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)

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Newfoundland and Labrador Liberals, Leadership and the Race

Being a Liberal these days is easier than in the past. For one thing, people don't look at you as though you have two heads by being one. That's a major hurdle crossed here. That's a good thing. It means people have gotten over the ghosts of Liberals past, and are more infuriated with the zombies of PCs present. As it should be.

However, there is still a residue there of caution among people. The Liberal rise, and the PC fall are dependent on two things. The first, and foremost cause of the Liberal rise provincially has been the rise of the federal Liberals and the promise many see in Justin Trudeau. Frankly, Canadians are desperately hoping he is a chip off the block of his father, and so far he has been able to harness that hope into success in the polls. People here see that, and there is a natural inclination here to be aligned with the federal party in charge of the purse strings - some habits die hard. In Newfoundland and Labrador, where roads are a political issue and not an expected public service, pragmatism still trumps idealism.

Secondly, there is the death throws of the reigning PC party. Like a wretched beast it twists in the bed of its making. Corruption, patronage, dishonesty, arrogance, and fiscal immaturity have left an odious taste in the people's mouths. Despite the fact that this state of affairs was formed strictly by then Premier Williams, Dunderdale (his flak jacket) has taken all the bullets of his policies and actions. Be that as it may, it is what it is, and Kathy Dunderdale is it. Try as she may to steady her shrill of a voice, the dye is set. Many argue now that she is the worst premier ever, while I would contend that mantle belongs to Danny Williams. Public perception, however, is what is important, and in their eyes the Dunderdale PCs are an abstract failure and need to go.

So the dramatic rise of provincial Liberal fortunes here is tied to these two events and in the order stated above.

Amongst this realignment of popularity is the Liberal leadership contest. With the departure of hugely unpopular Yvonne Jones as provincial leader, mere weeks before the last election (she now sits as the federal replacement for disgraced Peter Penashue), the party was able to slowly transition. No longer was the party saddled with its own disrespected leader. However, with mere weeks before an election, a makeshift leader was put in place by the provincial executive (I was a candidate in that process).

Now, like the phoenix, the provincial Liberals are rising from the ashes. A permanent (such as it is) leader is being selected, and the thought is a future premier as well. The promise of electoral success in 2015, or perhaps sooner, has drawn some interesting folks to the race: Paul Antle; Dwight Ball; Jim Bennett; Cathy Bennett; and Danny Dumeresque (in alphabetical order). Each has their own qualifications, and each has their own baggage.

Paul Antle is a successful business man, and perhaps more importantly, well educated in economics from Harvard University. He has humble attitude about him, and truly loves and cherishes his wife and young family - all traits that are indicators of a really grounded person. This I like. I like it a lot. His business attitude seems to be very well formed, focused and confident. I like that too. His empathy for the disadvantaged, and those left behind from the "buddy boom" here is very refreshing, and perhaps more needed than anything else. Paul is an excellent candidate for leader. Not because he is "credible", that term flogged to death here, but because he is very real. If you don't think that's important, check the history of the cab driver from Calgary that became one of the most successful and respected premiers of Alberta - Ralph Klien. Paul started off very weakly on Muskrat Falls, but now appears to hitting his stride on the issue. His original answer that he didn't know enough about the deal to have an opinion was, for a leader, not acceptable. However, he seems to have gotten that education on the issue now, and realizes it is of central importance to the people as he goes from community to community. Paul has what it takes.

Dwight Ball is also a successful business man. He does not have the ivy league education of Antle, but is educated and well spoken. He has a calm demeanor, and has been a steady hand in the wheel house of the provincial Liberals since being appointed interim-leader two years ago. The one issue I have with that is, under the British parliamentary tradition we follow, an interim-leader is not supposed to run for permanent leader - it gives them an unfair advantage. However, to give Dwight his due, he made it clear from the beginning that he would only take the job on the condition that he would be allowed to run for permanent leader. Dwight is also a humble man. He has the ability to connect with people - not in a saviour-type way , but rather in a neighbor-type way. He is the "every man". Politically though, Dwight has showed the skills necessary to hold his team together, and he has their respect ( all but one MHA, Jim Bennett, have thrown their support behind him). He has been tested under fire during the Bill 29 and Muskrat Falls issues in particular, and gained respect for his conduct. What sold me on Dwight was, during the first leadership debate in Gander, he replied to Cathy Bennett's challenge of whether or not Muskrat Falls should be shut down with an "all options are on the table". Given the legal and financial circumstances that seems the wisest answer possible. Dwight has what it takes.

Cathy Bennett is a successful business woman, with little education. Her claim to fame is starting on the floor and now being an owner of eight McDonald's franchises. Her other claim to "fame" is being an ardent supporter of the PC party agenda over the last ten years - including being a major financier of the party. Her loyalty and support was rewarded by Danny Williams with appointments to Nalcor's board of directors, and its Chairmanship. Although she claims otherwise, she is in no way a Liberal. Her adamant defence of the Muskrat Falls project has elicited cat calls, laughter, and shouting down by the Liberal crowds at every debate. Her support is from the Tobin crowd of the party. The Williams side of the business community. She is strong on spending money marketing herself, but weak on getting any results. Her vision is no different than that of the PC party. Her recent public comment that she has to hire foreign workers for her McDonald's franchises, because Newfoundlanders don't have the skills to work there, was eerily reminiscent of Dunderdale's infamous statement that Newfoundlanders were too stunned to understand Muskrat Falls. Cathy Bennett should have run to replace Dunderdale in the PC party, because that is what she is - a PC. Her attempt to capture the Liberal leadership appears as a crass, and obvious, attempt by the Tobin-Williams crowd to control another party. Cathy Bennett does not have what it takes.

Jim Bennett is a lawyer, former leader of the party, and a long-time Liberal. Jim is very well educated on many of the issues of the day, and makes an obvious effort to have a well rounded opinion. This comes through at debates and during interviews. It is what initially drew me to him, and why I initially supported him. However, suddenly Jim's take on the Muskrat Falls project changed. He went from being a strong opponent of it, to now saying its a fiat a compli . The only issue left now is how we can shield taxpayers from the damage according to Jim. For me that was a deal breaker. Jim lost my support altogether. Not because the issue was Muskrat Falls necessarily (although it is near and dear to my heart), but rather its the questions that change in attitude raises. For instance, as a lawyer, he should understand the five lawsuits now filed against Muskrat Falls, and the material affect they will have on the project going further ahead. That's just one example. Yet he chooses to ignore this, and when asked, will ignore the question too. It's very odd to be sure, and unlike his approach to all other issues. At first I had a hard time reconciling the two. However, now as time grows closer to the vote it appears Jim is snuggling up with the other Bennett - Cathy. Perhaps he sees no chance for himself. Perhaps it was always his intention to get his people to support Cathy on the second ballot. It's hard to say, but very disappointing none-the-less. Jim has what it takes to be a Minister in a Liberal government, but that is it.

Danny Dumeresque is the glove that does not fit the hand. He is on the one hand a successful business man and on the other a well educated political scientist with deep Liberal roots. Yet, he is haunted. Many in the party see his leadership as a dividing force that would split the party as it did in the Grimes/Efford days. To be sure, Danny is an intelligent, well-spoken, well-researched, solid as a rock kind of guy. His strong family loyalty and truly admirable fathering skills can not be debated. He is a furious defender of the province, and in particular Labrador. Yet, ironically enough, his failing in this leadership contest is his flip-flopping on Muskrat Falls. Danny has been an out spoken opponent of the dam project since day one. He railed against the idea of using the tax payers to subsidize cheap power for mining companies. He bemoaned the lack of any economic case for the project. Yet, suddenly during this contest, he has become a champion of those very things. His latest take on it is all the power should be kept in Labrador to develop mines. That is by far the largest flip-flop of any of the candidates, and even rivals the senseless candidacy of Cathy Bennett. It is akin to the Pope becoming Jewish. Now Danny has wrapped himself in the Labrador tunnel idea, and so be it. He has taken the "I'm Mr. Labrador" role, and so be that too. The truth about Danny is he is a sincere man with a history in the party, but sounds like a man from history. His strong oral skills are reminiscent of the bluster of yester year. His industrialize or disappear strategy is of the same ilk. I like Danny, but he does not have it.

The final sign up numbers are in. About 35,000 have signed up to vote in the contest. That is a huge success considering not more than a year ago the party was at 14% and could hold a meeting in a fairly large telephone booth. Clearly, the Liberal Party is coming into its own. Dwight Ball claims to have signed up some 15,000 people. Paul Antle has about 10,500. Danny Dumeresque claims 8500-9500. Jim Bennett hasn't claimed any I'm aware of. Cathy Bennett, true to her Nalcor roots, refuses to disclose how many she has signed up. Interesting math. The numbers wouldn't seem to add up in some ways. I feel Dwight and Paul's numbers are solid. That's 25,500 of the 35,000. That leaves 9500. Danny is claiming those 9500. That would mean the Bennett's collectively have zip. So who is not telling the truth here? Somebody isn't. Is it realistic that Danny has more signed up voters than Cathy Bennett given her vast organizing. I guess that is possible. What isn't possible is that she has nothing. Same goes for Jim. 

I see this leadership coming down to this: an old fashioned convention without the convention. Sure it is ranked first preference through five, and sure you can include, or not include all the candidates on your ballot. However, that is where the whole open vote ends. I see this more as a partnership. For instance candidate A says to candidate B: "spread the word to your people to vote for me in second place, and leave everyone else off the ballot, and I'll make you a Minister". That kind of thing. Nothing wrong with that. Smart in fact, and likely politically necessary. The question is who is working with who? Clearly Dwight has a commanding lead on the first ballot. I see Paul being a natural fit with Dwight, and I even sensed some deference shown between the two at the Gander debate. So I would say Paul is with Dwight. I would say Jim is with Kathy Bennett. And I would say Danny is running solo aiming to establish himself as "Mr. Labrador", to be appointed as the Minister for Labrador by whomever wins. That's just my take on it. 

Whatever happens, as long as either Dwight or Paul win, the party is in great shape to go forward. If, by some chance any of the other three win, the party is headed for disaster. The numbers, however, speak for themselves and it's going to be either Dwight (most likely) or Paul. I know that is how I'm voting: first Dwight; second Paul; third blank; fourth blank; fifth blank. Dis is it.  

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Did Prime Minister Harper Obstruct Justice?

The Senate scandal story, or maybe better put the PMO scandal, has rocked Canadian politics to the core. It is the real, previously unpublished, under belly of Canadian politics as it's really practiced. Forget the regal Canada Day celebrations on the Hill. The Mounties in their scarlet promenading about on horse. The Governor General's tea parties and all that sort of thing. That's simply window dressing. This is the what real politics is done in Ottawa, and also in the provinces - especially this province.

There is a caveat however on the practice of exercising power in these devilish houses - don't get caught. This week the Conservative government, and more specifically the Prime Minister himself got caught. Senator Duffy, among others, is being "investigated" and has not been "convicted" of any crimes as yet regarding office expenses. But here is where the real story starts. Duffy, during his defence in the Senate, indicted the Prime Minister as actually having a direct hand in a financial deal with Harper's then Chief of Staff Nigel Wright.

How is that significant? Firstly, Duffy says he has hundreds of emails, memos, etc. that prove what he is saying is true. Given his experience one can likely take that to the bank. So let's say it's true. Also involved in this whole "fixing" of audit issues is Senator Tkachuk. He suddenly took medical leave just after it all hit the fan months ago for "preemptive" cancer treatment. Tkachuk was put in the Senate by Mulroney, nominated by then Saskatchewan Premier Grant Devine, to be a political fixer. That was his job, and he did his job - a very experienced political operative and experienced in the dark arts of politics.

So, as the story goes, Tkachuk becomes aware that the auditors have found issues with Duffy's and others expenses. He works with Wright and Duffy to make the controversy go away. Duffy doesn't disagree all this happened, but says Harper was actually present and had his hands all over the issue. Harper is known to be a control freak, hands on manager, personally vindictive, and political strategist - not necessarily in that order. This little exchange of dollars for expedient political solutions is common place, and the Prime Minister has a private fund worth over a million dollars that can be used for any such thing.

However, the real question is: Is this a legal issue before it is a political issue. I suggest it is. Often those lines get blurred, but here the lines are becoming quite obvious. An ex- Liberal Senator today had affidavits sworn out against him by the RCMP for breach of trust and misuse of public funds. He was trapped up in similar-type practices of abuse that some are leveling against the three Conservative senators. So, if those senators are all charged along similar lines, crimes, did the current and previous Chief of Staffs for Harper commit the criminal offence of Obstruction of Justice? If Harper did, as Duffy states he did, promise to make the audit go away if Duffy took the loan and paid the bill was that an attempt to obstruct an audit of a public office holder with the sole purpose of avoiding unlawful findings against the senator?

The Criminal Code of Canada defines the offence of Obstruction of Justice as:

"(2) everyone who willfully attempts in any manner other then a matter described in subsection (1) to obstruct, pervert or defeat the course of justice is guilty of an indictable offence and liable to  imprisonment for a term not exceeding ten years."

So did the Prime Minister and his Chiefs of Staff attempt to pervert or obstruct the course of justice? If what Duffy says to be true the answer is yes. Duffy says he has the documented evidence. He may be holding that evidence over Harper's head until its decided if he is suspended from the Senate without pay for two years. I would consider that likely. However, perhaps Duffy could do all of his fellow Canadians one big last service and despite the outcome of the Senate vote on his future, release to us all the evidence so we can have the tools to clean our government up. Be the bigger man for the bigger reason. Make history by doing the right thing. Put us before yourself, your party or your institution. If this Prime Minister broke the law, as it appears, give us the evidence of it - we will look after the rest.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Muskrat Falls is a Done Deal

Those were the words I heard many times in the past from our former morning radio star, and current Mayor of Mount Pearl, Randy Simms. It's a done deal. Imagine, then, the surprise I felt when Randy, who also writes for the Telegram, came up with a story this weekend that Muskrat Falls is not a done deal. To be fair to Randy, many people around the province said the same thing. Half the time it was hard to decide if they were trying to convince you that further struggle was futile, or that they really believed nothing could stop it.

People who fought, and continue to fight, to stop the Muskrat Falls project were called "nay-sayers" or "known critics" by the government, and its mouth pieces. We were constantly referred to as "people without credibility". In Newfoundland "credibility" is code for the boy's club (the business/political backroom of the province) nod of approval. People who are "not credible" are not sanctioned and, therefore, akin to loose lipped fools - too stunned to understand the vision.

However, my education and experience gives me a whole different definition of "credible". Firstly, I try not to use the word, because it is judgmental and personal. Just because someone else has a different vision or understanding does not mean they are "not credible". To me, a person's ability to synthesize all aspects of the Muskrat Falls project, for instance, is necessary to have a "credible" opinion on the entire project - that doesn't mean they aren't a credible person.

Factors that need to be sorted through, and integrated with each other, are things like: international financial and energy trends; environmental impacts; proven science; domestic and inter-boundary demographics; Canadian and International law; provincial and corporate debt/capacities; sub sea line technology; overland line capacities; dam capacities; geology; previously existing contracts; and the list goes on. In the military we used to call it "factors that limit the objective". In other words, we have an idea, but what stands in our way from achieving it?

For two and a half years now I have been fighting the Muskrat Falls project: not out of spite as some have said; not because of personal vendettas; not to meddle; and not to be political. These are things I never evaluate anything on. They are small minded and petty. I have been fighting Muskrat Falls because from the beginning it struck me as not making sense.

The many reasons why it doesn't make sense can not all be listed here - that would take a book. The bottom line is it doesn't - albeit for different reasons than those that flagged the project to me in the beginning. So where does that leave the government - started as we are?

Well, where this government finds itself is exactly where the man whose brainchild this is left it on course to be when he scuttled out the door. Yes, this is all Danny Williams. It concerns me that frankly he put the gullible Kathy Dunderdale to take the fall for the inevitable failure while he smells like roses as the hero manager of a temporary hockey team. It may be his plan to escape the blame, but we are just as determined to remind people where the blame really lies. It's not personal. It's called responsibility to the public, that as premier, he screwed.

Now the proverbial rubber has hit the wall - the wall of reality. The PC government, Williams team, is stuck in guerrilla warfare. Dunderdale recently stated publicly that the PCs had planned for every contingency. Sorry, but that's simply not true. The legislation and laws put in place, like the Water Management Agreement are about to be blown apart. The coveted federal loan guarantee, necessary for financially downgraded Emera to raise capital is similarly doomed. It must be free of lawsuits and have all aboriginal issues settled before the feds will give the green light. Expiry date on that is December 31 - or about 2 1/2 months away. Law suits pending to date: five. Chance of settling any of them in one year: zero.

And so it goes. The nay-sayers, that small crowd of loud, non-credible, known critics have the boys club's pet project on the ropes. The boys club aren't admitting it yet, but here is one big clue: we are negotiating with Hydro-Quebec. Yep, the same folks who not more than a month or so ago Dunderdale and company were popping veins in their heads whilst they screamed such things as: revenge of the French.. well you get the idea. Necessity is the mother of invention, and a politician, and more importantly an entire boys club, will do almost anything, and talk to almost anyone, to avoid eating that much crow. Watch for Dunderdale and company to trade in some part the Old Harry oilfield to Quebec for some political accommodation on the Lower Churchill.

Here's the thing. What bothers me, poisons me to use a Newfoundland word, is how our so called "credible" group in St. John's can be so easily and obviously out flanked at every turn by Quebec and the feds - yet they refuse to listen to people who may know how to deal with these types. They are not just a danger to themselves, but to all of us present, and all of us in the future. They are so reckless, and clueless that they should have never passed the gate keepers watching the halls of power. Perhaps the gatekeepers are equally endowed.

In any case, here we are, checkmate. The new Hydro-Quebec loving premier in Nova Scotia will no doubt reopen the issue of the Maritime link, claiming the public good, and seeking "competitive" bids from Hydro-Quebec. Hydro-Quebec will likely offer Nova Scotia the complete package - a Power Purchase Agreement for all Nova Scotia's power needs - which Newfoundland and Labrador can not match. That will leave us with no market, a partially built project, and a void water management agreement ( without which Muskrat Falls dam can not run at more than 20% capacity on average). We will be in an even more disastrous place if we continue building the dam.

Of course, that's going to be kind of hard to do. It's hard to raise funds in a bond market or what have you while all those lawsuits sit there. That $2.5 billion we have sitting in short term investments has been waiting along time now for the rest of the money to show up. The lack of a federal loan guarantee will also create extreme difficulty in raising cash - hence the warning this month from the markets that our provincial government is on the verge of a downgrade in its credit rating.

When I started my lawsuit against this project one year ago, I wanted to out Hydro-Quebec now. Stop them from sitting back and waiting for us to cut our own throat over one man's ego, and then swoop in to take the pickings at pennies on the dollar. I know how they work, and this is how they work. With the Quebec government you need to understand but one thing - they don't care about you - they only care about themselves - period. To believe otherwise is foolish. To act otherwise is unforgivable.

So yes Randy, Muskrat Falls is not a done deal. It never was. If all the "credible" people in the St. John's boys club listened to those "not credible" types, perhaps you wouldn't be in the nightmare your mother warned you about. Perhaps you would have out flanked Quebec first. However, that would require knowing where your flank is.