Monday, 16 January 2017

RURAL NL NEEDS TO SAVE ITSELF

There are only a half million of us. And one half that number is so dispersed that it inhibits the achievement of the scale economies needed for normal commercial growth and for efficient public administration.

We have known those facts for a long time but, as a society, we have also affirmed that the higher marginal cost of maintaining hundreds of small communities is an acceptable one because it means preserving our rural character. Rural is who we are — even the more urban of us claim it as their identity.

While it was tough at times over the years, successive governments concocted budgets which maintained a reasonable balance between demand and the affordability of rural infrastructure and services. With the arrival of high oil prices — and low interest rates — successive Administrations engaged in, by any modern historical standard, outrageously excessive public spending. They watched as labour inflation — due to ill-staged megaprojects — helped distort a small economy. These economic factors, and a runaway boondoggle at Muskrat Falls, now threaten the whole province — but especially our rural communities.

Thursday, 12 January 2017

"OPEN LETTER" TO BERNARD COFFEY, CLERK OF THE EXECUTIVE COUNCIL, NL


Guest Post By Concerned Newfoundlander and Professional Engineer


Mr. Bernard Coffey
Clerk
Executive Council
Government of Newfoundland and Labrador

Dear Sir:

Re:  If You Are Not Part Of The Solution, You Are Part Of The Problem

            I very much welcomed the announcement in September, 2016 of your appointment as Clerk of the Executive Council. Giving leadership to the day-to-day running of government is critical, especially in these challenging times. The Muskrat Falls project is certainly one of the government's many challenges. For that reason, I was looking forward to your assuming the role of Chair of the Muskrat Falls Oversight Committee and to much needed change.

            As you know, this Committee was set up in March of 2014 by then Premier Tom Marshall. Ostensibly, he was responding to citizens’ concerns over how poorly the project was managed, to the enormous cost overruns and delay in the project schedule.

The Oversight Committee was touted by the Minister of Natural Resources, at the time, as having an independent oversight role, one akin to that performed by the PUB. The current Premier, then Liberal leader of the Opposition, Dwight Ball, expressed the position that a committee of bureaucrats reporting to Cabinet is merely window dressing. As far as I can see, he was dead right.

Monday, 9 January 2017

PREMIER NOT READY FOR CBC's ANTHONY GERMAIN

One of the most worrisome aspects of Premier Dwight Ball's leadership is confirmation that he does not understand the critical issues facing the province and he is blissfully content in his ignorance.

Former Premier Dunderdale suffered the same malady. She, too, seemed confused especially with respect to Nalcor, the Muskrat Falls project, and the relationship between development costs and market value of the power. The only difference is that Ball is less imperious.

Premiers Tom Marshall and Paul Davis were slightly more articulate but both men either did not understand their briefs or deliberately misled the public. They, like Danny Williams, were never reticent about boasting of the province’s good fortune Newfoundland and Labrador, they said, was going to earn hundreds of millions from the Muskrat Falls project. Of course, it just wasn’t true.

With the election of Premier Ball, mindlessness to facts received no appeal.

Monday, 2 January 2017

CATHY BENNETT: MYTH VS. REALITY + TOP TEN PICKS 2016

To start the New Year, it's always fun to look back on last year's work — if only to see what stories most attracted your interest. Below I have listed ten selections from 2016. Those choices are based entirely on the number of pageviews each claimed, according to the Google. There is just one caveat: I have not included stories posted during the past month, even though each attracted a large number of readers. I felt they were posted recently enough to be easily accessed.

My (admittedly incorrect) prediction that “Cathy Bennett’s Days in Finance are Numbered” (the Minister has outlasted reasonable constraints on the word "limited") garnered over 20,000 pageviews and the number one spot. Still, the post warrants further comment.

Finance is a key portfolio. And, for a long time, the Minister has been perceived by this blogger as a politician in a rather precarious — even tenuous — spot.

Monday, 26 December 2016

HEATHCARE FUNDING: A WEAK PREMIER BREAKS RANK

"Spineless" best describes Premier Ball – having helped undermine the Premiers’ united front on federal funding for health care. 

It is one thing for the Premier to exhibit poor character locally – having wimped out on both the deficit and Nalcor - both threatening our solvency.  It is quite another to allow this behaviour to reflect on the whole society that elected him or permit it to go unnoticed when the risks of doing just that are significant.

Ball chose to join the Premiers of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia – the two perennial toadies to the federal government. Their decision to break ranks came mere days after the Premiers met with the federal health minister and affirmed their united stand against her offer.

Thursday, 22 December 2016

NO LIMITS ON INCOMPETENCE. ANOTHER $700 MILLION FOR ASTALDI

This Blog has reported many times the amount of money in dispute with Astaldi is in the range of $600-800 million. 

CEO Stan Marshall confirmed the sum yesterday. Nalcor, he told reporters, had reached a new contract with Astaldi increasing the value of the original contract by a whopping $700 million ($1.15 billion according to Marshall but $1.0 billion was the figure first reported). 

Some of this money was accounted for in the revised $11.4-billion estimate – making the net impact $270 million. If the PR types think this early attempt to soften the blow, given the size of the award, they are mistaken.

$700 million is a staggering sum. It not only creates a new and higher project cost estimate of $11.67 billion, it forces us to ask for the thousandth time: does anyone at Nalcor know what they are doing? And, why hasn’t Stan Marshall sent them away?

Monday, 19 December 2016

BURYING SECRETS: NALCOR AWAITS RESCUE AS GIL BENNETT TALKS TO HIS MIRROR

The appointment of Stan Marshall as CEO has not diminished the culture of secrecy at Nalcor. It was born under former CEO Ed Martin and current V-P Gilbert Bennett and is entrenched in a number of insidious ways, each of which ought to be exposed. The more prescient examples are ones that receive the greatest attention – this post describes one more. Still, no one should think they are outcrops of randomness even if discussion of the larger problem awaits.

What should be clear to all, however, is this: if Stan Marshall has brought change to Nalcor’s governance practices they elude the most ardent observers.

Likely, Marshall is more preoccupied with deciding on which knee the CEO of Hydro Quebec will sit - as he come to grips with the reality that a “bad” and a “necessary” deal are one and the same.  

That, too, is an important subject especially given the negotiations underway with la belle province. Marshall likely intends to “excise” the Muskrat Falls project – remove - cut it out -from the “Liberal” narrative; Ball not having had the good sense – let alone the instinct – to keep it grafted onto the Tories’ hide.