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The Sir Robert Bond Papers: The Reverse Midas Touch Rides Again #nlpoli

The crowd running this place these days has an unrivalled ability to look at a problem and find the worst possible response imaginable.

On Wednesday,  natural resource minister Siobhan Coady and environment minister Perry Trimper announced that the government would tell Nalcor to keep flooding the Muskrat Falls reservoir but at the same time, they . . . → Read More: The Sir Robert Bond Papers: The Reverse Midas Touch Rides Again #nlpoli

The Sir Robert Bond Papers: Through others’ eyes #nlpoli

For Newfoundland’s pseudo-intellectuals,  the Toronto Globe and Mail is a kind of one-handed reading material.  They use one hand to scroll down the Internet site looking at stuff.  They use the other to stroke the keys of their computer until it spurts indignation all over the screen about over something someone in the Globe said . . . → Read More: The Sir Robert Bond Papers: Through others’ eyes #nlpoli

The Sir Robert Bond Papers: Policy Stagnation #nlpoli

The provincial government has been on its current course since about 2007.  There were three elements to the Conservatives agenda under Danny Williams.  They changed somewhat over time but these are the elements that dominated from 2003 to 20… . . . → Read More: The Sir Robert Bond Papers: Policy Stagnation #nlpoli

The Sir Robert Bond Papers: Policy Stagnation #nlpoli

The provincial government has been on its current course since about 2007.  
There were three elements to the Conservatives agenda under Danny Williams.  They changed somewhat over time but these are the elements that dominated from 2003 to 2015.
Above all else, Williams’ goal was to build the Lower Churchill.  That was to be his one, lasting accomplishment.  Williams would build what no one else had been able to build.  While it was rationalised as a provincial project with lasting significance, the way it finally rolled out confirmed the extent to which the Lower Churchill was intensely personal.
To build the Lower Churchill, Williams would turn Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro into an energy corporation to rival Hydro-Quebec. And to help fund it, Williams would acquire so-called equity stakes in offshore projects.
The second element of Williams’ agenda was political hegemony.  It would take him three years to get rid of his internal rivals or neutralise them.  His external rivals disappeared in the 2007 general election.  Williams and the Conservatives accomplished this goal several ways, not the least of which was his effort to control information from government.  That’s poll goosing and his restrictions on public access to government information.
For our purposes, though, the key element of hegemony was the roll played by public spending. Spending was a means to secure political support.  The message was reinforced by the way the Conservatives made announcements in public and quiet openly tied spending to political support in a return to a very open yet very old-fashioned system of patronage.
Spending also became a substitute for other policies.  While the Conservatives had a fairly well-developed section of their 2003 platform committed to economic development and diversification, in power, the Conservatives spent money. The Conservatives spent money to the extent they had it initially to buy back public support lost in 2004’s cuts and freeze.  They spent public money to substitute for loss of private sector jobs in the fishery in places like Hermitage or in forestry in places like Stephenville. 
After Williams secured internal hegemony, that is, within his party, Williams and his close associates like Tom Marshall spent money to secure political dominance externally by winning all the seats in the House of Assembly in the 2007 general election.  They didn’t achieve that goal but they achieved the goal of silencing any political opposition to their agenda.
The third element provided the fuel for the second element of the agenda, namely spending.  Oil money became the fuel for the spending program once prices climbed to insane heights coinciding very fortunately for the Conservatives with peak oil production in the local offshore. 
But oil wasn’t always going to be the rocket fuel that took Danny Williams’ popularity to stellar levels.  The Conservative agenda was originally driven by more federal money.  The closer Newfoundland and Labrador got to being a financially self-reliant province, the more some policy advocates tried to find new ways of keeping the province dependent on federal transfers. They created the fiction that the federal government was taking provincial oil royalties, effectively breaking the 1984 Atlantic Accord.  The fiction was a key part of Vic Young’s Blame Canada commission appointed by the Liberals under Roger Grimes but used by Danny Williams and the Conservatives as an integral part of their platform.  It offered a litany of all the old nationalist grievances and Williams’ long experience as an n accident injury lawyer taught him how to exploit victimhood for financial gain.  It was a match made in heaven.
Except for one small problem.
The federal government isn’t an insurance company.  Neither the politicians nor the bureaucrats were truly susceptible to Williams’ tactic of trying to cause the maximum amount of superficial pain so that the insurer will offer a sufficiently hefty “frig-off” payment. 
Williams famously said that every principle converts to cash. It was his core operating principle in politics. And that was certainly true.  He sold his principle on the offshore for a tiny fraction of what it would have been worth.  The thing is, Williams’ cynical statement really admitted that there were no principles.  There was only cash.
Williams lost badly in his first effort to extort money from the federal government.  He convinced the punters in his own province he’d won but the record is clear.  The federal government offered him a fixed pot of cash for a limited period.  The federal government did not waiver in its position. Williams grew increasingly hysterical in his words and actions in public but continued to negotiate on the basis of the federal offer he initially rejected in May 2004. 
Ultimately, Williams failed.  He took what the federal government offered.  There were two key differences in the deal Williams rejected in October and the one he signed in January 2005.  The most important one is that he lost the possibility of a renewal of the agreement after eight years.  The other was that the federal one-time cheque increased slightly.  The difference in the cash value was based solely on what price of oil they used to calculate the value of the deal from 2005 until the point they expected the province would no longer qualify for Equalization.
That didn’t stop Williams from persisting with efforts to get more money from Ottawa.  He carried on through the subsequent Equalization talks but even his celebrated promise to campaign across Canada to defeat Stephen Harper turned out to be a lot less than promised.  Williams limited his efforts to Newfoundland and Labrador, as the federal Conservatives went on to win re-election and, subsequently, a majority government.
The failure to get extra federal cash didn’t affect the Conservative spending agenda, though.  Through to 2015, the Conservatives nearly doubled public spending.  They increased the size of the public service by 33% between 2005 and 2011.  They financed it initially with oil money but later resorted to larger and larger rounds of borrowing, whether for core government operations or for Muskrat Falls.
Danny Williams left the premier’s job in 2010 but the Conservatives continued on the same policy trajectory.  That’s because both Williams and the group around him continued to dominate the party until the end.  There were some signs of change.  New politicians elected in 2011 championed a different approach to European trade talks, for example.  Some of their dispute with Kathy Dunderdale and the Old Hands spilled out into public, but ultimately the Hold Man and his ways triumphed. 
The Coleman Fiasco confirmed that Williams was still in control of the party, though.  Even Paul Davis, newly elected leader in the wake of  Williams’ Coleman fiasco,  couldn’t escape the inertia of a decade and Williams.  Davis tried the same ham-fisted negotiating tactics on the European trade deal Danny Williams had worn out a decade earlier.  Davis failed just as Williams had failed.  Davis’ failure might even have been worse because even as he lost strategically, Williams at least at a couple of billion dollars to soothe his bruised ego. It was a fitting end to the Conservative term since it confirmed that a decade later ideas that hadn’t worked before still didn’t work.

Some respects, though, the faint glimmers of a spark of life in the Conservative party under Paul Davis were like the signs of life in the party under Danny Williams before Williams got rid of any sources of new ideas.  The government put Doug House to work in 2006, for example, with the task of creating a new economic development scheme for the province.  He and his work simply vanished, just as the Sustainable Development Act disappeared the following year.  Danny Williams was only interested in one thing.  Everything else – like the fishery or economic development policy – just carried on the same stagnant course.
-srbp-

. . . → Read More: The Sir Robert Bond Papers: Policy Stagnation #nlpoli

The Sir Robert Bond Papers: The Price of Revanchism #nlpoli

Churchill Falls occupies a unique place in Newfoundland and Labrador’s political culture.Most of what people believe about Churchill Falls is just sheer nonsense.  Made up.  Never true. Completely ludicrous.  But accepted as fact and uns… . . . → Read More: The Sir Robert Bond Papers: The Price of Revanchism #nlpoli

The Sir Robert Bond Papers: The Price of Revanchism #nlpoli

Churchill Falls occupies a unique place in Newfoundland and Labrador’s political culture.Most of what people believe about Churchill Falls is just sheer nonsense.  Made up.  Never true. Completely ludicrous.  But accepted as fact and uns… . . . → Read More: The Sir Robert Bond Papers: The Price of Revanchism #nlpoli

The Sir Robert Bond Papers: Water Rights, Muskrat Falls, and the Muskrat Falls Disaster #nlpoli

Forget everything else that you know about Muskrat Falls.The entire project hinged on Nalcor’s ability to control water flows on the Churchill River.  Nalcor’s internal assessments showed that without the ability to control water flows, Nalcor’s L… . . . → Read More: The Sir Robert Bond Papers: Water Rights, Muskrat Falls, and the Muskrat Falls Disaster #nlpoli

The Sir Robert Bond Papers: Trump and Proto-Trump and babies #nlpoli

Speaking about his popularity and the loyalty of his supporters: “They say that I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters.” Donald Trump.  Sioux Center, Iowa, January 2016 And on babies…S… . . . → Read More: The Sir Robert Bond Papers: Trump and Proto-Trump and babies #nlpoli

The Sir Robert Bond Papers: The little savory details #nlpoli

Nalcor chief executive Stan Marshall said so much last Friday about Muskrat Falls, it’s probably true that most people couldn’t possibly take it all in.One of the folks having a hard time understanding all this is Tom Johnson.  He’s the guy the Co… . . . → Read More: The Sir Robert Bond Papers: The little savory details #nlpoli

The Sir Robert Bond Papers: Friends and enemies #nlpoli

Craig Westcott tells a story from his short stint as communications director for the Liberals in opposition in the last days of Danny Williams and the early days of his handpicked successor, Kathy Dunderdale.”I kept after the very small caucus we had t… . . . → Read More: The Sir Robert Bond Papers: Friends and enemies #nlpoli

The Sir Robert Bond Papers: The Fan Klub, Churchill, and taxes – update

As the provincial Conservatives and New Democrats filibuster the levy bill in the House of Assembly that Winston Churchill quote about taxes popped up again.The ones pushing the quote hard on Twitter seem to be mostly charter members of the Danny Willi… . . . → Read More: The Sir Robert Bond Papers: The Fan Klub, Churchill, and taxes – update

The Sir Robert Bond Papers: The New Approach #nlpoli

In 2003, Paul Davis’ predecessor as leader of the provincial Conservative party went to Ottawa to beg for a hand-out.Called it The New Approach He got one.Then he begged for more through Equalization.Got what he asked for.Pretended he didn’t, bac… . . . → Read More: The Sir Robert Bond Papers: The New Approach #nlpoli

The Sir Robert Bond Papers: Thank you, Danny Williams #nlpoli

Rob Strong has been a key player in the local oil and gas industry pretty much since the earliest days.  He knows what he is talking about.Strong pointed out to VOCM on Wednesday that the Hebron field won’t be the cash cow for the provincial gov… . . . → Read More: The Sir Robert Bond Papers: Thank you, Danny Williams #nlpoli

The Sir Robert Bond Papers: Selling energy assets a good thing: Danny Williams #nlpoli

  “It was a previous Liberal government that wanted to actually privatize Hydro. This particular government wants to strengthen Hydro, wants to make it a very valuable corporation: a corporation that will ultimately pay significant dividends ba… . . . → Read More: The Sir Robert Bond Papers: Selling energy assets a good thing: Danny Williams #nlpoli

The Sir Robert Bond Papers: Admission of failure: Conservative offshore negotiations #nlpoli

The news release on the government’s generic offshore royalty  wasn’t exactly a model of clarity and accuracy.

The headline and first sentence referred to the announcement of a “framework.”

The first quote claimed that “establishing the enhanced generic offshore oil royalty regime” was an achievement for the current administration. 

The problem is that none . . . → Read More: The Sir Robert Bond Papers: Admission of failure: Conservative offshore negotiations #nlpoli

The Sir Robert Bond Papers: Real change #nlpoli

“A positive, optimistic, hopeful vision of public life isn’t a naive dream,”  Justin Trudeau told Canadians after he won a truly historic victory in the October 19th federal general election.  That victory, said Trudeau,  “is what positive politic can do.”

“We beat fear with hope, we beat cynicism with hard work. We beat negative, . . . → Read More: The Sir Robert Bond Papers: Real change #nlpoli

The Sir Robert Bond Papers: The ABCs of ABC #nlpoli

 

In 2004, Danny Williams fought for three months against a federal government decision that had been settled – at least for the federal government – earlier in the year as part of the usual budget cycle.

Williams got the money the federal government had allocated but won the domestic war for public opinion.

. . . → Read More: The Sir Robert Bond Papers: The ABCs of ABC #nlpoli

The Sir Robert Bond Papers: Hyping the stock, yet again #nlpoli

Any oil company seriously interested in bidding on an exploration license offshore Newfoundland and Labrador isn’t likely to need the hyped presentation by the provincial government Thursday.

Exploring offshore is expensive.

Always has been.

Always will be.

Exploring beyond the 200 mile exclusive economic zone, in upwards of two kilometres of water, just makes . . . → Read More: The Sir Robert Bond Papers: Hyping the stock, yet again #nlpoli

The Sir Robert Bond Papers: Chainsaw Earle keeps austerity on the table #nlpoli

NDP leader Earle McCurdy called the province’s major open line show on Thursday and by the sounds of things he hasn’t backed off the position that the size of the government’s financial problems will mean more cuts.

Sure he said he was opposed to austerity,  but what Earle did say was that the government will . . . → Read More: The Sir Robert Bond Papers: Chainsaw Earle keeps austerity on the table #nlpoli

The Sir Robert Bond Papers: Moral victory: saying yes to less #nlpoli

A couple of years after his war with one prime minister, Danny Williams was locked in another war with another federal first minister.

Williams was demanding compensation for yet another supposed injustice. 

“What I said before and I said going in, this is about principles,”  Williams told reporters in November 2007 “but it’s also . . . → Read More: The Sir Robert Bond Papers: Moral victory: saying yes to less #nlpoli

The Sir Robert Bond Papers: More ways to lose than win #nlpoli

“What this province needs is not just someone with the brains to figure out what’s wrong with our economy,” future Premier Kathy Dunderdale wrote in 2002. 

“What this province needs is someone with the guts to start doing something about it for a change.”

Dunderdale’s letter to the editor of the Telegram appeared on . . . → Read More: The Sir Robert Bond Papers: More ways to lose than win #nlpoli

The Sir Robert Bond Papers: Cripple you say? #nlpoli

Unnamed Conservative “insiders” have been talking about the Ches Crosbie nomination fiasco as if it was a rejection of a new Tory Jesus or something.

The way they talk you’d think people are waiting breathlessly for the pictures on Jane Crosbie’s Twitter feed of young Ches taking his first steps across Virginia Lake, just as . . . → Read More: The Sir Robert Bond Papers: Cripple you say? #nlpoli

The Sir Robert Bond Papers: John Crosbie and the Last Crusade #nlpoli #cdnpoli

Every story told thus far about Ches Crosbie and the riding in Avalon has the unmistakeable odour of bullshit about it.

The latest twist, namely that Senator David Wells was scuttling a potential rival as The Biggest Conservative in Newfoundland and Labrador, is a bit more in the realm of plausible but it still doesn’t . . . → Read More: The Sir Robert Bond Papers: John Crosbie and the Last Crusade #nlpoli #cdnpoli

The Sir Robert Bond Papers: No equity? No surprise. #nlpoli

It didn’t take long for Paul Davis to get the comparison he was looking for last week.

The Telegram – not surprisingly – offered it up in the editorial on June 17:

“Premier Paul Davis pulled a Danny Williams Tuesday,”  the editorialist wrote.

Davis told the annual NOIA oil and gas industry conference that a . . . → Read More: The Sir Robert Bond Papers: No equity? No surprise. #nlpoli

The Sir Robert Bond Papers: Never heard anyone say that before #nlpoli

“This may be our last shot at it,” said captain of industry Paul Antle this week as he set off to find other captains of industry to help him save the province. .

Gotta get off the oil, see. The Tories have frigged everything up..

Not so very long ago another rich guy-turned-politician . . . → Read More: The Sir Robert Bond Papers: Never heard anyone say that before #nlpoli