Da Legal Stuff...

All commentaries published on Web Talk are the opinions of the contributor(s) only and do not necessarily represent the position of any other individuals, groups or organizations.

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

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Atlantica Lite - The New Solution

One of the biggest problems with Canada’s quasi-democracy is the penchant of federal parties to pander to provinces with a large number of parliamentary seats, often to the detriment of smaller jurisdictions like those in Atlantic Canada.

In provinces like Newfoundland & Labrador the result of that pandering has been felt time and time again.

As an example, when the equalization formula was restructured, it not only went back on a federal promise to exclude natural resources, the reforms involved more than just equalization restructuring.

Essentially the equalization reforms were intended to appease Quebec by ensuring they got a much larger piece of the pie, to the tune of $1 billion a year. The reforms didn’t stop there however.

In an effort to ensure that the “Quebec solution” didn’t offend voters in Ontario and Alberta the government also changed the underlying structure of the Canada Social Transfer system.

This system provides funding to provinces for everything from post-secondary education to social programs. Critical programs that help a province educate its people and ensure that they have the ability to become more self-sufficient in the long term. It’s ironic that the changes put in place actually limit the ability of smaller provinces to keep pace with larger ones when it comes to social development.

While the social transfer system had been based on a province’s fiscal capacity, the new system is now population based, which naturally favors the larger provinces. An example of the impact of this restructuring is a comparison of Alberta and Newfoundland & Labrador. Alberta, the richest province in Canada, will now receive an additional $102 per person annually while Newfoundland & Labrador, with a small but widely dispersed population, will receive $5 per person.

Try maintaining competitive social programs and education levels with numbers like that.

So, the question is how can blind political ambition and vote pandering on the federal level be neutralized so everyone is treated more fairly?

What if instead of having 7 party controlled votes in parliament Newfoundland & Labrador could find a way to leverage the votes of 32 MPs? It IS possible.

For decades the idea of Atlantica, a single province made up of the entire Atlantic region, has been floated with little acceptance. Rightfully the provinces involved don’t want to give any of the independence they currently have.

As a solution, the concept of having each province remain independent but throwing their collective support behind a single “Atlantica” party has been floated, but once again it gained little acceptance since this approach would leave Nova Scotia with the majority of seats inside the party and likely lead to a situation similar to the one we are experiencing with federally controlled parties.

There is another option however. One that would ensure provincial independence, allow provincial MPs to stand up for their province and help neutralize the federal problem.

These days Newfoundland & Labrador Premier, Danny Williams, is promoting his ABC campaign for the next federal election, “Anyone but Conservative”. Taking that thinking a step further and incorporating the Atlantica (province) and Atlantica (party) concepts the solution begins to become clearer.

All of Atlantic Canada has serious issues with the federal system. For example, New Brunswick only received $7 from the social program changes recently put in place, Nova Scotia, regardless of what Premier “Ronald” McDonald might say, is not pleased with the Atlantic Accord fiasco and PEI with the smallest number of seats is all but forgotten.

The solution is for each of the Atlantic provinces to field their own separate parties and promote the hell out of them on the federal scene.

Instead of “ABC”, why not support 4 new independent, provincially centered parties, in Atlantic Canada?

Why shouldn’t there be a New Brunswick party, Nova Scotia Party, PEI party and a Newfoundland & Labrador party that the people can get behind? Hell, even a seperate Newfoundland party and a Labrador party if that's what it takes to gain support.

Electing provincially focused parties would guarantee that the MPs elected could deliver the message of their constituents to Ottawa, not Ottawa’s message to their constituents. The addition of the new parties, strongly supported, to the federal system would make it almost impossible for any mainsteam party to win a majority government in the future. In fact, knowing the mindset of most politicians, it would probably lead to a little vote pandering down east, in the hope of stealing back some of the provincially controlled seats. That in itself could see positive change for the future of the region.

With a perpetual minority government almost guaranteed, each of the smaller provinces would potentially hold the swing votes required to pass federal legislation, giving them real bargaining power in Ottawa.

Loose coalitions between the individual Atlantic parties and even some of the larger parties would also allow them to vote as a group on issues where common ground exists. This would, under mutually beneficial circumstances, allow those province's to wield 32 parliamentary votes, or more, rather than the paltry number now elected in each Province and controlled by the national party leadership.

Currently Atlantic Canada has very little sway in Ottawa and no way of changing the federal system but by working together in this way the 4 provinces can retain their individuality and still alter the face of Canadian politics, from within the current structure, in a way that allows them to finally have a voice.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Toursim - Newfoundland and Labrador Does it Right

A big tip of the hat and hearty pat on the back to the Newfoundland and Labrador Department of Tourism and all the folks involved in promoting the province these days.

It’s not often anyone feels the need to congratulate a government department, minister or even the worker bees in government but this is one of those rare occasions.

Had I not spent the past few months traveling to various parts of Canada I probably wouldn’t have noticed the frequency and abundance of well made Newfoundland and Labrador tourism commercials being aired on a daily basis. The fact is that I have been moving around quite a bit and have indeed noticed, with great pleasure, the all out campaign that appears to be underway to attract tourists to the most beautiful place on earth.

It seems as though you can’t turn on a T.V. these days without being transported to a different time and place by some the highest quality commercials developed and aired with the absolute intent of sparking a keen interest in one of the most friendly, peaceful, picturesque and enjoyable places on the planet.

Not only are the commercials well made, they are well targeted as well.

Airing on networks like CTV Newnet, the history channel and Discovery Civilization (three of my favorites) they clearly target a demographic that is interested in the world around them, are likely above the age of 30 (read higher income earners) and generally better educated than those who prefer the banality of most network television.

The bonus of course (and likely the original thinking behind the specific network placement) is the lower cost of advertising on such stations. That may be the bonus for the taxpayer but the fact remains that the placement and presentation couldn’t be better.

On most of my previous travels the people I met often asked me, "Where is Newfoundland anyway..." or "Do you really eat raw fish...". Over the past few months however anyone who has discovered that I’m from Newfoundland and Labrador has been quick to comment on how interesting and beautiful the place must be. No doubt this change in attitude is at least partly attributable to the province’s promotion of itself, in fact some of those I’ve met have specifically mentioned the latest crop of commercials.

I’ve also noticed that the province is now directly targeting outdoor adventure tourists by placing inexpensive hunting and fishing ads on websites frequented by hunters and anglers. The catch, and the reason why the ads are becoming very popular with site visitors, is that the they are presented as online games that the public can enjoy. If you catch a virtual fish or bag a virtual moose you are treated to a little piece of information about the natural wonders of Newfoundland and Labrador. Brilliant!!!

Over the past couple of budgets the province has increased tourism funding and from all indications the money is being used very wisely. Not something anyone can often say about government programs but something it’s certainly a pleasure to do.

Author’s note: Written from a hotel room in Fredericton New Brunswick. In the time it took me to write this, with CTV Newsnet in the background, no less than four Newfoundland and Labrador tourism commercials have aired. (and I write fairly quickly)

Monday, February 18, 2008

UPDATE: Who do you Believe

Back near the start of February I wrote a posting about an apparent conflict between statements made by Natural Resources Minister Kathy Dunderdale and Premier Danny Williams regarding the development of a smelter in Labrador (to take advantage of Lower Churchill power). See post.

That posting contained a copy of a letter I sent to Premier Williams just after the new year asking him to reconcile both positions. Clearly my email to the Premier was bounced back to Minister Dunderdale for response. Just this past week I received a letter from the Minister (copied to the Premier) addressing the issue. It doesn't provide much information but it does attempt to reconcile the two positions. I guess you need to be careful what you ask for.

Here are the contents of the two letters:

My letter to the Premier

January 2, 2008
To: Premier Williams
From: Myles Higgins

I am writing to ask your office for clarification of the statements you have recently made to various forms of media which appear to be in direct conflict with those made previously by your cabinet representative, Ms. Kathy Dunderale.

Recently you have made it very clear that one of the mega-projects you hope to see come to fruition is the development of a smelter in Labrador that would make use of Lower Churchill power and create much needed jobs in the area. I congratulate you for investigating this approach to utilization of the Lower Churchill as I have long been a proponent of using that power to attract industry to the region rather than for export alone.

My concern lies in the fact that when I approached Minister Dunderdale in November of 2006 on behalf of the Newfoundland and Labrador Defense League (NLDL.org) to ask her why your government did not appear to be very proactive in pursuing a smelter for the region she responded to me that a study, conducted by ALCOA, had shown that, “…it was not a viable option and in fact required almost $1 billion of Government financial assistance.” (Please see attached letter “Dunderdale_Nov_2006.doc)

When questioned about the details of these costs Ms. Dunderdale said she could not go into the details of the study but reiterated that a smelter in Labrador , using Lower Churchill power, would cost ALCOA $1 billion more than other alternatives. (Please see attached letter “Higgins.pdf which was sent to me by Judy Beckwith on behalf of Minister Dunderdale in March of 2007)

My concern does not lay with the government’s intention to attract industrial development to Labrador , in fact I applaud the move. My concern lies instead with the apparent conflict in message between your office and that of your Minister.

I am also concerned over which message is the correct one and as I expressed to Ms. Dunderdale at the time, my concern is also what the province might be lacking that would require an expenditure of $1 billion dollars in order to make Lower Churchill spin off development competitive with other options available to large organizations like ALCOA.

Your latest comments on the development of a smelter in the region have once again raised my concerns and additionally, I wonder why this massive expenditure no longer appears to be a factor. Has the cost simply disappeared for some reason, are we to expect that if a smelter is developed it will cost the provincial government a massive expenditure to make it happen, or is there really a drive underway to build a smelter at all or is this simply political posturing of some kind? I sincerely hope the latter is not the case.

Myles Higgins

Kathy Dunderdale's Response:

Dear Mr. Higgins:

I am replying on behalf of the Premier to your letter of January 2, 2008, in which you expressed concern about what you interpreted as conflicting statements regarding the possibility of establishing an aluminum smelting facility in the Province. When I wrote to you in November 2006, I conveyed to you the general outcome of studies done by ALCOA, and referenced the additional cost of almost $1 billion that the company had estimated. That work was done by ALCOA in 2001-2002.

More recent preliminary discussions with other potentially interested parties are placing the issue in a different perspective. The global picture for the aluminum industry has changed considerably in the time since ALCOA did its study, in terms of new capacity, price, and other fators. Aluminum companies, as well as other energy intensive industries, have shown interest during our preliminary discussions with them.

I hope this addresses your concerns, and I trust you will understand that I cannot go into details about current discussions. Please be assured that this government will take every possible measure to ensure that we obtain the absolute best overall balance of benefits for the Province from teh Lower Churchill development, as well as from all other major natural resource developments in the Province.

Yours Sincerely,

Kathy Dunderdale, MHA

c. Premier Danny Williams

Well folks, that's it in a nutshell. I'm not sure that I'm any more informed than when all this began over a year ago.

In her letter Ms. Dunderdale said she was responding to what I had "...interpreted as conflicting statements", I beg to differ. I still believe they were (and still are) conflicting statements but at least her response has clearly shown me two things:

1) When a government doesn't want to do something they have no problem digging up studies and numbers to back up why they shouldn't do it. Even going so far as to accept as gospel the word of a major corporation when it says it needs a billion dollar handout to make a project worthwhile.

2) When the tide of public opinion changes and that same government determines that voters do not support their position, they can just as easily dismiss those studies as outdated or only representing a single point of view and of not having any real importance.

Isn't it odd that as late as March of 2007, less than a year ago, the ALCOA study was used by Ms. Dunderdale as a means of making it clear to myself and others that a smelter was not a likely scenario in Labrador. At that time the study was apparently very pertinent and so secret that even after being asked on several occassions to elaborate the Minister refused to divulge what those costs included.

Now, less than a year later the study quoted has no bearing, new factors and studies have taken precedence, yet the Minister claims she cannot divulge anything about this new information either (and still hasn't provided anything about the old).

We now have two sets of facts that can't be made public, even though one is apparently outdated and useless.

I guess when it comes to politics the more things change the more they stay the same.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

The Famous and Infamous of Newfoundland and Labrador

Airports are the kind of place where you never know who you'll come across.

On my most recent foray into Canada I happened to eye two of my favorite political figures.

The most recent encounter happened on an Air Canada flight from Halifax to St. John's on Friday evening. I know, I know, you're probably wondering what the heck I'm doing flying with the dreaded Air Canada. Believe me, if I had another option I would have taken it but unfortunately I was connecting on a flight from Fredericton and West Jet (the friendly airline) doesn't serve that airport.

Anyway, I digress.

I had no sooner plunked my butt down in my seat when out of the corner of my eye I see the object of my disdain slip onto the aircraft (after everyone else had already boarded) and sit in the first seat in executive class.

After take off, as the refreshments were being doled out to the special people in the front of the plane and as I stewed in my seat, wanting to give this person my two cents worth, I was forced to laugh to myself instead. Probably a good thing as my comments might have gotten me bounced off the aircraft at 20,000 feet.

All I could think as I watched him accept a glass of wine from the attendent was, "At least the scandal hasn't ruined Mr. Dicks taste for the grape". That and the thought that if you or I had soaked the government of hundreds of thousands of dollars for art, wine we'd likely be in jail today, not flying first class and sipping more of the good stuff.

Anyway, Paul Dicks wasn't the only political encounter on this trip. The other happened here in St. John's airport while on the trip up to Fredericton. It was there that I spied our beloved Minister of Fisheries, Loyola Hearn sitting in the corner of the boarding area hiding behind a copy of the Globe and Mail.

It appeared to all the world as if he was a little nervous about being recognized. I'm not sure if that was because of his sell out of the province or because he didn't want everyone to know he gets his understanding of Newfoundland and Labrador issues from the pages of the Globe.

Speaking of the infamous Loyola, I see he's busy planning for a potential election whether it comes in the next few weeks or not.

This week the province announced that structures on the Newfoundland trailway were being closed due to safety issues. The annoucement came just this past week but by Saturday little Loyola was already proudly announcing 1.5 million in ACOA funding to fix the problem. Now that's fast work.

When was the last time any of us have seen the feds work that fast?

Too bad Loyola couldn't have moved that quickly to stand behind the province over the Atlantic Accord, equalization, 5 Wing Goose, ferry rates, custodial management or any number of other issues. Then again 1.5 million is pin money by comparison, or for someone like the previously mentioned Mr. Dicks, bottle deposit money.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

ConocoPhilips Wants NL to Stop Gouging Oil Companies

The Financial Post is reporting today that a spokesman for oil giant, ConocoPhillips says the company is "having a hard time" justifying drilling a major exploration well offshore Newfoundland under what they are calling a, “controversial”, energy policy introduced by Premier Danny Williams last year.

According to the report Kevin Meyers, president of ConocoPhillips' Canadian subsidiary, said yesterday one of the challenges is that the new provincial regime involves the province taking an equity stake if the well produces a discovery, but not sharing in the cost of exploration.

"That makes it a much more tolerable risk scenario for them - if you find something and it's economic then they participate," Mr. Meyers said in an interview.

"But it does add an extra burden on the people who have to carry the exploration cost.”

I’m sure all Newfoundlanders and Labradorians will join me in expressing our deepest sympathy for the stockholders and board members of ConocoPhillips who recently reported a net income of $4.4 billion, or $2.71 a share, for the last quarter alone, up from $3.2 billion, or $1.91 a share, for the same quarter in 2006.

According to Mr. Meyers “ConocoPhillips is being very open with Newfoundland about the need to improve its fiscal framework.”

"We are having a very hard time coming up with a justification -- given the risk associated with an exploration well…We want to, we are excited enough about the geology, but it's making the numbers work."

Give me a break and while you're at it, cry me a river Mr. Meyers. By the way, if you don't feel that exploring a well off the shore of Newfoundland and Labrador will bring you the returns you want why not spend your exploration dollars in Venesuela or perhaps Russia?

East Coast Music Awards - NL Artists

Hi all,

This is a little off topic for Web Talk, but I just wanted to take a minute to throw out a big Congrats to all the Newfoundland and Labrador artists being honored and performing at this week's East Coast Music Awards festival being held in Fredricton New Brunswick.

I just happen to be in Fredricton this week and hope to take in a few of the shows planned for the big event.

Congrats to all, including the likes of Ron Hynes, Amelia Curran, Shannyganock and many others.

There are music industry execs here from around the world and it's great to see so much NL talent being show cased.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Treated Like Hostages in Canada

The following appeared in the Compass today. Reads like something very familiar... Hmmmm....

Check out my article:
Perception is Not Reality... from January 15th to see why.

Well, if nothing else at least somone else is trying to get the truth out and may even be visiting the old Web Talk site from time to time.


Treated like hostages in our own country


In the next federal election vote ABC.

Stephen Harper is still pouting and whining over our province's request for the $10 billion promised before the last federal election. How can anyone support a Prime Minister who has no word? The question to be asked in the next federal election is: how can a PM who doesn't honour a signed agreement with the provinces be trusted to run the country again?

Since joining Canada in 1949, after being dragged in screaming and howling like a new born babe, we are forever looked down upon from Ottawa, and consequently from central and western Canada as complainers.

We're a group of people who are forever unhappy with our share of this confederation.To demonstrate how deep that perception is, let me tell you about my meeting with a fellow Newfoundlander, who has been living in Halifax for over 20 years.He said to me recently:

Bill, Newfoundland is going nowhere until it rids itself of that arrogant pompous Danny Williams. I'm so sick and tired of Newfoundland premiers always bitching and whining with Ottawa. It's never ends. Way back even to Joey Smallwood's era and down through the years, Premiers like Moores, Peckford, Tobin, Tulk and now Williams have gotten under the skin of Ottawa autocrats, (Diefenbaker, Trudeau, Mulroney and now Harper).

These one man show premiers only know one way, their way or no way.Nobody wants to deal with Newfoundland premiers' arrogance in Ottawa. Why should high-ranked ministers of the federal government deal with those maw mouths? They don't have to put up with that crap from these little fellows from Newfoundland.

The only sensible premier Newfoundland has had so far is Clyde Wells, he contends. Wells is a diplomat, a gentleman negotiator and a good judge of character. He is well respected in Ottawa circles and the federal/provincial progress he made, has gone down the drain thanks to succeeding premiers, especially Williams, he concluded.

Public trough Not even the Ace of Hearts can help a stalled (public-trough career) like the one Harper is holding in a stacked one-sided poker game with Williams, subtly played under the nation's table in his fight with Newfoundland.

It's all a game at our expense, with billions in the deck, and with greasy Steve the dealer and honest Danny the loser.

Conservative lackeys in Ottawa rooting for Stevie until he decides to call the election are reinforcing the PM's dislike of Danny Williams and his fight for our rights. Regretfully our own Newfoundland MPs, Doyle, Hearn and Manning are amongst the group and at the forefront, although they should be looking out for the rights of the voters who sent them up there.

Hearn just headed a scheme to buy us off, announcing millions in federal investments in the province. Are we too naïve to see through that?

Harper's shtick is simply to keep his mug in the public eye 'till his minority government has had enough (most likely this spring).In the meantime he will continue to sit around as a philosopher king screwing Newfoundland and rubbing his chin until the first viable election date becomes available.

He doesn't need Newfoundland voters, he implied during his meeting with Premier Williams.

This really isn't about principles or excellence in government. It's simply all about Stephen Harper and his disdain for Danny Williams. It's a deep resentment that is dangerous especially in the mind of a demagogue prime minister who is wielding such power over us while leading a minority government.

A movie in the 1970s about a group of ordinary folk taking on the giants of industry had a classic line as a central theme for its message. It said, "we're as mad as hell and we're not taking it anymore." That's the way we should feel about Harper's Conservatives in Ottawa.

We have to stick together and shout the same 'till we are heard all the way from St. John's to Rigoulet and then go to the ballot box and vote ABC (anything but Conservative) as Williams suggests.

We've quite a lot to be angry about. We joined Canada debt free. We were not a poor little island out there in the North Atlantic. We brought Canada the richest fishing grounds in the world and in a few decades it was reduced to almost nothing through over fishing by foreign countries, mismanagement and idiotic leadership in Ottawa.

Newfoundland and Labrador is the richest province when it comes to natural and human resources.

We're complaining about much more than money. We're insulted by the lack of recognition - symptoms of a much deeper problem.

It's all the giveaways and roadblocks to our advancement.

This province owns and developed the largest hydroelectric project in the world, Churchill Falls. In the 1960s Quebec got it for a bargain (Joey's blunder) and now with plans to develop (on our own) the Lower Churchill, Quebec is getting in the way again refusing to allow the grid needed for distribution to New England States to pass through their territory. As for help from Ottawa, we can whistle Dixie.

The alliance between Harper and Quebec is too strong and the votes in LaBelle Province far outnumber those of Newfoundland and Labrador. If that's not enough of disrespect for a neighbouring province, now Quebec is publicly calling itself the oldest City in Canada. History books and the Canadian encyclopedia list the Europeans having set up shop in St. John's harbour as early as 1583. Is Harper going to idly sit by and watch an ignorant group of French Canadian politicians rewriting history at our expense? Most likely he will. He's probably rubbing his long chin again!

Newfoundland contributes four times the amount per capita to the Canadian coffers, (Stats Canada documented), and still there are no price tags on our doors.

Our province is still as of today contributing (even with tragedies) five times the number of Canadian forces members per capita than our population would suggest we do.

Newfoundlanders are known for their intelligence, talents and work ethic. They've laboured to build communities and businesses from Boston to Alberta.One would never know that when one listens to those crass and insulting stupid (putdown) Newfie jokes.

With all we've given to this federation, Newfoundland is still the poorest province with the largest per capita debt in the nation - a debt the premier and his cabinet are working hard to eliminate.

With nothing but arrogance from Stephen Harper and with the promised $10 billion still owing to our province, is it little wonder voters here consider us to be held like hostages in our own country?

Friday, February 01, 2008

Wanted: 1,000,000 Newfoundlanders and Labradorians

The other day a new facebook group came to my attention and peaked my curiosity more than a little. The group is called, "I bet I can find 1,000,000 Newfoundlanders!!".

Created by a Newfoundlander, the idea is to try to get as many Newfoundlanders and Labradorians as possible to visit, add their name and pass the link onto others who might be interested in joining the group.

Here's the link for anyone interested in this little social exercise in networking or just a little fun.

Note that you'll need a facebook account to enter the site. I'm sure most of you probably already have one but if you don't it only takes a minute to register.


And here is a little blurb from the group's creator:

This group is for anyone who has lived in Newfoundland for any period of time, or if their family is originally from there!

People have been saying that it's impossible to find a million Newfoundlanders because there are only a little over 500,000 in the whole province...and I know that. But this group isn't just for people who live ON the island. This group is for ANY Newfoundlander, whether you are in Ontario, Alberta, Manitoba, or anywhere in the WORLD!

There have been THOUSANDS of people who left the Island for reasons such as job opportunities.I can't say for sure that I will find a million but I thought I would make this group to find out!

We are everywhere around the world! EVERY Newfoundlander counts in this group so please join! :) and, INVITE AS MANY OF YOUR NEWFOUDNLAND FRIENDS AS POSSIBLE. Just imagine how many people will join if every person who joined, invited everyone they knew from Newfoundland?

P.S: Even though I haven't mentioned Labrador in my group name, LABRADORIANS COUNT TOO! They should know that anyways, we're all a part of the same province :D

Since starting up a couple of weeks ago the group has registered over 26,000 members. Why not check it out for yourself and say hi to fellow Newfoundlanders and Labradorians. You never know who'll you'll find there in the comments area, perhaps an old friend, relative or long lost love.

It's a fun place to visit and who knows just how many members will eventually sign up.