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Sunday 25 November 2012

Why I Oppose Muskrat Falls

I've written about it plenty and touched on some of the reasons why I think this deal is not in the best interests of NL but it seems that the time has come to layout in straightforward language exactly why I am opposed to this megaproject.

1. The Why
The rationale behind this project has been somewhat suspect from the start. We went from no public acknowledgment that we even needed this project to plowing full steam ahead with a multi-billion dollar megaproject. The question is why? The answers have not been consistent and they don't hold much water with me.

  • Power for sale. The original reasoning seems to have been the idea that we could actually make money on the deal by selling power to the US. Over recent months we have found this to be a complete falsehood as the cost of simply producing the power at MF(not including transmission) will be far more then the current rates in the US. Even NALCOR and The NL Gov now admit that selling the power is unlikely.
  • Demand Forecast. The next rationale in line was the power demand forecast for NL that shows how we will have to start shutting off the lights by 2016 or so. My main issue with this type of forecasting uses so many assumptions in its modeling that I have very little faith in it's accuracy. Not unlike a weather forecast there is a huge margin for error. Huge.  
  • Power for The Big Land/Holyrood. The power for industrial demand in Labrador is a newer one and seems a little odd since one of those new customers just laid off the majority of it's employees as seen here. The other side of using MF to close down Holyrood does make some sense sine it is a facility that needs to be addressed. However MF isn't the best way to clean up that site, and there's a little more on this below.

2. The Process
So I obviously don't buy the reasoning behind the project but what makes the entire situation even worse is how the process has been handled from the beginning. My thoughts on this Governments efforts on keeping residents in the dark aside, there has been a significant lack of available information of this project from the very beginning. And it hasn't gotten much better. For a project that will cost upwards of $10 billion and take decades to pay off, and where the rational is not well understood there should be an open and free exchange of information on every aspect. Unfortunately this project has seen the very opposite, almost no flow of information and very little public debate or scrutiny. The only public body not directly paid by Gov or NALCOR to complete any kind of review was the Public Utilities Board and their findings were inconclusive based on the lack of information provided by Gov and NALCOR. Even in the House of Assembly there will be little more then a passing discussion on the largest undertaking NL has ever engaged in since the Churchill Falls fiasco, as noted here. The most telling sign is that even some who support the project have publicly indicated that they would like more information, not more shinny brochures in the mail.

3. The Practicality
If the rationale and the process weren't enough to turn me from the project then the sheer impracticality of the whole thing would easily do it.

  • The latest practical concern for the project is regarding the water rights for the water needed to operated the site. MF is downstream from the Churchill Falls development where the water flows are controlled by CFLCo/Hydro Quebec. There is some debate as to if they have the legal authority to limit the flow of water that would power MF as discussed here at The SRB Papers. But the main point is there even if there is a remote chance in hell that they could limit the flow of water to MF those billions of dollars will have been spent in vein. And they say they need energy security?  
  • The second note is simply the cost of the whole thing. It is continuing to rise and by the time its done we will be at or near the $10 Billion range. I've mentioned on here before how across the globe mega damn projects go over budget by an average of 30% and when we're talking billions of dollars that's a whole lot of extra money. Is it being well spent?
  • For a moment lets go back to that issue of energy security. We've all heard the old adage "don't put all your eggs in one basket" but that is exactly what we're doing here. Both from a cost perspective and from a security perspective. Don't think for one moment that there isn't a real possibility of a catastrophic failure somewhere along that proposed transmission line. Even if it is incredibly remote the possibility exists that the transmission line will go down at some point dur to damage, or weather or whatever. What then?
  • One of the largest reasons I am opposed to this project has to do with the availability of the alternatives to one huge costly project. I see the alternatives in two scales and they can be implemented in any blended format which would also provide additional security of supply due to the multiple sources. 
    1. Large scale. We are still lucky enough to have access to multiple industrial scale options including wind, smaller hydro, tidal, solar and what many consider the best option Liquified Natural Gas or LNG. This is where the real opportunity to get rid of the smoke stake at Holyrood comes from. LNG is readily available and clean burning. It is the main reason the sale of power from MF in the US will not work. LNG is changing the energy market. 
    2. Small scale. There are other areas where they have a smart grid system with incentives so that people and businesses can install small scale generation devices that can often not just fulfill their own energy needs but can also allow them to sell energy back to the grid to be used elsewhere as the need arises. This seems to be a win win situation as it engages people to help in the production and then leaves the maintenance in the hands of the owners.Then there's the revolutionary idea of mandated conservation. Why aren't new homes mandated to have high efficiency appliances, lights or heating sources? Same goes for renovations. How about financial incentives for meeting conservation benchmarks? This isn't rocket science, it's common sense. 
  • On the end of the practical problems for MF for this list is the environmental damage the current proposed project will do. In addition to the loss of woodland and the creation of methylmercury there are unknown potential impacts to the water systems all around the Goose Bay area. Salt water has already started infiltrating the freshwater areas due to reduced flow from the upper Churchill and this will exacerbate the problem.

So there you have it, not every single reason to oppose the project but certainly few of the more important ones. Now you can go do more research and make up your own mind. Good luck to us all. We're gonna need it.

Sunday 18 November 2012

Muskrat Falls...Again

I recently said I was done writing and talking about Muskrat Falls for a little while because all I heard and read was a back and for over what is largely the same information, or lack thereof. There have been a few new developments since that post so I felt a quick update was required. Government has released a couple more reports to support the project but the opposition still remains strong and is actually getting some degree of organization. 

This fine song has been posted on youtube and shared around Facebook and Twitter, and was the work of Con O'Brien and a group calling themselves The People's Assembly. You can check out their web site here. While its not a wealth of information yet, it is the beginning of some kind of organization to the public disliking of the Muskrat Falls project. I like it because it appears to be largely non-political and they are organizing a rally Sunday November 18 (today) to indicate just how unhappy some are with the project. I will be joining the rally. 

I hope the event is largely non-political but I do expect some of the NDP and Liberal MHA's will show up to get on the news and such. The ridiculous part is that neither of the opposition parties have taken a stand on the project for fear of being wrong, or more accurately for fear of making some supporters upset. It's called the courage of your convictions, and we could use a little right now from some of our politicians.  

Sunday 21 October 2012

What He Said

Today I attended my second session of the Liberal Renewal Tour. It was, as I expected,  an unusual session. The main theme seemed to that of people who were doing there utmost to maintain faith in a party that has been in disarray. The objective of the sessions as I understand them is to gain insight into the concerns of the grassroots Liberals across NL. To that end it appears to be successful but I would imagine it would be an understatement to guess that they have heard the same things over and over again.

Of course I was not the only one in attendance as there were long time die hards and a few young Liberals as well, so the discussion was an interesting one, and even on the edge of being heated at times. And while the immense frustration was undeniable the positive thing that I left the session with was hope. I felt a collective passion for an improved party that could form a great government, but an understanding that we still have a ways to go. My concern is that these issues being raised are certainly not new and shouldn't be news to the Party leaders as many have been saying them for some time now. I hope that this series of discussions brings home the message of urgency and drive that many people feel about their participation in the Party.

One of the other folks in attendance was Peter Whittle from over at Polemic and Paradox and you can read his thoughts on the session here. It's certainly worth it to head over and have a read of his thoughts because I certainly feel his thoughts are shared by a great number of others across NL. There has to be significant and real change in the way Political Parties operate if they are to really gain back the trust of the average voter. And that doesn't come from rhetoric or from bashing the other parties/members, it comes from a genuine belief that the real objective is to from the best government possible based on sound policies and rooted in a legitimate democratic process. And that applies from the NL Govt to the Liberal Party of NL to each and every district association in the province. It is not just the best way forward, it's the only way.

Monday 8 October 2012

I'm Done with Muskrat Falls

I'm a bit of a news hound. I enjoy reading, watching searching out the facts behind the stories. When it comes to the media coverage of Muskrat Falls I've had my fill and now I'm done reading the same stuff over and over.

Dunderdale and her gaggle of re-tweeters in conjunction with Nalcor will continue to say the same things over and over in hopes that some it will become more convincing. It won't. Then there are the "naysayers" who either flat out think its the biggest mistake ever or at least feel we need to make sure this is the right project to dump billions of dollars into while at the same time causing residential  electrical rates to skyrocket.

While there's not much doubt as to which side I'm on I am tired of hearing the same stuff from both sides. Very rare is the occasion that any new and relevant piece of information reaches the masses. With  the same people saying the same things without any real debate it's starting to sound worse then the "debates" in the House of Assembly. It has lang since deteriorated into a he said - she said scenario.

The latest development being the development of two teams of business professionals lining up behind their respective camps to try and bring public support around to their side. Sigh. There is no doubt that this is an incredibly  important issue and certainly deserves media coverage and extensive debate. Unfortunately the media coverage is of the same items and people and there is no real debate. This project will go ahead unless the current Government burns so much political capital trying to sell the deal that they decide it's better off to let it die, but that's unlikely at this point. Unfortunately I'd say it's a done deal, the people decided that when they voted in the current Government last year. Yet one more reason why I'm done listening to the Muskrat Falls "news".

Sunday 16 September 2012

For the current Government of NL

So Tom Osborne has decided that he's had enough of being muzzled, and being strong-armed into voting for legislation he doesn't support. He's unhappy with the current leadership and he's jumped out of the current governing party to sit as an independent, at least for the time being. His departure is simply the manifestation of the current feelings of many folks in NL over that last year, and it's going to get worse.

People are loosing faith in this government and this leader, and before the next election the current government had better pay attention and work towards re-gaining public faith or it will be time for the ultimate cabinet shuffle. This downward trend seems to currently apply to both the Opposition Liberals and the Reigning PC's, and a while back I took a few moments to send some advice to the Liberal side of the equation in this entry here. Now of course they didn't seem to take too much notice to it, but it did spur a dinner meal with at least one sitting MHA, so who knows who'll call me after this entry!

My involvement in politics has always been from the standpoint of improving the system. I want better Government. It's true I consider myself a Liberal but I accept good ideas and policies for what they are, not who brought them forward. So if the current crowd were doing a bang up job I'd be happy enough to say so. But that's obviously not the case currently. The interesting thing is that due to their position in Government the current group still has incredible potential to make good things happen, and the bonus is that at this point they couldn't possibly make things any worse for themselves.

The simple fact is that unless they start inspiring people again the control of Government will change hands again at the next election. So with that in mind my advice to them is to look within the public sector and the general public to bring forward some ideas and policies that may be risky but could also be great for NL. Here's a few to get them started:

  • Privacy legislation. Repeal that ridiculous Bill C-29. Just admit it was a mistake and move on. Most will respect your honesty and the others don't really matter. 
  • Legacy Fund. Accept that oil isn't going to save us or be around forever so take some of that revenue, what's left anyway, and create some kind of legacy fund. 
  • Serious Government Reform. There are too many Districts and too many Cabinet Seats. As a province we are over represented and it isn't working out for us. Oh and while you're at it stop renaming Departments and painting red things blue. It's just silly and a waste of money.
  • Be Accountable. Stop blaming everything on past Governments. Accept successes and failures as your own.
  • Reform the public sector. We don't need more managers and less frontline staff. And actually let them do their jobs and stop getting in their way. 
  • Fund the opposition parties better. They have an important job to keep you honest. They have been underfunded lately and we see where that has gotten us...   
  • Scrap Muskratt Falls. At least for now until we can do the appropriate analysis of the new costs and the real alternatives.
There are many more great ideas out there that can turn things around, all you have to do is be open to the fact that you don't know everything and you'll be headed in the right direction. I want the best Government possible for NL and if it's a PC Gov then so be it! But I have no real fear that anyone in the current Government or in the PC party will take my advice, so I'll continue to hope that before the next election at least one of the parties, preferably the Liberals, can get their act together enough to plant the seeds of good government for NL. A guy can dream can't he?

Monday 3 September 2012

Finishing up Tidy Towns

I've got a pot of turkey soup on the stove and that should give me a few minutes to hammer out a final chapter in the Tidy Towns Chronicles for 2012. When I last checked in there were three towns left to visit, and of course Sheila and I have since had the immense pleasure of getting a guided tour of each of them. Up first: Bell Island. 

Well kind of Bell Island. Technically it's the town of Wabana. Bell Island is actually made up of the Town of Wabana and a smaller community called Lance Cove, and since Tidy Towns is for municipalities only, Lance Cove was not part of our judging. But, it is part of the judging to recognize how communities partner on community based issues and on that front Wabana and Lance Cove deserve a special shout out. While the Town has some unique challenges in the realm of the North East Avalon boom, it is making significant strides with the resources and residents available. The community groups and the role that they play in enriching the lives of those who live all over Bell Island is evident and noteworthy. Had a great day and would recommend the visit to anyone!

Up next was Carbonear. I'm not sure why but to be honest I wasn't expecting a whole lot from this visit. I think it may have been because I have been to Carbomear before, but just in passing, and couldn't recall any details about the place. Boy was I in for a shock. Both Sheila and I were very impressed with our day in Carbonear. After we finally found the Town Hall we were given a tour of a town that has a very good understanding of how to tie tourism with cultural preservation. There is a great deal of history worth preserving in every community in NL, but few have a grasp of it the way Carbonear does. I remember being impressed with Trout River last year for their work in historical preservation, partly because it was still interwoven in their current way of life. In Carbonear I saw a Town moving forward and evolving to meet modern challenges while still understanding and showing great appreciation for where they came from and why they were there. In addition it just happen that the Town seasonally hires a local horticultural expert to help them plan and maintain their flowers and green spaces, and he was a face I had met many years ago when I was living in Wabush! I  learned a great deal about the town and look forward to going back again.

The Last stop on the Tidy Towns tour was the Town of Bay Roberts. This was another case of me being surprised by a place that I thought I knew. However if there's one thing I've learned as a Tidy Towns Judge is that you never really see a community until you've been given a guided tour by those who live there and care for it every day. While there were many noteworthy stops along our tour of the Town, like where the connection with the "Klondike" comes from,  one of my favorite stops was at the Town Museum. It is housed upstairs in the same building as the Town Hall in very historical built as a undersea cable terminal that played a vital role in communications for all of North America. While I have seen a great many community museums this one was impressive not just because of the number of artifacts or the fantastic layout, or the relationship to Christopher Pratt, but what impressed me was the professional manner in which the artifacts were treated, preserved and presented. Many museums contain fantastic displays but they are not properly maintained with regard to temperature and humidity, and unfortunately those can be devastating to fragile historical relics. Bay Roberts has invested the time and money to do it right, and I was impressed.

Well the trips are over and scoring is nearly finished so I guess I'll go check on my soup and Sheila and I will sit down over a cup of tea and tally the results. At the MNL convention in the Fall someone will be standing at the podium and announce that the Tidy Towns winners for the category of 2500 to 5500 for 2012 is..... Well I guess you'll just have to stay tuned if you really want to know! 


Monday 13 August 2012

Two more down.

We continued our Tidy Towns adventures with two more regional centers on the Burin and Bonavista peninsulas this past weekend. The first stop was in Marystown and I can honestly say that I learn more in one Tidy Towns visit then all previous visits combined.

As a service center the town is not just maintaining but growing in services, businesses and number of residents. The challenges of municipal service delivery become obvious when you look at the shear area that the town is spread over. Highlights of the visit include the town museum with live free entertainment and a great collection of local history, and the Ville Marie Gardens. Occasionally the media take a little interest and in Marystown it was the Southern Gazette and you can read that story here. Nice little spot but the quotes are not exactly stellar. At any rate it's good coverage for the town and the Tidy Towns program.

The next stop on the tour, after a quick pit stop for a cup of tea at Tims,  was the town of Bonavista. Bonavista won it's category in 2011 when we last judged that category so we were pretty familiar with it, but it was nice to see some of the new work the town has been doing. The volume of heritage properties in the town is simply striking. You can barely turn around without seeing a property recently restored or about to be restored, and while the town gets some credit it's largely the volunteer historical society that does much of the work in conjunction with the town. Its a similar story with the beautiful flower displays on town properties. There's a horticultural society that plants and maintains flowers provided by the town. It is good to see that level of community commitment and volunteer effort.

On a related note while in Bonavista we stayed in the Jubilee House B&B and had a great experience there. While I tend to lean toward hotels I do enjoy a good B&B. You are much more likely to find visitors from outside our province staying at them and the communal table can lead to great conversations. This time there was a couple from Peterborough, and a young man from Montreal in town for a visit. We sat together talking about the similarity of community issues across the country for about 2 hours over tea and homemade toast. It was great fun.

Sunday 5 August 2012

Rural, Urban or Somewhere Between?

The second stop on our Tidy Towns tour for 2012 was the hub of the east coast, AKA Clarenville. I grew up a mere 20 minutes from Clarenville so I remember when certain stores opened and closed throughout the years. I recall when Tim Horton's, KCF and of course the largest event at the time, McDonalds. No more having to drive to Gander or St. John's to satisfy that Big Mac craving! So needless to say I'm generally familiar with the growth that Clarenville has experienced in the past couple of decades. But, even knowing this our tour of the town indicated a level of growth that shocked me.

Clarenville has always been a service centre, with government offices, the hospital and major chain grocery, hardware and furniture stores located there. But to see the number of new housing starts in the community is astounding, especially when compared to other "rural" locations in NL. But is Clarenville rural? If not is it urban? Our standards of rural and urban in NL have always been on a different scale then other parts of the country and it is always difficult to draw a line that separates rural from urban. Whatever category Clarenville fits into it is certainly experiencing the same form of growth that a few other towns like Gander is experiencing. The growth of service centers seems to be a direct result of the slow suffering of rural and remote communities.

Regardless of the reasons Clarenville is doing very well for it's self. Residents are getting more and more services as time passes and it seems to be attracting more and more residents! Do yourself a favor and next time you pass by take a stop in and have a look around as see what Clarenville has to offer!  

Friday 3 August 2012

29 In The Shade

Never let it be said that we don't get some fine weather here in good old NL. Today marked the first evaluation of my Tidy Towns group of communities and I am happy to report it was a wonderful 29 degrees Celsius in the Town of Springdale.

This year the category that my girlfriend and I are judging will cover 7 municipalities that range in population from about 2500 to about 5500. The competition is based on an entry process and this year for this category the 7 towns are all in the central, eastern and avalon regions of the province. Nothing from western or Labrador in my category. Sad times indeed.

The day spent in Springdale was fantastic and our gracious hosts spent a few hours showing us the highlights of their great community. The recreation facilities available for a community of that size is truly impressive, especially the pool! While the rage of population for each category changes each year depending on the towns who apply Springdale has been a winner in the past and it's not difficult to see why. Unfortunately the battery in my camera began to die but luckily my girlfriend Sheila was better prepared. Once all the evaluations are complete I'll post a few choice pics to show just how beautiful our NL communities really are.

A hearty thanks to the Town of Springdale for a great day and we look forward to our next visit!

Thursday 19 July 2012

On The Road Again...

I'm glad to say that for the third year in a row I have the great pleasure of being a judge for the NL Tidy Towns competition. In case you want to know a little more about Tidy Towns you can check them out over here. It's a fantastic program that rewards municipalities for beautification, environmental efforts and community involvement.

This year I'll be heading all the way over to the West coast and I'll be checking in from time to time on Twitter with pics and news along the way. Check out my Twitter feed along the right side of the blog or follow me @TheRuralLens

In the previous years I have met some great people and seen some amazing work by municipalities of various sizes. I'm sure this year will be no different so why not come along for the digital ride!

Monday 2 July 2012

20 Years and counting... 2

Perhaps the most recognized piece of video  and phrase from the day before the official moratorium announcement can be found here. Unfortunately you can't skip the 2 commercials prior to the video.

20 Years and counting... 1

No one could ever say it better then Rex Murphy.

So go here and read why July may be a great month of summer and a reason to celebrate for Canada but it will always be bittersweet for Newfoundland and Labrador.

Monday 18 June 2012

What's The Plan?

Take a few minutes and learn a little about municipal infrastructure and share it around. Great job By MNL.

What's the plan????

Sunday 10 June 2012

Another Nail in the Coffin

Once upon a time...
Municipalities in NL are somewhat of a new entity. While communities have been here for hundreds of years, municipal councils are much newer. In fact if you were to do a little digging you'd find that a great many of our 170 odd councils are less then 50 or 60 years old. If you were to dig a little deeper you might even find that many councils were established not to give voice to the common man, nor to help organize community resources but in fact were created as a tool to help legitimize the flow of money into communities. Following confederation there was some new money to spend in communities but there were very few legitimate avenues to facilitate the transfer. As such the new Provincial Government of NL encouraged the setup of municipalities to smooth out the process.

Jump ahead a couple of decades and there were still a large number of communities who were not interested in jumping on the municipal bandwagon but still wanted some of the cash to help run local programs. This gap was filled by Rural Development Associations (RDA). These were not for profit corporations that received government funding to provide some basic services on a regional basis. They offered many rural youth summer employment through basic community development initiatives. Then in the mid 1990's the NL Government wanted to shift the focus of regional development toward economic development and instead of funding the RDA's they cut their funding and instead created the Regional Economic Development Boards. Where the RDA's were smaller and usually had no or one staff these new RED Boards had larger budgets and had at least one full time staff person.

More recently...
Today there are 19 RED Boards with significant budgets and the ability to work with municipalities and other not for profits and businesses to leverage even more resources to invest in all areas of the province. The current funding structure is a partnership between ACOA, at 75% funding, and Gov of NL at 25%. While there have been many successes and many failures during their years of operation there is very little doubt that some of that money has been invested wisely and has resulted in job creation and more sustainable communities. Thats not to say the system is perfect, far from it. So much so that it has been the rumored mission of some folks within the Fed and Prov bureaucracy to kill the RED Board structure in hopes of the creation of a more effective and accountable system.

And then on May 22...
The Minister of State for ACOA announced that on May 21st 2013 ACOA would cease all funding to the RED Boards. Across all of Atlantic Canada that means $18 million less to invest in regional economic development each year. What kind of impact will this cut have on rural areas that benefit greatly from the assistance? How many jobs will be indirectly impacted or not created al all through this loss. Then there are the direct job losses for each of the 19 RED Boards in NL. WHile it is true that the Gov of NL still supplies 25% of the funding they are unlikely to want to invest any more given their current, and future, economic realities. Where then does this leave rural NL?

Last hope?
So what now? There is hope that the Gov of NL will step up and cover the lost revenue, or at least a portion of it....but I highly doubt it. The best scenario would see the available funding invested into municipalities for economic development purposes. While there are issues of accountability and the legislative ability for municipalities to "actively" engage in economic development, it is the best hope to maintain the economic development presence that RED Boards have been providing since the 1990s. The Current Prov Gov has been reluctant to commit to any enhancements to municipal funding but this development may force them to reevaluate their position. After all it may make more sense to offer that 25% funding to existing municipalities instead of trying keep 19 RED Boards on life support. Either way the real losers here are again the businesses and therefore the people of rural NL. Once the money is taken away it is highly unlikely it will return. At least not under the current Fed or Prov Governments.

In the end it may prove to be one more nail in the coffin for rural NL, and those who were elected to protect it will likely sit by and watch it continue to die a slow and painful death. Lets hope not though. Lets instead hope that some of them will have the fortitude to stand up a fight for a future that reflects our past instead of morning it's death.

Thursday 24 May 2012

Don't leave it to them

So here we are just over 7 months past a provincial election where we had the opportunity to advocate for changes to our political and government system. Has anything really changed? Is anyone paying attention? Even if they were, and some are, is there any kind of movement or feeling of positive momentum from any front? I don't suppose NL is much different then any other modern democracy in the sense that we love the political dogfights during election time but when it's all said and done most folks just assume good things are happening and that they did their part when they cast that ballot. Unfortunately that makes for a poor political system and a largely unaccountable government.

To be clear, this is not a partisan rant. This applies to many governments of various political stripes. They want us to be uninterested and largely uninformed. Its how bad governments get, and hold on to, power. I've written about voter apathy here before but this is something that I would consider even more important. Being part of a democratic society is demanding. It requires that as citizens we keep informed and express our opinions on important public policy matters. We cannot expect government or politicians to always have our best interests at heart so we have to fight tooth and nail to ensure that every decision and every action is indeed the best one possible. We have to demand the best from those who make the decisions that govern our province and our country.

Make no mistake, I am not writing this to point fingers. As regular readers will note this is my first post here for some time. As with everyone life demands regular attention and it is not always easy to keep informed and be active in public discussions. But it is necessary!

It can sometimes feel like a very daunting task to become involved. There are not many avenues to express a reasonably educated opinion and expect anyone to listen. There are certainly a few NL bloggers who keep at it regularly. A few callers to the open line programs do their best as well. From personal experience it can often feel like you are speaking to a crowd who have no interest in listening but I have to remind myself to just do my best to raise good points as often as I can. Even as a candidate in the last election my attempts to talk about real government policy and good governance practices fell largely on deaf ears. That may also be part of the reason for my lack of posts as of late. Well I've just got to suck it up.

Saying things once to a small crowd is not nearly enough to make a difference. Often things must be said repeatedly to all those possible to ensure that the discussion is taking place. Good government comes from real discussion and solid policy, and we need a whole lot more of both. So to hold up my end of the deal I will commit to posting at least one item per week on here related to government policy or rural issues in general and I ask that if you take the time to read this that you remain informed and do your best to drive the discussion. It is only when we push for open, educated discussion that we will make change. Don't leave it up to the media, politicians or bureaucrats. Good government in a democracy requires involvement. We cannot be passive and hope that those in power will make the right decisions without our input. Remember that the number one job of every politician is to get elected and then their second job is to get re-elected. We have to get informed and get involved, it's the only way to better government.

Wednesday 28 March 2012

For the Liberal Party of NL

I am a liberal. Both in the small l and the big L sense of the word. Not only did I run for the NL Liberals in the last election but I firmly believe that they should form the next Government of NL, and if I had my way I'd toss half the current Gov crowd out on their arses. Mind you, not because they're PC. But because they are not just useless, but they're actually damaging NL. But I digress, back to the Liberals.

It is commonly said that the Chinese word for crisis (weiji) also contains the word for opportunity. The NL Liberals should take heed that for them, there is both significant crisis and significant opportunity in their current predicament. Unfortunately for them the time to capitalize on that opportunity may be passing them by.

So from my humble armchair perspective I would like to offer some advice to the NL Liberal Party to help ensure that they take complete advantage of this opportunity and climb their way back to the top of the NL political mountain.

First the "Things to Do" list. These things will help the party attract supporters and prepare for eventually taking control of government. In no particular order:

  • Act like a government in waiting. In other words don't just criticize the current policies, develop sound public policy and advocate for it. Act as though you know what you're doing and then do it. The worst that could happen is that policies you develop could actually be accepted. The best scenario would see the current government deny your great ideas only to their own detriment, and then when you form a government you already have great policy ready to go!
  • Organize. One of the major holes in the campaign for 2011 was the lack of organization across the board. The political machine was broken, and it needs fixing. District associations were nearly nonexistent. 
  • Engage the public. People feel separate from the political process and some actually want to take part! Get them involved. Press releases are nearly useless, facebook and twitter are nice but there has to be an innovative approach to reaching out to people, putting a face on the party, and getting people involved in the conversation.
  • Support good ideas. Even when they aren't yours. Good ideas are good ideas so don't be afraid to admit it when you see one that isn't yours.
  • Be honest and bold. Be better then they are and inspire people. People need to know that you are in it for the right reasons, and that comes from integrity and honesty. 

Now for the "Things Not to Do" list. 
  • Don't get drawn in to every argument. There's no end to the issues that can be debated but you need to focus on what's really important. Calling for Ministers to resign every week simply depletes your political capital.    
  • Don't be vague. Offer specific detailed proposals and criticisms whenever possible. Being too vague just makes it look like you want wiggle room to change the rules when you form government. 
  • Don't let the NDP lead. They made significant gains in the 2011 election and they certainly bring a different and valuable perspective to some issues. They will struggle with growing pains and you must show that the Liberal Party is the next party to form government. 
  • Don't be afraid. The biggest challenge is to overcome the fear of doing something that might upset someone. Be bold and take stands on important files. You are bound to piss off some people anyway so it may as well be over something important. Hard decisions are a very important of government, so show people you are up to the challenge.  
I gladly admit that I'm no political genius. But I have been a candidate and I've long been a follower of the process and a voter. I want the best government possible, regardless of what political stripe the majority happen to be. Currently in NL the PC government has repeatedly shown that they are out of ideas and they are not up to the task of working in the best interests of the public. The provincial NDP will try to take greater control but they'll likely find that their policies are too far left, and weak on the financial side for NL. 

The Liberal Party offers the best blend of experience and potential for innovation. They can form the next government in NL. But only if they truly take advantage of the current opportunity to demonstrate to the public that they are ready to rise to the challenge. The election of 2011 was a huge opportunity that passed them by. If they fail to cease this current opportunity then they will fall victim to their own crisis.  

Tuesday 13 March 2012

They just don't get it.

Fiscal Framework. In the municipal community it was a buzzword a few years ago as the Gov of NL was on the verge of starting a process that would see a new funding arrangement for communities in the province. Guess what happened? Nothing. On the verge of the budget release municipalities found out that the province had decided it wasn't ready to start that work and it would be delayed just a little bit longer. And that was when the Gov of NL was flush with cash. 

Fast forward about 4 years and we still have no new strategy or fiscal arrangement for municipalities in NL. And it looks like they, and their provincial association MNL, have had about enough. MNL has said that communities are beyond cash strapped and are practically on the verge of collapse in some cases. They recently held a news conference requesting some action from the current administration. You know, the government that is bringing in austerity measures, cutting public sector jobs (unless you're John Noseworthy) and they can't seem to grasp the idea that communities are actually important and worth investing in.  MNL is getting some media coverage here and here

If you are a regular reader then you know how I feel about the underfunded communities in NL. I have visited many of them, spoken with their residents and their leaders, and they need help. Both financial and program wise. They need money for infrastructure and strategic investment but they also need help with training, setting priorities, attracting new staff, volunteers and councillors. They need a better grasp of strategic planning and proper economic development. They get some of this from MNL and a couple other organizations, but it's not enough. 

Both the Federal and Provincial levels of government have basically decided that their responsibility is to provide the very minimum of financial support, usually via infrastructure cash, and thats pretty much it. Last year I had a look at the federal platforms (1, 2, 3)  and provincial budget (here and here) with an eye to rural investments, and it's coming up on budget time again. This time around I'll look for those rural investments and you can bet they will be even more scarce then last year, as both conservative governments have moved into cost saving mode. 

Where does this leave the communities on NL? Not in any good place, thats for certain. The other levels of government just don't seem to get the fact that services delivered at the local level are often much more efficient and effective than those at the provincial and certainly the federal level. Yet both levels of government are incredibly reticent to relinquish control over their programs and their cash. 

I hope I'm wrong. I hope that the up coming provincial and federal budgets show foresight and courage and they provide communities with the funding and support that they need to provide healthy environments for the people of this province and this country. I hope...   

Friday 2 March 2012

The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly.

Unions protect workers rights. But as true as that statement may be it has become far more complicated then that simple tenant. Unions protect their members and they fight to uphold labour codes but at the same time some unions have been linked to organized crime in major cities, and many union leaders have been accused of corruption, or of taking large salaries while not defending the rank and file members. It's a complicated business and not all unions are the same. Some are focused and reasonable while others are unwieldily and ridiculous.

I have been a dues paying union member, and I've been middle management supervising union members and I've always had some thoughts that I occasionally shared with others, and today I'll share them with you.

The Good
There are those who will say that unions serve no positive purpose. Those who bash the idea of unions at every corner. They have obviously never seen workers abused, or they just don't care. Unions are largely responsible for current labour laws that protect employees from abusive employers. Unions often provide a voice to people who would otherwise have a very difficult time disputing issues with an employer. Having seen new, especially young, workers who are unaware of their rights as employees I truly understand how a union can provide much needed protection. And while the process of collective bargaining may not be perfect it does afford an opportunity to ensure that workers are being paid a reasonable wage for the work they provide. Well.... kind of.

The Bad
One of the issues that I have with unions is that it lumps everyone together and says they have the same skills and ability to do a given job. So lets say a union represents a group of network administrators. As long as their jobs share the same classification then they are treated as all the same, even if one of them is much more dedicated and skilled, or one of them is as lazy as the day is long. They are the same in the eyes on the union, and I've always felt that was kind of odd, and frankly insulting to the more dedicated and skilled workers.

Similarly, union protection has nothing to do with skill and is generally solely based on seniority or time spent with the company. So when protection is needed those who have been there the longest get it, while those who are new may not. The most recent example of this would be with the Corner Brook Fire Department, but it happens regularly. Skill and dedication should always play a factor in determining who maintains a job. Everyone has heard of an employee somewhere who is completely useless and actually a drain on the system and those who work around them but because they have been in the union for years they are protected and have no worries of ever losing their position.

Unions are built on the idea that it's "us" vs "them" and that generally leads to some unfortunate circumstances. Sometimes if you're not in the union and can't get in it then you're out of luck getting a job because you're one of "them". This occasionally happens in the skilled trades arena. It is this idea of "us" as a family against the word that can make for strong membership support but it can also lead to some very difficult times when contract negotiations fall through.

The Ugly
Strike. Just reading the word conjures up images of picket lines and protest signs. It happens when the collective bargaining process fails to produce a contract that employees and employer can agree upon. It can be a peaceful and rational expression of discontent, or it can be a violent mess and expression of hatred. I have never had to cross a picket line, and for that I'm happy. But if I was in a management role during a strike I very likely would. While there have been some nasty strikes that have made the news I'm certain that the worst stories are never really told.

Unions sometimes target middle management during strikes. The theory is that by applying pressure on those folks they will complain upwards and hopefully senior management will get the message. Unfortunately this is usually complete nonsense. Middle management have little to no decision making power, no job security and are generally in the worst position during a strike. They are required to work, sometimes doing the jobs of unionized employees, crossing picket lines, taking abuse from top and bottom and their only recourse is to quit. Sounds great doesn't it? So So So Solidarity!

I was unlucky enough to witness some of this nonsense while living in Labrador West during a time when both IOC and Wabush Mines were on strike at the same time. Tension was always in the air and it was not a happy time to be there. One group had their "Wall of shame" where they would post the names of management employees who crossed the picket lines to go to their jobs. It was disgusting.

Oh and then there are replacement workers. Oh pardon me, I meant Scabs. The venom, insults, name calling and vitriol spewed toward workers who replace unionized employees is beyond comprehension. It is the epitome of the "us" vs "them" mentality. There are examples of it everywhere but it is never pleasant to see or hear. I simply do not understand how you could treat another person that you don't know with such distain and hatred.

The Moral
I have little doubt that some will read this and claim that I am anti-union. Not so. I am simply against the things that make for poor working conditions all around. That includes the protection of people who don't deserve it and name calling and insulting fellow workers because they're not in your group. I believe in a workers right to collective bargaining, right to strike, reasonable job protection, safe working conditions, and a reasonable wage. It just seems that sometimes, just sometimes, things get taken a little too far.

Thursday 23 February 2012

From the Dustbin of Recent History.

I'm not a secretive guy. Never have been. Family and personal issues aside I am willing to discuss and share most anything, including my mistakes and failed attempts. It is in that vein that I bring up something I just discovered while organizing some of my MacBook files. You may remember that I actually took a shot at the Leadership of the Liberal Party of NL a while back, before the election. Well I had an opportunity to speak to the Board before they made their decision and I prepared a speech that I will print here today for you. It serves no point other then to reflect how I felt at the time and how I still feel that the Liberal Party will lead the next Government.

At any rate here is my presentation to the Liberal Party of NL Executive Board on August 14, 2011. Brace yourself it's a little long and keep in mind these were my speaking notes.

Ladies and gentlemen of the Executive Board. I want to thank you for the opportunity to speak with you today and for allowing me to elaborate on why I should be the next leader of the Liberal Party of Newfoundland and Labrador.

In a short 58 days from today the people of this province will head to the polls to select the next Government of Newfoundland and Labrador. In the short time between now and then we must convince them that it is the Liberal Party that can embrace change and adapt to the evolving state of our province. We must tap into their pride as Newfoundlanders and Labradorians, and we must recognize the frustrations that they have felt with past governments.

The Liberal Party needs a leader who is not afraid to challenge the status quo, and who can shape a new party and a new government, which will respond to the needs of its citizenry and inspire a new generation of liberal thinkers. That leader is me. 

My Experience
Lets talk about my experience and my credentials. I have degrees in NL History and education, but they merely provide the foundation for the real work experience that has prepared me for this position. It is my experience across various sectors that gives me the advantage to be able to speak intelligently about many areas of concern for residents of NL.

My upbringing has provided me with an appreciation of hands on work. Because I grew up in a resourceful home with little money to spare I learned to be a carpenter, plumber or a mechanic depending on what any given situation required. I have worked minimum wage jobs cutting grass and pumping gas, and I am often humbled by the people who provide those necessary services with the utmost dignity and respect.

After spending 4 years as a teacher at the front of a classroom, I moved into the environmental not for profit sector. There I served on Provincial advisory councils and submitted environmental commentary on protected lands and on the environmental impacts of large projects such as the nickel processing facility at Long Harbour.

For a while I was responsible for policy development and communications for the provincial tourism association Hospitality NL. This position provided incredible insight into a growing industry that has become a significant part of our provincial economy. But it is my work in the last 5 years that has been the ultimate proving ground for the position of Liberal Party Leader.

As a community cooperation professional with Municipalities Newfoundland and Labrador I came to know the community leaders from around the province. I heard their issues, and helped to develop policy, and on the ground solutions to their growing list of concerns. I was eventually recruited by the Department of Municipal Affairs where I developed, and delivered the provincial standard for community sustainability planning. And finally I left my government position to start my own business, working with communities and economic development agencies to forward the goals of regional development around the province.  

One of the criticisms levied against me is that I am new to the political arena, that I don’t have the experience to lead a political party. The truth of the matter is that my lack of political experience is not a challenge to overcome, but a characteristic to be embraced. The people of Newfoundland and Labrador are crying out for a new brand of politician, one that finds new solutions and is open to new ideas. They have been very adamant that the old school ways of politics in this province will not be supported. And the results have been evident in poor voter turnouts over the past number of elections. 

And while I am new to the Liberal Party, in the past 2 months while working toward earning a seat in the district of Bonavista South I have been engaged in policy development with opposition office staff, and I’ve been publicly promoting the Liberal ideals on twitter, my blog, my website and the call-in radio programs. 

With regard to my leadership abilities you need only look at the examples that I have set in my life. I challenge people to ensure that only the best possible ideas move forward. I am outspoken both in favor of good ideas, and against poor ones but always understanding that everyone has a right to take part in the conversation.

I am a good communicator and I have been engaged in public speaking and debate for more then 15 years. I am passionate, organized, and a decisive decision maker. I plan my actions carefully, take responsibility for my mistakes and most importantly I am a good listener.

The Need for change
Listening to the people of NL one thing is blatantly clear, they are ready for real political change. They want a leader and a party that is willing to make difficult decisions. They want a transparent and accountable government, and they want to be engaged in the process of setting policy and making decisions. These kinds of change can only be accomplished with a fresh start from a new kind of leader.

We need a young leader who can engage the youth of this province and lead by example. The Liberal Party must focus on valuable consultation processes that utilize every possible method to engage the public. The current administration has been so secretive and selective in it’s consultations that we now have the opportunity to highlight our plan for community and individual engagement. 

As a party we cannot just speak of this change we wish to see, we must embody it. As Leader of the Liberal Party I would represent the kind of change that this party embraces and celebrates. The kind of change that people demand, and the kind of change that will draw voters to the polls in October.

Setting a new course
If we are to differentiate ourselves from the other parties we have to begin with a vision that outlines where a Liberal government would take the province. This vision must include the issues that have meaning in the lives of regular NLians. We must look to develop healthy sustainable communities, safe drinking water, the best possible healthcare, a strong and diversified economic base and a transparent and fiscally responsible government.

Of course to accomplish a vision we must develop tangible mid range goals to ensure that we are constantly moving toward that vision. The goals of the Liberal Party have to include building capacity in small communities, developing a modern energy plan, rebuilding a sustainable fishery, and creating a responsible government that engages its citizens in meaningful consultation. 

There are also short-term actions that will establish our commitment to our goals and our vision. We can reduce the number of provincial electoral districts, and therefore the required number of MHA salaries. We can also reduce the size of cabinet and eliminate unnecessary departments, branches and divisions. We can develop legislation to require a minimum number of days that the HOA will sit, in an effort to better serve the people of NL. We can immediately implement a province wide 911 service, and create a single information contact number for government, similar to the 311 service of the City of St. John’s. We can improve the legislation to allow local governments to manage their affairs and provide them with the appropriate resources to do so through a program such as a percentage of the provincial income tax, or a local version of equalization payments.

In the end, the Liberal Party has to develop a plan that has input from all who wish to contribute, a plan that identifies where we need to go, and just as importantly, how we’re going to get there.

Securing Victory
In two months the people of NL will take to the electoral battlefield and only one party will emerge victorious. If that party is to be the Liberal party then we need to reach out and engage new voters as well as hold on to the party faithful. But make no mistake that the tried and true Liberals will vote liberal, the hard core tories will vote PC, and those looking to cast a protest vote will select the NDP. Our most important task is to convince the swing voters, those who vote based on candidate, policy, and party leader that the Liberal Party has heard their cry for change and is looking to build a party and a government that can inspire them all the way to the polling booth.

One group of potential voters that could easily swing the election are those 35 and under. The common theory is that young people don’t vote because they don’t care. I challenge that idea. Being one of those young people, I can say that younger voters sometimes don’t vote because they don’t see the difference between the major parties. They don’t see a party that understands their needs, only parties who have written them off as a lost cause come election day. The Liberal Party has a very unique opportunity to engage the younger voters, an opportunity that has not existed in this manner before.

As the Party Leader, I would engage younger voters with a voice that they can relate to, and through the mediums that they understand and use everyday. I understand all too well their challenges of finding sustainable employment, struggling with student loans, and feeling disenfranchised from government and the political system. They need someone to inspire them. We saw just how important the youth vote was during the Obama campaign in the US, and in the success of the NDP during our last Federal election a few short months ago.

And it is not just the younger voters who see the need for a younger face at the helm. Over the past two days I have received a great deal of very positive feedback from senior citizens who have said how happy they are to see a younger person become involved. And they all have wished me the best of luck. We must listen to the people of NL and put in place a new, young and dynamic leader who can help to engage and inspire young and old alike.

Why me
To the Liberal Party of NL, I bring the promise of change. The promise of new ideas, and new approaches to old problems. I will lead a party that is not only not afraid to ask people to become involved in decision making, but a party that prides itself on engaging average people to solve everyday problems.

I bring a young ideal that will appeal to both young and old, and voice that is already tempered through the use of traditional mediums such as call in radio shows, and through emerging mediums, such as Facebook, twitter, blogging and youtube. It is this combination that will allow us as a party to reach new members and new voters. It is this approach that will see us victorious when the dust settles on October 12.  

To the Liberal Party I bring experience across a broad spectrum of topics and many years of professional public speaking to the table. I have worked with various Ministers and bureaucrats, and my experience working inside the system has taught me how government really works. I have seen the flaws in the system and the many loopholes that allow good policy to become poor actions. And I have seen the rank and file of a public sector that will not speak out for fear of serious and swift reprisals.

We need to plan for, and build a transparent and accountable government where the objective is not secrecy and protection, but communication and cooperation. I will lead a Liberal Party into a government that understands how to reform the system to make it function properly and effectively, through appropriate planning and an open and accountable environment.

I have little doubt that some of you look at the list of contenders for this position and you see some safe bets and you see some unknown faces. I challenge you today to make the first, difficult, but correct decision, that will lead this party to becoming the voice of NLians. I challenge you to put aside the traditional political choice, and instead show leadership that demonstrates that this is the party of the future, and not of the past. And finally, I challenge you to make the decision that so many hard core Liberals and undecided voters would like you make.

I ask that you take this opportunity to show NL that the Liberal Party embraces change, and is now ready to move forward and build a party with a new, vibrant, passionate and young voice at the helm. I ask that you select me, Ryan Lane, as the next leader of the Liberal Party of NL. Thank you very much.

Thursday 16 February 2012

Burton Winters. R.I.P.

A tragedy. There's little else you can call it when a young man is taken from his family and his community to never return. Unfortunately throughout the history of NL stories of this nature are far too common. Sometimes older or younger, winter or summer, fishing, sealing, hunting or just on their way from one place to another. The details change but the basic story is similar. A person traveling or working in the wilderness or on the sea when a dangerous situation arises that causes them to be lost to us forever. And it's always sad. The story of Burton Winters has been discussed at great length, largely due the the inadequacy of the Search and Rescue capabilities on the Labrador. And while that is a necessary conversation there is another aspect of this event that bothers me a great deal.

There are those who have said he should never have been riding a snowmachine alone at such a young age, and that there should have been more responsibility shown by parents and others. I say that is complete bull shit!

We have become a society where we no longer allow our children to grow up. Some have even gone so far as to say we are developing a generation that will always be children. They will not learn responsibility, decision making, self reliance and other vital life skills until they are well into their 20's or 30's. And that is a terrible shame. Luckily here in NL we are slightly more sheltered from that urban North American phenomenon, but it still certainly exists here.

Over protective parents have no idea the disservice they are doing to their children. It is through adversity and struggle that we learn how to be self reliant. It is through dealing with problems that we learn problem solving skills. And it is through doing some of these things alone that we learn what we can accomplish alone, and what we need help to accomplish. These are the traits that build strong and thoughtful people.

There was a time in this province when we had no choice but to grow up fast. 50 years ago at the age of 14 Burton would have been almost considered a man. He would have most certainly been helping the family to put food on the table through hunting and fishing. And he may well have been doing some of those things for his family a few short weeks ago.

Just as NL is slightly isolated from North America, even more so are the more remote areas of our province, such as the North coast of Labrador. And while isolation has its challenges, it also has it's benefits. Our isolation is partially why we have such a vibrant culture and such self reliant people. I like those things about us and I don't enjoy when people say we should be more like "normal" people.

I think I take such personal offense to those criticizing Burton's family and community because while I never met the young man I could have easily shared his fate. I can recall many incidents where I was off on my snow machine alone and got stuck, almost ran out of gas, got overtaken by a storm with no working light etc. These sorts of events can be dangerous, of that there is no doubt. But they also build character and self confidence. I learned how a snow machine works because mine broke down, a lot. I developed a keen sense of direction, because I had to. And I learned to respect the wilderness and the dangers it can hold.

I grew up in a house hold where I knew others took responsibility for me and loved me a great deal, but I also learned to be responsible for myself. But then again I grew up with my grandfather, and he had his first rifle at the age of 12. He grew up in Hopedale, on the North coast of Labrador.

I would ask that we all be respectful of a way of life that holds many challenges, but grows such wonderful and resilient people. Even at the age of 14 I have no doubt that Burton had more life experience then many in their 20's or even 30's.

Rest In Peace Burton Winters

Wednesday 1 February 2012

Secret Nation?

It was long overdue but I've finally done it. I watched the 1992 NL film Secret Nation. I know, I know, I should have done it a long time ago but I just recently got my hands on a copy and I was certainly not disappointed. As a film buff and a student of NL history it was a pleasure to see the two blended in a fictional history lesson played out by some now well know NL performers. The themes explored in the film are thick and rich and have been talked about in kitchens around NL since confederation. In case you haven't seen it the basic plot follows a researcher who uncovers an unseemly secret regarding the confederation vote.        

I was raised in a distinctly anti-confederate home. It wasn't that my grandfather had anything against Canada but he was certainly a Newfoundlander first and a Canadian second. And when I say Newfoundland I mean both Newfoundland and Labrador, and so did he. He was raised in Jack Lane's Bay and Hopedale, so he certainly understood and loved the Big Land. I was naturally drawn to NL History while studying at MUN and ended up with an Academic advisor who wrote extensively on NL and Canadian relations. Some of his writings were paralleled in the film including the idea that confederation with Canada was essentially inevitable. The question remains however, could we have made it on our own, without Canada?

Back when The Independent was still a print newspaper and headed up by none other then current MP Ryan Cleary they ran a 6 part series as part of a cost benefit analysis of our relationship with Canada since confederation. Unfortunately the current online version of the paper doesn't have one link that could point you to the entire series so you can use the following links to help you out. Part 1. Part 2. Part 3. Part 4. Part 5. Part 6. The Indy seemed to think that overall we could be better off on our own, but is that really the case?

A romanticized version of our past will always see how we could have done better, but there are still certainly those who still feel we can make it on our own. The example of Iceland is often used as a comparison country that became independent after years of being part of another nation. Of course the recent near economic collapse in Iceland just goes to show that with independence comes great responsibility that can certainly be mismanaged. So some might ask is it better to have others manage your affairs, or for you to have the ability to mess it up or be successful on your own?

NL still has many of the holdovers from the time when we were a nation and they will lead some to argue that we could be a small but successful country on the edge of North America. We have a unique culture, language, way of life, history and the potential for a very successful economy. To make matters worse is that our place in Canada is not exactly at the top of the food chain. While we have significant clout based on our population, we certainly aren't an equal partner in this confederation. 7 seats out of 308 does not an equal partner make.

Many folks feel like me and my grandfather, a Newfoundlander first and a Canadian second. And while becoming a country of our own again may not be overly realistic, it certainly is a great topic for conversation over a couple of drinks. My final recommendation is that if you haven't already seen Secret Nation then you certainly should ASAP and then sit around with some friends and see if you can figure out if we'd be better off on our own. Is it time we moved from being a secret nation to an actual one?

Wednesday 25 January 2012

It's not about History or Culture

It's about business and common sense. The seal hunt that is. No need to wonder what my stance is go here and read for yourself. I wrote that original piece in 2006 and not much has really changed except that each year the market for seal products, mostly pelts, seems to be declining.

That's where CBC's Fisheries Broadcast host John Furlong steps in (here) and begins to question where that industry is headed and if we should be taking a hard look at directing the industry or putting it down, instead of just letting it die a slow death. The article prompted some discussion but nothing too crazy until NDP Ryan Cleary recently stuck his head out of the parliament window and mused aloud about the end of the hunt.

Cleary has been seen a an ardent defender of the fishing industry in NL since before he ever became elected as an MP. And you would find many who agree with his passionate take on the issue in general. Which is why his recent comments on the seal hunt have confused many and angered some. It started with these comments as listed in this CBC story. In the piece Cleary is quoted as saying:
"Part of our history is also whaling, for example, and the day came when the whaling industry stopped," said Cleary, the MP for St. John's South-Mount Pearl. "Now, is that day coming with the seal hunt? It just may be."

I could be mistaken but that sounds very much like he is saying that we should look at stopping the seal hunt. Those comments have seen Cleary in the middle of a bit of a firestorm of comments on the hunt and apparently he has found some supporters that he'd rather not have. A shortlist of the usual animal welfare nuts have noted Cleary's comments as proof that this once ardent defender of the bloody seal hunt has changed his tune. Cleary has since posted the press release he wrote to his blog "Fisherman's Road" over here. In the release he states:
"Let me re-iterate, I am not proposing to ban the commercial seal hunt in any way."
I think Cleary may now realize that he misspoke and is trying to do a little backpedaling. Fair enough, it happens. But it has just provided more ammunition for the crazies and may be one more nail in the coffin for part of an industry that Cleary certainly supports.

Here are some basic facts of the hunt as it currently exists:

  • Existing markets are disappearing. 
  • Animal rights groups are good at convincing rich people of things that aren't really true.
  • Seals eat a whole lot of other fish.
  • People of NL don't make very much $ from the hunt.  
  • Government of Canada is resistant to investing much $ into the industry. Markets, marketing, diversification, etc. 

Some people defend the seal hunt on the basis of tradition, history and culture. That argument doesn't belong in this conversation. If something is wrong then it's wrong, no matter how long of a tradition it is. But sealing is not wrong, it's not inhumane, it's not many of the things that the animal welfare groups claim, but it is dying none the less. The animal groups are winning because they are hitting the areas that impact the industry where it has trouble fighting back and it impacts the business rationale for the industry. Without markets it won't make money and it will eventually end. Unfortunately that means more seals to eat more fish, further preventing the recovery of fish stocks.

The seal hunt can be a viable industry but it will need a plan, new markets, and new products. Ryan Cleary knows this and he knows he misspoke. I think he supports the industry just as he always has and he'll have to weather this storm and convince the Government of Canada to get it's act together and figure out the best path forward for the sealing industry. At least I hope he misspoke.

If these things continue, the industry will not need to be ended, it will die on it's own without anyone's help. As a result our other fisheries will suffer.

Monday 23 January 2012

2nd Place for the Win!

Welcome to the Best Political/Commentary Blog in NL!

It's always nice to win, but it's certainly sad to see one less voice on the old interweb driving public debate. So while I'm glad to say that I am now the winner of the best Political/Commentary Blog over at the NL Blog Roll, it is unfortunate that it has come at the disappearance of The Fighting Newfoundlander blog, formerly written by Shannon Reardon.

As outlined by Geoff Meeker on his blog here, Shannon has recently taken a position with the Official Opposition as a Communications Specialist and as a result her blog has not only gone silent, it has gone missing. Geoff questions the need for her previous posts to be removed and I agree that it seems a little extreme. Shannon was never one to shy away from letting her opinion be know and I and many others respected her for that. But now those thoughts are lost to us. And for those of us who may have linked to her previous posts from time to time we have some dead links to fix!

When I found out I was nominated back in September I posted this short piece noting that I was in fine company with my fellow nominees. I stand by that assessment and I still feel that Ed Hollett writes the finest local political blog at the Sir Robert Bond Papers

I will miss reading Shannon's musings but I'm glad to say that there are a raft of local folks who take the time to share their thoughts with us all. As a final note I will share with you some of those who are on my regular reading list:

Of course all of these and many more are accessible via Eli Harris over at the NL Blog Roll. 

Thursday 19 January 2012

The Muskrat Farce Continues...

Well things are finally heating up in the public arena about the Muskrat Falls project. It's about bloody time. Some folks, bloggers mostly, have been beating this drum for quite a while now with very few people actually paying attention, media included.

For example there was this video I posted in July of last year. You should find some of my commentary is very much inline with much of the current criticism of the project. It might be a little long but it certainly isn't burning up the YouTube charts! lol

Thank goodness there are more voices that are adding their weight to the argument in recent months. One such person is Dr. Wade Locke who gave a presentation hosted by MUN's Harris Centre that you can watch here. Locke had previously avoided commenting on Muskrat Falls because he said he had completed some initial work on the economic benefits from a workforce perspective. He seems to have changed his mind on speaking out, because the point of his presentation was to announce his support of the mega-project.

Of course Locke isn't the first MUN Economics Prof to get involved in the conversation. James Feehan also let his views be know via the C.D. Howe Institute in this paper. Feehan is much more skeptical about the rational for the project. In Lockes presentation he takes a couple of shots at Feehan and Feehan responds with a couple of pointed questions.

So where does it leave us if two economy "experts" seem to disagree on the basics of the $6.2 billion project. Well if you head over to the Telegram and read this little number from James McLeod you might start questioning exactly what the point of Locke's presentation actually was.

Taken from the article:
"Locke was comparing the Muskrat Falls project to an isolated island alternative, and he found Muskrat Falls is $2.2 billion cheaper than the second-best option.
But that cost difference doesn’t include the cost of transmitting power to the island.
When asked by The Telegram, “If that doesn’t include transmission, is that a fair comparison?”
Locke answered, “Probably not. You’d want to include transmission as well.”
The issue was raised during Tuesday night’s presentation by fellow economics professor James Feehan. "
So then what the hell was Locke doing comparing apples to oranges and not saying anything about it? Was he attempting to mislead people by not including all the pertinent information? One of my criticisms of the numbers provided by NALCOR has always been that we are expected to trust them blindly without ever seeing how they were calculated or where they came from. We're big boys and girls and some of us would very much like to see the evidence behind the show before we commit to a project that will saddle us with debt and double our electrical rates.

And as one final note remember that all of this is a result of your faithful Government who has made this decision on your behalf and without your input. The following video is concerning the current sate of Federal democracy but the sad part is that it's so much worse here in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Keep asking questions, and may the farce be with you!

Monday 16 January 2012

Change is the only Constant

No matter what the sector, topic or issue change is truly the only constant. We often try hard to hold on to the past but it is like trying to close your hands tighter to hold onto water, it just doesn't work. As a province we hold our past and our traditions to very high esteem, as we should. Unfortunately that leaves us even less likely to accept or embrace change and the evidence of this can be found in most every sector of the economy, and it is especially true of the fishery.

The problem is often compounded by the fact that we are so afraid of change that we run from it. This leaves us in such a precarious position. There is an old saying that if you don't manage change then it will manage you, and this is the reality that we have been living with for many decades here in NL.

Our history is vivid and so very dear to us, but it is ripe with examples of change being fought against as opposed to planned for. It is a difficult thing to do but strategically planning a route through oncoming change is the best way to hold on to those things we care for while still being able to adapt to new situations.

While the fishery is a great example of this unwillingness to change it is only one example. You could easily look to forestry, pulp and paper, mining, and even the shape and operation of our government as glaring examples of how afraid we are of trying something different. Our current Provincial government structure is woefully inadequate yet there is very little desire for change. We have changed as a province yet our government has remained stagnant in it's shape, function and operation. There have been some changes but that have been slow, poorly managed and developed and only come when there were absolutely no remaining alternatives. we have been dragged into the 21st Century kicking and screaming.

We need to look forward, determine what we want our future to be and build the province, the economy and the government we want to have in years to come. It isn't always an easy thing to do but it is certainly better then the alternative of always responding and reacting instead of planning and being proactive.

We have the ability to set our own course, to manage our own destiny but we have to have the courage to grasp it and the integrity to be flexible enough to recognize what goals and ideals are core to who we are and keep those in the forefront of everything we do. It is the only way to avoid living in the past.