Search This Blog

Thursday 29 August 2013

Time to Make Your Mark

It only happens every 4 years, and last time around there wasn't much interest in the municipal elections around Newfoundland and Labrador. What about this time?

The usual trend in municipal elections for NL is to see more interest in the larger towns and cities but less interest in the smaller communities, unless there's a major issue dividing the town. This certainly isn't always the case as some smaller communities have very healthy elections and voter turnout. But the general trend is to have more councils acclaimed in smaller towns, and in many cases there are often not even enough people nominated to fill the available seats. In fact in the MNL Municipal Census  it was almost a 50/50 split between those that had contested elections and those that did not. So at least 110 municipalities did not have a contested election in 2009.

When I worked with MNL and with Municipal Affairs, councillors and mayors would often comment that they were perfectly happy being acclaimed. They would tell me how it was a sign that their residents were content and didn't feel they needed change. The unfortunate truth is that uncontested elections are not generally a good thing. While it can be a sign of contentment it can also be a sign of apathy and frustration with a system people don't understand.

Healthy elections are important for healthy communities. Its a part of democracy to have choice, no choice means no democracy. It also is an amazing way for residents to get to understand the system of municipal government. Speaking with councillors from around NL a common theme that arises is how they had no idea what was involved until they became a member of their council. The average person doesn't know, or often care to know how the municipal system works in NL. What better way to get to know then by getting involved and sitting on a council.

The current Make Your Mark campaign as pushed by the Department of Municipal Affairs and Municipalities NL is attempting to reach out and encourage people to run for council. It does appear to be having some success as some municipalities seem to have more names coming forward then for the last election. The closest example for me is my home community of Logy Bay-Middle Cove-Outer Cove. While Mayor John Kennedy has been acclaimed there is a great deal of interest in the other council seats.  There was a fully acclaimed council last time around, but this time for the 6 council positions there are 11 names to choose from, including mine.

And don't forget that even if you don't want to run for your council you still have the a very important role to play in choosing your council. So on September 24th get out there and Make Your Mark!

Friday 23 August 2013

The Liberal Leadership: Round 1

It started with a decent size crowd in a warm room and ended with handshakes and smiles, with a few fireworks in between. Overall it was a very successful and positive night for the Liberal Party of NL, and despite a couple of pointed questions and some raised voices the one thing I took away from the event is that the tide has now turned and it's acceptable to be Liberal once again.

Each contestant had a very different approach and they didn't all resonate with the affable audience. While some answers were canned others were a little more off the cuff and in the end I'd put two of the five at the front following this first round, and for different reasons. Dwight Ball came off looking good due to actually answering some questions and holding his own in most of the debates. Jim Bennett looked to be the only one who actually had policy based answers to the questions of the night. And while these two came out on top there was a lot more going on...

In order of their placement on the stage I give you my impressions of each candidate from the 1st Leadership debate.

Paul Antle
Antle looked and sounded like a leader. He was well spoken if a little slow in some cases for my taste, almost dropping to William Shatner speed once or twice. He is obviously a polished speaker and was well prepped on the style of the debate. In one instance on the one on one debates he set Danny Dumaresque up to bash Muskrat Falls, A.K.A. Cathy Bennett, and not surprisingly Dumaresque didn't disappoint him. It was a good job of getting one of the others to do his bidding and was well played.

The downside of Paul's performance was with regard to his answers to pretty much every question. That is to say he sounded great but he didn't actually say anything. Going into the debate I was looking forward to learning more about how he actually felt about issues, but alas after almost 3 hours it still looks like he doesn't have many thoughts of his own. Only two things were clear from his answers; first is that he doesn't have enough information on Muskrat Falls (Really? After two years?) and secondly that he's adamant that the current Government is doing everything wrong. But that's about it. When asked a very important question regarding the fact that he doesn't have a seat in the house and the difficulty related to being a leader outside the house or would he ask someone to step down, Antle's response was basically that he would have to assess the situation after he became leader. Non-answer.

Dwight Ball
Ball also looked and sounded the part for most of the night. He looked comfortable and answered casually never loosing composure. He relied heavily on the growth of the popularity of the Party during his time as Interim Leader, stating that a recent poll put the Party in first place at %46. He answered a couple questions with actual answers including a couple healthcare planks that would focus on smoking cessation work and specific chronic disease (Diabetes) programs.

Unfortunately for Ball his answers weren't exactly up to scratch for those were really paying attention. The substance of his responses was lacking to say the least. It was most obvious when asked by Dumaresque specifically what he would do to reinvigorate the fishery. He struggled badly and came up with little more then marketing and joint management. In addition, his reliance on his track record was also a little off base. While the Party is gaining ground I'm not sure he can claim much success when compared to a Government that continuously shoots itself in the foot. And finally, his debate with Jim Bennett around public support and polling numbers seems to indicate a bad memory or creative story telling. The Party has not been in first place, nor at %46 anytime since Ball has been at the helm. In fact the last Poll indicated the Party in second place at %36, with Ball as leader showing %24 support, exactly what Bennett had said. Edit: I was contacted by Ball with some clarification including the latest MQO poll which puts the Party in first at 46%. Those numbers however were not publicly released until they appeared on CBC's On Point and there are still no media stories on them and no official release information from MQO. Odd. And he also indicated an Angus Reid poll that placed him in first place across Canada tied with another opposition leader. The full report on that poll available here does place Ball tied in first place across the country but that portion does not include other party leaders within the home province. The full report and poll within this province still places Ball second behind the NDP leader.  

Cathy Bennett  
I'll refer to her by first name here simply because there are two Bennetts in the race. Cathy looked the part and many of her answers were well prepared and for her part she provided the answers reasonably well. And to her credit she was able to stay on topic and held her ground and stood by past decisions even when she was being nearly shouted down by two of her competitors.

As well spoken as she was she did stumble a few times throughout the night, not terribly but noticeably considering she was really the only one to do so. Like Antle her answers were terribly vague, but she took a different track. Her response to most every question revolved around consultation and listening. This indeed seems to fit with her general campaign messaging thus far. And while consultation is imperative to government decision making it appears that Cathy doesn't have many real answers beyond consultation. But her largest impediment on the night was her support of the Muskrat Falls project. To her credit she did not back down despite an obviously anti-Muskrat audience. The topic got the most response from the audience and was never in her favor. She questioned Jim, the other Bennett, on seniors housing and the beginning of his response included his concerns for the increases coming for their light bills and how that would impact their pocket books. She just couldn't win and at a couple of occasions her attitude began to slip into defensive territory and she got snippy, especially with Antle.

Danny Dumaresque
Dumaresque is a good public speaker and he's good at pushing those buttons that get people riled up. In the case of this audience it was Liberal pride and anti-Muskrat Falls. He answered some of the questions with actual answers and was one of the few who actually indicated some kind of plan for a couple of sectors. This included a commitment to construct a fixed link to Labrador to increase tourism and broader economic development.

Dumaresque did have answers to most questions but unfortunately almost all his answers were Muskrat Falls. Even when he was asked a direct question about improving healthcare his answer was about how Muskrat Falls was wasting our money. In the end I still don't know much about his platform beyond how he feels about the Party, Muskrat Falls, and the fishery.

Jim Bennett
Jim sounded well informed, spoke clearly and he had obviously done his homework with regard to the majority of issues. He conveyed portions of his platform in most every answer and his references to the work he had completed as a member of the opposition gave legitimacy to his responses. From creating a Special Prosecutor for organized crime, a switch from open to closed aquaculture, and a strong focus on social justice issues he actually answered the questions.

Even with his detailed answers there were missed opportunities for him during the debate. During one 2 minute debate he didn't get the opportunity to speak because the others were talking and he didn't insert himself. And while questioning Ball on his popularity he allowed Ball to get away with his incorrect statistics.

In Closing...
To be honest it was more spirited then I expected and there was a good turnout with some great questions. Full credit to the Gander and Area Chamber of Commerce and the moderator, Darrin Murray, who did a fantastic job of keeping things on track.

I was really hoping to hear more policy. My main criticism of the current Government is that they do not understand how important good planning and policy are to good government. I want a Liberal Leader who understands those things. It's no secret I'm supporting Jim Bennett and his strong approach to planing and policy is a large reason for that support.

I firmly believe that in the end whatever the result of this process the Liberal Party of NL will be well positioned for 2015. I enjoyed the debate and I can't wait for the next one!

Sunday 11 August 2013

Taking your life in your hands

I've just returned from one of my summer pleasures. For the past 4 years my girlfriend and I volunteer as Judges for the Tidy Towns program and it has the incredible benefit of taking us all around the province to visit the most beautiful places you can imagine. This summer we evaluated 7 towns and traveled over 3000 kms from the Avalon, Baie Vert, Burin and Great Northern Peninsulas. As you would expect there's a fair bit of effort keeping eyes peeled for large furry mammals who might ruin our happy trip, but this summer we only saw 3 of those. There were however lots of other things to be wary of.

While I can say that we were never in any real danger on this trip we still got to see plenty of evidence as to why there are so many accidents on our highways. Most accidents on our highways are not a result of moose, but instead its another dumb animal that's to blame.

I drive fast. I always have and I don't expect it will change soon. But I don't drive stupid. I choose a constant speed and based on road and weather conditions I do my best to keep that speed and safely pass those who wish to drive slower. On this trip, and on most trips, I was passed by quite a few folks who seem to feel that their vehicle does not have to conform to the laws of man or of physics. It is not uncommon to be passed as though I'm standing still, even in very heavy rain sometimes, and remember I drive fast already so these folks are skipping along. And with the condition of some of our roads Its just crazy.

I see drivers every day who seem to be blissfully unaware that their vehicles are equipped with indicator lights to help INDICATE when they are turning. Then there are those who like to surge and slow as they drive, I hate them. Pick a speed and stick with it. Differences of more then 20kph in a few minutes on unchanging roads is not safe. We will always have those who drive slowly until you attempt to pass and then it turns into a race. These people are simply unbearable.

Some people seem unable to do the simplest of tasks like use a signal light, use headlights, merge, pass safely or drive without doing at least two other distracting things at the same time. Eating, smoking, talking on the phone, texting, putting on makeup, reading, falling asleep, drinking etc.

Then there's simple vehicle maintenance. You see cars with exhaust pipes falling off, tires falling off or bald, lights not working and we even saw one car who's reverse lights were on while drive 100 on the TCH. It's scary.

In the end the demands on a driver to remain alert are very high and our roads can be very dangerous. Next time you're on the TCH heading across our beautiful countryside don't just concentrate on the ditches, keep an eye to your fellow motorists as well, because they may not be keeping an eye out for you. Drive safe.

Friday 2 August 2013

I'll be supporting...

The slate of candidates who have come forward for the Liberal Leadership is nothing short of fantastic. It is a mix of experience and new voices in a party that is crying out for both. The character and experience of these candidates will grow the party and increases the chances of at the very least having some great new Liberal candidates for the next election. I have more hope for the Liberal Party of NL right now then I've had since I became involved a few years ago. I know that whomever wins this race will be a great leader and the party will be all the stronger for it. In the end only one candidate can win and despite being asked by multiple candidates, I can only support one of them. I support Jim Bennett for the Leadership of the Liberal Party of NL.

I have not made this choice lightly. I examined the candidates and while they all have many skills to bring to this contest I feel strongly that Jim is the leader that the party currently needs. Jim had contacted me some time ago to talk about the leadership possibilities and even then, before the contest had been announced, he impressed me with his strategic approach to how the contest could be won and how the party could be developed to lead NL back to an accountable government again. His emphasis on planning was especially important to me since a large part of my career was spent extolling the need for planning to municipalities around NL. Here was a person looking to lead a government and he actually wanted to begin with analysis and planning. What a contrast to the current Government!

In 2006 Jim held the leadership of the party for a brief period when no one else would even put their name forward. He stepped up and was not afraid to push for new ideas and new approaches. Unfortunately at the time the party was not ready for the change that Jim tried to create. He knew then that if he stayed and fought it would only tear the party further apart so he did what was best for the party at that time and stepped down. In 2007 he ran for the party and despite some very hard work he was not successful. But he did not miss his next opportunity in 2011. While the party was in shambles and we were all fighting for every vote Jim had his ground team in place and worked hard to push his way to victory. It was hard fought and a surprise win in an election where many of us did not fare so well. His determination and ground work had made the difference.

In our conversations since that election Jim has spoken of his vision for the Liberal Party of NL. A party that is focused but fluid enough to adapt. Rebuilt from the ground up with long time party supporters and new blood to reinvigorate and innovate. This must begin at the local level and he has worked hard to get his District Association to a place where they are a healthy functioning organisation.  That's what he wants to do all over the province. In addition to his skills it is perhaps his belief in the Liberal Party and the province of NL that makes him the best choice. He truly believes in a party and a government that is transparent and accountable, fiscally responsible and representative. Jim is a believer in the Liberal Party and the Province of NL. And it's that combination of faith and skill that inspires people. It has inspired me, not only to vote for Jim when the time comes, but to be part of Jim's campaign team.

In the end all that we can do is vote for the person we feel will do the best job. I think that person is Jim Bennett. You have to decide for yourself.

You can find out more about Jim's Campaign at