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.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

July 1 - Beaumont-Hamel, Beyond the Wire

With Canada Day approaching I’d like to beg the indulgence of our readers for a moment by asking, during this time of celebration, that we take a moment to remember how that day also marks one of the most solemn in Newfoundland and Labrador’s pre-confederation history.

When people today consider Newfoundland and Labrador’s military legacy they’re likely to think of the men and women serving in the Canadian Armed Forces. Few think of the time before the province’s Confederation with Canada when, in 1916, the Royal Newfoundland Regiment faced the bloodiest day in its history.

The Regiment was comprised of some of the best and brightest Newfoundland and Labrador had at its disposal. Many were athletes, scholars and aspiring business leaders. All were determined to fight for the Dominion of Newfoundland.

By the end of 1915 the war was going badly for the Allies. The Eastern Front was in disarray, the Gallipoli campaign had failed and Allied commanders desperately wanted a major success. To this end they concentrated their efforts on the Western Front. Beaumont-Hamel sprang from that plan.

German forces had been deeply entrenched at Beaumont-Hamel for some time and although an Allied assault there had been planned for an earlier start, bad weather postponed the offensive until July first of 1916. This delay gave the Germans plenty of time to re-enforce their defenses and prepare for the assault.

At 9:00 p.m. on June 30, the Newfoundland Regiment turned out for roll call with a head count of 25 officers and 776 NCOs or other ranks, 801 in total.

The plan of the British command was to penetrate a section of enemy lines that had previously been targeted by a week-long artillery barrage. As a result there was expectation among the ranks of limited resistance, but all was not as the men hoped.

A 10 minute delay in advancing took place after the suspension of artillery fire. Such a short period of time might seem insignificant to a civilian but for many on the battlefield that day it turned out to be a lifetime. The extra 10 minutes allowed the enemy the time they needed to evaluate the situation at hand and make ready for battle.

Of the delay, Private John Ryan would later recall thinking, “That’s it, we’re licked”.

He was right.

In reality the week-long “softening” of the lines had been largely unsuccessful and most of the German defenses remained intact. With the enemy aware of the upcoming ground assault the odds were stacked against the men of the Regiment.

It was a recipe for disaster most of them could not have been aware of as they dutifully followed orders to leave the relative safety of the trenches.

The men, each carrying nearly 70 pounds of gear, spilled over the side and advanced across more than 500 metres of open grassy slope, in broad daylight, with no artillery cover and in full view of the enemy.

As they moved down the exposed slope towards “no man’s land” a murderous cross-fire cut through their ranks. Almost immediately men began to drop, at first slowly but then in larger numbers as they approached the first gaps in their own wire. Many fell while they were still behind their own line of defense.

Private Anthony Stacey, who watched the carnage from a forward trench, later said, “The men were mown down in waves.” The gaps cut the night before were “a proper trap for our boys as the enemy just set the sights of the machine guns on the gaps in the barbed wire and fired”.
With Dogged determination the survivors continued onward, many stumbling or stepping over the bodies of fallen friends.

Ahead lay the German front lines, a three-tiered system of forward trenches, well dug in and protected by expanses of barbed wire. Past the first line of defense, at ranges between 2,000 and 5,000 metres, the Germans had constructed a second line of trenches and were working farther back on yet a third.

The German lines were manned by tough and experienced soldiers who had turned a natural Y-shaped ravine into one of the strongest positions on the entire western front. The network of heavily protected lines presented a formidable obstacle to any attacking force as the fighting Newfoundlanders learned the hard way.

As the only large body of troops moving across the battlefield that morning the men of the Regiment were clearly visible to the enemy who subjected them to the full brunt of their weaponry.

Most of those who succeeded in escaping the volley of fire concentrated on the gaps in their own wire made it no further than the now infamous “danger tree”, a landmark between the two sets of enemy combatants that had served artillery commanders as a landmark.

The few who eventually reached the German lines were horrified to discover that the week-long artillery barrage had failed in opening up the German barbed wire. As a consequence the majority of the soldiers who reached their objective were killed as they became entangled.

The condition of the enemy wire had been known by commanders the night before the attack, thanks to a report by a Newfoundland reconnaissance team, but that report was dismissed as little more than “nervousness” by men “facing battle…” It was a decision by British Commanders that amounted to a death sentence.

In the end the Regiment was decimated.

Beaumont-Hamel turned out to be more of a slaughter than a battle. In less than 20 minutes most of the men were either dead or wounded. It was all over in under half an hour.

Of the 801 men who had charged the German lines most were killed or seriously wounded and only 68 were able to make roll call the next day, a casualty rate of over 90%.

In time the Regiment rebuilt its ranks and through its actions at Beaumont-Hamel and in other campaigns the soldiers ensured their place in military history.

During the war the Regiment earned no less than 280 separate decorations, 77 of which were awarded to original members of the “first 500” who set sail from St. John’s in 1914. In fact, one in every seven men among the original force received some sort of military honor.

For their bravery and sacrifices, in September of 1917, King George the Fifth bestowed upon them a “Royal” prefix that would continue to be used from that day onward. This was just the third time in British military history that such an honor was awarded during a time of conflict, the last occasion having been more than a hundred years earlier.

Of course all of those men who served at Beaumont-Hamel are long gone now but their fighting spirit lives on to this day in the men and women from Newfoundland and Labrador who serve with Canada’s forces.

We may not be able to express our gratitude directly to those who gave so much on that dark day but we can certainly honour their legacy. On July first and throughout the year take a few minutes to visit a local legion or war memorial, stop and chat with an aging veteran and offer a simple thank-you for the sacrifices they’ve made on our behalf.

It only takes a few minutes to shake a veteran’s hand or buy one a cold beer. And, as we go about our celebrations this Canada Day weekend it only takes a few seconds to quietly remember those who suffered on that faraway battlefield on July first 1916.

Beyond the Wire

The big guns cease and silence falls,
My heartbeat sounds to fill the void.
Just ten short strokes upon life’s clock
‘Till I am ordered o’er the side.

The smoke has cleared above the field,
I wonder who will tell our tale.
I fear my best is not enough
But fear still more that I might fail.

For Country I must fight or die
Like countless others gone before.
Eight hundred others face my fate,
Young blood to spill on foreign shores.

As one we rise and find our feet.
The trenches fall behind us fast.
The wire cuts we hope to breach
As one by one our fate is cast.

Blood rushes through our beating hearts
Like bullets coursing through the air
Laying low our charging ranks,
My heart beats yet, but some no more.

Wire gates make targets clear
We blindly charge toward them still
Trampling men for whom we care
Cast away upon the till.

Blood and mire are as one.
Angry hornets mow us down.
Charging hard my only hope
Upon this hell of earthly ground.

Stealing glances left to right
As near the ragged tree I draw
Where once eight hundred souls advanced
So few have made it out this far.

Yet on I race toward the fire
Across the field where corpses grow,
If I can reach that tangled line
My safety I might then secure.

Cries of anguish hard at hand
My breath grows ragged, strained and raw,
My mind is numbed with blinding fear,
My boots are now in full command.

Ahead the wire barbed and sharp,
Standing strong, no way inside.
My charge is such I cannot halt,
The bastards at command have lied.

Leggings snared within its grasp,
Struggles fail to set me free.
With desperate rage I fight for life
But fate has different plans for me.

My body feels the first report.
I know no pain, just anger now.
The second turns the sky to red,
And darkness falls forever more.

On next day’s dawn they’ll take the call.
Those sixty-eight remember me.
I gave my best until I fell.
No voyage home across the sea.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Muskrat Falls - Perception Can Become It's Own Reality

The Muskrat Falls development has its share of supporters and detractors across Newfoundland and Labrador. At the moment the majority appears to fall into the first category but that could quickly change if the players involved aren’t more forthcoming soon.

I personally believe the project is a good one but that doesn’t mean I don’t have nagging doubts, thanks in large part to the limited amount of information publicly available. My knowledge deficet isn’t because of a lack interest either, not by a long shot. Since the initial announcement late last year I’ve been looking into this as much as humanly possible, but answers are hard to find. I can just imagine what the general public (those less inclined to dig for answers) are going through.

It could be, as the naysayers suggest, that the provincial government and NALCOR are hiding something. On the other hand it could simply be a case of extremely poor public relations on their part. Either way, the people of the province, who also happen to own the resources in question, remain at the mercy of political spin and partisan posturing and that’s never a good thing.

I sincerely hope poor communication is the cause of the current state of affairs, because that’s something that can be easily resolved. The longer things go without clearer answers being put forward the perception will grow that everything is not as rosy as some might say.

Government has said information is already out there and in fairness some is. Projections have been released showing that without Muskrat Fall our power rates will increase faster than with it. Last week it was also announced that the PUB would study the project to determine if it’s truly the lowest cost solution, but how reliable will that review be?

Will the review be based on NALCOR’s assumption that an expected increase in demand warrants development of some kind or will the review be free to challenge that basic premise?

There are documents available on the NALCOR web site showing a large increase in power demand in upcoming years. This, according to NALCOR, means either Muskrat Falls must move ahead or the refurbishment to Holyrood, in addition to development of smaller generation projects, will have to be undertaken. That’s all well and good, but where are the details behind the pretty charts?

Why is demand expected to rise by such a large amount in the next decade and beyond? NALCOR’s historical charts show demand has remained relatively stable for the past 30 years yet the projections show a sudden skyrocket in demand around 2015 and a continued upward trajectory for years afterward. Why is demand expected rise so dramatically? Beyond the Long Harbour project what could account for it? What is the basis of the projections and will the PUB’s terms of reference extend to validating them?

Questions about future demand were posed in a recent correspondence to Newfoundland & Labrador Hydro. Answers have yet to cross my desk but I’ve been informed by a contact person at the corporation that they will be getting back to me this week. It goes without saying I’ll keep readers posted on any new information put forward.

With the checkered past this province has had on major projects like Come By Chance, Sprung Greenhouse and of course the Upper Churchill, it’s not surprising the public wants to be fully assured of complete success this time out of the gate.

There’s no doubt our past is coloring our outlook but Newfoundlanders and Labradorians aren’t the only ones with questions. Concerns over the limited amount of public information are also being expressed in Nova Scotia.

On June 8th a panel discussion on the Lower Churchill project was held in Halifax. That panel, organized by the “National Roundtable on the Environment and Economy” included executives from Emera and NALCOR, Nova Scotia’s deputy minister of energy and academics from Dalhousie University. The public and media were not permitted to attend the closed door session or listen in on the discussion.

Brennan Vogel of the Halifax-based Ecology Action Centre was a participant on the panel and later said, “It’s really hard to accept at face value that this is the best option on the table. We need to see more clarity provided by government.”

Vogel said he believes the Nova Scotia government and Emera are set on the Lower Churchill option even though it will not be the lowest cost solution for rate payers in his province. The motive, he believes, is because it will be a more profitable solution for Emera itself.

“We know Nova Scotia has a monopoly electrical utility so, in the absence of competition to result in fairer prices for Nova Scotia ratepayers, we’re perhaps being left in the dark…as to what the best options on the table are for providing stable, secure, renewable electricity,” Vogel said.

When you take the concerns of some people in Newfoundland and Labrador in conjunction with those comments out of Nova Scotia it’s fair to say that public relations on this project are sorely lacking.

Back here in Newfoundland and Labrador, the lack of solid numbers in the public domain leaves a great deal of room for speculation and our collective past ensures that much of that speculation will be for the worse.

It’s a sure bet that most Newfoundlanders and Labradorians would love nothing more than to see the Lower Churchill become a wildly successful project. It’s also a good bet that a large majority are happy the project will not be dependent on Quebec, but the removal of Quebec from the equation is not enough to sell it to the people. An alternate route has been a dream of a lot of people for a very long time but it’s doubtful anyone would be satisfied with doing so if it means the entire project becomes a boondoggle.

As time goes by less and less people are willing to simply accept the official line that it’s the best option without clear evidence to back that statement up. For NALCOR and the provincial government to expect otherwise would require them to live in a fantasy world. If that is indeed the case let’s hope their fantasy doesn’t extend to the project itself.

Friday, June 17, 2011

The 10 "Demandments"


Generally my commentaries center on political issues affecting Newfoundland and Labrador but today I’ve decided to stray a little from the norm.

The common thread throughout my ranting and raving is vigilance for ensuring we continue to live in the best place on the face of the planet. This commentary is no different in that regard but it’s a departure from the big picture issues like our treatment by Ottawa or how well the provincial government is managing our future. This one is written with tongue firmly planted in cheek while looking at the day to day interaction we all have with one another.

When you get right down to it the quality of life we have here is not only affected on those who govern us but also by how well we all get along with each other. I hope you’ll read these 10 “Demandments” in the light hearted manner they were written but also seriously consider some of the advice they offer.

The 10 “Demandments”

With little or no law enforcement in small town Newfoundland & Labrador and nowhere to hide when personalities clash, the survival of communities depends in part on common sense when dealing with others.

Anyone growing up in that kind of environment learns through experience how to best get through the day with the least amount of aggravation or disturbance.

It’s a simple. The person you inadvertently piss off today may be the same person you need to rely on tomorrow and even if you don’t, you’re bound to cross paths again in short order.

With that in mind, here are a few simple lessons for some of the “Townies” out there. This list is by no means complete but I know that many of the points it makes are not necessarily top of mind for a number people I’ve had the dissatisfaction of coming across in my time.

1. First of all please stop referring to everyone from outside the overpass as a “Bayman”. We aren’t, at least not all of us. I was raised in Bishop’s Falls where the only body of water within miles was the Exploits River. No bay, no harbour and no inlet. I’m not a “Bayman” (not that there’s anything wrong with that) and never was. In return, if you refrain from using the term in my presence, I promise to stop calling you “Townie” or “Corner Boy”.

2. On a related note, as a St. John’s resident please don’t always assume that just because something seems like a good idea it’s automatically good for the entire province (provincial subsidies for pro sports teams spring to mind). Most towns in the province are so far in debt they can barely afford to fill their potholes with recycled newspapers and used bubble gum let alone aspire to laying hands on re-melted asphalt from some abandoned driveway. Sports teams and George Street refurbishments aren’t on the top of their list when it comes to spending tax dollars. Remembering that might be a good thing.

3. Elevator etiquette. When waiting for an elevator please try to be courteous and let people exit before barging through the doors. It’s far easier for you to get in, and them to get out, if you show a little restraint.

4. Bathroom etiquette. This is essentially the opposite of elevator etiquette. With this version you allow those entering the bathroom to do so rather than making them wait for you to exit. The reason for this should be self evident to those who would like to avoid a messy situation but just so we’re clear, you’ve done your business, they haven’t, so they should get priority.

5. Nobody likes getting stuck in traffic so do what you can to help ease the congestion. When you are driving toward a traffic light or a long line of jammed up traffic and see someone attempting to make a turn across your path or get out of a driveway stop and let them go. It’s a no brainer. You know you can’t get anywhere until that light changes or the traffic clears so why deny someone else the opportunity to get where they need to go? Is it just spite?

6. If you work in the service industry as a waitress, hotel clerk, store clerk or the like please don’t lash out at a “Baymen” simply because he says something like “Thanks Dear” or “No problem my darling”. It’s just a way of speaking and a form of friendliness on their part, nothing more. We know you aren’t our “Darling” or “Dear” so get over yourself. (I know one particular food service worker in St. John’s who really needs to take this point to heart.)

7. Remember that your car isn’t a restraining device. The next time you crave a Tim Horton’s don’t block the street while waiting to enter the drive through. If you park your car on the lot and walk into the shop the coffee will taste just as good. As an added bonus you’ll probably be in and out a heck of a lot faster and without aggravating half the city.

8. When you make a stupid mistake like cutting off another driver don’t add insult to injury by also giving them a dirty look or, worse yet, flipping them the finger like it was their fault. Be a man (or woman) about it and mouth an apology if you can. I promise it won’t hurt as much as you think and it may keep you from getting a baseball bat refurbishment to your headlights.

9. Speaking of headlights, your high beams are intended to provide better visibility over longer distances and night. They were never meant for you to blind oncoming drivers with. Try to remember that.

10. Finally, grocery stores are for buying groceries, not socializing while blocking the entire aisle. While I’m at it, is there really any need to park your cart dead centre aisle while looking for the right brand of beans? If you must do either of these things at least have the decency to move aside when you see someone (yes, we know you see us) trying to get past your location. Oh, and by the way, the rules of the road apply in stores as well. When you’re travelling the aisles please stay to the right. Unless you’re shopping in downtown London the left side of the aisle is for oncoming traffic.

That’s about it for now but I’m sure I’ll find more to make me shake my head and fondly reminisce about small town Newfoundland with each passing year.

Till next time...keep your head held high and your chin up (it’ll make it easier for me to remember your face after you tick me off).

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

SAR office Closure - Protest Perspectives

With the planned closure of the search and rescue coordination center in St. John’s much is being said about lives being jeopardized as a result of the 12 positions to be cut there.

It goes without saying that the fight for adequate safety is a noble one, but are some of those who are opposed to the closure reacting out of concern for the public or for themselves?

This is not to say I agree with the closure. If there is any doubt at all about the level of public safety then the federal government has an obligation to err on the side of caution. What I’m questioning are the motives of some of the most vocal.

Could they have a hidden agenda?

The first out of the blocks to protest this closure were local politicians and union leaders, not fishers and oil rig workers as one might expect. With that in mind I wonder if they are solely concerned with safety or if their positions are tempered by the urge to protect the jobs that generate union dues, tax revenues and ultimately votes?

The answer to that question won’t affect whether or not safety will be impacted, which I believe it will, but it’s often wise to consider the potential motives behind a bandwagon before jumping onto it.

The first job of a union leader is to protect jobs and related union dues.
The first job of a City Councillor or Mayor is to protect the city’s tax base and the services dependent on those taxes.

The first job of a federal or provincial politician is to get re-elected and there’s no better way to do that than to be seen as protecting the public.

Taking a strong position on this particular issue serves each group equally well regardless of the safety concerns you or I might have.

Most Newfoundlanders and Labradorians will remember the call to re-open the Gander weather office a few years back. Just as today, politicians and union officials lead the charge demanding that the office be re-instated because the local knowledge it would utilize was in the interest of public safety. The public jumped onboard and put the heat on government. Eventually the office and jobs were re-instated.

Has anyone seen a marked improvement in weather forecasting since that time? I haven’t.

The same argument is being made now.

A case could be made by the union that there are better places for cutting jobs than a search and rescue coordination center and they’d be absolutely right. Unfortunately it’s an argument they can’t make. A job in Nova Scotia or Alberta is just as important to the public sector unions as a job in Newfoundland and Labrador. Dues are dues, so it’s a self defeating position.

It’s a position local politicians might well make and, along with their stand on safety, some of them have in a far more muted sort of way.

A more honest approach for all involved might be to simply say they want to protect the jobs about to be cut, but they won’t do that.

That approach would be far less likely to whip up the kind of public outrage necessary to spur angry calls to MP offices and letters to news editors. In fact it might even backfire on them when people realize it’s their tax dollars paying for those jobs.

Saving lives, now that’s something that hits home and can easily be sold to the masses on a nationwide scale.

My point is that even with the public’s sincere concern over safety we need to be wary of the messengers leading the way. It’s a slippery slope so we all have to be leery of where they might eventually lead us.

We may not like this particular closure, and for good reasons, but that doesn’t change the reality that jobs need to be cut in the public sector and no matter where those cuts happen there will be union leaders and politicians pounding their chests in protest.

If the cuts were to clerical staff at Revenue Canada or clerks on Parliament Hill they would fight just as hard to protect those positions but remember, it’s us who pay for government bloat. In that light, whose interests are really being served?

As a cost cutting measure Ottawa plans to eliminate 6,000 employees from the payroll. It sounds like a lot, and it is, but when you consider that there are more than 365,000 federal employees in Canada it actually equates to a modest 1.5% of the federal workforce.

In a private sector company that type of cut would likely be considered a minor adjustment. Not even news worthy.

You and I may see the closure of the search and rescue office in St. John’s as a safety concern but the public sector unions view it as the tip of a much bigger iceberg and they will say or do anything to avoid it.

They are supremely focused on protecting their membership, as they should be, and it’s far easier to gain public support for saving lives than in trying to convince taxpayers to fight for a wasteful public service.

Nationwide (factoring in both federal and provincial staff) the number of public employees is approximately 3.6 million, one for every 10 people in the Country.

When you consider that the other 9 out of 10 who don’t work for government include infants, students, the unemployed and stay at home parents among others, it doesn’t take long to figure out that a very limited number of taxpayers are paying for a heck of a lot of public salaries and benefits.

Our collective taxes pay for those jobs, for the bankable sick time and for the generous pension plans that go with them and in the end it seems there is less and less left in our pockets with each passing year.

Government pensions alone far eclipse anything the average person who pays for them can ever hope to see in their own workplace if they have a pension to look forward to at all.

These are staggering figures and they point to the clear need for public service cuts on the federal and provincial level.

The test for any government rests in determining which positions are truly necessary and which are clearly excessive.

There are only so many tax dollars to go around and whether public service employees get their pay cheque from a federal, provincial or municipal government, there is only one taxpayer ultimately footing the bill.

Personally I’m glad federal downsizing is on the table and I’d love to see the provinces do the same. My primary concern is that the cuts are not deep enough and that a less than intelligent approach is being employed to determine where the axe should fall.

Truthfully, Ottawa might be the best place to start the cutting rather than in a province that already has a lower than average share of federal presence. A good target to start with would be the job of the bureaucrat who recommended this office closure in the first place.

Since I believe safety is a valid concern I’m fully behind saving the St. John’s office.

To be fair, I’m also for saving it because the numbers tell me that Ottawa has already stripped a disproportionate number of jobs out of Newfoundland and Labrador over the past 20 years. My problem isn’t with saving the search and rescue office, it’s that I don’t like being led around by the nose or played for a sucker to serve a hidden agenda.

When it comes to a choice between cutting a dozen assistants to the assistant to the deputy ministers (as an example) I’d much rather see that than witness the last few people at a search and rescue center turn out the lights and lock the doors behind them. I wonder if the union leadership and politicians leading the charge today are willing to publicly state the same.

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Muskrat Falls - Cutting Through the Political Rhetoric

There’s been a lot of political rhetoric around development and distribution of power from Muskrat Falls since the project was announced late in 2010. No doubt that rhetoric, on all sides of the political aisle, will ratchet up as the October provincial election draws closer.

It’s unfortunate that the public, as voters, taxpayers and power consumers don’t yet have a clear picture of whether or not the project is the best approach for Newfoundland and Labrador.

The reason for that lack of clarity falls first and foremost on the shoulders of the communications personnel at NALCOR and within government, but there is plenty of blame for others to share as well.

The various political parties have been using this project as a wedge issue for their own political benefit rather than ensuring that it benefits the province’s people.

Meanwhile, the media has gleefully reported their rhetoric rather than doing the research needed to inform the people of the province, so much for investigative journalism.

It’s also unfortunate that most people are not engaged enough to dig into this on their own. By not doing some basic searches on the web, asking questions of NALCOR and Hydro management and demanding clear answers we also share in the blame for our own ignorance of the situation.

Of course most people simply don’t have the time or inclination to do that sort of leg work and in reality they shouldn’t have to do it. If communication was better at the source they wouldn’t have the need.

As a result we are left to sift through talking points from the most unreliable sources of information out there, politicians.

Like most of you I have a pretty full personal life and a job that keeps me quite busy. Time is precious but I’ve managed to do some limited digging regardless. After all it’s our future that’s at stake and the stakes are high.

A certain level of information is available publicly but it takes a bit of effort to find it and to separate the facts from the myths.

One source of data is the initial backgrounders and announcements issued when the Lower Churchill agreement was first announced. These are available on the provincial web site and at NALCOR online.

Other information is can be gleaned by reading through various regulatory and government submissions and documents, not necessarily related directly to the project, available on the NALCOR and Hydro web sites. Some of those documents predate the project announcement but provide a level of clarification for the reasons why Lower Churchill is on the agenda.

There is also some information on power rates, though understanding most of the numbers requires a Masters degree in accounting.

Regardless, I’ve determined a few things for myself that I’m more than willing to share.

First of all, based on official submissions by Hydro – pre Lower Churchill – it’s clear that the island portion of the province is approaching a wall when it comes to available power. By 2015 we will essentially reach our limit and by 2019 have a shortage of power to meet demand.

This is the reality that manifested itself in NALCOR examining various options for ensuring a stable energy supply, both to meet requirements in the near term and allow for future growth.

The two primary avenues examined in recent years were the interconnectivity of the Lower Churchill at Muskrat Falls and the ongoing use of Holyrood, in conjunction with development of a number of smaller island projects.

According to the documents, the latter alternative brings with it several concerns, which is likely why Muskrat Falls eventually became the preferred option.

On its own Holyrood will not have the capacity necessary to meet the needs of the island in a few short years and having been commissioned in the 1970’s it’s now nearing the end of its lifecycle.

If the Holyrood option were chosen NALCOR/Hydro would be required to install scrubbers to reduce toxic emissions, undertake major upgrades to the installation and to develop several smaller generation facilities (a combination of multiple hydro, thermal and wind stations) simply to meet user needs. Each of these requirements would take several years to complete.

Even with those steps taken the corporation would be leaving itself open to the whims of fluctuating fuel prices. The Holyrood plant currently burns approximately 18,000 barrels of oil per day during peak generation.

The corporation might also be subjected to additional costs if carbon emission limits are put in place by Ottawa.

Even thought the installation of new scrubbers would remove many toxins from the air they do not stop CO2 from being emitted. Holyrood emits more than 600,000 tons of CO2 each year, making it less than environmentally friendly.

If Ottawa were to setup a cap and trade system, as has been widely talked about (essentially putting a price on carbon emissions), the cost of purchasing carbon offsets for Holyrood would lead to additional expenses well beyond the refurbishment and the rising cost of oil. All of which would be a factor in future power rates for consumers.

These additional costs, which would be subject to the whims of the market are in addition to the cost of development for the other smaller projects necessary to meet island demand. With all of that taken into account, the documents I’ve read indicate that the “status quo” approach would only meet demand until about 2029, leave little room for growth and require even further development projects going forward.

These and other issues are likely a big part of the reason why the Muskrat Falls option was the direction decided upon.

The current government has publicly stated that the project will stabilize power rates and that it’s the lowest cost option available. Meanwhile the province’s opposition parties say it will more than double consumer rates and that other options should be examined, though they don’t specify what those other options might be.

As I’ve said before, it’s difficult to separate the facts from the fiction when it comes to this project.

I don’t have the answers but I hope what I’ve provided will at least spur others into digging a little deeper themselves, perhaps even finding information that supports or refutes what I’ve gathered myself.

If nothing else hopefully the information put forward, beyond the rhetoric, will convince the public not to place too much stock in the political positions being staked out by any of the parties heading to the polls in October.

In an effort to provide as much information as I can, below are some diagrams I’ve found on the NALCOR and Hydro sites identifying the current power rates in the province, projections for the cost to consumers under both the Muskrat and Holyrood options and a graph showing the rising cost of fuel at Holyrood over the past few years.

I hope it helps.

The first chart identifies the current island interconnected rate per kilowatt hour - 9.584 cents.

The second chart identifies NALCOR's comparative analysis of revenue requirements for Muskrat Falls vs. the Holyrood option. Note that this chart is depicted in Megawatts rather than Kilowatts but what it shows, according to NALCOR, is that in the 2016 - 2019 time frame both options will cost about the same but in the following years Muskrat Falls (the blue line) is a much less expensive option. Precisely what the rate per kilowatt hour will be to consumers is not identified but it's clear that this would also be affected going forward.

This final chart idenfies the cost per barrel of oil used at Holyrood over the past 10 years. This indicates a doubling in those costs over the period. No projections of oil costs going forward were available, nor were any assumptions about the cost of carbon emissions should regulations be put in place.

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Canada considering international bases - Peter MacKay

According to recent comments from Defense Minister, Peter MacKay, Canada is reviewing possible sites for setting up bases around the world in an effort to better position the military to respond to international missions.

The Canadian Forces does "prudent planning," MacKay told reporters recently, taking into account its ability to participate in international missions.

"As we look out into the future what we obviously try to do is anticipate where and when we will be needed, but it's difficult with any certainty, to make those plans, without talking to other countries, without doing internal examinations," Mackay said.

I’m sure Mr. MacKay is correct when he says it’s difficult to say with certainty where the Canadian Forces will be needed but one place they are guaranteed to be needed going forward is right here at home. That’s not something that’s in question.

According to the Montreal newspaper Le Devoir the Canadian Forces is in the process of negotiating to set up bases under a program known as the Operational Support Hubs Network. They've reportedly already completed negotiations with Germany and Jamaica, and are in talks with Kuwait, Senegal, Kenya or Tanzania, Singapore and South Korea.

Meanwhile a fully capable and existing Canadian airbase in Labrador, 5-Wing Goose Bay, has been lying practically dormant for years. In spite of repeated promises over the past several election cycles to staff the base with a 650 person rapid response battalion and other services the airfield remains largely an unused appendage of DND.

Prior to the last election MacKay said that the Harper government is still behind its now 5 year old promise but with so much attention focused on Afghanistan he could not commit to when it would happen.

Mr. MacKay would have voters believe that with so much of government’s current focus directed at external military interventions in recent times little thought has been given to the need for the Defense Department to actually defend Canada itself, a position that rings hollow in Newfoundland & Labrador.

The refusal to provide military capacity at the base has left
a gaping hole in the nation’s defenses along the Eastern seaboard and at the Northern approaches.

As things now stand, any unidentified aircraft entering Canadian airspace from over the North Atlantic must be intercepted and investigated by aircraft scrambled from CFB Bagotville in Quebec. The additional flying time and distance required to perform that duty means Canadian jets must first touchdown at the idled Labrador base to refuel before they can complete their mission. An inefficient activity results in a loss of valuable response time to any potential threat.

Even with the less than stellar location of Bagotville, when it comes to coastal defense, in the summer of 2007, just over a year after Harper’s commitment to station 650 personnel at Goose Bay, then Minister of Defense, Gordon O’Connor announced 550 new personnel and spending of an additional $300 million dollars at the Bagotville base.

In his presentation O’Connor said, “Today’s announcement once again demonstrates this government’s commitment to further strengthening Canadian Forces units in Quebec, to make up for the previous government’s years of neglect.”

Nothing was announced for Goose Bay and it hasn’t been since then.

For years the people of Newfoundland & Labrador have been lobbying successive federal governments to make use of the valuable airbase with nothing to show for their efforts.

With the election of the Harper Conservatives in 2006 and in light of the PM’s public position on Arctic sovereignty it was hoped that the base would once again provide the sort of service its location allows. This has not been the case.

In successive elections the Conservative government has promised to ensure an integral role for Goose Bay only to back away from those promises once elected.
In the months preceding the most recent federal election one of Mr. Harper’s Ministers went so far as to tell the people of Newfoundland & Labrador that he was not aware of the province’s concerns for the status of the base. How that could even be possible he did not say although the question was asked.

While the people of Newfoundland & Labrador have pushed hard on the issue for longer than most care to remember it’s not clear where most Canadians stand on the status of the Labrador military base. After years of inaction at the site most probably don’t even know the asset exists, but they should.

If Prime Minister Harper is truly as concerned with Arctic sovereignty as he is telling Canadians then the public should be asking why he would continue to leave a perfectly serviceable airbase, at the gateway to the Eastern Arctic, mothballed for so long.

Most Canadians fully support our Armed forces and many can even get behind the actions the Canadian government has taken in foreign lands recently but perhaps it’s time for the government of Canada to realize that our armed forces are managed by the Department of Defense, not the Department of Offense.

Friday, June 03, 2011

Has Harper sold Dunderdale down the Churchill River?

Did Kathy Dunderdale and the PC caucus of Newfoundland & Labrador shoot themselves in the collective foot during the last federal election campaign, or will Stephen Harper repay the favour given him by the Premier, if not the NL voters, and honour his committment to back the Lower Churchill project?

If the Dunderdale government plans to ride a federal loan guarantee for the Lower Churchill into the next election they’ll need to have it signed, sealed and delivered before voters go to the polls. That might prove difficult, if not impossible, to accomplish before the October ballot with news out of Ottawa today that the guarantee will not be included in next week’s federal budget.

During the federal campaign Kathy Dunderdale threw the entire weight of her caucus behind Conservative candidates, even going so far as to appear at a Harper rally in St. John’s where the PM announced his backing for a “loan guarantee or equivalent financing”. Now, with the federal budget slated to be delivered next week it’s been revealed that the guarantee won’t be included.

A source inside government has told the media that the PM is still behind the deal and will make an announcement once negotiations are completed, but is that good enough for voters? Will that statement alone carry Dunderdale through the next election or is the public in Newfoundland and Labrador far too suspect of Stephen Harper to accept his assurances?

If the recent federal election returns were any indication it would appear that the latter is true. That could be very bad news for the Dunderdale government.

With no loan guarantee in place she had better hope the legacy of the William’s government provides her with enough momentum to overcome what could prove to be a gaping hole in her election platform.

According to a government source, "It (the guarantee) will be provisioned for and accounted for going forward but (while it won't be in the budget) it doesn't have to wait until the next budget to go into effect."

Perhaps this is true and Harper simply wants to avoid the huge fuss with Quebec that would surely come from highlighting the agreement in the federal budget. If that’s true however, and the guarantee doesn't require parliamentary approval, why is it that during the election campaign he told voters that in order to ensure the loan guarantee (or equivalent financing) a majority Conservative government would have to be elected. Otherwise, he said, the opposition parties might side with Quebec and vote against it.

Liberal MP, Gerry Byrne, (no doubt as much to score political points as get at the facts) has raised the issue in recent days as well. According to Byrne, “They were the ones that said it needed parliamentary approval. Now they're suggesting it's an order in council done by cabinet that can approve the Lower Churchill loan guarantee. So they're either lying now or they lied during the election campaign. The bottom line is we were misled."

Hard to argue with that logic regardless of the source.

Whether political rhetoric or not, Byrne also said he believes the government has no standing authority to offer such a loan guarantee without parliamentary approval.

"I've got a formal question presented today to the parliamentary budget officer to confirm or refute that understanding." he went on.

I'm sure many newfoundlanders & Labradorians will be interested in the response provided to Mr. Byrne's question.

Although the provincial government has said in the past that a loan guarantee (or equivalent funding) is not essential to development of the Lower Churchill project, such a guarantee would save provincial taxpayers hundreds of millions in interest expenditures.

With initial work on the project now underway money is already flowing out the door. The provincial legislature is now on summer break until the October election and the Canadian Parliament, once the budget is passed, will also be taking its summer break. Under those circumstances the odds of finalizing any sort of agreement before the next provincial election is low at best.

It’s a difficult situation the Dunderdale government must surely be considering after hearing this news today.

As Gerry Byrne pointed out today, the absence of Muskrat Falls in the budget should raise alarms, especially as the federal government has signalled it will include other campaign spending promises in the budget

One of those expenditures is the more than $2 Billion dollars in compensation to Quebec for implementing the HST many years ago. A promise widely seen during the campaign as Harper's way of placating Quebec over his Lower Churchill promise, making it even more concerning that the promise to Newfoundland & Labrador will be excluded from the budget while the one to Quebec is there front and center.