Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Political progeria

It's a common pattern. Newly elected government are fresh and vigorous and brimming with ideas and energy. They can't wait to get to work and can't wait to do good. Reform is in the air; time is their enemy.

Then some time passes and middle age sets in and the tone changes. They've earned some experience and so they become a little more cautious and a little more careful as the bloom of youth fades.

That evolves into the aged government - defensive and maybe a little paranoid. Ideas are hard to come by and there's a world-weary "we've seen it all before" feeling that sets in. Getting up in the morning is hard, doing a full day's work is a chore and there's bloating around the midriff. More holidays are taken. Enthusiasm is down and coasting on past glories is preferred. Complacency and entitlement take over.

We've seen the pattern before. Smallwood went through it all by himself. Then the PCs came to power. Through Moores, Peckford and then Rideout, they rode through all three stages. When the Liberals won in 1989, Wells, Tobin and Grimes passed through the stages without even noticing.

These are the early days of the new mandate for a still relatively young government. They have just won, by their own estimation, a thunderous mandate. And it is a very impressive mandate.

Yet the ominous signs of government old age are there. After only four years.

Consider this: Williams has taken 3 weeks to appoint a cabinet which is largely a team of steady-as-she-goes; pretty well all the major portfolios (Finance, Fisheries, Health, Education, Natural Resources, Human Resources) have the same old bodies in them.

And let's be realistic about this: it wasn't as if there were agonising choices to be made unless the Premier was awake nights truly torn between monumental choices between the likes of Dave Denine and Steve Kent for municipal affairs.

And Williams didn't take 3 weeks because he was planing for the best people to undertake reforms. In the case of Fisheries, the reappointment of Tom Rideout only ensures a stubborn refusal to take anything remotely resembling initiative during a time of drastic change in the industry. Unless maybe that's the plan all along.

As for cabinet size, it has swollen to 18 ministers, up 29 per cent from the 14 ministers sworn in when Williams first took office in 2003. That's a pretty big cabinet and it's as large as the previous cabinets which Williams rightly excoriated for being huge and bloated.

That's not including the 5 parliamentary secretaries who do not sit in Cabinet, who do not answer questions in the house, who are not responsible for any decisions, who do not manage any part of any department but who still pick up an additional salary stipend of roughly $35K.

In fact, it's worthwhile noting that while the perks and the ability of a parliamentary assistant to reimburse for expenses are carefully laid out in the recent House administration documents, their duties, in this case the Premier's assistant although the others are similar, are vaguely defined with no clearly delineated responsibilities:
Parliamentary Assistant to the Premier shall assist the Premier in the manner that the Premier directs.
In practice that means taking the meetings, passing on bad news to groups/individuals and generally doing the grunt work that the minister can't be bothered with. Here's a hint: if you have a meeting with the Parliamentary Assistant to a minister, you are being given an elaborately polite brush-off.

William's defence of his cabinet size was that:
“Right now the province is on a growth track, (there’s) a very positive feeling in the province that we’re going to drive the province forward, and I think we need to make sure that we’ve got ample resources so that the job can be done completely.”
Previous government have defended increased cabinet sizes in all kinds of ways. I'm sure more than a few have argued the province was going through difficult times so we needed a larger cabinet to cope. And now that we are going through good times, we need a larger cabinet to cope now too.

Those hoping to become cabinet minister win both ways. In the end, the trend is to ever growing cabinets.

One would think that such a large group of enthused servants of the public would be chomping at the bit to get to work. But no. Instead, Williams has decided to put off the House until the spring of the year.

Even Tom Rideout, government's defender-in-chief on the issue of House opening delay, once promised a budget and throne speech within two weeks of his winning the leadership. Meanwhile, even the City of St. John's will have met for more days in 2007 than the House of Assembly. So will have the useless and do-nothing Senate of Canada

Williams justifies this action by saying:
“So to turn around this fall and prepare another throne speech when we really haven’t concluded half of what we set out to do in the year, I just think would be inappropriate, it would be unproductive, it would be just a repeat, a complete re-spin of what we said before.”
Really? I wonder what the election was all about then? Was the Blue Book mere window dressing? I suppose we can all look forward to a Spring legislative agenda that is new and exceptional and wholly unlike whatever this government has been doing the last four year. I know I'll be holding my breath for that.

If this year's new lows in House activity was exceptional then there would be not too much more to be said about it. But that's not the case. Instead, since this government was elected, it's House activity has steadily diminished to the current low levels.

It all adds up to a government in the throes of political progeria; a disease of premature aging where the effects of old age settle prematurely to strike at efficacy and energy. The signs of diminished capacity, reduced energy and efficacy appear far earlier than normal.

Williams presides over a government where the inevitable signs old age, which usually become apparent after a decade or more and several different leaders has, in this case manifested themselves at the end of a single term: bloated cabinets of familiar faces defending old polices combined with a reluctance to open the House and then, when the House is open, a reluctance to keep it open.

What do we have to look forward to? I suspect more defensiveness (as if that were possible), more crowing over past glories like the Atlantic Accord $2billion instead of announcing new initiatives, endless rehashing of old initiatives, creative hyping of minor tinkers to existing programs and generally a whole lot less energy and ideas.

Definitely no hope for reforms on any level. It's just steady as she goes.

Break out the wheelchairs.

The speech Nixon never gave

"Fate has ordained that the men who went to the moon to explore in peace will stay on the moon to rest in peace.

These brave men, Neil Armstrong and Edwin Aldrin, know that there is no hope for their recovery. But they also know that there is hope for mankind in their sacrifice.

These two men are laying down their lives in mankind's most noble goal: The search for truth and understanding. They will be mourned by their families and friends; they will be mourned by their nation; they will be mourned by the people of the world; they will be mourned by a Mother Earth that dared to send two of her sons into the unknown.

In their exploration, they stirred the people of the world to feel as one; in their sacrifice, they bind more tightly the brotherhood of man.

In ancient days, men looked at stars and saw their heroes in the constellations. In modern times, we do much the same, but our heroes are epic men of flesh and blood.

Others will follow, and surely find their way home. Man's search will not be denied. But these men were the first, and they will remain the foremost in our hearts.

For every human being who looks up at the moon in the nights to come will know that there is some corner of another world that is forever mankind."
This speech was written by William Safire for President Richard Nixon as a contingency in case the Apollo XI lunar module failed to lift off stranding Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin on the moon. Micheal Collins, safely in orbit, would have to return home alone leaving his colleagues behind.

If you have ever watched West Wing, you'll recognize that on more than one occasion, several different speeches are prepared for the president for different alternative possibilities which may occur.

This speech, and associated cover memos, was buried away in presidential archives until unearthed in 1999 by a Los Angeles Times reporter who told the tale as he discovered it. William Safire himself, now the noted word and language columnist for the New York Times, then wrote his own first-person recollections of how this speech came to be.

It's a fascinating story. And as a fan of the space program (see here, here and here), I found the speech chilling in it's unrealized implications.

Speaking with conviction

Uptalk (speaking so that every sentence ends with an interrogative tone so that it sounds like a question even when it's a statement) is a constant source of aggravation to me.

When I coach debating, stamping out uptalk and other related corrosive verbal ticks indicating uncertainty out of students is like waging war. I'm sorry to say that while girls are more prone to it than boys, I hear more and more boys falling into the pattern.

Uptalk has become so ingrained that it almost requires a complete personality transplant to extinguish it. And it must be extinguished, make no mistake about that.

It's bad enough that too many young people all the way through university speak this way, now you hear it in the media from politicians and other public figures. If they sound unsure of what they are saying, how are they supposed to convince us?

I shudder at the idea that uptalk might become standard usage but some researchers believe that might be so. That will make those people who do not uptalk all the more noticeable and notable; certainty and conviction in speech and thought will become the exception.

This short video from Taylor Mali says it all.

Saskatchewan election update

Things are looking grim for Premier Lorne Calvert. With the election day only a week away on November 7th, his party is behind, most voters want a change in government and there is little enthusiasm for Calvert himself. So says a pair of new polls from Probe Research Inc.
The first poll, on voter ID indicates:

With the support of 50 percent of decided voters, the Saskatchewan Party is the province’s most popular political party. Well back, the governing New Democrats are currently supported by 35 percent while the Liberals are the party of choice for 10 percent of Saskatchewan adults. A modest two percent of voters each report they will cast ballots for either Progressive Conservative or Green Party candidates. Thirty-one percent of those surveyed were unwilling or unable to express their voting intentions.

And while things may change, voter intent points to a more likely shift to the Saskatchewan Party than to the NDP:

Looking at voter certainty, 64 percent of Saskatchewan Party supporters have fully committed to casting ballots for that party on November 7th compared with only 47 percent of NDP voters who say they are “very certain” they will actually mark NDP ballots. These findings suggest that any late campaign shifting that may occur would favour the Saskatchewan Party more than the NDP.

The second poll details voter views on leadership and government in general. It too bodes ill for Calvert's regime:

Across the province, more than one-half of adults (54%) agreed that “the NDP have been in power for too long and it is now time for a change”. This compares with only 26 percent who affirmed that: “The NDP, led by Lorne Calvert, deserve to be re-elected based on their record and accomplishments over the past years”. One in five respondents (20%) chose not to affirm either position.

As for Premier Calvert's personal standing, it seems to have suffered worse for wear:

When asked which of the three main party leaders they felt would make the “Best Premier” of Saskatchewan, the leader of the Saskatchewan Party, Brad Wall, beats out incumbent Premier Lorne Calvert. Thirty-seven percent of those surveyed pointed to Mr. Wall as the best candidate for Premier while 25 percent named current Premier Lorne Calvert. Twelve percent thought Liberal leader David Karwacki would make the best Premier, while nearly one in four citizens (26%) were uncertain as to who would be best suited to occupy the province’s highest political office.

As posted previously, this staunch Williams ally on the Equalization front will soon find himself unemployed leaving Williams with only Nova Scotia's Rodney MacDonald, himself in a precarious position.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Remittances revisited

The latest CBC radio feature, The Big Commute, and the corresponding The Bond Papers post cover the issue of remittances and work-related migrations.

CBC doesn't use the word remittances specifically and prefers to deal with the grander social issues of large numbers of NLers commuting back and forth to Alberta. And well they should, too; no doubt time will show that their boomtown social problems will become our small town social problems.

Back in February I started looking at this issue and wondered at the time just how much money was coming into the province and providing support to towns which otherwise seemed to have no visible means of support.

With CBC estimating 4000-10,000 commuters making an estimated $80-120,000 per year, that means no less than $320M and possibly as much as $1.2B a year in salaries coming into the province.

At the high end, that makes commuters one of the largest group of employees (by gross salary) in the province and a source of financial inflows larger than equalization or oil revenues. It might be as high as 8.5% of the total provincial GDP which puts us not far off Bangladesh in terms of dependency on remittances.

I've pointed out before that government seemed indifferent to the issue; it's nice to see that government has taken to looking into the issue. Let's see what information comes out.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Williams responds (update)

On August 29, the National Post printed in full a response by Premier Williams to several of their recent columns or articles. One was an article by Claudia Cattaneo (Why did Big Oil cave on Hebron?) while the other was a sharply written column by Andrew Coyne (Danny Williams, you're the man!).

Williams says he was variously offended or disappointed by their content and tone. The latter piece really got up his nose and he says:
To say it was sarcastic, vitriolic and condescending would be an understatement.
Well, that's something coming from an authority on sarcasm, vitriol and condescension.

UPDATE: This was brought to my attention today and I thought it was published today but, my mistake, it dates back to August.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Note to Bill Rowe

Sarcasm is still the lowest form of wit.

Alberta oil royalties - no pressure

I've noted before the ongoing controversy on the royalty issue in the province in Alberta. Latest estimates indicate that $2billion a year of oil and gas royalty dollars are at stake for the province and the companies.

Now the pressure on Premier Stelmach is ratcheting up on all sides.

Recent polls saying 88 percent of Albertans believe they aren't getting enough from energy production in the province as the rewards from record oil prices flow to companies and their employees, while schools, hospitals and roads are strained.

The opposition Liberals have moved to outflank him by unreservedly backing the royalty review report conclusions saying:

“The oil patch isn't going to love any party who raises their royalties, it's pretty simple,” Alberta Liberal Leader Kevin Taft told reporters Tuesday.

“I didn't take this proposal and shop it around for approval in the oil patch, I can tell you that. We'll find out what their reaction is.

“Good, bad or indifferent, this is our position, this is our line in the sand.”

Mr. Taft called his party's position “non-negotiable.”

Industry, led by Calgary-based EnCana Corp. (TSX:ECA) which said it would cut $1-billion from its planned 2008 spending of $3-billion, has gone on the offensive and hit the panic button predicting widespread layoffs and closures. They have even organised protests of hundreds of oil field workers.

Alberta Federation of Labour president Gil McGowan has responded by applying some pressure of his own saying he believes the premier will institute a “watered-down” version of the review panel's proposal if he doesn't outright reject it. “We're worried the Stelmach government is about to cave in to pressure from Big Oil,” Mr. McGowan said. “I'm worried we're on the verge of a capitulation.”

It's bad enough that Stelmach has already misstepped in looking too close to industry.

George Gosbee, chief executive of Tristone Capital Inc., is going after the governing party's , and Stelmach's, base of support outside Edmonton/Calgary by saying that in accepting the recommendations government would make the most prolific natural-gas wells uneconomic and slash exploration activity in rural areas.

And his polling numbers have tanked since taking office. He's now in very real fear of being the last of this line of Progressive Conservative premiers.

It used to be that the Premier's Office in Alberta was one of the most comfortable spots in the nation.

No more.

They don't get it either

This story from BC has echoes of the kind of low-rent political shaggery that this province has become famous for - using government programs for rank political gain. In this case, passing out child booster seats.

A Vancouver Sun story notes that:
"I think child safety was used for partisan purposes, and I think that's disgraceful," said Trevena, the NDP critic for child care, early childhood development and women's issues.

Trevena said 2,000 child booster seats -- worth about $40,000, and being distributed to low-income families throughout the province as part of a government program -- were all funneled through Liberal constituency offices, and none were available to be distributed by NDP MLAs.
Government's defense?

Minister of State for Childcare Linda Reid said Tuesday the seats had gone to 12 Liberal constituency offices, but only because that was the easiest route for distribution.

Thanks for clearing that up. In other words, a worthy public safety campaign aimed at protecting children has morphed into a partisan political advancement scheme.

A very unimpressive exercise in political boosterism.

California conflagation

From NASA comes amazing satellite photos of the California fires.

More pictures can be seen here. Good luck.

Farming fish

The NL government has been pretty keen on aquaculture as a way of appearing to be taking action on something having to do with fisheries. Of course there is the obligatory aquaculture strategic plan. And for the last 10 years or so, they and the feds have gone as far as giving subsidies and loan guarantees to local operations to ensure their survival in financially turbulent times.

Be that as it may, the Europeans have jumped ahead in this sector and this piece notes that:
... the proportion of our seafood which is farmed is surprisingly big, and growing fast.

"The latest figures of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) say it is close to 50%," observes Patrick Sorgeloos, an aquaculture specialist from the University of Ghent, and an advisor to the FAO.

"It is about 60 million tonnes; and the FAO is indicating that by the year 2030 we will need an extra 40 million tonnes just to satisfy the need."

Given the parlous condition of many of the world's fish stocks, it is tempting to see aquaculture as the answer - a source of healthy protein which the oceans can no longer guarantee.

Governments and regional authorities from the industrial might of Norway to rural Africa see it as the way ahead.
So it looks like this industry is big and getting bigger. Still, it's not a panacea and the story goes on to point out that:
"Aquaculture has got a big potential value for food security, it's revenue for communities and it's an alternative food source," concedes Simon Cripps, director of the marine programme at the conservation group WWF."

But the thing to remember is that it isn't the solution to the problem of wild-caught fisheries."
One of the nasty issues of aquaculture is pollution and parasites. Sea lice in farmed salmon escaping and infecting wild salmon is a particular issue in Europe and BC. In fact, researchers looking at a BC salmon farm found that infection levels in wild juvenile salmon near the farm were 73 times higher than normal noting that:
Sea lice can lower the fitness of salmon - and in some cases be lethal - as they create open lesions on the surface of the fish that compromises its ability to maintain its salt-water balance.

When infection rates are high enough, the parasites feed on the fish at rates greater than the fish can feed itself, literally eating the fish alive. Young salmon are much more vulnerable due to their small size.
On a more basic level, when every pound of farmed fish needs to be fed 2 or 3 pounds of wild-caught fishmeal to mature, how do we get ahead?

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

So long and thanx for all the fish

Last week I posted a BBC story which outlined the looming extinction of bluefin tuna and referred to another BBC story about a study predicting global collapse of fish stocks around the world.

The original study, Impacts of Biodiversity Loss on Ocean Ecosystem Services, is worth reading if you can.

If you can't make your way through to it then this New York Times story gives a good precis and even includes this handy little graphic just to nail the point home. The story says that:
The report is one of many in recent years to identify severe environmental degradation in the world’s oceans and to predict catastrophic loss of fish species. But experts said it was unusual in its vision of widespread fishery collapse so close at hand.

The researchers drew their conclusion after analyzing dozens of studies, along with fishing data collected by the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization and other sources. They acknowledge that much of what they are reporting amounts to correlation, rather than proven cause and effect. And the F.A.O. data have come under criticism from researchers who doubt the reliability of some nations’ reporting practices, Dr. Worm said.

Still, he said in an interview, “there is not a piece of evidence” that contradicts the dire conclusions.
Given this industry is our largest employer, we need to be proactive and prepared for this eventuality rather than just hoping the outports will be empty by then or counting on being able to reverse the trends.

Harry Potter revelation

Just too funny.


From the BBC, regular columnist Bill Thompson outlines new extensions to libel laws provoked by anonymous comments left on websites. In Kicking off the debate about free speech, he writes:
Three Sheffield Wednesday supporters who posted anonymous abusive comments on the "Owlstalk" website will be staring into their cornflakes this morning as they wonder whether they will soon be receiving a libel writ in the post.

The football club has obtained an order from the High Court requiring the site's administrators to hand over the e-mail addresses of the three fans.

Although the posters used pseudonyms and may have thought that they were safe from any legal action, they may now be tracked down after deputy Judge Richard Parkes agreed that their posts "may reasonably be understood to allege greed, selfishness, untrustworthiness and dishonest behaviour on the part of the claimants.

This leaves them open to proceedings for libel, so the judge has told site owner Neil Hargreaves to reveal their e-mail addresses despite the site's privacy policy.

Of course nobody should assume that user names offer any real anonymity or protection against legal action against a site's host, whether here or in China, so if the three people involved didn't go to the trouble of registering non-UK addresses just to use on Owlstalk their real names will soon be known to the lawyers acting for the directors.
Read on.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Could be worse

More than a few members of the House of Assembly and the local media have felt the sting of local blogs.

They might not like it but look on the bright side - it could be a whole lot worse.

Consider this: you could have Matt Drudge to contend with!

No House this fall

Congratulations on NewfoundlandLabrador's new government: from populist to smug, fat, arrogant and lazy in record time.

It seems this government sees no need to open the House of Assembly 16 months after the House last closed.

Thank you Mr. Rideout for demonstrating that this administration considers democratic principles inconvenient and that transparency, openness and accountability are mere slogans to be trotted out during elections and then put away again once the majority has been banked.

It's nice to see at one party leader has a problem with this. I wish they all did.

It's going to be a long four years.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Fluke on the Brink from the NYT

This editorial was published in the New York Times on September 15th of this year. It all sounds depressingly familiar except they don't call their excessive fishery a "food fishery".

I suppose a local could argue that none of this applies because our circumstances are unique and distinct and we need made-in-NewfoundlandLabrador solutions. They would be fooling themselves


Fluke on the Brink
September 15, 2007

Of all the ingredients of a successful summertime party-boat fishing trip in the Northeast — beer, ice, sunscreen and fluke as big as doormats — only one comes in limited supplies. Like many other species, fluke have been overfished for decades. A serious test of whether the federal government can finally change that, and protect other species as well, is at hand.

Last year Congress revised the Magnuson-Stevens Act, the basic law regulating fishing in national waters, to give it sharper teeth. Although catch limits for vulnerable species have been in place for years, they are too generous and are routinely exceeded. The revised law gives scientists a much greater say in establishing firm catch limits to ensure that overfished species recover within a finite period, generally 10 years.

Seven years into its recovery plan, the fluke population is only about halfway to the goal of 197 million pounds set for 2013. Fishery managers must now find a way to make up tens of millions of pounds of fluke in about five years. That means much lower quotas, and acute pain in the fishing industry.

A scientific panel of the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council, one of the regional councils that manage fishing in federal waters, concluded in July that the 2008 fluke quota would have to be about 12 million pounds to give the species a decent shot at recovering on schedule. The council is instead endorsing a quota of nearly 16 million pounds, trying to balance the fate of the fluke with the economic needs of those who catch them.

Fishing interests, unsurprisingly, want an even bigger catch. Representative Frank Pallone of New Jersey argues that the 2013 goal is unreachable, and that next year’s quota should be 17.5 million pounds. That gives his state’s fishing boats a short-term breather, but would leave the fluke recovery dead in the water.

It is easy to sympathize with the hard-working fishermen who say that drastically lower quotas would be devastating and who insist that there are still plenty of fluke out there. But at some point overfishing has to stop. Rejecting the sound conclusions of scientists would undermine the revised federal law in its first real test and could push the fluke populations into potentially irreversible decline. The National Marine Fisheries Service must decide next month on the 2008 quotas. It should keep the fluke catch within the lowest range of what the best available science recommends.

Amen, brother

A quick lesson in constitutional principles and the danger of glib punditry.

Liberals - A way out of the woods

In the last few weeks since the provincial election, more than a few local pundits of the print and video variety, have offered advice for the Liberal Party for the long march back to power.

Now let me offer my own. . .

To start, let me puncture the notion that the Libs are down and gone forever - that's just self-serving nonsense from government partisans who prefer the "responsible" (read "tame") opposition style of the NDP. This reached a low point under the leadership of Jack Harris who interpreted the concept of "principled opposition" as license to nestle in the warmth of the government's back pocket. I'm glad to see that this has changed somewhat under the leadership of Lorraine Michael.

The NDP, God bless their righteous hearts, are never going to be in the position of government-in-waiting because that's a position they have chosen to pass on. To be a real alternative, they would have to start by severing their relationship with Big Labour in a similar way that Tony Blair did with the Labour Party in Great Britain. And since they are not ready to do that, they forfeit any right to be the government-in-waiting. You can't have a government-in-waiting in Reg Anstey's pocket anymore than you can be a government-in-waiting in the pocket of the Board of Trade.

The day the NDP really shake up their organization is the day they become a force to reckon with - not before.

Until that day comes, our political system is predicated on one party being the passer of political power while the other party acts as the receiver. And unless we all wish to formalize the one-party state then we have to accept the inevitable process: after the political tide comes in, the political tide inevitable goes out. So the the next time that happens, it will be the Liberals receiving power from the PCs.

The Liberal Party, like the PCs and unlike the NDP, are big tent parties where hard ideological positions are eschewed in favour of pragmatics. That means that the parties can shrink and expand to cover the necessity of the times they live in. This is not to say that the PCs and Liberal are interchangeable. They are not. They have very different histories, political cultures, and socio and geodemographics.

And even under the official party banners, there are many shades of red just as there are many shades of blue. Many of the shades of blue currently holding the levers of power are dismissed by some of the other shades of blue. Similarly, some of the shades of red which cheered on the Liberal campaign strategy in the last election felt an enthusiasm unshared by other Liberals of a different shade of red.

There are Liberals who love Danny and PCs who hate him. There are schools of Federalist thought which crosses party barriers just as there are schools of nationalist thought with roots in both the Libs and the PCs.

Research shows that the province is not dominated by Liberals or PCs or the NDP. Maybe 25-30% of the voting population consider themselves Liberal with a roughly same number considering themselves PCs. Less than 1/2 those numbers consider themselves NDP. So in any given election, the Libs can count on about 25% of the vote, the PCs the same and the NDP about 10%.

Most people, about 40%, are undecided/independents who think little of politics, change their vote from election to election and don't consider themselves adherents to any of the parties. They swing around from party to party depending on the issues of the day and the qualities of the leaders and parties they are faced with.

This is only a rough approximate model of the provincial electorate. There are many more complexities than that but this will suffice for the moment.

I'll continue this in a day or two.

Another new blog

Blogs come and blogs go; here's a new one that I hope stays around for a while.

By the infamous local journalist Craig Wescott, the editor of The Business Post, The Public Ledger bears the earmarks of his trademarked pithy acerbic clear-eyed observational style.

Good on you.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Stacking the talk radio lines

Bond Papers noted this Star article which talked about partisans receiving advice on stacking talk radio from the national Conservatives.

Then Meeker on Media carried the ball further down the field to talk about what happens locally.

Now here is the link to the Conservatives that sparked all this off; it's pretty slick.

Tuna and others are on the way out

This BBC story on the commercial extinction of bluefin tuna tells us that:
It is difficult from the outside to comprehend the mentality that would exploit a fishery to collapse in the face of warning after warning. Even from a commercial point of view, it appears to make no sense.

Iccat (International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tuna) scientists believe that if catches were halved now, the stock would rebound, allowing fleets to catch almost as much as they have ever done, and do so sustainably, ensuring an income for the foreseeable future.

According to Sebastian Losada, oceans campaigner at Greenpeace in Madrid, there is a simple problem; the industry needs profits today, not tomorrow.

"The root of the problem is that we have too much capacity in the region," he says.
It sounds all to familiar: an international fishery organization working hand-in-hand with governments and companies who just don't know when to say when.

Further down in the story is this nugget:
Total extinction for a fish species is relatively uncommon, given their mobility. But once numbers have fallen, ecological factors can take over that mean the stock is highly unlikely ever to rebuild.

It appears to have happened on the Grand Banks near Newfoundland, where cod fishing was banned in 1992.

There are still cod there; but their numbers do not appear to be increasing. Boris Worm from Dalhousie University in nearby Nova Scotia believes the ecosystem has moved into a new, probably stable, state.
And before we leave the topic, it's worthwhile checking out this story on a major scientific study which says there will be virtually nothing left to fish from the seas by the middle of the century if current trends continue.

As painful as it might be, I think it's time to start looking at the post-fish future of province.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

A new blog - The Stride Protocol

There's a new entry in the political/economic category of local blogs: the Stride Protocol.

I'm not familiar with the gentleman but he seems to have an interesting background with much to offer. He says it's a weekly blog about everyday observations.

His observation this week is called Oil Royalties 101. Oddly, the post actually has very little to do with royalties but no matter; there's a few bits of additional information I think would place his post in better relief.

First, Stride is dedicated to Hubbert's peak oil theory and the associated imminent $100 an oil barrel due to a sharp decline in global oil production. Only problem is, Hubbert's peak oil theory assumed a static oil discovery and development environment and that's not the case. As old sources are depleted, economics kicks in with cost-effective feasible technologies to find, extract and/or manufacture more oil.

Keep in mind that Hubbert was a geologist, not an economist. As The Economist notes:
... the oil production peak is unlikely “for decades to come”. Governments may decide to shift away from petroleum because of its nasty geopolitics or its contribution to global warming. But it is wrong to imagine the world's addiction to oil will end soon, as a result of genuine scarcity. As Western oil companies seek to cope with being locked out of the Middle East, the new era of manufactured fuel will further delay the onset of peak production. The irony would be if manufactured fuel also did something far more dramatic—if it served as a bridge to whatever comes beyond the nexus of petrol and the internal combustion engine that for a century has held the world in its grip.
Second, Stride says definitively that "We own the resource" and that there are tremendous implications to developing an ownership mentality over a regulatory one (and then goes on to parrot the Premier's "no more giveaway's" rhetoric - too bad).

In fact we do not own the offshore oil resource; we have never owned the resource; we will never in the future own the resource. Ownership of the offshore oil resource was definitively resolved in favor of the Government of Canada by the Supreme Court of Canada (and the NL Court of Appeal) in every case brought before it since 1969, the last one in a 6-0 decsion on MArch 9, 1984..

Our relationship to the resources is a regulatory one as opposed to an ownership one through the mechanism of the CNLOPB and the original Atlantic Accord enabling legislation which established it. In the end, NL can tax and control development of offshore oil and gas as if it were on land.

Third, Stride holds up Norway is the golden child of the resource royalty world. Rarely is mentioned, and he does not mention, that Norway is the only OECD country to still be in the business of state owned and directed oil projects. Even more rarely mentioned is that they are working to get out of the ownership game and are steadily decreasing their ownership stake and would be moving far faster if it were not for domestic political impediments.

All in all I'm looking forward to more posts on the Stride Protocol.

Political gossip vs public policy information

Just coming out of a campaign as a candidate, I saw first-hand and was amazed to the extent that gossip can hijack messages even among people who should know better.

Political dynamics is not usually phrased that way using the term "gossip" but that's really the only word for it. Just ask Denise Pike about the effects of political gossip on her campaign.

But by gossip, in this context, I mean more than just personal information about a campaign or candidate. By gossip I mean any kind of untrue information that is passed around and believed even in the face of verifiable alternate facts or plain common sense.

For example, what rational voter would accept the idea that the leader of a major provincial political party would seriously consider driving the province into bankruptcy? I mean advocate literally driving up out debt to levels so high as to be unsustainable given our revenues and so forcing default or bailout or both?

The fact that a politician can use that "fact" as a weapon to discredit an opponent in the face of recordings which clearly show that the original remark had nothing like that intent shows that something peculiar is at play.

You might dismiss this as foolishness and inconsequential but this line of thought was triggered by this article in the New York Times outlining the results of a paper on gossip published by a group of evolutionary biologists in Germany and Austria.

The article noted that the study found that gossip, whether positive or negative, had a big influence on the decisions and outlook of the subjects, and it didn’t even matter if the source of the gossip had a good reputation himself.

You might think the gossip mattered just in borderline cases but that's not the case at all. Using a series of games, they found that even when a player saw that his partner had a record of consistent meanness, he could be swayed by positive gossip to reward the partner anyway.

Or withhold help from a perfectly nice partner just on the basis of malicious buzz.

In other words, what people were told about other people often trumped their direct experience of that person.

Imagine the implications for political campaigns.

Monday, October 15, 2007

F***ing great article

A side road to an interesting issue, this article called Why we curse: What the F***? from The New Republic online points out that:
When it comes to political speech, we are living in a free-speech utopia. Late-night comedians can say rude things about their nation's leaders that, in previous centuries, would have led to their tongues being cut out or worse. Yet, when it comes to certain words for copulation and excretion, we still allow the might of the government to bear down on what people can say in public. Swearing raises many other puzzles--linguistic, neurobiological, literary, political.

The pendulum swings

Check Web Talk for another patented "Before we had Joey. Now we have Danny. Look how for we've come" posts. It presumes that we were once naive federalists and then we have gradually awoken as a nation under the wise and revelatory leadership of Danny Williams to take our place in the country and the world.

*Yawn* to an unnuanced and simplistic point of view which ignores the last 60 years of provincial history.

The post conveniently forgets that Smallwood went through strong federalists phases and strong provincialist phases as it suited him. Just ask Diefenbaker how well the two levels of government got along through the 60s after the extended federal-provincial honeymoon of the 50s.

Then the post rushes to skip entirely over the administration of the great NL nationalist, A. Brian Peckford and his revival of provincialist pride in the 80s. Oddly, this new generation of of provincialist pride advocates prefer to ignore our first Brian entirely. I guess the construction of faux history precludes the existence of rivals to the current favourite.

Then came the swing which lead to the unassailiablilty of the federalist Clyde Kirby Wells in the 1990s.

Only then do we come to the latest pretender of the provincialist crown, Premier Danny Williams, in the 2000s.

Who knows who will lead the swing back in the 2010s?

The lesson of history is that this province has cyclically lurched from a federalist to a provincial point of view under a variety of political strongmen depending on agenda and circumstances.

The lesson for the day is that if one is going to make an historical argument, some knowledge and inclusion of history would be helpful.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Alberta faces royalty choice II

Here's another very good piece on the choices confronting Alberta and Stelmach in modifying Alberta's petroleum royalties. This one is from The Star. The decisions to be made include. . .

"The first and most obvious, expected within days, is whether to hike royalty rates on oil and gas producers by 20 per cent, as recommended by a controversial report Stelmach himself commissioned.

But that's not Stelmach's biggest challenge. While no expert panel is urging him to do so, Stelmach must decide whether to revive Alberta's pitifully small Heritage Fund so that it can one day serve Albertans as a rainy day fund in a way that similar "sovereignty funds" in Norway and Alaska are set to do.

Third, there is the man-made ecological disaster that has become the Athabasca oil sands, prominently featured in An Inconvenient Truth, Al Gore's Oscar-winning documentary about the global warming crisis. With an estimated additional $100 billion (all figures U.S.) in oil-sands projects on the drawing board, the already damaged ecosystem of northeast Alberta will be in still greater peril without political action."


Alberta faces royalty choice

An impressive article from the Globe and mail this weekend outlines the debate in Alberta on oil and gas royalties and the choices facing Stelmach as he stares into an election. For the sake of posterity, I will reproduce it below. It's worth reading and so are the article's associated comments.


A deep well of discontent

From Saturday's Globe and Mail
October 12, 2007 at 11:57 PM EDT

CALGARY — When Ed Stelmach unexpectedly became Premier of Alberta last December, following the long reign of Ralph Klein, a quiet but important shift occurred: Power moved from Mr. Klein's home base in the energy capital of Calgary to Mr. Stelmach's traditional territory, rural Alberta.

Mr. Stelmach has hardscrabble roots on a farm near Edmonton that his grandfather settled in 1898 and in his early 20s he returned to work the homestead instead of heading to law school after an older brother died unexpectedly. That turn back to the farm led him away from corporate power, and even though Mr. Stelmach put grander ambitions on hold, he slowly and surely still managed to rise to the province's highest office, arriving there without years of hanging out at Calgary's Petroleum Club, unlike Mr. Klein and other predecessors.

Today, Mr. Stelmach is poised to make the most important economic decision in the country this year – promising a decision by month's end on what's fair for energy royalties. He is not an eloquent man but is known as a careful leader, a listener – precisely the opposite of Mr. Klein, a shoot-first-ask-questions-later man whom oil executives considered a trustworthy buddy.

Now, the blunt question is whether Mr. Stelmach has the acumen to make the right decision on royalties, and business fears what it calls a potential catastrophe if he makes the wrong move and sinks the country's most robust economy. Billions of dollars, at the very least, are on the line, along with thousands of jobs – in Alberta and across Canada. Mr. Stelmach's government is not particularly popular and there is a strong temptation to play the populist card given the polling numbers that show some support for a landmark report that calls for significantly higher royalties to be implemented in full.

No wonder: The price of oil yesterday rose past $84 (U.S.) a barrel, a record.

Sensing an opportunity for electoral success – the last vote was in November, 2004 – Mr. Stelmach is pondering a snap election this fall if his decision on royalties goes over well. The pressure, with energy companies threatening to pull at least $3-billion (Canadian) out of the province next year, is immense. Where Mr. Stelmach stands is unclear: The farmer has been criticized this month for being too close to industry and possibly cracking under pressure from it.

A spokesman for Mr. Stelmach said yesterday no decisions have been made – the situation is “fluid” – but added: “The status quo is not an option.”

“I think Stelmach's going to make the right decision,” said George Gosbee, chairman of Tristone Capital Inc., a Calgary investment bank that has worked to broker a balance between higher royalties and keeping the province's economic engine running. “It's going to be a big win, for all Albertans.”

The debate shines a light on a maturing Alberta that this year has blossomed beyond the energy monolith many Canadians take it for. Politically, even though the Conservatives have ruled for almost four decades, the public discourse is suddenly far more lively and diverse. Dissent is no longer a synonym for treason.

It is a marked turn away from the era of Ralph Klein's reverence for big business and a re-emergence of the more collective spirit of the 1970s, when then-premier Peter Lougheed launched the Conservative dynasty with a political style that was far more centrist than right wing. The royalty report itself – which was written by a panel that included three economists, a retired forestry executive, a retired oil executive and a technology entrepreneur – was not a staid government tome. It was written for a wide audience and had an almost activist tone, starting with its title: “Our Fair Share.”

“[The royalty report] has tapped into a pocket of malcontent that nobody knew existed,” said David Yager, chief executive officer of HSE Integrated Ltd., a small energy services company, and a columnist for Oilweek magazine. “But when you're premier, you can't take advantage of the province's most important industry for short-term political gain. There are opportunities to take a little more but what I found discouraging was the tone of the report.”

Much of the debate has been vitriolic, with panel members facing accusations of being “uneducated” in the practical business of oil and gas and having “grossly underestimated” key data regarding industry costs. Mr. Yager said “rage” was the predominant emotion, following the initial “shock.” Foreign investors made specious declarations comparing Alberta with Venezuela, with Deutsche Bank Securities Ltd. suggesting there was some sort of socialist revolution under way as it entitled a note to investors: “The Bolivarian Republic of Alberta.” The respected market analyst Don Coxe yesterday referred to it as a “Putinesque abrogation” of the tradition of royalties.

But lost in the shrill and deeply emotional debate are the numerous nuances of a quickly changing business in the province. When the public review began in April to determine whether Alberta was getting a fair share of energy money, all eyes were on the oil sands, where all facts pointed to the obvious conclusion of higher royalties.

In the northern hinterlands of the province lies a huge expanse of boreal forest and the oil sands, billed as the second-biggest reserve of oil on the planet. For decades, the very low-grade resource was considered barely useful until high oil prices, technology and a generous royalty regime ignited a fever, bringing tens of billions of dollars in capital flowing through Calgary and Edmonton to Fort McMurray in a mad building boom.

A decade from now, conventional oil and gas production — and royalties from those sources — will no longer form the foundation of Alberta's treasury, and the province is depending on oil sands to make up the difference, as production in the region is projected to roughly triple over the next decade. Without this, Alberta could actually slowly skid towards the have-not provincial status it held before the discovery of a giant field of conventional oil near Edmonton in 1947.

When the six-member review panel came out with its report on Sept. 18, the surprise was not that it called for higher rates in the oil sands but that the main target for immediate increases was aimed squarely at the struggling natural gas business.

The critical and most controversial issue – natural gas – has underpinned Alberta's economic success and its overflowing treasury. The so-called Calgary oil patch is in fact a gas capital, with a shift only now beginning to swing to the oil sands. Canadian Natural Resources Ltd.(TSX:CNQ), the country's second-largest producer, is the embodiment of this evolution, beginning life in the deep recession of the late 1980s as a scrappy gas producer and growing into a giant gas producer – and now making a big, long-term bet on the oil sands.

But the oil sands remains a tomorrow story, a key source of the province's long-term revenues.

Today, Canadian Natural – and the province – depends on natural gas. There are more than 100,000 producing wells in Alberta, but it's only a very small number that really count, those that dot the rugged Foothills of the Rocky Mountains. Mr. Stelmach's decision this month is absolutely crucial for corporate decisions on winter drilling in those Foothills – the short window lasting a couple of months, when the ground is frozen, to move rigs in and out to hunt for the few remaining big gas targets buried thousands of metres below the surface.

According to Tristone, which has worked closely with Alberta civil servants in Edmonton to produce new work it will present on Monday, these are the 5 per cent of Alberta's gas wells that generate 50 per cent of the province's gas production and provide 63 per cent of gas royalties – which in turn accounts for roughly 40 per cent of all royalties currently collected by the province.

The royalty review panel felt the province wasn't getting its fair share from these big wells, which spit out piles of cash at high prices but also cost millions of dollars to drill (and successful drilling is far from assured). The panel said its recommendations would in fact see royalties on about 80 per cent of gas wells reduced at recent gas prices, aiming to encourage continued production of modest wells – but, stepping back, those tiny wells are a secondary concern in the bigger picture.

Under the recommendations, the prolific gas wells in the Foothills – those that uncover major reserves to heat homes across the country – would see their value slashed to 59 cents per million cubic feet from 98 cents, according to Tristone, as government takes much more money up front.

Pedro van Meurs, a respected international consultant on royalties upon whom the panel relied heavily, indicated in a July report that Alberta had “considerable competitive scope” to get more when gas (or oil) prices are high. But he added that deep wells in the Foothills generally require high initial output to justify drilling them, suggesting that taking more up front “may not deal effectively with deep gas wells” and recommended further investigation of incentive programs to encourage such drilling.

One panel member, speaking off the record yesterday, said if there is good evidence, the government should consider the balance between gas royalties on such wells and economic development. “That's their job,” the person said. “There could be room to move there.”

At current natural gas prices, with the panel recommendations, drilling in the Foothills makes no economic sense, according to Canadian Natural and all other leading explorers in the region. It is why Canadian Natural said it would slash spending by $800-million next year if the recommendations are fully adopted; it's why EnCana Corp. (TSX:ECA) announced its intention to take $1-billion off the table; it's why Talisman Energy Inc. (TSX:TML) is mulling a $500-million cut and ConocoPhillips Co. (TSX:COP) plans to withdraw another $500-million.

The royalty panel envisioned its recommendations quickly adding $2-billion to the provincial treasury, with half of that coming in more money from gas; the potential cuts announced to date already exceed the projected gain.

And if all these wells don't get drilled this winter – beyond the job losses in the field, from the rigs to all the small towns like Edson that support the business – the province's natural gas production will go into freefall. This is already partly in motion, as the National Energy Board this week predicted in a report that showed a possible a decline of 15 per cent in Canadian gas supplies by 2009 because of relatively low prices.

With gas output sliding, the government's royalty take is headed down, not up.

Still, don't cry for the poor natural gas explorer: They are playing a game of big risk and big reward – and the rewards can be fantastic. Natural gas fuelled EnCana's $6.4-billion profit last year, the biggest in Canadian history, not to mention Talisman's $2-billion take, its best ever, and Canadian Natural's $2.5-billion, also the most the company has ever made.

Because Ralph Klein capped gas royalties in the early 1990s at very low levels, wells in the Foothills can produce excellent rates of return of more than 15 per cent at higher prices, such as $9 per thousand cubic feet. The panel's recommendation would cut that to 6.5 per cent, Tristone calculates.

In between is the balance Mr. Stelmach must strike – and executives are ready to deal.

“There's room at higher prices. It's just at what prices that kicks in,” Steve Laut, Canadian Natural president, said in an interview. “By increasing the take, the [review] panel changed how it's collected. The take has shifted to the front end. The government gets their share sooner and that, obviously as a company investing the capital, means we get our returns later. As economics work, it drives the returns down dramatically. And by doing that, they've effectively made large portions of the Alberta basin uneconomic.”

Canadian Natural this week issued the most detailed assessment of what the royalty proposals mean to its business, warning of job losses for 4,000 contractors as it slashes the number of gas wells it might drill in 2008 to just 88 from 253 this year.

“The people that will take the brunt of this royalty proposal will be the people in the field. The guys on the rigs, the pipefitters and welders in the [fabrication] shops in Edmonton, the guys driving the truck, the pipeline crews, the small business person that just bought two new trucks to haul equipment. They will take the brunt.”

Just yesterday, Mullen Group Income Fund (TSX:MTL.UN), a small energy services firm, said it is handing temporary layoff notices to as many as 100 people because of low gas prices and royalties uncertainty.

For Mr. Stelmach, whose core support is in rural Alberta, this is an important part of his balancing act. A poll this month found that almost nine out of 10 Albertans agreed the province isn't getting its “fair share” from oil and gas and two-thirds wanted to see the royalty recommendations adopted in full rather than in part.

“The royalty report has raised the expectations of Albertans tremendously,” said Geoffrey Hale, a political scientist at the University of Lethbridge.

Beyond the headlines were nuanced revelations. About 55 per cent of Albertans want to see higher royalties in the oil sands but roughly the same number believe royalties charged on conventional oil and natural gas wells should stay the same or be cut, which was precisely the sentiment in the air when the public royalty review quietly began in April in an almost empty hotel conference room in Grande Prairie, the hub of 50,000 residents in northwestern Alberta that depends on gas drilling.

Going beyond natural gas – where the price of the commodity is down roughly 20 per cent from a year ago – is the world of oil, where the spotlight shines far brighter and many more people know that riches are being made, given that the price of crude sits at more than $80 (U.S.) a barrel. The panel also called for higher royalties on conventional oil production, which had been capped at about $40 a barrel – leading to an unfair amount of profit going to corporations rather than citizens, who are the owners of the resource, while firms lease the rights to explore and produce.

While corporate Calgary has angrily reacted to the royalty review recommendations, more nuances are revealed in who is standing up and what they are saying – and companies that are quietly not speaking out at all.

Suncor Energy Inc.
(TSX:SU), the oldest and second-largest oil sands miner, has not made any public declarations and its stock remains near an all-time high of about $100 (Canadian) a share, just a bit below where it was before the royalty report.

Marcel Coutu, chief executive officer of Canadian Oil Sands Trust (TSX:COS.UN), which holds the biggest stake in the biggest oil sands miner Syncrude Canada Ltd., told The Globe and Mail after the report that there is room for “some form of compromise,” saying: “A burden must be chosen that will optimize the eventual value of this resource.”

Canadian Natural, which is investing $7.6-billion to build an oil sands mine, said it will forge ahead regardless and plans to develop two more phases of its Horizon mine, costing billions more.

Don't be mistaken: The energy companies aren't content with all the royalty ideas for the oil sands. In the 1990s, before the boom, a very generous royalty regime was put in place to encourage development, with a rate of just 1 per cent of gross revenues until a project recouped its capital costs, plus a return similar to a government bond, before the rate jumped to 25 per cent of net revenues, taking out many operating costs before paying the government.

The panel proposed the 25-per-cent rate rise to 33 per cent, which hasn't really been debated, but industry is quite critical of a proposed severance tax to be charged from the first day of production if oil prices are higher than $40 (U.S.) a barrel, a level now considered to be quite low.

This tax, oil companies argue, is punitive to projects that don't mine the oil sands and instead recover it by drilling wells and injecting steam to draw it to the surface. This technique and future variations thereof will be used to recover most of the resource bitumen in the oil sands; mining scrapes off just a fraction of the available bitumen from the surface.

Petro-Canada (TSX:PCZ), which is working on a $14.1-billion (Canadian) mine, didn't complain about higher royalties but said the severance tax means steam injection projects can only work at $100 a barrel. The company said it believed a compromise could be worked out. Canadian Natural said $7-billion of steam-injection projects on the drawing board would have to be shelved. EnCana, which is a steam-injection pioneer, said its existing projects will work but the severance tax puts billions of dollars of future plans in jeopardy.

Like increasing the royalties on deep gas, the tax is criticized for taking too much too soon from multibillion-dollar projects that take years to develop.

But again, unlike earlier this year when oil companies weren't willing to compromise on anything, Tristone suggested a tax that started kicking in at $70 a barrel after a project recovers its capital costs and an increase of the initial nominal royalty rate of 1 per cent to 3 per cent on gross revenues – which would last through an oil sands project's entire life, rather than just the early years. On the 25-per-cent figure, Tristone said it should stay static, saying its plan would get more for the province than the panel's proposals.

Tristone's Mr. Gosbee said his firm's idea of compromise caused private grumbles among Calgary's top executives – but given that the debate has shifted radically from where it stood before the royalty report, the willingness to accept a pragmatic solution has caught on under the threat of something worse. Like comedian Larry David has joked, a successful compromise is when everyone's unhappy.

For Mr. Stelmach, in a job where he is supposed to keep as many people as happy as possible, the challenge is considerable. He is no stranger to struggle but now must deal with the greatest challenge of his life, to be made under the threat of an economic slowdown or worse, and try to shake off an image of economic ineptitude.

The government is completing a technical review of the royalty report and has met privately with a constant stream of industry representatives. This coming week Mr. Stelmach begins to draft his decision and craft his political message. On Oct. 24, he is slated to appear on television to explain at least some of his thinking to Albertans – with a full decision promised by Halloween.

Then, if it goes well, Mr. Stelmach calls an election, to seek a mandate to validate his decision and leadership after almost a year as premier, in a job to which he ascended only by a vote of Conservative Party members.

Keith Brownsey, a political scientist Calgary's Mount Royal College, said Mr. Stelmach has the opportunity to hit the delicate balance between Alberta as a whole and industry.

“Some concessions can certainly be made to the oil and gas industry without appearing to cave to their demands,” Mr. Brownsey said.

“For an election, he could wait until next spring but my inclination would be to strike while the iron is hot, hold up the royalty decision and declare it his platform.”

Friday, October 12, 2007

Big cheese stands alone

While amateur local pundits are eager to place Premier Williams front and center of the national stage, the shape of the political landscape for their hero points to growing isolation and continuing national irrelevance into the indefinite future.

When you clear through the noise of the regular fall Ottawa ritual of the rutting political parties bellowing and taking runs at each other, one thing becomes clear: there will be no election this year. Over the next month or so, each opposition party will make separate and independent runs at the government and the government will pretend that the runs actually mean something and will make their appropriate noises. Then everybody will go home satisfied that they have been seen to be doing something.

The Conservatives are still locked in minority territory, the opposition parties are still unprepared for an election, there are no burning issues to run on and nobody wants to call an election to be conducted over the pre-Christmas season. Layton already made that mistake once and even he has learned it's not wise to do that twice.

The real game will start with the spring budget.

And the more time goes by, the fewer national allies Williams has to count on. MacDonald of Nova Scotia has looked after the interests of his own province and made a separate peace with the feds. In truth, he was never a reliable ally at the best of times because there was so little money at stake for him. And now with a single bland assurance, Harper and McKay have neutralized that problem.

Harper and MacDonald's success in burying the hatchet lies in the fact that talks continued between the governments through the conduit of Peter MacKay. He was critical to making the deal happen.

Williams has no such conduit. He has emasculated Loyola Hearn and our Ottawa plenipotentiary is nowhere to be seen.

There's no doubt that the deal was in the works for a while and the announcement was held off until after the NL provincial election. For one thing it takes up to weeks to coordinate a federal-provincial announcement of this magnitude. For another, Harper knew full well that Williams would use the deal as the excuse to launch yet another provincial jihad against Ottawa.

That's the problem with being so predictable - it gives the initiative to others.

Whether the deal is good or not for Nova Scotia is irrelevant. MacDonald is now out of the game and the Williams' parting shots at him as "weak" will make him disinclined to be sympathetic in the future.

Meanwhile, Premier Calvert of Saskatchewan has called an election and his outlook is not bright. He is a familiar and tired leader heading a familiar and tired party that has been in power for 16 years and has been 15-20% behind in the polls for too long. There is always a chance that he might pull it out but that's not where the smart money is going.

As for the other provincial premiers, the Williams hobbyhorse of broken federal promises that nobody ever expected to see kept anyways combined with absolutely no interest in Equalization as an issue in any premier's suite of any note across the country ensures a big ho-hum response to his same old song.

The key to long term success in federal-provincial relations is in making friends and influencing people through a combination of tenacity, flexibility and the ability to make allies through the sharing of common interests. Predictable, incessant, inflexible, noisy combativeness excites the local nationalist extremists back home; nobody else cares anymore.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

I'm back

This is post #400; I've given a lot of thought to the next 400.