Monday, 29 April 2013

CANADA POST: BEWARE OF POLITICIANS

I propose a warning: “Beware of politicians. Common sense eludes”.

The Conference Board in Canada recently commented on how Canada Post might deal with what it calls "serious financial challenges" due to rapidly declining mail volumes.  According to a CBC News story, the Corporation said it is expecting a "substantial financial loss in 2013."  Actually, the amount is $600 million annually by 2020 even if mail costs are increased by “…10 percent a year starting in 2014…”
The story also quotes NDP Member of Parliament, Olivia Chow, Opposition Critic, who disses any notion of cuts to the ‘snail mail’ service.  Said Chow, “it would be wrong for Canada Post to "retreat" from its mail delivery role.  Instead of contemplating cutting postal services, Canada Post should find new opportunities to provide better and expanded services on the e-commerce front so they can increase their revenues".  

Canada Post has already said e-Commerce would boost only its parcel delivery service which would not make up for its volume losses on general mail.

Thursday, 25 April 2013

NOT POLITICS AS USUAL

Most comments, received on Uncle Gnarley Blog, are located on the “Comments” section following each Post.  Occasionally, however, a comment drops into my personal “Inbox” which are read, appreciated and, like all others sooner or later, “deleted”.  Recently, a private email arrived, which I thought summarised the frustrations of many with respect to the behaviour of the current Government.  It also offered a view of the Muskrat Falls Project, and its boosters, which I felt should be shared. 

We sometimes forget that very busy, serious, intelligent and talented citizens head out each day to work, to volunteer and, in a variety of ways, to enable others in the search of self-improvement.  In so doing, they enrich our Province and each of us, personally.  Many, and especially, the writer whose email I am publishing today, have spent a lifetime sharing their enormous talents.  They eschew publicity, unless it is essential to their mission. They work hard and their dedication often goes unheralded; they keep an ear to government and politics, but their time only goes so far.

Tuesday, 23 April 2013

NOW IT’S DARIN KING’S TURN

On Tuesday, the Speaker of the House of Assembly arose and read an unqualified apology to MHA Gerry Rogers, whom he ousted from the Legislature, last week.  The eviction had been the result of her unwitting association with a Facebook group against the Premier.  The facts of the matter are well known. 

Having apologized, the Speaker has restored the dignity of his Office, one which is essential to the proper functioning of the Legislature, in the face of a ruling that was simply wrong.  He has also confirmed that as a person, he is capable of error and of admitting to the same; a fact that will enhance his reputation as one capable of conducting his duties without partisanship.
Ms. Rogers, in accepting the Speaker’s apology, told reporters that he should also apologize to the people of the Province.  A more seasoned Member would know when a legitimate grievance has been answered.

Still, the matter is not quite over.

Monday, 22 April 2013

SMALL POPULATIONS AND GUT WRENCHING DECISIONS

The ruckus over the St. Brendan’s ferry, earlier this year, and the Budget allocation of $275, 000 to assist families with community relocation has given new focus to an old issue; the unviability of declining NL rural communities.  It is a sensitive subject and one that Governments, since Smallwood, have approached carefully. The cost to the public purse, of the most sparsely populated islands, is absurdly high.  The residents of many of these communities must know it is not sustainable.

St. Brendan’s is one example. The community’s small population has dwindled to 140; fewer during the winter.  The population statistics do not vary a lot whether the subject is Rencontre, Petite Forte or Long Island.
Every island, St. Brendan’s, Ramea or one of the others, sees itself differently.  Certainly none, so far, wish to be seen in a category with Little Bay Islands. A sizeable number of the latter’s residents (72%), voted for relocation last year; though the community still failed to meet the Government’s arbitrary benchmark of “…ninety percent or more” to trigger relocation assistance.   While they were given a closed hand, the Government’s gesture had none of the hallmarks of malice. 

Thursday, 18 April 2013

REFLECTIONS ON THE GERRY ROGERS AFFAIR

Many people, including some not normally preoccupied with political issues, were forced to take notice of the shoddy treatment of the St. John’s Centre NDP MHA, in the House of Assembly, on Tuesday. As much as I tried, I am unable to remember another political event that arose as suddenly or as forcefully; such was the magnitude and immediacy of the firestorm. Of course, the Gerry Rogers Affair was all backlash. 

Over forty thousand people responded to a VOCM on-line Poll, two-thirds of whom expressed a view that was unfavourable to the Government’s position. Thousands took to Facebook and Twitter, too, using their favourite social media to communicate with the like-minded and to give rebuke to the Premier, the Government and to the Speaker of the House of Assembly.  
How could I not think: if only such a reaction had erupted over Muskrat Falls?

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

HOUSE SPEAKER AN EMBARRASSMENT TO HIS OFFICE

In a display of partisanship, fundamental unfairness to the Member for St. John’s Centre, Gerry Rogers, and unspeakable bad judgement, House of Assembly Speaker Ross Wiseman engaged in a political hatchet job on Tuesday, with the Government, to embarrass the NDP.  

The House of Assembly is more than a place where laws are made.  It is a debating forum where the people’s issues are supposed to be given light by their elected representatives. The cut and thrust of debate often has a contentious quality.  It is the Speaker’s role to ensure that it is conducted in an atmosphere of decorum, failing which the disrespectful (including any who fail to comply with a ruling by the Speaker) are punished. 
For this reason the Speaker, though an elected partisan, must be one capable of rising above partisanship.  He must possess a good intellect, an ability to listen to the arguments of all parties and be capable of rendering a fair judgement.  In short, he must be one who is not possessed of an ‘apprehension’ of bias.    

Monday, 15 April 2013

THE PRISONERS OF DANNYVILLE

Dannyville is all the rage.  It’s all the townies talk about; the outports, too. 

Rural Newfoundland, now, more an idea than a place, readies itself.  Though baymen are scarcer than cod fish, hundreds of communities wait to be emptied.  There must be a few residents left, capable of raising a mortgage, that resettlement, the moratorium, Fort McMurray or the Avalon Peninsula has, so far, failed to dislodge.  All of them will be needed to populate the already iconic enclave; though, it is still barely a concept even among the somnolent planners at City Hall. 
The City of St. John’s has already discarded its zoning manuals as a compliant, though otherwise uninspired Mayor, and unanimous Council move, with deliberate haste, toward an approval process that, prior to ‘Dannymania’, always moved at something less than a glacial pace. 

Over the decades, the City has missed several opportunities to grow; though Mount Pearl and other towns have done little to distinguish themselves.  The seat of Government, once a suckling on an abundant fishery and now offshore oil, has been kind to St. John’s; its perceived greatness thrust upon it.  Like the expectant and the spoiled, it does not govern with the confidence of past achievements.  Its chief regard is for its entitlements so long embraced they just seem normal. 

Thursday, 11 April 2013

SAYING GOODBYE TO A FRIEND

As soon as the phone rang I knew something was amiss. Picking up the receiver, no voice could be heard, though I could sense the caller was doing his best to say an essential greeting. He tried again but a frustrated breath would only offer silence.  

Of course, the instant the phone rang, I recognized the caller. For some reason I just knew. I spoke softly into the receiver and said: don’t worry Uncle Gnarley, we’ll be right there.

Can a phone ring with urgency?  Is telepathy possible through the sheer force of one trying to reach out to another? 

These were the questions I pondered as my SUV hit the pavement in the direction of the Southern Shore. 

It was an unusual line of inquiry to be sure, and contained none of the more down-to-earth questions that typically preoccupied Uncle Gnarley and me.  At another time, I might have prodded the caller, demanding to know the nature of the upset. Did Kathy Dunderdale resign?  Has Jerome Kennedy lost his mind? 

Such questions would have served to tease him in advance of having my own dignity diminished by his harsh rebuke.  Intuitively, I knew this was not the right time for levity.   

Wednesday, 10 April 2013

TOM OSBORNE and LANA PAYNE on Different Pages

In a Telegram story by James McLeod, Saturday April 6, 2013, “MHA says deep budget cuts could have been avoided”, based upon an interview with Tom Osborne, the Member could not have better revealed the origins of the current Budget mess: 

“Sitting around the caucus table in 2008 and 2009, we were talking as a caucus that there was going to be a decrease in oil production, and a decrease in oil revenues, and the Atlantic Accord transfers were going to run out.  Yet the Budget continued to grow.  That’s the point that I’m making”, he said. “With the proper management, we could have been in the position where we had a slightly smaller budget without having to make the cuts today”.
There are those who think Government money is different than what you and I spend; that it has a pedigree that makes it special.  They want to join the legion of Governments for whom only the bondholders possess an ability to apply the fiscal brakes.

Monday, 8 April 2013

The Quest for McLeod’s ‘Deep Throat’

My wife often will ask ‘what do you enjoy about those frequent visits with that old Uncle Gnarley?’

She does not hide the fact that she is not enamored with the retired economist, believing him to be both opinionated, and supercilious, with perhaps too strong a preference for the drink.  Overall, she considers Gnarley to be a negative influence on her husband’s ‘pure disposition’. 
But what no woman can realize is that there is a special breed of man who enjoys nothing more than vigorous political debate, over a wee dram.  I am one of this special breed, and politics is my blood sport.  After 10 years of dormancy, the province’s political scene is now as exciting as the World Cup.   My wife’s protests are therefore like the vuvuzela, annoying but easily relegated to the subconscious.

So I was slightly battered, but full of enthusiasm, as I took the taxi down the shore to visit Gnarley.  Like any good athlete I was mentally preparing for the upcoming debate.  Considering the news of the past week, I suspected that this evening’s conversation would be about the austerity budget delivered by the Premier.  I was, therefore, armed with statistics, and opinions to ensure that a sensible debate would ensue. 

Saturday, 6 April 2013

Justice Minister Darin King: Slumber No More

On Thursday, this scribe posted a piece entitled “The Case of Kennedy vs. King".  The Post described how former Justice Minister and current Finance Minister had extracted excessive cuts to the justice system from a sleepy and naive Darin King, jeopardizing not just the proper functioning of the Justice system but threatening his chances of winning Kathy Dunderdale’s job. 

Both Kennedy and King want to be Premier.  King is not a lawyer and he is at a decided disadvantage in assessing the impact of Kennedy’s cutbacks to legal, administrative and other processes of our legal system.  On the other hand, it is tough to find a Cabinet post that enjoys as much unwarranted prestige given that legal ‘professionals’ run the show.  It is a great place for an ambitious politician to hang out in the “reeds” and to build stature while other Ministers deal with ceaseless demands and frequent public lashings.  
Kennedy, not content to see King get a free ride, had him set up for a hard landing.  But, Kennedy overplayed his hand. The cuts were too deep.  Even partisans could see that.
The public outcry was not only swift; it came from all parts of the legal system.

Thursday, 4 April 2013

THE CASE OF KENNEDY VS. KING

This case won’t be heard by any of the men and women of the blue robe and red sash. Judges have their role; but, in this narrative, it is one only of proximity.  The decision, I describe, is purely political.  The justice system may be affected, perhaps, profoundly. But, the full rationale for Jerome Kennedy’s assault on Newfoundland’s criminal justice system won’t be understood until after the next Tory Leadership Convention.

The so-called “austerity” Budget abolished the Family Violence Intervention Court, sent a number of Crown Prosecutors and Parole Officers packing and, among other measures, laid off 50% of the staff of the Office of the Sheriff.
The measures have been sold, to the public, as an integral part of the cost cutting program of the Dunderdale Government.  Yet, the cuts, in their totality, have no parallel.

Most people, because of their limited knowledge of how the justice system works, will find their impact difficult to assess.  These are not issues, anyway, that engender great public sympathy.  Few, except judges, lawyers, prosecutors, and advocates, give them any real thought, at least until an event transpires that compromises public security.  The public will get worked up, but only if a case is dropped after years of neglect by an overworked prosecutorial staff, if a parolee re-offends, who has been found not to have been properly monitored, or if there is a miscarriage of justice, once again.

Monday, 1 April 2013

BUDGET 2013. THE PAIN HAS ONLY BEGUN

John Meaney: Rant N' Roar
Likely, I was not the only one with a sense of unease after last week’s Provincial Budget.  Two essential facts remain inescapable.  The current fiscal mess is a product of poor management rather than one of resource revenue volatility.  Secondly, Budget 2013 makes abundantly clear that “right sizing” the public sector, after a decade of fast money, is easier said than done. 

A few weeks ago, the Minister of Finance threw out a forecast deficit of $1.6 billion.  In the end, the Budget recorded a deficit of $564 million.   
The Budget numbers are one thing, but the question most people want answered is: has the Government reclaimed control over spending now that per capita expenditures have reached 150% of the Canadian average? Have we backed away from the fiscal cliff?  Is the “10 year Sustainability Plan” a “fix” for bad budgetary behavior?