Here's to the crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers, the
round pegs in the square holes... the ones who see things differently -- they're
not fond of rules... You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify
them, but the only thing you can't do is ignore them because they change
things... they push the human race forward, and while some may see them as the
crazy ones, we see genius, because the ones who are crazy enough to think that
they can change the world, are the ones who do.

Steve Jobs
US computer engineer & industrialist (1955 - 2011)

Friday, August 31, 2012

Quebec's election - same ol same ol

Here we go Quebec. Its election time and the big question is: "are the separatists going to win?" Certainly the national press are tripping over themselves trying to disect the outcome, and its possible consequences. The last poll before the election is showing the PQ in the lead by 5% in a virtual three -way race. The same poll shows over 60% are against separation. Only 28% are backing that option. The second place runners are portaying themselves as nationalist business types that don't want to leave Canada yet, because the Quebec economy is not quite ready for that. Not a ringing endorsement, but second best in the snake pit. Question is though: " what message are Quebecers sending to the rest of the country."

The answer is typical politics Quebec style. Quebecers are poised to put in place a government that wants to get in the face of the federal government. Yet, they are not poised to give it a working majority. It will be held in check domestically by its weak election victory, but able to bark at the rest of the country at will. That suits a major purpose just on the horizon for all of Canada.

2013 marks the year of equalization negotiations. It will be one of the most divisive times in our history as a country, and threatens to rip the proverbial flesh from the bones. Provinces and territories standing against each other, and against the federal government, in a battle of wills over dollars. Equalization dollars. For Quebec last year that was around $8 billion - a huge part of their budget that helps pay for the european style social programs they enjoy. Those two issues are the heart of Quebec's election, and have been since the sixties. Socialism paid by the rest of Canada.

Fast forward to this election, and understand that Quebecers are not voting for a government to negotiate separation, but rather equalization. They are voting in the threat to achieve the goal. They are reigning in the threat with a weak government, but holding the card of a subsequent election up their sleeve. Each and every denial to them will be portrayed as a new and more grevious affront to Quebec's "legitimate aspirations". They understand that provinces like Alberta, Saskatchewan, and even Newfoundland and Labrador will be seeking to hold onto their oil revenues while attacking Quebec's hydro revenues. They have a quasi partner in Ontario and some of the maritime provinces that are becoming more and more reliant on equalization.

The people in Quebec have turned small "s" socialist, as evidenced by their endorsement of the NDP federally. The PQ, while not strictly socialist, is the closest thing in provincial politics there. The second place party is more business oriented, which is a political philosophy that Quebecers do not entirely trust. The Liberals were a good mixture of both in theory, but not so much in practise.

Post election Quebec will be turbulent in itself. Corruption will become the interim major issue with provincial Liberals being roasted on the proverbial stick. Big business, organized crime, and probably federally orientated forces will be exposed. Deals like the privitization of oil and gas prospects from Hydro Quebec to small, Liberally connected energy firms will likely come into focus. Territorial challenges from Newfoundland and Labrador in the Gulf, and possibly Labrador, will be ignited. Deals and plans for the Plan Nord will certainly come under scrutiny. These times will unfold as a time of "truth". The separatists will portray the truth as the ideal of "Quebec society" being violated by federalists and corrupted, disloyal businesses. They will argue for a return to a managed economy with loyal crown corporations like Hydro Quebec centering that move. They will look to rescind deals that they deem do not serve Quebec's interest.

So, we enter a new time of conflict this coming week. Will the country respond as it always has? Will Quebec be given the Plan B scenario as Chretien gave it to them? Will gateways and northern plans be scuttled? Time will tell. All we can say for sure now is Quebec has chosen its champion.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

To Quebec with Love

The one strength Quebec has is its ability to move as a collective whole. Despite its public act of the reluctant bride, Quebec follows federal politics probably closer than any other group of people. It moves as one when its interests are affected. It has the ability of foresight, and the wisdom to use it. It creates conditions that favour it, and radically opposes those that do not. In the end it can be pragmatic as long as its strategic interests are served.

The Muskrat Falls federal loan guarantee is one such case. For starters it does not see Newfoundland and Labrador as any threat to its virtual hydro monopoly. Its key to understand that. No threat at all. Even if the complete Lower Churchill were built, and Quebec completely surrendered the Upper Churchill, Newfoundland and Labrador would be outgunned five to one for production of hydro power. Then there is the years they've spent concluding strategic alliances outside the country. Case in point, Vermont. Quebec owns the two dominant power distributors in Vermont, and just signed a long term agreement to supply both of them with all their power needs. In other words, they own it. So much so that Kathy Dunderdale wouldn't even attend the annual eastern premiers and governors meeting there this year.

But how does a Muskrat Falls loan guarantee possibly benefit Quebec? Here is how it works. Just before the last federal election, when the guarantee became a political promise publicly, the legislature got together in Quebec and denounced the awarding of it. They didn't oppose it on moral or ethical grounds. Not on jurisdictional grounds. No they opposed it on the grounds that they never received such a subsidy on any of their hydro projects. They made their statement for the record and then the issue virtually disappeared. There was almost no discussion of it during the subsequent federal campaign. There has been no discussion of it from Quebec since.

The fact is they smell the opportunity. The opportunity to cash in. They have formally notified the federal government that they oppose "special" treatment of Newfoundland and Labrador in regard to loan guarantees for hydro projects as it gives us an "unfair advantage". Now all they have to do is sit back and watch the feds give the guarantee to us in writing. Once that happens they will be knocking on the door for a guarantee for all their hydro projects, and knowing Quebec, they will likely want retroactive compensation for their previous hydro projects as well. The ironic part of all this, of course, is it leaves Newfoundland and Labrador in a much weaker position vs Quebec, and it bolsters the financial position of Hydro Quebec. In other words, its one step forward for Newfoundland and Labrador and ten steps back. This is how Quebec plays the game. It's as predictable as the hours of the day.

Unfortunately, its also the way the government of Newfoundland and Labrador play the game, which leaves us as the permanent doormat for everyone and their dog to use. Make no mistake, it is self-inflicted. Whether it be the days of sending cod to foreign markets before its time and ruining the market for it, the rush to build three mills which in the end starved all of them, the rush to sign on and build the Upper Churchill only to effectively surrender it, or the current rush to build Muskrat Falls to power an iron ore explosion in Labrador that must and will flood the market thus rendering them unprofitable, the government here has always approached economic issues with blinders on. The result has been a constant state of reaction to poor decisions based on greed. Unlike Quebec, our government is not strategic. It does not understand how to play the game in confederation. It tries to project Newfoundland style protest politics onto the national stage with almost zero effect, and then it wonders "why we have no influence". It is not a matter of the rest of the country not understanding this province. It is not a matter of having no influence or being ignored. It is not a matter of why the rest of the country won't fit into this province's vision.

It is a matter of Newfoundland and Labrador understanding that it is a part of the political family of Canada, understanding how that political family works, and pursuing its ambitions within the family. The rest of the family does not care if provincial nationalists feel alienated by history or their place. What they want to see is Newfoundland and Labrador exercising the political and strategic tools afforded every province within the country. Imagine the loss of political capital in the rest of the country that Danny Williams created by hauling down Canadian flags. Again a short term move, for a short term financial goal, that in the long run hurt the province strategically.

Is it a case of cutting off the nose to spite the face? Is it a case of a history of poverty and struggle that resulted in a political and economic culture of short term gain for long term pain? Is it a case of leftover divisions from the confederation referendum days, and long held resentments that poison the waters? Or, is it all of these things? My money is on the latter. In the end though, it will be the people of this province that pay the price for this lack of wisdom, and not their politicians, which is unfortunately the way it has always been.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Lies of Omission, and Half-Truths

"Clever liars give details, but the cleverest don't." Anonomys.

Lying can take many forms. The best, all encompassing definition I could find was from Wikipedia
When it comes to Muskrat Falls, and the circumstances surrounding it, the best descriptions are:

"Lying by omission:

Also known as a continuing misrepresentation, a lie by omission occurs when an important fact is left out in order to foster a misconception. Lying by omission includes failures to correct pre-existing misconceptions.

A half-truth is a deceptive statement that includes some element of truth. The statement may be partially true, the statement may be totally true but only part of the whole truth, or it may utlize some deceptive element, such as improper punctuation, or double meaning, especially if the intent is to deceive, evade, blame, or misrepresent the truth."

I, therefore have to respectfully disagree with former Premier Roger Grimes when he said this week: " Sometimes Danny Williams would not know the truth if it smacked him in the face." The fact is that Danny Williams, Kathy Dunderdale, Jerome Kennedy, etc know the truth - they just choose to lie.

Danny Williams attack on Roger Grimes this week was outrageous, and cannot be left unchallenged. Williams accused Grimes of "rapping his arms around Quebec" and that Quebec was blocking this province's development of Labrador. Williams, and his then Minister of Natural Resources Kathy Dunderdale, spent five years in secret negotiations with Hydro Quebec to develop the entire Lower Churchill. The negotiations apparently failed because Williams would not compromise. Bottom line is that Quebec was willing to work with this province, but not at any cost. Williams knew Quebec was acting in good faith. Why else would he spend five years negtiating with them?

Williams also attacked Grimes for suggesting working with a potential seperatist government in Quebec City woukd be a futile and foolish effort. He conveniently neglected to qualify that statement with the fact that both Grimes and Tobin negotiated deals with seperatist governments - although both eventually came to nothing. The Upper Churchill agreement was negotiated with a strongly nationalist government. In fact, nationalist governments in Quebec are a fact of politics in Quebec. Williams should recognize this as he led one in this province.

Williams assertion that Grime's deal was a sellout to Quebec is just utterly and obviously false. In fact, the deal to develop the entire Lower Chuchill, and not just Muskrat Falls would have left the province in a much stronger financial position, and allowed it to retire debt with oil profits rather than ignore debt and in fact grow it substantially to achieve a third of the power. The only potential draw back to the deal was that we would receive only 600 mw of recall power, and it would be streched over a twenty year period. You may ask what difference that would make? Well, given that the mines in Labrador are under development, and may want over 1000 mw of power, that scenario may not have suited them. Recall if you will Dunderdale's tirade against Quebec in the House of Assembly during tbe spring when she decried leaving industrial development in Labrador in the hands of Quebec.
Also this week I raised the question why we need to build two 900 mw hvac lines to the Upper Churchill from Muskrat Falls. Vocm Nightline radio show host Pete Soucy raised the question again on his show. He actually wanted to know if it was true and if so what the lines were needed for. He received a snotty reply from PC MHA Kent that he should stop quoting me. Pete pushed it further, but the MHA would not answer. The next morning the MHA tweeted that yes there would be two lines to help maintain power in Labrador. Put aside the foolish reason put forward for a moment, and note that while he did confirm the two lines he did not identify that they were capable of carrying 900 mw each. That is 200% plus the amount of power Muskrat Falls could possibly produce. Then this week, Jerome Kennedy indicated that the power promised to Emera could come from any source and does not need to come from Muskrat Falls. You see, part truths, but other possibly damning facts left out. In other words, lies by omission, half-truths.

Unfortunately, lies by omission, and half-truths have become the norm in Newfounland and Labrador politics. There has been zero accountability and therefore zero fear to keep them going. Whether its Danny Williams and his assertion that Muskrat Falls will make this province a leader in environmental stewardship, while conveniently leaving out the fact that thermal power generation is actually going to be 2% higher than the isolated island option, or Dunderdale's demonizing of Quebec for holding back Labrador development, or even Steven Kent's sladerous assualt on Cabot Martin, the trend is the same: Clever liars give details, but the cleverest do not.

Friday, August 17, 2012

When Regimes Fall - NL Style

The last few months have born witness to the death throws of the PC govenment of Newfoundland and Labrador. In local terms: " the bottom's out of her b'ys." It began with the sudden, and unexplained departure of one Daniel E. Williams - as he likes to be referred to in legal wranglings. That was followed by the unprecedented fixing of the subsequent leadership non-race. Then there was one sorry blunder after another. The polling numbers steadily fell. The blunders continued. And so on.

The last few months however have signalled a whole new phase, and a steady decline into the absurd. A place so low, so dark, so desperate that it reminds me of other places and other actors. Different circumstances, and different geographies, but bare with me.

When a regime begins to fall, anywhere in the world, what is the first sign of panic? The first sign of desperate people clinging desperately hard to power? They turn inwards. They refuse to acknowledge the opposition around them. They become insular and isolated. They ignore the art of compromise and embrace their tools of power. Power has become their only reason and purpose. They crack down firstly on those that forment the desent. They try to isolate them, marginalize them, demonize them, and when all this fails, as it inevitably does to those that attempt to halt just progress, they turn inward. It could be Syria, Egypt, Yugoslavia, South Africa, East Germany - you get the idea.

It doesn't normally happen in democracies - although it has. Take the civil rights movement in the US as an example - although they eventually accepted the just change. Another, closer to home example, could be Quebec's "Silent Revolution". The point is, most democracies are governed by constitutions that restrain their governments from acting against the just democraltic rights their countries are founded upon. So what happens when a government, in the developed, democratic world does just that? We have such a case now in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Our Public Utilities Board was castigated, marginalized, and demonized by the government (and its supporters) when it refused to endorse the Muskrat Falls option. It was sent to the dog house with the Premier actually commenting publicly that she had lost confidence in it. An act so contemptous, so arbitrary, so cowardly that those of influence and common citizens alike, in any other province would have revolted. Yet, hardly a word is muttered about the outrageous treatment given the Board. It did result in a small compromise by the government though - an agreement to hold a special debate on Muskrat Falls and a study of natural gas alternatives. However, the government is guaranteed to win a debate where they hold the vast majority of the seats, and they chose a company to do the natural gas study that was already on the record as saying it was not feasible. So a compromise, but in name only. A compromise that was so obviously designed to appease rather than to address that it lost its relevance almost immediately.

Then came the moment. The all encompassing moment. Bill 29. An Act to ammend the Access to Information Act. In an almost suicidal move the government decided to be exceptionally democratic about an exceptionally undemocratic move. It held a four day filibuster in the House of Assembly to pass a law that essentially turned access of information into a ministerial perogative. The new law gave individual ministers the right to veto what ever they chose to from their ministry. The public revolted. Not in the streets, although some did, but rather in their hearts and minds. It was as if for once they saw the government as it actually was and not how the government had been portraying itself for some time. The opinion polling numbers for the government began to plummet almost immediately.

The government's response? A new policy that bans individual MHAs from advocating for their constituents directly to the government departments concerned. The new policy mandates that all MHAs must put their inquiries to a Minister's Executive Assistant, and that no other channel may be used. Essentially, they rendered every MHA obsolete - especially politically. In effect, complete power and control of a constitutional responsibility was taken away, and a fundamental pillar of democracy, the citizen's vote to elect their own representative in the House of Assembly, was severely weakened.

The end result of Bill 29, and the new policy on MHAs power to represent, is to transfer absolute power to the individual ministers in Cabinet. A now complete inward turn. A desperate, undemocratic, and flagrant move by men and women to deprive their own citizens of the rights they should have become acustomed to by now. A move reminiscent of the Senatorial days of the decaying Roman Empire. A move gently similar to the now deceased, or in the process of becoming so, Arab dictatorships and their secret and self-rewarding deals. Over the top comparisons you say? Dramatic and off topic? Reflect on the times, reflect on the signs, and see the truth that the government of Newfoundland and Labrador has become.