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Thursday 30 March 2017


Cartoon Credit: Anthony Rockel
Don’t waste your time reading the Liberal Government’s Speech from the Throne. It contains the ramblings of a group that can’t put one foot in front of the other.

That is unfortunate. If there was ever a time when the province needed a clear plan and someone with the ability to communicate it, it is now. In the last Speech from the Throne, the Government promised “decisive actions… with Budget 2016 followed by… medium and long term actions…” Those are still absent. Then, too, it has been a year in which fumbling from library closures to Ed Martin’s severance compounded by Ball's own incapacity for articulation, has left the government severely weakened.

This year it needed to be ready with a coherent document that presaged a Budget styled for crisis. It could muster no such a strategic focus.

Monday 27 March 2017


Dr. Pat Parfrey
The number of people who turned out to hear well-known nephrologist (kidney specialist) and rugby coach, Dr. Pat Parfrey, kick off his lecture tour on behalf of a group called “Choosing Wisely NL” (CWNL) was far too small given that he had so many important things to say. 

CWNL, a program conducted by Memorial University's Faculty of Medicine in partnership with the Newfoundland and Labrador Medical Association, has been established to advance "the safe and appropriate use of health care resources," or what Parfey describes as the balance of benefits versus potential harms.

The small group of listeners belied the deepening concern over the financial crisis unfolding in our health care system, and its inescapable linkage with the even larger one facing the province. 

It is not often that the public, or even policy wonks, are treated to a blunt and politically unfettered chat about deep-seated problems and of an organized plan to fix some of them. But that is exactly what the long-practiced and straight-talking physician had on offer. Free of all the junk of professional ass-covering, the doctor’s frankness was refreshing.

Thursday 23 March 2017


The sudden cancellation of Backtalk with Pete Soucy, one of VOCM’s much-heralded talk show hosts, represents a significant loss to the public affairs arena of this province.

At first one might think that the axing of the popular writer, actor, comedian, and teacher should be treated as just another change in the minutiae of operating a radio station, and that cancellation of one of three shows is not a matter for those outside of corporate media to bother their little heads over.

But that is not the case.

Underscoring this decision by Steele Communications, the radio station’s owner, is the huge void that exists in a province bereft of public affairs analysis. After all, VOCM does news as poorly as the other media.

Monday 20 March 2017



Independent Dam Safety Review And Audit By Hatch
February, 2017

Guest Post by James L. Gordon, P. Eng. (Ret'd)

James L. Gordon, P. Eng.
I have read the "Hatch "Audit" released by Nalcor just a few days ago. The first issue that I noticed is that a company cannot “audit” its own work – it is a blaring conflict of interest, and I am surprised that Hatch accepted the assignment. Of course everything is perfect, why would Hatch say otherwise when commenting on their own work?

The second issue is that the report is limited to a review of the project management and operation – quote from slide 11 - “The objective of this presentation is to cover the results of a dam safety audit and overall review performed for the Muskrat Falls GS between January 29 – February 2, 2017” And – quote from slide 17 – “The review of the design of structures did not form part of this audit”.

So, the entire report can be deposited in File 13¹. Bearing this in mind – what is missing from the report? The immediate reply is no numbers! The entire report is based on the opinion of one geotechnical engineer, with no supporting documentation. I would have expected to see at least the following -

Thursday 16 March 2017


When the incumbent Liberal government is less popular than the Tories – booted out of office just sixteen months ago - rumours that some key members of the Liberal caucus are looking for a new leader just makes sense.

The most recent Poll by Corporate Research Associates puts support for the P.C’s at 39% (up from 34%) compared with 33% for the Liberals – a drop of 9% since November 2016. The NDP benefitted from the Liberals' loss by 3%, raising their popular support to 26%.

The decline in Liberal fortunes is manifested by the poor grade given the Government’s performance. Now, a whopping 71% are dissatisfied on some level compared with 59% in the last quarter.  Personal support for the Premier rests at a mere 21% - down from 27%. Support for Davis also dropped by 2 points to 33% from 35%, though his intention to step down makes the number irrelevant.  NDP McCurdy's cold fire got icy as support declined to 26% from 28%.  

What are we to make of those new Poll numbers?

Monday 13 March 2017


During the Budget Update in October 2016, the CBC quoted the Minister of Finance saying that "the seriousness of the fiscal situation remains and needs to be addressed". Bennett added that the government is still projecting a surplus for 2022-23.

The target assumes the eradication of a $1.58 billion deficit —  just on the current account.

The province is forecast to borrow $2.9 billion in the 2016-17 fiscal year alone. 

The figure may go higher when the $800 million settlement with Astaldi is accounted for.

Debt charges and other financial expenses are just under $1.0 billion this year and climbing fast  a matter to which I will return. Nalcor’s champagne taste is not a separate issue, as many pretend. Nor is the Capital Account.

Debt servicing and related expenditures  including deferred pension contributions  constitute the second largest expenditure of the government, following health care.  That is serious biz.

Last fall the Minister substituted the government’s promise of a “mini-budget” with blather. She should have invoked the challenge for which the Jewish religious leader Hillel is credited: “If not us, who? If not now, when?”

Thursday 9 March 2017


Guest Post By David Vardy

The Liberty Group has just reported to the PUB dealing with reliability and supply issues prior to the connection with Muskrat Falls. In this report Liberty notes that NL Hydro has significantly reduced its load forecast over the past 18 months, leading to the conclusion that little if any additional capacity is needed. However, Liberty challenges the assessment of Hydro on its overly optimistic diagnosis of the operating condition of diesel and gas fired generation capacity on the Island and its readiness to provide reliable power up to the interconnection with Muskrat Falls. Liberty also poses the question as to whether we are ready in the event of a two year delay in completing the Muskrat Falls project to 2022-23.  

Monday 6 March 2017


Guest Post by “JM”

“If you are ignorant of both your enemy and yourself, you are certain to be in peril”                  - Sun Tzu

One thing that is admirable about the original Upper Churchill contract is its efficient use of the English language.  The 1969 Power agreement is succinct, simple to follow, clear in its expectations of both parties, and enforceable - as has been demonstrated on multiple occasions – to our great loss.

It is the polar opposite of the agreements between Nalcor and Emera on the Muskrat Falls Project. Twenty-six separate legal agreements, constituting 5000 pages of legal language, are used to manage its vast array of terms. You won't find anything succinct in them. They are repetitive, are not simple to follow, nor clear in terms of expectations. 

My initial impression of the contracts, after their release in 2014, was that they were conceived by executives of regulated companies who were advised by lawyers working on reimbursable fee structures.  They were, and I expect will continue to be, the legal equivalent of a make-work project.

Thursday 2 March 2017


Nothing more will happen with respect to the severance of former Nalcor CEO Ed Martin. 

Most people will just feel dismay over the role of the Premier and the former Nalcor Board in the affair. They will also let the Auditor General's Report compound their distress and chalk up to immature institutions those things they associate with poor public administration.

Still, Ed Martin’s severance and the handling of the issue by the Auditor General (A-G) deserve comment.

In the first place, the political furor that followed news of the payment forced Premier Ball to refer the issue to someone. It didn’t have to be the A-G.

Ball chose the accountant when someone schooled in the law preferably a Judge would have been a more appropriate adjudicator.