Da Legal Stuff...

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Now, with that out of the way...Let's Web Talk.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Forget "Make Work" - Try "Take Work"

I know I’ll probably get some nasty feedback over this little brain fart of mine but what the hell. Besides, there are two things I really hate:

Keeping my mouth shut; and
Sitting in front of an idle keyboard.

Here goes.

Has anyone living in, or who has recently visited, the St. John’s area noticed that on almost every street there are countless signs practically begging people to apply for a job?

I drove down Torbay Road a couple of weeks ago and counted no less than 11 such signs in a 1 kilometer stretch. It was inspiring.

Granted most of those jobs are in the service sector but with the high demand for employees these days companies are now offering everything from medical plans to dental plans to flexible shifts, above market wages and a myriad of other perks.

If you look in any copy of the Independent or the Telegram the number of job ads has reached a point where they use up more and more pages every day. Soon the ads may create enough demand to keep the Grand Falls mill open for another hundred years, and the thing is, most often those jobs are high paying professional positions.

This new reality, where there are more jobs than applicants, may exist in the Metro area but once you move into rural parts of the province the picture is much bleaker.

The unemployment rate across the rest of the province is staggering.

With a provincial election underway this dual reality is providing fodder for the parties and has led some to shout from the rooftops that rural Newfoundland and Labrador has been neglected ever since the oil boom hit.

Well folks, I don’t believe that for a minute and neither should you, no matter how often you hear it said.

It isn’t true under the Williams government and it wasn’t true under the previous Liberal government.

In fact I’d be willing to argue that a great deal of focus has been placed on rural areas for a long, long time. Unfortunately most of that attention wasn't on what really mattered, like protecting the fish stocks before they were destroyed rather than building another unnecessary fish plant to help some candidate win an election.

It's not a matter of rural areas not getting any attention but of getting the wrong kind of attention.

Maybe it’s time someone looked at the entire problem from a completely different angle. One where politics is left out of the equation and where pandering to voters is not a concern.

If nobody else is willing to try it I will.

“It is not the job of government to make work”. There I said it and it feels good.

As someone far wiser than me once said, “It’s the job of government to keep the trains running on time”.

Granted that might be a little more difficult ever since our railway was ripped up and sold off some time ago, but the point is that governments shouldn’t be in the business of holding our hands and creating jobs for the sake of creating jobs.

The place of government is to make sure that essential services are delivered in the best way possible, that the public is safe on the streets and to foster an environment conducive to business growth. It’s business that should create employment, not government.

Yes, a responsible government should, and usually does, encourage business growth. They do this by offering tax breaks or other incentives to setup shop in strategic areas. They also try to court investment and market the benefits of the places they govern. That doesn’t mean, no matter what any candidate might say over the next two weeks, that government can, or even should, throw money at any industry that is clearly not salvageable or create work just to get people working.

That’s especially true in Newfoundland and Labrador these days.

I originally came from a small town and moved around the province and around the Country for years before finally settling in the St. John’s area. Essentially I went where the work took me. I didn’t want to leave my home town and I still hope to return there when I retire, but I did what I had to do. I’m still doing it.

I’m just thankful I managed to find a job where I can take a 5 hour drive on a long weekend to visit my home if I choose to do it.

Most people want to stay where they grew up, where they have family and where they are the most comfortable in their skin, but most of us can’t do that. This isn’t something that’s unique to Newfoundland and Labrador, it’s happening across Canada and around the world.

Business and industries generally congregate in large urban centers and attract employees from more rural areas. This isn’t some sort of conspiracy or plot. It’s just the way things are.

No matter how much oil or how much gas is produced and no matter what politicians may promise, most of the business spin off from the oil industry will continue land in the St. John’s area. That’s something the government has very little control over.

Business leaders usually want to locate where they can most easily find suppliers, are close to their customers and have a bigger pool of potential employees to choose from. This is true for direct oil industry employers as it is for secondary industries like IT companies, retail stores, restaurants, hotels, taxi services and the rest.

Why is it then that so many people believe that if there isn’t a job in their small town that they are being neglected and forgotten? Why do they look to government to spend millions to create employment in places where there is none and where business does not, for whatever reason, want to move?

Think about what that expectation would really mean if it were acted upon.

In today’s reality, it would mean that government revenues, including the tax dollars desperately needed for infrastructure, schools, hospitals and so on, would be eaten away trying to find ways to make employment in one part of the province while just a few hundred kilometers away, in another part of the province, companies are screaming out for new employees. Does that make sense?

When it comes to new industries like aquaculture, wind farms, smelters and the like there are valid reasons those need to be built outside of the city centers, and there is no doubt that this sort of development is, and will continue, to happen as viable opportunities arise. It’s doubtful however that those developments will grow fast enough to make a serious dent in the unemployment rate in rural Newfoundland and Labrador any time soon. That is also a reality.

Spending millions to try to create work in some areas while there is a severe shortage of workers in another is a recipe for economic disaster.

So why are there still those who believe that simply because there is a dual economy in the province, rural Newfoundland and Labrador is getting nothing from the oil boom?

As I noted, I’m originally from far outside the overpass but I now live near St. John’s. Do you know something? I get the same benefit from the oil industry and increased government revenues as most people in the province do, urban or rural.

I don’t get a cheque in my mail box every week. I don’t glide to work on gold paved streets and I don’t spend my days sipping champagne. I work for a living and more often than not I work damn hard only to drive home over a road full of potholes.

On the other hand, I do occasionally notice some improvement in highways across the island (it’s here that the folks in Labrador may have a far better argument than most about being forgotten or neglected).

I sometimes see new dialysis equipment, cancer clinics or seniors care facilities being built.

I see attention being paid to refurbishing schools or improvements being made to other government services.

I see more or different medications being covered by the government funded drug plan than in the past. (Though not nearly enough)

I see provincial debt slowly being addressed and I see the amount of income tax I pay every week reduced thanks to lower provincial taxes.

It’s these things that are made possible by an increase in provincial revenues and it is these things that are used to spread the wealth from the oil and gas sector around the province.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not praising the current government for these things. It’s simply a fact that there is more money coming into provincial coffers today than there has been in the past and as a result more can be done.

More will continue to be done as time goes by, no matter which party wins the election on October 9. Though the specific spending priorities may change, the way the wealth is distributed will not.

If there are deficiencies in how services are dispersed across the province now or in the future then yes, by all means fight for more attention and better treatment, but don't for a minute believe that no benefits are finding their way to rural Newfoundland and Labrador simply because you can't find a job where you live.

If, instead of improving services, the next government opts to spread the wealth around by actually listening to those who believe they are being neglected and artificially prop up or extend the life of any industry that isn’t viable then we will all pay the price eventually.

It's simple folks.

Government should not spend its time and millions of dollars of our money trying to artificially create employment in one part of the province while there is a severe shortage of workers in another.

It’s all about keeping the trains running on time.

Editor's Note: (Though I had been considering a commentary on this topic for some time, I would like to take a moment to thank an anonymous poster over at Sue's Blog, which I visted the other day, for giving me the final inspiration I needed to get it finished.

Thanks as well to Sue for being so courteous when I asked how she felt about me running this piece so soon after the comment appeared on her site. You're one of a kind.)

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

PM Supports Seal Hunt - Denies Canada's Multiculturalism

What do Atlantic seals and multiculturalism have in common? They were both center stage when Stephen Harper visited New York this week.

I’ve often said politicians are eternally on standby to give their constituents something with one hand before quickly taking it away with the other. This week Stephen Harper took that practice to almost artistic levels, when he managed to display support for Canadian citizens and a total lack of support, at almost exactly the same time.

Arguably none were more directly impacted by both than the native peoples of Canada and the people of Newfoundland and Labrador.

Recently the North American Environmental Commission dismissed an application by two animal rights groups who claimed the Atlantic seal hunt violates international agreements on environmental protection. Though the application was dismissed, Harper, while in New York on Tuesday, was approached by reporters on the issue, it was there that he publicly showed his support for the annual Atlantic seal hunt by saying it (the hunt) is "dedicated today to humane and regulated practices."

When asked why Canada permits the hunt, Harper said anti-sealing groups present false information about the practice and that the clubbing of baby seals has been outlawed for over 20 years.

He went on to say, "The seal population is exploding in Canada - it's not an endangered species by any means.”

“There is no reason to discriminate against it any more than any other industry of animal husbandry. We will not be bullied or blackmailed into forcing people out of that industry who depend on the livelihood, based on things that are simply stories and allegations that are simply not true."

Well done Mr. Harper. Unfortunately your next statement, though also accurate, clearly pulled the rug out from under many of the same people you supported with that comment.

After giving the people of Atlantic Canada, native hunters and the people of Quebec, who are the primary participants in the hunt, such a strong show of support on the international stage Harper almost immediately turned around and exposed the total lack of understanding for those people that has existed in Canada for decades. To his credit, at least he had the stones to tell the truth rather than hide behind the standard rhetoric of most federal politicians.

When asked by another reporter why Canada is perceived with less hostility around the world than the U.S., even though the two have similar cultures, Harper’s response revealed his true feelings and a reality that has existed in Canada for years.

Harper responded by saying, among other things, that “…Canada's nature as a "bicultural country" gives politicians an inherent understanding of cultural differences on the world stage.

Now there’s a mouthful.

Canada has long billed itself to the world as a multicultural country, but Harper’s response at long last has revealed the truth to the world. The Prime Minister has, in one simple sentence, finally put to rest any misconceptions once and for all and removed the long standing fa├žade that the government of Canada actually respects the cultural diversity of its people. It doesn’t.

No matter what the political rhetoric, Canada is not multicultural in the eyes of its government and the Prime Minister has now said as much.

It can only be assumed that by calling Canada a “bicultural” Country he was referring to the Anglophone and Francophone majority in Canada, but what of the other cultures that exist here? Are they of no value? Do they not exist in Canada, or does Ottawa simply refuse to support their diversity?

What of the cultural identity of people in Newfoundland and Labrador? People who were a separate and distinct nation before entering Canada after world war two? Were the people of Canada wrong when, in a poll conducted just a few years ago, more than 70% of them said they viewed the people of Newfoundland and Labrador as a unique culture?

What about the various native groups in Canada? Are the Innu no longer a distinct culture?

What about the Inuit or the Mi’kmaq? Do they not have their own culture?

What about Canada’s many immigrant citizens? Canadians who originally hailed from places like China, India, Germany, Russia and so on, are they not representative of separate and distinct cultures in Canada or does Ottawa simply hope to assimilate them and bury their past and their traditions?

Though Harper’s lack of support for the cultural diversity of Canada is disgusting, to his credit he is the first Prime Minister actually willing to admit the truth. The only cultures that matter to the government of Canada are those who account for most of the votes needed to get a party elected and keep them in office.

For those who still labor under the perception that multiculturalism is alive and well in Canada, Harper’s comment that Canada understands cultural differences around the world because it is itself a “bicultural” society, should send a clear message that the government of Canada truly has no understanding of cultural differences around the world or at home.

Harper referring to Canada as “bicultural”, rather than multicultural, clearly identifies a shift in direction that has been happening in Canada for decades, one that has been clear to those who live in one of Canada’s forgotten cultures.

It’s a shift that has seen Canada increasingly align with U.S. policy and under Stephen Harper that alignment, thanks to his silencing of the voices of people who would fight it, is gaining momentum every day since the Conservative decision to cut funding to women’s rights groups, court challenges and more.

The so called “melting pot” of the U.S homogenizes all cultures into the mainstream, while officially recognizing only two distinct groups of people, Anglophone and Hispanic, at the expense of all others.

Canada has long touted itself as a society that celebrates multicultural diversity in its people, though it has never really done anything, other than talk about it, to prove that it respects any distinct culture outside the French speaking people in Quebec.

The multicultural mosaic we have all heard so much about may be something Canada’s political leaders claim to support, but in reality, is Canada any different than the U.S when it comes to respecting and celebrating diversity?

Newfoundland & Labrador Leader’s Debate

The leaders of the PC, Liberal and NDP parties participated in an election debate at NTV studios on Tuesday evening. With two weeks remaining before voters go to the polls this was the only opportunity for the public to see all three go head to head over the issues.

The opening remarks of the three party leaders were designed to deliver a targeted message and they did just that. While NDP leader, Lorraine Michael, and PC leader, Danny Williams, both appeared calm and composed, Liberal leader Gerry Reid often stumbled over his words, looked tired and came across as very uncomfortable in front of the camera. As one viewer noted, “…he looked like he just woke up and someone hustled him behind the podium before he could wipe the sleep from his eyes”.

While Reid spoke of his party being a potential winner in the upcoming election, the NDP leader immediately positioned her party as the right choice to form a strong and effective opposition. It was a position that smartly conveyed her understanding of the realities of the current political climate and allowed her to effectively take a swipe at the Liberal party. A clear and perhaps effective move to woo voters from the Liberal camp.

The polls show Williams’ popularity in the province at well above 70% leading into this campaign, leaving him with little room to improve his standing during the debate. The leaders of the two other parties meanwhile had hoped to use the debate as a springboard to make up some much needed ground on the Tories.

During the debate Williams accomplished his objectives by holding his ground and getting his message out while the NDP leader, Lorraine Michael, came across as smooth, composed, and calm. This potentially made her the biggest winner of the evening by affording the NDP an opportunity to siphon off some support from her clearly unprepared Liberal counterpart.

During an early exchange the Liberal leader almost appeared to be reaching out to the NDP in an attempt to have Michael enter into a sort of “tag team” against Williams. Michael proved too politically savvy to fall for the tactic and instead countered by going on the offensive against Reid, proving that while she has only led her party for about a year, she clearly understands the realities of the situation. With the Tories riding high in the polls, any additional support her party hopes to gain will have to come from inside the Liberal camp. Michael’s performance, and Reid’s lack of composure, may have served to help the NDP in that cause.

At one point the Liberal leader opened himself up to attack by broaching the topic of Newfoundland and Labrador’s dilapidated schools and blaming the Williams government for the situation. His statement opened the door for the Tory leader to point out that the schools did not fall apart in the short four years the time Williams' government has been in office but rather over a much longer period of time, a reference to the fact that the Liberal party had previously been in power for more than a decade.

From a technical perspective the debate was poorly organized and the format often allowed extended periods when the leaders, primarily Williams and Reid, shouted or talked over one another making it difficult for viewers to understand what either man was saying. While this sort of exchange also took place during periods when the NDP leader was speaking, overall her exchanges were much more civilized and effective.

During the closing remarks Williams and Michael both spoke clearly and calmly. Michael focused on her party and what it could bring to the legislature while Williams stood on his record as premier and invoked the spirit of patriotism and autonomy he is most known for. Liberal leader, Gerry Reid, once again came across as being unprepared and uncomfortable while continuing to stumble over his words as he had done during the entire evening. An evening that was clearly not a good one for the Liberal leader.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

MacKay - Ousted MP Bill Casey May Rejoin Conservative Caucus

The following is from the Halifax Chronicle Herald today. Oh the interesting times we live in!

OTTAWA — Bill Casey may run again for the Conservatives in Cumberland-Colchester-Musquodoboit Valley, Peter MacKay said Monday.

"I don’t think that decision has been made yet," said the Central Nova MP and defence minister.

"But the riding association will obviously have something to say about that."

Mr. Casey was ejected from the Conservative caucus in June when he voted against budget-enabling legislation that, he says, violates the Atlantic accord that shielded Nova Scotia’s offshore revenue from a federal equalization clawback.

Mr. Casey is sitting as an Independent but he is already the nominated Conservative candidate in the riding, and he has the support of the Tory riding association.

"Our entire association stands right behind Bill," Scott Armstrong, the riding association president, said Monday. "We want to see a resolution of the Atlantic accord so that he can get back into caucus."

Mr. Armstrong is a longtime supporter of Mr. Casey and a key Tory organizer at both the federal and provincial levels.

He said the community is behind Mr. Casey and, as a good Tory, he hopes he never has to choose between campaigning for Mr. Casey or a different Conservative.

It would be unusual for the prime minister to accept a dissident like Mr. Casey back into the fold, and Mr. Armstrong acknowledged that it may not happen.

"That’s what we’d like to see as a local organization," he said. "But that decision will lie with the prime minister."

Don Plett, president of the federal Conservative party, was in Nova Scotia for meetings last week but Mr. Armstrong said there is no pressure from the national party to rush a resolution.

"The election for us, the farther away the better, so we can work through this and hopefully get back in before the writ’s dropped," he said.

For his part, Mr. Casey said he’s not sure if he would re-enter the Tory caucus, although he’d think about it if the federal government reverses itself and honours the Atlantic accord.

"Well, they booted me out, so I don’t know," he said Monday. "And I can’t go back unless they reverse it."

Mr. Casey issued a tongue-in-cheek news release on Monday after the Bloc Quebecois and the Liberals each released lists of conditions for their support of the Tory throne speech next month.

"As an Independent Progressive Conservative MP from Nova Scotia, I have only one condition for me to vote in favour of the throne speech," the release said. "Reverse the seven pages of amendments to the Atlantic accord agreements which were imposed on Nova Scotia and Newfoundland without their consent or agreement in the 2007 budget."

The federal Tories say they haven’t violated the Atlantic accord, as the province has the choice of sticking with the accord and an older, less generous equalization scheme, or opting into a richer system that includes an offshore revenue clawback that the accord was designed to remove.

Monday, September 24, 2007

There's a New Crime Boss In Town.

The scandal ridden Liberal party of Canada is trying to rebuild it’s image by suddenly re-branding itself into a bastion of propriety.

Since being unceremoniously booted from office in the last federal election they have been desperately trying to shake off their image of corruption and entitlement by moving from being the “Librano’s” to becoming Canada’s version of the “Justice League”

Today the Liberal Party went on the offensive with their Conservative counterparts by releasing the names of 129 candidates and official agents implicated in court documents as participating in an apparent scheme to violate spending limits and pad candidates' rebates in the 2006 federal election.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has refused to release the names and instead has chosen to challenge Elections Canada in court over the investigation. A challenge that would cost the taxpayers a fortune in legal costs, in addition to the funds allegedly stolen from taxpayers by the Conservative party.

According to Federal Court documents the Conservatives allegedly funnelled over $1 million in national advertising expenditures through at least 66 of their candidates campaigns. These funds were then signed off by their official agents.

According to a Liberal press release today, the implications of the scam are two-fold.

First, if properly accounted for as part of the Conservative Party's national campaign, then the current government exceeded the $18 million national spending limit and broke the law in getting elected in 2006.

Second, scores of Conservative candidates claimed reimbursement of 60 per cent of the money at issue, money that Elections Canada ruled them ineligible to receive. If these allegations are proven, this would amount to election fraud. A complete list of the Candidates, Ridings and dollar amounts, as released today, can be viewed at:

http://www.liberal.ca/pdf/docs/070924_InOutBkgd_en.pdf

How Will You Vote in The Next Federal Election?

Speculation is already starting that Canada could be into another federal election before Christmas. The Bloc has presented the Harper government with several non-negotiable demands they want addressed in the October throne speech.

The Liberals are facing a situation where they may either have to go to an election, in order to force all their troops to fall in line behind Dion, or head into another leadership convention.

The NDP already see themselves in a position to pick up some seats thanks the the momentum the gained in a recent Quebec by-election.

Stephen Harper appears to be willing to take on the opposition parties thanks to largely consistent, if not stellar, polling numbers.

The Greens don't have a say in an election call but their new found popularity and the Canada's inaction on the environment means they must be factored into any election strategy.

If an election is called, the Question facting Newfoundland and Labrador voters is which party should they support.

All of federal parties govern by playing the numbers game, caving in to the area of the Country where they want more seats, rather than doing what's best for the public in various parts of this diverse nation. Usually this practice leaves smaller provinces like NL to fend for themselves while desperately trying to fight off federal legislation that will actually harm the them.

Deciding who to vote for is a complex issue.

Just by examining the track records of recent governments (let's put a boat load of historical grievances aside for a moment), you have to ask yourself, should I vote for the party that tried to screw us on the Atlantic Accord but didn't get away with it, the party that succeeded in screwing us on the Atlantic Accord or the ones that never had a chance to screw us?

Or is there another option?

Maybe when this election rolls around we should put aside all the past actions of the various parties and simply focus on their philosophies, political leanings and so on.

Rather than try to outline these in words, perhaps the following versions of the Canadian Flag (as sent to me by a regular visitor to Web Talk) say it better. As someone once said, "A picture is worth a thousand words".


Green Party Flag:





NDP Flag:


Liberal Flag:



Conservative Flag:


It paints a pretty scary picture doesn't it? But who knows, perhaps this time around there may be another option to consider.

The NL-First Party Flag:

Friday, September 21, 2007

Ottawa Learning about Newfoundland and Labrador

Nearly every day I try to find time to look at which parts of the world our Web Talk visitors hail from.

On an average day we find the site playing host to one or two visitors from the U.S, Europe or elsewhere around the world. About 90% of visitors reach out to us from various parts of Canada (the lion's share right here in Newfoundland and Labrador of course), which is always good to see.

Usually Web Talk will be visited about 5 - 10 times a day by visitors from Ottawa. Our statistics show that most of those arrive via government servers and more often than not from a Parliamentary or DFO server. Today however is a little different.

Today's visitor stats, as of 1:00pm NL time anyway, show that for the first time more people have visited from Ontario than from Newfoundland and Labrador. In fact, 27 of the 29 visitors in the following graphic came to us from Ottawa.



Don't get me wrong, I'm not trying to make anything out of this. In fact I encourage the fine folks in Ottawa to stop by more often. I just found it a little strange that for the first time we are showing more visitors from Ottawa than NL and I thought our readers would like to know.

It's always nice to see that your message is actually getting out to those who need to hear it most.

(By the way, I have no idea where the visitor's ranked 3rd came from. The stats provider I use just didn't recognize the source I guess).

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Liberal Verbally Attacks Voters and Supports Tory Candidate

Politics makes strange bedfellows and in Newfoundland and Labrador the evidence to back that statement up has never been clearer. This is definitely one for the "Would you Believe” files.

Even though newly minted Liberal party candidate, Simon Lono, is running for a seat in the district of St. John’s North he still found time before hitting the campaign trail to cast a vote during the Conservative nomination race in neighboring St. John’s East.

As a Liberal candidate Lono has been busy this week defending his decision to take part in the Conservative nomination process and in helping Conservative candidate Ed Buckingham win that party's nomination. The question on many voter's minds is whether Lono voted for the Conservative candidate he thought would best represent the district or the one he felt the Liberal candidate in the riding had the best chance of winning against.

This isn’t the first time Lono has exhibited questionable judgment over the past year. In May he offended many Bloggers at the site, Web Talk – Newfoundland and Labrador, by verbally assaulting people who didn't agree with his point of view.

At the time contributors to the political Blog were discussing a refusal by the Globe and Mail to publish an editorial response by Premier Danny Williams. Williams had written the paper after a column appeared that was very critical of his province. While most people visiting the Blog site thought the Globe should have allowed the Premier to respond, Lono took exception to those expressing that view.

The following is a direct quote from Lono published on the site:

“…This is a snake's nest of hateful venomous neo-nationalist navel-gazing presented by a gang of the NL equivalent of Archie Bunkers who blame the world for their problems and can't figure out why a red-blooded white-skinned proud patriotic NL'er can't get an even break in a cruel and contemptuous world as you sit in your comfy chair, read the Independent, listen to Great Big Sea on the stereo and drink a bottle of Screech in your fisherman's sweater in the big plastic-covered house in the suburbs of Commonwealth Avenue.

It's the same kind of professional NL'er who wears the Pink-White-Green to cocktail parties with your buddies from MUN res - ready to defend the outports but secretly grateful for not living there because it's too far from George Street, the Mall and the LSPU.

Shallow, hollow, empty, negative pseudo-pride with no motivating force of expression other than greedy grasping demands for endless compensation for historical grievance…”.

The tirade and seemingly unstable actions of the Liberal’s new star candidate were further displayed when, after being confronted about his attack and pressured for an apology, by contributors from across the province and around the world, Lono refused to respond. Instead he later quietly deleted every comment he had posted to that point in time, but not until after several quick fingered visitors, and the Blog moderator (yours truly), had time to make copies of his statement.

After Lono decided to run for the Liberal nomination copies of his comments were sent directly to the leadership of the Liberal party and party leader Gerry Reid. To date there has been no response from the party itself however Simon Lono did respond directly via email with the statement, “You’re a fruitloop”.

No doubt about it folks, the future of the Newfoundland and Labrador Liberal party is in good hands.

Fisheries Minister Gambling Away Atlantic Fishery

"...instead of establishing "custodial management" beyond 200 miles as promised during the election, Minister Loyola Hearn will have done the exact opposite -- established a form of custodial management by NAFO and its members within Canada's 200-mile limit..."


The following appeared this week in the Ottawa Citizen. If after reading it you would like to make your feelings known to Fisheries Minister Loyola Hearn, his email address is:

hearn.l@parl.gc.ca

The piece was written by Bill Rowat, former deputy minister of Fisheries and Oceans who also served as NAFO commissioner and led Canada's negotiations during the 1995 'turbot war' with the European Union.

Scott Parsons is a former DFO assistant deputy minister.

Bob Applebaum who served as DFO's director-general, international, and helped negotiate the original NAFO Convention.

Earl Wiseman also served as DFO director-general, international, and co-ordinated Canada's ratification of the UN Fish Agreement.

Running out of fish

From the Ottawa Citizen
Published: Thursday, September 20, 2007
Special Report

International management of the northwest Atlantic fisheries outside 200 miles from shore has failed miserably.

The Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Organization (NAFO) was created in the late 1970s to prevent overfishing outside the Canadian 200-mile zone of the major fish stocks, known as the straddling stocks, that migrate across the line that separates Canadian waters from the high seas outside.
These stocks, which have been the mainstay of Newfoundland's fishery for hundreds of years, have been severely overfished outside 200 miles, primarily by European Union fishing vessels. The stocks are, for the most part, under moratoria, as they have been for many years, and show no signs of potential recovery.

During the last federal election, the Conservative party, in response to these problems, promised in its platform to: "Extend the 200-mile limit to the edge of the Continental Shelf, the nose and tail of the Grand Banks, and the Flemish Cap in the North Atlantic and be prepared to exercise Canadian custodial management over this area."

It appears that in making this promise the Tories were not fully aware of the difficulties under international law of doing what they promised. In any event, once in office, the government changed course and decided, instead, to launch an initiative labeled "NAFO reform." This was understood to involve strengthening the NAFO Convention, but during the subsequent negotiations what has emerged is the draft of a new convention that would instead weaken it substantially.

To strengthen the NAFO Convention, two major additions were needed:

a) An effective enforcement mechanism on the water, one that does not depend solely on individual state action, to remove vessels that break the rules. The United Nations Fish Agreement (UNFA), originated by John Crosbie in the early 1990s and driven to conclusion by Brian Tobin in 1995 after the "turbot war" with Spain, and to which Canada, the European Union and virtually all NAFO members are now party, provides a model for such a mechanism.

b) A compulsory and binding dispute settlement procedure, which could prevent individual NAFO member states from allowing their vessels to overfish.

The new draft NAFO Convention, as it is emerging, includes neither. It does not provide for effective enforcement and, as regards dispute settlement, it provides only for a review system that cannot culminate in a legally binding ruling.

And the negotiations to date have resulted in proposed revisions that, far from strengthening NAFO, would instead substantially weaken it.

One such revision would, for the first time since the establishment of the Canadian 200-mile zone, open the door to NAFO fisheries management inside the Canadian 200-mile limit.

In response to criticisms by the authors of this piece and representatives of the fishing industry, the minister of fisheries now says that he will not allow this, but whether the government holds to this latest position remains to be seen. If it does not, then instead of establishing "custodial management" beyond 200 miles as promised during the election, Minister Loyola Hearn will have done the exact opposite -- established a form of custodial management by NAFO and its members within Canada's 200-mile limit.

The other major revision that would further weaken NAFO is a new provision to change the voting system in NAFO from the simple majority that now applies in the existing convention, to a two-thirds majority system. Ignoring criticism of this EU-supported proposal, the minister recently indicated that Canada will accept it.

But this change would make it more difficult, in the future, for Canada to obtain in NAFO decisions that restrict catches outside 200 miles to low limits, where such limits are recommended by the NAFO Scientific Council. Pressures will increase for trade-offs between the needs of conservation and the needs of the foreign fishing fleets. It would also make it more difficult for Canada to obtain decisions to continue Canada's current quota share percentages in the stocks managed by NAFO outside 200 miles.

The current approach to these negotiations flies in the face of the government's commitments during the 2006 election, and would tie Canada's hands for decades, without achieving any improvements in our ability to deal with the straddling stocks problem. Canada would be better off with the current NAFO Convention than it will be if the package of amendments now being proposed is adopted. It is true that NAFO should be reformed, but not this way.

It is not too late to fix this but the clock is ticking. The forces at work are trying to get this new NAFO Convention adopted at the NAFO meeting in Lisbon, Portugal, next week. This is an artificial deadline that works against Canada's interests.

Canada must refuse to agree to this package of amendments and insist that negotiators work toward a new, stronger NAFO Convention, rather than a weaker one.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Bell Offers Pick and Pay - Why Can't the Candidates?

With the provincial elecion now in full swing the Liberals have released their platform document. It's a little later than the Tories, but better late than never as they say. There is still no sign of the NDP platform document but some policy direction is coming out through the media and is available on their website. It's expected that the NDP Orange Book will be out later this week.

Information on all three parties and their plans can be found here:

Tories: http://www.pcparty.nf.net/blueprint2007.pdf

Liberals: http://www.nlliberals.ca/press/platformchapters.pdf

NDP: http://www.nl.ndp.ca/

For those of you who don't have the time, patience or interest to wade through endless pages of rhetoric in search of key points, (though you really should) here is a Coles Notes synopsis.

The Tories, Liberals and NDP all have some very interesting ideas, in fact it seems that all three parties have risen to the task of trying to win voters over. Unfortunately, as a friend of mine noted just today, while all three parties have identified a fair bit of spending on various programs none have clearly identifed the overall cost of their initiatives or how they would be funded.

All three parties are offering savings for the unwashed masses, ideas for enhancements to services and their direction for development in the province.

While all parties are offering some good ideas others are highly questionable. This is especially true of the Liberals who intend to provide a wealth of tax cuts while going heavy on program spending. I'm not sure how fiscally responsible that is but then again, as I said before, since none of the parties are providing a view to the overall cost of their plans it's hard to say which will ideas are valid and which will simply pile up more debt for our kids to pay off.

The scariest thing for me appeard in the Liberal platform. It has to do with their approach to offshore oil and gas development.

While the Liberals are offering up some interesting ideas around how to disperse wealth from the offshore, the doucment also states, and I quote:

"Industry (oil and gas) has often stated their concern that the province continues to change its position in negotiations and that they cannot be certain what the policy and royalty framework of the provincial government will be from one day to the next...."

The Liberal solution: provide stable and competitive policy and royalty framworks, nogotiate in good faith on Hebron and Hibernia South and, "...not take an equity stake in offshore oil and gas projects, but would instead focus on generating maximum benefit from a revamped royalty regime..."

On the surface this may sound good to some poeple, especially those concerned about the potential risk of investing in developments directly, but consider what it really means.

It means that if the Liberal Party is elected on October 9th, Gerry Reid's new government will respond to oil company concerns about uncertanty over royalties and the provincial position by once again changing the provinces royalty regime and the position. It's an interesting approach.

It also means that the Hebron MOU, signed just a few weeks ago, will be torn up and the entire negotiation process will have to start all over again. Think about it, if Gerry Reid intends to walk away from an equity stake and negotiate a totally new royalty regime what else can it mean? It's the only possible outcome.

Don't get me wrong, I see some really good ideas in the Liberal platform, just as I do in those of the Tories and NDP. Unfortunately I also see glaring omissions in all three and, specifically in the case of the Liberals, some questionable and worrisome plans.

Too bad voters can't pick and choose the best ideas from all three documents and turf the rest. Sort of like a "pick and pay" election. Now there's a concept that might actually get voters a little excited.

The "Race" Is On

How foolish can people be? Do the nay sayers in Newfoundland and Labrador have their heads screwed on straight or are they so backward that they'll latch onto anything they see as improper. It sure seems that way.

The Tory Blue Book, in an attempt to encourage population growth, outlines several incentives for families that might be considering having children. With our population dwindling the PC's have decided that they want to make it a little easier for parents to make the decision of having and raising a child.

The plan includes capping classroom sizes at 25 students to ensure a reasonable student/teacher ratio, increasing child care spaces by 30%, increasing the provincial top up on EI maternity leave by $100, increasing the child care suppliment to low income families by 30% and issuing a one time payment to new parents for $1000.00.

In any other jurisdiction with the population problems we have these steps would be seen as a good thing, but not around these parts.

Already some people are up in arms about this new so called "baby bonus" or as one radio announcer put it, "Cash or Kids". The mainstream media hasn't helped much by reporting primarily on the $1000 payment and all but ignoring the other key incentives. I guess its a matter of whatever makes the best sound bite or headline.

On a personal level I doubt that a one time cheque would convince me to have a child, but taken in conjunction with the increase in child care spaces, improved maternity payments and so on the idea starts to sound much better.

In addition to the BS making the rounds about the plan itself, or more accurately around the one time payment, some individuals are taking issue with a comment the Premier made during the press conference announcing his party's position on the issue.

At the announcement Williams said that the incentives would be put in place to prevent us from becoming a "dying race". It's the word "race" that has some people up in arms. Apparently they don't believe we are a race of people. My question is why?

There are many definitions of race including the following as they relate to the people here.

Race –noun

A group of persons related by common descent or heredity; a population so related;

A human population partially isolated reproductively from other populations, whose members share a greater degree of physical and genetic similarity with one another than with other humans;

Any people united by common history, language, cultural traits, etc.;

Any group, class, or kind, esp. of persons.

That sure sounds a lot like the majority of the population here doesn't it.

So what's the problem?

Recently I wrote a commentary on the need for improved education in Newfoundland and Labrador relating to our shared history and culture. This reaction to the Premier's comment is a perfect example of exactly why this type of education is so badly needed.

Anyone who is offended by terming the majority of people here a "race" certainly needs to be educated on their culture and history.

Some have gone so far as to say the statement makes us sound like we have no respect for immigrants of varying race. In the previous sentence I was going to say, "immigrants of other races", but since the folks I'm referring to don't consider us a race I was forced to modify the wording, which makes me even more pissed off at this crap. Listen folks, if any place welcomes new citizens with open arms any more than we do I'd love for someone to tell me about it.

When you compare Newfoundland and Labrador's acceptance of others to the sort of mis-trust and the intolerance displayed in places like Quebec that fact becomes much clearer. Remember that Quebec is a place where improperly displaying english on a shop sign can get you arrested. Where some races have been officially told they are not allowed to burn their wives (like they couldn't have figured that out on their own) and where the wearing of traditional veils during an election has led to a national flap. In that light Newfoundland and Labrador looks like nirvana.

Yes folks, whether some people want to admit it or not, we are a race of people. That doesn't mean we don't respect and welcome people from other places or other races, we do, but doing so doesn't have to mean we can't celebrate our own race, or at the very least recognize its existance.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Rating the Party's Election Platforms.

Well folks, the Newfoundland and Labrador election is underway. Who knows what the next few weeks will bring but one thing is clear from a quick web search today.

The Williams (PC) team seems the most organized and on the ball with addressing key election issues. Everything from Culture to Education, Energy to Elder Care, Labrador Issues to Health. All in all there are some pretty good intiatives peppered throughout their platform document, if they are implemented that is.

As I mentioned, a quick web scan today led me to a crisp new copy of the PC Blue Book:

http://www.pcparty.nf.net/blueprint2007.pdf

The Reid (Liberal) team looks to be playing catch up and scrambling for anything to grab onto. That perception wasn't helped by seeing Gerry Reid on a fishing boat yesterday. Maybe he was looking for a life preserver.

The Liberal "Red Sheet of Paper" appears to be little more than a press release that promises to reduce licence renewal fees from $180 to $140, something also identifed in the PC Blue Book.

Also, as a quick aside for the folks running the Liberal web site, you might want to update some of your outdated links and actually put someting under the link that is supposed to direct someone to your platform document. Well, for what it's worth, here is the Liberal one pager:

http://www.liberal.nf.net/News_Releases_2007/sept_17_reid_drivers.htm

The Michael (NDP) team has only one player and little chance of scoring. Why do I say this?

On the NDP site I found absolutely nothing. Apparently the last update on the party's site was on the 14th. Nothing since.

Oddly enough the description of the site when I searched Google still says the party is led by Jack Harris. Might want to fix that folks.

No Link provided (Nothing to really link to)

Well, that's how things look on the first full day of the Campaign. With the PC's at an over 70% approval rating and a broad platform firmly in place this could be a long hard few weeks for the Liberals and NDP unless they can get their act together, something they don't seem to be able to do.

It makes me wonder how well these folks might run a province if they can't even run a party or campaign efficiently.

In closing, just as a reference to my previous post (see below), thus far none of the parties have directly commented on the potential for becoming a major part of an Atlantic Gateway Initiative, though some cryptic references to economic diversification and the like were made in the Blue Book. I guess we'll have to wait for Gerry Reid and Lorainne Michael to find a printing press and a webmaster before we find out if they have something to say about that.

By the way, if the Liberals or NDP actually have online copies of their platforms and I missed them, please let me know. I went to the web sites of all three parties and had no success finding anything Red or Orange to present.

Sad but true.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Newfoundland and Labrador Politicians Ignore Golden Economic Opportunity

With an election getting underway in Newfoundland and Labrador the political parties will soon begin promoting their platforms in earnest and talking up their vision of the future. Most of their talking points will revolve around saving rural areas, economic development, outmigration and natural resources.

While the election goes ahead there is an opportunity already on our doorstep that can help revitalize some rural areas, drastically improve economic activity in the province, reverse outmigration and allow us to leverage our natural resources. Unfortunately all the mainstream parties are giving it very little attention.

As sad as the reality of the situation is, decades of government and industry inaction on global warming has opened up a major economic opportunity for Newfoundland and Labrador. One that could dramatically reshape our reality, put us front and center on the international stage and drive massive growth. The opportunity is real but it will never be realized unless someone acts soon.

The latest satellite images show that polar ice is melting at a staggering rate, far faster than anyone previously projected. As a result, it was announced this week that the much dreamed of Northwest Passage is, as I write this article, ice-free and navigable. It’s a reality that will become more common place and last for longer and longer periods of time in the coming years.

While governments around the world spend their time disputing ownership of the passage shipping companies, oil and gas enterprises and manufacturing giants are wasting no time preparing to fully utilize the route as a cost effective means of transporting goods and materials worldwide. While those two camps are busily planning for this reality Newfoundland and Labrador's political leaders are all but ignoring it.

The ability to use the North West Passage as a shipping route will allow commercial vessels to cut thousands of miles off their journeys around the world, save billions of dollars in costs and increase transportation efficiency by allowing the use of so called Post Panamax vessels, ships far too large to navigate the Panama Canal.

Already B.C. is touting the passage as an “express trade corridor” to Asia. The developers of a new shipping terminal that opened in Prince Rupert this week are banking on a largely ice free passage to cut more than two days and nine thousand kilometers off shipment times between Europe and Asia. This will result in huge savings for industry and open up unheard of opportunities for northern ports.

Considering that B.C. sits on Canada’s west coast approaches to the North West Passage it makes perfect sense that the province should position itself as a preferred port of call. The question then becomes, why is Newfoundland and Labrador not doing more to ensure its full participation in this new world reality?

Just as BC sits on Canada’s Western approaches to the North West Passage, Newfoundland and Labrador, not Nova Scotia, sits on its eastern approaches. Why then have talks been underway for years regarding an Atlantic Gateway concept that would see Nova Scotia take full advantage of the situation instead of the true Atlantic Gateway province Newfoundland and Labrador?




A quick look at any map of North America clearly indicates that Newfoundland and Labrador is in a perfect location to act as a port of call for ships traversing the passage on their way to and from Europe or up the St. Lawrence Seaway.

The province sits on the most easterly edge of North America, is closer to Europe than any other North American port and, in the case of large Post Panamax vessels, needing to offload to smaller ships that can navigate the St. Lawrence Seaway, the straits between Labrador and Newfoundland provide much easier access than does Nova Scotia.

So why are no major plans being touted for the province?

Newfoundland and Labrador has many available ports that could serve as trans-shipment points. Some have very deep water and remain ice free all year round. While others, especially in Labrador, ice over in winter, the fact that shipping activity will only take place in the North during times when the North West Passage is ice free means this would does not pose a problem.

In addition to the province’s ideal geographical position between North America and Europe, it is also in a unique economic position because of its distinct relationship with France.

Just off the Newfoundland coast sit the French islands of St. Pierre and Miquelon. Due to the historical ties and physical proximity of these two French islands, special trade and co-operation agreements already exist that can be built upon to take full advantage of Canada’s NAFTA and France’s EU trade regulations in conjunction with new shipping opportunities.

Taking full advantage of this situation could bring new life and much needed employment to dying rural areas. It would allow Newfoundland and Labrador to once again adopt its historical position as a key international port of call. In addition to direct shipping activity, the influx of products and raw materials from around the world would also open up growth opportunities in manufacturing and help reduce the cost of importing consumer goods to the province.

So why is Newfoundland and Labrador so slow in getting out of the starting gate? This is not a new idea so why is nobody acting on it? There are individuals like, local entrepeneur David Rudofsky, who have been promoting this opportunity to government for years. Nobody seems to care.

With Nova Scotia already touting itself as the new Atlantic Gateway some people believe it’s already be too late for Newfoundland and Labrador to make its mark. I don’t believe that for a minute. Our neighbors in the Maritimes may be promoting themselves for this role but as I said in my opening, wanting something doesn’t make it so.

Business and industry operate under some pretty basic principles when you get right down to it. While Ottawa, for political reasons, may support one province over another when it comes to development funding and assistance the companies involved couldn’t care less about the politics of the situation. Their only interest is in finding the most cost effective means to produce and market their products. No matter what anyone says, if utilizing facilities in Newfoundland and Labrador can save them time and money over going somewhere else, that’s exactly what they’ll do.

The problem is, unless someone listens and acts soon the international business community will never get to make that choice.

The reality of today is not what it was a few years ago. New challenges and new opportunities abound, so why isn't this opportunity even a matter of discussion during the current election?

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Celebrating Newfoundland and Labrador's Rich Culture

For as long as I can remember I’ve been profoundly proud of the rich and colourful history and culture here in Newfoundland and Labrador.

As a boy I listened to stories of larger than life men and their exploits on the land and unforgiving sea. I recall the old timers telling me of the great acts of heroism, moments of disaster and occasional triumphs of those who settled and sustained this place for hundreds of years. I remember those stories well. I also remember learning almost nothing about the subject while winding my way through a publicly funded school system.

The pride of place I have today didn’t come from our institutionalized education system and certainly not as a side effect of Canada’s so called multicultural ideals.

Looking back upon entering school, with Newfoundland (as it was called at the time) having just entered Confederation 20 years before, it almost seems as if someone thought the best way for our people to “fit in” was to bury our rich past so deep nobody would ever dig it up again.

Thankfully the great orators, musicians and amateur historians here didn’t allow that to happen.

As recently as a few years ago the people of Newfoundland and Labrador seemed to be losing the battle to keep this rich heritage alive. The young people (and many with a few years on them as well) were almost embarrassed by having what many Canadians look upon as a funny and often incomprehensible accent. They couldn’t wait to shed their native dialects, ignore their vibrant traditions and turn their backs the outports and coves that nourished their families for generations.

Thankfully, that’s starting to change.

Many Newfoundlanders and Labradorians now realize that they are as good as anyone else. They have discovered a renewed sense of pride and now know that they can compete and succeed in competition with the best, no matter the area of their exploits.

More and more the rich culture, traditions and history of Newfoundland and Labrador are becoming the envy of visitors from around the world. It is through them and through our own stubborn ability to hang on that we are finally becoming more and more aware of just how special this place is. It isn’t happening because of those empty multicultural values spewing out of Ottawa but in spite of them.

The early teachings I received at the knees of those old timers sparked in me a life long love affair with my home and a sense of pride that I cherish to this day. Sadly, as the years go by, more and more of those wonderful story tellers are shuffling off this mortal coil. This is why I have long been a proponent of rectifying the mistakes (injustices?) of the past in our schools. A past that saw so much emphasis placed on everyone else’s history and culture and almost none on our own.

I, along with groups like the Newfoundland and Labrador Defense League, the Community Linkages Concept Committee and others, have long asked for a greater focus on local history, culture and music in our education system.

Collectively many of us believe that this is one of the best ways we can ensure our future, empower and embolden the next generation of leaders and make all of Newfoundland and Labrador a better place for tomorrow.

This is why today I’d like to offer my sincere thanks and warm appreciation to the provincial government, specifically Education Minister Joan Burke, as well as to Liberal Education Critic, Roland Butler. This weekend Newfoundland and Labrador’s only locally owned newspaper, The Independent, reported that both of these politicians strongly believe that more should be done inside the school system to educate our youth about their homeland.

They are also acting on those beliefs despite claims by the head of the Newfoundland and Labrador Teachers Association that there is already enough local education being offered. I never thought I’d say this to a politician but, “Thanks for not listening”.

In the article Minister Burke said her department is looking to enhance the current curriculum by including more local history, art, music and culture. One project in the works is a new history course being offered as a pilot program in five schools this year. Ms. Burke noted that the course focuses on “…where we came from, where we are now and where we’re going…”.

According to the Minister new music and traditional dance courses have already been introduced over the past few years, 68 books by local authors are making their way through the provincial approval process and several local artists participated in visits to nearly 130 schools in the past year. This is in addition to the new local history course introduced by government for grade 8 students a couple of years ago.

Someone once said the best way to control a people is to deny them the truth. This is likely why the nation of Newfoundland, having just come under Canadian control in 1949, was discouraged from fully exploring its unique culture and history. It seems that this sort of repression is finally going by the wayside.

The only way to get where you want to go is by understanding where you’ve been.

Friday, September 14, 2007

AG Releases Report on Constituency Spending

Well folks, the Auditor General's Report is out and it's an eye opener to say the least. In all honesty there is just too much greed, incompetency and stupidity identified in the report to even comment on.

A copy of the completed report (with all its gory details) can be found at the following URL for anyone who is curious how there MHA performed during their time in office.

Before reading it you might want to take a few deep breaths and a gravol or two.

For those who don't have the intestinal fortitude, just think Hockey Tickets, Booze, Artwork, Lottery Tickets, Perfume and Underwear. Enough said.

http://www.gov.nl.ca/ag/reports.htm

Bio - The Provincial Party Leaders

With an election call expected in the province on Monday, this week the Canadian Press ran a short profile on each of the province's mainstream party leaders, Lorrain Michael, Gerry Reid and Danny Williams.

Though the biographies only scratch the surface of the three leaders they do provide some interesting insights into the candidates. I’ve reprinted them here in their entirety.

Lorraine Michael:

Born: March 27, 1943, in St. John's.
Family: Single.

Education: A former nun, she has a degree in education from Memorial University of Newfoundland, and a master's of divinity from the University of Toronto.

Work history: Worked as a high school teacher and principal in various parts of Newfoundland. Served as director of the Office of Social Action in St. John's where she represented the Roman Catholic Archdiocese. Served as head of the women and work committee with the National Action Committee on Status Women and executive director of Women in Resource Development Committee.

Political history: She describes herself as a feminist and committed activist for "gender and racial social and economic justice." Elected leader of the Newfoundland and Labrador New Democratic Party on May 28, 2006.

Quote: "All of our candidates are new, fresh people who have not been part of the political scene. What I'm hearing people say to them ... is that we do need new faces, we need to ... clean the place up."

Gerry Reid:

As a young boy growing up in the small fishing outport of Carbonear, N.L., Liberal Leader Gerry Reid learned early on he would sometimes have to make do with what little he had.

His father was often away at sea, working as a cook on schooners that traversed the Atlantic. He died of a stroke, when Reid was only 12, leaving his mother to raise the family. "We lived a meagre existence, but we didn't know it because most people were the same at the time," Reid recalled in an interview.

"It was difficult ... you had to be creative on how you were going to raise six kids and get them all educated."

Even Reid's decision to seek a post-secondary education left his mother worrying over how he would pay the bills.

"When I decided to go to university, my mother thought it was a bit naive," he said.

But his time at Memorial University served as the foundation on which he would base his political career. While studying education and philosophy, Reid became president of the campus Liberal party.

After graduating, he juggled a teaching career along with a three-year term as a municipal councillor on a small island off Newfoundland's northeast coast.

In 1996, after working as an aide to former fisheries minister Walter Carter, Reid challenged and defeated his boss for the Liberal party nomination in one of Newfoundland's largest constituencies.

He quietly worked his way up the government ranks, taking over as minister of fisheries in 2001.

The Tory landslide victory in October 2003 left the Liberals in turmoil. Infighting within the caucus led to a change at the top that eventually saw Reid, the party's interim leader, take over the Liberal reins for good.

He didn't even want the job at first, despite widespread support within the party.

"It's just like they say in The Sopranos," says the 53-year-old.

"Just when you think you're out, they pull you back in."

His big challenge now is to fend off the government of Premier Danny Williams, which has enjoyed soaring popularity during its four years in office.

He believes his key to success - which some observers define as the party's survival in the Oct. 9 election - lies in his ability to relate to the common man.

After work on Fridays, he's often spotted quaffing a pint with friends at a British-style pub in downtown St. John's.

"I've always considered myself the underdog," he says with a grin.

"We'll continue to fight."

Danny Williams:

Danny Williams was on holiday, strolling along a sun swept beach in the Caribbean when he decided to dive into the circus of Newfoundland politics seven years ago.

It was his version of Pierre Trudeau's walk in the snow. "I was in Jamaica, so it was a walk in the sand," the Conservative premier laughs in an interview. "I just got up one morning - this is quite truthful - looked in the mirror and said, 'If I don't do this, what am I going to say in 10 years time? Will I say you never had the guts to do it?"'

In truth, Williams was seen as a great hope for the Tories since the early 1980s, when party supporters quietly courted him in an effort to succeed then-premier Brian Peckford.

Since he was acclaimed party leader in January 2001, the political pugilist, former criminal lawyer and ex-cable TV mogul has taken great care to portray himself as Newfoundland and Labrador's Everyman with the common touch.

He whips around town in a Dodge Viper, one of several high-priced vehicles he drives, but has a weakness for fast food.

He earned the nickname "Danny Millions" after selling Cable Atlantic for $232 million in 2000, but now donates his $165,000 legislative salary to a local charitable foundation.
He is a Rhodes Scholar, but can't resist picking a brawl that would otherwise be unbecoming for a man of his pedigree.

During a strike that threatened to disrupt a local American Hockey League game, Williams, an avid fan, challenged St. John's Mayor Andy Wells to a fight, declaring he needed a "good shit-knocking."

The two outspoken politicians are now allies.

But Williams insists he detests engaging in the scraps for which Newfoundland's political landscape is renowned.

"If I was able to devote 100 per cent of my time to doing what I should be doing in the Office of Premier, I think the people of the province would be much better off," he said.

"But you spend at least 50 per cent of your time dealing with the negativity that comes from all sources, whether it's from the media, whether it's from the opposition."

His competitive spirit and love for law came from his father, a criminal lawyer and tennis player in Newfoundland's sports hall of fame. His mother, a long-time Tory supporter, had him handing out brochures for former prime minister John Diefenbaker's campaign when he was a child.
"I think it whetted my appetite," Williams says.

Politics has also dominated his life. Few decisions of any importance are made before landing on his cluttered desk.

"It's 24/7. It never leaves you," says the 58-year-old.

"There's never a full day off unless you actually take a vacation, and even then, when I'm away from the province, there's not a day goes by that I don't have some contact with this office or with members of my cabinet or with members of my caucus."

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Music Star Expected to Attack Newfoundland Over Seal Harvest

Well folks, here we go again. It seems another ill-informed music star has decided that the people of Newfoundland and Labrador are "delusional" when it comes to the annual Atlantic seal harvest and taken it upon himself to say something about it.

According to Straight.com, KISS bassist and vocalist Gene Simmons, who is taking his hit TV series, "Gene Simmons Family Jewels", on the road to Newfoundland may use the opportunity to speak out against sealing.

During a recent interview in Vancouver Simmons told a reporter that he can't stand hunting. When asked if he was bringing his show to Newfoundland to focus attention on the seal hunt, he replied, "I'm not allowed to say." and added, "The idea that anybody would call that a sport is delusional."

I ask you folks, when was the last time anyone, and I mean anyone, viewed the seal harvest as a sport? It isn't. In fact it's a very hard, dangerous and tough means of making much needed money in the fishing industry.

The saddest part of all this is that Simmons' common law spouse, former Playboy centerfold Shannon Tweed, hails from Newfoundland and should at least know enough about this place and its culture to realize how idiotic Simmon' statement actually is.

Unfortunately these two will be welcomed here with open arms to shoot their reality show and what will we get in return? Likely another black eye, thanks to the brainwashing of animal rights propagandists and martini sipping, mansion dwelling bleeding hearts.

Three weeks have been set aside to do taping of the show in the province, but Simmons wouldn't say when he would arrive. Hopefully someone out there will find out and spread the word so this guy gets the kind of reception he truly deserves.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Newfoundland & Labrador - When is an Energy Plan not an Energy Plan?

Yesterday was not a good day for yours truly.

Like many others my day began with vivid recollections of the travesty that took place on September 11, 2001. The anniversary of 9/11 is enough to deeply sadden any caring person but for me that mood became even darker as the day wore on.

Before noon I lost my longtime companion and best (four legged) friend of over 16 years.

There’s nothing like taking a friend, especially one you’ve had since he was a 4 weeks old, for that last long trip to the local vet. If you’ve never had to do it I don’t recommend it to anyone.

Of course I’m in no way comparing my personal loss to the anniversary of 9/11, but with both events stirring my emotions on the same day I spent the afternoon looking forward to anything that might provide some much needed distraction, if even for a brief moment. Thanks to Premier Danny Williams I found what I was looking for. Unfortunately a brief moment of distraction was about all it provided.

Just before noon yesterday the government of Newfoundland and Labrador released what it billed as a new energy plan for the province. Something everyone had been looking forward to for a long time. On first reading I wasn’t quite sure how to react to it and after further review I realized why.

One question kept popping into my head: When is an energy plan not an energy plan?

The answer came quickly: When it raises questions instead of providing answers.

Don't get me wrong, I see a lot of vision and direction in yesterday's release and while that in itself is a good thing it’s also the problem. The document, while providing some level of detail around gas royalties, for the most part reads more like a strategic vision than an actual implementation plan.

Of course there’s nothing wrong with setting a visionary direction and in all fairness it can't be easy to include a lot of detail in a document intended to span several decades. I suspect however that most people in the province and in the energy sector itself were looking for something with a lot more meat after waiting so patiently.

Maybe it’s just the mood I’m in. Perhaps, under the circumstances, it would have taken a document on par with the Declaration of Independence to fully impress me. Be that as it may, I see this so called plan as little more than a guideline document that will, more likely than not, end up collecting dust after the “Williams Team” eventually moves on and a new government takes its place.

On a brighter note, I like the fact that oil industry representatives were quick to say they are willing to work within the guidelines presented, even though they are not overjoyed about the equity position government expects on future projects.

The way I look at it, it's always a good sign when those who covet what you've got aren’t walking away angry, but it's an even better sign when they aren't slapping each other on the back and high fiving it all the way to the bank.

On that front Williams seems to have struck a balance between provincial need and industry greed.

The weakest part of the plan for me is the province’s direction on clean energy, or hydro power. It’s here that Williams has left a lot of questions unanswered.

In the document the government speaks of connecting the isolated island power grid to Labrador via an undersea cable. The intention is to use some of the power from the proposed Lower Churchill development as a replacement for the oil fired generating plant at Holyrood. This is great news for the environment and with the cost of oil these days it should be welcome news for consumers in the long term.

Where the plan is seriously lacking is around the use of Lower Churchill power to attract industrial development in Labrador.

Though a few references to industrial development and making the people the prime beneficiaries of the resource are peppered throughout the document, nowhere does the plan clearly state that partnering with industrial players and encouraging them to locate inside the province will be aggressively pursued. Instead there are only cryptic references to economic growth. It's almost as if the idea of local industrial growth was added as an afterthought to appease the public.

After touching on the topic of industrial growth the plan moves quickly on to the exporting of power into the North American grid.

Once again, this part of the plan is light on detail and direction and it shouldn’t be.

The selling of Lower Churchill power outside the province brings up a very sore point for many Newfoundlanders and Labradorians. Exporting power is not a preferred option for many. It is viewed as providing a way to foster industrial growth in places like Quebec and Ontario while unemployment continues to soar inside the province and local people move away by the thousands to the very places that would be the recipients of that power.

The public distaste and underlying anger around selling power instead of using it to attract industry is often further aggravated when the prospect of moving that power through Quebec is discussed.

The hangover from a lopsided Upper Churchill contract is still being felt very strongly and in some ways has shaped the psyche of the entire province when it comes to the prospect of making another “bad deal”.

For as long as he’s been in office Premier Williams has all but ignored partnering with potential long term industrial partners and instead claimed that his team is actively considering exporting power through a maritime route rather than acquiescing to what many suspect will be exorbitant demands by Quebec Hydro.

While this new energy plan speaks of the afore mentioned undersea link to the island as providing a starting point for this alternate route it doesn't go beyond that. What isn’t mentioned is the very serious capacity issue outlined in a 2005 government report recently acquired by the CBC. That document identifies major concerns with the provincial power grid and its ability to handle any substantial increase in power distribution. The grid is essentially maxed out and as such poses a major problem for any plan to bypass Quebec with the Lower Churchill.

This glaring omission is very concerning to those following the direction of the Lower Churchill development. Though government is still publicly saying that the maritime route is a valid option, the fact that there is no mention of capacity issues and little acknowledgement of industrial power use in Labrador, seems to be a clear signal that government has already made its mind on how it will proceed. It looks like they plan to either hold their noses and use the Quebec corridor after all or, if the public outcry is becomes deafening, shelve the project entirely.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Newfoundland and Labrador Energy Plan Released

This morning at 11:30 local time the government of Newfoundland and Labrador released its long awaited energy plan. The plan is intended to address the energy direction for the province over the next several decades.

A quick reveiw of the new energy plan reveals that it includes information on new royalty regimes for offshore oil and gas, discussion of the Lower Churchill development (and other electrical resources) and recognizes the return of control over Upper Churchill power 34 years from now.

Currently the energy plan is under review and Web Talk will be discussing it more closely over the next few days. For those interested in reviewing the plan and commenting on it, a copy can be found at the following web site: http://www.nr.gov.nl.ca/energyplan/EnergyReport.pdf

Monday, September 10, 2007

The Politics of Desperation

Newfoundland and Labrador will be heading to the polls in a provincial election early next month. Soon candidates will be hitting the election trail in full force. Over the next week or so campaign signs will begin to deface the landscape once again and election promises will start flying around faster than a hummingbird on steroids. For the most part the process will play itself out as these things always do, but there is one marked difference this time around.

With the latest opinion polls showing what appears to be a one horse race, and with the two mainstream provincial opposition parties struggling on life support, a new tactic has become all the rage with those who see their political futures slipping further away with each passing day.

The provincial PC party, or as they would prefer to be called, the “Danny Williams Team”, currently stands at about 75% - 80% support in the province and are expected to win by a landslide. Whether those numbers actually hold up going into the election remains to be seen but they have prompted some party faithful, those not on the “Danny Williams Team”, to an act of utter desperation.

Some are suggesting that the 80% of voters who currently support the PC party should consider using their vote strategically rather than casting it for the party of their choice.

It’s a new wrinkle in what appears to be an increasingly undemocratic society, a concept that’s being talked about a lot lately and one that speaks volumes about the desperation of those promoting the idea.

Essentially the proponents would like supporter of the reigning PC party to vote for a Liberal or NDP candidate instead. They say strategic voting will ensure a strong opposition, help hold the government to account and protect our democratic system.

Excuse me while I vent, but the entire concept is ludicrous. It reeks of fear and desperation. Cleary the idea is nothing more then a last ditch attempt by dying and unbalanced political hopefuls who hope to hang on by their well manicured fingernails.

There is no doubt that there’s something to be said for a strong opposition. As someone once said, “Absolute power corrupts absolutely”. In Newfoundland and Labrador those words ring far truer than in most places. Many voters are old enough to recall Joey Smallwood and the fallout of his unchallenged power, but the existence of a strong opposition is something that has to happen in a natural way, not through a forced agenda.

The onus for getting elected lies with the members of the various parties, not with the voters. It’s the parties that must present strong candidates and solid platforms. It is the candidates themselves who need to give voters sound reasons to trust them, to want them in office and to elect them. If they can't do that then they deserve to lose.

Instead of the parties stepping up to the challenge of providing a real alternative to the voting public, those voters are being asked to cast their ballots against their choice in the name of protecting democracy.

It’s a concept that is the complete antithesis of what democracy is all about and the proponents of this approach should hang their heads in shame.

By asking this of the public they are actually asking them to give away their ability to vote for their candidate or party of choice.

Why should I or anyone else vote for a candidate or a party I don’t support? What possible reason could I have to even consider such a thing? It’s almost too foolish to talk about. Consider what might happen if everyone suddenly had a massive attack of the stupids and actually acted on this. The end result might see the public elect a government nobody wanted. Now there's a cold reality check for you.

The very foundation of a democracy is the right of each individual to vote for the candidate of their choice. The system is not meant to be corrupted by having voters support a candidate or party they do not want to form government.

I have no way of knowing if my preferred candidate will win a seat this October or not, but win or lose, I'll execise my franchise in the way it was intended. I certainly don't intend to cast my vote for someone who is looking for a free pass instead of providing me with a solid choice that would warrant my support.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Labrador - Canada's Nuclear Waste Dump?

In a today’s energy hungry world, where environmental concerns are suddenly at the top of the agenda, nuclear energy is one solution that’s becoming more and more acceptable worldwide. The problem, and one that’s now being discussed by nations around the world, is finding a way to dispose of the unavoidable nuclear waste this type of energy produces.

It’s a trade off. The use of nuclear energy may allow for the reduction of coal or oil fired generating plants, and the emissions they produce, but those concerns become replaced with the problem of what to do with an overabundance of highly radioactive and deadly waste.

With this in mind Stephen Harper is now considering joining an international initiative that would see uranium producing countries accept these waste products back from the customers they supply. This radioactive material would then be buried deep underground in the hope that it remains there for millennia and does not leak out into the environment. It’s a big gamble, especially since Canada is a major supplier of uranium to the world market.

While Harper appears willing to entertain the idea of Canada becoming a nuclear waste storage area the question becomes, who will want this deadly waste in their backyard? My guess is that nobody will. The resulting outcry could potentially lead to the application of pressure on those jurisdictions who actually mine the uranium to begin accepting and storing the resulting waste.

Enter Newfoundland and Labrador, or more specifically, Labrador itself.

With new discoveries in Labrador, the region is poised to become a major producer and supplier of uranium as new discoveries are brought online. If the government of Canada decides to join other nations in this nuclear initiative Labrador, with its massive land area and extremely small population, would likely become a preferred choice for the storage of international radioactive waste.

The decision to accept nuclear waste in Canada won’t be a popular one. In fact the majority of Canadian’s are likely to protest such a move. At the end of the day however, if Ottawa makes the decision to proceed, the waste will have to go somewhere inside Canadian borders and Labrador will likely become a preferred option for the federation.

Non-uranium producing provinces certainly won’t want it inside their borders, and rightfully so. This will put pressure on areas with large scale mining operations to accept the waste. If Ottawa signs onto this initiative it will have to go somewhere.

The majority of uranium produced in Canada is mined in the far North of Saskatchewan at present but labrador is believed to contain massive commercial grade deposits. This, combined with easy access to Labrador thanks to it's enormous coastline, could lead to the area being turned into a vast and scenic nuclear waste dump.

As I’ve said before, Vive le Canada

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Is Newfoundland and Labrador Being Sold Down The River on Lower Churchill?

CBC News is reporting today that they’ve uncovered a report, completed in 2005, at the request of the provincial government. The document states that while Newfoundland and Labrador has massive wind energy potential it does not have the capacity in its electrical infrastructure (grid) to handle that potential.

According to CBC, the government report says the grid will limit the size of potential projects despite having a “world-class wind resource”
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While the inability of the provincial grid to handle large scale wind power presents a serious problem it also points to an even bigger issue for Newfoundland and Labrador, both developmentally and politically.

Since taking office Premier Danny Williams and Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro CEO, Ed Martin, have been adament that they are seriously considering bypassing Quebec and using a maritime route to bring lower Churchill power to markets in Canada and the U.S. The question now becomes whether they are actually considering this option or if they’ve been misleading the public with politically motivated blather for months?

Everyone in the province knows that a maritime route will require the laying of an undersea cable from Labrador to the island of Newfoundland. The power would then need to travel down the Northern Peninsula and to another cable from the island to New Brunswick. While the public expected that additional costs would be associated with the undersea links, there now appears to be a major roadblock with transporting the power across the island itself.

If the existing grid can’t handle an additional few hundred megawatts of wind power what are the odds it can handle more than 2000 megawatts from the Lower Churchill?

Of course the public will have to wait for the release of the provincial energy plan, expected sometime this month, to find out if the province has plans to upgrade the provincial grid, but for now it looks like talk of a maritime route has been nothing more than rhetoric and politics at play.

I’ve always been a proponent of using as much lower Churchill power as possible inside the province, especially as a means to facilitate industrial expansion in Labrador. If the power can’t be used locally then at the very least our province needs to ensure that a repeat of the ransom demands Quebec presented on the upper Churchill are not repeated.

With the contents of this 2005 report now in the public domain, and with no major industrial giants lined up by the Williams government to use the power at home, it would seem the only options left are to once again go through Quebec, on its terms, or forget the project all together.

If that’s the case, I’ll take the latter option thank-you very much. I suspect most of the voters in the province will make the same choice.

Let the Political Games Begin

With summer drawing to a close Ottawa’s elite are once again starting to drag their over stuffed bellies out from whatever rock they crawled under after the spring session.

Let the games begin!

First off the mark to play politics with the voters of Newfoundland and Labrador this season are two of our own, though few in the Province care to admit it. This week Liberal MP (and devout ultra-federalist) Todd Russell is facing off with Conservative Cabinet Minister John Eff… ah, sorry I mean Loyola Hearn.

It seems Liberal Todd is upset with Conservative Loyola because the Fisheries Minister hasn’t muddied his wing tips by paying a visit to Labrador after 18 months in office. Todd’s public ire was presented for the media wallow in this week after Loyola announced a small amount of funding for the area via video conference from Ottawa, rather than in person.

According to Todd, Loyola is neglecting the largest portion of the province by not even having the courtesy to show up and talk to the people there.

Russell seems to think this is news to the voters but I don’t think it comes as a shock to anyone that Hearn is neglecting Labrador. In fact it could easily be argued that he’s been neglecting the entire province since leaving the opposition benches for the government side of the House.

None the less Toddy boy raises a good point. Even if his concern has more to do with getting some press attention and less to do with fair treatment for Labrador, the fact remains, why would a provincial MP and cabinet minister not even bother to visit the “big land”?

Labrador is a place that has long been neglected by both the provincial and federal governments and one that’s provided untold resource riches to the Province and the entire Country.

Labrador is a place that has never asked for anything other than to have its most basic needs met, something most of us take for granted.

Could it be that since going to Ottawa Loyola has gotten so used to a pampered lifestyle the very thought of bouncing over the craters and mountain peaks that pass for a highway in Labrador is upsetting to his delicate constitution?

During an interveiw with CBC Russell noted, "They (the conservatives) promise all sorts of goodies at election time but deliver nothing after the election, and in that way I think they are very hypocritical and they've misled the people of Labrador”.

Strong words for someone representing the Liberal Party of Canada. A party renowned for making and breaking election promises like it was some sort of national pastime.

Russell’s observations about broken promises, though valid, come across more like political showmanship and pandering than anything else. Sort of like the pot and the kettle in a conversation over which is cleaner.

Loyola vollied back by saying he doesn’t want to plan a visit to Labrador until three major issues, including an announcement on the future of 5 Wing Goose Bay, have been resolved. He didn’t elaborate on what the other two issues might be.

For those not familiar with political doublespeak, let me translate the Minister’s statement for you. “The voters are ready to hang me over the Atlantic Accord and we’ve made a lot of promises to Labrador that we haven’t kept. If I show up there now I’ll be lucky to get away with just having my head handed to me on a pointy stick.”

Oddly enough Hearn went on to say he’s planning to visit Labrador this fall. A strange comment after having said he didn’t want to plan a trip to Labrador until three major issues were resolved.

Could this mean Hearn has finally accomplished something in Ottawa?

Could it mean that 5 Wing will finally get the military contingent and service role it deserves?

Could it mean Harper has finally cut a check for the millions promised to help fund improvements to the Trans Labrador Highway?

Could it be that Loyola has finally convinced Steve to dip into the public purse to help move the Lower Churchill project forward?

What could this talk of an actual visit to Labrador really mean?

Well, it could mean any of those things, or it might simply mean that Hearn, in a pathetic attempt to deflect attention from his total lack of success in Ottawa and his neglect at home, has once again put his size 8 squarely in his mouth and placed his sorry butt on the line one more time.

I know which one I’m betting on.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Williams Extends Olive Branch to Harper

The Question of who is the bigger person in the ongoing equalization battle, between Ottawa and Newfoundland and Labrador, has finally been answered. Here's a hint. He doesn't live on Sussex Drive.

With the tabling of the March budget the Conservative government saw three provincial premiers accuse the PM of walking away from his election promises on equalization and doing an end run around signed Atlantic Accord agreements.

The budget sparked off a war of words between the leaders and none were louder than Newfoundland and Labrador Premier, Danny Williams. Even today there appears to be very little communication between St. John’s and Ottawa, at least at the highest levels.

There are those who believe Harper did the right thing for Canada and that Premiers Williams, MacDonald and Calvert are looking for too much. Others, mainly in the provinces affected, honestly believe the Prime Minister turned his back on them for purely political reasons by favoring the wishes of vote rich Ontario and Quebec and circumvented a legally binding contract.

No matter which side of the debate they support many observers have been wondering if or when someone will make the first move to re-open the lines of communication and find a way forward on an issue that has divided a Country. They have been wondering which one of these political leaders is the bigger man and which one will finally extend an olive branch.

With summer vacations in full swing some of you may have missed it but over the past several days that question has been answered on more than one occasion.

Recently Premier Danny Williams has not only extended an olive branch to Stephen Harper he’s essentially extended the entire tree. The problem now is that the Prime Minister doesn’t seem willing to accept these offerings. Instead his strategy for resolving the problem amounts to simply ignoring the people of Atlantic Canada and Saskatchewan.

The first move by Premier Williams came on the morning of the big Hebron oil project announcement in the province. Even after Stephen Harper had slighted the provincial leader by sneaking into and then out of the province, in the wake of major floods in the area a few weeks earlier, Williams decided to do something the Prime Minister refused to do. He made a courtesy call to the PM’s office.

Prior to making a public announcement of the multi-billion dollar oil deal Williams phoned the Prime Ministers office as a courtesy. According to the Premier, his intent was to inform the PM of what was about to take place. A reasonable thing to do considering that the project has the potential to pump billions of dollars directly into federal coffers and since Ottawa and the province both manage the resource jointly.

Harper did not take the Premier’s call. Instead one of his staff informed Williams that the PM was busy and would try to call him back. To date, no reports of any direct communication between the two have surfaced.

The second peace offering took place later the same day during an interview on CTV News.

When asked about the ongoing feud Williams indicated that he was standing by his position on the issue but that he could not understand why the PM has never offered to sit down and talk about what options might exist to satisfy both sides in the disagreement.

Clearly this was an attempt by Williams to open up communications and perhaps find some sort of resolution. Just a few months ago this was not something Williams was willing to consider and at that time Harper simply denied any wrong doing and even challenged the provinces to take him to court if they wanted. Now that things have quieted down Williams appears willing to talk even if Harper isn't.

Once again, no movement has been reported from the PMO’s office.

A third, and perhaps most telling sign that Williams is willing to discuss the impasse, happened during the recent Liberal caucus meetings in the province.

On arriving in St. John's Liberal leader Stephane Dion made a point of visiting the Premier’s office and spending some time meeting with him. The Liberal leader clearly intended to use the visit as a photo op in an attempt to brand himself as a supporter of Atlantic Canada’s interests and an alternative to Harper’s apparently anti-Atlantic mindset. Unfortunately for Mr. Dion, Premier Williams refused to go before the cameras with him or even discuss the visit publicly. He essentially left Mr. Dion to his own devices and in doing so left the door open to Stephen Harper.

It's clear that Williams is, after many months, willing to work with Ottawa to fix a situation that has divided the Country and impacted Atlantic Canada’s financial future.

These recent gestures by Williams are obviously intended to let the Prime Minister know that there is still time to find a solution before the next federal election. Still time before the voters in Atlantic Canada go to the polls with the slogan, “ABC – Anyone but Conservatives” ringing in their ears. And, perhaps more importantly for Stephen Harper, still time to win back some limited level of support in the region. Something he may very well need to secure a majority win.

It seems that instead of reaching out to accept these peace offerings Harper has chosen to do something he often does when faced with someone who refuses to follow his commands or challenges him on an issue. He has gone into hiding, is refusing to talk and is taking an adversarial and potentially aggressive stand against his perceived enemy.

This is the sort of tactic often employed by an angry, frustrated and spoiled five year old but it isn't one that should ever be used by a sitting Prime Minister.