Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Atlantic Journalism Award

Regular readers will know that "Caught in the Middle" is my 6000 word piece telling the story and the effects of the collapse of the Hebron project negotiations between the province and the oil companies.

Atlantic Business Magazine commissioned me to research and write it for publication in their July/August 2006 issue.

It turns out that not only has ABM submitted it for a National Magazine Award, they have also submitted it to the 2006 Atlantic Journalism Awards closer to home.

Thanx kindly!

And stay tuned to see how it all works out.

Tory attack ad update

First, it looks like the Conservative Party may be in copyright violation for the video clips used in the ads. Might just be a matter of time before they get yanked from everywhere.

You really have to wonder what the strategy here is. I suspect that Conservative polling numbers are likely showing that Dion is either not particularly well-defined in English Canada or his numbers are just plain soft. Clearly they want these ads to provide that definition service in sort of the same way the PC's in Ontario kneecapped Dalton McGinty before the last couple of Ontario provincial elections - spend the money to run the attack ads way in advance and bury him.

But what I don't understand is this: if they are trying to force the Liberals to put off an election until later then why use a tactic that could so piss off the Liberals that they'll want to take out Harper's government ASAP? It's a high-risk strategy that could backfire.

Meanwhile the media response has been interesting. Stories here and here think it might work, a story here thinks it's deplorable while a story here just isn't sure.

Clearly they are meeting a mixed reception.

Second: I've been given better links directly to the ads themselves. You can find them below.

Clean up the Environment

Not a Leader

Back to Power

Premier Danny Williams vs. Big Oil - ABM 4 of 4

This is the last of the series of the 5 top stories of the year as published in the January-February issue of the Atlantic Business Magazine. All of them will be listed on the lower left column under published work when I get the time.


Premier Danny Williams vs. Big Oil

In February 2006 negotiations between the Hebron Ben-Nevis consortium (led by Chevron Canada) and the provincial government of Newfoundland and Labrador collapsed amid public acrimony. No further talks have since been held, nor are any planned for the immediate future.

Meanwhile, plans for the possible expansion of the Hibernia project to exploit the southern extension of the field are now tangled in the thick underbrush of the provincial government approval process. The outcome is far from certain.

Hebron Ben-Nevis was poised to be the fourth offshore development for the province, the project that bridged the gap to a strong petroleum future. While the Williams government stands firm on its position of "no more giveaways", there is a very real potential for medium and long term losses from the delay, for both the public and private sectors.

Lost royalties and taxes (at least in the immediate term) are estimated to be equal to the other three projects combined: some $8-10 billion, depending on oil prices. And this money was scheduled to arrive just as the other project revenues are scheduled to go into a steep decline from a peak of $1.4 billion in 2012-13.

The recent shutdown of Terra Nova and the associated revenue impact on the provincial treasury has provided a sobering indication of the degree to which Newfoundland and Labrador now depends on the revenue from these few oil projects. The mid-term tipping of the provincial budget from surplus to deficit points to the need to have more projects in play.

But government revenues are not the whole story.

For the local supply sector, Hebron represented momentum and continuity, a smooth transition of business and employment opportunity from one project to the next. This project could have kept skilled workers in place and fabrication facilities humming.

In the wake of Hebron’s indefinite delay, firms are now looking for opportunity in other parts of the country and withdrawing personnel and capital from St. John’s, Marystown, Argentia and the surrounding areas. The Burin Peninsula has been particularly hard hit, since the regional fish plants, the only other source of significant employment, have also closed.

The loss of Hebron also represents a break in the path to future exploration and development. The political climate has become so rancorous that petroleum companies seem to have lost some of their enthusiasm for the province: exploration drilling scheduled prior to April 2006 is winding down, with no significant plans for follow-up. For the first time in recent memory, a call for bids offshore Newfoundland and Labrador (the recently-closed Sydney Basin offering) was met with a chilling lack of interests: no bids were received.

With more potential projects around the globe than resources to execute them, petroleum companies seem content to move on to other opportunities. Since oil companies have been withdrawing their senior personnel to more accommodating jurisdictions, the ripple effect on local supply companies has been to scale back also.

St. John’s and the surrounding region has experienced substantial economic stimulus from petroleum-related activity. With the slow-down in the supply sector, a drop in key economic indicators, such as housing prices and employment rates, are already being seen.

So far, Williams’ posture as "Fighting Newfoundlander" has played well in his province: CRA polling shows continued strong approval ratings. However, while public criticism of Williams’ stand has been limited, there is widespread disappointment that more efforts to reach a deal have not been made. His reputation as a successful deal-maker, which attracted widespread support from the business community during the last provincial election, is being sorely tested by the breakdown of these critical negotiations.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Averill Baker - *yawn*

Another Averill Baker column.

FPI is bad.

Ottawa is bad.

Canada is bad.

Foreigners are bad.

We are victims.

We are slaves.

Same as last week.

Same as next week.

Same old, same old.


Tory attack ads

My sympathies have been clear here and here - I've been waiting for a leader like Stephan Dion for a long time. Now that he's here, he's done nothing to disappoint me and has shown much energy and character to give me hope for the party and the country.

Here are the tory attack ads. This is the first time in this country I've seen/heard such a thing on the national level. I'll write further about this once I cool down a bit.

These are 2nd hand versions. Oddly, the Conservative Party is so proud of them that they have declined to post them to their website.

5 Top Stories of 2006 in ABM - 3 of 4

This is the next is the series of the 5 top stories of the year as published in the January-February issue of the Atlantic Business Magazine.


Deep Panuke - Finally Moving

On June 30, 2006 Nova Scotia Premier Rodney MacDonald announced that the stalled Deep Panuke natural gas project was moving forward.

Deep Panuke first emerged as a potential third project for the Nova Scotia offshore in 2000, when PanCanadian Energy announced encouraging drilling results from a natural gas field associated with the Cohasset Panuke oil project. Deep Panuke will tap into the natural gas reservoirs located underneath the original Cohasset-Panuke oil field, which ceased production in late 1999.

The Offshore Strategic Energy Agreement (OSEA) announced by Premier MacDonald is the first step in the process to get both gas and opportunities flowing to the province.

To start, EnCana has guaranteed 1.34 million person-hours of work in Nova Scotia, including at least 850,000 by Nova Scotians. The agreement also contains a commitment to build accommodation facilities for the Offshore Production Unit in the province yielding some 280,000 person-hours for Nova Scotians.

The Deep Panuke OSEA contains a unique element that will facilitate long-term opportunities for Nova Scotia companies: EnCana will provide financial and human resources to help build an onshore drilling rig manufacturing operation in Nova Scotia - $1 million dollars worth per rig towards the construction of five onshore rigs in-province.

Nova Scotia companies who participate in this ambitious and creative supplier development initiative will acquire experience and an entrée into a market hungry for qualified labour and industrial capacity. Construction of the proposed initial five rigs could also help alleviate the rig shortage that has hindered the onshore industry in Atlantic Canada and across the country.

But rig construction is likely to be just the beginning of long-term benefit emerging from the Deep Panuke OSEA. Premier MacDonald expects joint ventures and partnerships established during project development to establish export capacity and help Nova Scotia’s resident industry flourish.

Premier MacDonald says the deal was reached through patience, cooperative spirit and an eye to the future: "(By) staying at the negotiating table and showing certainty to the company during the regulatory process, Nova Scotia demonstrated it is a steady partner that’s open for business and will find ways to make projects move forward."

The mood in Nova Scotia is confident, the supply and service sector is ready, and the industry is looking forward to success beyond the life of this new project.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Re-writing history - Incumbants versus Predecessors

A common theme of the politics over time is the practice of incumbents rewriting the history of their predecessors in order to justify or excuse current policies.

Take your time with these clips; they run about 20 minutes in total.

Here is the controversial interview on Fox where former President Clinton defends his record and clarifies facts and issues against the Bush revisionists.

Here is the Olbermann commentary of this event. It's a long and articulate attack on the unfair ambush of former President Clinton by a media outlet known for toadying to the right wing in power.

This happened in the US. And you know it never happens here in this country.

Or in this province.


Friday, January 26, 2007

Editorials - Loopy and Worse

I made a small and general comment about the local media for their aggressive pursuit of their little spots in the local media political monoculture. I've received some comment taking issue with that but I stand by my initial remark - local editorial stances are like Model-T Fords; any colour you want as long as it's black.

However, to be fair, there are all kinds of shades of black. Two concrete examples have now come my way.

Bond Papers has already noted that this Telegram editorial was thin. I think he was being overgenerous. I know and understand that it's hard to hit the target each and every time but this is just too clumsy. I read the piece several times and then went back to look it it again. I even asked others to look at it. Bond Papers suggests that it's a half-hearted attempt to maybe, possibly make a comment on the Premier's style (as opposed to substance).

I can't tell what the point of this piece is. Either the author was so ambivalent that they qualified the points into meaninglessness or a paragraph was dropped somewhere along the way.

Either way, I don't get it and it's not up the the Tely's usual par.

Then there is this editorial from the Independent. Labradore has commented on it's uncanny resemblance to free verse but I'm more concerned about the substance rather than it's accidental unconventional poetic form.

Editorials are usually defined as an article in a newspaper or magazine that expresses the opinion of its editor or publisher. That's not really the issue here. The real issue is the matter of what constitutes an piece worthy of being called an editorial?

Should an opinion have any basis in fact or can it simply be the product of whatever random set of firing synapses is going on in the head of the author at that very moment?

I would think that a properly constructed editorial would follow roughly this form as concisely suggested by a journalism professor at the University of Rochester.

Instead, Mr. Cleary has chosen to go with the randomly firing synapses route.

The piece is rife with coy unsubstantiated assertions (oil companies shut production in retaliation) and hoary, put-up inflammatory strawmen arguments (national media see Williams as Canada’s Hugo Chávez).

And that's just in the first couple of paragraphs!

The capper is when it goes on to suggest that the gentle reader should "consider this column an exercise in freeing the mind."

May I suggest that if the reader really wants to free their mind that a tab of psychoactive hallucinogenics would be healthier than than reading any more of this kind of predictable, unsubstantiated, prejudiced, pandering dreck week after week.

Equalization - Much ado about nothing?

In this article from the venerable StarPhoenix, Lorne Calvert indicates that he's hopeful that a solution to this matter of the Sask/NL Equalization war with Ottawa.

The story says:
After an interview on Wednesday in which Prime Minister Stephen Harper hinted he would live up to his election campaign guarantee to take non-renewable resources out of the federal equalization equation, Calvert was cautiously optimistic his own message on the matter was getting through.
It makes you wonder what kind of tempest in a teapot this whole thing was in the first place.

If you recall, this war started when Harper refused to give iron-clad assurances to Premier Williams at the PC Party convention in Gander. Little wonder Harper was disinclined to cooperate given the shabby treatment Williams accorded the Prime Minister and his political fellow traveler.

Here's the real question of the day: Did Premier Williams whip Harper's refusal to give an immediate answer into a storm because he thought the answer would be disadvantageous to this province or simply because he decided to push the matter to personal political advantage?

It's odd that this Calvert/Williams roadshow has but two stops - Saskatchewan and NL. One would have thought that it might have made better sense to stray from home territories to make forays into Ottawa, Halifax, Toronto or Vancouver in order to convince a wider audience.

But staying close to home makes perfect sense if the goal is merely to play to the home fans.

In the end, if Harper finally indicates that Equalization will be resolved to Williams' satisfaction then Williams can claim it that was his fight that made Harper cave notwithstanding the consistent assurances from Harper and his proxies (Manning, Hearn et al) that this province would not suffer under any new regime.

Maybe if Harper decides otherwise, it would be because he calculated he had nothing to lose from stirring the Premier's pique.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Equalization roadshow - two different takes

Below is the text of a column (Straight Talk) by Randy Burton in StarPhoenix, a Saskatoon newspaper. That is followed by a local article on the same subject written by Craig Jackson of the Telegram.

As hard as it is to believe, there is actually a responsible opposing point of view to Premier Williams' case on Equalisation* although that's pretty hard to tell. It seems we live in a media environment that is supersaturated with mere echoes of the Premier's latest remarks on this or that.

Local media is largely a political monoculture.

I know that the first is a column while the second is a news piece but the fact is that the local columns and editorials almost all follow the same line with rare exceptions which prove the rule.

Show me a local column that comes anywhere close to the position taken by this Saskatoon column in taking on a fundamental position of the Premier and I'll buy you a drink - it seldom happens and when it does, it's ignored because it is so rare.

You have to wonder if the local media have a policy on premiers that is similar to the policy of many US media outlets on the presidency: domestic policy is fair game for criticism and comment; on foreign policy, back the man to the hilt in all cases.

The media does the province no good in acting like an echo chamber - it breeds denial.

The rhetoric of equalization

Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Danny Williams would have to be counted among the most persuasive orators in the country.

The way he can frame an argument, he could probably convince Sidney Crosby that he needs hockey lessons.
So no one should be surprised to hear that he can make an eloquent defence of Newfoundland and Labrador's special equalization deal.

It's the same deal Saskatchewan wants -- the one Prime Minister Stephen Harper has promised in writing no fewer than six times, in fact. The idea is that provinces with oil and gas, like Alberta, Newfoundland and Labrador and Saskatchewan, should be allowed to exclude the value of their non-renewable natural resources from the calculations under the national equalization plan.

This is a have-your-cake-and-eat-it-too plan, where you can enjoy a gusher of oil revenues and still get equalization payments.

Of course, Williams can dress it up much more nicely than that. He ties the issue to Newfoundland's long history of disappointment, from the death of the fishery to the province losing control over returns from its vast hydro-electric resources.

He equates his sweetheart deal, called the Atlantic Accord, with subsidies to the Quebec aerospace industry or aid to Western beef producers.

In the same way, Newfoundland merely wants to be able to help itself with its own resources and makes no apology for it, he told a Saskatoon audience on Tuesday.

"Gone are the days when we sit back quietly and watch our economic wealth leave our shores to benefit others. We fight tooth and nail for each and every benefit that we so richly deserve and that has evaded us for so long," he said.

The case he and Saskatchewan Premier Lorne Calvert make is a very simple one. As Harper likes to say, a promise made should be a promise kept. End of story.

There's no question it's an effective political argument, easy to understand and easy to sell.
The problem with it is that it ignores the fact equalization was never designed to be a regional development plan that makes a special case for less developed provinces.

It is supposed to be a national plan that allows provinces in different circumstances the ability to provide relatively equal services at relatively comparable tax levels.

There is no question equalization has failed to do that in the past, spectacularly so in Saskatchewan's case, where for a period of years we had more money clawed back through equalization than we actually made from oil and gas.

But to argue the solution is to simply load up the other end of the teeter-totter for a change makes no sense either.

If Calvert has his way, Ontario would actually have a smaller fiscal capacity than Saskatchewan. However, Ontario would still be contributing to equalization while Saskatchewan would be a big recipient. It's very hard to see how that passes the test of fairness that Saskatchewan claims is so critical.

When Saskatchewan Finance Minister Andrew Thomson suggests the federal government is "going to use Western oil money to essentially buy votes in Quebec," he is really sinking to a new rhetorical low in this debate.

In the first place, it can't be proven by looking at the available information on equalization. On a per-capita basis, Quebec contributes more to federal revenues, and thus to equalization, than Saskatchewan does.

These kinds of statements indicate just how far Calvert's New Democrats are prepared to go in their campaign against the Conservatives. Plainly, they aim to pit Saskatchewan and Western Canada against Central Canada and to paint Quebec as the illegitimate beneficiary of Western wealth.

This might be effective politics for the Saskatchewan NDP, but it's poisonously divisive for the country. Just for the sake of argument, let's say the Parti Quebecois takes power in the next Quebec election, a notion that is entirely possible. Thomson's accusation is just the kind of thing separatist premiers love to use when justifying another referendum.

There was a time not so long ago when Saskatchewan was regarded as a rational voice in federal-provincial relations. This debate is badly fraying that reputation.

For Calvert to stalk out of a meeting with the prime minister without so much as shaking his hand is not just rude, it's short-sighted. Whatever happens to equalization, Saskatchewan is obviously going to need federal co-operation on a whole range of other issues in the months ahead.

For whatever reason -- budgetary problems? -- the Calvert government is betting it all on this particular political initiative.

We have yet to count the costs of the collateral damage.


Premier outlines 'wrongs' of Confederation; Takes message west

For decades, many a Newfoundland and Labrador premier attempted to dispel the myth that the province is sucking the life-blood out of the rest of Canada, that the country's most easterly jurisdiction is dependent on federal handouts for the delivery of welfare cheques, health-care, education and public services.

Premier Danny Williams joined the ranks of those before him Tuesday, delivering his views on Confederation - and what it has meant for this province - during a speech to about 200 people at the University of Saskatchewan. Williams also took the opportunity to meet with Saskatchewan Premier Lorne Calvert, who's on the same page as this province when it comes to federal equalization.

"When we joined Confederation almost 58 years ago, our per-capita debt increased tenfold the very day we joined," Williams said in his speech. "Ironically, to this day, we have the highest per-capita debt in the country.

"Before Confederation, we were a nation that had come through the war in good financial shape and abundant in natural resources. Since Confederation, things have changed."

Williams' comments are all a part of his fight to ensure this province gets to keep 100 per cent of revenue generated from non-renewable resources and that Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper keeps his promise that those benefits will not be clawed back through a revised equalization formula, an $11-billion program which allows for the delivery of an equal standard of public services nationwide.

"If you're going to convince someone to buy into your argument on equalization, and the need for us to have relief on non-renewable resource revenue, you need to give them some history of our background," the premier explained from Saskatoon Wednesday in an interview with The Telegram.

"It's an education for people so that they can understand why (the equalization issue) is so important to us now and why it's important we get a fair shake."

Williams said in his Saskatchewan address that this province gave up its right to manage offshore oil and gas resources when it joined Confederation in 1949. Other Canadian jurisdictions, however, owned and managed their oil and gas resources because "they are under ground instead of water," he said.

When the mid-1980s rolled around, the province signed the Atlantic Accord offshore deal with the Government of Canada, a document designed to rectify the wrong that had been written, he said, "but the promise of the Accord and the reality of its implementation were two entirely different beasts."

Williams, however, tackled that wrong in 2004, convincing former Liberal prime minister Paul Martin to renegotiate the Atlantic Accord. The premier returned home with a $2-billion agreement that served as an advancement on future offshore benefits.

The premier also cited other examples of where Confederation has not been entirely fair to this province.

He took aim at the federal government's refusal in the late 1960s to allow this province to transmit power through Quebec as part of the Upper Churchill hydro project. As a result, this province ended up in a lopsided deal with Quebec.

"Our loss is estimated at a billion dollars a year, a billion dollars from our resource that goes directly into Quebec's revenues every year, a billion dollars that could make us a have province," Williams said.

The fishery, he said, is another example where the province passed control and management over to the federal government.

"Ottawa, in turn, used its control of our fishery to trade quotas to foreigners in exchange for other favours, and it mismanaged some species of our domestic fishery to the point of commercial extinction," he said.

"As a result of this mismanagement, tens of thousands of people have been forced to leave our province.

"Imagine, if in one day, 300,000 Ontarians suddenly lost their jobs as a result of the federal government's mismanagement of their (auto) industry. These circumstances would rightfully be described as a national disaster."

But when thousands of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians were displaced with the closure of the cod fishery in 1992, it was considered "a national nuisance," the premier said.


* A basic point of principle I have to teach all my starting debaters is that there is always a responsible opposing point of view to virtually any side.

Quantitative Communications

There's a popular misconception that communications is necessarily a soft and fuzzy arts-style profession focussed on what words sound right. Even among so-called communications "professionals", there's the belief that communications analysis and practice is purely qualitative.

In fact, like many other areas, there is a hard, numbers-based and rigorous side to the field. In communications, one of those sides is content analysis. It simple means looking at communications products or whathaveyou and analyzing for patterns or information or forms to determine meaning.

Sounds complicated? It certainly can be but it doesn't have to be. I've seen enormously complex content analysis done for scholarly purposes where a solid advanced degree in statistics would be a boon in figuring out what it all meant. On the other hand, a simple count of which member of government appears in the media talking about what issue and how that changes over time can be very helpful in figuring out the latest government strategy.

What sparks off this little essay is this gem of a page in the New York Times. It's a wonderful interactive real-time content analysis of the last 7 State of the Union Addresses delivered by George Bush.

Check it out; it's fascinating!

I only wish we had the equivalent for Throne Speeches.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

"Who Needs it?" video - viral politics

VOCM reports today that a video is making it's rounds on YouTube. A satirical take on the current provincial administration, it takes some shots at the supposed effects of government policies in a campaign-style 60 second piece.

I've already posted some notes on campaign advertising here, here and here. Back then I predicted that the low cost of modern digital video cameras combined with video posting websites and the prevalence of free video editing software would lead to the development of an underground brand of guerilla/viral political advertising.

And it seems now that it has come to pass.

For those who have not yet seen the video, check here, here or here. The last link, http://ipfreelynl.blogspot.com/, seems dedicated to the cause of local political underground videos and other satirical pieces.

An interesting side note is this: somebody seems to have gone to the YouTube site and flagged this video as "inappropriate" thus making it hard to find and access for the casual viewer. Flagging is usually restricted to videos that are pornographic, hate speech, infringes copyright, are too shocking or otherwise nasty and inappropriate for a general audience. It tells the YouTube managers to review this video and decide if it should be yanked from the site.

Clearly some government sympathizer thought this clip was too dangerous to be let out; certainly the comments attached to the video are strongly hostile to the video's point of view.

You'll have to decide for yourself if you agree or not.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007


We've already talked about astroturfing (artificial grassroots) and blog astroturfing (fake blogs for commercial reasons) and even the local variation: pitcher plants. Now it gets even better.

Artificial protesters.

No, I don't mean throwing manikins into demonstrations. I mean a German firm that will rent you people who will participate in your protest. They are handsome (or lovely) and well-endowed with good melodious voices for yelling slogans and strong arms for carrying placards or signs

They are affordable too: just C$200 a day.

See here for the BBC story.

See here for the website offering the service.

Welcome to the politics of the new millennium!

Monday, January 22, 2007

5 Top Stories of 2006 in ABM - 2 of 4

This is the next is the series of the 5 top stories of the year as published in the January-February issue of the Atlantic Business Magazine.


Liquefied Natural Gas in Atlantic Canada

In 2006, no less than three Atlantic Canadian LNG (liquefied natural gas) facility projects continued their slow, deliberate scaling of the regulatory and economic peaks that stand between the proposals and completed construction and start-up. Should any of the projects succeed in the near term, it will be at the vanguard of introducing LNG to the North American marketplace.

Long in use in several international jurisdictions, LNG is natural gas cooled at the production source to -160 Celsius to reach a liquid state. At 1/600th of its original volume, it is then shipped to a regassification plant closer to one of the major global markets. There it is returned to gaseous form for delivery to customers, generally through pipelines.

The Atlantic Canadian LNG project closest to being realized is the $750 million Canaport LNG facility in Saint John, New Brunswick. A joint venture by Irving Oil Limited and Repsol, a Spanish company with long experience in LNG, this extension to the existing Canaport deepwater marine terminal is the largest construction project in the province of New Brunswick.

Closely associated is the $350 million Brunswick Pipeline project, a 145 km pipeline from the Canaport facility to Maine. This puts Saint John, the closest Canadian city to Maine, in the enviable position of becoming the regional energy hub.

Meanwhile, two other LNG projects are on the horizon in Nova Scotia.

Still in the public hearing stage is a massive $4 billion project, which would see Keltic Petrochemicals build an integrated LNG and petrochemical complex in Goldboro. Then there’s the stalled Anadarko Petroleum Bear Head project near Port Hawkesbury, which remains in limbo.

These projects hold out the promise of energy supply diversification for Nova Scotia, as well as competitively priced and environmentally friendly fuel options for electrical generation. Notwithstanding the ambiguous status of the Kyoto Accord, the long-term trend is toward cleaner energy sources, of which natural gas is one.

These projects also offer the tantalizing prospect of establishing a Nova Scotia petrochemical industry cluster, since they tap into the global LNG supply network. While it’s early to tell how this will pan out, the possibility exists where there is LNG but are unlikely without.

Finally, they help tip the scale toward economic production of natural gas offshore Newfoundland and Labrador. The impressive gas resources of the Jeanne d’Arc Basin and the Labrador Shelf (which, at some 10 trillion cubic feet, exceeds the MacKenzie Gas resource) are currently stranded. However, at least one proponent appears to see potential to monetize them: in late November North Atlantic Pipeline Partners quietly filed environmental documentation toward establishing a transhipment facility near Come by Chance in Newfoundland.

The pieces may well be falling into place for development of new gas resources in Atlantic Canada.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

5 Top Stories of 2006 in ABM - 1 of 4

The January-February edition of Atlantic Business Magazine has a special feature: the 5 top stories of 2006. The number one story, penned by Rob Antle, was a quality feature length piece outlining the issue and ramifications of out-migration.

The other 4 stories here, shorter and more concise bits which came from my keyboard, will be reprinted here over the next little bit*. Enjoy.

Atlantic Premiers

Atlantic Canada has always had strong common historical, economic and political interests. From the Maritime (or Atlantic) Union movement of the mid-nineteenth century to the Council of Atlantic Premiers, established in 2000, the region’s political leaders have sought to put forward a common front. However, this seems to work better in theory than in practice.

With two new figures on the Atlantic Canadian political landscape, 2007 would seem like a time to launch a new era of cooperation.

In June, New Brunswick ousted Tory Premier Bernard Lord in favour of Liberal Shawn Graham, after a brief period of unstable minority governments and peculiar parliamentary shenanigans.

Meanwhile, Nova Scotia saw the end of the John Hamm era and the surprising ascendance of Rodney MacDonald as Conservative leader and premier in February. MacDonald received a mandate of his own in a nasty and close June election.

Less than a year in office, these two are finding their place among their more seasoned colleagues.

Tory Pat Binns is a known quantity, having served as premier of PEI since 1996. If he finishes his full term, he will be the second longest serving premier of that island province since Confederation.

Newfoundland and Labrador’s Danny Williams is perhaps the best known regional premier, having won a national reputation through waging war with two Prime Ministers in just three years.

How will the two new first ministers change the regional political balance?

If the recent December meeting of the Council of Atlantic Premiers is any indication, it looks like while the Premiers can agree on the big issues; it’s the details that bedevil them.

A good example of an issue that binds all four is equalization.

At the December 7 press conference following the meeting, all the premiers agreed that they wanted more equalization money, that the program should be equitable to all provinces and that no province should lose income.

Oddly, nobody was surprised at this.

But beneath this seeming unanimity, there were stark differences in positions. While Williams insisted that resource revenues be wholly excluded from the formula, his compatriots were just as adamant about their inclusion.

Williams’ position would give Newfoundland and Labrador a huge fiscal advantage, since his province relies heavily on resource royalties, especially oil. For the others, resource revenues are marginal.

Since politics is the art of the possible, they reached a compromise - after a fashion. They concluded with the insistence that federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty can and should come up with a plan that benefits all provinces and territories.

And Premier Williams promised to campaign nationally against the Harper government if he didn’t get his way.

So in the end, it looks like our two new Atlantic Premiers fit neatly into the region’s tradition of cooperation and agreement - unless individual provincial and political interests get in the way.

Just political business as usual on Canada’s east coast.


*I'm not resorting to reprints because there is nothing on the go in the wider environment. I've just been out of commission with a very bad cold and now I'm behind on other commitments.

Friday, January 12, 2007

National Magazine Awards

Regular readers might remember this post from July called "Caught in the Middle". It was a long piece (6000 words) telling the story and the effects of the collapse of the Hebron project negotiations between the province and the oil companies.

Atlantic Business Magazine commissioned me to research and write it for publication in their July/August 2006 issue. It was a challenge. Once they put it in print, that allowed me to republish it here.

I thought it was ok and apparently some others think so too: I've just been notified that the article has been submitted for a National Magazine Award in the Business writing category.

I'm amazed, surprised and honoured by submission and I thank the good people who thought it sufficiently worthy for inclusion in this prestigious competition.

Over the next few days I'll be reprinting four pieces which Atlantic Business Magazine just published in their January/February year-end cover story.

Stay tuned.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Premier Williams: different in kind

John Crosbie has expressed his views on the tactics taken by Premier Williams in a column published in Atlantic Business Magazine and reinforced in an interview on CBC this morning. He says that the tactics of Premier Williams are the greatest threat to Canadian federalism.

This is not the first time Crosbie has expressed a variation of these views on the inability of our provincial leaders to make meaningful headway with the federal government.

I saw a panel discussion some time ago in which Mr. Crosbie participated. He made the observation that a consistent failure of the province in dealing with the federal government was the province's inability to make a good case for what it wanted. Too often, the argument was based on a simple "we want it" or "we deserve it" or "we are owed it". Rarely was there a substantial case based on merit. His position was that the province needed to get much better at negotiating with the federal government.

Crosbie expands on that theme with the latest salvo and makes an even starker point. While he's supportive of the province getting everything it should, he's concerned that Williams so poisons the atmosphere in any set of negotiations he conducts (oil companies, feds, other provinces) that he permanently damages relationships.

Why does that matter? It matters because one important basis of Canadian federalism, as Crosbie points out, is an environment in which ongoing set of negotiations between provinces and the federal government are carried out. While the public hears about the big shows, equalisation for example, a quick look at the long list of provincial media releases shows many many sets of federal-provincial initiatives, deals and programs. There are always federal-provincial negotiations going on in any number of areas at any given time.

So when that system of provincial-federal give and take breaks down and is replaced by a series of immovable ultimatums, problems set in. The smooth operation of the country starts to grind to a halt.

From some, Bill Rowe comes to mind, come excuses that this Premier is really no different than others and that these conflicts are no different from the ones which have gone before. God knows that the Peckford-Trudeau and the Wells-Mulroney relationship's could be dismal at times.

But Crosbie argues that, in this case, the current relationships is not a difference of degree from what happened before but is fundamentally different in kind.

When you listen to Premier Williams and how he justifies his actions, he often falls back to his 30 year successful legal career as his model. It's worth noting that he was a particular kind of lawyer - a very aggressive personal liability lawyer fighting for the rights of his victim-clients.

And much of his tactics do seem drawn from that professional experience. But is it an appropriate experience in which to base government tactics?

Consider this: any lawyer you hire will, or should, zealously defend or fight for every detail to maximise benefit to you. And that's what Premier Williams does; he clearly sees himself as the personal liability lawyer for the entire province fighting on every point and giving away nothing.

But in the legal world there are governors and limitations in how far one can push and there are mechanisms for dispute resolution because disputes can't go on indefinitely.

Then there are rogue lawyers. These are practitioners who feel free to be as antagonistic and extreme in their positions as they can possibly be. They justify their actions with the knowledge that an outside force (ie. a judge) will impose a settlement in the end. That relieves the practitioner of the responsibility to be responsible and reasonable.

In federal-provincial or provincial-oil negotiations, there is no such outside force to ultimately impose a settlement; settlement comes out of the good judgement of the parties involved.

A second governor on legal negotiating behavior is the client. At some point a client, because the matter has dragged out long enough or the deal on the table is satisfactory or because the money is running out, will instruct his lawyer to wind it up and settle. In this case the client is the people of the province.

But with stratospheric approval levels in every poll since the last election, we have been telling our lawyer to push every issue right to their limit; we are egging him on to our long-term detriment. There is every expectation that as long as numbers are high, Premier Williams will fight on to the limit on every front, every time .

The province, the government and the people, is caught is a vicious circle: Premier Williams fights on because his numbers are high which pushes his numbers even higher so he fights harder.

It is that quality which makes Premier Williams, and his actions, different in kind from what has preceded.

It's anybody's guess how it will all end.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Nik on the Numbers - go visit

Here's two links for those interested in the black art of quantitative politics (better known as polling).

The first is a relatively new blog called Nik on the Numbers.

If you are long-term political junkie then you will recognise the name Nikita Nanos*. His firm SES Research is one of the most, if not the most, respected political pollsters in the business.

Nik is a regular commentator on CPAC, provided insight and analysis during the Montreal Liberal leadership convention and holds the distinction of correctly calling the results of the last federal election when his colleagues could not.

One of the great highlights of the last couple of elections has been his daily tracking polls which have become a must-read for everyone in every campaign. If you haven't signed up for them yet, you should do it now.

Nik on the Numbers is his latest foray into web communications. It's a discussion blog open to all comers where national issues are discussed by a wide and varied audience. Well worth reading and contributing to.

The other link is a New York Times obituary of Warren Mitofsky. Besides being the father of the exit poll thus revolutionizing the way the media covers election nights, he was also a pioneer in the area of random dialing methods for telephone polls. Modern political research would not be the same without his contributions.

* A personal note, I've known Nik for 20 years or so when we both competed on the Canadian university debating circuit. He was always an honourable and hard opponent - diligent, clear, logical and convincing. It's been a pleasure to see his career path developed to this level and I know that greater things will come his way.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Sullivan sees the light on the way out

This story popped up on VOCM and vanished so fast that it was easy to miss. It's worthwhile repeating in full here:
A Few Good Years
December 29, 2006

Finance Minister Loyola Sullivan says it’s very important to have continuity in the offshore oil industry. Sullivan says Hibernia, Terra Nova and White Rose fields will have a reasonable life span and the next three years will be some of the best revenue producing years that the province is ever going to have. After that, Sullivan says the revenues will start going down.
This has been the position put forward by NOIA as well as other industry groups, prominent members of the oil and business community and respected observers, analysts and economists.

It's also the position that has been persistently attacked by the Premier as being anti-province at worse and dismissed as naive at best.

Then, all of a sudden, on the eve of his sudden resignation, this position has been given credence and credibility by one of the most senior and respected government ministers.

Did he feel the freedom to speak truth to power on his way out the door or was he shown the door for speaking truth to power?

Little wonder Premier Williams felt the need to reiterate his position here.

History: doomed to repeat it

If there was ever a cautionary tale in public policy, public statements, politics and negotiation, it's this one on VOCM.

While Premier Williams continues with the "if they don't meet our terms, Hebron will not happen" rhetoric, it's worthwhile looking back at for the historical parallels.

I can think of three.

The most obvious one was the Tobin's brilliant stratagem during the Voisey's Bay negotiations where he fell into the trap, as he often did, of talking way ahead of his position by uttering the immortal words "not one teaspoon". From that time on he left himself no where to go and had to let the deal pass him by.

So instead of getting the credit for developing one of the most lucrative mining resources ever found in the province to the benefit of the people of this province, he was left to hightail it out of here in search of greener pastures leaving the successful negotiation of the project to his successor.

The second notable example that springs to mind was the electric moment in the 1988 presidential debate between George Bush Sr. and Micheal Dukakis.

After spending the previous few months bashing Dukakis as the tax-and-spend governor of "Taxachusetts", Bush looked straight into the camera and capped his campaign theme by uttering those immortal words "Read my lips; No new taxes." The crowd loved it and he swept into the White House.

Only a few years later economic circumstances forced him to actually raise taxes for the good of the US economy and budget. It was a humiliating climb-down that, in part, cost him his reflection in 1992 paving the way for eight years of Bill Clinton.

Finally, and back to to local scene, there was the oil development policy of Brian Peckford through the 1980's which was focused on conflict, political and legal, causing a boom-bust cycle in the provincial economy, especially in and around St. John's. Sound familair?

In the end he never achieved his goal of exclusive jurisdiction over the off-shore. In fact, he merely crystallized the issue by proving through the courts that not only did the province not own the resource, we never did and never will.

The fact that the issue was eventually resolved through the Atlantic Accord meant not only a humiliating climb-down for Peckford, his pointless and ultimately counter-productive conflict over so many years delayed the eventual oil projects resulting in real opportunity cost to the province.

The bright side was that Peckford was strong enough to take that hit although he did resigned in exhaustion shortly afterwards.

Now we see yet another politician claiming victory amidst the wreckage. While Williams continues to carry on about Hebron as if it matters, there's no one left on the other side to talk to. The negotiating team has been disbanded leaving only a skeleton crew, the project development personnel have been dispatched around the world and the companies have let this province drift down the priority queue.

There are common lessons in all these different cases. The first is the danger of political and personal hubris. It's fine to stake a position based on pride but that makes pride the cost of modifying that position. And when a politician's pride is at stake, look out; it's a perfect storm of sacrificing the common good in favour of maintaining personal standing.

Second, it provides a clear case of that old US Senate saw of making the perfect the enemy of the good. We live in a world where where we can't always get everything we want all the time and most people learn that lesson around grade three. It's axiomatic that in a deal, everybody gets a bit when everybody gives a bit. We should have long-ago learned our lesson of the resentment and baggage that comes from one-sided deals

Finally there's the lesson of being moderate and responsible in public comments no matter if you are in office, running for office, in government or in opposition. Hasty statements leads you to policy dead-ends that may be hard to climb down from.

Welcome to the new year, same as the old year.