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Friday, May 25, 2007

My Visit to Canada

Hi folks,

I thought I'd take a minute to let you all know that I'll be away from the province for the next week or so visiting some of our neighbours in Canada. I hope to be back in early June and while there may not be any new commentaries published in the interim (though you never know) I hope you'll take some time to run back over our archives and enjoy those you may have missed the first time around.

Cheers and I'll be speaking with you again real soon.


Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Tory MPs Sell Out Constituents

Last week, in a disgusting display of partisan party politics, Conservative MPs from Saskatchewan and Atlantic Canada voted to approve their party’s budget implementation bill. Legislation that will see Saskatchewan, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland & Labrador combine to lose billions in oil and gas revenues so badly needed to grow their economies and become fully contributing members to the federation.

Thanks to the votes of those MPs, including cabinet ministers Loyola Hearn and Peter Mackay, and with the assistance of the Bloc Quebecois, the bill passed second reading and moved one step closer to impeding the financial futures of the Province’s affected and the Country as a whole. Their actions also helped Stephen Harper break his often repeated promise and proved once again that when it comes to party politics the wishes of voters mean nothing in the scramble for position inside the party machine.

The Tory MPs involved all appear to believe they are in Ottawa to serve their leader rather than their constituents. They’ve vehemently argue that the PM has kept his promise, when it’s quite clear to anyone even vaguely familiar with the situation that he hasn’t, whether you agree with the concept of resource removal from the equalization formula or not.

One back bench MP, Newfoundland and Labrador member Fabian Manning, even allowed himself to be made a fool of by sitting in the House of Commons on the minister's bench a few weeks ago. In the Finance Ministers seat no less.

At the time the PM was standing in the House to taunt the province of Newfoundland and Labrador saying it had been treated so well in the federal budget bill the province wanted more of the same from Ottawa. Manning could be seen beside the PM clapping on cue like a trained seal. The only thing absent was a bucket of fish for harper to feed the newly elected MP.

Can anyone say “electoral suicide”?

When a politician puts his or her career, salary, perks, connections and retirement funds before the wishes of people they were elected to represent, publicly they say they are protecting their place in caucus so they can accomplish other good works. They say that because it usually works and because history has proven that they can get away it. This time that isn’t likely to happen.

There’s a saying that goes, “For every rule there is an exception”. I believe this is the exception that proves the rule. This time the people are angry enough to remember their MPs actions no matter how long it takes for the next election to roll around. This time the feeding frenzy at the parliamentary trough will be cut short long before those involved have taken their fill.

As the summer break approaches many MPs will be returning to their ridings and getting back in touch with their constituents for a couple of months. Up to now most of what they've been hearing of public reaction to their betrayal has come second hand through media reports, constituency workers, advisors and the like. This summer will be their first opportunity to actually walk down the street in their home towns and get a good look at the faces of those they’ve sold out. Each of them may want to think long and hard about what they hear from those voters and what they see in their eyes.

If it was me and I was on the BBQ circuit this summer, I think I’d avoid eating anything I hadn’t personally prepared.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Harper on the Ropes

Boy, it’s been a ride these past few weeks for Steve Harper and his Conservative/Reform/PC/Alliance party. A quick scan of news articles and commentaries from across Canada has begun to paint a picture of a government on the ropes, and rightfully so. Here are just a few examples of what’s being said.

…The Harper government denied intimidation of whistleblowers in the civil service after the RCMP arrested an Environment Canada employee. "The government has been highly criticized for its environmental policies and instead of strengthening them, it has gone on a witch hunt," said Andrew Dumbrille, a spokesperson for Climate Action Network.

…The Harper government's commitment to the French language has come under fire following the appointment of unilingual anglophones to several top jobs and a decision to shut down public hearings on the abolition of a program that helped francophones fight for their rights in court.

…On the international trade front, relations between Ottawa and Beijing have steadily deteriorated since Harper came to power.

…I don’t know why Stephen Harper lets Loyola Hearn get away with it. Hearn is trying to bring socialism back to the East Coast fishery. Or at least he’s trying to control fishing licences and quotas in a way that erodes efficiency, curbs competitiveness, and foments factiousness. And if Hearn succeeds, the industry fails.

…Stephen Harper’s government continues to erode the Canadian universal public healthcare system - The integrity of Canada's Medicare system is being challenged on several clear and pressing fronts, say leading experts gathering for a two-day conference to fix Medicare.

…Prime Minister Stephen Harper is perilously close to becoming the biggest political casualty the Canadian mission in Afghanistan has produced so far. His centralized approach to governing has left ministers sidelined or swinging in the wind.

…Stephen Harper's invoking Parliamentary privilege, to avoid testifying in a defamation suit brought against him and the party by long-time Conservative Alan Riddell, exposes serious contradictions between Harper's sanctimonious stated positions and his actual practices in the realm of cleaning up politics.

…The federal government's blatantly obvious strategy is to bamboozle Canadians into thinking it's on the ball when it comes to the environment by presenting plans that have one flashy element, which everyone remembers, and then essentially supporting the status quo in everything else.

…The Van Doos regiment based in Val Cartier, Quebec is scheduled to ship out to Afghanistan in August. Recently Col. Michel Drapeau, a respected military analyst, was asked for his thoughts on why the Quebec regiment hadn’t already been deployed. His response was that he was, “…surprised by it.” Drapeau went on to say, “Either they weren't ready for it, or it could simply be a political decision for whatever reason one could imagine."

…The removal of interest deductibility would make it more difficult for Canadian companies to compete and to expand internationally. … The outcry from the opposition, economic nationalists and some business leaders over the recent wave of foreign takeovers increased this week following U.S. Alcoa’s hostile bid for Montreal-based Alcan.

…Dozens of regulations are being quietly altered to help integrate Canada with our neighbors to the south. The problem is, almost no one knows about it and no one has been consulted. Up for grabs is the Canadian energy grid, Canadian drug laws and federal food regulations.

…Foreign Affairs Minister Peter MacKay is getting a second invitation to appear before the legislature’s public accounts committee. The committee wants the Central Nova MP to testify about Ottawa’s treatment of the Atlantic accord, and chair woman Maureen MacDonald said it has the power to subpoena him when he is in the province.

...Harper's refusal to divulge the names of the donors to his pivotal Canadian Alliance race also plays into some voters' lingering fears he has a hidden agenda. It opens up questions like: Is there a hidden agenda? Who are his financiers? What are their agendas? ...Is there gun lobby money? ...Is there anti-women's equity money? Is there foreign money?

Yes indeed. It’s a tough time to be a federal Tory. The list goes on of course but I’m sure you get the general idea. Personally I could cite many more major problems with the Harper government. Everything from increased ferry rates to canceling literacy programs, from a lack of support for women’s groups to a failure to support a UN moratorium on bottom trawling. The list is practically endless.

How many more can you folks add to this list?

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

PM and Premiers to Meet in Coming Days

Reports today suggest Prime Minister Steven Harper may be planning a “rare meeting” with the provincial premiers to discuss globalization, competitiveness and the country's economic union.

Now that's a novel idea. A PM actually consulting with the nation’s premiers face to face.

The lunch time meeting, tentatively set for June 2, is intended to give the Prime Minister an opportunity to discuss some key issues before attending a G8 summit in Germany the next day.

I remember when the PM and the premiers used to hold what was referred to as “First Ministers Conferences”. How they used to talk about a number of issues over a period of days. How they tried to work together to resolve issues and find a way forward. Ahhhh, the good old days. Can it be that in Mr. Harper’s Canada a two hour lunch is considered good enough and is all the time he can spare for the premiers?

Not much is likely to be accomplished at the meeting, if it even goes ahead, especially when you consider that one of the topics of discussion is the “country’s economic union”. In light of the fact that premier’s Williams - NL, Calvert - SK, McDonald - NS, Graham – NB and Campbell – BC are all more than a little upset about where the country is heading on that front, the conversation may be a little colourful to say the least.

According to reports, the meeting will be held behind closed doors (no kidding). I’m sure more than one Atlantic Canadian would love to be a fly on the wall during that little chat.

All kidding aside though, if the PM is actually willing to sit down with the premier’s for a couple of hours this might be a good time to make some sort of move to help resolve the standoff over equalization and the clearly significant problems contained in the new federal budget.

Let’s face it someone has to make the first move. The provinces affected are suffering the ill will of Ottawa on a daily basis and the conservative MPs from those provinces have a noose tightening around their necks more with each passing day. Even if Harper manages to build a little more support in Quebec before the next election, it won’t do him much good if he loses 15 or 16 seats as a result of the budget fiasco.

I’m not saying it’s time for the premiers to buckle on this, hell no. The pressure is on both levels of government at this point. What I’m saying is that a dialogue needs to start and a solution needs to be found that will satisfy the provinces affected while letting the provincial leaders and the PM save face in the public arena.

It’s already too late to save the careers of many Atlantic and Saskatchewan MPs. Those folks are little more than road kill at this point, but it may not be too late to mend some fences between the levels of government and find a way forward.

It won’t be an easy task, not by a long shot, and certainly not something that can be accomplished over a lunch time meeting. Perhaps however this rare face to face, closed door discussion, can serve as a starting point for both sides to make some moves that will allow them to find a workable solution.

Now all someone has to do is convince Steve to actually invite Danny to the luncheon so they can try to bury the hatchet and work this out.

By the way, when I say "bury the hatchet" I mean that in the best possible way but just in case, could someone please hide the knives and forks?

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Showdown Set in Commons

The following appeared in the Halifax Daily News today.

Parties prepare to face off over budget measure on Atlantic offshore accords
The Canadian Press

Federal New Democrats set the stage yesterday for a political showdown over a budget bill that Nova Scotia and Newfoundland say will make them poorer.The legislation, which implements the federal budget, forces the two have-not provinces to choose between their cherished offshore-resource deals and a new equalization formula that could cost them $1 billion each over the long term.

The NDP called for a recorded vote on Bill C-52, to take place tonight.

The Liberals say they plan to join the NDP in opposing it.

By forcing an on-the-record vote, veteran New Democrat MP Peter Stoffer says the party is trying to encourage Atlantic Tories to break ranks and oppose the measure."It's designed to encourage them to change their mind," he said."We want to make sure everyone knows where all Parliamentarians stand on this issue. It shouldn't be hidden - or slid under the radar. We want to make sure people actually stand up and are accounted for."

Like the budget itself, the bill is a confidence measure and could theoretically imperil the Conservative minority government.But the Bloc Quebecois caucus, which pledged its support to Prime Minister Stephen Harper when the budget was introduced, say it will stand behind the Conservatives. Toppling the government and forcing an election now could be trouble for the separatist party, whose fortunes have been uncertain since its provincial cousin, the Parti Quebecois, was reduced to third-place in the National Assembly.

"On the most fundamental issues, it's been the Bloc that's been keeping these Conservatives in power," said NDP Leader Jack Layton. He predicted people will start asking: "What's going on?"

Bitterness in the Atlantic region over the potential loss of the revenue-sharing accords will likely be vented at Quebec as well as Conservatives, Liberal MP Scott Brison said. "To succeed in ripping up the Atlantic accords and turning his back on Atlantic Canadians, Stephen Harper needs to enlist Gilles Duceppe and the Bloc Quebecois," he said. "He's enlisted the separatists to hurt Atlantic Canada."

Foreign Affairs Minister Peter MacKay, the region's most high-profile Conservative, wouldn't answer a question about the accord as he left the Commons yesterday.

The dispute has been the subject of a nasty, public exchange between Newfoundland Tory Premier Danny Williams and senior federal Conservatives. The change to the complicated equalization program forces the two provinces to decide between their existing revenue-sharing deals with the federal government and a model being championed by the Tories. Choosing the reworked equalization program would cost both Newfoundland and Nova Scotia $1 billion apiece over the long term, provincial officials have estimated.

Under a 2005 special agreement with the former Liberal government, the two provinces were allowed to keep royalties from their existing offshore natural gas and oil projects without an equalization penalty. In the 1930s, Alberta received an exemption for its non-renewable resource revenues, something that has allowed that province's oil and gas industry to grow. The two Atlantic provinces, however, have had to fight for the same recognition.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Are the Lives of our Soldiers Worth Less than those from Quebec?

Are the lives of our soldiers worth less than those from Quebec?

It’s a question people are asking more and more in light of increased casualties coming out of Afghanistan.

For most of us there are certain lines we simply won’t cross. In my case for example, I’ll never tell my wife she looks like crap in that new dress she bought and I’ll never swear on my dear Mother’s life, not unless I’m damn sure I’m right.

There are those who say Harper, Hearn, Manning and the rest crossed that line when they shafted Newfoundland and Labrador, maneuvered the province into an Efford like Atlantic Accord and kept it a secret until exposed by an independent analyst. They’re probably right, but that’s nothing to what the Harper government is said to be considering now.

While the war rages on in Afghanistan Stephen Harper is greedily eyeing the next election and a potential majority. The PM knows that in order to take a strangle hold on power he has to pick up ground in Quebec. This has led to the question, “Can it be done if Quebec troops are at risk on the front lines?”

The issue revolves around the Van Doos regiment based in Val Cartier, Quebec. While the regiment is scheduled to ship out to Afghanistan in August political observers are saying that if Harper can get a bump in the polls, he may engineer an early election so he can win, with Quebec’s help, before deploying them.

When did it become acceptable for a party to play politics with the lives of Canadian soldiers? If it is, then we clearly have a Prime Minister who is the most callous and cold hearted SOB ever to disgrace Parliament Hill, and that’s saying something.

Analysts and pollsters note that any upswing in casualties, something likely to happen this spring and summer, will be reflected in the polls. It will also be a serious political liability for the Conservative government in Quebec if the bodies of fallen soldiers from that province are being shipped back.

Recently Col. Michel Drapeau, a respected military analyst, was asked for his thoughts on why the Quebec regiment hadn’t already been deployed. His response was that he was, “…surprised by it.”

Drapeau went on to say, “Either they weren't ready for it, or it could simply be a political decision for whatever reason one could imagine."

I don’t know about Col. Drapeau but I for one don’t want to imagine what that reason might be. I’m not immoral or underhanded enough to have the slightest idea what happens in the backrooms of a political party, especially the Conservative/PC/Reform/Alliance Party, but there are three things I know beyond doubt:

- Nobody in Quebec or elsewhere wants to see additional fatalities in Afghanistan no matter where the soldiers come from.

- Voters will never condone a government playing political games with the lives of brave young soldiers.

- Newfoundlanders and Labradorians may not count for much in Ottawa but the lives of soldiers from this province are damn well worth as much as those from anywhere else and a hell of a lot more than a few extra Conservative votes.

Are the lives of our soldiers worth less than those from Quebec?

I guess the answer depends on who you ask. I doubt anybody in Ottawa would be willing to ask the families of those Newfoundland and Labrador soldiers who have already made the ultimate sacrifice.

Mr. Harper had better be very careful of his actions in the days ahead. In the world of politics perception is often reality and if the Canadian public catches even a whiff of something underhanded surrounding troop deployments winning a majority will be the least of Stephen Harper’s problems.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

NL Call to Action - Friday May 11th

Stand Up For Newfoundland & Labrador
A Trust and Confidence Rally!

Friday May 11th, 2007
Time: 12:00 PM

Location: Confederation Building

Hosted by Mr. Randy Simms of VOCM Open Line

Entertainment by Wince Coles and Ward Pike (Ode to Newfoundland)

Speakers will include representatives from:

Newfoundland and Labrador Teachers Association.
Newfoundland and Labrador Federation of Labour.
Newfoundland and Labrador Federation of Municipalities.
Newfoundland and Labrador Federation Of Students.
Royal Newfoundland Constabulary Association.
Newfoundland and Labrador Association of Public and Private Employees
Canadian Federation of Students Newfoundland and Labrador
Ryan Cleary - Editor In Chief The Independent

The rally is intended to give the people of Newfoundland and Labrador a chance to show their strong support for the province’s position on equalization.

Recent budget decisions out of Ottawa have the potential to impact Newfoundland and Labrador far into the future. This has galvanized the public and cut across all political and social groups. The current situation, one that places a backdoor cap on the 2005 Atlantic Accord the province fought so hard for, is one that affects every man, woman and child in the province.

This is a public call for all Newfoundlanders and Labradorians to stand united and strong on this issue and to attend the event if at all possible.

If you would like further information you can call 709–576-2330 or email whittlep@nf.sympatico.ca

As one supporter noted, "By standing shoulder to shoulder as proud Newfoundlanders and Labradorians we hope to send a clear message to Ottawa that the people of this province refuse to sit idly by while our future is stolen from us."

Let's make this the biggest public protest in the history of our province!!!"

Tory MP Norm Doyle May Vote Against Own Govt.

The following appeared today in the Nova Scotia paper, The Chronicle Herald. It’s well worth the read.

If the statement from government is accurate, next week they intend to debate the budget implementation bill. The timing couldn’t be better for the big unity rally happening on Confederation Hill at noon tomorrow.

I look forward to seeing as many of you over there as possible to help send a clear message to Ottawa and apply even more pressure on our MPs. It seems they may still need an extra nudge in the right direction.


OTTAWA — Newfoundland Tory MP Norm Doyle wouldn’t say Wednesday whether he will vote for his own government’s budget, which suggests he may be heeding pressure from his home province to oppose the federal Tories on the offshore accords.

"No comments on the budget at this time," Mr. Doyle said after question period Wednesday.

"You can do whatever stories you want on it, but I have no comments. If you’re relating it to offshore revenues and that kind of thing and equalization, I’ve got no comment to make right now."

The National Post recently reported that East Coast MPs were threatening to vote against the budget, a reflection of widespread anger in Nova Scotia and Newfoundland, where many provincial Tories believe the feds have broken the Atlantic accords.

The other backbench Tories from the two provinces — Bill Casey, Gerald Keddy and Fabian Manning — have said they plan to vote for the budget. The Prime Minister’s Office has told all of them not to discuss the issue with the national media, sources say.

Mr. Doyle has announced he is not planning to run in the next election, which would make it easier for him to defy Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

Mr. Doyle’s refusal to comment suggests he’s having a hard time with his own government’s position, which is very unpopular in Newfoundland, Liberal MP Scott Simms said.

"I’m sure he’s frustrated," Mr. Simms said. "At this point, he must be. He’s always been someone who likes to stand up for his province, so I’m sure this must be a troubling time for him."

Last year, Mr. Simms voted with the opposition against his own government when then-prime minister Paul Martin appeared to be dragging his feet in keeping an election promise to negotiate the offshore accords. He said he would like to see Mr. Doyle take a similar stand now.

"I hope that he does vote against it, to send a message," Mr. Simms said. "I think it’s a great message to send."

The Tories seem to have been trying to delay an embarrassing vote on the budget, says Liberal House leader Ralph Goodale.

The government’s budget implementation act disappeared suddenly from the government’s agenda on April 26, Mr. Goodale said Wednesday.

"For all of April, it was the single leading item on the government’s agenda, just day after day, until we got to two weeks ago," he said. "Then all of a sudden, all the financial information just disappeared."

Mr. Goodale, who helped negotiate the offshore accords as Liberal finance minister, says that, historically, governments always debate budget legislation at this time of year.

"You just clear the decks," he said.

A spokesman for government House leader Peter Van Loan said the government will bring forward budget legislation next week.

"Last week was dedicated to criminal justice matters," he said. "This week is dedicated to democratic reform. Next week will be dedicated to strengthening our economy. We’re doing theme weeks. I don’t know what Goodale’s talking about."

Mr. Goodale said the parliamentary schedule shows the Tories are avoiding a showdown on the deal Mr. Martin signed with John Hamm and Danny Williams.

"The subsequent prime minister is doing his damnedest to weasel out and his own Newfoundland MPs are calling him to account," Mr. Goodale said. "That is an interesting phenomenon and it’s probably the primary reason we haven’t seen any budget legislation for the past two weeks."

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Equalization - AIMS Institute 100% Solution

Over the past several weeks much has been made of the federal government's promise, and later refusal to exclude 100% of non-renewable resource revenues from the equalization formula. Three provinces, Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia and Saskatchewan, all feel betrayed by the Harper government. Prime Minister Harper on the other hand has said he kept his promises and that the right solution to the fiscal imbalance was delivered by the new plan.

Meanwhile, the people living in provinces with resource based economies continue to cry foul while many Canadians are being told that the people there are just whiners who want to "have their cake and eat it too" or are looking to, as I political reporter Mike Duffy said just this week, "Double Dip".

This is an image being nurtured by Ottawa but in reality nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, regardless of promises made or denied, the reality is that what Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia and Saskatchewan are trying to do with their non-renewable resource revenues and the equalization program is the correct and proper thing to do in all of Canada. It's the federal government that has it wrong and is denying these provinces the ability to grow their economies and move off of equalization permanantly.

In July of 2006 the Atlantic Institute of Market Studies (AIMS), after reviewing the findings of the expert panel on equalization which were used in large part as a model for the "New" equalization system, released a paper outlining the best option for Ottawa to take. It wasn't the expert panel option and it wasn't the one adopted by the Harper Government.

The AIMS option would see 100% of revenues exempted, would make so called "have not" provinces more self sufficient (even after their resources were depleted), would save Ottawa billions in equalization costs and would ensure that province's moved away from equalization permanantly rather than temporarily as a result of high oil revenues.

The AIMS report identified that resource revenues of this kind are not the same as revenues from taxes or renwable resources such as hydro power and logging. Since non-renewables are finite the revenues from them are not "new income" but simply a conversion of assets from one form to another As such they should be viewed differently and not included in equalization calculations.

An example used is that of a baker who receives income from selling bread, cakes, etc. This is true revenue since expenses are incurred and a product (which can continue to be made) is sold for income. Just like taxes or the revenues a province receives from renewable sources.

On the other hand, if the baker decides to sell one of his ovens, this money is simply the conversion of one asset (the oven) for another (cash) and is not recorded as income. The same holds true for non-renewable resources like Oil and gas. Once they are gone they are gone and the province's in essence are just converting their oil or gas asset to cash.

The paper goes on to explain that if provinces are willing to take their non-renewable resource revenue and apply it to paying down debt or to converting it into a trust fund that would provide future income then in the long run the entire country would be better off since the province could use the money saved from servicing debt to supply services and the money saved or earned in this way is the true ongoing revenue that should apply to equaliztation calculations.

Under this approach Canada would actually save billions in equalization while allowing provinces to move from "have not" to "have" permanently.

The AIMS paper is a must read for anyone who is still under the misconception that Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia and Saskatchewan are simply looking for handouts. The opposite is true and should be clear to anyone who bothers to take the time to read the report. The fact is, under the current scheme, if a province is forced to use non-renwable resource revenue to supply services, which it is because the federal government has taken away equalization dollars, then when the resources are depleted the province will need even more equalization funding to maintain those services.

Check it out yourself at: http://www.aims.ca/library/Equalization3.pdf

Monday, May 07, 2007

Fight with the Feds Won't End Soon

Just in case you didn't see it, the following is an article published in the Nova Scotia paper, "The Chronicle Herald" today. I guess Newfoundlanders and Labradorians aren't the only ones who feel betrayed by the Harper crime syndicate, as much as so called national papers like the Globe and Mail and National Post might try to make it look that way.

At least the people of Nova Scotia are rightfully outraged and saying so, even it their Conservative Premier is still more than willing to bow to the whims of his party's national body.

The people of Atlantic Canada should all stand together and let Ottawa know we are tired of being forced to sit in the back of the bus.

I'd encourage anyone in the St. John's area this Friday May 11th to go to the Confederation Building at 12:00 noon and show their support for the province by attending the "Stand Up For Newfoundland and Labrador" rally that day. See you there.


Fight with Feds Won’t End Soon

DON’T KID YOURSELF into believing federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty came to Halifax this week to score points with Nova Scotians in the wake of the Harper government’s betrayal of our offshore accord. There’s no rush to mend fences here or to save the political backsides of the province’s three measly Conservative MPs.

Nope, with the federal Conservatives dipping marginally below the Liberals in national polling this week for the first time in months, to say nothing of the ongoing debacle over the torture of Taliban detainees after they had been transferred from the custody of Canadian soldiers, there will be no more talk of a spring election any time soon. But what better time to try to firm up support in seat-rich Ontario, or even the West, by coming to town to deliver a neat spanking to those welfare Novies looking for "double equalization," as the outraged Flaherty puffed on Wednesday afternoon.

There is no panic to make a deal, and Flaherty has no intention of making any agreement with this province that he will have to match in Newfoundland and Labrador, where outraged Premier Danny Williams has declared political war against the Harper Conservatives since the federal budget came out in March.

After Flaherty’s meeting with acting Finance Minister Angus MacIsaac, it was announced that a further meeting would take place. Still, the federal minister was pretty clear in saying he wouldn’t budge on his decision to break the equalization promise in the 2005 accord — though he didn’t exactly describe it like that.

"It isn’t double equalization that’s on the table. It’s one or the other," Flaherty told reporters at a news conference after the meeting. He was referring to the no-win choice: Nova Scotia must either opt into the new and improved equalization formula or stick with the old one while not being penalized for receiving offshore accord revenues.

One day later, Premier Rodney MacDonald took a crack at Prime Minister Stephen Harper while levelling his strongest criticism yet against the federal Conservatives.

At a speech at a Nova Scotia Tory fundraising dinner in Halifax on Thursday night, MacDonald said that after months of "promising to fix the fiscal imbalance — ‘fix it for a generation’ was the promise — we were given two options: Either keep the accord or give it up in order to gain new equalization dollars.

"This was not what we expected. Not after months of supporting the agenda of Canada’s new government. Not after supporting their efforts at Senate reform, strengthening our military and removing internal trade barriers."

"It was not what we expected after the current prime minister championed our cause when he was in opposition — and we thank him for that support. What we expected was the government of Canada to live up to its agreement."

"What we got was something completely different."

MacDonald noted that Nova Scotia responsibly applied the full $830-million payment from the accord to our provincial debt, and described the accord as this province’s opportunity to move beyond the need for equalization through a federally supported economic development program not unlike Ontario’s auto pact or Alberta’s oil rights in the 1950s.

"I don’t believe they understand how keeping the carrot perpetually out of our reach will ensure that Nova Scotia remains forever on the fringes of this prosperous and great nation," he said of the federal Conservatives.

"Well, ladies and gentlemen, I will make them understand. I will make them understand that the accord was intended as our ticket out of equalization. And I will make them understand that a deal is a deal is a deal."

All of this is fine and good, but I suspect the solution for both Flaherty and MacDonald might lie in the issue to which the premier segued next: the Atlantic Gateway proposal that would see Nova Scotia developed as a central transportation link from North America to Europe and Western Asia.

Federal investment in this province for the gateway would enable Harper and Flaherty to throw us a few bones while allowing them to continue thumbing their noses at the rightly aggrieved Williams.

It’s not pretty and it’s not right. The gateway is a proposal Ottawa should be supporting in this province regardless of the dispute over the offshore accord. None of us is naive enough to think, however, that the federal government would refuse to use gateway funding as the next political carrot to dangle before this province.

MacDonald described the gateway concept as a "once-in-a-generation opportunity" to redirect existing trade routes to the benefit of this province. Once-in-a-generation opportunity, eh? Funny, I remember when premiers used to say that about our offshore resources.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Poor Johnathon

Transcontinental newspapers published a commentary yesterday I thought you might appreciate. Hopefully some of its points will not be lost on all the anon posters on this site and on other ill informed Canadians.


Poor Jonathan
By Andy Barker
The Advertiser

Newfoundlanders need hides like elephants in order to thwart off the seemingly endless insulting jokes and disparaging comments.

A few years ago, a Toronto columnist Margaret Wente (Globe and Mail) described Newfoundland as a vast and scenic welfare ghetto. She was not the first upalong to cast snide remarks our way, and sadly she is not the last. Margaret now has the company of a fellow Toronto columnist, Jonathan Kay.

Jonathan is no greenhorn journalist, but an award-winning columnist and editor at the National Post. The native Montrealer is no slouch with metallurgy degrees in engineering from McGill, and a law degree from Yale. He has worked overseas as well as freelanced articles for major U.S. newspapers and magazines.

Jonathan's swipe was an editorial "Maitres chez Newf" in the April 26, National Post. Kay poked fun at the throne speech in which the Williams government expressed its intention that Newfoundland and Labrador be the master of its own house. Kay said that as Canada's poorest province we only survive due to transfers - handouts from Ottawa. Williams he sees as "The surly teenager haranguing his parents over the size of his allowance."

Kay ended with "Either they're rugged individualist proud of their identity and self-reliance. Or they're professional welfare cases, endlessly harassing the rest of us for more handouts."

Poor Jonathan. He has the degrees, awards, and the big job at
the National Post, but he still knows diddly-squat about the Newfoundland economy, people and history.

Jonathan's blatant use welfare, handouts, and allowances all reinforce that jaded image of us as die-hard lazy lushes, out of work, and on the bum as usual. Welfare, handouts, and allowances paint a totally false picture of the Newfoundland economy.

If poor Jonathan had done a little googling, he could have easily learned that our unemployment rate, which can spike upwards due to the seasonal fisheries, is now at 14 per cent. But a minimum of 80 per cent of our work force works year round, year in, year out. Our weekly earnings are nearly in fourth place, and our hot economy (oil driven) is one of the national leaders with an 8.5 per cent growth rate. As well, in 1997-98 we depended upon Ottawa for nearly 44 per cent of our budget. But in the 2007-8 budget estimates we are indeed becoming masters of our house with Ottawa's share now down to less than 29 per cent.

Last year we poor Newfoundlanders managed to spend $6 billion
on retail products that were either manufactured or distributed from Ontario and Quebec. That retail spending will no doubt increase this year due to the tax cuts, and our oil, mining, fishing, and forestry industries will continue to buy all sorts of equipment and parts from the mainland. We keep a goodly chunk of the crowd upalong in a job - and that's surely good- as well as fatten the profits at corporate head offices in Toronto and Montreal.

As a foreign exchange earner Newfoundland has always been one of the tops since 1949. Yankee money poured in here via their four military bases, plus we exported minerals, newsprint, and fish to them and to overseas markets to earn even more foreign currency.

Many of those same exports are now augmented by offshore oil - in its infancy stage - which is sold into the U.S. market. Nickel exports from Labrador with the likelihood of more mines in Labrador and on the island bode well for future exports.

And Labrador's lower Churchill (the upper Churchill is a huge profit maker for Jonathan's native Quebec) has the juice that Ontario Hydro would love to have. Even the fisheries with all its woes still earns a good buck for the national economy. And not to be forgotten are the millions earned each year by Navcan as hundreds of daily flights, to and from Europe, as they crisscross our sky.

On top of the wealth that is generated here, Newfoundlanders upalong are doing fine. Imagine the state of the Alberta and Ontario economies if migrant Newfoundlanders put down their tools be it the wrench, shovel, stethoscope, or laptop and came home? Image the chaos in the armed forces if General Rick Hillier and the thousands of his fellow Newfoundlanders suddenly retired? And how dull would the Canadian airwaves be without the likes of Rex Murphy, Rick Mercer, Bob Cole, and Mary Walsh?

Maitre chez nous - masters of our own house - was Quebec's quiet revolution rallying cry. But unlike Newfoundland, Quebec was never a nation. Perhaps poor Jonathan is unaware that we had our own prime ministers, army, currency, stamps, customs office, Rhodes scholar designation, and our own war memorial in France. Even Canada's Vimy memorial was designed by Walter Allward the son of Newfoundlanders who moved to Toronto many years ago.

If the well educated, like poor Jonathan, can't get their facts straight and do a good critical analysis, then the common folk uplong must believe that what is said about us, must be true.

Perhaps, that ingrained, prolonged, disparaging attitude towards us, steeped into the mainland conscious, nurtured by erroneous writers, will force us to opt for nationhood once again.

But this time, along with our pride, we have the wealth in so many ways be it the environment, education facilities, the arts community, and an ever-growing robust economy to go it, alone. And, dear poor Jonathan, Canada would be the biggest looser - not us!

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Flaherty Visits Nova Scotia to Talk Accord Discord.

According to news reports out of Nova Scotia Federal Finance Minister, Jim Flaherty, is in that province for meetings over the Atlantic Accord and the impacts his recent budget will have on the economy there.

Reports suggest that the visit may have come about because of the strong reaction in Atlantic Canada over the contents of his recent equalization plan and after unconfirmed reports that East Coast MPs are beginning to revolt inside the party and may well be prepared to turn against their own government.

The Federal Finance Department is being very tight lipped and the Nova Scotia finance department won't even confirm that meetings are taking place. The sudden use of a cone of silence combined with a rare calmness and relaxed demeanor exhibited by outspoken Newfoundland and Labrador Premier, Danny Williams, during national media interviews on Tuesday, have led many to speculate that something may happening behind the scenes. It appears the equalization issue has caused a rift inside the Conservative Party that may be much bigger and more damaging than anyone first imagined.

With the most recent federal polls showing the Conservatives at 30% and the Liberals at 31%, with Premiers Danny Williams and Lorne Calvert attacking the PM in the media and now the Atlantic caucus being assaulted from all sides by their constituents and striking out inside their own party, it’s believed Jim Flaherty’s sudden decision to listen and discuss the issue is an attempt to keep his party from self destructing.

It seems the Atlantic caucus of the Conservative Party of Canada may be revolting against their leadership and if that’s true, it may be very damaging. Their constituents have been up in arms ever since the new equalization formula was released and it was discovered (without the help of the federal government) that Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and Labrador and Saskatchewan stand to lose Billions as a result.

There is no word on how the Conservative MPs in Saskatchewan are reacting behind closed doors but it’s likely they, like their Atlantic counterperts, are being deluged by calls and emails from angry voters.

Since the budget was released Premier Williams has taken a very hard line with Ottawa while Premier McDonald of Nova Scotia has opted for calm discussion of the issue. This type of “good cop/bad cop” routine, similar to the one used by former Nova Scotia Premier John Hamm and Danny Williams during negotiation of the 2005 Atlantic Accord, may again be working to soften Ottawa’s position.

While discussions appear to be taking place, it may all be too little too late.

Much water has passed under the bridge in the few short weeks since the federal budget was released. At this point it’s doubtful that anything short of full implementation of the Harper promise, to exclude all non-renewable resources from the equalization formula, will be enough to appease voters in Atlantic Canada or Saskatchewan. Something that’s not likely to happen.

Mr. Harper and his party took a very big gamble with their last budget and they seem to have lost.

They looked at the numbers, examined their strengths and weaknesses and decided that by pandering to voters in Ontario and Quebec they could afford to lose a few votes in the "other" Provinces and still win a majority government. Now, with support for the Conservatives falling slightly behind the Liberals nationally, by 3% in Quebec and 5% in Ontario, those few seats in Atlantic Canada and out in Saskatchewan have suddenly taken on new importance.

All of a sudden the “other” provinces have become an important part of Canada once again. The question that remains however, is whether or not it's too late for Stephen Harper to mend the fences he’s broken and to find a way to buy back those disenfranchised voters with their own tax dollars. It's likely that ship has sailed.

In an effort to ensure that the pressure remains strong on Atlantic MPs and the Conservative government, a massive public rally has been scheduled in St. John's NL for Friday May 11th at the Confederation Building. Planning for the rally has been underway for sometime and it's expected to be one of the biggest in the province's history.