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

Friday, December 28, 2012

Redaction in action


An interesting document which came embedded recently in a much-larger provincial Access to Information return:

ATI Transcript You might notice that this document is a transcript of a CBC Radio program. The content was broadcast on the open airwaves. Then it was written down. Then it was blacked out. The redactions were justified on the basis of s. 30(1) of the Access to Information Act, a provision which was brought in by the Progressive Conservatives, but in 2007, before Bill 29:
Disclosure of House of Assembly service and statutory office records 
30.1 The Speaker of the House of Assembly or the officer responsible for a statutory office shall refuse to disclose to an applicant information
(a) where its non-disclosure is required for the purpose of avoiding an infringement of the privileges of the House of Assembly or a member of the House of Assembly; 
(b) that is advice or a recommendation given to the speaker or the Clerk of the House of Assembly or the House of Assembly Management Commission established under the House of Assembly Accountability, Integrity and Administration Act that is not required by law to be disclosed or placed in the minutes of the House of Assembly Management Commission; and 
(c) in the case of a statutory office as defined in the House of Assembly Accountability, Integrity and Administration Act, records connected with the investigatory functions of the statutory office.

UPDATE 1: The redactions were actually justified on the basis of s. 30(1) of the Act:
30. (1) The head of a public body shall refuse to disclose personal information to an applicant where the disclosure would be an unreasonable invasion of a third party's personal privacy.
If you are keenly interested to know what information was blacked out, including the name of the interview subject and in extenso portions of what he or she told Dorothy King on the open airwaves, the podcast is still available for listening or downloading here.

VERY IMPORTANT UPDATE 2: Despite the presence of details in the ATI return excerpt which might suggest otherwise, the redacted document was not returned pursuant to a request to the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner, but rather through a request made to the Department of Justice. In fact, an unredacted version of the same document was released in a separate request made to the OIPC.

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Thursday, December 20, 2012

Worth a thousand words

This is a picture of the Hon. Jerome Kennedy, Q.C., Member of the House of Assembly for Carbonear–Harbour Grace, sincerely and unequivocally apologizing for using unparliamentary language.

Because, as everyone knows, a sincere and unequivocal Parliamentary apology always begins with a prolonged icy silence and a death glare directed at the Speaker pro tempore.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

How not to keep a secret

In a letter published in the Telegram on Tuesday, Tom Careen of Placentia writes:
I am sure the huge airport at Goose Bay (built and operational for almost two years in the mid-1940s before the Commission of Government admitted its existence to the people of Newfoundland) was easily able to handle all the VIP air traffic that day.

Um, no.

Some time in the recent past — probably the mid-1990s — someone in Newfoundland invented, out of thin air, the myth that Goose Bay was kept a secret from the people of Newfoundland. The more extreme version of the myth holds that the secret was kept until after Confederation.

It was not.

It is true that the Canadian government, which built the airfield in a jiffy in the fall of 1941, tried, for obvious security reasons (there was a war going on) to keep a lid on the project for as long as possible.

They failed.

Construction at Goose Bay began in early September. As early as September 13 of that year, American President Franklin Roosevelt, in a radio address broadcast around the world alluded to the construction of an allied airfield in Labrador.

In mid-November, Canadian cabinet minister Charles Power got a little too talkative in the House of Commons, resulting in a fugitive wire story which managed to escape the wartime censors, who didn't like the amount of detail he disclosed. This version was published in the Montreal Gazette, but appeared in daily papers across Canada:

The Canadian, and, starting in 1942, American authorities waged a difficult balancing act between keeping strategically important information about the base secret on the one hand, and striking a tidy propoganda blow against the Axis powers on the other. There were some months of self-imposed censorship, complete with cryptic placelines such as "the Northeast" or "Somewhere in Labrador", which fooled Nazi agents about as much as the phrase "an East Coast Port" disguised Halifax. However, the steady trickle of news, the flood of classfied ads by Macnamara Construction looking for occupations from pipefitters to accountants to go work on some cryptic project in Labrador, and the regular inclusion in daily newspaper rolls of the war dead of men who died in accidents or plane crashes at Goose Bay, easily blew off what little lid of secrecy there ever was.

On the Newfoundland side of things, the Commission of Government not only did not suppress information about the existence of Goose Bay, it actively encouraged Newfoundlanders to seek out employment on the construction project — the first megaproject in Labrador's history — and transported many of them north to Labrador on the government-run coastal steamers in the navigation season of 1942.

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Saturday, December 15, 2012

History through pink, white and green goggles

The entire entry under "Labrador" in the index to Greg Malone's "Don't Tell the Newfoundlanders":


Friday, December 14, 2012


This chart shows the change, and mostly growth, in the size of the provincial public sector — that is, the sum of employment in the civil service, schools, post-secondary education system, public health care, and provincial crown corporations.

It covers the past ten years, on a rolling twelve-month average, distinguishing by colour the various ministers who have held the finance portfolio since 2003.

The trend since 2006 is plainly seen. And eagle-eyed observers will notice something interesting about the trendline in 2011-2012, even as the Dunderdale government started preaching, though not practicing, austerity.

Raw data is from StatsCan CANSIM Table 183-0002. As part of the federal government program review, StatsCan discontinued this dataset at the end of March, 2012.


Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Small victories

On Tuesday in the Bow-Wow Parliament, resident clown Terry French was spotted using a prop by opposition colleague Gerry Rogers. Props ain't allowed.

She called him out on it, and promptly got ridiculed, inside the House — and outside — for doing so:

MS ROGERS: A point of order, Mr. Speaker.

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please! The Member for St. John’s Centre, on a point of order.
MS ROGERS: I understand that props are not allowed in this House and the hon. member across the floor has raised his huge calculator, yet again.
MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Government House Leader, to the point of order.
MR. KING: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!
MR. KING: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I am not sure if there is a point of order. I would ask, for your ruling, that the member be more specific, instead of making a blanket statement of thirty-odd members in the House on a point of order. I am certain that every member here does not have a calculator to raise in the House.

MR. SPEAKER: The Member for St. John’s Centre, further to the point of order.
MS ROGERS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
The Member for Conception Bay South once again raised his oversized calculator, not only today but last week as well.
MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!
MS ROGERS: I understand that props are not allowed to be used in the House of Assembly.
MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!
The Government House Leader.
MR. KING: Mr. Speaker, it is my recollection that the member referenced in a point of order was not recognized to speak in this House at any point in time during Question Period. It is my understanding, subject to your response, Mr. Speaker, that –
AN HON. MEMBER: (Inaudible).
MR. KING: If the Member for St. John’s North wants to contribute, he can stand up after me, Mr. Speaker, but I am entitled to respond.
It is my understanding that the ruling on props is tied into a member who is participating in the debate in the House. As I said, it is my recollection that the member was not recognized to speak in the House.
MR. SPEAKER: The issue with respect to props – when members are speaking, they are not intended to use props. Sometimes, reference to props in the House tends to be used when members are speaking and they use props to support an argument; however, it is not exclusively to those members who are speaking.
Members are not allowed to bring in placards or large displays, or promotional brochures and buttons and things like that that have not been sanctioned by the House. Any display of anything that is considered unparliamentary is still not to be used in the House, even though the member may not necessarily be speaking at the time.
If members of the House are doing such a thing, I would ask members to refrain from such an activity and I would ask members to be guided by that.
Terry French was wrong.

The gormless Darin King, unsurprisingly, was wrong.

Gerry Rogers was right.

And, surprisingly these days, the Speaker was, too.

In a chamber that slides more and more into self-parody and douchebaggery with every week it sits, this is a victory for decorum. A small victory, to be sure, but you takes 'em how they comes to you these days.


Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Touchy, touchy

From time to time, some Minister or other feels compelled to issue a press release, to “correct” or “clarify” something said by the opposition, or to take other, even more blatant partisan swipes.

Thus, we have Monday’s snot-o-gram from the Minister of Twitters aimed at “the Third Party”, a number of directed swipes at NDP MHA Dale Kirby, who seems uniquely placed to get under the Dunderment’s inherited very thin skin, and the usual condescension from Jerome Kennedy.

In the remoter past, it’s been the Mastermind of Muskrat Falls defending Liz Matthews’ honour, John Hickey battling “misinformation”, Tom Lush calling for an end to “negativity”, or Paul Dicks setting the record straight.

But lately, you might think there’s been an upswing in Ministers using the government comms shops to take partisan swipes at opposition parties or even individual opposition MHAs.

And you’d be right.

So far in 2012, the Dunderment has issued over 30 press releases calling on opposition MHAs to get their facts straight, chiding their lack of understanding, expressing disappointment, “correcting”, “clarifying”, etc., etc., etc.

That’s more than any other year on record, since the provincial government started putting its releases onto the intertubes in 1996:

In fact, there have been more such partisan snot-o-grams issued by ITAR-DUN so far this calendar year, than in the previous five years combined.

Spikes in such condescending and snotty partisanship seem to be at least loosely associated with the phoney-war pre-election period — note, in particular, the protracted 2002-03 campaign and 2007. However, thanks to Danny Williams fixed-election date legislation, there’s no election scheduled until 2015.

So what’s up with all this, then?

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O'Brien and Bosc and the Bow-Wows

Monday's proceedings in the Bow-Wow Parliament led off with a point of privilege:
MR. KIRBY: I rise today at the earliest possible occasion to raise a point of privilege before this House. This is an important matter and, as such, I have already contacted you regarding the point.

O’Brien and Bosc note that rights and privileges of members of the House include freedom from obstruction, interference, intimidation, and molestation. Regarding the subject of obstruction, interference, and intimidation, O’Brien and Bosc say the following about examples of obstruction, interference, and intimidation:

It is impossible to codify all incidents which might be interpreted as matters of obstruction, interference, molestation or intimidation and as such constitute prima facie cases of privilege. However, some matters found to be prima facie include the damaging of a Member’s reputation, the usurpation of the title of Member of Parliament, the intimidation of Members and their staff and of witnesses before committees, and the provision of misleading information." Misleading a minister or a member has also been considered a form of obstruction, and is thus a prima facie breach of privilege.

Mr. Speaker, during last Tuesday’s session of this hon. House, I asked the Minister of Service Newfoundland and Labrador a number of questions regarding Bill 47, the Appointments to Boards, Councils and Tribunals Amendment Act. I asked the Minister of Service Newfoundland and Labrador who he consulted on Bill 47 and how he carried out those consultations. The minister’s response to my question was something to the effect of: If you had been paying attention during discussions of the bill, you would know I discussed this. I contend that despite his claim, the minister indeed did not discuss who he consulted on Bill 47 and how he carried out those consultations. In light of that, I advised the minister at the time that I would review Hansard to ensure that he did indeed provide this information; however, Mr. Speaker, at this point no copies of Hansard are available for that evening.


MR. SPEAKER: Before commenting on the substance of the point of privilege being raised, I would want to comment on the reference to the earliest possible time. The Speaker advised the House that yes, Hansard is an accurate recording of the House proceedings, but the evening sessions are not always available immediately after the session is over. Sometimes they tend to not be available until after the session has adjourned....

With respect to the point of privilege raised by the Member for the District of St. John’s North, the Speaker had indicated before we took a brief recess that the printed Hansard is not available until some time after the evening sittings. Staff and officials are working diligently to try to conclude that process before the end of the business day today.
This (among many other reasons) is why it makes absolutely no sense for the transcription of evening sittings of the Bow-Wow Parliament to wait weeks, and sometimes months after the session is over, to be prepared.

Yes, the Hansard office works hard. But if they can produce the blooze of the daylight-hours talky-stuff by the end of day, they can transcribe the evening sittings on Fridays or any of the other 300 or so days of the year that the House doesn't sit.

Is there any other Westminster Parliament, that (a) produces a Hansard at all, yet (b) delays the production of some portion of it by months at a time?


Friday, December 07, 2012

How they voted

On December 16, 2008, the House of Assembly rammed through, at all stages of debate, Bill 75, An Act To Return To The Crown Certain Rights Relating To Timber And Water Use Vested In Abitibi-Consolidated And To Expropriate Assets And Lands Associated With The Generation Of Electricity Enabled By Those Water Use Rights.

Sadly, and all-too-commonly for the feeble excuse of a legislature, the vote was not a recorded division, but a voice vote only. Hansard captures the moment of the final vote on the motion of Minister Burke (as she then was), seconded by the Minister of Natural Resources (whoever that was):
MS BURKE: Mr. Speaker, I move, seconded by the hon. Minister of Natural Resources, that Bill 75, An Act To Return To The Crown Certain Rights Relating To Timber And Water Use Vested In Abitibi-Consolidated And To Expropriate Assets And Lands Associated With The Generation Of Electricity Enabled By Those Water Use Rights, be now read a third time.

MR. SPEAKER: It is moved and seconded that Bill 75 be now read third time.

Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion that Bill 75 be read a third time?

All those in favour, 'aye'.


MR. SPEAKER: All those against, 'nay'.

The motion is carried.

CLERK: A bill, An Act To Return To The Crown Certain Rights Relating To Timber And Water Use Vested In Abitibi-Consolidated And To Expropriate Assets And Lands Associated With The Generation Of Electricity Enabled By Those Water Use Rights. (Bill 75)

MR. SPEAKER: Bill 75 has now been read a third time, and it is ordered that the bill do pass, and that its title be as on the Order Paper.

On motion, a bill, "An Act To Return To The Crown Certain Rights Relating To Timber And Water Use Vested In Abitibi-Consolidated And To Expropriate Assets And Lands Associated With The Generation Of Electricity Enabled By Those Water Use Rights," read a third time, ordered passed and its title be as on the Order Paper. (Bill 75)
You will notice that there were no nays.

Of the 48 current Members of the House of Assembly, 28 were sitting MHAs at the time of the December 16 vote on the Danny Williams Memorial Nail Abitibi Act. They are identified by traditional party colours on this chart. Dark blue indicates current cabinet minister. If they were present for the voice vote, they voted for Danny Williams' $100-million blunder.

MHAs whose blocks are left white have a valid alibi. They were not members in December 2008.


Thursday, December 06, 2012

Opening government

Last Friday, the relevant parties signed the terms sheet governing the eventual Muskrat Falls loan guarantee.

For some reason, the document itself wasn't released until Tuesday.

For some other, probably related reasons, the document wasn't published to the provincial government's own website, nor to that of the other governments involved.

And it was made available only in a graphical PDF form, not a textual format, despite the incredible ease with which a fully machine-readable and searchable PDF could have been created.

This would seem to be par for the course with the current government; cf. Wednesday's release of additional Muskrat Falls documentation, again hosted off-site and in graphical-only, non-textual PDF versions.

(It is also in violation of Dundergov's own guidelines for accessible web design, which calls for "providing text alternatives for non text content".)

So here, by way of at least half-measures, is a rescanned version of the government's document release, with OCR applied to generate somewhat useable text. OCR errors are to be expected; use with caution and care.


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Happy anniversary?

In 1971, at exactly the date and time of the time-stamp on this blog posting, the first power from Churchill Falls flowed down the transmission line to "Point A".


Sunday, December 02, 2012

Seek and ye shan't find

Three places you won't find the Muskrat Falls loan-guarantee terms sheet: