Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Kudos to the Tely

Among my friends and family and colleagues, I'm known as a hard-core skeptic. That doesn't mean naysayer or contrarian, it means looking behind the surface of what is said to get to what is meant. It means evaluating and examining what's before you with a keen and critical eye to determine the true substance of the matter.

My background is a little strange compared to some. A formative experience was my time at a small liberal school in the US, Rhode Island College. I was recruited there by their debate coach who spotted me at a out-of-the-way tournament in Cape Breton, of all places. For two years, I spent every second weekend in debate competition against the best schools in the US - Harvard, Princeton, Yale and the other usual suspects.

Each competition meant defending or attacking topics that were thrown out with lightning speed. You learned to listen closely, evaluate what you heard, and judge the logical structures, content holes and general weaknesses in the other side's position. At the same time, you learned to formulate a persuasive position of your own that was logically solid and consistent and which would win the judges to your side.

All this was done on your feet after just 10 minutes preparation.

And all the time, pitiless judges decided if you won or lost.

In just those two years I competed at roughly 25 tournaments on the regional, national and international level. In between, we'd practice at least 2-3 times a week. I figure I must have done at least 125 competition rounds and another 120 practice rounds or about 400 speeches in total.

I did other debating before and after these two years but never so intensely as this period.

If nothing else, this experience has given me a finely tuned internal BS detector. I just can't help it: I hear a politician or talk radio caller natter on about their favourite topic and my mind starts to tick over finding holes, misstatements, empty rhetoric, junk arguments, made-up history, fallacious attacks etc.

The scary part is how pervasive all these false arguments are and how quickly they are generally accepted. It's alarming to me the ease with which these positions trip off the political (and non-political) and journalistic tongues. These are generally people who really should know better.

I try to do my small part to clarify the public debate to a place where less bullshit reigns. Sometimes I will go on talk radio or whathaveyou and refute some particularly egregious lump of indigestible nonsense.

I've heard debating dismissed as a dry academic elitist activity that has little relation to the real world. They are wrong. The ability to think independently and to clearly articulate solid ideas in a persuasive way is never irrelevant. It's a skill that is useful to the person and the society in which they live.

This province has a proud history of producing great orators and debaters. More than any other place in Canada, we have produced public figures who could reason and speak and persuade. Some used those skills for the greater good of the province, some others used them to further their own ends and more than a few just liked to hear themselves talk.

But those skills should never be left solely in the hands of those who dominate the public stage. Those skills need to be in the minds of their audiences too. It's valuable and necessary to the public environment; it is the very essence of openness, transparency, accountability, fairness and balance.

We need the populace armed with these skills so they can defend themselves against their similarly armed leaders.

I try to do my small part in making this happen. One of my ongoing projects and activities is teaching debating to the next generation coming up through the school system. Lately I've been spending a lot of time with junior high students (some places start a whole lot younger than that, even at primary school), training them for local competitions and then taking them to national events. They do well and they are much stronger in thinking and speaking than you might expect.

What do I teach them? I train them to listen, think and evaluate what they hear. I teach them to never accept what they hear at face value. I teach them to read and digest information so they will understand the world around them. I teach them to reason through a position for themselves using the best tool they will ever have - their power of independent thought.

It's an uphill fight and the hill has never been steeper than it is today. But I always have hope and I figure I'm in this for the long game.

So when I see an editorial from the Telegram that closes with lines like these, I know that there are others who hold dear the same goals as I.
Unless you've already made up your mind on a political issue - whether it's the idea that the federal government destroyed the fishery or the belief that Confederation has been bad for this province, or even that oil companies are corporate monsters robbing a provincial birthright - you owe it to yourself to ensure that you have the most information possible.

We've lost a lot in this province when we've made decisions without complete information.

We've lost even more when we've let political masters tell us what we're supposed to believe.

Ignorance and prejudice are best fought with knowledge - and if there is anything we can give our children, let's remind them of the value of thinking and questioning and learning.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Seriously? Or irony?

The other day, Bond Papers brought to my attention the editor's column of the Telegram. In it, Russell Wangersky concludes with:
That would give us a media that specializes in cheerleading, printing speeches and delivering political adoration — and I don’t think it is disdain to suggest that that sort of media will serve our politicians very well, but our population not at all.
In part, that conclusion would be based on some observations of the latest shenanigans of The Independent and its Managing Editor, Ryan Cleary. For a sample of those observations, you can check mine here and those by Meeker on Media here.

So when I was tossing the trash this morning, my eye caught this from P3 of the Indy (click to enlarge).

It was the last line that grabbed me - "Maybe they agree with Danny ...".

I really can't tell if this was meant to be irony (because the gentleman quoted expressed a sad sentiment that I've heard frequently from all walks of the business community) or if the editor intended it seriously.

Then again, that question could be asked for most of the paper these days.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Buddhist politics

At some point I'll write a post on public policy and classical ethical thought systems but, for the moment, this will have to suffice.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Government sponsored Screech-ins

This letter to the Editor of the Telegram (published May 26/07) is in response to a column from Mr. Bill Rowe.


In his recently weekly column (“Is this how we see ourselves?”), Bill Rowe reprints parts of the Newfie Screech-in ceremony and crossly inquires if that is how we see ourselves. His question was “Where the hell do they get this stuff? This cliche-ridden, shallow, boozy, stereotypical tripe?”

In 1989, as a new staffer in the newly elected Office of the Premier of Clyde Wells, I poked around the office registry and discovered a huge stack of official Newfie Screech-in certificates.

I was told by the office registrar that the practice was to have them signed by the Premier and send them out upon request to anyone who asked. That policy had been in place for as long as she knew (no small amount of time).

Digging a little further, it turned out that the “age-old custom” of Screeching-in was originally developed in the 1960's as a marketing ploy by the Newfoundland and Labrador Liquor Corporation. The goal was to sell more Screech.

However embarrassing or demeaning it might seem now, this “ceremony” was the way we saw ourselves at one point in time. It was a provincial government-sponsored and provincial government-promoted point of view.

Maybe the lesson is that politicians and government agencies are not the best source of information about how we should feel about ourselves. Perhaps we would be better off deciding that independent of the politicians. At least that way our self-image won't be subject to the whims and vagaries of the people in office.

By the way, we shredded the remaining certificates and never sent out another.

Rally for Danny and local media

More than a few local commentators have remarked on the issue of Ryan Cleary, managing editor of the Independent, speaking to the Rally for Trust and Confidence (or Truth and Justice . . . or Stand Up For Newfoundland & Labrador. . . or Our Rightful Role in the Federal Budgetary Process . . . take your choice).

And well they should. His participation wasn't a spur of the moment, caught up in the emotion of the day, sort of thing. It was a premeditated, deliberate choice on his part to speak to the crowd and to be seen doing so.

He even printed his remarks in the Independent before he delivered them.

The media pile-on started almost immediately when CBC's noon show host Jim Furlong asked Cleary the tough question on the issue of compromising journalistic integrity. And when the tough questions start, the evasions begin: his response to the question of integrity was to evade the issue and instead drag other journalists (Cochrane and Wescott) into the fray with him.

Meeker on Media covered the issue and helpfully included the text of the Furlong/Cleary conversation. Then Bob Wakeham weighed in in his column in the Sunday Telegram and poxed all the Wescott, Cochrane and Cleary houses.

Now Mr. Cleary takes the time in this week's Independent to again wrap himself in the NL flag by claiming it's not about the Williams agenda, it's all about standing up for NL.

And that sounds reasonable and sensible on the face of it. Who could be opposed to that?

But the issue that eludes Mr. Cleary is that it's OK to have a NL agenda. Many media have agenda of all kinds, as he points out. That's not really the issue. The essential fact he misses is that there are many NL agendas of all kinds. Some are subsets of others, some are in agreement with others. And some are in conflict with others.

For example, the Confederation battles were all about distinct NL agendas for the future of this land. There were three different formal NL agendas in play during those debates: Confederation, Responsible Government and Economic Union. These agenda were not the same and they were in conflict with each other.

But all three had as their core idea that NL status quo had to be improved, and could be improved, albeit in wildly different directions.

Even today, there are many different NL agendas in play. Premier Williams' is just one and he has been largely successful in pushing all other points of view off the stage. Largely, but not entirely. There is no doubt in my mind that the public environment has become far more intolerant of political alternatives than we have seen for a long time. That, though, will change over time.

But regardless of how Premier Williams demonises those who try to put forward a point of view differing from his own as traitors and shameful and incompetent and treacherous and sell-outs, that does not change the fact that there have been, there are now and there will continue to be legitimate public policy and political alternatives for the future of this province which differ from his.

So what does that have to do with Mr. Cleary's decision to play a prominent role at the rally and how does that differ from Cochrane's and Wescott's actions?

Mr. Cleary has chosen the NL agenda of Premier Wiliams and backs it to the hilt.

And he goes further - his publication disparages or ignores other perfectly legitimate NL agendas which do not have at its core political nationalism, economic autarky and bitter historical grievance.

It's not enough to be proud of the province, says Mr. Cleary, you must be proud in exactly the same way as Premier Williams; his pride is the only legitimate form of pride.

By contrast, Cochrane and Wescott have tried to point out the costs of blindly following that path.

The fact that Mr. Cleary cannot make the distinction between a particular form of provincial pride and the general issue of provincial pride is what transforms him into a partisan.

Cochrane and Wescott fulfilled their journalistic responsibilities; the same cannot be said for Cleary.

Friday, May 18, 2007

"My Liberal credentials are very limited"

The political news of the day is the announcement from Mt. Pearl Mayor Steve Kent that he is running for the Progressive Conservative nomination in the great provincial district of Waterford-Kenmount.

Of course that's not really news. Bond Papers outed him here back on January 23, 2007. No doubt he's been giving the matter so much thought over so much time that it really makes you wonder how much of his municipal activities over the last 6 months or so (including picking a fight with St. John's which Kent himself described as a "considerable stretch") have been done with this announcement in mind.

Reporters gave him a bit of a hard time during his newser to the extent that he had to plead that no, he wasn't being opportunistic. Well, since he's raised the opportunism issue . . .

Mr. Kent says that he feels so strongly about the Progressive Conservative Party of Premier Williams that that's why he became a member and why he's running for the nomination today. And of course it is those things that make him a Progressive Conservative.

And I guess that's his most recent product of his ongoing political development. He has now flirted with, or otherwise participated in the activities of, almost every political party there is to join with the notable exception of the NDP (he's still young).

In 2000, during the federal bye-election in St. John's West, he toyed with the Conservative Alliance/Reform crowd.

The Telegram published stories written by Ryan Cleary (March 25, 2000, Title: Kent shows his colours: Deputy mayor chooses Liberals after flirting with Alliance), quoting emails to CA organisers where Kent stated things like:
"I concluded that it may be in the interest of people of Mount Pearl, and ultimately St. John's West, that I consider offering myself for election. I think that with the right candidate, the Alliance will have a legitimate shot at winning the seat in the upcoming byelection."

"I think, though, that the Alliance provides a meaningful alternative to the status quo that will gain considerable credibility and respect in the months ahead.''

"A new face. A new vision. A new century ... that was my slogan in '97. When I think about the reasons I entered politics, it seems very consistent with where the new Alliance is heading.''
So at the time he sounded pretty positive about the party that has since become the Conservative Party of Canada under Prime Minister Steven Harper.

But it wasn't enough just to be positive about the party he seemed to have chosen, he even had time for a few shots at his (presumed) Liberal political rivals. A piece by John Gushue (The Telegram, March 26, 2000, Title: Youthful indiscretions) noted that:
I also found it curious that Kent took a nasty little crack at his competition in his e-mail to the CA.

"I think we've had enough of the recycled old boys that have been elected and re-elected for years in Newfoundland,'' wrote Kent, who is said to be a favourite of an oft-elected and arguably recycled politician named Brian Tobin.

Former provincial ministers aren't necessarily the best people to represent us in the House of Commons,'' he claimed. Until his candidacy was announced, Kent's competition had been Tom Murphy and Rex Gibbons, both former provincial ministers. (So, too, was Charlie Power, the MP whose resignation sparked all of this.)

Anyway, when it comes to slinging the mud and engaging in the art of war, the little grasshopper has learned much already. Maybe Kent will win the Liberal nomination; maybe he'll even go on to be a decent representative for St. John's West.

But if he wants to campaign on his credibility, he can't.
But why should thoughts like that commit you to running for the CA/Alliance when the siren call of the Natural Governing Party - the Liberal Party of Canada - beckons to you? And sure enough, Mr. Kent succumbed and ran instead for the Liberal nomination in St. John's West.

As Cleary wrote:
Kent, 21, said he was proud to be a card-carrying member of the federal and provincial Liberal parties since 1996. He expressed admiration for Prime Minister Jean Chretien and Premier Brian Tobin.
He lost that nomination fight but no matter. He had finally settled on a party and that party was Liberal, federal and provincial.

And this is the party he stuck by. He was so convinced that this was the party for him that he ran for, and won, a delegate spot at the recent Liberal leadership convention in Montreal that was held November 29 to December 1, 2006. This was after renewing his party membership sometime during the summer of 2006.

And I hear he worked that convention like a pro.

Little wonder reporters looked askance at him when he said "My Liberals credentials are very limited." After all, it was only 2 months from the time of the federal Liberal leadership convention in November to the time his latest political dalliance, this time with the provincial PC's, was outed on January 23.

"Without being too philosophical, I believe that time and circumstances change a great deal in this world," he said today.


I know a lot of people who are supporters of one political party or another and they will consider their party credentials to be fairly firm.

I know a few people who have run for, and won, positions at a national party convention. Those people consider their party credentials aboveboard and hardcore.

And then there are those very few who feel so strongly about their party identification, who consider the ideals of their political party to be so important to the country and province, that they will stick their neck out and actually run for a nomination.

Those people consider their party credentials to be above reproach.

If Mr. Kent considers his Liberal credentials very limited, what would it take for him to openly state, without equivocation, his party loyalties?

Perhaps a firm shot at a safe seat?

I think I'll just leave this matter in the hands of Mr. Gushue who wrote in the Telegram that:
Somehow, one gets the impression that Kent sees the Liberals and the CA/Reform crowd as just different brands on a shelf, labels with which he can continue to develop -- in his mind -- a more important product: Steve Kent.

Time for Wells to resign from CNLOPB (1)

I number this blog post (1) because I'm sure I will be producing more of these over time simply because, as sure as the sun rises in the east, Mayor Wells does not know how to keep a civil tongue in his head.

Remember, this is the man who recently embarrassed himself, his city and his position on the CNLOPB Board by arguing at a recent oil conference that the province needed to separate from Canada in order to get more clout over the offshore.

The habit he has of bitterly shooting off his mouth at whatever target he feels has done him wrong will be sure to put him in a bad spot. He just can't help it.

Sure enough, it has already started and you can read it here on CBC.

In the March edition of OilWeek magazine, Wells said he believed the board had not properly handled a proposal for the Hibernia South development, and even suggested the board was "incompetent."

On April 27, Ruelokke sent a letter to the federal and provincial natural resource ministers, alleging Wells violated conflict of interest guidelines. "Such comments speak to the integrity of the board and are clearly inconsistent with the principle that members shall act in good interests of the board in a manner that conserves and enhances public confidence and trust," Ruelokke wrote.

In classic Wells fashion, Wells responded with, "He can get stuffed on that. He's not going to be telling me how I'm going to respond to any issues that come before this board. I'm not going to stand by and allow some bureaucratic hack to tell me what I can and cannot say on matters of public interest."

If Mayor Wells feels strongly about the incompetence of the Board and the Chair, Max Ruelokke, then he should do the honourable thing and resign. But he won't.

Instead he will continue to snipe for the sidelines, sit in the corner of the room in board meetings and sulk and whine while the other members try to do their job and generally do all he can to undermine the Board and Chairman Ruelokke in public and in private.

Wells will do all he can to force the Board to take the actions necessary to remove him. Then Wells will do what he always do when he's crossed in public - he will sue. Will he win his suit? I doubt it. Wells' modus operandi is now well-known from as far back as his days on the Public Utilities Board when he was removed from that regulatory agency (through improper procedures, the courts ruled).

This time the CNLOPB will ensure that all i's will be dotted and all t's crossed at every step of the slow and inexorable removal process to forestall any liability issues. But if he keeps up this nonsense then remove him they will.

So what will Wells' spiteful scorched-earth policy accomplish? In the short-term there will be much noise and smoke and flaming from Wells and his provincial government allies. No doubt there will be more talk of Ottawa stabbing the people of the province in the back. The talk radio lines will be swarmed with his slavish and short-sighted supporters.

But in the long view, there will be few ill effects and more than a few positive ones. Wells will be removed from a Board he never had any credentials or background to join, Ruelokke will stay as chair in a much more peaceable environment and the offshore oil and gas regulatory universe will unfold as it should.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

No quotas, no chance, no way

It's not the first time this provincial government has tried to get through the back door what they failed to get at the front door. But this time the lives and livelihoods of a huge number of vulnerable plantworkers and harvesters from all across the province are being held hostage.

Let's review: FPI has made arrangements to sell chunks of itself to a host of interests both inside and outside the province. These sales are governed by the FPI Act such that the government of NL must provide approval for these asset transfers.

So what is Minister Rideout's position? Does he want to expedite the sale of these interests in order to get people back to work as soon as possible?

No. Instead this government has decided to strike with sudden power grab. The Government of Canada, insists Minister Rideout, must turn over control of groundfish quotas that FPI now holds to the Newfoundland and Labrador government. He says the provincial government is making its unusual request so that Newfoundland and Labrador communities remain the primary beneficiaries of quotas that FPI currently holds.

This looks like nothing more than an expedient attempt to politically blackmail a federal minister on the ropes.

Remember that there is no doubt anywhere that, legally and constitutionally, the federal government is the sole authority over harvesting in the oceans. So what Rideout is asking for is for a unilateral transfer of federal authority and constitutional jurisdiction.

Oddly, federal Minister Hearn is not quite so enthused to do that when exactly the the same provincial benefits can be achieved through simply setting conditions on where groundfish can be landed. It's done all the time. But now, today, in this case, that's not good enough for Rideout and company and so war with the feds on yet another front must be waged.

Premier Danny Williams said he was not surprised by the federal Conservatives' stand, particularly in the midst of an ongoing battle over equalization.

He is wrong; equalization has absolutely nothing to do with the substance of this issue and he has to know that. The fact is that there is no way under any circumstances that the feds are about to formally transfer any authority to the province when a simple administrative process would do the job.

FFAW president Earle McCurdy said his members are worried about a political struggle overshadowing their need to get back to work.

They should be worried.

For the same reasons this fishing restructuring process has stalled under new demands by Premier Williams in the 11th hour, thousands of oil sector jobs across the province have already evaporated. The experienced and trained oil workers are mobile and their skills are in high demand in other jurisdictions - they are out of sight and out of mind.

But these idle plantworkers and harvesters are more likely to stay where they are and become a festering problem.

This government's ability to handle issues of major provincial economic public policy is hampered by it's hamfisted inability to play with others. Let's hope government is more sensible over fish than oil.

Who will we blame then?

Just a few days before the Rally for Danny, it's worth considering the hothouse environment we have created here. When Greg Locke talked about the weight lifted off his shoulders when he got off the ferry in Sydney, and at the risk of putting words in his mouth, I think he meant the relief from the increasing intensity of local politics.

It's an environment which has inspired the True Believers of the point of view that we have been screwed, we are being screwed and we will always be screwed. This self-righteousness provides the license to attack anyone in any way no matter how crude or irrelevant.

Vicious umbrage is taken at legitimate alternative points of view. That is when anybody dares to risk the ridicule and attack that might come with raising an alternate legitimate point of view.

The radical neo-nationalist local ideologies are becoming mainstream. The rhetoric, even from those in responsible positions who have a responsibility to know and do better, has been ratcheted up to intense levels.

Those who dissent are disruptors, traitors, sellouts.

Every issue, every point of difference and every negotiation has become the opportunity for civil war. The other side must be humiliated to achieve our tribal goals. All this furious local activity takes the time, space and resources that could be better put to the good of the people of the province.

In the meantime the world goes on, business goes on and life goes on. In the end we don't and won't feel better for all the shouting. And we won't be better off for it. We will be spent, exhausted and hung-over wondering what happened.

Then it will be time to pick up the pieces and repair the damage we have done to ourselves.

By that time our children will have taken the plane to Alberta leaving behind bewildered parents who will never know their grandchildren except as Christmas visitors on alternate years.

Who will we blame then?


Williams' plan a tough sell for Big Oil - Premier's attempt at equity stake may leave province out in the cold

by Claudia Cattaneo, Financial Post, Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Danny Williams, premier of Newfoundland and Labrador, sent shivers through the country when his government served notice in a Throne Speech two weeks ago of its intentions to be "masters of our own house."

Mr. Williams was reinforcing this message: His province will no longer be bullied -- in his view -- by outside interests, whether by the federal government, which cut its transfer payments, or the likes of oil companies, fishing for unfair deals on its offshore deposits.

It is a popular message in a province where the perceived inequities of the past continue to loom large.

Yet what is becoming increasingly obvious is that control of Newfoundland's future is slipping into the hands of Alberta, largely because of Mr. Williams' unrealistic expectations and the market's dispassionate behaviour.

Canada's two top oil-producing economies are developing such a strong symmetry they are becoming either/or situations in a skills-challenged reality, to the point it may take a big downturn in Alberta for Newfoundland to get a shot at benefiting from its offshore riches in the future. Three reasons: - Oil is badly needed, but labour and brains to produce it are now needed even more. Newfoundland's people and oil services companies are moving to Alberta in large numbers. The exodus is so large that Newfoundland's business community fears the province no longer has the workforce to build a new project, even if one were announced tomorrow. It also worries it cannot compete with Alberta wages, making any attempt to lure its people back futile.

The high-unemployment province has been a supplier of talent to the rest of Canada for generations. However, that outflow picked up a year ago, when the premier and oil companies failed to nail terms on development of the fourth major offshore development, $6-billion Hebron Ben Nevis.

Other potential projects, also worth billions, from exploration programs to an extension of the Hibernia South reservoir, are on hold as industry waits --and worries --about Mr. Williams' long-awaited energy plan.

The result is that for the first time in 15 years, Newfoundland does not have an offshore energy project in the pipeline.

Alberta's policies encourage energy development, while Newfoundland's are guaranteed to push it away.

Mr. Williams is expected to release an energy policy before the next provincial election in October, making it mandatory for the government to hold equity stakes in all future oil and gas projects.

In an interview with the Financial Post last week, the premier said the province would demand stakes of more than 4.9%, the amount it negotiated for the Hebron. The province is also likely to demand a high level of local investment by oil companies and super-royalties that would increase with higher commodity prices.

The terms would result in a high degree of government involvement that is likely to be unacceptable to oil companies. In addition, the fiscal terms would make Newfoundland uncompetitive with Alberta, where the government has not owned a piece of the oil industry since it sold Alberta Energy Co. (the predecessor of EnCana Corp.) 20 years ago; its royalty rates, while under review, do not escalate with higher commodity prices; and there is no requirement to invest locally, other than a preference by the government to keep as much heavy oil upgrading in the province as possible.

Most companies with interests in Newfoundland's offshore now have ambitious oilsands plans. In fact, those plans have escalated since Hebron talks failed, making a return to the East Coast a hard task: ExxonMobil Corp. is a partner in the Kearl Lake project and has taken a larger role in the management of the Syncrude mining consortium; Petro-Canada is priming its Fort Hills project for takeoff in the summer; Chevron Corp. is a partner in the Athabasca Oil Sands Project, which is expanding aggressively; ConocoPhillips has its hands full with a major oilsands partnership with EnCana and interests in two other oilsands projects; Husky Energy Inc. just bought a major refinery in the United States as part of its own oilsands strategy.

Even Norsk Hydro, the Norwegian oil company that has been taken over by Statoil ASA, made a big leap in the oilsands two weeks ago when it purchased North American Oil Sands Corp. and now plans to become one of its largest operators.

The bottom line: While Mr. Williams now tries to revive Hebron discussions and says he is optimistic its partners will accept a deal, warning terms will tougher with his new energy plan, his province is sitting out the biggest boom in the commodity's history, while Alberta is milking it for all it's worth.

He will need to beat Alberta -- not live in the past -- to get in on the next round.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Email to Lawrence Martin

I don't normally send out emails to columnists but today's column by Lawrence Martin in the Globe and Mail provoked me into a response. . .


You wrote in your column published today that:
"The Prime Minister is a model for the entire country. If he resorts to mudslinging instead of showing a measure of graciousness, others will be inclined follow suit. If he starts throwing around baseless allegations, others - right down to our high-school debating clubs - will be inclined to do the same."
Coming from the province of Newfoundland and Labrador, I can tell you that civility in public life has certainly taken a beating around here.

But as a long-time debate coach, former debater and debate organizer on the local and national levels, I can assure you that this kind of behavior will not be tolerated in the next generation of high school debaters without a fight. They might be inclined, but they won't be encouraged.

If the Prime Minister, and other politicians, behave themselves and are an appropriate model for debate comportment, then coaches will hold them up as a positive example to be emulated and they will be rewarded.

If they sling mud or otherwise throw around baseless allegations, they will be help up as a negative model to be avoided; students will be penalized for traveling down that path.

If more politicians were penalized by more Canadians for slurs and slagging, things would improve.

Simon Lono
President of the Newfoundland and Labrador Speech and Debate Union
Past-President of Canadian Student Debating Federation.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

The Independent does us proud

This week the Independent has given over 1/4 of the front page and their entire first section centerspread to serious impartial investigative journalism.

Pick it up to read the entire speech, word-for-word, recently delivered by Premier Williams at the Economic Club of Toronto.

It's not like you couldn't already find it here on the official government web site. And it's not like they made even a veiled attempt to provide any kind of analysis or insight into it like other media did here and here or even like blogs did like here or here.

Nope. Instead they just handed over some prime areas of the only thing newspapers have to offer - print real estate - over to this government free of charge without any comment or analysis. Or even any semblance of justification.

Is this journalistic laziness or an explicit effort to kiss the Premier's feet or just an example where ideological principles have overridden journalistic integrity?

Regardless of which it is, it wouldn't be the first time for any of them and it likely won't be the last.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Public policy, partisan and personal

Premier Williams' latest foray onto the national stage provides some insight into the mind of the Premier and some light on his strategy in dealing with the rest of Canada.

You could read the full text of his speech to the Economic Club of Toronto but it's more interesting to check this link to about 7 minutes of the presentation.

Before you listen, ensure you are in a good mood to start and with ready access immediately afterwards to sunny children, cute furry pets, a loving spouse or a fine sweet chocolate dessert.

With the exception of one brief and bizarre moment, this clip is unrelentingly grim, dark, venomous, depressing, negative and spitefully sarcastic.

The one single moment of any levity is a weak-hearted joke about ending his life with a bullet. It's hard to tell whether he means a shot by a detractor or by his own gun but with his stratospheric approval ratings, it's hard to believe that there are any substantial detractors left to take the shot.

In the dull, flat and affectless tone of his voice, you hear the same kind of driving will to live that you hear in men who have come home after being fired just to find out that their wife has cleared out the bank accounts and have run away with your best friend in your carefully restored antique auto.

While he claims a message of hope, his tone has a bleakness that belies his words.

And just as unnerving as his tone is the content: it is extreme and simplistic. He trots out a series of unconnected and unrepresentative examples to prove his "case" that everything anyone has ever said about him or his government is wrong.

For example, he uses a kind and face-saving quote from Husky president John Lau to shield himself from the charge that he is unreasonable in oil negotiations.

But the best example is his "proof" that the latest provincial budget was the best ever because long-time provincial bureaucrats said so. But the irony never occurs to him that it's that kind of political frankness that has ensured they are long-serving bureaucrats.

It's hard to escape the impression of a well-developed kind of political paranoia combined with a persecution complex. To refer to Canada's attitude towards this province with a term as strident as "xenophobic" is, frankly, a gross misinterpretation of reality usually associated with the ingestion of small mushrooms after a spring rain.

Stranger still is his confusion of provincial respect with provincial self-respect. While he argues that we as a province deserve respect from the nation, he can't help but trip over the term "self-respect" instead.

While respect comes from others, self-respect has to come from within.

It's not unusual for governments in this country to have policy differences with each other. In fact, it would be remarkable if provinces didn't have policy difference with each other or with the federal government. It is the tension of these differences that has led to creative ties between and among levels of governments.

It's not unusual to see political or partisan differences between first ministers. But these kinds of differences are left to the backrooms, rarely leaking out. The goal among professional politicians is to put their personal and political differences aside in order to promote the common good.

So even when politicians go on national speaking tours to slag one another, it is cloaked in policy differences with the personal antagonisms relegated to the back burner. Not this time. This time the personal and political antagonisms are front and center.

Before, it was personal between Premier Williams and Liberal Prime Minister Martin. It was personal between Premier Williams and then-regional minister John Efford who was called a sell-out, a traitor and a quisling by this government.

And this time it's personal between Premier Williams and Conservative Prime Minister Harper. It's so personal that Williams will go out of his way to disrespect and denigrate the nation's First Minister just because he can.

Clearly the needs of the personal trumps the partisan and the public policy. This is amateur politics.

There's an old saying that when elephants fight, grass gets trampled. While these fights go on, the blades of grass are hightailing it westward in search of more fertile ground to take root.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Pre-Development Projects: Orphan Basin

This is the last of 4 stories on energy projects to come recently published in the Natural Resources Magazine supplement to Atlantic Business Magazine. Latest updates on this story are at the end.


While a very public spat goes on between big oil and the government of Newfoundland and Labrador over the future of the Hebron ben-Nevis and Hibernia South developments, Chevron and ExxonMobil, along with Imperial Oil Ltd. and Shell Canada Ltd., continue to invest in the region.

Last summer, they started drilling a $140-million well - the most expensive in Canadian history - in another offshore region called the Orphan Basin. The well is close to complete and results are as yet unknown. Two more wells are expected to be drilled this year.

The Orphan Basin is located approximately 325 km from Newfoundland landmark and roughly 150 km north of the Hibernia, Terra Nova and White Rose oil fields on the Grand Banks.

This region made big news in late 2003 when it became clear that the major oil companies were very keenly interested in further exploration off Newfoundland's east coast. ExxonMobil, along with its Canadian subsidiary Imperial Oil, and Chevron committed to spending more than $672 million to explore eight parcels of land all located in the Orphan Basin.

The total amount bid was a record for the province's offshore at more than three times the previous high. The companies have to spend the amount of money they've bid on exploration during the first five years of their nine-year leases.

Prior to 2003, the Orphan Basin was subject to minimal exploration activity. Between 1974 and 1985, only seven wells were drilled in the region. That effort resulted in an extremely low well density so the CNLOPB’s Call for Bids provided an excellent opportunity to further evaluate the potential of this area.

The significance of the Orphan Basin is both long-term and short-term.

In the long-term, more exploration represents the potential of more projects in the future in an area which may hold as much oil as the Grand Banks where the other three projects are located. It’s an industry axiom that while exploration does not necessarily yield oil, you will never find new developments unless you invest in exploring for them.

In the years following the initial Hibernia discovery, companies took advantage of federal incentives to explore offshore. From the Hibernia discovery in 1979 to 1991, $2.8 billion was spent in exploration. However, since then only $643 million went into exploration.

Since 1992, a total of only 18 exploration wells have been drilled. That compares to the intense exploration activity of the early 70's: 1972 (11 wells), 1973(17 wells) and 1974 (9 wells).

To carry out the exploration, the consortium has contracted the massive rig Eirik Raude, which was drilling in the Barents Sea. Another drilling rig, the jack-up Rowan Gorilla VI, returned last summer to drill too.

The entire local industry has been anxiously awaiting the results of these test drills because there have been no significant new finds of oil off Newfoundland's coast in 20 years.

So far, Chevron indicates they are very pleased with 3-D seismic programs conducted over the last two summers. Analysis of the two seasons of seismic data will continue into 2006 to identify geological structures that may contain hydrocarbon deposits, and determine possible locations for future exploration wells.

Despite its attractiveness to the world’s largest oil and gas exploration companies, the Orphan Basin does present some unique challenges of which the most significant challenges are logistical. Unlike existing developments in the Jeanne D’arc basin, which are approximately 300 km from shore, the Orphan Basin is 300 – 500 km from shore. Compared to the Grand Banks is a harsher environment. Compared to the Grand Banks where the water depth runs about 80m, at the Orphan Basin the water depth ranges to 2500m and is much colder; about 2-3 degrees above zero at that depth.

Additional challenges include the range of helicopters used to transfer workers to the rig, and the additional time required for supply boats. However, these are all challenges that can be overcome by an increasingly experienced supply and service community well-schooled in the challenges associated with the current projects.

In the short-term, this exploration program represents activity for the local supply and service sector. As the most expensive well ever drilled on the east Coast of Canada, every day of drilling represents an expenditure of a rumoured C$500,000 per day just for the rig. In addition, there are the local expenditures for three supply vessels, helicopters, catering, logging, mud, cement, testing etc.

The Orphan Basin shows how if your territory contains hydrocarbons, oil companies will beat a path to your door. The fact that they have already made considerable regional investments in production-related facilities and their previous experience in harsh environment exploration and production provides the incentive to keep looking for more oil.


On March 28th, the Financial Post published a story on the upcoming departure of the Eirik Raude drilling rig noting that:
"The move is yet another setback for Danny Williams, Premier of Newfoundland and Labrador, who wants to increase provincial revenue from oil development and take equity stakes in projects."
The Telegram also noted the departure here.