughter was just five years old. 

Good for you, girl, they clucked in paternalistic approval.  Someone claimed out that Johnson had broken new ground by being the first politician to give birth while in office.  She’d challenged the conventions, so the claim went, and forced the legislature to consider new rules about parental leave and responsibilities.  The political panel assembled for this week’s On Point over at CBC all thanked Charlene for her years of service and wished her well.

All wonderful stuff, except that “family reasons” is an excuse so worn out from over-use and, as in Johnson’s case, misuse, such that it is not a cliche.  “Family reasons” is beyond that.  It is now a code word for something else.

And everyone knows it is bullshit.