"We can't allow things that are inaccurate to stand." — The Word of Our Dan, February 19, 2008.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Big whopping majority

There are 308 ridings in Canada. The current 308-riding electoral map has been in place now for four general elections (2004, 2006, 2008, 2011).

In two of those 308 ridings, the largest (preliminary) number of advance voters was seen in 2004 (Timmins–James Bay and Yorkton–Melville). Thirty-two ridings had their recent high-water advance vote in 2006, an election in which the government changed. Just six saw the high-water mark in 2008, the election with the dubious distinction of having the worst turnout ever.

In 2011, 268 of the 308 ridings have had record advance poll turnout for ridings in the current electoral map.

Conversely, just five ridings have scored record low advance-poll turnout in the instant election: Saskatoon–Humboldt, Red Deer, Vegreville–Wainwright, Surrey North, and Nunavut.


Wednesday, April 20, 2011

From the Memory Hole, IX

A fascinating letter to the editor, published in the June 1, 2002 edition of The Telegram.

What ever became of that nice and prudent Mr. Parsons?

Another look

I’m no expert on Voisey’s Bay but I can remember both Churchill Falls and Hibernia.
These projects had a lot in common: the government wanted to get the projects going quickly, and at any cost.

We all know about Churchill Falls and the missing escalation clause. I thought the signing of Hibernia was a wonderful thing, but now I have grave reservations. The limited number of jobs was great in the short term, but over the long haul, wouldn’t it have been better to have negotiated a well-head royalty — again, with an escalation clause?

I think the escalation clause would have benefited the people of the province financially, but the powers-that-be of the day minimized it.

Sign it

Remember, the prominent motivation on both occasions was to simply get it signed.

Voisey’s Bay may be the best deal since sliced bread.

Then again, we thought the same about the other two mega-projects. If this deal is signed, it’s sealed. Why bring it to the House of Assembly? Nothing would change.

Check the fine print

For God’s sake, before signing this deal, let it be scrutinized by members of the House, and also perhaps by a select committee of experts who have no political axe to grind.

There would be no harm in taking a month to delve into this. If everything is rosy, great — but if some adjustments or changes have to be made, let’s make them.

And this time, do the right thing — not for political gain but rather for the people.

We need to make one out of three right.

With this project executed correctly, our province could turn over a new leaf.

Kevin Parsons


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Monday, April 18, 2011

Accounting principles

Another rather interesting statement from NALCO(R)'s concluding remarks before the Joint Review Panel studying the proposed Lower Churchill project, at pp. 163-4 (pdf link):
The Mayor of the Town of Happy Valley-Goose Bay stated that the Town Council was in favour of the Project, so long as it met three conditions: the provision of a block of power from the Project for the local communities and future industry; the development of a Labrador Heritage Fund from the proceeds of this and other projects; and a competitive electricity rate for industrial, commercial and residential consumers in the vicinity of the Project. The Labrador North Chamber of Commerce suggested similar conditions.


With respect to the request for a Heritage Fund, Nalcor submits that the Province does not set aside funds for particular areas. The areas where the Province chooses to invest are based on the priorities set by the Cabinet and legislature, as discussed above. Just as revenues from offshore oil and gas developments were used to fund the College of the North Atlantic in Labrador, revenues from the Project should be directed to those areas of the Province that need investment the most, both in Labrador and on the Island.
That's a remarkably political pronouncement from an arm's-length crown corporation, such as Nalcor is.

And it's a remarkable statement about the provincial public accounting process. "Revenues from offshore oil and gas developments were used to fund the College of the North Atlantic in Labrador". Really?

If this is a known fact, then presumably the Minister of Finance — or, heck, Nalcor — can answer the obvious follow-up questions:

What else, specifically, have offshore revenues been spent on? what, specifically, have revenues from Voisey's Bay been spent on? what, specifically, have revenues from Labrador iron ore mining been spent on? what, specifically, have revenues from the Upper Churchill recall deal been spent on? and what, specifically, has been paid for with provincial income and sales taxes collected in Labrador, with Labrador generating a higher share of those revenue streams than its share of the provincial population?

If Nalco(r) is able to make the claim it makes above, then those other questions will also have very specific answers, with specific dollar amounts attached.


Perhaps there will be answers in tomorrow's budget docs.

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Friday, April 15, 2011

The Year of Magical Economic Thinking

During Question Period on March 29th, the opposition grilled the nominal Premier about the projected costs of building the proposed Danny Williams Memorial Transmission Line

The blustery response to a straightforward question is worthy of reproduction in extenso:

MS JONES: Mr. Speaker, in 1998, when Nalcor looked at building a transmission line across the Island, they budgeted the cost at $2.2 billion. Fast-forward now thirteen years later and the Premier says she will build the same line for $2.1 billion. We know that over that time period steel cost has risen by more than 200 per cent, that is not to mention the increase in the cost of labour and other supplies that go into building the line.

I ask the Premier today: Will you tell us how it is possible to build a steel transmission line across the Province today for less money than it would have cost thirteen years ago?

PREMIER DUNDERDALE: Mr. Speaker, there has been extensive work done on the development of the Lower Churchill over a number of years, particularly in the last eight years under this government, under the leadership of Nalcor. Mr. Speaker, we used a gaited [sic] process that took in a very detailed analysis, we received the best expertise that was available to us in the Province, in the country, and worldwide when necessary, Mr. Speaker. More than that, Mr. Speaker, we have had two independent audits of the methodology used by Nalcor to ensure that the process is as good and the information as good as can be had at this point in time.

MS JONES: If they have had all that work done, there is no reason why the Premier cannot stand on her feet today and explain to us why there is such a difference in pricing. We know that steel prices have increased by 200 per cent in thirteen years; we know that the line you are proposing to build is only twenty-six kilometres longer, Mr. Speaker, than the line that was proposed back in 1998.

Now that you have all the research Premier, stand up and tell us why your line is going to be cheaper than it would have been thirteen years ago?

PREMIER DUNDERDALE: Mr. Speaker, the Leader of the Opposition is all over the place. Everything is going to go up. Labour prices are going to go up, commodity prices are going to go up. The only thing that is not going to go up, Mr. Speaker, is electricity. The price of electricity is not going to go up. The demand of electricity is not going to go up. Mr. Speaker, the least we could ask from her is consistency.

MS JONES: No answers from the Premier; she is out there trying to sell a big deal, Mr. Speaker, in the Province and she gets up and gets on with such gibberish in the House of Assembly. Very clear, very simple questions, Mr. Speaker; why is it that the cost that you are projecting to build this transmission line is cheaper than it would have been thirteen years ago, Mr. Speaker, given the fact that everything else has increased in cost including the price of steel? I ask the Premier to have a little decency and to stand up and explain that to the people of the Province.

PREMIER DUNDERDALE: Mr. Speaker, if you were to listen to the Leader of the Opposition, you would think that the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador is going to develop Muskrat Falls for a lark, for an absolute lark, for something to do. Mr. Speaker, we are developing Muskrat Falls because it is the best and cheapest energy solution for Newfoundland and Labrador. We are building it for the people of Newfoundland and Labrador, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

PREMIER DUNDERDALE: That is why we are building Muskrat Falls.

Mr. Speaker, we have developed a methodology that allows us to do this in the most cost-effective way. Mr. Speaker, we have had those costs and that methodology audited by independent agencies of worldwide reputation. Mr. Speaker, they have given us high marks on the information that we have used and the outcomes that have resulted as a consequence of it, Mr. Speaker.

MS JONES: I am not sure what lark [?] is doing but I know what their government is doing and that Premier is doing and that is they are jacking up the price of electricity going into every single household in this Province, Mr. Speaker. The Premier, Mr. Speaker, claims they have had all of these audits done; we are asking a very simple question, Mr. Speaker, give us the information. So if you have had it done and you have the information that you can provide to the people of the Province that shows how you, Premier, can build a transmission line today cheaper than you could thirteen years ago, we would love to see it. So I ask you: Are you prepared to table the information?

PREMIER DUNDERDALE: Mr. Speaker, we have provided information upon information, upon information. We have asked Nalcor to provide information and they have done that in briefing after briefing after briefing. We will continue to do that, Mr. Speaker. The problem is they do not know how to interpret or deal with the information when they get it, but that will not stop us from trying to inform them about this project, Mr. Speaker.

Now, it would have been easier for Premier Blunderdale to just own up to the premise of the question and answer it fulsomely. It’s not as if inflation, or the changing costs of material and labour, are unknown quantities or anything.

Just ask Nalcor.

In its closing presentation to the environmental panel examining the Lower Churchill project, Nalcor again pours cold water on the idea of transmitting Labrador hydro power within Labrador, to eliminate isolated small-diesel generation on which many communities depend. At para. 332, Nalcor says:

The reality for many isolated communities in Labrador is that the cost of constructing additional transmission to connect them to the interconnected system is greater than the continued cost of diesel. In fact, in 2001 the Province estimated that the cost of constructing transmission lines to these communities would be in the range of $300 million. With inflation and increased costs for materials and labour, that number would be even higher today.
Now, perhaps it is the case that economics works in different, and mysterious ways, depending on which side of the Strait of Belle Isle you are on. Indeed, perhaps the cost of running a diesel plant will, by some economic wizardry, remain unaffected by the same price pressures on fossil fuels that are said to be the justification for building Muskrat Falls and its transmission line to Soldier’s Pond in the first place.

This would, after all, almost be the implication of Nalcor’s observation about the increased cost of transmission within Labrador, but without making any comparable balancing observation about any change in the cost of the alternative. In Labrador, the ledger only has one column.

Still, it would almost seem self-evident that in 2011, transmission line cost estimates prepared in 2001 would be ten years’ worth of inflation out of date.

It would thus seem to be even self-evidenter than in 2011, cost estimates prepared in 1998 would be thirteen years’ worth of inflation out of date.

But that may be the old-fashioned math that was done away with by Danny Williams and his modern calculus of Super-Duper-Mega-Projects. And the magical math that applies to the Labrador-Newfoundland transmission line does not apply to the mortal world of internal Labrador transmission calculations.

But if there is no new math, and if there is no differential application of basic economic principles, then the straightforward question from Yvonne Jones, dodged so artlessly by Premier Blunderdale, deserves a straightforward answer.

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Sunday, April 10, 2011

Justification (II)

Here's sad-sack Felix Collins again on April 6th, weakly justifying Dundergov's new-found opposition to whistleblower protection legislation that Dandergov promised, in 2007, to implement in the first session of the about-to-expire legislature:
Mr. Speaker, before we embark upon legislation, before we expend significant funds and create more bureaucracy, we will continue to learn from the growing pains of other jurisdictions until we are satisfied that we will bring to this House a bill that is well thought out, thorough and effective to meet the needs of this Province. We need the time to do it right. To proceed immediately, Mr. Speaker, does not give us that time. That is the reason we will be voting against this motion.
For the record: in 2004 there were 9581* provincial government employees, with a total payroll of $368-million.

That's not including other public sectors such as health or education. Just provincial government direct employment.

"Bureaucracy", if you will.

In the twelve months ending March 2010 (the most recent data available), there were 11,263* provincial government employees, with a total payroll of $530-million.

That's an 18% increase in the total number of provgov employees, and a 44% absolute increase in the provgov payroll. (Adjusted for inflation, the payroll increase is "only" 29%.)

Does anyone know when this crowd found the religion of worrying about the funds they spend or the bureaucracy they create? Such deep-rooted concerns were nowhere to be found in the past seven years.

* Twelve-month average, to flatten out the seasonality in provincial government staffing levels.

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Thursday, April 07, 2011

Justification (I)

On Wednesday, sad-sack Minister of Something Felix Collins justifies Dundergov's decision to break the "whistleblower" promise on behalf of Danny Williams:
MR. F. COLLINS: Yes, Mr. Speaker, we did, in 2007, promise in our blueprint - we promised in our 2007 blueprint - that we said we would: a Progressive Conservative government will develop whistleblower legislation. We deliberately said develop, Mr. Speaker, because that indicates that it will be an unfolding process, an unfolding process.

To do so immediately, Mr. Speaker, as suggested by the hon. Opposition, would be irresponsible, and not in the best interests of Newfoundland and Labrador. It would not be in the best interest to bring in legislation simply because other jurisdictions have it, or bring in legislation that would be mired in bureaucracy, with pitfalls, mired in secrecy, misguided, and unaccountable.

Gee. That latter string of criticisms could be applied, with equal vigor, to the governing act of Nalcor.

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Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Pease in a pod (XXII)

Facebook Police (federal) will get you kicked out. Facebook Police (provincial) will get you kicked off.


Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Paul Oram

From the proceedings of the Bow-Wow Parliament, March 26, 2007:
MR. ORAM: It completely boggles my mind when I hear anyone talk about the little deal that was done on equalization, the little deal that was done on our Atlantic Accord. It was a major deal and I give the Premier, I give this government, 100 per cent marks for making that happen to this Province.

Thank God, by the way, thank God that he did it before this new federal government got in, this new crowd that got in there, that said on a little bulletin here that my hon. colleague from St. John’s North just showed a few minutes ago, where they said they would absolutely make sure that they gave us 100 per cent of our Atlantic Accord. They said for sure they would not put a cap on it. They would not do any of that stuff. Now, all of a sudden, we are talking about a crowd now that says: Hold the phone, now. We just decided that this deal is just a little bit too good for Newfoundland and Labrador. We do not really want Newfoundland and Labrador to have a great deal like that. Sure, we want Newfoundland and Labrador to do okay, we would like them to do all right, but we are not going to give them what they need to do really, really, well. Therefore, because it is not hardly so good for Ontario, or because it is not hardly so good for some other province in Canada, we have to stop that. We cannot let that deal go through.

What a bunch of silliness. Then, to listen to people opposite almost - I will not they are, I will say almost - supporting that deal. Well, I cannot believe it. The fact of the matter is, the Prime Minister of Canada made a deal, made an agreement, and now he has decided that he is going to pull back from that deal, he is going to put a cap on it. He cannot let Newfoundland and Labrador do any better than anybody else in Canada, and that is very, very scary. I wonder who we are going to be able to trust in the new election. That is the question I have to ask.


John Hickey

From the proceedings of the Bow-Wow Parliament, May 27, 2008:
MR. HICKEY: I can say this, Mr. Speaker, having been involved in this particular file with the Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs no later than yesterday in a teleconference with union officials in Ottawa, that our base in Goose Bay, I am sad to say, is in jeopardy under the Conservative Government in Ottawa. The regional minister, Minister Hearn, should be ashamed. He should be ashamed! Never has he set foot on Labrador soil, Mr. Speaker, since he has been a regional minister. Never set foot on Labrador soil, Mr. Speaker! The disdain that we are seeing on behalf of the federal government toward this Province is absolutely ridiculous, disgusting, I say, Mr. Speaker. The promises that we were made about the 650 troops, the UAV squadron, all gone out the window, just like the Atlantic Accord; another unkept promise by the Harper government. I can say to the people of this Province, that anybody who wants to support Stephen Harper and the Conservative government, they need to really take a serious check. Because I can tell you what, this federal government has done nothing for our bases in this Province. It has done nothing for the issues that surround us here in this Province, Mr. Speaker. I have to say, the hon. Loyola Hearn, in my view, is less than honourable by the fact that he has yet to step foot on Labrador soil.


Saturday, April 02, 2011

Credit where credit isn't due

The Tellytorialist opines on Saturday:
It’s quiet, deep in the background, and the provincial Tories haven’t gotten much credit for it. But every legislative session since the Progressive Conservatives came to power, they’ve trundled a few major renovations in legislation through the House of Assembly — changes that bring this province into line with other Canadian jurisdictions, or that update laws that have been in place in this province since the 1970s or 1960s.
Once upon a time, governments and legislatures would get credit for being innovative with their legislative agenda.

Is this honestly what it's come down to? Giving kudos for harmonizing provincial legislation with practices in other provinces, and belated housekeeping of some of the more elderly parts of the RSNL?

In related news, the City of St. John's is looking at instituting legal protection for whistleblowers.


Friday, April 01, 2011

Good one, VOCM!

A strange yet bracing mixture of euphoria, elation... and irreconcilable antagonism. Best April Fools Day prank news story, ever!


Clayton Forsey

From the proceedings of the Bow-Wow Parliament, May 6, 2009:
MR. FORSEY: Every time there is a cut by the federal government, Mr. Speaker, the Premier and this government has had to react to it because we do not want to see our youth and other people suffer because of irrational decisions by the federal government.

Mr. Speaker, again in 2008, a release, continued disregard for 5 Wing Goose Bay. The release says: during and since the 2006 federal election the federal government has made and reaffirmed plans for 5 Wing Goose Bay in the context of new federal priorities to protect Canadian sovereignty and security. The federal government committed to a new rapid reaction army battalion and a new long range on staffed aerial vehicle squadron for 5 Wing Goose Bay. None of these commitments have been fulfilled by Prime Minister Harper’s government.

Comment se traduit "adjacency"?

The mayor of the Magdalene Islands has an understandable, if unoriginal, idea. Radio-Canada reports:
Le maire des Îles-de-la-Madeleine, Joël Arseneau, veut sa part des redevances de l'exploitation du gisement Old Harry.

Le maire fait valoir que Québec peut revendiquer des droits d'exploitation grâce à la présence des Îles dans le golfe. « Si le Québec peut prétendre à une possibilité de tirer des redevances du pétrole dans le golfe, c'est strictement dû au fait que les Îles-de-la-Madeleine sont situées en plein centre du golfe », rappelle Joël Arseneau.

The provincial cabinet minister in charge isn't quite as keen... but...
Lors de son passage aux Îles-de-la-Madeleine, en début de semaine, la ministre des Ressources naturelles, Nathalie Normandeau, a toutefois fermé la porte à cette demande : « Les ressources appartiennent à l'ensemble de la population du Québec, alors on souhaite que le partage se fasse à l'ensemble des Québécois. »

Par contre, Mme Normandeau s'est montrée ouverte à la création de Fonds de compensation pour les Îles. Il faudra aller plus loin, estime Joël Arseneau.