Friday, July 31, 2009

If a report falls in July, does anybody hear?

If an economic report falls in July, does anybody hear?

It's no surprise that the latest economic forecast from the Conference Board of Canada received ample attention in the Globe and Mail and the Telegram.

It's also no surprise that it's being ignored by the Williams government and VOCM.

But it is surprising that the Opposition is so quiet. While the Telegram's report that "Finance Minister Jerome Kennedy could not be reached for comment," is de rigueur these days, surely the Liberals could have got a word in somewhere? Couldn't the Opposition be reached for comment?

Stop the Presses Update!
It looks like the state of the economy cannot compete with an enraged cat.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Just how bad is VOCM?

Here's a question for today: just how bad is VOCM?

Here are the headlines listed as of 8:45 a.m.:
Tragic End to Search for Chopper
Recreational Fishery Starts Saturday

Weekend Emergency Service Restored at Hospital
Memorial Beefs Up Emergency Plan
Central Health Recruits New Doctors
Premier Confident Central Newfoundland Will Overcome Challenges
Thursday's Sports Scores
Possible Supermarket Closure Prompts Rally
Dump Sites Closing
Guide Aimed at Special Marine Areas
South Coast Aquaculture Industry Astounding: Premier
Pot Bust on Northern Peninsula
Tall Ship Visiting Capital City
Viking Village Named Hidden Travel Gem
Local Sports

Janeway Case Room Nurses on Mandatory Stand-by
Drowning Victim Identified
Elderly Man Crashes Motorcycle
RCMP Hot on the Busted

Labrador Towns Baffled
Submerged woman recovering
Labrador West Saddened

B and B Operators Offer Free Accomodations to Quebec Couple
Contraband Cigarettes Seized
Eastern Health Moving to Implement Report

Avondale Store Celebrating Milestone
Gander Reassured About Search and Rescue Unit
Man Could Lose Driving Privileges
Email Scam Warning Issued
Turnings Boss Against Pot Legalization
Government Acts on Smelly Situation
Province Committed to Southern Labrador Airstrip: Taylor
Fuel Prices Unchanged
Former CBS Mayor Dies
NLer Helps Canada to Softball Victory O'Brien Shines
Avondale Store Celebrating Milestone 120 and counting
RCMP Applaud Quebec Couple for Rescuing Woman

Mainland Accident Claims Life of Woman From Province
Province Not Moving to Needs-Based Home Care: Oram
Young Person Hospitalized with H1N1
MHA Supporting Capelin Fishermen
Fire Department Issues Reminder to Businesses
Public Meetings Set on MHAs Salaries and Compensation
Mayor Pleased With Work on TLH
Paradise Beats Harbour Grace in Online Vote
Car Submerged in Pond Submerged vehicle stolen.
Man Injured in Workplace Accident
Fire Damages Home in Bulls Cove
Deer Lake Teen in Trouble
Police Release Surveillance

The stories stretch back to the 21st. Let's leave aside, for a minute, the high proportion of feel-good Williams government stories. Let's even leave aside the fact that today's pseudo-story on Williams' speech is nothing but an abstract of the speech, complete with an audio clip guessed it: an excerpt from the speech.

No, what's truly telling is the absence. What's left unsaid says everything about VOCM News. In a week with startling and disturbing revelations about the scope and depth of political corruption in NL, there is not a single story on the trial of Jim Walsh.

Only the Telegram is giving the Walsh trial the attention it deserves. I have been critical of the paper and some of its columnists in the past, but I have to give credit where credit is due: their reporting and commentary have been informative and incisive. Their editorial today gives reassurance that critical thought is alive and well in at least one corner of the fourth estate. It was also one of the better written commentaries, with a punch packed at the end:
"And if you're willing to simply accept reassurances that it's all better now, well, then you'll get the government you deserve."

That's one of the best lines I've read in a while. Here's the link:

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

ABC's of Justice

While the national media focuses on H1N1, the ABC virus continues to spread unabated.

The latest casualty is the Provincial Department of Justice. The ABC virus used to be confined to the long-standing agitation for a federal penitentiary in NL. As Labradore noted at the time, the Williams government was putting new rhetorical wine into an old political bottle:

But the ABC virus has since mutated into a new form that afflicts provincial as well as federal jurisdictions. In response to mounting public complaints about the poor condition of Her Majesty's Penitentiary in St. John's, the Williams government is apparently lobbying Ottawa to pay part of the cost of building a new provincial facility.

The VOCM story on 18 July neatly blurs the line between HM Penitentiary (a facility run by the province) and the long-standing campaign for a new federal penitentiary: "The province has been asking the federal government to help build a new prison in the province [a provincial penitentiary?], but the feds have yet to jump on board."

It's unclear whether this is part of the new federal-shaming policy that Fisheries Minister Hedderson announced last week, but it's certainly a sharp departure from Premier Williams' public declaration in the House of Assembly less than three months ago:

Or perhaps, like all agitprop, it's a hybrid of the two. Whatever the case, today's coverage in the Telegram shows that even inmates are well aware of the politics of prisons. According to the Telegram, a former inmate said, "federal politicians who refuse to fund a new [provincial] prison should be fired." (It appears that only the Premier is allowed to say publicly that officials should be shot).

When asked by the Telegram, Federal Public Safety Minister Peter Van Loan released a statement saying, "As this is a provincial facility, the prison and its future are entirely the responsibility of the province."

Meanwhile, the Provincial Department of Justice refused to comment on the matter. I wonder why.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Where's Waldo?

My eldest son really enjoys the Where's Waldo books, so I've been reading them with him fairly often this past year. This morning I realized that Waldo-locating skills are useful when searching for other people, too. Take, for example, yesterday's press release, MOU, and news conference:

The press release, news conference, and media stories contain photos of, quotations from, or references to, the following individuals:
Tom Hedderson
Earle McCurdy
Gail Shea
Derek Butler
Stephen Harper

Who is missing?

[Hint: it's the same guy who appears on virtually every news release associated with NALCO]

Once you've finished the Where's Waldo game, you might want to ponder three questions:
1) According to the government's press release, "The industry was facing a crisis and the MOU has been critical in resolving that." So the crisis is now suddenly over?

2) Hedderson is quoted in the Telegram as saying, "We have a very good chance of making sure that we shame them into action." Does this mean that the provincial government has reversed its policy with respect to federal-provincial releations, replacing the official line of "we couldn't care less" with the new "making sure that we shame them"?

3) What's the difference between the "investments" touted in the government's press release and the "subsidies" that Dunderdale rejected just two weeks ago?

Here are the links:
The press release:
The Telegram story:
VOCM story:
"We couldn't care less" policy:

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Protest Postmortem

The fishery protest that started with a media bang ended with a political whimper.

As I wrote last week, the return of the Premier meant one of two things: he would either wage rhetorical war against the protestors or cut a deal and throw money at the problem. As with the threatened nurses' strike, the provincial government blinked:

As I said when the nurses' strike was averted, I'm glad that the provincial government had the sense to cut a deal. However, while the government's response to the deal is a lot quieter than the aborted nurses strike (few media stores and no government press release thus far), a protest postmortem reveals some interesting similarities between the two incidents. These similarities are part of a broader pattern of governance. Let's call them the Williams Government Top Ten:

1) Procrastinate while the problem festers.
2) Attack when the problem generates significant media attention.
3) Blame everyone else involved and deny any responsibility.
4) Find a way to say it's all Ottawa's fault.
5) Issue a press release saying that the government has already done everything it can do.
6) Do nothing substantive until the Premier gets directly involved.
7) Cut a deal at the last minute.
8) Assume that the deal solves everything.
9) Return to ignoring the larger structural issues that caused the problem.
10) Return to your idée fixe: NALCO deal-making.

Press Release Update:
It will be interesting to see how much follow-up there is, but here's the press release:

Friday, July 10, 2009

How not to be an Opposition critic

How not to be an Opposition critic, from the CBC:

Liberal critic Kelvin Parsons said the Gros Morne hydro corridor is a bad first option, saying he thought it was another case of the premier "shooting from the lip."

However, Parsons said he could possibly support the plan under certain circumstances.

"Right now we have a UNESCO site there. There should be no transmission line through there unless it is absolutely necessary to go through there. And we don't know that at this point," he said.

Why on earth would Parsons open the door, even a crack, to the possibility of supporting such an utterly stupid idea? It's not a "bad first option," it's bad. Period.

What could the Liberals possibly gain by giving Williams an inch so he can take a mile? It doesn't take a genius to figure out how political expediency can be skewed to appear as absolute necessity, if the power line lunacy continues. What we don't know at this point is how reckless the Williams government will be, not whether the power lines will be absolutely necessary.

If there is any issue on which the Opposition should take an unequivocal stand, it's this one. The Liberals never seem to miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity. (Yes, I know it's an Abba Eban quote).

Now is the time for them to put as much distance as possible between themselves and Danny Williams. I'd trade the "shooting from the lip" quip any day for an unqualified rejection of Williams' (or is it NALCO's?) Gros Morne power line propaganda.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Wiseman Dumped

As you've no doubt heard already, Williams has finally dumped Wiseman from Health:

Timing is everything in politics, and in this case it was most curious. The spin and counter-spin will no doubt be full of all sorts of theories on why Williams decided to oust Wiseman today, rather than when he moved Burke out of Education.

But I'm sticking with the principle of Occam's Razor: the simplest explanation is likely the most accurate. And the simplest explanation is this: Williams did it because he wanted to. That's all. He waited until he decided it would be best for him, not for Health, not for the cabinet, not for the media, not for the public, not even for Wiseman himself, I suspect.

Perhaps a clue is that it was done in between Townie holidays (the 12th is soon upon us again), and in between scandals at Health: so it would generate as little publicity as possible. The last thing Williams would want is to give the impression that he was caving into public pressure. No, it was wham, bam, shuffle. No public leaks (at least none that I know of), just a terse media advisory giving the bare necessities:

The sharpest commentary I've seen thus far was on the CBC site, where someone said, "Someone must have suggested to Danny that Wiseman should stay on as health minister." At least Wiseman will no longer have to feel guilty when he spends his time speaking to Chambers of Commerce.

For those of you who just have to have a theory, here's one to chew over: Williams dumped Wiseman as a way to provide a temporary distraction from the crisis in the fishery and the fallout from his reckless Gros Morne power line talk. The pattern seems to be that he finally ousts a minister after the scandal in her/his Department has temporarily eased and when another Department is getting media heat. Thus Burke was dumped well after the initial presidential crisis erupted but at a time that took some of the pressure off Wiseman, who was being boiled in every news cycle. This fed the media something else to talk about and gave the impression that Williams was on top of things. Perhaps I was right when I said that last week's fishery protest had penetrated Williams' teflon. Williams returned from Europe, gave an absolute disaster of a media scrum (feeding not 1 but 3 stories in the Telegram), and so he was left scrambling to find a way to do damage control.

And for those of you who dare to think that this has something to do with the looming release of new information about cancer testing, you would be right: Wiseman said that the two events are connected, because today's shuffle bumped the release down the media advisory ladder. According to CBC, "The shuffle comes the same day as new numbers of patients affected by mistakes with breast cancer tests were expected to be released. Wiseman said the shuffle pre-empted the release, and the update will come early next week."

One could argue that the causal relationship should be the other way around, i.e., releasing new information would prompt a change of minister. One could also argue that the release of the cancer test imformation should take priority, given the earlier, "they should be shot," fiasco.

But nothing could be further from the truth. According to the CBC, "the premier said the timing of the shuffle is not related to the update." Quod erat demonstrandum.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

All Roads Lead to Ottawa

Hee's Baacck. In the wake of his media scrum and this morning's news cycle, a singular truth is more evident than ever: For the Williams government, everything revolves around Ottawa.

This may seem to be a curious claim to make about a notoriously nationalistic regime, but if you stop and think about it, Williams says practically nothing without reference to Ottawa. I'm not sure that even Clyde Wells was as focused on federal politics during the Meech Lake saga as Danny Williams has been since he took power. From the spin about "going it alone" in foreign policy or resource development, to hauling down the Canadian flag and the never-ending ABC putsch, Williams seems obsessed with the province's relationship with Ottawa. One way or another, Tory politics always comes back to the federal government.

Not convinced? Well, let's take today's news cycle. There are three substantive stories in today's Telegram:

1) Williams' response to last week's fishery protest: "Premier Danny Williams says the fishing industry ought to train its sights on the federal government - not the province - to solve its long-term problems. He said the province has already stepped up to the plate, but Ottawa has not."

2) Williams' statement about the proposed NALCO transmission lines through Gros Morne: "The premier suggested that Ottawa could come up with the extra cash to defray the additional cost of rerouting the towers."

3) Williams' report on his foreign policy junket to Europe. "Because of our unique position, where we've said that we're not totally on side with Canada [sic] in this whole process, I thought it was important that we made a direct link," Williams reported. The story is not available online, but you can view the first section via the Telly's "smart edition" function:

According to Williams' scorecard, today's game of federal-provincial politics is 3-0. First, Williams denied that the provincial government bears any responsibility for the crisis in the shrimp fishery, which is now Ottawa's problem to solve. Evidently, Williams decided that last week's fishery policy -- promulgated in the press release that stated, "the industry itself has failed to take the action needed to address these issues" -- was due for a change, so he switched the blame to Ottawa.

Second, Williams threatened to build a power transmission line in a UNESCO world heritage site unless Ottawa covers the cost to build the towers elsewhere. And finally, he claimed that his relationship with Ottawa is so bad that he has to travel to Europe personally to oversee the province's own foreign policy, though Geoff Meeker has uncovered evidence to the contrary:

If you thought this government was all about going it alone, think again. It's all about Ottawa.

Back to the Future Update

...And it's not as if this is a new phenomenon, either:

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Penetrating the Teflon

If journalism is the first draft of history, we may be seeing some history being made this week. With the fishery protest entering its fourth day, my sense is that we are in the midst of some sort of change.

It's too early to tell whether this change will be temporary or long-lasting, but it appears that Danny Williams' political teflon has been breached. This story seems to have broken through the teflon barrier, and it has the potential traction to do political damage.

The Telegram's editorial this morning gutted the story with a straightforward question: Why are thousands of fishermen receiving far less government attention than 130 paper mill workers?

It then split the story open by observing that Williams is in Europe on a foreign policy junket and Hedderson is in Texas of all places, leaving Dunderdale to tell the protestors to leave the building. (By the way, wasn't it curious that Williams chose to be out of the province on Memorial Day and Canada Day, and thereby miss the plaque unveiling ceremony?).

It's unclear whether ignoring the fishermen will hurt Williams' poll numbers when CRA does its thing again. If the venomous comments on the CBC and Telly sites are any indication, beating up on fishermen plays well with biased, uninformed, and bigoted people. It's interesting to note that no one ever calls civil servants pampered, overpaid, or lazy; but fishermen get called worse every time a story is posted online.

The larger question here is not about the management of the fishery per se but rather the management of government itself. Earlier in the week, VOCM was sticking fairly closely to the Tory party line, but today's story carries the FFAW's three most important talking points:
1) Williams has refused to meet with McCurdy.
2) Williams needs to spend the same time on the fishery as on oil deals and ABC politics.
3) Williams' government needs to be more respectful towards the fishery.

Point number 2 is similar to the point that Randy Simms was trying to make before Williams' now-infamous meltdown on VOCM, so it will be interesting to see which Danny Williams lands at St. John's airport. Will we see the return of the angry patriarch eager to smite all those who doubt his will? Or will we see Williams quickly dispatch his ministers to throw money at this problem to make it go away as quietly as possible? (One wonders whether Hedderson himself knows the answer to that question).

What we do know at this juncture is this: the fishery protest is not a discrete, stand-alone story. It has hooked into the larger story about how Premier Williams treats people who challenge him. It has become a question of not only the government's fishery policy, but also its judgement, its attitude, and its competence. It relates directly to the political issue I've raised this week: the Tories are out of touch.

For four days now, the government's response has been to attack by throwing all the blame back onto the fishing industry. As a sign of the 8th Floor's irritation, they threw an angry press release at the problem. But still the protest continues.

Here is a question for you: if Williams lost his senses over just one session of Randy Simms' call-in show, how is he going to react to four days of protest?

For the press release and analysis, see: