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.

Cathy Bennett embodies not just her own claims to a superior level of business and political acumen, but also the enormous public expectations those claims have fuelled. In contrast, her performance tells a different story — one that has a context akin to myth vs reality.

The Minister has barely tackled the province's fiscal problems. Her Department has become little more than an administrative conclave performing rote functions as it is deprived of an essential strategic role that has always afforded senior Finance officials the right to push more air. Now the real centre of power is the Executive Council.

That's the place from which has emerged "The Way Forward" — the government's glossy propaganda piece that plans to get you eating more fruits and vegetables. It pretends to have a grasp on solutions to our fiscal nightmare with similar sleight of hand. Little wonder insiders say that, for much of the past year, Bennett has been a very isolated figure within the Ball Administration.

My analysis of Bennett's position was that if Ball didn’t push her out of the Finance portfolio, she might deal with her own isolation and ineffectiveness.

After all, why would a politician — ostensibly a savvy one — share the Premier’s well-earned reputation for dithering... and the ignominy of history for having failed to deal with the Province’s most difficult and deepening fiscal crisis? Where does the word "savvy" even fit?

Bennett's press conference — called just before the House of Assembly recessed before Christmas and a "by invitation only" meet directed to four specific female members of the media — has the markings of a final card played in advance of a cabinet shuffle. It is true that few male or female MHAs exude the Minister's confidence. Therefore, it must have struck all the media — female and male — a bit strange that a "senior" Minister was having difficulty putting a bunch of ignorant anonymous misfits on social media in their place.

Finance is inherently a powerful Ministry. But power applied in any context has a fleeting quality: use it or lose it.

Notwithstanding the expectations of Bennett already noted, her pedestal might have been given elevation had she telegraphed that she planned to act as a counterweight to any stray from the fiscal problem. She could even have marked her territory as including a decisive say over Nalcor's right to squander money on the Muskrat Falls project. She certainly would have needed to acknowledge that her early cheerleading on the project was ill-advised. But had the Minister persisted as a salesperson favouring fiscal common sense — and a plan to deal with a problem for which the only Tory plan was "hope" — she might have been regarded as a "Super-Minister".

In many ways Bennett was not unlike former CEO Ed Martin — exposing inexperience in a job far larger than that for which she is qualified. As a result, she could be seen playing footsie with a Premier incapable of assessing policy options and their consequences.

Just as poor as her performance in the policy arena was the Minister's lack of skill in power politics — she having failed to secure key support within cabinet and the caucus for deeper cuts. Essentially she remained content in her self-importance as her colleagues voiced concern about re-election — and their pensions.

In the end, she gave her blessing to a litany of unpopular budgetary options, including the gas tax, the special levy, and the libraries fiasco — earning her public enmity. She has left a huge deficit largely unattended and the debt growing rapidly. She has watched Ball sink into a political quagmire — without demonstrating she is one bit more capable.

When the Premier's politicos figured out Bennett had no easy "fix" for falling polls, they cut her and her Department of Finance out of discussions as to how the Administration might recapture the public's favour. Ball — not surprisingly, given his own failings — decided that the insincere (fake) "solutions" of PR types held more political currency than any offered by his Minister.

Ball had even managed to get the new Clerk of the Executive Council — a straight arrow — to assume the Chair of the (fake) Muskrat Falls Oversight Committee. Just before Christmas, the Telegram also reported the Premier saying that the Budget was "full of tough choices and painful cuts" when, in the context of the size of the problem, it contained anything but.

Clearly the Liberals, like the Tories, have eschewed the truth as having any usefulness except to assure bad polling.

In short, financial leadership has given way to amateur hour — to the kind of deception packaged by second-string players like Siobhan Coady. A "Super Minister" would have none of that. Indeed, ambitious political types can't expect their career to be graphed like a contrived Nalcor demand chart justifying sanction. The public isn't always that blind.

Good politicians take risks in their advance to a higher rung. Some even put principle over politics. But Bennett could never perform the calculus of John Crosbie or Clyde Wells — opposing an icon required real courage. Neither has she taken the foolhardy gambit of Leo Barry in the Peckfor years. Risk is the possibility of getting lost in the backbench. That, evidently, is too high a price, when ostentation is an acceptable alternative to real power.

A more clever Minister would have quit, leaving behind a serious financial plan with real ideas, one that she — and the public — might acknowledge, later, was a missed opportunity.

Of course, I should stop having those fanciful expectations of quite ordinary people — and wait for the Cabinet shuffle.

Now for some acknowledgements...

I especially want to thank David Vardy and James L. Gordon, P.Eng (Ret'd) for their frequent contributions to the Blog, acknowledge articles written by Cabot Martin, Ron Penney, and JM, and thank new contributors in 2016 including Phil Helwig, P. Eng. (Ret'd), Frank Wright, Karl Sullivan, Joe Schell, P. Eng. (Ret'd), Gabe Gregory, and Bernard Lahey.

I have many hopes for 2017. One is that this Blog will attract contributing female writers. Now that third-party contributions have become a mainstay of the Uncle Gnarley Blog, gender balance among the scribes is a vital next step.

The fiscal position of the Province and Muskrat Falls will continue to dominate the news (and this Blog) as will the machinations of the political parties.

Contributors and I will attempt to explain the events and the issues, give them serious analysis, suggest options where appropriate, and lay blame when expediency, stupidity, and wilful deception are offered as substitutes for the public interest.

Hopefully, we will play some small role in inspiring informed conversation.


On that note, here are the "Top Ten" Posts for 2016:


     by A Concerned Newfoundlander and Professional Engineer




    CBC  by J.P Schell, P.Eng. (Retired)

    by James L. Gordon, P.Eng. (Retired)

    EXPERTS CONDUCT REVIEW  by James L. Gordon, P.Eng. (Retired)


      by Frank Wright

The “Editor's Picks” listed below represent stories that didn't make it into the "most popular" category. They contain compelling content and (I think) deserve another look.








Happy New Year to everyone,

Des Sullivan

28 comments:

  1. Congratulations Des for the valuable service you provide for frustrated and informed rate/taxpayers that are denied democratic input or an informed media.

    Your blog not only informs, it provides a forum for ideas, the lifeblood of a democracy.

    Best wishes for a successful upcoming year.

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    1. Bruno, even Russell at the Telly, for the start of this new year, says he can make mistakes (sometimes due to misinformation), and intends to own his mistakes and expects others to do likewise. Not sure if he intends to try and keep others accountable for mistakes, or just let them acknowledge it if they so chose. Given the false assumptions made that were grave mistakes, I hope Russell too, as well as Uncle Gnarley, intends to expose how and why they were made. Hope you agree.

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    2. Hope springs eternal in the new year.

      Russel acting like a journalist! What a concept.

      I hope that cat changes his stripes but history ain't with you,

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  2. You need to get some voices who are from the province, but outside the St. John's bubble.

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  3. Yupp throw a few baymen in the pile.....We have a few smarts also lol......Happy New Year Des to you and your family....From one baymen to another I enjoy your words of wisdom and know you are a good person...Keep it coming....

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  4. To reach a wider audience, items in this blog need to be memed like crazy so that they can be easily shared. Even corny things like Downfall/HitlerReacts with a rant about the North Spur would be great. Satirical work is also important. Is there anyone with the artistic skills of William Bonzai 7 (his work turns up on zero hedge). He also terms his work "visual combat". I would love to have him ridicule our oligarchy.

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    1. Yes, now, like buddy the "journalist" in the Pikachu costume?

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  5. Thank you for all your hard work and dedication Des. I for one appreciate it immensely. You are the only truth in NL. I tell everyone about this page. :)

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  6. Re: Cathy Bennett purported business "acumen", that's a laugh... channeling a former MUN math prof who's classes I had the pleasure of attending... you could take any old bum down on Water Street and train him how to become moderately successful at peddling franchised grease food, especially considering the hideous dietary habits of most NLers. The fact of the matter is that putting in charge of the finance portfolio one who has never done Business 101... one who has no formal training in basic business concepts such as compound interest formulae and linear regression theory... is just another lamentable example of the very limited talent that is, by and large, attracted to NL politics. On another related note, Bennett's recent publicity stunt regarding the social media nastiness directed at her was nothing more than a strategically-timed distraction to attempt to divert the attention of enraged taxpayers from the Liberal government's despicable decision on the MHA pension issue.

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    1. Cathy Bennet has been a very good business person, and a strong member of the community. We need more like her. We especially need more like her in politics. We are in a real mess in this province, and Kathy's problem is the Premier in my opinion. We need to cut spending by 10% (700 million). This means cutting a lot of jobs.

      The problem in NL is that this is impossible with the like of Jerry Earle, Lana Payne, and the other highly paid advocates who represent the unions. These lobbyist have so much sway in this province.

      It is our culture that our kids will have to emigrate to survive. As such we are happy enough to spend ourselves to oblivion, as long as it don't impact us individually.

      We have a lot of problems in this province. Ms. Bennett is not one of them.

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    2. Perhaps you should re-evaluate the intentions of those whom you would put on a pedestal, especially those who would see fit to better their own financial lot by partnering with out-of-province companies doing million$ in business with a Crown corporation responsible for perpetrating upon the NL people a taxpayer-funded boondoggle of epic proportion. Yes indeed this province has many problems, not the least of which is a childish naivete afflicting legions of its citizens... a childish naivete that time after time has been taken advantage of by unscrupulous Machiavellians and their operatives.

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    3. Agreed. Whether or not Ms. Bennett is a capable finance minister remains to be seen. I suspect she would like to target the public sector for layoffs however the premier and cabinet are certainly not on board.

      Re. Anonymous @ 13:01 I graduated MUN business school and would only say I can't help but wonder if this highly esteemed Math Prof ever ran a successful business...somehow I doubt it. Remember how the PC's and media trotted out Dr. Locke to wow us with wonderful economics theory. I seem to remember one quote in particular, "I didn't see that coming." BTW...he was referring to the collapse in oil prices.

      MUN has produced thousands upon thousands of graduates since the 60's. Unfortunately most are in the arts and education fields and that is what's attracted to politics.

      Keith

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  7. Keith, the Math prof quote was in reference to the sarcastically colourful hyperbole this particular prof was fond of using when fielding questions about obvious mathematical concepts he felt everyone in his class should know i.e. "You can take any old bum down on Water Street and train him how to prove that the integral of inverse x is the natural log of x." Or something to that effect. It wasn't meant to imply that a university prof would be any better or worse at running a successful business than, say, someone who only managed to attain a high school diploma. I invoked the quote simply to illustrate that attaining moderate success at running a franchised grease food joint, especially in a region where dietary habits border on a form of gastro-intestinal masochism, does not require a Warren Buffet-level of business wizardry to accomplish... in fact far from it. Those who might look up to the current finance minister as some sort fiscal Messiah or High Priestess of Finance merely because she happens to have achieved some degree of personal success in what are in general relatively simplistic, low risk business endeavours... would do well to keep that in mind.

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    1. I accept what you are saying however I would expect competency, not WB wizardry, from Mrs. Bennett.

      I just reviewed some stats that I put together some years ago. In May 2005 the entire provincial public sector was approximately 45,000 people. That's anyone who collects an income from the public purse. By March of 2010 that number had ballooned to approximately 58,000 an increase of almost 30%. What bothers me is the constant talk of spending being out-of-control. What was out-of-control was the Williams Administration. Is it any wonder they were weeping and cheering when he left.

      This, the size of the public sector, and Muskrat are the elephants in the kitchen right now and until they are dealt with "The Way Forward" is utter horseshit.

      Keith

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  8. Thanks for your commentary. It's valuable and appreciated by this reader. JH

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  9. Seems things things are looking up already for 2017, as I expected. According to the Telegram the majority of residents now oppose Muskrat Falls. A few months ago 55 percent supported it , now down to 45 percent.
    Most according to the poll, are now in agreement with the naysayers. ``If only Nalcor used their genius for good instead of evil`` to quote Maxwell Smart.

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  10. She is untrained; Ms. Bennett simply did what was expected of all McDonalds' franchisees.
    The government keeps increasing the taxes, and ignoring the real solution, which is simple: STOP SPENDING MONEY.
    We have to stop pandering by squandering. The politicians are pandering to get re-elected, and they do it by squandering our money. That has to stop.
    Government needs to cut back to the basics. Anything that is not needed, goes out the door to the market. Privatise all non-essential services.
    The university has to compete with their counterparts in Canada. Sell Crown land to people to develop. The island of Newfoundland has only half a million people on it, but yet it is not self-sufficient in beef, pork,grain, corn, or beef. We import most of our vegetables, and ALL of our fruit, from the mainland.We are self-sufficient in chicken, but it is subsidised by tax dollars. This is illogical: we have arable land, capable of producing our own food. The government should not get into agriculture, or subsidising it. It should sell land to be cleared and farmed.
    There's only one paper mill left. If you are reading this, you probably do not buy a newspaper anymore. So, why do we still have a department of forestry?
    Cut it, close it, and sell it off. Those are the first steps in triage.
    And for the love of god, STOP SPENDING MONEY.
    My wife and I will be retiring next year, and taking our pensions to the mainland with us. We will not be the only ones going on a one way trip.

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    1. Please see my comment above from 9:58 this morning.

      Keith

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    2. At the risk of mixing the metaphors, the elephant in the room is also a white elephant. However, the decision has been made to bash on with the Muskrat Falls project, despite the resultant crushing debt load.
      One might think that, having decided to let the wound bleed, the doctors might have been relieved. But, not yet. We do not have recall legislation. And so the juggernaut plows on, leaving us with over $50k per capita debt.
      Despite this, govt continues to squander money. Nobody is advocating closing the province down. However, the govt has to get serious about stopping the bleeding.
      Just one example is the $750,000 to study the "chunnel" to Blanc Sablon, Quebec. Surely, if there were any commercial viability to the idea, the private industry would have been vying for a chance to build it.
      Another example is supporting the arts. Why did we spend millions of dollars to subsidize a television series? If Republic of Doyle was any good, wouldn't it have paid for itself by commercial advertisers?
      In the 60s and 70s, we spent millions building Arts and Culture centers, most of which are almost always empty. If there is no market for these, why are the public underwriting them?
      The federal government has jurisdiction over fisheries. The federal department of health inspects food processing facilities. So, why do we need a provincial dept of fisheries? Shouldn't the market determine where the fish is landed and processed?
      We do need to spend money on health care, social services, education, public works and highways, and justice. But those departments could be run more efficiently. And all of the other departments could be cut, closed, or privatized.

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    3. Hear, hear! We too won't be hanging around this over-taxed rock any longer than is necessary to secure the pensions, and then it's across the Gulf for us. On a related note, I've also upped my RRSP contributions to the max so as to keep as much of my income as possible out of the grubby hands of the inept fools collectively referred to as the NL government. Paying taxes in this province is akin to rewarding incompetence.

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  11. While spending in all areas needs to be cut, and measures to permit private investment to expand, the elephant in the room is still Muskrat Falls.
    In the USA Trump wants to use his position to advance his family investments and ignores conflict of interest,
    Here Bennett was on the Board of Nalcor. She supported that boondoggle, and occupies a position in government to keep cash flowing to Nalcor to be wasted on a useless project.
    Indeed it is a giant leap to be successful in private business to the level of Bennett, to then become Minister of Finance.
    We have Stan Marshall trying to put on tract a boondoggle of a project that should never have been sanctioned. Surely Marshall much wish he could fire Bennett, who helped create this mess.

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  12. It seems that the steady decline of support by the public for Muskrat, now at just 45 percent (by the poll before the recent cost add on to 11.7 billion) should result in those in favour at just 10 or 15 percent by the time of the next election, and power rates about to double or more, and even further delays in schedule and project costs then at about 15 billion. What a great time it will be for present MHAs to be going back to the people for re-election, many seeking second term for their pension. How will they explain to the public in 3 years time their silence on letting this boondoggle continue in 2016 and 2017

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  13. The Muskrat Boondoggle........2017 and the story drags on......drags on because Premier Ball seems little concerned.
    I refer readers to Ed Holletts blog where there is a link to the interview with Ball yesterday with CBC`s Anthony Germain.......an excellent interview by Germain on the Muskrat issue
    1. Germain corrects Ball on the notion that Ball was against Muskrat from the start, citing the praise that Ball had given for the project. Ball`s only recourse was that he felt there may have been better options that were not evaluated.
    2. Germain puts it to Ball as to the fierce reaction that will be the consequence of doubling power rates, especially on lower and many middle class who cannot afford such high rates. Balls response was that the high cost Muskrat is to be blended with existing island lower cost power. However this is no answer, as even with this blending rates are set to double or more, as Muskrat cost delivered to the Avalon is more than 50 cents per kwh, so blending does not reduce the doubling of existing rates.
    3. Germain makes the point of the option of stopping Muskrat, that the suck cost of 6 billion seems better than expected costs of 12 billion or more. To this Ball says to stop still means addressing the need of additional reliable power for the island. And this is where Ball makes the same error as the Tories pre-sanction: there is no plan to evaluate such an alternatives, as there was not in 2011. Stan Marshall and Ball has no plan B.
    We know that island demand has dropped and expected to drop much more (that customers are moving to efficient heating). We know that Demand Management with Efficiency and Conservation has huge benefits ( and was not addressed in 2011). We know that some more wind energy has more potential and cost effective than assumed by Nalcor. And that we do have undeveloped hydro on the island that is cost effective. And that reliability for transmission from Labrador is doubtful (Liberty Report) such that Holyrood is still needed.
    Ball is unconcerned about wasting another 6 to 9 billion it seems, and wants no evaluation of alternatives....no Plan B. Ball`s plan is just to manage the worsening boondoogle, not to fix it.
    Winston Adams

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  14. Kleptocracy (from Greek: κλεπτοκρατία, klépto- thieves + -kratos rule, literally "rule by thieves")[1][2] is a government with corrupt rulers (kleptocrats) that use their power to exploit the people and natural resources of their own territory in order to extend their personal wealth and political power. Typically this system involves the embezzlement of state funds at the expense of the wider population, sometimes without even the pretense of honest service.

    The politicans refuse to stop MF because this province is functioning as a kleptocracy. MF is a massive theft of money from the credit facilities of this province, essentially stealing the future by guaranteeing insolvency. Those in power and benefiting from MF have no reason to stop MF because they stand to steal more money before it is finished. Many of your readers will feel that my point is extreme but it is the only conclusion I can come to. There is no rational explanation for the continued work at MF other than the financial enrichment of those involved. I encourage others to argue against my point and prove me wrong. However, unless this project stops and a full forensic accounting investigation takes place, we will be out of credit, out of cash, and out of luck with a few short years. The federally managed territory of Newfou dla d will follow shortly thereafter. Sad but true. Stolen under our noses.

    John D Pippy

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  15. In the interview mentioned with Ball, Germain mentioned the previous time thar Nfld was under severe financial stress when Premier Clyde Well went on TV and explained the dire situation. I remember this, and Well`s serious expression and tone.
    In contrast, Ball seems to have a constant half smirk expression on his face, and likewise his tone of voice indicates little concern. His best argument was that both Davis and Earle has said little that is constructive.But they are not in control, so is a lame excuse.
    WA

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  16. I think we have to remember the 1920s as well. That was a time of hopelessness and great financial difficulty. The result was Commission of Government in 1934.

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