Friday, June 30, 2006

Lets Talk Public Inquiry

If you believe we need a public inquiry into the operations of the House of Assembly, click on a link to the right. There is:

Since Wednesday, June 21, 2006 the people of Newfoundland and Labrador have been appalled by allegations of gross financial improprieties and mismanagement within the House of Assembly. Former government house leader and natural resources minister Ed Byrne resigned from cabinet after Auditor General John Noseworthy revealed that Byrne and three other current or former members of the House of Assembly are being investigated for overpayments totaling more than $1 million on constituency allowances.

The Royal Newfoundland Constabulary are currently investigating.

In addition, a former financial officer of the House of Assembly is alleged to have made improper payments totaling $2,651,644 to four suppliers, including one which he owns personally. Auditor General Noseworthy has turned his findings on the payments to suppliers over to the Newfoundland and Labrador Department of Justice. The RNC is investigating this as well.

Premier Danny Williams responded quickly to the charges. He has:

  • Asked for and received the resignation of Ed Byrne
  • Asked the Hon. Derek Greene , Chief Justice of the Newfoundland Supreme Court trial division, to review and recommend how members of the House of Assembly should be compensated.

This is not enough.

The Auditor General has limited scope to investigate these matters further. He has freely admitted that he only investigates to the point where he is satisfied something is amiss and then turns the matter to others.

The legal system through police investigation and judicial court action (if it goes that far) will focus their attention on any possible criminal wrongdoing. Justice Greene's mandate is confined to the issue of MHA compensation from this point forward. He will not examine what happened in the past.

All these actions, while laudable, will not bring to account all those responsible, nor will it exonerate those who acted properly. A cloud of suspicion will remain over current and former members of the House of Assembly. That cloud will damage the credibility on politicians who are entrusted with making serious decisions on our behalf as residents of Newfoundland and Labrador.

The only way to get to the bottom of what has happened, fully account for the handling of public money and start the process of restoring confidence in the legislature is through a public inquiry. The Premier's sincere desire to find out what happened and fix any problems is shared by everyone in Newfoundland and Labrador.

A public inquiry is the only way to go.

The Poor Bastards. . . Could be

This post on Townie Bastard called The poor bastards... helps put matters into perspective. It's easy to get lost in the details as each day brings new breathless revelations and extended news reports.

But what exactly is going on and how can we sort out what is true, false or spin?

This is the most difficult kind of situation to work out because the media are on it like a pack of rabid dogs, the subjects of the investigations are articulate and well-defended.

I'm concerned that the political class has every interest in limiting the scope of the digging while offering to the public the solution-to-end-all-solutions to the problem as they've defined it. And they can look sincere and disappointed while doing it.

I'm not sure I want them to define what the problem is, exactly, and I know I don't want to see "solutions" imposed in an ad hoc way. After all, we still don't have all the information yet. How can we have solutions imposed without full disclosure of all the facts?

There is only one way we'll hear and see it all: a full and complete public inquiry.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Time to call the Public Inquiry


The CBC report this evening puts the last week's events into perspective and lays it out pretty clearly: there have been (and probably continue to be) fundamental problems in the financial administration in the House of Assembly.

Recent revelations outline two distinct scams. One is exemplified by the tale of Ed Byrne, and three other MHA's, of gross constituency allowance overpayments.

The second is the apparent cozy relationship between Bill Murray, former Director of Finance, and 4 suppliers, one of them his own firm. He apparently funneling huge sums of money into those shops with little or no checks, balances or documentation. Time will tell who profited from this.

The total so far is $4 million and counting.

When I hear stories of enough pins, keychains and fridge magnets for every man, woman and child in the province, I can't help but think of Gomery and the famous Chretien golf balls.

While Premier Williams has been fast out of the gate in responding to the media problem of the day (ie. sending in a judge to look at MHA compensation) it's all too clear that he needs to take more circumspective action. Craig Wescott may characterize this insta-response as decisive, and I'm sure many people see it that way, but this kind of piecemeal reaction misses the big picture.

Part of the problem is that the bigger picture is not out yet but, from all reports, MHA compensation and the constituency allowance is but a part of it.

The overall effect of these revelations is to bring all MHA's, all parties and government itself into disrepute; the province needs to initiate a process of comprehensive rehabilitation.

It's worthwhile to note this following passage from the Public Inquiries Act:

2. (1) Where the Lieutenant-Governor in Council considers it expedient to make an inquiry into a matter connected with the peace, order and good government of this province, or the conduct of a part of the public business, or the administration of justice, or into the industries of this province, or into other matters which he or she considers to be for the public good, the Lieutenant-Governor in Council may by Commission under the Great Seal appoint the person or persons, called the commissioner or commissioners, that he or she may select to hold the inquiry. (added emphasis mine)
I can't think of an issue which impinges more on the peace, order and good government of this province, or the conduct of a part of the public business than this.

Premier Williams, it's time to call the public inquiry and let the chips fall where they may.

(See Bond Papers for differing reasoning but similar conclusion.)

Pepsi Strike

If you are looking for an organization that consistently stands by it's long-term principles, you'd have to go a long ways to top the union movement.

I remember the racket that followed the closure of the local Coca-Cola bottling plant back in the early 90's. What a catastrophe, said the local labour mavens. It was such a milestone event that the unions insisted that we boycott all Coke products (and MacDonald's too, as I recall, because they sell only Coke products) for the company's temerity to import Coke into the province instead of producing it locally.

To this day their products are still manufactured on the mainland and then shipped into this province. *

Fast-forward to today. Browning-Harvey is on strike. Wages and benefits are key issues and the union is deeply concerned about technological changes that Browning Harvey intends to implement. Now the company has ceased producing Pepsi products and they have resorted to importing them from outside the province.

So what PR campaign does Carol Furlong, President of NAPE undertake? Push harder and let's all boycott Pepsi products.

But if Coke can import their products into the province and still keep the price low enough to win major local contracts, I would have thought it wise for Carol and her cohorts not to push the company to the wall. Otherwise, NAPE members will be drinking a lot of tapwater from now on.

Or does that mean the Coke boycott is officially rescinded? Please let me know at the usual email address prior to my next grocery day.


*This slight was compounded in 1996 when Chartwells, the catering service supplying the cafeterias and vending machines on MUN campus signed an exclusivity deal with Coca-Cola. In retaliation, the local Pepsi bottler, Browning-Harvey stirred a PR tempest that saw them withdraw their representatives to MUN business school advisory committees and pull their money from a series of scholarships.

Those with an historical bent and too much time on their hands will find a letter to the editor by your truly published in the Telegram at the time. There I argued that if these kind of petulant reactions were best response that Browning-Harvey could come up with to legitimately losing out on a business contract, then they had nothing to teach the next generation of business people.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Political Hypocrisy - Painful to Watch

Regular readers of this blog will see certain themes running through my posts. These themes are ideas that I think are important to develop, expose and contribute to the public debate in the city, province and country.

One of them is the exposure of political hypocrisy. That does not mean the popular meaning of politicians doing what I don't like. I mean the insincerity of pretending to have qualities or beliefs that one does not really have or the act of pretending to have beliefs, virtues and feelings that one does not truly possess.

This video says it all.

Councillor sticks neck out

St. John's is proud of it's status as a World Energy City and well it should be.

In the past Mayor Andy Wells could not keep quiet about it. According to Oil and Gas Magazine, he proclaimed that "This is an offshore oil capital ... And we need new developments to be announced before construction finishes next year on the White Rose project. The Hebron-Ben Nevis announcement should be made soon and this will keep momentum moving in the right direction."

That was then. This is now. These days you couldn't get Andy to speak on the oil issue if you beat him with an iron rod.

He is, however, very vocal on other issues critical to the city such as the discovery of pigment-coated rodent cadavers but let's leave that to another day.

Not a sound on oil/gas will he make today.

Why the sudden shift? Why won't he make any statement on the collapse on the Hebron negotiations other than "I support the Premier"? After all he's not normally a follower who leaves the talking to others if he help it. He's proud of his status as a self-proclaimed truth-speaker who will always stand up for the interests of the people of St. John.

That's part of the great Andy Wells political myth.

In fact the Hebron development (or lack of it) is the biggest economic issue currently on the horizon and it has the potential to affect the overall health of the city of St. John's for the next 20 years. This industry has already made an enormous difference to the region. It has ensured (up till now) healthy housing starts and prices and a booming retail sector. If you drive up and down Water and Duckworth, you see more interesting stores and restaurants than we've ever seen before. To top it off, the employment rate is as close to full as we've seen in our lifetimes.

All this makes for stable St. John's municipal tax revenues.

Yet Mayor Andy Wells will not utter a peep in fear of possible jeopardizing his chance of taking over the Chairmanship of the CNLOPB.

Now it has been left to councillor Art Puddister to take up the issue. Tomorrow night he will ask city council to back his request that the province confirm Ruelokke as the new chair.

Wells will raise holy hell when he not entitled to. He is in a clear and gross conflict of interest on this and should keep to his strategy to keeping quiet on this issue. He should not contribute to the debate because he has nothing to contribute but self-interested noise. Nor should he be voting.

My bet is that he will anyway.

Then the people of St. John's will be treated to the spectacle of having their economic future held hostage to one man's personal ambition.

And you thought we had it bad

A report from BBC today revealed that Kenya has again topped itself in the worldwide corruption stakes.

Three senior Kenyan government ministers have resigned over corruption claims in the past few months. Last week, another corruption scandal involving a bank and millions of dollars of missing taxes dominated the headlines.

And now the head of the Kenyan office of a global anti-corruption watchdog has been sacked over allegations of financial and other irregularities.

It's bad when the watchers themselves are carried away in handcuffs.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

$$ Scandal Political Fallout - NDP

It's been widely reported that Randy Collins is one of the four (so far) involved in the constituency allowance overdraws.

It might be premature to try to predict the fallout that will rain on each party as a result of this mess but it's worthwhile trying anyway. I'm going to look at the NDP this time and I'll follow up with the other parties as matters unfold further.

I think the future of the NDP is already clear - it's dark and grim.

In general, one of the party's strengths has always been that it's different from the other parties - cleaner and more ethical without the kind of petty base corruptions that the other parties are famous for. That's all gone now. They have demonstrated that all that self-righteousness was but empty finger-wagging and hot air. In the end they have no more claim to the moral high ground than any other party.

In more specific terms, right now they have they have two members in the House and a Leader sitting outside.

Randy Collins appears to be the NDP member implicated in this mess. (By the way I was very impressed with the speed and alacrity with which Mr. Harris cut loose his benchmate and close comrade - nice job.) Collins won his seat in Labrador West by a slim 156 votes in 1999 and a much more healthy 1600 votes in 2003.

What's his future? If the charges of gross over-expenses are true, then his most likely future will be resignation from the House, jail time and repayment of the monies taken. As for his seat, under other circumstances, of all the seats in province, his seat is one of the ones most likely to go NDP under most circumstances. It's strong union environment and it has a history of going NDP in the past (see the career of Peter Fenwick).

But with his resignation under these circumstances, it's anybody's guess where it will go. And my guess is that it's no more likely to go NDP than any other seat in the province. That's means they are unlikely to keep it in any election or byelection for the next while.

Jack Harris, the outgoing leader and member from Signal Hill-Quidi Vidi, only ever won by the slimmest of margins. The new leader, Lorraine Michael has only a very limited chance of ever taking Signal Hill-Quidi Vidi in my, hers, or anybody else's lifetime.

All this leaves the party in a very bad spot. They were electorally marginal to begin with. The party image has been based on being squeaky clean and now that brand has been badly damaged. They have only two seats with the more secure one being held by the now-damaged Randy Collins with no reason to expect them to hold it in the future. The outgoing leader is vacating a barely held seat and the incoming leader has little chance of holding it.

My guess is that the NDP will be entering a cold spell with no members in the House at all. Collins will resign, Harris will resign and the NDP will lose both seats in the elections that follow.

Logical disconnect?

As a regular caller to the call-in shows, Merv Wiseman, president of the Fur Breeders Association and local head farmer through his work with the agricultural association, has been very clear and very vocal: people should support their local producers of food, fur and other products through higher prices and regulatory protection.

One day I heard him on the radio arguing that there should be a special "levy" (read "tax") on food to support local farmers so that we would not have to import food from other jurisdictions. This importation is, in his view, bad regardless of how cheaper it might be to the consumer.

So you can see the kind of mirth and merriment this VOCM story should raise in the local salons. It's so good I think I should reproduce it in it's entirety:

Go Figure - Fish Offal Imported
June 25, 2006

Fur breeders in Newfoundland want the provincial government to help them out with the most expensive aspect of their operation - feed.

They are not looking for a subsidy, rather some rules they can go by to access fish offal from this province. Believe it or not, fur breeders - those who raise things like mink - actually imported most of their fish offal last year from Ontario and Scandinavia. They say it's too expensive to buy it from fish plants here.

Merv Wiseman, president of the Fur Breeders Association, says fish companies here charge too much.

Clearly sauce for the goose is not equal to sauce for the gander

Friday, June 23, 2006

Ed Byrne - Just the Start

By way of disclosure, I have known many MHA's over the years from all sides of the House, a few of them very well going back 25 or more years. I've also come to know many members of the House of Assembly staff which provide the support and administrative services the MHA's and their staff need to do their job effectively.

Together, this group of elected officials and civil servants are as dedicated, honest, hardworking and ethical a group of people as you will find anywhere. The flip side is that, like any other group of people, some fail to meet those high standards of behavior and are vulnerable to those dark and common human frailties and weaknesses.

When I first heard the charges from the Auditor General alleging massive corruption and theft on the part of Ed Byrne and at least 3 other current or prior members of the House of Assembly I was appalled. I was appalled at the affrontery and premeditation over the extended period of time that this kind of theft requires.

I'm offended that the Internal Economy Commission (the internal committee of government and opposition members and Speaker which oversees House operations) was used as a shield to keep the AG out of the House financial affairs under the cover of protecting Member privileges.

Finally I'm disappointed at the AG's charge that some of the House staff had to be complicit in aiding and abetting these illegal activities.

This is the kind of behavior that paints all public officials in a bad light and brings the exercising the responsibilities of public office into disrepute. This betrayal of the public trust and looting of the public purse has to be vigorously investigated. My congratulations to the AG John Noseworthy in discovering this long-term pattern of malfeasance.

I, along with many in the province, await with trepidation the naming of the other MHA's involved. Chances are that they will be people I know or have known and that makes my trepidation that much worse.

According to reports, these MHA's come from all parties. That makes this a non-partisan issue and different in kind and scope from the standard government-opposition issues. Therefore, this has to be handled in a non-partisan manner.

Rather than the Premier taking this entire matter upon himself in the way that he has, I would have thought it would have been more appropriate for him to call in the other party leaders in the House (assuming they are also not involved) and working out a common approach to dealing with these rogue MHA's.

This scandal will harm all the parties in the House. It is the problem of all parties in the House because it is clearly rooted in all parties in the House. Therefore the solution must come from a common effort of all the parties.

I have no doubt we are just on the beginning of this road; my sympathies to Ed's family.

Mayor Wells - Major Hypocrite

Sometime last week Mayor Andy Wells received a telephone call from a woman telling him that she saw a dead and paint-covered squirrel near a paintball facility in Mt. Pearl.

So what did he do? He did the right thing and notified the SPCA and the city's Humane Services Division and asked them to investigate.

Way to go and so far so good.

Up until Tuesday afternoon, he had not yet received any information back from either of these two agencies. In fact he's seen no squirrels himself. He has no outside collaboration outside of this phone call. He has freely admitted he has no idea if the charges are true.

So, in full ignorance of any evidence or other factual information, Mayor Wells decided to take action on this issue and. . . go public?

On Tuesday afternoon he send out a fax to every news outlet letting the world know that he's received this complaint and that he's taking action. He was even good enough to name and locate the paintball company supposedly involved.

Was this at the request of the SPCA and the city's Humane Services Division as a way of furthering the investigation? He doesn't say. On Wednesday's CBC Morning Show, he said he just wanted to let the public know.

"That's all I can do", he said.

In fact he had many alternate choices of action, all of them more sensible, responsible and circumspect and he freely rejected all of them choosing to do otherwise. He could have awaited the results of the investigation by the proper authorities. He could have allowed those authorities to make their own inquiries about the possibility of other persons coming across pigment-coated rodent cadavers. He could have just stayed out of it since there was now little he could do until real information came in.

Instead he chose to jump into the media limelight and claim what little political credit he could out of this tempest in a teapot. At the same time he tarred and feathered a business without any shred of evidence whatsoever.

On Thursday, the CBC Morning Show ran another interview on this issue, this time with a justifiably annoyed paintball business owner. He said he had no idea what the mayor was talking about, that he had called Wells to talk about it and that Wells had apologized to him for naming the business.

Oddly, the Mayor, friend to the media that he is, declined to come on the air with CBC and repeat that apology.

What a hypocrite.

The next time the Mayor concludes "that's all I can do",he should try doing nothing at all instead and let the grown-ups take care of it.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Spare me the Passion: In Defence of Political Reason

(Updated from a previous post - published in The Telegram, June 22/06)

I'm pretty sick of "passion" being the objective ideal of the NL patriot. Frankly, we've had too much passion from elected officials over the years and it’s done the province no good.

Somewhere along the way politicians got the idea that we want them to be passionate. Maybe they’re passionate because they think we want them to be that way, I don't know. Maybe some of them truly are passionate. But even if they are truly passionate, how does that qualify them for the job they hold or the job they're running for?

Look at Peckford. God knows Peckford was passionate. In fact, he was passionate all the time. He never knew how not to be passionate. He was so passionate that he launched one dramatic political jihad after another. Remember when he called on the people of the province to wear black armbands in response to the Supreme Court decision on the offshore? Pure political passion at it’s finest.

And then when he was finally spent and had no passion left, so did he.

Other premiers show a mixed record. Tobin may have been passionate; it was always hard to tell. He was either really passionate or a really good faker. Many accounts hold that the late Frank Moores was very passionate but he seems to have kept it to his private life. Clyde Wells was considered the epitome of rationalism in public life. By and large he was though he was still capable of turning purple when the occasion demanded.

Joey is considered have been very passionate but I don’t think he really was. He was dramatic, for sure, but I think he was far too canny and shrewd to lose himself to passion.

To be truly passionate means you have to lose yourself in it. Let's remember what the word "passion" means. According to, passion means "powerful emotion, such as love, joy, hatred, or anger" or "an abandoned display of emotion, especially of anger."

And it’s bad enough that politicians get passionate in campaigns but now they insist on being passionate once they get elected too.

Mario Cuomo, the remarkable New York State Governor had the wisdom to recognise that, "We campaign in poetry, but we must govern in prose." In other words, there are times when it’s right and proper for politicians to soar above the highest clouds on the wings of eagles. Then there is the responsibility of governing where the things you say and the decisions you make have consequences in the real world for the people you are responsible for.

In poetry lies the passion; in prose, the reason.

I’m not against passion on principle and I’m not saying that government and politicians should be boring or disengaged. Pierre Trudeau’s personal motto was “Reason before Passion”. Yet nobody would look upon his political career (or the life he lived) and conclude he was boring or disengaged.

After all, his motto wasn’t “Reason instead of passion”; he just had the good sense to put things in their proper order.

Passion is no guarantee of exercising good judgment or having sound ideas or having the insight of understanding where the province should go. It means making rash decisions without self-reflection or the real awareness of the costs involved.

As often as not, passion means elevating to a virtue mindlessly flying off the handle at a moment's notice.

I'm tired of it and I want a break.

I’d rather leave passion to the bedroom where it belongs.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Happy Father's Day

Wish you were here.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Canada Conservative Gets Aggressive With Big Oil - NYT Story

I do have a whole lot of respect for the New York Times (especially since my oldest brother has been shooting stuff for them for years). But if you look at this story, Canada Conservative Gets Aggressive With Big Oil, about Premier Williams and the Hebron negotiations you can see how a reporter from the US might get things a little askew sometimes.

The real problem is that the reporter confuses the Conservative Party with the American meaning of the concept of conservative. Never mind that the provincial Progressive Conservative Party is more interventionist in business than almost all branches of the US Democratic Party. When you realize that fact then the largest part of the premise for the story evaporates and the hook is gone.

The rest of it is pretty good on the facts (although Hebron has been moved to offshore Labrador - has anyone told Chevron?) but sort of skimpy on the critical analysis. For a more detailed piece covering those things, check out the upcoming issue of Atlantic Business Magazine featuring my story outlining some of the issues around the Hebron negotiations, government actions and their impacts on the province.

After it hits the streets, I'll be publishing it here in sections.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

MUN to Memorial Re-Branding

I don't have more to add on this than has already been mentioned by TownieBastard, Cove Blogger and Skylarkd who got out of the gate early on this issue. Clearly the matter of dropping the "of Newfoundland" from the university's name has punched some buttons.

Listening to Victoria Collins of MUN on CBC Morning Show, I was struck by how much PR-speak and Marketing jargon she threw around. She didn't really say anything wrong but on the other hand she really said nothing of substance at all. I thought it was interesting when she said the Senate has nothing to do with this (technically correct) as though it excuses ignoring them (politically stupid).

I thought the university has already tried changing the name some time ago and that project was stopped in it's tracks. Are they now trying to sneak through the back door what they couldn't walk through the front?

I don't have a problem in principle with looking at the name and logo for MUN. I do think the current logo looks dated. However, the fact is that if this branding goes through, the university won't have to ever formally rename itself because the real name (MUN) will be relegated to purely formal and legal functions. How many organizations out there have a legal name but operate under a popularly known brand name. More than you'd think.

Also, in listening to Ms. Collins, there was something in what she said and how she said it that rang bells in my head. Looking around, I found what she had reminded me of: just take a look at this New York Times story called "To Woo Students, Colleges Choose Names That Sell". This trend of rebranding universities is not new or restricted to the comms/pr professionals at MUN.

For the record, I think the new logo looks kinda generic and the name change is ridiculous.

Does anybody know what firm, if there was one, came up with this?

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Bread and Circuses

I remember the bad old days of the late 1980s and '90s when government economic policy was bankrupt on almost every level having to do with Newfoundland and Labrador fishery.

This was the time when the best the Peckfordians could do was rant, rave and establish make-work programs to shovel people off of Income Support (welfare to those uninitiated in government-speak) and onto UI where they'd be the federal government's problem and expense.

The Feds had no problem with this and opened the taps themselves by initiating all kinds of support programs. These programs were sold as fisherpeople retraining opportunities and such. In fact these were primarily waiting-for-fish-to-breed programs.

In the end, the "solution" was to open hitherto unfished species, the so called "underutilised" species to the same old environmental collectivist rape and pillage. Since then we've utilised the hell out of them so they too have gone into resource and price collapse.

So you might have thought that the governments would have learned by now that a root and branch restructuring of the fishery, along with biting the bullet on the social upheaval that comes along with that, is the long-term solution that would get us out of this long-term mess we're in.

But you would be wrong.

Instead the Feds, manifested through the wisdom of Minister of Fisheries and Oceans Loyola Hearn, have initiated a Bread and Circus strategy.

Just a few weeks ago, Minister Hearn announced a special deal on EI to allow more people get more EI longer. This is on top of the provincial announcement of make-work projects on the Burin peninsula.

This is the Bread part: pass around enough dough in the form of special programs to keep people off Income Support but not enough to allow them to live the life to which they had become accustomed. Maybe they'll stick around, maybe they'll leave. In any case, it will be their choice and government is off the hook having successfully ducked the responsibility for providing meaningful solutions.

The other part of the strategy is the recent federal announcements on the cod food fishery and limited cod commercial fishery. This addresses longstanding complaints from the irrational wing of the catch-them-all school of environmental devastation represented by such upstanding policy wonks as Jim Morgan and his comrade in arms Rick Bouzan. Notably, every last reputable scientist worth his or her sea-salt who has come out on this has said this is a silly idea with possible long-term negative consequences.

This is the Circus part: giving people a distraction and it's best if it's at no cost to you. As long as people are focused on what they think they want and what they think might do them good, you can make them forget about what they really need for long-term prosperity. Will a food fishery address the current industry problems in any way other than thinning out an already thin stock? If so, please let me know because it's opaque to me.

So what is Bread and Circuses about? It's about minimizing government effort and political liability. It's about buying time while hoping that some real solution will come by. It's about hoping people will get fed up, leave and take the problem with them.

As laissez-faire economics hidden under the guise of caring and faux vigorous pseudo-activity, it is deceptive social and economic policy at it's best.

So far so good.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Fishing for Votes

The Honourable Loyola Hearn, Minister of Fisheries and Oceans for Canada and the regional minister for the province of Newfoundland and Labrador has come up with a great plan for protecting, promoting and preserving the last few cod left in the sea.

Fish them.

He's announced a recreational ("food") fishery where anyone can can go out and fish on any day during a five-week period starting August 1.

At the same time he's opened a commercial fishery where some 2300 fishermen in the province licensed with a boat under 45 feet will be able to participate in a "bay stock" fishery of 3,000 pounds each. But that's limited to each fishermen sticking to their own bay. (Good luck enforcing that.)

Let me see. . . cod is now running at about $0.40 per pound. So at 3000 lbs per boat, that means an income increase of $1200. That's per boat, not per fisherman and that's gross before expenses. Not a bad take for the privilege of competing in the great race to catch the last cod.

Some people like Jim Morgan and Sue Kelland-Dire are very happy that the people of this province have received permission from Minister Hearn to exercise their right to drive king cod into commercial extinction. In Sue's case, Hearn hasn't gone far enough although Morgan still has enough sense to recognize the possibility of poaching during the "food" fishery.

There's a couple of things to note about this:

  1. Cod stocks are widely recognized to be a precarious state. What would possibly justify fishing them?
  2. The amount of extra income from this fishery is marginal. Why would the Minister authorize it?
  3. The only way to renew the stocks, since you can't put more into the water, is to stop fishing them. Why let the people go after these cod stocks when we don't know the effects on the overall stocks of doing so?

The answer is easy - the minister is fishing for votes.

After making irresponsible remarks backing a food and limited commercial fishery while in opposition, he now feels obliged to carry that out in spite of best evidence that this will only hasten the total extinction of these stocks.

It's fish politics at it's best.

But when Jim Morgan calls for more science, remind him that a panel of scientists called for the cod to be listed as endangered. He fought vigorously against that. After all, if we declare cod endangered then we'll never be able to fish them again!

Clearly he only wants science that reinforces his short-sighted point of view.

The next time Sue calls Open Line or any other show and blames the Feds for all that ails the fishery, remind her that the Feds gave us the chance to catch more cod, after the scientists recommended against it, because we asked for it.

And when people on the street ask what happened to the stocks, tell them to look to Mr. Hearn for his inability to stand up to the fools of the world who are determined that the last fish out there be caught by a Newfoundlander or Labradorian.

R.I.P King Cod
We'll Miss You

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Sue Joins Digital World - Again

Here's an interesting site.

For those who are frequent listeners to talk radio (VOCM's Open Line, BackTalk, Night Line or CBC's Crosstalk) you will no doubt know the name and charming voice of the inimitable and indefatigable Sue Kelland-Dire:

  • Endless consumer of public airtime;
  • Former leader of the NL Party
  • One-time provincial Liberal government staffer,
  • One-time PC political staffer,
  • Harper advisor in last federal election
  • One-time entrepreneur
  • Sometime lobbyist and;
  • Protector of crown corporations everywhere.

Well, now she's come to the internet and the world of blogging in a brand new way. You can see her site right here. The nice thing about that is if you miss her latest contribution to the public discourse on the radio, you can just go to her blog and give it a read.

But if you want to fully experience Sue at her best on the topic closest to her heart (NL Hydro), I suggest checking out

It was her tireless campaign against the Wells proposal to privatise NL Hydro in th 1990's that earned her the moniker "Queen of Open Line" and caused her to christen herself the HydroQueen.

There's been other Sue-inspired campaigns as well. In one case it looks like Sue has been doing a little bit of digital cleanup because she's has taken down at least one of her previous sites. That one was (don't bother, it's dead) - all about recalling David Emerson (never mind the inconvenient fact that Canada has no national recall provisions).

That site was launched with great fanfare and a press release which can be seen here (scroll down about 4 blog entries).

I'm not sure what happened to that campaign; I guess it just fizzled out.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Tsukiji Fish Market

We like to think of Newfoundland and Labrador as a pretty big whale when it come to fish but we really are pikers compared to the Japanese. Check out these images of the Tsukiji fish market to see what I mean. It looks like they catch just about everything that lives in the water. Big fish, small fish, red fish, blue fish. And more than a few things I can't begin to identify.

Here's just a small sample of the pics:

The Independent and Michener Awards

I was recently reminded through a series of fairly inconsequential emails with an avid reader of my blog (keep those cards and letters coming) of the The Independent's claim to fame to being recognized with a Michener Award Citation of Merit for their "exposee" on the costs of Confederation to the province.

I've already made my point of view on that series of low-rent pseudo-analytical claptrap over here.

Now I had to wonder if I was mistaken in my beliefs. So I went back and reviewed the piece and checked out the award citation. The citation reads:

The Independent (Newfoundland and Labrador): A cost-benefit analysis of Confederation published over a period of six weeks required a significant commitment of resources by a relatively small weekly newspaper. The analysis indicated that the rest of Canada has benefited much more than Newfoundland from the province's decision to join Canada in 1949. The Independent's work was widely reported in other media across the country. While some economists have disputed the results, the newspaper's work was a significant contribution to the debate about equalization and Newfoundland and Labrador's place in Canada.
And then as I read each sentence of this delicately worded award citation I understood the basis under which they were recognized. Let's deconstruct this citation sentence by sentence.
  1. That it was a small paper that poured lots of effort into the project may be admirable, perhaps, but that only recognizes inputs and not the quality of the output. Considering they almost went under not too long later suggests a misallocation of resources;
  2. " ... Indicated that the rest of Canada has benefited much more ..." is not any kind of endorsement - it's only a description;
  3. "Widely reported" acknowledges it was controversial, not that it was accurate. Of course it was controversial - it was ridiculous;
  4. "Some economists have disputed the results" slyly leaves open the implication that maybe the work was, in fact, questionable - no economists were noted to support it either - but again they only acknowledge that people talked about it.

Overall I'd have to say that the award was really given to the mouse that let out an enormous squeak. That pretty well defines the Independent and their quality investigative team, particularly their lead researcher.

My sincere apologies for having doubted.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Gone North

My posting frequency will be going down for a little bit because tomorrow I return to the Great White North. I have a regular arrangement to go to Iqaluit to work on legislative operations when the Nunavut legislature opens. It opens on Tuesday for roughly 2.5 - 3 weeks.

Interestingly, although I haven't quantified it, I believe that their legislature is open a fair bit longer over the course of the year than ours is. They have sessions in the Winter, Summer and Fall while we make do with just two sessions a year generally. Each of their sitting days runs longer too.

That's a lot of talking time for a territory of 27,000 souls or so but then again they have lots of problems to talk about. I'll have to sit down and do a precise count because I'm curious about that.

It's a matter of judgement whether they meet too much or ours meets too little.

I hope I can keep up my posting frequency but you never know how time gets away from one. My personal impressions I'll blog here and the more political/economic impressions I'll blog here.

At least it won't be so cold as last time.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

FPI - And the Wall Comes Tumbling Down

A few days ago I posted about the hazards of John Risley's CBC remarks on the FPI Act amendments.

I posted that by stating the obvious truth that these amendments are effectively meaningless that he left the door open for government to claim company resistance and impose real draconian measures. At a minimum, I suggested, these comments would come come back to haunt him.

Now we have the inevitable backlash from Premier Danny Williams:

"If Mr. Risley and/or others are going to be in your face and not treating the workers of the province in a fair manner, then they can expect a fastball at the side of the head from this government."

Just a few comments and lessons to be learned from this rather sorry exchange in the public life of our province:

  1. Nobody should go out of their way to pick a casual fight with this government because it's clear that this government has a near infinite capacity for conflict of the lowest kind;
  2. If you are going to pick a fight, pick a fight over a matter of substance rather than through some off-the-cuff petulant-sounding remark - make it worth your while, dig in and have a plan for follow-through;
  3. Respect and expect the role others have in the public communications drama - understand that if you push a drama queen then you should expect drama in return.

Finally, the question that begs to be asked:

What kind of government uses this kind of playground-thug kind of language in dealing with the largest company in this province's largest industry by employment?

Clearly Oxford University does not include basic public manners in their syllabus.

EI Extension - Pilot Program or Just Buying Time?

According to a VOCM story this morning, a pilot project of extended EI coverage (5 more weeks) for workers in areas of high unemployment scheduled to end Sunday has been extended for an additional 18 months.

The operative phrase in this story is "pilot program". Let me explain.

As a government communications "professional" (more about that another time), you learn very quickly to adopt the government/bureaucratic code for the actions or inactions undertaken by government.

For example, the latest code, from the province but also from the feds, is "innovation". You hear the word all the time from political mouths and news releases. It used to mean something that was really new, different and based on substantial research and insight to produce a true improvement on what was there before.

Now, when government says their program is innovative, they merely mean "different from current practice". The concept of innovation has been devalued.

Same thing with the word "pilot program". This term used to be defined as a short-term experiment used to test the effects of a program in order to determine if it can be used as a model for future development. Imagine my surprise when I started in government and learned that "pilot program" does not mean that at all.

In government-speak "pilot program" means a one-off special program which can be extended indefinitely without any intention of wider application. Calling it a "pilot program" lets you extend and/or bend rules and make a special case for bureaucratic, fiscal or political reasons.

I saw "pilot programs" in a large provincial social policy department which were convenient to maintain but were inconvenient to extend. In one case, the "pilot program" was ongoing for years with no meaningful evaluation on-going or any intention of ever rolling it across the province in spite of the crying need for it.

Whenever anyone came to the department and said "we want that program over here too", the response was always "it's a pilot program which has not yet run it's course and is still under evaluation". A more sophisticated way of saying "no" but a first-class negatory nonetheless.

In essence, the term "pilot program" is a devalued concept but gives political and bureaucratic cover to doing what you want.

This is where the EI benefit extension comes in.

How does this extension of a further 5 weeks of EI come under the umbrella of being a true "pilot program". In fact, it does not. Is there any chance this extension will become permanent and extended as a level playing field to all workers across the country?

But just by calling it a "pilot program" allows the federal government, through the office of regional minister Loyola Hearn, to provide yet another temporary band-aide in the form of extra money to the people he's responsible for without going through the trouble of actually thinking through a more permanent solution.

Oddly enough, this 18 month extension will expire right about the time this province will be recovering from both a provincial (due Fall of '08) and a federal election (likely due about the same time).

Clearly when you run out of ideas, the solution is to buy time by extending EI benefits in a "pilot program".

Thanks for nothing.