Monday, 11 October 2021

DON’T BE 'FUELLED' BY HIGH OIL PRICES

If you visited the pumps lately, you likely came face to face with oil prices north of $1.60/L. The pricing pressure begins downstream; Brent crude/barrel hit US$85.00 last week. 

Some analysts suggest that if the resurgence in airline travel and underinvestment in exploration activity is combined with other events, such as a colder-than-usual winter, the result could be $100/barrel oil! 

That’s great, isn’t it! Well, not really; when unexpected developments occur, there are always winners and losers, too. 

In this case the general public will likely see themselves the losers; the provincial government may be the temporary winner. But don’t jump to conclusions before I have a chance to burst that little bubble. 

In this province, oil revenues represent the glue of solvency, even if it isn’t actually true. That is the job of “faith”, mostly of the bondholders, which is derived from the perceived goodwill of the Government of Canada. 

"Faith" having been invoked, we’ll come to those possessing “hope” shortly. 

This year’s provincial Budget was based on a price projection of $US64.00 per barrel. Provided that the $C/$US exchange rate averages 79.6 cents, each additional $US/barrel represents an additional $19.0 million to the provincial coffers. So far in 2021, the average exchange rate favours this budgetary assumption but because average oil prices also stayed close to GNL’s forecast, any uptick in revenue may only be modest. 

Next year might bring better news, if high oil prices persist and don’t cause a tailwind of inflation and interest rate hikes. 

To the point, however, even if oil returns additional royalties of a couple hundred million dollars or so, will it really matter? 

The last time oil prices spiked the move made our politicians crazy. Government became so inebriated on spending and deficit financing that spiking oil prices may never go high enough again to meaningfully resolve our fiscal predicament. 

It is worth remembering that NL has a structural deficit of around $2 billion. Borrowing for capital account – infrastructure – adds roughly another billion onto the deficit. The requirement to borrow $3 billion each year – not including the shortfall required by Muskrat Falls “rate mitigation” – remains a sobering state of affairs. GNL uses accounting trickery to distort this truth but the perception won’t endure. 

Against those numbers, even an additional two hundred million dollars from royalties is not curative; in the hands of spenders it might even serve as fuel for more spending. 

This brings me to the nub of the issue: though the Furey Administration was returned to Office in March, not a word has been heard on a plan to curtail program costs. Such a plan is the only real solution to our deficit woes and even this effort must be combined with a lot of luck (i.e. high oil prices, low inflation, and continued low interest rates). 

I took out my copy of the PERT Report recently. That’s the one which Premier Furey put Moya Greene and a Committee of capable people to work on our fiscal mess. The Report was not perfect, but it contained important elements of a plan for fiscal repair. Perhaps you will remember one particular revelation. The Report noted: 

Adding in estimated borrowings to cover the 2020-21 shortfall of approximately $2.8 billion, brings the total public sector debt obligation to $47.3 billion - the equivalent of $182,000 for every worker or $215,000 for every household in the province.

That was sobering, especially when the figures eluded mention of even the Office of the Auditor General. 

The PERT Report stated that if Newfoundland and Labrador’s per capita program spending was in line with that of other provinces, program expenses would have been $1.18 billion less in 2019-20. This means that at least some measure of a solution, though not the whole one, is possible if only the will could be found. 

Among other ideas, the Report proposed:

- Balanced Budget Legislation, legislation which “would encourage everyone, not only politicians, to work within a fiscal framework.”

- 50 per cent of oil and mineral royalties should be considered in expenditure planning; the rest should be paid on debt or placed in a Future Fund.

It does seem absurd to be talking “Future Fund” when you are up against an annual $3 billion deficit and a $47 billion total provincial debt. But everyone conveys the prospect of hope differently. I’m not big on hope except when it comes to weather; I prefer a realistic repair plan and sticking to it - come hell or high water. Admittedly, it is a difficult sell when partisan politics trumps common sense.

When, eventually, GNL has to admit that even $85+ per barrel is no better plan than “hope”, one can always wonder if the dust settling on the PERT Report is a consequence of Premier Furey’s big “reimagining”.  Decisions, not deydreaming, is what creates real change.

The public ought to be demanding a program of expenditure reduction, even if the likelihood of any appearing seems delusional.

They should also see an accounting for the Muskrat “rate mitigation” calculations so that they fully understand the assumptions on which revenue forecasts are based for the capital and O&M costs. Transparency demands that they be permitted to come face to face with the amounts unaccounted for by the promise of Federal generosity and the rhetoric of other sources, which an empty provincial Treasury will be expected to fill. 

This might even be accompanied by forecasts of domestic power demand for the next five years, which Nalcor always exaggerates; lower demand, in this case, puts upward pressure on rates just to even out revenues. 

The merger of Nalcor and NL Hydro has been announced. An able Premier would inform us of the efficiencies achieved to date. 

Having buried the PERT Report, he could also tell us why the healthcare “reimagining” of Dr. Pat Parfrey and Sister Elizabeth Davis will be treated any differently. Perhaps, it’s not only the bondholders who have faith. 

Otherwise, considering the ferry procurement management disaster reported on the the A-G, reminiscent of some of the goings-on that occurred during the Muskrat Falls pre and post sanction period, the Premier ought to be reporting on whether NL still has a competent senior public service. Perhaps he can tell us what has changed and why we should believe that they would not mess up any plan of fiscal reform. 

The public cannot rely on the Tories for any such discussion; those specic cases occurred on their watch.  

On the larger issue, however, high oil prices are only an aggravation at the pumps; they are not a source of hope even if the politicians say otherwise. 

But if “hope” works for you, who am I to argue.

Monday, 4 October 2021

DANNY WILLIAMS: Bottom Feeders and Naysayers

Guest Post by Ron Penney

On September 15th, Memorial hosted a conference on the “Economic snd Fiscal Trajectory of Newfoundland”. 

I took a miss once I saw the program and the list of speakers, including Mr. Williams. I suspected the day would not be very edifying. 

A program on our fiscal situation which didn’t include Dame Moya Greene, or a member of her committee, or the Auditor General, the Parliamentary Budget Officer, all of whom have extensively reported on our dire financial situation, but did include the author of much of our current problems, didn’t inspire much confidence. I thought it would be a waste of a day and it would appear I was right. 

What possessed the conference organizers to give a forum to Mr. Williams to spout, unchallenged, his usual nonsense about Muskrat Falls and to continue his diatribe against the critics of the project? At the very least they should have given us equal time! 

Monday, 30 August 2021

THE MUSKRAT FALLS HOUSE OF CARDS - POSTPONING THE DAY OF RECKONING

Guest Post by Ron Penney

I, and some of my fellow naysayers, have been trying to understand the latest scheme for rate mitigation, announced just before the calling of the federal election.

There was very little information given out when it was announced but we have gotten our hands on the technical briefing given to the press at the announcement and a senior official has kindly agreed to meet with some of us on two occasions to discuss the plan, to answer some of our questions and to take other questions under advisement. 

In addition, the agreement in principle on the financing components of the deal together with an exchange of letters on the Hibernia revenues between the Premier and the Deputy Prime Minister are on the website of Intergovernmental Affairs. 

Monday, 23 August 2021

IMPROVING LITERACY IN NEWFOUNDLAND

Guest Post by Catherine Penney

Improving Literacy in Newfoundland and Labrador

The Greene (PERT) Report includes a statement that “K-6 classroom teachers no longer graduate from Memorial with adequate skills to reach these subjects”, the subjects being reading and mathematics. According to the Pan-Canadian Assessment Program in the years 2007, 2010, and 2013, reading achievement in Newfoundland was significantly below the Canadian average. According to the more recent Southam survey, Newfoundland has the highest rate of illiteracy of any province in Canada. In Newfoundland and Labrador, 44% of the people of Newfoundland and Labrador cannot read. 

If Newfoundlanders and Labradorians are to have good jobs, they must be able to use the complex technology now available and also future technology. To keep up, workers must be highly literate.

Monday, 16 August 2021

RATE MITIGATION: FUREY'S DECEPTION

As much as Premier Furey proclaimed, alongside PM Trudeau, that Newfoundland and Labrador negotiated a successful “rate mitigation” plan, no deal was struck that even slightly got the “Muskrat off our back”.

The plan simply does not contain the elements required to protect the public from unaffordable energy costs – except for just a few years. Then the problem will have only grown bigger. 

It is disappointing that the media were taken in by the propaganda and hoopla generated by the PM’s visit, reminiscent as it was of the manner which they treated Danny Williams’ announcement of the Muskrat Falls project in the first place.

Thursday, 12 August 2021

RATE MITIGATION: DR. FUREY'S FALSE DIAGNOSIS

Guest Post by PlanetNL

PlanetNL39: Dr. Furey’s False Diagnosis

Premier’s Rate Mitigation Plan is a Bust

In his old profession, Dr. Furey could never get away with giving a terminally ill patient a pain killer and proclaiming to them that they are cured.  In politics though, he is shamelessly practicing that game to the fullest.  If you believed his July 28 grandstand with his pal the Prime Minister was indeed a good and permanent rate mitigation solution for Muskrat Falls, then you have taken his bait, hook, line, and sinker. 

There is very little in the announced Agreement in Principle that permanently decreases the cost of Muskrat to be borne by ratepayers.  This post will explain the problems and risks of five of the six measures that were announced as the rate mitigation solution.  It will also identify additional risks to demonstrate how impossible the task it is to have ratepayers pay for Muskrat.  But that won’t stop the politicians from trying to do it anyway.

Monday, 26 July 2021

STAN MARSHALL'S TENURE SAYS AS MUCH ABOUT US AS IT DOES HIM (PART 2)

The Report of the Commission of Inquiry named the chief culprits of the Muskrat fiasco as Ed Martin, Gilbert Bennett and the PMT. Some of the originals, including Bennett and Harrington, were permitted to keep their positions. The Commissioner’s conclusion evokes a number of questions including whether Stan Marshall was the right person for the job.

Last week’s piece concluded that he was not. 

More important for this conversation, is the Government’s relationship with Marshall, the public’s reaction to their hands-off approach, and the worry that our expectations of  politicians and public servants remain low.

Let’s start here.

What is Muskrat’s status five years after Marshal’s arrival? 

Monday, 19 July 2021

ASSESSING STAN MARSHALL'S TENURE AT NALCOR (Part 1)

As Stan Marshall headed for the exit at Nalcor Energy on June 10th – the Annual General Meeting completed, and the media given something akin to an oratorio on his own tenure – he might have been expecting public applause for a job well-done. After five weeks there is no echo to be heard – there having been not a sound!

Marshall reminded us that he arrived at Nalcor at a time of crisis – which is true.

He also suggested that after five years of giving the Crown Corporation his guiding hand, everything about the Muskrat Falls project is under control – which is not true.

Nor does his claim hold water that Nalcor’s expertise is something the province can’t do without.

Monday, 12 July 2021

RATE MITIGATION: FOOL ME TWICE…

Throughout the Nation’s Capital and beyond, the loud drumbeat of an impending General Election is heard. The pundits forecast that the new GG will be asked to dissolve Parliament around the end of August. That may leave as little as six weeks for PM Trudeau to stop dithering over “rate mitigation” and address the Muskrat Falls debacle.

Newfoundlanders are doing themselves no favours ignoring the fact that such an agreement remains outstanding.

The public are witnesses to Premier Ball’s failed attempt but have learned little from the experience.

Ball’s good intentions are echoed by Premier Andrew Furey who seems content if a deal is done by November though he has no proof such an outcome is assured.

By then, Ottawa will have forgotten – again - that this place exists.

Monday, 5 July 2021

BLOCKCHAIN MINING AN ALTERNATIVE FOR LABRADOR POWER WITH GREATER PROFIT

PlanetNL38: Large Pent-Up Demand For Power in Labrador

An Alternative to Export With Greater Profit

Ready for some eye-popping news?  NL Hydro has received more than enough requests in a relatively short period, to not only sell out all Muskrat Falls energy but they also have enough demand to sell all Churchill Falls energy if they had it available.  Yes, every watt generated would go just to meeting this backlog of power requests and its all in Labrador – potentially nothing would have to flow through Hydro-Quebec.  If only this year was 2041!

This must be great news for rate mitigation then?  Not in the slightest really.  You see, all this demand is focused on solely the Labrador Interconnected System (LIS), home to the cheapest utility rates in North America.  Current rates are set so low, Government would be unwise to allow the connection of any new customer in the area.  There is more money to be made selling the power out of province.

How messed up is that?

Monday, 28 June 2021

DAVID VARDY'S TEN COMMANDMENTS FOR RATE MITIGATION

Guest Post by David Vardy

THE DECALOGUE: THE TEN COMMANDMENTS FOR RATE MITIGATION

Introduction

The silence on rate mitigation is too deafening. The public needs to know what is happening and what objectives are front and center in the negotiations, now led by former Nalcor Chair Brendan Paddick. We need to adopt a set of principles or criteria, which can both guide the negotiations and measure their success. This post is an attempt to propose ten “commandments” for successful rate mitigation. Because the “misguided” Muskrat Falls project and its impacts on the province are of such “Biblical” proportions it is appropriate to invoke the Mosaic law of the Decalogue, The Ten Commandments.

Premier Andrew Furey was first sworn in as Premier of Newfoundland and Labrador on August 19, 2020. He appointed Brendan Paddick as chair of the Rate Mitigation Team on September 25, 2020. This signalled that the rate mitigation plan announced on April 15, 2019 by Premier Dwight Ball remained unfinished. It also signalled that the progress reported by Premier Ball and regional Minister Seamus O’Regan at a press conference on February 10, 2020 had not advanced as planned and needed a “reset” and a new Team.

Thursday, 24 June 2021

EVER WONDER ABOUT THE VALUE OF GULL ISLAND AND CHURCHILL FALLS?

Guest Post by PlanetNL

PlanetNL37: Market Valuations for Gull Island and Churchill Falls

Plus The Atlantic Loop and A Curious Re-Analysis of Muskrat Falls

PlanetNL36 provided an analysis of the fair market value of Muskrat Falls based on prevailing wholesale electricity rates.  The analysis concluded that the project would be completely incapable of generating any net earnings to put toward return on debt or equity. Worse again, like a true boondoggle it could continue losing money after it is put into operations.  The Muskrat project should never have made it beyond round one of screening alternatives, let alone been sanctioned and built.  That Nalcor and Government sanctioned a project that forced ratepayers to pay ten times greater than market price, and with cost overruns more than twenty times market price, is an obscenity.

The same methodology for economic worthiness is used to consider the market value of the potential Gull Island project and the Atlantic Loop.   In addition, it will be used to put an estimate on the 2041 market value of Churchill Falls.  Plus, one final look at Muskrat will consider whether the project in a lesser form might have been more viable.

To better understand the methodology, be sure to read PlanetNL36 first.

Monday, 21 June 2021

THE HARD TRUTH ABOUT THE VALUE OF THE MUSKRAT FALLS PROJECT

Guest Post by PlanetNL

PlanetNL36: A Market Value Estimate of the Muskrat Falls Project

Simple Calculations Reveal Hard Truths

Have you wondered what the $13.1B Muskrat Falls project would be worth if it were treated as a business that had to fairly compete on the wholesale energy market?  Was it even worth the original cost estimate of $7.4B indicated by Nalcor at the time of sanction?

This post uses a simple economic analysis method useful for determining the fair market value of most any business or to determine if a project concept may be viable.  The accuracy of the method mainly relies on inputting honest numbers. 

This is the analysis Nalcor would not do and still refuses to acknowledge.  You will see why.

Monday, 14 June 2021

TERRA NOVA - IS THERE ANOTHER WEAPON IN OUR ARSENAL?

 Guest Post by Ron Penney

We’ve been told that the drop dead date for the sanctioning of the refit for the Terra Nova FPSO is June 15th and that the decision must be unanimous among the partners. Every indication is that there isn’t unanimity and that the likely result will be that the refit will not go ahead and the field will be decommissioned and abandoned. 

The Official Opposition has disclosed a briefing note from provincial officials on the possibility of the province taking an equity position in the project. This would have been a mistake given our dire fiscal situation. We can’t afford to take any more risks. Muskrat Falls, I rest my case. 

I’m pleased that the government just announced that they aren’t going to go down that road.

Taking an equity position would require even more borrowing,  exposing ourselves to further  credit rating downgrades, already trending downwards. Once the ratings get to the point that they are no longer investment grade, they would be junk bonds attracting higher rates of interest, assuming anyone would lend us more money. 

Friday, 11 June 2021

NALCOR ANNUAL REPORT: THE BAD NEWS STAN MARSHALL FAILED TO RAISE

Guest Post by PlanetNL 

PlanetNL35: Nalcor 2020 Annual Report Released

A Document in Search of Good News

It was a foul day outside so what is a dog to do but read the Nalcor Financial Statements and catch up on the latest numbers as Stan Marshall says farewell at the morning press conference.  This short post delivers two notable items of public interest that went unacknowledged by the executive team at the event.

Big Losses in Oil and Gas

Somehow the loss of $49M in 2020 on “settlement of commodity swap contracts” did not get much attention.  Nalcor did talk at length about oil prices tanking and recovering but not this item.  To do so would be to admit management error. 

The power of déjà vu says we have been here before.  Uncle Gnarley rightly chastised Nalcor for the loss of $66.9M in 2017 on a pure financial gambit after receiving $1.8B in funds through the second Federal Loan Guarantee to keep the Muskrat Falls project going.  That was reckless and ugly.  Parking the cash safely was not good enough.

Tuesday, 8 June 2021

Government Accountable for $1B+ Giveaway to the Iron Ore Mining Sector (Update)

 PlanetNL34 Addendum: Additional Information On Labrador Industrial Rate Policy

On the same day as PlanetNL34 was posted on the Uncle Gnarley blog, some pertinent information was discovered while researching for future postings.  The query into Government inaction on the Labrador Industrial Rates Policy (LIRP) is no longer a mystery: It was indeed implemented. 

An evidentiary trail of breadcrumbs led to finally finding the LIRP revenue stream in an unexpected place.  This means some key errors were made in PlanetNL34 that will be corrected and clarified here.  At the same time, Government is by no means absolved as they substantially failed to capitalize on the opportunity, and they appear to have committed to the deed until 2041.

Monday, 7 June 2021

TIME FOR IRON ORE MINING SECTOR TO PAY FAIR MARKET ELECTRICITY RATES

Guest Post by PlanetNL

PlanetNL34: Labrador Industrial Rate Policy Overdue for Revision

(With Update - June 8, 2021)

The price paid for electricity by the Iron Ore Company of Canada (IOC) in Labrador City and Tacora Resources, the new operator of the Scully Mine in Wabush, is very low.  It is shockingly low.  

According to a footnote found in the 2017 General Rate Application submitted to the Public Utilities Board (PUB) by NL Hydro, the blended cost for the Labrador Industrial Rate that is specific to only the Labrador West iron ore mines was a miniscule 0.315 c/KWh.

The mining companies are getting record high iron ore prices these days and sending their profits not just out of province but out of country.  Providing them electricity at giveaway pricing is a practice that needs to end right away.  They can easily pay a fair price for electricity and would still make enormous profit.

The Provincial Government, despite their talk of desperate need for rate mitigation, is apparently happy to let the giveaways continue.  This post shows the opportunity cost of Government’s blatant negligence.

Tuesday, 1 June 2021

BUDGET 2021: LOOKS A LOT LIKE JIGGERY POKERY

If you hoped for something more than rhetoric from Premier Furey’s ebullient Minister of Finance or a definitive response to the debt crisis of the Province, you won’t find it in the 2021-22 Budget.

Furey likely didn’t need much reason to delay fiscal repair, but he found it (ostensibly) in a rebound in revenues; from a one-time cash payment of $325 million from the federal government to aid the oil industry, other federal-provincial cost-sharing agreements, and higher oil revenues ($1.1 billion up from $567 million).

The Government boasts revenue projections for 2021-22 of $8.5 billion, an increase of $1.4 billion over 2020-21. The figure contrasts with revenues projected on a “cash” basis of only $6.48 billion. That is a big difference based solely on accounting methodology.

Frankly, the Government’s “accrual” figures look a lot like jiggery pokery! 

Thursday, 27 May 2021

THE GHOST OF SIR RICHARD WEIGHS: A BUDGET PRIMER

 When Finance Minister Siobhan Coady rises in the House on May 31 to deliver the Furey Government’s first Budget, it will be a test not of her resolve, but of the Premier’s determination to give NL the financial leadership that recent Premiers — from Williams to Ball — refused, or were incapable of providing.

This is Premier Furey’s day. The big question is: in place of leadership will we hear only echoes of NL history’s famed bad boy, Sir Richard Squires, whose Administration in the 1930s offered to sell Labrador for $110 million?1 

Hopefully, the Premier will be remembered for more noble reasons. Except, Furey has not yet made a single decision about anything important, so we will have to reserve judgment on this, and on his courage, too.

Moya Greene, notwithstanding the deficiencies of the PERT Report, essentially told the Premier that we have arrived at, in the vernacular, a ‘come to Jesus’ moment.

Monday, 24 May 2021

IS IT POSSIBLE TO ELIMINATE THE DEFICIT IN NL?

Guest Post by PlanetNL

PlanetNL33: Deficit Elimination? NL is Too Far Gone

A Pessimistic Interpretation of the Greene Report 

Moya Greene’s “Big Reset” Report, the final product of the Premier’s Economic Recovery Team, has done a dashing job of showing exactly where and how to eliminate this Province’s deficit plague.  Well done, let’s get started, right?  Not so fast.

Upon consideration of the underlying issues, the prescribed budget cuts and taxation increases will face insurmountable challenges.  It is clear upon second reading that Greene chose her numbers despite their improbability - she has developed a plan on paper that is impossible to deliver.  If this were a business plan submission, she has failed because there is no consideration of the many execution challenges.

The Report is not a failure, however, in the sense that it now makes our problem much clearer to see.  The financial state of the Province is well beyond any remedy that can be devised independently as a Province.  The Report does successfully show that insolvency is indeed at our door and there is no solution other than for the Federal Government to step in and help clean up the mess. 

Monday, 17 May 2021

Self reliance or Commission of Government? The choice is ours.

Guest Post by Ron Penney 

I don’t really think we will have the second Commission of Government, it will likely be some faceless federal bureaucrat in the bowels of the Confederation Building managing our finances. We may retain the fiction of responsible government with none of the powers. 

The Greene Report has for the first time added up all our debt and busted this artificial construct of net debt, mandated by the arcane rules of the accounting profession. The amount is staggering: $39 billion, $12.6 billion added in the past 12 years. And when the unfounded pension liability and other exposures are added in, it goes up to $47.3 billion,  $215,000 for each household in the province. 

Cash deficits have averaged $1.9 billion over the past 7 years. 

Who’s to blame? 

Monday, 10 May 2021

THE "BIG RESET": TIME TO WAKE UP. TIME TO ACT.

Summary

The PERT Report, titled the “Big Reset”, authored by Moya Greene, has been already greeted with derision by labour and others in denial. A public debt of nearly $50 billion seems still insufficient proof that the economy can never thrive by “spending our way to prosperity”. 

Let's face facts. NL is effectively insolvent. Greene’s proposal to lower spending by around $1.4 billion is a best case scenario - not the likely one; the likely one is far worse. When the challenge is so large, and the options so few, any plan of repair is devastating. 

Moya Greene can't be faulted for this; any deficit of her making lies in the fact that she wrote 338 pages and another 67 pages of executive summary to convey the team's ideas. Five pages of straight talk might have been more effective. As it is, the focus of the Report is diverse; some important issues are not addressed clearly enough. 

Thursday, 6 May 2021

MOYA GREENE'S (DREADFUL) ECONOMIC RECOVERY (YOUTUBE) RELEASE

The only important thing that the public should do right now is become informed of what Moya Greene and the Premier's Economic Recovery Team (PERT) are proposing. That is why I am providing a Link to Greene's remarks. It is always better to hear it for yourself rather than through someone else's lens. 

I have only begun examining the PERT Report. So far, I  am disturbed by much of what I am reading. I am hoping to be able to wade through this blizzard of buzzwords layered with a misunderstanding of the social and economic impacts of the fiscal measures (cutbacks) proposed. On Monday I will offer my view of what, so far, I have concluded is someone's fanciful (green) version of Danny Williams' energy warehouse. Until Monday. - Des Sullivan


Monday, 3 May 2021

HOW SEAMUS O’REGAN HELPED WRITE FUREY'S THRONE SPEECH

If you were looking for an adage that perfectly describes the lost opportunity represented by the recent Speech From the Throne, it is this: “You cannot solve what you don’t understand.” Otherwise, think of the Speech as the new fairy tale economic narrative, "sunny ways", spun by the city-folk of Central Canada, with the inspiration of the PM. 

At the outset, the Address by the Lieutenant Governor, read at the start of each new Session of the Legislature, is commonly laden with regurgitated bureaucratese, rather than a strong message of intent describing the Government's "thinking" and its priorities. This time, while mercifully brief, the Speech was long enough to confirm that the Furey Administration has not a clue about virtually anything. 

It is fine to look for expertise from Dame Moya and her Committee, or to Dr. Pat Parfrey and Sister Elizabeth Davis. They are specialists on whom Government relies to define a path and help guard against the Administration going off madly in all directions. But when the Government embraces a version of Canada that is at best fanciful, offering no grounded view or recognition of the raison d'etre of the Province over which it governs, or why the economy is structured as it is, Greene, Parfrey and Davis are just swimming upstream against a current certain to drown their best efforts, and our essential livelihoods, too.

Monday, 26 April 2021

NL NEEDS MORE THAN AN ECONOMIC RECOVERY PLAN - ECONOMIST

I wish to express my gratitude to Kam Hon Chu and Policy Options for giving me permission to republish this much needed Paper dealing with NL's existential fiscal crisis. 

- Des Sullivan


Newfoundland and Labrador needs more than an economic recovery plan

Now that the dust has settled after the election in Newfoundland and Labrador, attention shifts to the Premier’s Economic Recovery Team (PERT), with the release of its final report just around the corner. The mandate of PERT is to come up a comprehensive plan to address the province’s ballooning debt, deficit and expenditures.

The economic recovery plan is important not only to Newfoundlanders and Labradorians but also to all Canadians because its policy recommendations will certainly affect the welfare of N.L., and a failure to avert a debt crisis there would have adverse spillover effects on the rest of Canada.

Thursday, 22 April 2021

REMEMBERING JOHN TUACH (1950-2021)

Newfoundland and Labrador lost one of its finest last Sunday. John Tuach, geologist, consultant, promoter of Newfoundland’s mineral and mining sector, writer, poet, musician, and gardener, passed away on Sunday, April 18th, 2021.

Known on this Blog as the “Bard of Pynn’s Brook”, he was to the mining and exploration industry simply as “Tuach”. His was a sharp mind grafted onto a wonderful wit which enhanced a view of the world that belied frankness and honesty.

His notions of independence and self-reliance were iron strong. He was a “Scot” for god sake - born in Ullapool Scotland. Ancestry is one thing, however, but he was possessed of so many talents he could only have been successful.   

University studies in geology brought him to Newfoundland. Like many geologists, his career began in Baie Verte, the Peninsula then the mining capital of the Province. Tilt Cove, Advocate, Rambler/Ming Mine, and others located just up the road, near Springdale, notably Little Bay, Whalesback and Gullbridge, which, taken together, offer a sense of a vibrant geological region that has long attracted exploration, industry, and academic interest, and still does.

Monday, 19 April 2021

WANGERSKY, PLEASE DON'T GO

During his long career at The Telegram, Russell Wangersky has commented upon — and quoted — people from a broad spectrum of society. He has given voice to the gamut of viewpoints, running from wisdom to nonsense; yes, even the wide berth that separates Voltaire and Danny Williams.

Quoting the eighteenth-century French philosopher and writer: “If you want to know who controls you, look at who you are not allowed to criticize.” The local scribe was suggesting that, “in these sensitive times, it feels safer to use someone else’s words as a buffer.” He was being only a little facetious. He didn’t invoke Williams’ name in the piece, but he didn’t need to.

While some critics dislike the lashings of one schooled in the sublime arts, Wangersky was never intimidated by bombasts. The Telegram columnist reminded us on one occasion, as the Muskrat Falls Project ran amok, of a parable elevated to the status of gospel by Williams’ fan club, the St. John’s Board of Trade. “That’s the very nature of megaprojects,” Williams told them, adding, “You can’t make excuses for overruns, but by the same token they’re a fact of life and they happen.”

Monday, 12 April 2021

HOW THE HIGH COURT REFRAMED CANADA'S CONSTITUTION (and almost no one noticed)

The Supreme Court of Canada’s (SCOC) Decision to validate the Federal Government’s carbon pricing legislation as constitutional, went far beyond that singular issue. In the process, the High Court arbitrarily shifted enormous provincial powers confirmed under s. 92 of the Constitution, to the Government of Canada. (SCOC Reference Greenhouse Gas Pollution Pricing Act found HERE.)

If anyone is concerned about the fundamental structure of the Country – which is not just “federal” but “confederal” - much of the power held by the founding provinces remained with them - they will give the Majority Decision of the Court critical attention; the issues involved are inseparable from our identity, as Canadians, and critical to how the Country operates, too.

Unfortunately, such issues often seem so esoteric that they cause glaze over the eyes of some people, the word “constitutional” alone indigestible. As a result, we are prone to leaving the issue to lawyers, which is unfortunate because they are not a representative sector of society.

Monday, 29 March 2021

ELECTION 2021 INDUCES AN URGENT NEED TO YAWN

 First, we should extend congratulations to Premier Furey on his election victory and wish his new Administration every success. It remains to be seen if he is ready for the challenge that awaits. This is a matter to which we will return.

Opposition leader Ches Crosbie and NDP leader Alison Coffin, both having lost their Seats, deserve our appreciation for the important work of Opposition, too. It is the end of the road for Mr. Crosbie’s undistinguished political career. As to Ms. Coffin, the loss of a “core” NDP Seat must hurt. Other pundits may wish to analyse why the “rubber booters” voted heavily Liberal this time, but the Party might also want to reflect on their relevancy in a Province with three left-wing Parties, a situation — for the other two — born less out of ideology than opportunism.

Premier Furey told reporters that the election is about “Who you want to lead the province through the pandemic. Who you want to lead it through the economic challenge. Who you want to sit at the table with the federal Liberal government…” His election call disregarded the pandemic and gave little reference to the debt crisis. That left only the “Feds”.

From this perspective, it isn’t so much that Furey won more Seats than either Ches or Alison. In the end, it was “hope” that prevailed. Having failed to offer a “hundred days of decision”, the electorate were content with another four years of dither, not that Crosbie had a different agenda.

Monday, 22 March 2021

FUREY’S ELECTION CLAIM NOT A “MODEL” OF HONESTY

Premier’s Furey’s claim that he had a window of opportunity to call a General Election when “the (Covid) numbers were low” and that “no one could have predicted the outbreak that occurred” simply does not square with the facts.

The two leaders of the Opposition and the media are right in calling on the Premier to release the probabilistic modelling data “from different jurisdictions” that he says helped him make the call. 

At this point, the issue is less about an ill-timed election than it is about the Premier’s integrity. Furey could have said that the Covid numbers in this province were low – and they were – and that he took a gamble - and lost the bet. That is not what he claims, however. He has  fabricated an argument around evidence of “modelling” for which no known agency has claimed ownership. The knock-on implications of his assertion should not be dismissed either.

Monday, 15 March 2021

RON PENNEY CHALLENGES THE SALE OF MILE ONE

 Guest Post by Ron Penney

“If something seems to be good to be true, it usually is.” 

The Sale of Mile One. 

I’ve been following with interest the continuing war of words between Dean MacDonald and the City about his wish to “purchase” Mile One, add additions to the building, and eliminate the public subsidy. 

I’ve been often asked about my thoughts on this given my involvement with the building of Mile One and the Convention Centre and its operations, during my tenure as the City Manager with the City of St. John’s. 

Most people think that the sale of Mile One is a no-brainer. What’s not to like about it? Getting rid of a “white elephant”, eliminating the subsidy and revitalizing the building. Who could be opposed to that? As I will demonstrate it is a lot more complicated than it appears at first and it shouldn’t be sold. 

Thursday, 11 March 2021

WOMEN AND CHILDREN FIRST

WOMEN AND CHILDREN FIRST

Maritime tradition points the way
To vaccine priorities in our day,
Long-covid threats to be nursed:
Save the women and children first!

Those that tend and care and treat
And serve the sick in noble feat -
Selfless work earns approbation,
Should top a list for vaccination.

Politicians, bureaucrats, very last,
That let the covid spread to cast
Its pall upon earth’s population
With ignorance and obfuscation.

Monday, 8 March 2021

THE "MYTH" OF DEFICIT (It's "reality" PERT can't face)

Hark! The People’s Economic Recovery Team (PERT) have spoken. This is the self-styled group of academics, labour organizations and non-profits who present themselves as an “alternative” to Moya Greene’s economic recovery committee. Based on news reports, they are supported not just by the Federation of Labour, but also by the doyen of moonlighting consultants, the Memorial University of Newfoundland Faculty Association (MUNFA).

PERT does their group — and the Province — a disservice, having delivered what amounts to a "tract" on taxation that doesn't even reflect the details contained in the Budget Estimates. PERT states: "The premier has noted that (the deficit is) about $800 million; others have put it at about $1 billion." This is their idea of research? Furey might have said that the deficit is $300 million, had it helped win the election. Presumably PERT would have agreed. 

The correct figure is $1.84 billion. A group ostensibly engaged in research can't even open up the "Budget Estimates". 

Monday, 1 March 2021

An Election in the time of Covid: Is a special ballot election legal and legitimate?

Guest Post by Ron Penney

For part of my public service career I drafted legislation for a living. It sounds boring I know,  but it has proven very useful as I learned how to draft a statute and also how to read one. Not something we were taught in Law School. 

In my younger years I participated in elections as a campaign manager, all successful I might add! So I learned the practical side of elections and election law. I also participated in the famous judicial recount in 1971 when it was discovered that the ballot box for Sally’s Cove contained no ballots, as it turned out that in accordance with local tradition they had been burned! 

The 1971 election had lots of interesting twists and turns and the 2021 one has already had them even before the votes have been cast and results announced. 

The resurgence of the virus just before the election date is the proximate cause of the election delay and the change of voting methods but the risk was always there. Should it have been anticipated as a possible impediment to the holding of an election and should have there been contingency plans.  The answer has to be yes. 

Monday, 22 February 2021

OF TWITTER, VIRTUE WORSHIP AND CABIN FEVER

Cabin fever is consuming the Province. The latest manifestation is on social media, and the Chief Medical Officer of Health acknowledges, dozens of people are sending her gifts. Some propose that a street should be named in her honor. Some call this virtue worship.

Dr. Janice Fitzgerald is a busy gal to be sure and we should applaud her work - and those who support it – but I find myself in the group that will let time and perspective evaluate the enduring contributions of society’s presumptively worthy.

The idea of virtue worship, the unwavering belief in and an unquestioning reverence for authority figures, was something to which I gave mental notice recently. It happened as I took a hard right at the bottom of “Danny Way”, the stark empty landscape confirmation that I had either come face to face with prophesy or landed in a place reserved for Mars' Perseverance. Worryingly, I reversed and drove in the other direction; my intended destination, the site of COVID-19 testing, was situated a little to the east.

Thursday, 18 February 2021

The Variant and the Election: throwing the Chief Electoral Officer under the bus.

 Guest Post by Ron Penney

The announcement on Friday night that we now have the UK variant has certainly got our attention. It is much more contagious, and contrary to what was said at the press conference announcing the arrival of the UK variant, it is also likely more virulent and may have an increase in mortality of 35%. 

This is a serious escalation in the pandemic and it did not need to happen. 

It is only recently that we have started to use rapid tests. Nova Scotia has been using those tests for months to gauge community spread. If we had followed their example we would have likely identified community spread much earlier and taken the appropriate public health measures also much earlier and likely nipped this in the bud, instead of being in the situation where we find ourselves now. As a result NS has 14 active cases and we have 338. 

We had cases over two weeks ago which were of unknown origin. That was the time to have gone to level 5. 

Monday, 15 February 2021

MORE "INCIDENTS" ON LIL PILE ON COSTS AND POWER INSECURITY

A new “Major Incident Announcement”, reported internally at Nalcor and, otherwise to the PUB, reports additional damages to the Labrador Island Link transmission line (TL). It stated that “While conducting repairs to the electrode on conductor 1…the electrode conductor 2 broke and fell to the ground.” The Report is dated 02/07/2021. It also states that during the operation, pieces of ice fell to the ground “in the vicinity of employees” causing work to be stopped pending an “evaluation” and preparation of a “safe return to work plan.” (Nalcor should clarify if this was the incident that occurred on February 3, 2021 so that the public can see how many of those incidents have occurred and when.)

Nalcor’s reported an earlier January 11, 2021 incident, made to a select mailing list, about damages on 8 towers (the electrode cross arm circled in red in the picture below is reported by Nalcor as the location of the damage on the towers . We now learn from the Liberty Report for the PUB that "16 areas have been identified as experiencing electrode line conductor damage..."

Multiple engineers have confirmed for the Uncle Gnarley Blog that the damages from icing on the LIL are far more serious than Nalcor admits.

Thursday, 11 February 2021

PREMIER FUREY MUST ASK TO POSTPONE THE ELECTION

Dr. Fitzgerald’s body language did not betray her when she shuttered most of the Province’s economy for the second time on Wednesday. Her demeanor and countenance suggested that she had just endured the kind of pushback from the politicos on the 8th Floor that lets you know “doing the right thing” is not easy especially during an Election; she might have still been feeling the bruising. She was probably thinking, too, of the unwise Premier sitting six feet away and of the arrogance required to play Russian roulette in a pandemic.

Where have we seen it before? Danny Williams and Kathy Dunderdale come to mind; too smart by half, a pair of Wiley Coyotes so full of themselves seeking political advantage by crushing common sense. Premier Furey’s manoeuver – too slick by half - now sees him looking down the wrong end of the gun.

If it was only about winning an election, a healthy society and economy would work its way through one more dalliance with “amateur hour” he exhibits. We have certainly seen this before: Danny, Kathy, Tom, Paul and Dwight have not defeated this place, even if they have given it a good shot.

Monday, 8 February 2021

A FOOL'S PARADISE

 Guest Post by Ron Penney

In my recent guest blog, the Timing of the Next Provincial Election, I urged Premier Furey to await Dame Moya Greene’s interim report, due at the end of February, and her final report due at the of April, before calling an election. 

Not surprisingly, that advice was ignored and the resulting campaign is exactly what I had worried about. One conducted in total denial of the reality of our situation. 

As former Premier Smallwood used to say, “the first job of a politician is to get elected, the second job of a politician is to get elected, and the third job of a politician is to get elected.” You get the point. 

Premier Furey, while a political novice, has taken this to heart, with advice no doubt from a certain former Premier considerably more experienced than him in running successful campaigns. 

Thursday, 4 February 2021

LEADERS' DEBATE CONFIRMS ELECTION AFTERMATH

When the Province’s dire fiscal position ought to be center stage in Election 2021, it  is not.

This is a place where, it seems, neither politicians nor reporters are willing to even describe the full extent of the problem.

A few days ago, Premier Furey could be heard saying that the “fiscal gap” – the difference between revenues and expenditures - is $800 million, when the correct number is around $2 billion. In the same breath, he added that the Feds had taken care of the initial debt payments on Muskrat Falls of $844 million – forgetting to note that they were only deferred.

The great majority of people likely have no idea how high the public debt has grown or what it means to have debt beyond our capacity to pay. They do know, by and large, that we are in financial trouble; otherwise, there is widespread confusion. 

On the other hand, few who know better would put their hand up and tell Furey, Crosbie and Coffin to cut out their nonsense. While the Employers’ Council is showing Polling data offering widespread public support for measures to deal with the fiscal mess, where is the clamor of advocates for such change? 

Monday, 1 February 2021

A Fair Price for MF Energy Is All Ratepayers Can Afford

Guest Post by PlanetNL 

PlanetNL32: A Fair Price for Muskrat Energy Is All Ratepayers Can Afford

It is an indisputable fact that Muskrat Falls was an enormous mistake filled with stupid errors and driven by fraudulent assumptions.  The biggest miscalculation of all was committed by the Province and the Government of Canada in legislating Island ratepayers to wholly pay for the project.  It is high time both levels of Governments face the facts, remove the severely misguided and harmful legislation, and get on with an extensive restructuring of project financing.  Island ratepayers can be billed for energy they use but only the same equitable terms as the project’s main customer, Emera, in Nova Scotia.

Friday, 29 January 2021

ICE DAMAGE TO 8 TOWERS ON THE LIL; NALCOR/POLITICIANS QUIET

A Nalcor communication memo dated January 27 describes damage to “a small section of the electrode line” on Transmission Towers located on the Labrador Island Link (LIL) in an area between from L'anse au Diable to Muskrat Falls. The incident, it said, occurred “following a recent winter/ice storm in Labrador.”

The note stated that the section of the electrode line “broke and fell to the ground”. (HVDC electrodes are used to improve reliability on HVDC systems permitting continued operation but at reduced capacity.) The Nalcor statement also noted that “Repairs are required to be made on eight of the 1,282 towers.” It states that “(t)he main components of the transmission towers and the primary transmission lines were not damaged.”

The statement does not say when the event occurred (though mid-January is likely) or what the impact would have been had the Holyrood Generating Station been shuttered as part of Nalcor’s scheme to give economic justification to the failed Project. The Statement does not appear on Nalcor’s Web Site; the incident is embedded with information of the more innocuous kind, and it has not been reported in the media.

Nalcor does not acknowledge that all it takes is one damaged tower to bring down the whole system; damages to eight towers constitutes a catastrophe.

Thursday, 28 January 2021

FISHERY ALLIANCE ISSUES "Fish Challenge" for Election 2021

Guest Post by the Fishery Community Alliance

Rising to the FISH Challenge?

Preface

During Election of 2015, the Fishery Community Alliance (FCA) was asked to provide the then Liberal Opposition Leader with a guide to develop a fisheries policy should the Party be elected to govern the Province.   This document was followed up with a number of meetings with Dwight Ball at his request, so he could be better prepared to tackle the fishery file.

Following his election in November 2015, the Premier and his MHAs not only ignored the document and its recommendations, but avoided any reference to the state of our fishery and the fact the Province lost 30,000 jobs and thousands of people since the 1992 Moratorium.

In fact, no effort, whatsoever, has been made to rebuild the fishery by the Federal Government, who is responsible for it management, since Clyde Wells was Premier over 30 years ago.

Monday, 25 January 2021

THIS MUSKRAT PLAN WON'T CAUSE MAXIMUM ECONOMIC DESTRUCTION

Guest Post by PlanetNL

PlanetNL31: Muskrat Must Be an Unregulated Government Business Enterprise

Rate Mitigation platforms presented by the Liberal and Conservative parties are way off base and pose great risk of rate escalation when difficult and contrived mitigation measures fail to work.  Worse is that the mitigation strategies completely fail to recognize that ratepayers should not be responsible for paying Muskrat project costs at all.  Muskrat must be made into an unregulated export-focused Government Business Enterprise with energy made available to any buyer, including NL Hydro, at competitive market rates.  There is a compelling case to do so, yet the political parties appear indelibly committed to the deceitful plans laid out by past governments, setting a course for maximum economic destruction.

Thursday, 21 January 2021

When Does Granny (and Grandpa) get the vaccine?

Guest Post by Ron Penney

I’m poppy to my grandchildren and at an age where the risk of an adverse result from a bout of covid is high. 

I’ve been taking all the precautions recommended by public health authorities and we are fortunate that the public health measures have worked so far. 

But the risk is still there until vaccines are widely administered and herd immunity is accomplished. Community spread still can occur despite our public health measures as we can see from New Brunswick, once part of the Atlantic Bubble. 

In the US, 8 out of 10 deaths from covid occur in people 65 and older. 

Monday, 18 January 2021

FINANCIAL REALITY LOST IN LEADERS' ELECTION CHATTER

As much as Newfoundlanders and Labradorians heading into a new General Election are hoping, wishing and praying for the status quo, change is what they will get. That is the case regardless of who wins.

That is a view you won’t hear from the Party Leaders. You'll need to decide whether to read on.  

The Province has lost thousands of people, especially since the ‘60s and ‘70s, and more following the cod moratorium. The latter were mainly tradespeople and other workers who looked westward for their pay cheques, earning the ascription “rotational” workers. Leaving, they looked back at a society that had not figured out how to leverage a huge fishery and other natural resources into enduring wealth and jobs.

Then, and later, in the pubs and occasionally on the hustings, as offshore oil development created new optimism, debate was rife over how we might hang on to what was left of our rural character against the steamroller of big oil and swaggering oil men.

Back then, too, unemployment was high and wages low. The Government delivered services meeting no one’s expectations. Still, many had seen a lot worse. And, as tough as it was, there was a grounded-ness in how we, and our politicians, behaved.

Wednesday, 13 January 2021

Did Trump Copy Nalcor’s Playbook?

Guest Post by PlanetNL

PlanetNL30: Did Trump Copy Nalcor’s Playbook?

Déjà vu really stings when you finally see it.  Virtually everything communicated about Muskrat Falls pre-sanction by Nalcor – and the Government that manipulated Nalcor’s puppet strings – was a shameless string of Donald Trump style falsehoods.  We know the kind well now as soon as you hear it: some ridiculous statement from the huckster-in-chief is best understood when you simply turn his premise around 180 degrees.  Then you instantly recognize the truth as the exact opposite of what was said.  If only we were all so smart 10 or so years ago.

Monday, 4 January 2021

"RE-IMAGINING" OURSELVES, A GOOD BEGINNING TO 2021

The year 2020 will not be remembered fondly. Covid-19 represented a monumental social and economic challenge for millions. Yet, in NL, a small and dispersed population suddenly found their large landmass a refuge against viral spread, as more populous parts of the Country continued to struggle with the problems of density, stress and indifference.

Now, each Province's capacity to quickly distribute and inoculate large numbers of people will give further testimony to whether our vital and expensive health care service is much more than an overindulged bureaucracy. In NL, too, a review of delayed surgeries, testing and other services will provide greater clarity about a system overfunded by, at least, $400 million and a propensity for inefficiency, inflexibility and resistance to change.

Change is on some minds, including the Premier's, though the jury is "out" as to whether his enthusiasm for political leadership has staying power.