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

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Les claqueurs

Moments after Finance Minister Jerome Kennedy announces hundreds of layoffs during last Wednesday's budget speech, PC backbenchers (counterclockwise) Tony Cornect (Port au Port), Tracey Perry (Fortune Bay–Cape La Hune) and David Brazil (Conception Bay East–Bell Island) give him a round of trained-seal applause. Humber West MHA Vaugh Granter is leaning just out of the frame.


On February 5, 2010, WilliamsGovernment pledged to create something called a "Waterway Park" in the Eagle River watershed, in lieu of allowing that area of Labrador to be incorporated into the future Mealy Mountains National park.

On March 22, 2010, that committment was incorporated into WilliamsGovernment's last, and oddly retrospective, Throne Speech.

The end.


Saturday, March 30, 2013

Promise made...

... promise long broken. From The Telgram's "On our Radar" feature today, Darin King becomes the latest in a long list of utterly gormless cabinet ministers left to defend Danny Williams' unfulfilled 2007 promise to bring in whistleblower protection legislation in the first session of the post-2007 legislature:
In a statement released to The Telegram, Justice Minister Darin King said whistleblower legislation "is complex and will have far-reaching implications for" the province's public sector. He said the government must ensure it fits the province's requirements, adding there are higher priorities for the department to deal with at this time and that such legislation "is not expected to be brought forward during this session" of the House.


Thursday, March 28, 2013

Nickel back

From the Memory Hole:
Williams asks for public input before vote on Voisey's Bay
 ST. JOHN'S, June 6, 2002 — Danny Williams, Leader of the Opposition and MHA for Humber West, is asking for the people of Newfoundland and Labrador to be fully briefed on the terms of a deal on Voisey's Bay before MHAs vote on the deal in the House of Assembly. "The people of Newfoundland and Labrador have made it abundantly clear that they want to see any tentative agreement concerning the development of Voisey's Bay before it is signed and becomes legally binding. They most certainly want to see the deal before a ratification vote occurs in the House of Assembly," Williams said in a news conference. "I have written the Premier and asked him to ensure that the public will have direct access to the terms of the deal before it is signed and voted on in the House of Assembly so that they can express their concerns to their member and provide instruction as to how their member should vote. In a democracy that is based upon elected representation, it is imperative that members consider the wishes of the people they represent in casting their vote in the legislature. "The Premier, the Minister of Mines and Energy and Inco have all confirmed that a key element of any deal will involve shipping Voisey's ore to Ontario and Manitoba for processing where it will create jobs for Manitobans and Ontarians instead of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians. "Our research shows that people have concerns with that. The people fear that once nickel leaves this province, it will never come back, nor will we ever get the jobs that are associated with its processing. They want that nickel to be processed in this province, as was promised by this government in both the 1996 and 1999 elections. Everyone can remember those famous words: not one ounce, not one spoonful of Voisey's Bay nickel will be processed anywhere but in Newfoundland and Labrador. "I encourage every Newfoundlander and Labradorian to ask their member how he or she intends to vote in the House of Assembly. Will their member support the will of the people and vote against this bad deal? Or will their member vote in favour of sending jobs and nickel to Ontario and Manitoba? That's the key issue in this deal."  A copy of the letter follows.
- 30 -
For additional information, please contact:
Brian Crawley
Tel. (709) 729-XXXX
Text of the letter to Premier Roger Grimes:  June 6, 2002 Honourable Roger Grimes
Government of Newfoundland and Labrador
8th Floor, East Block
Confederation Building
St. John's, NF  Dear Premier:  The people of Newfoundland and Labrador have made it abundantly clear to the Official Opposition, and no doubt to the Government, that they want to see all the details of any tentative agreement for the development of Voisey's Bay before it is signed and binding on the Province, and before a ratification vote is taken in the Legislature.  In light of the importance of ensuring transparency and accountability in making decisions of this significance, I am recommending that the Government follow the precedent established by the procedure for public consultation and legislative ratification adopted with respect to the Meech Lake Constitutional Accord. As you recall, the Government at the time, having already tabled in the Legislature the proposed agreement in question, implemented the following procedure:
  1. adjourned the Legislature for a period of time;
  2. asked Members of the House of Assembly to "take whatever steps are necessary to consult with their constituents in ensuring the maximum possible level of public participation in this circumstance";
  3. announced it would "provide for reasonable expenses which will have to be incurred by MHAs in this process, the objective being to ensure the people of this Province have some say in their future"; and
  4. promised a free vote on the acceptability of the proposed agreement so that "when the vote is taken it will, without a doubt, reflect the decision of the people of our Province".
A development agreement that cannot withstand prior public scrutiny must not be signed.  I look forward to your early response to this recommendation.  Yours sincerely,  DANNY WILLIAMS, Q.C., M.H.A.
Humber West District
Leader of the Opposition c.c. Mr. Jack Harris, Leader of the New Democratic Party
Note: The quotations in the letter are from a Ministerial Statement by Premier Clyde Wells on June 11, 1990 in which he announced the consultation and ratification process for the Meech Lake Constitutional Accord.


Thursday, March 14, 2013

The Billy Hickey Rule

Back in 2005, the House of Assembly witnessed this exchange one day in QP:

MR. BUTLER: Mr. Speaker, it is amazing how the Premier went around this Province and said no more political appointments and we have not seen the end of it yet.

Mr. Speaker, my questions are on a political nature but it is not about kicking people out the door, it is about hiring them and hiding them away in the closets.
Mr. Speaker, recently the Premier's daughter's boyfriend, who worked in a political staff position in the government members' office, was placed into a public service position as Director of Communications with a department. Can the Premier tell the House if his potential future son-in-law went through a job competition or was he simply placed in the position because of his connections?

PREMIER WILLIAMS: Mr. Speaker, we saw what they stooped to in the point of order that was made today. I have been accused, obviously, of racism and I have been accused of aspersing children. This is a serious matter for me.

We had an engagement party for this couple Saturday night at my married daughter's house. Now, for this gentleman from Port de Grave, of all people, to raise this issue. This is the man who was subject of the Steele inquiry, and I will tell you what Mr. Justice Steele said about this gentleman. In my view, the result was not to portray an impression of believability concerning the primary business of the allegations by Mr. Noseworthy. I am satisfied that Roland Butler gave Ambrose Stoyles the questions on the substance of the questions to assist him in preparation for interviews.

Now, let me explain the answer, Mr. Speaker. It is very important. So, we were not in the process of giving out answers to people who are going for interviews. This man is hired as a qualified person -


PREMIER WILLIAMS: Let me finish. I need to finish, Mr. Speaker!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

PREMIER WILLIAMS: This government has hired this bright, capable, qualified, young man in a temporary position, which is a perfectly legal thing to do and which the members opposite know is according to the rules and according to the rules of the Public Service Commission. So, he was hired in a temporary position and he is eminently qualified and that is according to law and according to rules. Shame on you!
OK, then.

So, in order for people, who just happen to be personally well-connected members of the governing party, to get DComms jobs, they have to be hired on merit, in accordance with the rules of the Public Service Commission.

The PSC is in charge of maintaining a "politically neutral... professional, non-partisan public service".

So why in the name of Responsible Government are professional, non-partisan, public servants, bearing the grandiloquent title Director of Communications, writing, editing, approving, and issuing, through official government channels, partisan garbage press releases like this, this, or this?

Reduced debt through greater debt

As compiled from the provincial Estimates, passim, a chart showing the rise, slight fall, and resuming rise of the four main categories of provincial debt over the past decade and a bit. The vertical scale is in $billions:


Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Our bankrupt is totally different from their bankrupt

Kathy Dunderdale told the House of Assembly on Monday:
We have come a long way from 2003 when we have rebuilt the economy of this Province. We have reduced our debt.
 Finance Minister Jerome Kennedy added:
Mr. Chair, in 2003 – and I am going to go through this, I can assure you, in great detail over the next few weeks and upcoming months – we inherited a province that was almost bankrupt.
 And he told the House of Assembly on Tuesday:
In 2003-2004, when we took over government, Mr. Chair, our net debt was around $12 billion. We have managed to reduce that approximately 25 per cent and we continue to put any surpluses – which, unfortunately, we are not going to have for the next couple of years – on debt .
 And on Wednesday:
As I have said on a number of occasions, in 2003 we inherited a Province that was not only financially bankrupt, but there was an infrastructure deficit that was huge.
 Fun facts: In 2003, the total provincial debt — gross, not net — was $12.1-billion.  For the latest fiscal year, it stands at $13.3-billion.  In traditional arithmetic, 13.3 is a larger number than 12.1.  In 2003, the deficit was $939-million.  For the next two fiscal years, the Progressive “Conservatives” have provisionally forecast deficits of $1.6-billion.  In each year.  (Those figures are straight from the same estimates that Premier Condescension and her Finance Minister keep exhorting you to read.) So, if in 2003, with accumulated liabilities $1.2-billion less than they stand today, and a deficit 40% smaller than what the current government is now forecasting for each of the next two fiscal years, the province was “almost bankrupt” or “financially bankrupt”… what is it now?  Bankrupt?

What, them worry? (II)

NAPE, as any good advertising client would, will no doubt be getting a report on the effectiveness of its late 'Have Province' broadcast, internet, and print ad campaign.

However, if there was any doubt that it is having an impact — perhaps even the desired one — Jerome Kennedy, who is apparently Finance Minister again, spent another day in the House of Assembly on Tuesday thoroughly dispelling those doubts:
MR. KENNEDY: Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Today, in these ten minutes, I am going to talk about a couple of things. I want to talk about the have Province concept, Mr. Chair, where a number of years ago – I remember this clearly; it was the first stint I had as Minister of Finance. It was around 2009 – it could have been November or December 2009 – and I went to a federal-provincial-territorial Finance Ministers’ meeting.
In the middle of the meeting, the Finance Minister for Canada, Jim Flaherty, announced that Newfoundland and Labrador would no longer be receiving equalization, that we were a have Province. We all, and the people of the Province, jumped for joy. From a pride perspective, it was great. Everyone said: Well, look, we are finally there. After fifty years of being seen as Canada’s poor cousin, we are no longer dependent on equalization.
Being a have Province, Mr. Chair, means we can pay our own way. It means that we make our own decisions, as I stated yesterday. Also, as I stated yesterday, Mr. Chair, being a have Province can mean that we have less money, because right now – and I outlined this yesterday – if you look at where our revenues comes from, in 2011-2012, midyear, 35.8 per cent of our revenues came from offshore royalties. You go back to 2004-2005, 34 per cent of our revenues at that point came from federal transfers.
CHAIR: Order, please!
MR. KENNEDY: – that is seniors’ benefits and that is the tax on energy. So, it is easy to see why we have gotten to the situation today where the deficit has arisen. We have spent wisely building infrastructure, building schools, but what has happened is that our federal revenues have decreased. Being a have Province, while being a source of pride socially and while meaning a lot to us as a people from an economic perspective, it means we have less money...
What we do, what we mean, by being a have Province is that we make our own decisions now. We generate our own revenues.
[Emphasis added.]

(Incidentally: anyone know which "decisions" Kennedy is referring to, which equalization-receiving provinces are not capable of making, or do not make?)

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Digging stops

Hansard, March 12, 2013:

MR. KENT: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I apologize unequivocally.

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What, them worry?

There's the Embarrassment for Mount Pearl North and Junior Deputy Under-Secretary of Bill 29, posting on the Twitters:
Steve Kent, MHA ‏@stephenkent @lorrainemichael We'd be happy to give you an overview of equalization program if you're still misunderstanding what "have province" means.
And there's his colleague in the Junior Deputy Under-Secretary Klub
Sandy Collins ‏@SandyRCollins Considering organizing a very simplistic,easy 2 follow slideshow 4 the NLNDP caucus explaining what 'HAVE' status means & what determines it
And at the Big Boys' Table, there's Screamapillar Kennedy, in the House of Assembly on Monday:  
We will address the issue of such things as a have province and what exactly that means, Mr. Chair...
We are no longer receiving equalization, and that is what being a have Province means. It means we pay our own way. In fact, one can argue that being a have Province means you have less money...
In 2004-2005, 34 per cent of the revenues received in the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador came from federal transfers. We are down to 10 per cent today, Mr. Speaker. Equalization and the accords, in 2004-2005, accounted for 22.1 per cent of our revenues. Today it is zero. So, our ability to be self-sustaining, our ability to govern ourselves has resulted in us receiving fewer revenues. That is what it means to be a have province; it means you pay your own way....
So, being a have province does not mean we are rich, but it means that we can stand up and make our own decisions.
All three, totally spontaneously throwing whatever damp blankets they can find on the “have province” meme that NAPE has successfully, and effectively unleashed through their late advertising campaign.   The fact that various members of the PC caucus have been driven — totally spontaneously, and completely independent of one another — to try and defuse NAPE's clever and potent use of this phrase, is about all the evidence you need to draw the only logical inference.   It's working.

Monday, March 11, 2013


Today's CRA release, run through a couple of swing models, would yield a feeble PC minority government.

With a province-wide popular vote of NDP 39, PC 38, and Lib 22, the Tories would be expected to bleed at least 15 seats to the current opposition parties.

One of those districts would be Virginia Waters. The PCs would be expected to lose all of their remaining St. John's city seats, as well as most of those in the surrounding suburban communities.

Overall seat totals would be PC 20-22, NDP 17-18, and Liberals holding the balance of power at nine or ten. For two districts — Gander and Bellevue — the statistical models are in slight disagreement, and so are shaded in pale grey. Even if both those seats are notionally allocated to the PC column, it isn't enough for an outright majority in the Legislature.

For the opposition parties, dark colours indicate holds and pale colours are pickups. For the incumbent PCs, dark blue is a hold, while paler blue is a hold by less than a notional 10% margin of victory.


Re-education successful

On Thursday morning, the St. John's Telegram, as well as the Grand Falls-Windsor Advertiser, ran a heretical letter from Tony Ducey, aka Tony the Tory.

By Thursday afternoon, Brother Ducey had repented of his heresy and was back to preaching the Articles of Faith.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Stop digging (II)


Saturday, March 09, 2013

Stop digging

In connection with an earlier blogged-about matter, the Hon. Member for Mount Pearl North is quite insistent:


Friday, March 08, 2013

The Hon. Member for Mount Pearl North has the floor

A bit of unfinished business from the December filibuster. From the Bow-Wow Parliament proceedings of December 18th:
MS MICHAEL: ... As with a couple of other bills that we have on our Order Paper, I do not know why this government is rushing and ramming legislation through this House as they are doing, Mr. Speaker. That is why I am very, very pleased with the hoist motion that was brought forward, because there is no need to be doing the rushing that is going on so that we –

AN HON. MEMBER: (Inaudible) cursing and swearing – shame. It is disgraceful.

MS MICHAEL: Mr. Speaker, I am calling a point of order. I have just been accused by a member over on this side – and I do not know who it is because I am not looking there – of cursing and swearing.

MR. SPEAKER: A point of order by the hon. member. I never heard the comment, but I certainly will review Hansard to see if it was picked up, at the hon. member. I will give a ruling at my earliest convenience.
And its dénouement, yesterday:
MR. SPEAKER (Wiseman): Before we start today's proceedings – I know this goes back a ways, but most of you might recall the last session we had before Christmas; it was quite a lengthy one. On the last parliamentary day, December 18, there was a point of order raised. This is the first opportunity I have had to be back in the Chair to make a ruling on that point of order, a point of order raised by the Leader of the Third Party.

The Leader of the Third Party rose, stating that she had been accused of unparliamentary language by another member. I indicated at the time that I would take some time to review Hansard, the transcript of that day's session, and I have done that. I have had the opportunity to review Hansard and the video clips and found that there was no unparliamentary language, either written or audible, made by the Leader of the Third Party.

Hansard, however, does not identify the member but it does identify the comments made by a member accusing the Leader of the Third Party of unparliamentarily language.

The Speaker has no way to identify who that member was; however, given the responsibilities the members have in this House and to this House, I would ask that if the member is present today, they would stand and apologize for their comment.

The hon. the Member for Mount Pearl North.

MR. KENT: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Of course, there was no ill intent, and I do apologize.

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Thursday, March 07, 2013

Cutting crew (II)

The provincial opposition parties have got it into their heads that cutting the size of the House of Assembly would be a good move.

It wouldn't be.

In Canada, at least, smaller provincial legislatures are less competitive. The relationship between size and competitiveness isn't perfect, but it's good enough. Examining all post-war provincial elections in all provinces except Alberta — which is uniquely uncompetitive, in federal and provincial elections, no matter how many seats it has — this is what you'll find.

First, smaller legislatures tend to result in larger governing parties. At the smallest end of the scale (mainly PEI and the earliest post-Confederation NL legislatures), the governing party typically holds more than 80% of the seats. That figure generally declines (with a bump up in the 60-something size bracket), as the legislature gets larger.

Second, and closely related, smaller legislatures tend to elect more electoral-blowout governments. (A blowout, defined here, is a legislature in which the governing party has 80% or more of the seats).

Third, there is the simple mechanics of running an effective and modern legislature, as foreign as that concept may be in Newfoundland and Labrador. A smaller legislature will not have the numbers, the diversity of views, or the diversity of backgrounds, for anything resembling useful debate or functional standing and special committees. And, given the statistics presented above, a smaller legislature tends to be dominated by a large and powerful governing party, with a small and weakened opposition. The damage and corrosion of the Dannystan years is going to take decades to fully come to light — a process that won't begin until the current governing party is out of office. Institutionalizing a lack of accountability, something which the Danny Williams party so desperately sought, especially in the 2007 election campaign and after, is the very last thing the provincial government and public need.

Want to cut the budget of the House of Assembly? Cut the budget of the House of Assembly. Cut MHAs' pay and benefits. Heck, if you're bold enough, you can even further increase the size of the legislature while at the same time cutting its overall budget, if you're willing to turn a few sacred cows into hamburger along the way.

But a smaller legislature? It's a solution in search of a problem.


Sunday, March 03, 2013

Cutting crew (I)

Clyde Jackman is thinking about amalgamating school boards to save money. The CBC reports a few days ago:
Jackman said his officials are talking with boards about how to spend less money.

In an interview with CBC News, Jackman didn't rule out the possibility of merging the Nova Central and Eastern school district boards.

"Because we are exploring ways to find efficiencies, so if we can find efficiencies through this means — it is an option that we're looking at, but I do want to stress there's been no decisions finalized," said Jackman.
How has that worked, in practice, in the past?

Not very well.

In 1996, after the abolition of denominational education, the 27 denominational and "integrated" school boards were reduced to ten regional boards, plus a province-wide francophone board.

In 2004, the ten regional boards were further consolidated into four, with no change to the province-wide francophone board.

Throughout this period, the population of school-age children continued the long decline that began in the 1970s, further sliding from about 116,000 at the time of the 1996 consolidation, to about 90,000 at the time of the 2004 consolidation. By 2012, the school-age population had further declined to about 75,000.

Yet, throughout this period of administrative consolidation and declining enrollment, the number of people administering the dwindling number of school boards, and teaching an ever-shrinking student population, barely budged. In fact, the number of school board employees, after slumping slightly after the 2004 re-alignment, has since made up all of that loss, and then some.

This chart shows the school-age population (left axis) and school board employment (right axis), with the number of school boards indicated by the number of graph squares shaded in grey in each column.

There is a limit to how much can be cut on the basis of consolidation and declining enrollment, given the dispersed nature of the rural population, and enrollments that may actually be growing in some centres. However, it's hard to explain how the dramatic re-organization of school board administration, and the dramatic decline in student enrollment, could have resulted in no long-term reduction in the size of the school system... except when you consider the total lack of political will to achieve any such savings.

As #FormerPremier said during the 2005 Bishop's Falls controversy — which had the unfortunate timing to coincide with a by-election in Exploits:
"I'm sure we'll be criticized, because there's a board in place, and (people will ask) is government going to overrule boards... That's not the practice, that's not the intention. But if boards or groups or reports or consultants make decisions that are wrong decisions, then we have a responsibility, as government, to make the right ones." [quoted by Rob Antle, the Telegram, Jun 18, 2005]
Bishop's Falls was the price the Conservatives were willing to pay to successfully convert Exploits, much as, a few years later, Flowers Cove was the price they would pay in a (failed) attempt to keep The Straits and White Bay North.

The PC's deep-rooted psychological need to win and hold friends and seats, whatever the cost to the public treasury, is about to run smack into a decade's worth of deferred fiscal and demographic reality.

Go make popcorn. It's gonna be quite a show.

EDITED TO ADD: In response to a comment/question, source data for school board employment is from Statscan CANSIM Table 183-0002 (annualized to smooth out seasonal fluctuations); population estimates for school-aged children (ages 5 to 18 inclusive) are from Table 051-0001.


Friday, March 01, 2013

We have a trend (II)

Herewith, another chart showing a more detailed breakdown of "voter" behaviour in the VOCM Question of the Day over the past eight years. As with the previous chart, the data is incomplete for some years, and is provisional for 2013 so far (up to February 26th).

This chart breaks the "voter" behaviour into three categories: polls on Federal political topics, polls on Provincial political topics, and polls on all other questions, including municipal and international politics, but mostly on law-and-order matters or fluff. "Provincial" topics include all questions on provincial politics, political parties and personalities, provincial political or government policy issues, and the provincial government's occasional forays into federal or other matters, such as the ABC Campaign of 2008 or Danny Williams' Holy War Against American Rocketships. In a handful of cases where a political or policy question spanned federal and provincial jurisdiction, it was punted to the "Other" category. "Federal" includes questions on federal politics, political parties and personalities, and on federal public-policy questions, especially in matters of criminal justice in general. (The numerous questions on the outcome of specific criminal cases, however, are included as part of "Other".)

The dark-coloured columns show the median number of votes cast in each class of poll over the course of each year's data collection. The pale colours show the average. The two different measures help tease out the fact that the polls that get really, really goosed, tend to be Provincial ones — thereby skewing the average higher.

Participation in the VOCM QotD has increased steadily over the years, roughly quadrupling since 2005. Beyond the lower limit of this graph, in the early 2000s, your intrepid blogger seems to recall that a typical QotD would get a few hundred, at most a thousand or two "votes". The real upswing in "voter" participation started in the middle part of the last decade, and has continued ever since. However, for as long as this corner has been tracking the VOCM "poll", Provincial questions have always tended to get the strongest response, and the most-manipulated (pace Paul Lane) ones.

Interestingly, in federal election years 2008 and 2011 there were marked upticks in the average vote on Federal topics. There may well have been one during the 2005-06 federal campaign as well, but it would be masked by the splitting of the campaign into two different calendar years. Other than in the two mentioned federal election years, participation is no higher, or even lower, in Federal questions than it is in either Provincial or even Other categories.