Saturday, December 30, 2006

To Premier: Wrong Marshall in

Premier Williams has announced that Tom Marshall, Minister of Justice, will leave that post to take over Finance leaving Tom Rideout to do double duty as acting Justice minister on top of Fisheries/Aquaculture.

This can't be more than temporary and the fact that Rideout is only the acting minister of Justice seems to indicate that. But why didn't Premier Williams just bite the bullet and make the permanent moves now? There are three reasons I can think of.

The first one is timing. There is no rush to get an election cabinet in place and there's no doubt that's what the next cabinet will be. In any case, the dead period between Christmas and New Years is not the optimal time for this announcement to have maximum impact.

So whatever plans the Premier has in mind, he's wise to hold off until just before the House opening.

Then there's the question of what to do with who. I've already suggested the return of Elizabeth Marshall to cabinet in the Finance post but I suspect that won't be happening. In answering a question on just that issue, the premier passed up on yet another chance to praise his most valuable, capable and competent non-cabinet member in favour of a bland "all the caucus are competent" remark.

That begs the question of what it will take for the Premier to recognize the simple fact on which virtually all political observers of all political stripes agree - that his cabinet would be immeasurably stronger with Ms. Marshall on the inside.

Then there is the possibility that he simply does not want any of his backbenchers to move up because they are, in his view, incompetent, untrustworthy, unreliable or useless*.

But as thin as his choices might be, there are some very competent choices. Shawn Skinner, for one, springs to mind. God knows Mr. Skinner has taken every opportunity to defend the Premier against all comers (including me).

In the end, the premier's choices are no thinner than they have been for any other Premier.

It may be that he simply is not sure who to put in what spot and so will take the time he needs to take to firm up a final decision. His remarks that "So from that perspective. it's a chance for new people to come in, new blood, new infusion" may point to the unusual move of recruiting new cabinet ministers from the outside (as suggested by Bond Papers) and placing them in safe seats.

Only time will tell what will happen.

There is one other thing worth noting. A sign that a person's alcohol consumption is out of control and needs to be reined in is when it interferes with normal life and regular functioning.

If maintaining a political grudge is the reason why Elizabeth Marshall has not invited back into cabinet then clearly that kind of political grudge-holding is interfering with the optimal functioning of this government on behalf of the people of this province; it's time to put it aside.

----------------------------------------

* In fact, like any caucus, there are stars, journey-people and those who would never see the inside of a ministerial suite unless they broke in under cover of night.

There's an old joke about NL cabinet formation which, in fairness, applies to most if not all provinces. It used to be thought that building a cabinet was about building political coalitions or balancing left/right or rural/urban or Catholic/Protestant.

On the contrary, the Premier looks at his caucus, eliminates all the obvious fools and what's left is the cabinet.

Friday, December 29, 2006

Advice to the Premier - Bring back Marshall

At the Premier's office, a senior staffer takes the chance and offers the advice he's paid to provide:

Far be it for me to provide advice to you, Premier Williams, but now that you have another vacancy in your cabinet, it's time to look at your options.

The resignation of Finance Minister Loyola Sullivan provides an opportunity to shuffle some of the existing ministers but it's also important to avoid some pitfalls

There are three things to consider: the need to maintain confidence in the finances of the province, to build an election cabinet and to show the province that the government is not crumbling under pressure and remains strong.

You want to put to bed any questions which might be raised by the loss of two former party leaders, Ed Byrne and Sullivan, and critical members of the cabinet team in as many months.

I know that any government which you lead is a strong one but, from the outside, it's important to maintain the concept of the Danny Team. It's not only good for you in showing that you are a leader of men and women but it also ensures that you will have a government to lead.

After all, you need to win a majority of districts to have a majority government and one way to do that is to show the people that the individual MHA's they are voting for are important to the team. So a strong government must become apparent through the appointment of a strong cabinet.

With an election not quite a year away, you can take this opportunity to shore up support in areas where government is perceived to be soft. The other side is that, quite frankly, you don't have a whole lot of material to choose from and to promote to Ministerial status.

You are fortunate in that a lot of the existing cabinet you can leave in place since, at a minimum, they seem to be sufficiently competent not to be shooting themselves in the foot on a regular basis. There are some exceptions, however.

Minister Dunderdale and Minister Ottenheimer should be swapped. Natural Resources needs the calm and level head which Ottenheimer can provide and Dunderdale needs the irrelevance and ignominy that IGA provides.

That leaves the problem of what to do with Finance. The best option that has the most win in the most ways is to bring Elizabeth Marshall back in from the cold. She has been more than loyal in taking her exile with good humor and sans criticism. She can immediately bring credibility to this critical job in a way no other MHA can.

It also makes you, Premier, look more magnanimous than usual in bringing her back into a responsible position.

Elizabeth Marshall in Finance is a win for government, the province and for you.

But in the end, it's your choice, of course.
The staffer is last seen booting it out the office door at top speed, ducking the fire breathed at his direction by a glowering Premier.

Time will tell if the advice is heeded.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Dinn takes PC nomination in a walk

You have to admire clear political success when you see it.

In an open nomination process, John Dinn took 1,176 of the 2,007 votes cast, well ahead of challengers Jack Lee, who took 640 votes, and Sean Hammond, who had 191 votes.

John Dinn chose last year not to run for St. John's City Council after sitting in that charming environment for more that 10 years. And that came after a long and distinguished career as mayor of Goulds.

Now I expected Hammond (apparently backed by some remnants of the Byrne district machine) to do better so I was surprised at that level of shellacking.

I suspected Dinn would come out on top given his very long involvement in the politics of the area. The fact that local kingmaker and former MHA Bob Aylward, lately of the Wally Collins Ward 5 municipal coronation, was in his corner clearly sealed the deal.

Besides, he's a nice guy who has managed to make many friends and very few enemies over the years.

So for two parties, the bye-election lines are drawn: PC John Dinn versus Liberal Bob Clarke.

It leaves only the NDP to weigh in, probably early in the new year. If the NDP are going to be in this game then they had best make their way to the starting line as soon as they can.

That Dinn can motivate 125 volunteers and pull almost 1200 votes just for a nomination, especially in such a busy time this close to Christmas, bodes well for his chances.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

AG blocked from docs - who knew?!?!

The latest comments from Auditor General John Noseworthy indicates that government will not be allowing him access to cabinet documents during his probe into the fibre optic deal.

On November 22 when the House of Assembly voted to ask the Auditor General to look into the matter, Kelvin Parsons said:
The public already know, for example, that the Auditor General cannot delve into Cabinet confidences. People in the public already know that the Auditor General is limited by the provisions of the Auditor General Act.

A CBC report today notes that the AG acknowledges that provincial legislation governing his office clearly rules that cabinet documents are not meant to be released, but that he believed the records are important enough that he asked for them to be released anyway.

Today in a statement, Premier Williams noted:
While our government is fully committed to facilitating this review, we must nevertheless abide by the law. To provide Cabinet documentation would in fact break the act governing the office of the AG.
So the government and the opposition and the auditor general all knew that the documents can't be released for the purposes of this investigation.

So what's the story here?

Now if government had opened the files to the AG then that would have been news.

Otherwise it's just political business as usual. And who wants to encourage those kinds of shenanigans just before Christmas?

Some consumer advice on renos

Here's a story from the CBC (Don't get nailed under the table, contractors warn consumers) about a new campaign launched by the Eastern Home Builders Association to warn people about the perils of the underground contractors.

As you might have followed from my personal blog, I have been involved in a set of extensive home renovations for some time.

If you've ever had a child, then you know that once you're pregnant, all you see around you are other pregnant people and all people want to talk about is pregnancies and kids. Same way with renos - everyone around you is involved in their own renos and that's all you hear about.

Now I have no real problem with what the home builder's association are doing. They are doing what they think is best to protect the public, and incidentally, their own market.

But after you hear enough stories, a few things start to become clear.

It surprised me to find that of the many horror stories I've heard from people about gross overcharges and shoddy work, just as many are as a result of charter and respected members of the homebuilding community as from the evil underground economy.

I know people who have received excellent service from the guy in the pickup truck who wants cash. I know people who have been ripped off by some of the most "reputable" contractors in the province including the "in" contractors of the year and the ones sent by major national building supply chains.

The past few years have been very good for the reno industry and that has made it hard to get a builder when you need one. And the upward trends in prices, and their behavior, reflect that.

I've contacted all kinds of builders who just wouldn't return my calls.

I've had lots walk through the house, tell me they'd give me a price and that's the last I ever hear from them.

I've had builders come into my kitchen, sit down and, figuring they had us over a barrel, propose a price for renovations higher than the value of my home. One came in and wouldn't touch the reno work of an existing house unless he could buy the house, do the work, and sell it back to me.

As long as you keep in mind that they are in business to make money and not building or renovating out of a sense of public service, then it's easier to keep perspective.

So what has that experience taught me?

First, it's buyer beware no matter what the legal status of the person you are dealing with. Unless and until these associations provide more teeth than a mere voluntary Code of Ethics, unless they actually impose standards on membership instead of accepting all comers and unless they have some way of enforcing clear and unambiguous rules to protect consumers, then they can't help really help you.

Second, know who you are dealing with check on their past work and customers. References are worth gold.

Third, get the scope of work down on paper but be realistic about what that means. Things will change over time so be flexible and stay on top of things.

Finally and most importantly: Supervise! Supervise!! Supervise!!! When it comes to someone messing with your home, Trust No One! Be aggressive is pushing for your rights because contractors will be aggressive in looking for their money.

I figure that we will be in reno mode for the next 24 months or so. I'm not looking forward to all parts of it but I am prepared to spend every day of that time deeply involved in the project.

It's the only way to make sure things happen correctly.

And no, you can't have the name of my builder.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Ignatieff tapped as Liberal deputy leader

This might not be the very best picture for this story about possibly bringing the wolf into the house but the story has the potential to lead to great things.

For those with long memories, the 1984 Liberal leadership (Turner over Chretien) was a disaster where Chretien resigned shortly after from the House of Commons. Blood continued to drip for years as the defeated sought to overturn the victors through any means necessary.

The aftermath of the 1990 leadership race (Chretien over Martin) provided a lighter alternative. Martin didn't resign and poke from the outside. Instead he stayed on and provided the country with one of the most valuable PM-Fin minister partnerships of recent years.

And, by the way, he and his minions worked steadily to undermine the sitting prime minister and to push him out at the very earliest opportunity.

The 2003 leadership run saw a rout (Martin over ... who was that again??) where one man and his supporters controlled the party machinery and enjoyed the wide support of the party membership in a way rarely seen before. Martin faced no real organized internal or external party factions arrayed against him because his team had ruthlessly smite them all except for the occasional remaining Chretien loyalists.

To the surprise of most, it turned out that his main threat to continued Liberal hegemony was himself.

I remember attending a breakfast with the 2001 leadership candidates of the NL Liberal party. Roger Grimes, John Efford and Paul Dicks were polite and even downright warm to each other. The one thing they all agreed on was that after the race, ranks would be closed and the party would remain united and strong.

It took Paul Dicks until the end of the convention day to walk out of the party and politics. Efford stuck it out a little longer, some weeks as I recall, before he too huffed off to Ottawa in a cloud of acrimony.

Turned out that Grimes had won a Pyhrric victory - while he won the leadership of the party, it was badly divided and headed for political oblivion.

So now we have the possibility of a new day. Stephane Dion is moveing to include more former rivals in ways more meaningful than we've seen from a major party in a long time, perhaps ever.

Besides Ignatieff as deputy leader, CBC reports that Bob Rae will be in charge of developing the party platform for the next election,Gerard Kennedy will play a senior role in organizing the national election campaign and Martha Hall Findlay might be given the task of traveling the country and consulting with the Liberal grassroots on policy.

Is he letting the wolves into the house? Or is he strengthening the cause of party unity and providing a cohesive front to voters as a powerful and attractive alternative to the Conservatives?

It all depends on how well the former rivals stay former rivals and not prematurely future rivals angling for another round.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Transparency and Accountability Act proclaimed - problem solved

I'll leave it to others as to whether the latest Auditor General's report precipitated the proclamation of the Transparency and Accountability Act or whether it was coming down the pipes anyway.

In any case, it's here now and all our problems are solved.

Actually, not so much. Let me explain.

Back in 2001, one of the initiatives of the Grimes administration was to kick into gear a process for each department and agency to compile and issue annual reports. This had been done in the past (in some departments, very long past) but it was always pretty spotty and not obligatory.

The idea was for each department to establish targets and goals for the next year, review those goals from the previous year and see how they matched up.

So a new process and impetus was put in place. There were many meetings of people responsible in each department, guidelines were established, people were put in charge, formats were approved and so it went.

I was given the responsible for pulling together the first annual report in a long time for the former Department of Human Resources and Employment (HRE). It's now called the Department of Human Resources, Labour and Employment (HRLE, unfortunately pronounced "hurl"*)

This was not the best piece I ever did - then, before or since - but it was very instructive to me in the way that government departments pull together annual reports. It was also an extremely frustrating exercise for me personally and it put me at odds with some in my department.

It took very little time before what should have been a laudable project was hijacked in virtually every department and agency. The conventional wisdom which quickly developed was that annual reports (AR's) had to be great big glossy brochures of everything that was really cool about the department. So instead of acting as a policy or accountability mechanism, the AR's fell squarely into the fluff category.

Instead of clear goals and measurables laid out for the coming year, fuzzy feel-good and meaningless statements were substituted. As for evaluating the actions of the past year, oddly, every department and agency did just great or better.

Why did that happen in spite of best intentions? In hindsight, I can think of two main reasons.

First, the AR process was grafted onto the top of the departmental policy mechanisms as an afterthought instead of being an integral part of them. The AR was simply not taken seriously by the line department senior bureaucrats as a useful tool to improve departmental operations or functions.

There were serious about producing them, make no mistake, but how meaningful they should be was a subject of much internal debate.

Second, the AR concept broke every unwritten bureaucratic rule in place - it set clear targets for the future, measured past successes by objective means and generally revealed information that departments and agencies preferred not to be quite that forthcoming about except at the point of a gun.

That was then. How about now?

If you take a look at the Transparency and Accountability Act, you will see pages and pages of requirements for departments and agencies to produce more volume of paper than we've ever seen before - business plans, activity plans, strategic plans, forecasts and annual reports.

But how meaningful, in practice, will any of these mandated documents be? When was the last time anybody rushed out to get one of these things? And when you do take the time to plough through one of these documents, what relationship do they have with reality?

It only takes a few minutes to check out a few of them to figure out the answer - not much.

In the end the release of information has much more to do with the political and bureaucratic culture than the passage or proclamation of legislation. And it's pretty clear that no piece of legislation, proclaimed or not, will ever have much impact on departmental, political and bureaucratic cultures and that is largely the root of the problem, before and now.

Politicians and bureaucrats have to want to release information as a basic principle, they have to want to establish rational planning processes and stick by them, they have to want to avoid the easy political shortcuts, they have to want to own up to mistakes and miscues and they have to want to put longterm public policy for the province ahead of their own short-term interests.

And more than just wanting those things, they have to carry out their public responsibilities with those goals in mind every single day.

That's what makes for true accountability and transparency.


=====================

This might be a good time to tell a funny story:

During my tenure in the department, I attended a meeting of senior bureaucrats discussing possible alternative names for Income Support (welfare to the initiated). The wanted to "rebrand" the program to escape some of the baggage it carried.


I was a little late getting there and the idea that was gaining some traction as I walked in was "Supplemental Financial Assistance". This was viewed in the room as a name that accurately described the program as a non-judgmental and supportive form of help to those who really needed it.

I was appalled. I pointed out that it would take all of 10 seconds into the announcement before the program was popularly rebranded as S.F.A. (Sweet Fuck All).

The idea was quickly canned. Yet another reason why bureaucrats should not make communications/marketing decisions.

Politics is harder than it looks: See Rona Ambrose

Consider this: you are a brand-spanking new, and risk-averse, Prime Minister and you want to craft a safe and reliable cabinet. You look around your MPs and your eye spys Rona Ambrose.

A perfect candidate, you would think. She's a former senior official with the Alberta provincial government, an academic with a working background in policy development related to privacy, electronic government, health and the environment. She's also an experienced MP (compared to many) having first been elected in 2004.

She's young (37), sharp, articulate, knowledgeable in both policy and politics. What more can you ask for in a federal minister of the crown tasked with stick handling a tricky and complex issue like the environment?

Well, clearly more than she has at her disposal. Since her appointment, it's been one public gaffe, misstatement and error after another. She has gone from political golden child to besieged and struggling minister on a political deathwatch.

As Jeffery Simpson notes today, it hasn't been all her fault. She has a Prime Minister and caucus who don't believe in the import or science of basic environment issues (global warming) and she has suffered from a revolving door of senior staff around her.

But many other politicians who have been thrust in her position have prevailed and prospered. So what's the difference between those who sink to the button of the lake and those who swim to the other side?

I don't know and I don't think anybody really does. You can read literally tons of material from leadership "experts" or political scientists or what have you and still not figure it out.

In the end, a schmo like Stockwell Day does a creditable job in a senior portfolio surprising all those who expected him to implode on the way out of the swearing-in and a capable political star like Rona Ambrose flounders.

Today, while media reports speculate about the demise of Ambrose, Day is deftly juggling controversial and difficult issues and is looking secure and pretty.

In the end, the saga of Rona Ambrose is a salutory lesson for those political wannabes - politics is a profession that is hard to master and harder than it looks with no sure path or indicators to success.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Brian Tobin and limelight - together again

(Updated)

An interesting story in CBC today says that Brian Tobin Tobin has been appointed as a senior fellow to the Fraser Institute to help develop an energy strategy for North America.

Why is that interesting? I can think of lots of reasons right off the top of my head.

Since Mr. Tobin's longtime intellectual fascination with public policy as a free-standing field up until now has run parallel with Homer Simpson's fatal fascination with cardio exercise, one can't help but wonder why and how he'd end up in this position.

Even if Mr. Tobin had a sudden conversion for the import of public policy over the shallowness of all-optics all the time, why did he pick the Fraser Institute?. Mr. Tobin has never shown any inclination for the right-of-center in the past and could have gone, I presume, to any of a number of left-of-center think tanks. After all, as CBC has reported, Tobin in 1999 said:
"Michael Walker (president) and the Fraser Institute are the most right-wing, Looney Tune institute [or] think-tank that has ever set foot on the soil of Canada".
Finally, while Mr. Tobin has lots of interest in the issue of energy and resources, he has never had any success in these areas; Voisey's Bay was left to his successor and Lower Churchill has yet to materialize.

More specifically in terms of energy plans, he has lots of experience in starting them as this release in 1998 shows, but no experience in completing them.

So what's really going on here? One possibility is that he's acting as a sort of stalking horse for old friend Premier Williams on this issue, perhaps opening the way for an argument for a continental energy grid to get Labrador power to market without Quebec interference.

Alternatively, he just might be burnishing his public policy credentials for a post-Dion run at the national party leadership.

Here's another possibility playing to Mr. Tobin's strength - whatever the product you have, Mr. Tobin can sell it. If nothing else, he can sell the proverbial ice-cubes to the people of the North and he can ensure you are happy with the deal. So perhaps Mr. Tobin's role is less about producing the nuts, bolts and numbers of a continental energy strategy and much more about determining a strategy to sell a continental energy strategy.

Mr. Tobin is not intellectually challenged, make no mistake about that. However his mind does work in certain clearly defined ways and some of those ways have proven to be exceptional.

One thing for sure: as per usual with Mr. Tobin, behind the smoke and mirrors, there's always a hidden back story tucked away.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Rowe’s column didn’t reflect reality in Quebec

I'm not in the habit of reprinting letters to the editor from other publications but I thought this one was a worthy response to a recent column from Mr. Bill Rowe. In that column, he carried on with his usual corrosive and shallow perspective on national politics, especially federalism.

His position was that he wanted to brush up on his French so he could go to Quebec in a hypothetical referendum and campaign for separation. He segued from that to his usual point that we are victims who need to be saved from everybody, including ourselves.

When I read the column it drove me so wild that I could not even begin to frame the opposing argument to this kind of self-absorbed foolishness. Then I saw the perfect response as printed in this letter.

In it, Mr. Stephen Penney accurately pinpoints the nub of Mr. Rowe's problem - his recollections are dated and no longer reflect this world, country and province.

==============

Rowe’s column didn’t reflect reality in Quebec
Letter to the Editor
By The Telegram

I am responding to Bill Rowe’s column in the Dec. 2 edition of The Telegram, headlined “Next referendum on Quebecois nation will be real.”

Having moved back to Newfoundland from Quebec after an absence of almost 10 years, I feel I have a little more insight into the nature of Quebec’s political thinking than Rowe. His self-deprecating reference to himself as a “maudit Anglais” says enough.

A different experience

The attitudes that I experienced in five and a half years of living in Montreal were rarely hateful of English Canadians. “Maudit Anglais” or “Cursed Anglophone” is a fossil expression from earlier days. Rowe’s obviously limited experience in Quebec must date from a while ago.

Also, Rowe’s terribly cliche and passive-aggressive attitude that Quebec should leave Canada is both an indicator of his ignorance of the place and a reason why many Quebecois feel isolated in Canada. Can you blame the Quebecois for their separatist sentiments when their ignorant and unsympathetic fellow Canadian “nationals” know nothing of them?

Upset by comments

Furthermore, in terms of dated mentalities, Rowe’s comments regarding Newfoundland are much more disturbing and worthy of criticism. Who is Mr. Rowe, as a popular media commentator, to suggest that Newfoundland and Labrador will never have “the freedom to determine its own direction and destiny in the world, unimpeded by a corrosive colonial overlordship from Ottawa?” He justifies this statement by saying this province is “too Ottawa-greedy, like a courtesan dependent on a rich sugar daddy.”

His insulting attitude towards this province is not as problematic as his lack of hope and faith in this province.

As this province moves into the future, I believe it’s time we treat Mr. Rowe, his negativity and lack of faith in Newfoundland and Labrador as they should be: relics of the past.

Stephen Penney

St. John’s

Friday, December 08, 2006

Talk radio trends recognised - you read it here first

I don't begrudge those who come late to a party - I just give them a beer and tell them to pull up a chair.

For months, Offal News and the Bond Papers among others, have been remarking on the changing quality of the local talk radio scene. Among the many posts on this subject, you'll find a fine Bond Paper discussion here while Offal News has chimed in here.

So when the Telegram finally provides mainstream media confirmation and approbation in recognizing this trend in this editorial; what can we say but better late than never.

These shows (Open Line, Back Talk and Night Line hosted by Randy Simms, Bill Rowe and Linda Swain respectively) call themselves a cornerstone of democracy and a forum for public debate on all issues, large and small.

But that's not the case anymore. Talk radio has become an extension of the partisan political battlefield where partisan irregulars fight it out on the public airwaves. Government internal policy and procedures now require constant monitoring of every word uttered. Public servants, paid by taxpayers, are paid to listen to every minute and immediately notify the Premier's Office or relevant Minister when a political issue within their purview gets mentioned*.

And when somebody pops up on any show to question the Premier, his ministers or government policy, the government proxies are issued their speaking points and pushed towards the phone to do public battle with the enemies of government.

Polling periods are of particular interest to the government and these government proxies. As previously noted by Bond here, the belief that more calls to talk radio influences polling results is taken as an article of faith within this current administration.

Whether it's true or not (pollsters say no, government denies doing it), there is no doubt that the government and their proxies certainly act as if it could and they call accordingly.

Lately it's become hard to miss that when the political pressure and temperature goes up, the referees of this game, the show hosts, are now dragged in as combatants because their evenhandedness towards all sides is resented by the powers that be - if you are not with us then you are ag'in us.

All of this has become obvious over the last months and years.

Here's the question of the day: Are the days of Talk Radio coming to a close?


=================================

*Even a casual listener will note the sheer volume of calls from government ministers and their proxies prompting some to dub VOCM as Voice of the Cabinet Minister.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

City Hall tax hike

It sounds like, thanks to the good people at City Hall, all the residents of our fair town are going to pay more taxes.

Why? Well, as the wise old man Keith Coombs confirmed for us back in September, City Hall does not work the same way as the rest of us.

While the real world looks at revenue and then adjusts expenses accordingly, City Hall looks at how much it wants to spend and then simply adjusts it's taxes to cover it.

In other words, revenue drives expenses.

And now the spendthrifts at the Gower Street bunker have hit the jackpot - a 23% average hike in assessments.

So if City Hall does nothing at at all, our collective taxes go up by a a quarter. It takes only simple arithmetic to figure out that, in order to be revenue neutral, the city needs to drop taxes from a mill rate of 12.7 down to roughly 10 mills.

But the city isn't going to do that.

Since Mile One Stadium Center has been doing so well, the city council has decided to reward that good behavior with a $500,000 increase in their annual take at the trough subsidy. If this is how it's going to work then let's hope they do a little less well next year - we can't afford much more of their success.

And because the city has been remiss in their ongoing management of Metrobus, that organization now find themselves with an old building full of old buses. Now that matter is coming home to roost.

So in the end, the city is going to try to hold on to as much of this windfall as they possibly can showing that they have no justification to call themselves prudent managers of our money.

The golem awakes

I was sitting here at my desk, minding my own business listening to the radio when, to my surprise, I hear Norman Doyle!

Remember Mr. Doyle? If you cast your mind back you might recall that he's the sitting Member of Parliament for St. John's North.

It's ok if you don't recall because since his election, Mr. Doyle truly has been very effective at being an MP (missing person).

But now he's resurfaced on issues close to all our hearts - same-sex marriage.

Apparently he believes that the issue should be re-opened in yet another vote for yet another debate because he has a real problem with what consenting adults do in the privacy of their own bedrooms.

Mr. Doyle believes that this burning issue takes precedence over a whole host of federal issues as they pertain to our province - fisheries, unemployment, social programs, health and education funding.

The Harper government was recently good enough to float a trial balloon on a constitutional amendment that would squeeze federal funding out of areas of provincial jurisdiction. The philosophy behind this is clearly "every man/woman for themselves".

While Doyle and his national Conservative allies are keen to get the federal government off the backs of the individuals and the provinces, they have no problem putting government into our bedrooms.

I'm not very impressed.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Will the real Sean Hammond please stand up

Could this person be the next PC nominee for the District of Kilbride?

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Even more on the pharmacists

“Society must take every means at its disposal to defend itself against the emergence of a parallel power which defies the elected power.”
- Pierre Elliot Trudeau*
This CBC news story outlines how the Central and Western Health Boards will be matching the bonues paid to phamacists in the Eastern health Board.

That's no reral surprise to you because you already read about that possibility here.

So here's a question that needs to be answered: since government and Treasury Board have already rejected the idea of paying more to pharmacists, are the Health Boards in open revolt against government or are they acting as a stalking horse for what government plans to do in the next budget anyway?

If the former, I expect we'll see a sound slapping down pretty soon. If the latter then we can pretty well confirm that health boards and government are playing shell games for political purposes and that the pharmacist issue will be resolved and paid for only when government is good and ready to.

Either way, it's a mess.
=======================
It's not every day I can open a post with an appropos quote from PET but sometimes you just luck out.

Stephane Dion - my beau risque

I've seldom provided my wholehearted support for a politician although I've work for many. It doesn't mean that I work any harder or less hard for some than others, I just mean that in my heart of hearts, some politicians have occupied more of that volume than others.

Clyde Wells in 1989 was one of those. Nobody expected him to win that election and, in fact, he won less of the popular vote than a battered and bleeding 17 year old PC administration. Still he carried the day and, I believe, ushered in a government more concerned with doing the right thing than doing the political thing than many we have seen before or since.

About 10 years ago, I started to follow the career of a little-known Quebec politician, recruited by PM Jean Chretien from the academic community, who took on and stared down the PQ government and assorted Quebec separatists. As one with little time for separatists of any stripe, that caught my attention. His later work on the environment and his loyalty to the common cause that is the Liberal Party of Canada cemented my admiration of his character and his policies.

So when Stephane Dion announced that he was going to run for leader, I signed up for my first campaign in a long time where I truly believed in the superiority of my candidate over any of the possible alternatives.

In the end I had to make a choice: I could follow conventional wisdom and follow the crowd behind a candidate likely to win (Rae or Iggy) or I could take the path less trod. As it turned out, I ended up backing and assisting a candidate which very few pundits, locally or nationally, ever thought would win.

But I was convinced that, notwithstanding that common dismissal, that he should win because I thought he was the best choice for reasons of policy, national unity and character.

And he did. Talk about a beau risque.

Congratulations Mr. Dion - A new day starts today.

Friday, December 01, 2006

The king of Kilbride is dead, long live the king

Later I'll be posting my thoughts on the Ed Byrne resignation but first . . .

Democracy marches on with several names popping up for the upcoming Kilbride by-election. Unlike the recent one in Signal Hill-Quidi Vidi, this bye-election will be more reflective of the mood of the people in the district because no party leaders will be candidates.

So far for the PC's it sounds like Premier Williams has yet to anoint his dauphin so no doubt that name will bubble out as soon as the Premier gives his permission. In the meantime, several names have been speculated about so far including local hockey personality Jack Lee and the Deputy Minister of the Department of Business Leslie Galway.

The first has the advantage of being hockey-affiliated (a major criteria in the Premier's previous decisions) while the second has the distinction of already recieved the Premier's grace through her current government appointment.

We'll see if other names bubble up.

On the Liberal side, Bob Clarke, President of the Liberal Association in the district has expressed interest. Another name of note is, and should be, Ed Hollett of Robert Bond Papers who lives in the District, knows the issues well and has a better profile than Mr. Clarke.

With the Liberal nomination opening and closing on the same day next week (Tuesday), decisions will have to be made quickly.

As for the NDP, only time will tell.

Northern humour

This is from today's Hansard of the Nunavut Territorial Legislature. It's a Member's Statement; a part of the House proceedings when members can stand up and bring up an issue important to them and/or their constituents (we have those in the House of Assembly and Commons too).

Member’s Statement 345 – 2(3): Seal and Animal Protesters (Arvaluk)

Mr. Arvaluk: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Sometimes northerners, especially those who are living on the land, are misunderstood by animal rights groups like Paul McCartney’s protest on anti-sealing last spring.

However, I’ve learned that counter-misunderstanding was sometimes equally puzzling. When the news came at twelve o’clock, I was driving my boys from school. In the interview the CBC asked a protester, “What’s your favourite animal?”

She said, “A seal.” “Why a seal?” The protester replied, “Because I love seal pups’ eyes.”

My friend, who was seven at the time, apparently was listening; I didn’t know he was listening. He said, “Me, too. Yummy.”

>>Laughter

>>Applause

Nunavut and NL have much in common.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Advocacy Advertising

I want to get away from the charming public policy hothouse that is the NL political environment and look at something completely different.

One part of the wider public affairs environment is the communications influence of the not-for-profit advocacy groups. Because they are not wedded to corporate bottom lines or political conventions, they are free to go where others fear to tread in their advertising. They can be creative and shocking, pushing the envelope of what is acceptable.

Partially they need to do that because of the need to hack though the clutter of the advertising cloud in general. Another key reason is that advocacy not-for-profits have less money to spend so they need bang for their bucks.

Here's a series of ads from the Insurance Corporation of British Columbia. These cover the dangers of drinking and driving. Be prepared: they will jolt you.







Not all ads are intended to shock but they are intended to provoke. This is a very simple European print ad warning of the dangers of childhood obesity. It's not preachy, technical or sappy but it does get the point across.


Finally, the anti-smoking lobby has produced some brilliant ads over the years exploiting the effect of tobacco to make the audience come up short. They have been highly provocative spanning every human emotion. They have to be memorable considering the slick and expensive pro-smoking ads they have to counter.

These ads from TheTruth.com are rare combinations of shock and humor and are sort of a form of guerrilla advertising. They have put out many ads over the last 5 years or so and they are all worth viewing.

Here, they attack the tobacco corporations themselves.



Finally I leave the best for last. An enduring cigarette advertising icon is the cowboy - rugged, independent and free. The smoking cowboy was used to great effect in the movie Thank you for Smoking which I highly recommend as an insight into high-level backroom lobbying and communications.

This ad also uses the smoking cowboy - it's my favorite. It's a combination of chill and humor that's hard to forget. Watch the reactions on the faces of the people on the street to the singing cowboy; you can't rehearse responses like that.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Attack of last resort - Shoot the messenger

I've never made it any secret that I like Minister Trevor Taylor: I like what he does, I like how he speaks and thinks and I like that fact that he calls it like it is. I thought he was the best Minister of Fisheries we saw in quite some time; it's too bad that his cabinet colleagues cut him off at the knees over Raw Material Sharing (RMS).

But now he's been put into the untenable spot of acting as the Minister of DTP*. He's doing the best he can but he's running out of room to play.

The best example of his running out of rope is from this CBC story (Revenge motivated fibre optic move: Opposition) which noted:
Taylor also criticized journalists for how the fibre optic story has been reported. He maintains journalists have blown the ties between the premier and the companies involved out of proportion.
If that was the only manifestation of government's displeasure with the media then I wouldn't bother mentioning it but it's not.

First some background: besides the official government spokespersons there are also the unofficial spokespersons. If politics is a war then the warriors include not just the regular army (ministers, PR flack, officials) but also their supporters - the irregular partisans who will go out under cover of being just another interested voter and defend the government to the hilt with arguments and other weapons an official spokesperson could not dare to use.

In this case, those irregular partisans appear as well-briefed plants on the talk radio shows of VOCM.

All the parties have these kinds of talk radio plants to a greater or lessor extent. It started under Premier Tobin, escalated under Grimes and has hit it's apex under Premier Williams.

The Bond Papers has already well explored and explained this phenomena so I won't get into any more detail than than but suffice it to say that this government not only listens to talk radio, it works to shape that public debate through numerous unofficial proxies.

In practice, it's the government plants that are better briefed, better organized and more motivated to go out and protect their patrons. Lately they have been very active and aggressive in their attacks on the critics of government.

That's not new.

But now their enemies now encompass the media itself and certain named media personalities, including Randy Simms (Open Line) and Linda Swain (Night Line) and that is new. You don't have to listen very long to either show to hear attacks on the hosts themselves.

They stand accused, by the partisan irregulars, in the court of public opinion of the political crimes of promoting bad news against government, giving comfort to enemies of the government and showing personal bias against the Premier.

And then when they finish trying to take Simms and Swain down a few pegs, with little luck I should point out, they move over to look for, and often find, a sympathetic ear at Back Talk with Bill ("Premier, tell us again why are you so awesome") Rowe where they can complain about the unfairness and bias of his fellow on-air personalities.

Before it was enough just to attack the viewpoints of other callers. Then it escalated to attacking the character of the other callers. Now it's open season on the hosts too.

In the end, these professional radio show hosts are being attacked for not getting into line behind government policies and for declining to act as unpaid government cheerleaders of the public airwaves. And to what end? I doubt that either Swain nor Simms will change their on-air demeanors to suit the designs of their detractors.

And that's the problem with the "attack the media" government strategy. Government and media live in a symbiotic relationship and they need each other. These kinds of attacks personalises a relationship that should be kept cool, detached and professional.

Every losing political candidate or government will go through a phase of rationalizing their defeat by blaming the media. In fact, the media is merely doing their jobs and when a government sees things in the media they don't like or find damaging to their credibility, government has only themselves to blame.

But the immediate issue is this: when a government has to descend to the level of hunting down and shooting the bearers of bad news, then we see a frustrated government that is well and truly running out of ideas for explanation and defence.

============================
*DTP = Defending the Premier

Monday, November 27, 2006

Yet more pharmacists

I don't want to be all pharmacists all the time but this story is starting to spin out in fairly predictable ways.

Today is this CBC story (Eastern Health package could hurt other regions: pharmacists) which reads in part:

Sharon King, the executive director of the Association of Allied Health Professionals, said the effort would help prevent hospital-based pharmacists from resigning — but could create a drain for other regional boards.

"I would think those boards would probably be more concerned now, with Eastern Health addressing the problem, because they're at a high risk of losing their pharmacists to the Eastern board," King said.

You might recall that in my post a few days ago (No from above, OK from below) I asked the question:

Third, does this mean that we will now see a bidding war for pharmacists, not just between this province and others, but within this province between board jurisdictions? Will other regional health boards in this province feel forced to match this offer?
Apparently it just may mean exactly that. Except of course, for the fact that government will come riding in at the last minute to save the day; they will take all the credit for alleviating the chaos and confusion around this issue for which they are primarily responsible for causing in the first place.

Let's see how many other questions get asked about this issue.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Goodbye accrual world(?)

One of the great buzzwords leading into the last provincial election and since this government has taken office has been accrual accounting of the government books. This has come mostly from one Loyola Sullivan, the man of a billion numbers and the province's current finance minister.

Mr. Sullivan's concern with accrual accounting had much to recommend it. Let me explain a bit.

Over the years, government established a slew of regional bodies to take care of one thing or another. Most notably, we're talking about health and social services (through the regional health boards) and education (through the regional school boards).

An ongoing problem has been previous governments' shell game in not counting deficits and liabilities of those bodies in the overall books of government. And since the province is ultimately on the hook for any liabilities or deficits these bodies take on, it's only right that the province should account for that.

Think of it this way: when you co-sign for a credit card for your minor child, you had better get used to the idea that their liabilities are also your liabilities unless and until your child hits the age of majority and, chances are, even after that you'll continue to shell out.

One way the government keeps these matters in control is to limit the ability of regional boards to spend beyond its means and to ruthlessly make internal changes to clear out deficit problem when they do happen. Think about the times the province has called in outside management consultants into the western regional health board to see what I mean.

Then this staff pharmacist issue comes along. My understanding is that the situation was rapidly hitting a breaking point. It had long gone past from having enough staff pharmacists to having too few. There were places where going from having too few to having none in place at all was staring them in the face. The matter had to be dealt with and dealt with right now.

Then when the Health Board makes a move to put the issue to bed with a $1 million bonus payout, CBC said:
The largest health board in Newfoundland and Labrador has made a unilateral move to stop hospital-based pharmacists from moving away.

Sounds like a great piece of initiative on their part - brave and courageous, in fact.

All this is a long way to get to a simple question: has the province and Loyola Sullivan given up the faith of accrual accounting, and the basic lines of implicit accountability, in allowing the Eastern Regional Health Board to pony up an additional $1 million for pharmacist bonuses?

Is Minster Sullivan allowing the Boards to run their expenditures as they want without consideration of government's priorities?

Well, no, not quite. On November 16, CBC reported that:

Sullivan, who is scheduled to give a fiscal update Thursday afternoon that is expected to show the province is running a current account deficit, said the government cannot afford to deal with the pharmacists' issues this year.

However, he committed to review salaries next year.

More than a month before, on October 14, CBC reported that:

Health and Community Services Minister Tom Osborne said he is aware of the shortage, but asked them to postpone any job action.

"I would ask them to hold off on immediate action until at least I have an opportunity to contact the regional health authorities and we can put contingency plans in place," Osborne said.

So what we have in place today is a different kind of shell game than we've seen previously; we have a government that has performed the political equivalent of cheque-kiting.

You see Minister Sullivan wants to go through his pre-budget consultations "managing" expectations (playing them down so people/organizations/interests won't ask for more money) and preparing the ground his own priorities.

But the province is bleeding away pharmacists now.

So the shells start to move across the table: the stakes are the health of patients in the hospital system and the prize is $1 million in pharmacist bonuses.

Government wants to resolve this matter now with appearing to have too much money in a time when government announces a paper deficit. The Health Board wants to solve this problem because it really has to in order not to jeopardize the health of patients.

So was this truly a "unilateral" move as CBC described it? Was the Health Board brave and courageous in taking this bull by the horns? There's no reason to believe that.

I expect the Board went ahead and organised the bonus payouts to pharmacists with the tacit agreement of government. I expect it was also with the understanding that the Board will be reimbursed by government in the upcoming budget.

It's worth keeping in mind that no board in this province can make any decision anytime on any matter without at least the tacit approval of the Minister responsible or the Premier himself; any decision made by any board can be unmade at a stroke of a Confederation Building pen.

Sometimes it's convenient to rein in regional boards (overturning a school closing) and other times it's more convenient to let them run ahead until you are ready to announce a solution of your own.

There is nothing counter to any law, statute or regulation in any of this but it does show the willingness of government to play shell games with employees (pharmacists), very sick patients including cancer victims and with the boards to whom it entrusts to deliver services to the province.

And it's all for the political goal of managing the expectations of the upcoming budget.

And while it's not illegal, it does strain to the breaking point the ideas of openness, transparency and accountability; it's just another reason to look behind the news just a little bit closer.

Friday, November 24, 2006

No from above, OK from below

What does it mean when a government board or agency approves an expenditure that has been explicitly rejected by the provincial government which funds it?

In NL we have regional health boards which receive funding from the province (not enough, some would say) to administer health and social services in their region. They are given just so much money and no more. Some Boards have landed in deep hot water for over-spending.

One service that comes under these organizations is staff pharmacists. These pharmacists have been agitating and launching a work slow-down in order to bring up their wages.

The Minister of Health, Tom Osborne, has been unequivocal - no way.

You would think that would be the end of it but you would be wrong.

Now the Eastern Health Board has announced a plan to address the shortage of hospital pharmacists with an $18,000 bonus to be paid out over the life of the current collective agreement which expires in June 2008.

Considering that those bonuses have to be allocated out of money that is allocated to the health board by the province, you have to consider a couple of questions.

First, what line item is that money being taken from and what else is not seeing a much-needed $1 million?

Second, if the board can just allocate $1 million on this kind of ad hoc basis, then what kind of financial controls, or potential surplus, do they have in place?

Third, does this mean that we will now see a bidding war for pharmacists, not just between this province and others, but within this province between board jurisdictions? Will other regional health boards in this province feel forced to match this offer?

Finally, will the province reimburse the board for this unforeseen $1 million expense? If so, then why didn't they just cover it in the first place. If not, where is this money going to come from.

This can't be the end of this story.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Don't hate me because I'm beautiful

You know those people - the beautiful people for whom all is easy. The kind that other people fall over themselves to clear obstacles, provide offerings of devotion or just to profess love.

These people never had to work at anything because they just never had to. They never had to expend any effort in planning because it all just fell into their lap. That's the way they expected it and that's the way people around them learned to expect it.

Then some time passes and the beauty starts to fade as the inevitable wrinkles, dings and nicks of time start to manifest themselves. Gifts get a little harder to come by and the adoration of the people becomes more forced. Whereas before people were content to bathe in the glory that is them, now people actually start wanting something in return for the adoration they provided in the past.

Even worse, now they have to start developing skills they never needed before - having to sell their ideas where before they were accepted without question. More and more of their efforts go into proving to people that they are actually useful to have around and that they're not just another pretty face.

Where the people previously accepted their bland reassurances without question, now their life has become wearying as the doubts mount and people take less and less for granted.

They start to become aware that while friends come and go, enemies accumulate with a new readiness and willingness to pounce where before they were content to stay out of the way.

Yesterday's glories recede into the past as the question of the day gets louder, What have you done for me lately?

Then a slow realization dawns: in politics there is no such thing as unconditional love.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Way too good to be true

From CBC
He said a competing network will lead to other benefits, but "it is not possible to quantify the benefits exactly because the number is so huge and so enormous that you cannot quantify it. It is in the hundreds, and hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars," Williams told the legislature.
If even a fraction of this is true then it truly is hard to pass up a deal like this.

And if all of it is true then there are too many inconsistencies just on the face of this whole matter to accept easily. The fact is that claims like this raise more questions than they answer.

First, if a government can’t quantify the benefits of a public policy decision then government has no business making a decision to proceed. The only numbers too big to quantify are in rarefied and obscure corners of cosmological physics and even those practitioners can give you a number of some kind.

The fact that Premier Williams is willing to stake his reputation for good business judgment and his government’s reputation for competence on a public policy decision whose benefits are unquantifiable is hard to accept. He must make the effort to quantify the benefits otherwise it’s just gut instinct – a spectacularly bad way to spend public money.

Second, to whom do the benefits accrue? If they accrue to the 3 firms involved, then his decision to put public money into this project directly benefits, to the tune of hundreds of millions, his former business partners.

If this is the case then, protestations about legalities notwithstanding, this is an ethical conflict of interest on a monumental scale.

And if the benefits are so humongous as to be unquantifiable, then why did the partners need public money when private investors would have been lined up around the block for a small piece of this project given the enormous potential returns.

But if the benefits are to accrue to the public at large, how will they do so and where is the analysis showing this to be the case?

I’ve worked on public policy for prior provincial governments and I have had a hand in preparing materials for cabinet decisions. One this is for sure – nothing is left to chance and all claims of benefits are analyzed, researched and documented.

If the Premier says there are hundreds of millions of dollars of potential benefits, then that claim too has been analyzed, researched and documented by either outside analysts or internal resources.

So the question is this: wouldn’t it be worth releasing that analysis which outlines the millions upon millions of dollars of benefits, and to who they accrue, in order to put this matter to bed?

What could be sweeter, from the government’s perspective, than to prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt and to show the province that the complaints of Gerry Reid and the Opposition are hollow, politically motivated, empty and meaningless noise?

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Cool it!

When you watch the House of Assembly, or any other Legislature for that matter, you have to remember that you are watching a piece of theater.

Not all the time - some debates really are for the benefit of the other members. But most times the show is for the benefit of the cameras and the media and Question Period is at the center of it. It provides the most interesting drama because it's short, compact and conflict-driven.

For the media, it's the highlight of the House day - they show up for the sitting, watch QP, do their scrums with the MHAs afterwards and then, as often as not, head out to cover other stories.

I'm not saying that anything would change if the media devoted more time to covering other parts of the House operations. I doubt it would. But because the media attention is concentrated to that time, MHAs have every incentive to make the best of it.

One thing that's important to understand is that it's called Question Period and not Answer Period for a reason. A well-prepared Opposition will ask questions with the point of just getting the question on the record; whether they receive an answer or not is besides the point. Just getting the question out can be enough because they know a well-prepared minister will never get pinned down.

It's a game and when it's well played, it's really something to watch. If you ever get the opportunity, watch the Prime Minister's Question Period on Friday nights on CPAC. Prime Minister Blair stands up in the the mother of Parliaments and takes on questions from all comers. It is a true display of dazzling parliamentary virtuosity; he's cool, collected, informed and informative and dances like a master.

Part of the game is the emotional tone. Around here the Opposition acts outraged that they even have to raise whatever question they are asking and the Government acts outraged that the Opposition has the nerve to bring up something so inconsequential and irrelevant.

Sometimes they do vary the tone and veer into wildly different areas like umbrage, self-righteousness or they act affronted, aggrieved, incensed, infuriated, injured, insulted, scandalized, shocked or indignant

But most of the time it's just outrage and that constant diet of outrage can be wearying at times. It would be more interesting if the folks in the House could come up with something else but outrage is where they're comfortable, it's what they can do, so it's how they perform.

Most times it's just feigned - the Opposition *acts* outraged and the Government members respond in kind.

Then there are other times when the House becomes a well and true rat's nest of intense negative emotions, when members lose control and their cool and all sides get into things that they shouldn't.

There are some Opposition members who are masters at baiting Ministers and, especially, the Premier. They know just what buttons to push and just how to needle to make their victim spin out of control.

The game for the Oppostion is to make their victim lose control; the game for the victim is to stay cool and never lose control.

One of the giants of this game, on the victim side anyway, was the Rt Hon. Herb Gray. When the Opposition would ask him a question, he'd get up slowly and just start talking so the "Gray fog" descended upon the chamber obscuring everything, especially the issue at hand.

He never lost his cool and never become upset; he was a master of the game.

You only have to watch a couple of QP's of the local House to see that Premier Williams can be easily provoked into a high-speed top-like spin. And since his definition of what constitutes a "personal attack" is so broad (anything he's not keen to hear), it makes him especially vulnerable to provocation.

So when Premier Williams loses his temper and challenges a member to "repeat his comments outside" (more likely to see pigs flying overhead) and says "I'll sue your ass off", he has thrown up the white flag, announced to the world that he's lost control and that he's lost the argument too; he's given up the fight.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Govt in a bad spot

A dilemma is defined as having limited choices, only those choices and all of them are bad.

On the matter of the fibre optic deal and the Lobbyist Registration Act, this government is in a dilemma.

On one side, government can make the argument, and not without merit, that the Lobbyist legislation does not apply in this case when the partners in the deal put forward an unsolicited proposal for government to drop $15m into a cross-province fibre optic installation.

If that's true then what's the point of the Act, so goes he popular thought, if it doesn't cover things like this?

On the other hand if the Lobbyist Act does apply, and the principals of Rogers Communications, Persona Communications and MTS Allstream did not register, then the fallout will be unpleasant for government.

In fact the Lobbyist Act was a poor idea that was poorly executed to resolve a problem that was poorly understood; it solves problems that didn't really exist here (the stereotype of corporate giants wining and dining government officials to gain influence) and ignored problems that do (close connections taking advantage of personal contacts in a province where most people know most other people).

But since the Lobbyist Act was oversold as the solution and cleanup to all problems of undue influence without ever defining what the problems were exactly, the public has read into the Lobbying Act what they think it should mean. And many think it should mean covering actions that led to things like this deal.

The fact that is does not, at least according to Premier Williams and I tend to agree given the provisions of the Act, means government is in a bad spot.

The fact that it's a political problem as opposed to a legal problem doesn't make the matter less problematic.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Iqaluit bound!

It's that time of the year - the Nunavut Territorial Legislature will open this Tuesday. That means this Monday I start the flight north, through Montreal, to my little corner of the Iqaluit Suites Hotel. From there I'll commute across the street to my office where I'll edit and index the territorial Hansard until the legislature closes.


I'll be there some 3 weeks and then I return home. This is my third time up and I've enjoyed it more and more each time. Iqaluit is a town of about 8-9000. It seems like 1/4 are Newfoundlanders so I'm not long finding people from home. One of them is the irrepressible Townie Bastard whose appetite for chocolate Timbits I'll make every effort to slake.

This is the building where my office is located. It's a pic I took last time I was there (early June) at roughly 2am. This was as dark as it gets that time of year. Given the choice between almost 24 hours night and almost 24 hours day, I'll take the former anytime.

The Legislature up there is a fascinating institution, especially compared to our own House of Assembly, and I'll post more about that while I'm up there. Not only to they meet longer and more than ours does, their internal operations are very different reflecting a different political culture and priorities. Our House could learn much from them.

So if I'm a little more sparse in my postings here, that's why. I know some people might be wistful at that prospect but I know there'll be some who will be overjoyed. In either case, it won't last long.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

End of an era - Sprung lands sold

On November 15 the Newfoundland and Labrador Housing Corporation closed tenders for the Sprung lands in Mt. Pearl. For those of you who are too young to remember this notorious era in NL history, I direct you over to Premier Peckford's pickle palace, a CBC retrospective on the subject.

This scandal lowered the curtain on 17 years of Progressive Conservative administrations, and particularly on the Peckford government. A wave of public revulsion on the issue elected the Liberal government of Premier Clyde Wells which had the unexpected effect of profoundly changing Canadian constitutional history when he rejected Meech Lake.

A total of about 800,000 cucumbers were produced with a cost to taxpayers per cucumber of $27.50, compared to 50 cents for cucumbers produced out of province and sold in Newfoundland grocery stores.

In 2001, Globe and Mail columnist Heather Mallick wrote: "As scams to rake in government money went, it was the most embarrassing in Canadian history."

In the end the Sprung Greenhouse project exposed the conduct of the last years of the PC/Peckford administration as capricious and casual in its decision-making process, sloppy and self-interested in it's use of public funds, high-handed and vicious towards critical media and unrepentant in the short-sighted and wasteful expediture of roughly $25m of taxpayer's money.

This history should be taught to every student in the NL school system as a valuable civics lesson never to be forgotten. If we don't remember history like this, we are well and truly doomed to repeat it.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Thank you for your support


So far so good in the Atlantic Business Magazine Expert Q&A.

Traffic to the site has gone up and so far I've had 5 comments/questions in only 2 days. Come check them out and if you have one of your own, please feel free to contribute.

And thanx very kindly to Liam O'Brien for his kind words. I'm sure his endorsement of a position of mine is as much a surprise to him as it is to me.

I still have a few more questions to answer so I'll get those out as quick as I can.

In the meantime, give the article a read - leave me a comment/question.

Talking points gone bad - The Jane Stewart award goes to. . .

I listen to the news and talk radio differently than the casual listener. I've prepared public officials for these media so I can recognize the telltale signs of preparation in what they say and how they say it.

If they have any talent and they are well prepared, it's a joy to listen to: concise, clear, informative.

If they have no talent and/or been badly prepared it can be torturous. Try listening to Natural Resources Minister Dunderdale with her "cross-sectoral" and "drill-downs" and "doing due diligence." She crams more meaningless buzzwords in fewer sentences than any minister I've seen in some time.

Does anybody remember the Jane Stewart/HRDC scandal? Who could forget the sight of federal minister Jane Stewart in a scrum repeating her same talking point over and over and over again like a mantra in response to different questions. She sounded like a broken record and in the process became the joke of the nation's capital.

Last night nearly 300 people crowded into the school's gym at Paradise Elementary to voice concerns on mould and to demand answers from Eastern School District education director Darin King. Apparently it's a big problem in the school. Walls have been torn out and you can smell a strong smell of mould as soon as you walk into the place.

All of Dr. King's public comments and media work so far indicates that he is badly implementing poor communications advice but the capper came last night where one notable exchange went as thus:
Todd O'Neill (a father): "Can you smell the mould?"

Dr. Darin King: "I'm not qualified to answer the question."

O'Neill: "You've got a nose, don't you?!?!"
This was just another manifestation of the same talking point he's been using all along - that mould is not his field of expertise and that he's just following the advice of experts.

But talking points are supposed to facilitate, organize and clarify the flow of communication, not impede it.

Dr. King must have missed that lesson.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Signs, signs, everywhere are signs

Here is a great article on a very practical and mundane aspect of electoral politics - the removal of campaign signs after election day.

Around here it's not much of an issue at all. Within 24 hours or so of last year's municipal election, it seemed like every sign just evaporated overnight.

I know I lost a huge proportion of mine.

I hear many took them because they make great cabin insulation.

Here's hoping you had a warm and comfortable winter!