Tag Archives: politics

Muskrat Falls hydroelectric – Who buried the risk assessment report?

Muskrat Falls, Labrador. Site of a proposed hydro electric project by the governments of Newfoundland and Quebec. This is downriver from the Churchill Falls Hydro project in Labrador. Photo by Greg Locke © 2017 DCS Files

Muskrat Falls on the Churchill River, Labrador in 2006 before construction of an ill-conceived hydro-electric project by the government of Newfoundland and Labrador.  Photo by Greg Locke ©2017

ROGER BILL
November 25, 2017

ST. JOHN’S, Newfoundland — The man in charge of finishing the Muskrat Falls hydroelectric project on the Churchill River in remote central Labrador calls the venture a “boondoggle”. The Newfoundland and Labrador government has established a commission of inquiry to determine why the project is wildly over budget and years behind schedule. A good place for the Commissioner, Judge Richard D. LeBlanc, to start is to find out who buried the warning that there was a “very high risk” of a multi-billion dollar cost overrun barely four months after the massive project was green-lighted in December, 2012.

 

The warning came in the form of a risk assessment undertaken by SNC-Lavalin, the engineering company retained by the Nalcor Energy, the provincial government agency managing the project. SNC-Lavalin officials, who were responsible for construction management and procurement on the project, conducted the risk assessment when initial prices for some major construction elements came in well above the original estimates in the $6.2 billion December, 2012 budget. The experts at SNC-Lavalin warned their Newfoundland client the project could go over-budget by an additional $2.4 billion. The warning was buried for four years.

 

Some critics of the Muskrat Falls project argue that warnings were ignored long before 2013but when the SNC-Lavalin risk assessment finally surfaced in June of this year it was too much to ignore and according to Newfoundland and Labrador’s premier Dwight Ball too late to put the brakes on the project

 

 According to Nalcor Energy’s CEO, Stan Marshall, the Province is now staring at a total cost of $12+ billion to bring the megaproject in two years behind schedule and the Province wants Judge LeBlanc to inquire into “any risk assessments, financial or otherwise” and whether “Nalcor took possession of the reports” and “made the government aware of the reports and assessments”

 

Judge LeBlanc will find that, yes, there was a risk assessment done by SNC-Lavalin in April, 2013 and maybe Nalcor Energy took possession of it or maybe not, and according to the provincial Minister of Natural Resources in April, 2013, no, the provincial government was not made aware of the SNC-Lavalin risk assessment.

 

Ed Martin, former president and CEO of Nalcor Energy. Photo by Greg Locke © 2017

Ed Martin, former president and CEO of Nalcor Energy. Photo by Greg Locke © 2017

What is a matter of public record is the following: Ed Martin, Nalcor Energy’s CEO, parted company with the provincial government in 2016. Whether he was dismissed or resigned is still a bit of a puzzle, but he was succeeded by Stan Marshall, a very successful executive with the private energy company, Fortis Inc. Stan Marshall says he heard about the 2013 SNC-Lavalin risk assessment from a former SNC-Lavalin engineer, but could not find a copy of it in Nalcor Energy’s files. Finally, Stan Marshall says he asked SNC-Lavalin for a copy of the risk assessment, received it, gave it to the provincial government, and it was released by the Premier and Minister of Natural Resources on June 23, 2017 (External Link to CBC story)

 

A spokesperson for SNC-Lavalin told The Telegram newspaper and www.allnewfoundlandlabrador.com that they “attempted” to hand over the risk assessment to Nalcor. Ed Martin, the former Nalcor CEO told the media the risk assessment was never “presented” to him. Premier Dwight Ball told the media that he had been advised that the risk assessment results were presented by SNC-Lavalin at a meeting attended by Nalcor officials including Ed Martin. Obviously, either Premier Dwight Ball has been poorly advised or Ed Martin is not telling the truth or the word “presented” has a very narrow and specific meaning in the world of engineers and consultants that outsiders fail to understand.

 

The expression “attempted to hand it over” makes one wonder if an official of SNC-Lavalin held the nine-page risk assessment document in their hand and reached out to give it to a Nalcor Energy official who refused to accept it. Or, maybe there was a meeting where the SNC-Lavalin, motivated by what is described in the risk assessment as a sense of “urgency” to convey their findings verbally briefed Nalcor Energy officials on the results of the risk assessment, but did not have the report in hand. When engineers are under oath and lawyers from Judge LeBlanc rather than journalists are asking questions about who told who what and who gave what to who then the people who will ultimately pay for the “boondoggle” will know who buried what.

 

What does not take any clarifying are the words of Tom Marshall, the provincial Minister of Natural Resources in 2013. When the SNC-Lavalin risk assessment surfaced in June, 2017. I asked Tom Marshall if he saw the risk assessment in 2013. He said, “I never saw that report.” Asked if he had been advised of the risk assessment findings Mr. Marshall said, “No.” Did he think Ed Martin, the Nalcor CEO who he met with regularly at the time, held back the risk assessment’s findings Mr. Marshall said, “That would be terrible. I can’t fathom if that is the case.” Would it have made a difference if he had known? “It would have rung all kinds of alarm bells”

 

Eleven months after the SNC-Lavalin risk assessment warning Tom Marshall’s successor as Minister of Natural Resources, Derrick Dalley addressed the House of Assembly to reassure members that the government’s oversight of the Muskrat Falls project was “robust.” Mr. Dalley said, “senior staff with the Department of Natural Resources and Finance have met regularly with Nalcor’s CEO and their staff. As well, the provincial cabinet has had regular meetings and ongoing reports from the CEO of Nalcor”

 

For those who gamble on political affairs the question Mr. Dalley’s assurances in 2014 raise is this; what are the odds that Judge LeBlanc will hear testimony from one single senior staff or cabinet member who met regularly with the CEO of Nalcor who will recall hearing the words, “SNC-Lavalin risk assessment” or “serious concerns” or “very high risk of cost overruns” in any of those meetings?

 

Two days later the Minister again sought to reassure the members of the House of Assembly that there was no very high risk of cost overruns, “Nobody is putting my signature on a paper that costs my children $6 billion and $7 billion into the future. I can tell you the work is done. The oversight is there” he said.

 

When the Muskrat Falls Inquiry releases its schedule of witnesses make a note of the date of Mr. Dalley’s appearance.

 

Copyright Roger Bill 2017

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Facts and Opinions is a boutique journal of reporting and analysis in words and images, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O is funded by our readers. It is ad-free and spam-free, and does not solicit donations from partisan organizations. To continue we require a minimum payment of .27 for one story, or a sustaining donation.

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Posted in All, Canadian Journalist, Energy, Environment Also tagged , , , , , , |

Trudeau topples Harper in stunning Canadian election

Liberal Party leader Justin Trudeau gives his victory speech after Canada's federal election in Montreal, Quebec, October 19, 2015. REUTERS/Chris Wattie

Liberal Party leader Justin Trudeau gives his victory speech after Canada’s federal election in Montreal, Quebec, October 19, 2015. REUTERS/Chris Wattie

By Randall Palmer and Rod Nickel
October 19, 2015

Liberal Party leader Justin Trudeau waves while accompanied by his wife Sophie Gregoire as he gives his victory speech after Canada's federal election in Montreal, Quebec, October 19, 2015. REUTERS/Jim Young

Liberal Party leader Justin Trudeau waves while accompanied by his wife Sophie Gregoire as he gives his victory speech after Canada’s federal election in Montreal, Quebec, October 19, 2015. REUTERS/Jim Young

MONTREAL/CALGARY (Reuters) – Canada’s Liberal leader Justin Trudeau rode a late campaign surge to a stunning election victory on Monday, toppling Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Conservatives with a promise of change and returning a touch of glamour, youth and charisma to Ottawa.

The Liberals seized a Parliamentary majority, an unprecedented turn in political fortunes that smashed the record for the number of seats gained from one election to the next. The Liberals had been a distant third place party in Parliament before this election.

Harper conceded defeat, ending his government’s nine-year run in power and the 56-year-old’s brand of fiscal and cultural conservatism.

Trudeau, 43, the photogenic son of former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, pledged to run a C$10 billion annual budget deficit for three years to invest in infrastructure and help stimulate Canada’s anaemic economic growth.

This rattled financial markets ahead of the vote and the Canadian dollar weakened on news of his victory.

Trudeau has said he will repair Canada’s cool relations with the Obama administration, withdraw Canada from the combat mission against Islamic State militants in favour of humanitarian aid and training, and tackle climate change.

Trudeau vaulted from third place to lead the polls in the final days of the campaign, overcoming Conservative attacks that he is too inexperienced to govern to return to the Prime Minister’s residence in Ottawa where he grew up as a child.

“When the time for change strikes, it’s lethal,” former Conservative Prime Minister Brian Mulroney said in a television interview. “I ran and was successful because I wasn’t Pierre Trudeau. Justin is successful because he isn’t Stephen Harper.”

The Conservatives were projected to become the official opposition in Parliament, with the left-leaning New Democratic Party in third.

Liberal supporters at the party’s campaign headquarters broke into cheers and whistles when television projected that Trudeau would be the next prime minister.

Top Trudeau advisor Gerald Butts tweeted “Amazing work #TeamTrudeau. Breathtaking really”.

The Conservatives weren’t the only party that appeared headed for a crushing defeat. The third place left-leaning New Democratic Party’s fall was highlighted in Quebec, where it had the majority of its seats.

Canada's Prime Minister Stephen Harper walks off the stage after giving his concession speech following Canada's federal election in Calgary, Alberta, October 19, 2015. REUTERS/Mark Blinch

Canada’s Prime Minister Stephen Harper walks off the stage after giving his concession speech following Canada’s federal election in Calgary, Alberta, October 19, 2015. REUTERS/Mark Blinch

Radio Canada projected it would end up with just seven seats, down from 54 in the last Parliament.

The Liberals’ win marks a swing toward a more multilateral approach in global politics by the Canadian government, which has distanced itself from the United Nations in recent years.

The former teacher took charge of the party just two years ago and guided it out of the political wilderness with a pledge of economic stimulus and stirring appeals for a return to social liberalism.

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TRUDEAUMANIA AGAIN?

Justin Trudeau poses before he spars at the Paul Brown Boxfit boxing gym in Toronto, August 6, 2015. REUTERS/Mark Blinch

Justin Trudeau poses before he spars at the Paul Brown Boxfit boxing gym in Toronto, August 6, 2015. REUTERS/Mark Blinch

Born to a sitting prime minister who came to power in 1968 on a wave of popular support dubbed “Trudeaumania,” Trudeau will become the second-youngest prime minister in Canadian history and brings an appeal more common in movie stars than statesmen.

Pierre once jumped from a trampoline into the crowd. With boyish good looks, Justin thrusts himself into throngs and puts his hand to his heart when listening to someone.

Selfie requests are so common he happily takes the camera and snaps the photo himself, often cheek to cheek. He is the married father of three young children.

Criticized for being more style than substance, Trudeau has used attacks on his good looks and privileged upbringing to win over voters, who recalled his father’s rock-star presence and an era when Canada had some sizzle on the world stage.

Pierre Trudeau, who died in 2000, was in power for 15 years – with a brief interruption – and remains one of the few Canadian leaders to be known abroad.

Single when he took power, the elder Trudeau dated movie stars and models before marrying. He had three boys while prime minister, the eldest of whom now succeeds him in the nation’s top office.

Financial market players had praised the Conservative government for its steady hand in economic management, which had spared Canada the worst of the global financial malaise. Trudeau has also promised to raise taxes on high-income Canadians and reduce them for the middle class.

Political pundits have already began to speculate on the makeup of a Trudeau government while pondering what caused the downfall of Harper, 56, who has been criticized for his aloof personality but won credit for economic management in a decade of global fiscal uncertainty.

 Copyright Reuters 2015

(Writing by Andrea Hopkins; Editing by Amran Abocar and Alan Crosby)

Liberal leader Justin Trudeau is accompanied by his mother, wife and children as he watches results at his election night headquarters in MontrealCanada's New Democratic Party leader Tom Mulcair sits with family members as he watches election results at a hotel in MontrealLiberal Party supporters kiss as they celebrate while watching results during Canada's federal election in MontrealConservative Party supporters react as they watch results of Canada's federal election in CalgaryFile photo of Justin Trudeau, son of former Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, rests his head on his father's casket during a state funeral in MontrealFile photo of Canada's Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau greeting his sons Justin, Sacha and Michel after returning home from a foreign trip in OttawaLeader of the Liberal Party of Canada, Trudeau poses before he spars at the Paul Brown Boxfit boxing gym in TorontoLiberal leader Justin Trudeau is embraced by his Wife Sophie Gregoire as he watches results at his election night headquarters in MontrealLiberal leader Trudeau attends a rally with former Prime Minister Chretien in HamiltonLiberal leader Trudeau carries his son Hadrien as he enters the polling station to cast his vote in MontrealLiberal leader Trudeau waves during a campaign rally in North VancouverCanada's PM and Conservative leader Harper casts his ballot at a polling station in CalgaryLiberal Party leader Justin Trudeau gives his victory speech after Canada's federal election in MontrealLiberal Party leader Justin Trudeau gives his victory speech after Canada's federal election in MontrealCanada's Prime Minister Stephen Harper walks off the stage after giving his concession speech following Canada's federal election in CalgaryLiberal Party leader Justin Trudeau waves while accompanied by his wife Sophie Gregoire as he gives his victory speech after Canada's federal election in MontrealA Conservative Party supporter reacts as she watches results of Canada's federal election in CalgaryConservative Party supporters react as they watch results of Canada's federal election in Calgary

Underestimating Trudeau fatal for Conservatives

By Randall Palmer

Canada's Prime Minister and Conservative leader Stephen Harper casts his ballot at a polling station in Calgary, Alberta, October 19, 2015. Canadians go to the polls for a federal election on Monday. REUTERS/Jonathan Hayward/Pool

Canada’s Prime Minister and Conservative leader Stephen Harper casts his ballot at a polling station in Calgary, Alberta, October 19, 2015. Canadians go to the polls for a federal election on Monday. REUTERS/Jonathan Hayward/Pool

MONTREAL (Reuters) – The long Canadian election campaign was supposed to highlight just how inexperienced Liberal leader Justin Trudeau was and give the ruling Conservatives an ample supply of gaffes to use in attack ads.

The gambit underestimated Trudeau, the 43-year-old son of charismatic former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, and, by setting expectations so low, may have helped him instead.

Trudeau’s Liberals will form Canada’s next government after defeating Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper on Monday.

“I think the Conservative advertising ultimately has backfired,” said Liberal candidate Kevin Lamoureux. “He’s more than met the expectations that people had of him.”

The seeds of the Liberal victory were sown in July, when the party ran third in polls behind the left-leaning New Democratic Party and the Conservatives.

Before the campaign began on Aug. 2, Liberal strategists said Trudeau was being advised to go negative to counter the bruising Conservative ads that he was “just not ready.”

But his inner circle, including campaign co-chairs Katie Telford and Dan Gagnier, principal adviser Gerald Butts, and chief of staff Cyrus Reporter, backed Trudeau’s position that they should focus on the positive, as they see it.

“We were not surprised by the negative ads. It wasn’t a new thing. But Justin Trudeau’s optimistic high-road approach struck a chord,” said Chrystia Freeland, a Liberal member of parliament.

The strategy was to portray a sunny personality through ads, speeches and personal contact with ordinary people.

Trudeau, who considers himself “a learned extrovert,” spent half his time at campaign stops milling through crowds and posing for selfies. Most of those pictures made their way onto Facebook, Instagram and other social media where they were reposted or retweeted for a multiplier effect.

By August, the Liberals were largely indistinguishable from the NDP in their appeal to centre-left voters and the three main parties were running neck-and-neck.

A dearth of major economic policies had helped NDP leader Thomas Mulcair eat into Liberal support as he laid out policies on cheap daycare and a C$15 ($11.60) minimum wage for federally regulated workers.

At a meeting in June, the party realized its plan to balance the budget and spend on infrastructure, while enriching the overall tax package for the middle class, was no longer viable as the fiscal picture worsened on weaker oil prices, two senior Liberals familiar with the discussion said.

They would probably have to go into deficit or scale back their promises. A final decision was not made until August, the two Liberal sources said.

Some had advocated running big deficits – as much as C$40 billion or C$50 billion, similar to the levels the Conservative government ran in response to the 2007-09 financial crisis – but they settled for a deficit of up to C$10 billion a year for three years, a third senior Liberal said.

They nervously eyed the NDP, lest they pip the Liberals to the post.

It was a risk, the Liberal insiders said, but in the end it gave the party a clear distinctive policy and positioned them left of the NDP, which had pledged a balanced budget.

“As of that moment, I think it became clear that we were the party of real change and that Stephen Harper and Tom Mulcair were two peas in a pod on the economy,” said veteran Liberal legislator John McCallum, a former bank chief economist.

NIQAB EFFECT

The Liberals also got a lift from a controversial government attempt to ban the veil worn by Muslim women, the niqab, during citizenship ceremonies. Both Mulcair and Trudeau opposed the ban, but anti-niqab sentiment was heavy in the francophone regions of Quebec, where the NDP is strongest.

NDP support in Quebec began to plummet, dragging down its national numbers, and then NDP voters elsewhere started to migrate to the Liberals.

“We had the same position (as the NDP). The difference was that when it came up, we had something else to talk about,” another Liberal insider said, referring to the party platform.

The NDP, on the other hand, were offering cheap daycare, which Quebec already had, and balanced budgets, which were unpopular in a province tired of austerity.

And while the Conservatives gained in Quebec, Harper’s niqab stance and other positions seen as anti-immigrant did not go down well in other parts of Canada.

Good fortune also played a part.

The famed wall of ads the Conservatives were expected to mount at the end of the campaign fizzled. While the Tories bought front page newspaper ads in the campaign’s final Saturday and had their share of broadcast ads, there was no evidence of a tsunami that swamped the Liberals.

Instead, the Liberals benefited in the final week after taking a punt in August to buy ad time for October’s baseball playoffs.

The price then was C$12,000 for a thirty-second spot in Canada. When the Toronto Blue Jays made the playoffs, drawing massive Canadian television audiences, the cost zoomed up to C$140,000 apiece. By then, the Liberals had their exposure locked in at the end of an expensive, 11-week campaign.

Former Conservative Prime Minister Brian Mulroney once warned rivals not to underestimate the younger Trudeau: “(His father) was a very tough, able guy and the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.”

On Monday, some Conservatives grudgingly conceded just that.

“You have to hand it to the Liberals: they’ve run a really good campaign,” said a Conservative member of Parliament.

Copyright Reuters 2015

(Additional reporting by Josephine Mason in Toronto and David Ljunggren in Ottawa; Editing by Amran Abocar, Lisa Shumaker and Alan Crosby)

Related stories on F&O:

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Facts and Opinions is a boutique journal, of reporting and analysis in words and images, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O is funded by you, our readers. We are ad-free and spam-free, and we do not solicit donations from partisan organizations. Please visit our Subscribe page to chip in at least .27 for one story or $1 for a day site pass. Please tell others about us, and follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

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Facts, and Opinions, this week

In the first of two Frontlines posts this weekend, F&O offers our weekly lineup of eclectic reads and stunning images for your weekend pleasure. Watch for our Focus on Canadian politics, prior to the federal election Monday Oct. 19.

© Michael AW, courtesy of Wildlife Photographer of the Year, Natural History Museum, London.

A whale of a mouthful, by Michael Aw, Australia: a Bryde’s whale rips through a swirling ball of sardines, gulping a huge mouthful in a single pass. As it expels hundreds of litres of seawater from its mouth, the fish are retained by plates of baleen hanging down from its palate; they are then pushed into its stomach to be digested alive. © Click here for more information and our full Photo-essay of winners of the Wildlife Photographer of the Year, Natural History Museum, London.

© Don Gutoski

© Don Gutoski 2015

Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2015, Natural History Museum, London

Canadian photographer Don Gutoski won Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2015 in the annual competition by London’s Natural History Museum.  His image, Tale of two foxes in subarctic Cape Churchill, Canada, portrays a red fox devouring a white Arctic fox, which it has just killed.

China faces crippling water shortages and pollution, by Jonathan Manthorpe, F&O International Affairs columnist

China’s drive for wealth and power is stumbling and could collapse over the country’s lack of water and its gross mismanagement of the resources it does have.

"Factory in China at Yangtze River" by High Contrast - Own work. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 de via Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Factory_in_China_at_Yangtze_River.JPG#/media/File:Factory_in_China_at_Yangtze_River.JPG

Your Smart Home Knows a Lot About You. By Lauren Kirchner, Reports

As the trend toward networked “smart homes” and “connected cars” continues, security precautions are more important than ever. But customers may not always be aware of just how much information their devices are collecting about them in the first place.

 

Sister Rachel Denton views the sunset from a vantage point near St Cuthbert's Hermitage in Lincolnshire, north east Britain September 25, 2015. Denton, a Catholic hermit, rises early to tend to her vegetable garden, feed her cats and pray. But the former Carmelite nun, who in 2006 pledged to live the rest of her life in solitude, has another chore - to update her Twitter account and check Facebook. "The myth you often face as a hermit is that you should have a beard and live in a cave. None of which is me," says the ex-teacher. For the modern-day hermit, she says social media is vital: "tweets are rare, but precious," she writes on her Twitter profile. The internet also allows Denton to shop online and communicate with friends. "I am a hermit but I am also human." A diagnosis of cancer earlier this year reaffirmed Denton's wish to carry on a life of solitude, prayer and contemplation. REUTERS/Neil Hall

REUTERS/Neil Hall

SISTER RACHEL DENTON: Out of the Cave and Onto Facebook. By Neil Hall and Angus Berwick

MARKET RASEN, England — Like any good hermit Rachel Denton rises early in the morning to tend to her vegetable garden, feed her chickens, and pray. But the former British nun, who has pledged to live the rest of her life in solitude, has another routine that sets her apart from her society-shunning brethren – she has to update her Twitter account and check Facebook.

Adios, Buena Vista Social Club. By Rod Mickleburgh, Arts

It was a magical night, mixed with a heavy dose of poignancy, as the vaunted Orquesta Buena Vista Social Club made its final appearance win Vancouver, Canada. There will be no more tours. Many of the aging Cuban music stars we got to know and love from Ry Cooder’s venture to Havana in the 1990’s are no longer with us.

Getting Back to his Country Roots: Kenny Rogers, a Brief Encounter column by Brian Brennan (*subscription required)

Kenny Rogers was having a musical-identity crisis at age 39 when I spoke with him in 1977 before a club gig in Calgary. At that point his beard was already turning salt-and-pepper and the wrinkles were starting to show around his eyes. He was still wearing the Beatles suit of his rock years, not the cowboy clothes that later defined his look as a country-pop superstar.

Last but not least, F&O is pleased to announce that author Brian Brennan, one of our regular contributors to Arts, has published his 11th book. An introduction:

Rogues and Rebels: Unforgettable Characters from Canada’s West, documents the life stories of 32 larger-than-life Westerners – some infamous, some obscure – who threw away the rulebook, thumbed their noses at convention and let their detractors howl. They include such political leaders as Ralph Klein and Tommy Douglas, the suffragette Nellie McClung, who fought successfully to have women recognized as “persons” for the purpose of Canadian Senate appointments, and the mysterious cult leader Brother XII, who convinced thousands of wealthy Britons and Americans to follow him to a small island off the West Coast of Canada to await the coming Age of Aquarius.
For more details, visit Brennan’s website at www.brianbrennan.ca

Published by University of Regina Press, Rogues and Rebels is now available in bookstores throughout Canada and the United States, and  online from international retailers such as Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

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Facts and Opinions is a boutique journal, of reporting and analysis in words and images, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O is funded by you, our readers. We are ad-free and spam-free, and we do not solicit donations from partisan organizations.  Please visit our Subscribe page to chip in at least .27 for one story or $1 for a day site pass. Please tell others about us, and follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

Posted in Current Affairs, Gyroscope Also tagged , , |

Marg!, Princess Warrior joins the fray

Newfoundland writer, actress and comedian, Mary Walsh, finally chimed in on the Canadian election with her character, Marg! Princess Warrior, this week with her Marg Brings Change campaign. Made famous on This Hour has 22 Minutes, Marg has been smiting politicians with her foam sword for many years and her love for Stephen Harper is legendary.

“Don’t waste time turning in your neighbours on the barbaric Harper hotline; send some real ‘cents’ to Ottawa instead,” advises Princess Warrior Marg Delahunty.

“Prime Minister Harper didn’t want to save Syrian refugees, our right to privacy or democracy, but he did want to save the penny. Unfortunately, like the cent, Harper will take a while to get out of our system so let’s send a load of cents to Ottawa now — and on October 19.”

Joining the ever-increasing crowd of prominent Canadian musicians, writers, artists, scientists, social activists, unions, environmentalists and the millions of Canadians who want change this election, Marg urges Canadians to help her bring change to Harper.

“I’ll give Mr. Harper our two cents,” Marg promises Canadians. In a campaign launched today entitled, Marg Brings Change, the Princess Warrior has created a video calling for Canadians to click on the virtual cent on her website www.margbringschange.ca ; she vows to match every click and every share with a real cent. Later this month Marg will personally deliver everybody’s two cents to Mr. Harper.**

“And vote!” the Princess Warrior commands. “Vote anything but Conservative! Don’t make me come back and smite you!”

**All money will go to aiding Syrian refugees in Canada.

Watch the Video, Click the cent, Share widely and Help Marg bring your two cents to Ottawa!

Visit www.margbringschange.ca

or the Facebook page: Marg Brings Change
https://www.facebook.com/Marg-Brings-Change-1474903259506286/timeline/

Posted in All, Canadian Journalist, Current Affairs, Gyroscope Also tagged , , , , , , , , , |

Alberta once again the New Jerusalem

Photo Dave Cournoyer via Flickr, Creative Commons

Rachel Notley’s father advised: “Don’t talk about it, just do it.” On May 5 she did, leading Alberta’s NDP to power. Photo by Dave Cournoyer/Flickr, Creative Commons

By Brian Brennan 
May 6, 2015 

In 1971, the year the now irrelevant Progressive Conservative party first rose to power in Alberta, a Canadian folk-pop group from Montreal called The Bells had a million-selling hit titled “Stay Awhile.” It stayed in the American Top 50 for 11 weeks. The last line of the chorus went, “guess I’m gonna stay with you awhile.” That could have been a mantra for the PCs of that era. They remained at the helm for the next 44 years. 

Alberta, the home province of Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper, has been viewed for 80 years – ever since the right-wing Social Credit Party was elected in 1935 – as Canada’s bastion of rock-ribbed conservatism. Or, as Alberta author Aritha van Herk put it, Alberta has been stereotyped as a province defined by such terms as “redneck, intolerant, racist, conservative, neo-Christian, suspicious of anything new, home of white supremacists, gun lovers, and not a few book-banning school boards.”

On Tuesday, Albertans went to the polls to elect a new provincial government and change that image. A month ago, when Premier Jim Prentice called the election, it was widely expected that his Progressive Conservatives would cakewalk to another victory. Their only serious opposition in the previous, 2012 election had been the Wildrose Party, running to their right. But the Wildrosers had been reduced to a five-seat rump after one member left to sit as an independent and 11 more, including party leader Danielle Smith, crossed the floor to join the PCs. That gave the Tories 70 seats in the 87-seat legislature.

The other parties didn’t seem to pose much of a threat. The third-place Liberals also held five seats at dissolution. The left-leaning New Democratic Party came in fourth and last with four seats. Neither was expected to figure prominently in the 2015 vote, mainly because the Liberals hadn’t formed a government since the United Farmers of Alberta dispatched them in 1921, and the NDP had never come anywhere close to forming a government.

But the Alberta of 2015 is not the Alberta of 1921. Nor is it the province that put Social Credit in power in 1935. Nor is it the one that handed the reins to the Tories in 1971. The province’s two biggest cities, Calgary and Edmonton, are both led by progressive mayors: Naheed Nenshi and Don Iveson. The Alberta of the 21st century is increasingly cosmopolitan, forward-thinking, diverse and inclusive. Collapsing oil prices have taken away some of the province’s financial robustness. But they haven’t taken away its spirit or its optimism.

From the start of the campaign, it became clear – if it hadn’t been so before – that the Progressive Conservatives represented a party run by and for the business elite of the province. Premier Prentice announced that the election would be tantamount to a vote on his first budget; an austerity document that imposed 59 new taxes or levies on individuals, but none on corporations. This provided great ammunition for NDP leader Rachel Notley who told her supporters that if the affluent and the well-connected were to contribute just a little bit more – specifically, a two percent increase in the current corporate tax rate of 10 percent – hospital wait times would be reduced, health care would improve, and 12,000 children would have teachers when they showed up for school next fall. From that point on, Prentice stopped talking about his budget, and began to talk about the dangers of electing a socialist government in Alberta that would lead the province to financial ruin.

Notley, one of the finest platform speakers in Alberta politics, struck an immediate and resonant chord with voters. Speaking without notes and dappling her speeches with good-humoured digs at what she called “this never-ending circus instead of a government,” she drew loud cheers every time she told her listeners they didn’t have to keep repeating history in this province; they could make history by voting for progressive change. 

Progressive Conservative leader Jim Prentice, Incumbent premier. Photo: premier's office

Jim Prentice resigned both his seat and his leadership of Alberta’s Progressive Conservative party, immediately after the election. Photo: premier’s office

Notley’s message undoubtedly got through. On Tuesday night, Albertans voted for the first social-democratic government in the province’s history, giving 53 seats to the NDP, 21 seats to the revitalized Wildrose, and relegating the Tories to third place with 10 seats. Premier Prentice immediately resigned as party leader and his newly recaptured seat as MLA. A former federal politician, he had not re-entered public life to lead the third party in the provincial legislature. The Liberals were left with one seat and the new left-leaning Alberta Party also took one seat.

Notley was born to play the role of NDP leader. Her father, a self-styled “middle-of-the-road socialist” named Grant Notley, was a pioneering politician who scored the NDP’s first seat in the Alberta legislature in 1971, the same year the Tories began their 44-year reign. Grant Notley served as a one-man caucus for much of the next 13 years. When he died in 1984, in a light plane crash at age 45, his daughter was a 20-year-old law school undergraduate. She then worked as a labour lawyer and honed her skills as a backroom political operative for close to two decades before entering Alberta politics as a 43-year-old MLA in 2008. The best bit of political advice her father had ever given her: “Don’t talk about it, just do it.”

On Tuesday night she did it. Against all odds, Notley won a majority government with a party of mostly untried political rookies who have never sat in a legislature before. In that respect, Notley’s NDPers of 2015 are no different than William Aberhart’s Social Crediters of 1935 or Peter Lougheed’s Progressive Conservatives of 1971. Most of them were political neophytes too. For progressive-minded voters, Alberta – as the evangelical preacher Aberhart liked to say – has once again become the New Jerusalem.

Notley’s first challenge will be to convince the Alberta business community that she’s not the scary monster portrayed by her desperate opponents during the final days of the campaign, when all the polls were pointing to an NDP victory. With a $7-billion crater in the province’s finances, she has her work cut out for her. But Albertans clearly trust her and feel she’s up to the task. Her father would have been proud.

One of the other million-selling hits of 1971 was a song by country singer Jerry Reed titled “When You’re Hot, You’re Hot.” It too stayed in the American charts for 11 weeks. The second line of the chorus went, “and when you’re not, you’re not.” That could have become the new mantra for Alberta’s routed Progressive Conservatives on Tuesday night.

Copyright Brian Brennan 2015

Clarification: This story has been changed for clarity, to note that Albertans voted in a social-democratic (instead of a “socialist”) government.

References:

Alberta Elections, results: http://results.elections.ab.ca/wtResultsPGE.htm

Related on F&O:

NOTEBOOK: a bellwether election for Alberta? Sean Holman on Alberta’s lack of transparency, and Penney Kome on Alberta politics

Canada’s Mayor: Naheed Nenshi. By Brian Brennan, Facts and Opinions magazine feature (paywall)

Video:

Rachel Notley’s victory speech (click here for text transcript on NDP site): 

Jim Prentice’s concession speech:

 

 

Brian Brennan

Brian Brennan, an Irish journalist living in Canada, is a founding feature writer with Facts and Opinions, author of the Brief Encounters arts column, and a contributor to Arts dispatches and the Loose Leaf salon. His profile of Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi, the first original feature in the journal’s inaugural issue, won Runner-up, Best Feature Article, in the 2014 Professional Writers Association of Canada Awards. Brennan was educated at University College Dublin, Vancouver’s Langara College, the Poynter Institute in St. Petersburg, Florida, and the National Critics Institute in Waterford, Connecticut. 

Visit him at his website, www.brianbrennan.ca

Brian Brennan also plays jazz piano, for fun and profit.  

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Facts and Opinions is an online journal of select and first-rate reporting and analysis, in words and images: a boutique for select journalism, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O performs journalism for citizens, funded entirely by readers. We do not carry advertising or solicit donations from foundations or causes. Help sustain us with a donation, by clicking below; by telling others about us; or purchasing a $1 day pass or subscription, from $2.95/month to $19.95/year. To receive F&O’s free blog emails fill in the form on the FRONTLINES page.

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Alberta election: is change in the wind?

 

Alberta NDP leader Rachel Notley, on May 3. Photo: Don Voaklander, creative commons

Polls suggest Alberta NDP leader Rachel Notley has a shot at governing. Photo: Don Voaklander, creative commons

Could Alberta be the bellwether for shifting politics in North America’s oil patch communities?

Alberta citizens vote in a provincial election today.  Alberta — world famous as home of the oil sands — has been ruled by the Progressive Conservative party for more than four decades, and it is the base of Canada’s hard-right federal Conservative government. Now the socialist New Democratic Party, which received less than 10 per cent of the popular vote in 2012,  is on a wave of massive popular support, and numerous opinion polls give it a shot at governing.

The election of a socialist government in right-wing Alberta would have been unthinkable until now — but amid social and political upheaval, global oil prices are volatile and plunging, and communities almost entirely reliant on oil and gas extraction are suffering. 

Alberta-based journalists Penney Kome and Sean Holman consider aspects of the issues.

The election, writes Holman, is “a missed opportunity to change that indifference, raising awareness among Albertans about why their information rights are important and how those rights can prevent another 44 years of unaccountable governments in this province.”  

“Alberta, the province that elected North America’s first Muslim mayor, is flirting with another surprise: a feminist New Democrat government — or at least Opposition,” writes Kome.

Click here to read NOTEBOOK: a bellwether election for Alberta?

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NOTEBOOK: a bellwether election for Alberta?

May 5, 2015

Could Alberta become  a bellwether for politics in North America’s oil patch?

Alberta citizens vote in a provincial election today.  Alberta — world famous as home of the oil sands — has been ruled by the Progressive Conservative party for more than four decades, and it is the base of Canada’s hard-right federal Conservative government. Now the socialist New Democratic Party, which received less than 10 per cent of the popular vote in 2012,  is on a wave of massive popular support, and numerous opinion polls give it a shot at governing.

The election of a socialist government in right-wing Alberta would have been unthinkable until now — but amid social and political upheaval, global oil prices are volatile and plunging, and communities almost entirely reliant on oil and gas extraction are suffering.

Alberta-based journalists Penney Kome and Sean Holman consider aspects of the election issues.

Photo of an Alberta oil rig by Greg Locke, Copyright 2014

Alberta oil rig. Photo by Greg Locke © 2014

Transparency Issue Little Seen on Campaign Trail

By Sean Holman

Alberta’s freedom of information law is weak and underused. Yet, in an election where one of the most important issues is government accountability, there has been surprisingly little discussion about reforming that law – despite proposed policy changes that could further threaten the public’s right to know.

Progressive Conservative leader Jim Prentice, Incumbent premier. Photo: premier's office

Progressive Conservative leader Jim Prentice, Incumbent premier. Photo: premier’s office

According to a 2012 report from the Centre for Law and Democracy, Alberta tied with New Brunswick and the federal government for having the worst freedom of information law in the country. In addition, it costs $25 just to file a freedom of information request in Wildrose Country  –  among the highest application fees in the country.

I can’t help but think that’s one reason why the province’s access law is so underused.

According to the most recent statistics available, in fiscal 2012/13 Alberta government ministries received 60 general freedom of information requests per 100,000 people in the province. By comparison, in Ontario, where the application fee for those requests is $5, that number was 87 in 2012. And, in British Columbia, where there is no charge, that number was 106 in 2012/13.

But, troublingly, Premier Jim Prentice has a plan that could further suppress such access requests in Alberta even further.

Right now, an individual who files a freedom of information request is the only one who receives the records responsive to it. That means reporters and others can get scoops from making those requests – a reward for the considerable time, effort and sometimes money spent on them.

But, in February, CBC News revealed the premier moved to take those scoops away by “personally” ordering government to post responses online for everyone to see, including competing reporters. And if you don’t think that’s a disincentive, just think how you would feel if someone else could constantly claim credit for work you were responsible for.

Prentice’s order has yet to be carried out. Nevertheless, the platforms for the Alberta Party, the NDP and the Alberta Liberals don’t include a word about strengthening the province’s freedom of information law. Only Wildrose’s platform promises such a change, while the Greens have a plank that commits them to a “radical overhaul of rules around transparency and accountability.”

Nor have journalists talked much about the need for reform either, perhaps because they believe too many believe Canadians don’t care about that issue – a self-defeating notion, even if it may sometimes be a truthful one.

But what all this amounts to is, at the very least, a missed opportunity to change that indifference, raising awareness among Albertans about why their information rights are important and how those rights can prevent another 44 years of unaccountable governments in this province.

To read Sean Holman’s full column, Transparency Issue Little Seen on Campaign Trail, visit his site.   

Copyright Sean Holman 2015

Sean Holman is assistant professor of journalism at Mount Royal University, Calgary, Alberta

Hay field in Peace River, Alberta. Photo by Greg Locke, copyright 2009

Hay field in Peace River, Alberta. Greg Locke © 2009

Alberta poised to turn NDP orange as Tory grip on power withers

By Penney Kome

Alberta, the province that elected North America’s first Muslim mayor, is flirting with another surprise: a feminist New Democrat government — or at least Opposition — led by labour lawyer Rachel Notley. Notley worked for decades in the essential and very contentious fields of workers’ compensation and occupational health and safety, in B.C. as well as Alberta. Twice elected to the legislature (2008, 2012), she became party leader last October. All of her own accomplishments are enhanced by her heritage as daughter of the late revered ND leader, Grant Notley. His tragic 1984 death in a small plane crash plunged even conservative Albertans into mourning.

Alberta NDP leader Rachel Notley, on May 3. Photo: Don Voaklander, creative commons

Alberta NDP leader Rachel Notley, on May 3. Photo: Don Voaklander, creative commons

In the 2015 snap election, called before the official “fixed” election date, the NDP is running a full team of 87 candidates — 52 per cent of whom are women. An April 13 election poll found the NDP running strongly, with 30 per cent of decided voters, compared to 24 per cent for the Conservatives and 31 per cent for the remaining rump of the far right Wildrose Party. “NDP feel momentum building in Calgary,” the Herald reported on April 18.

Jim Prentice must be wondering what happened to the Progressive Conservative party’s iron grip on Alberta politics. Sometimes compared to visionary Premier Peter Lougheed, Prentice was the only federal Harperite to vote in favour of same-sex marriage. He was elected federally three times, in 2004, 2008 and 2010, with Harper as leader and held three different Cabinet posts, serving consecutively as minister of Indian Affairs, Industry, and the Environment. Then he stepped down, and returned to private life for four years, until he ran for and won the provincial leadership in 2014.

True, he inherited a party in disarray after the Conservatives unceremoniously dumped Alison Redford — and a one-resource economy in disarray, after the price of oil plummeted. This spring, he had to postpone his proposed budget a month to see which way the oil prices were blowing. Prentice did score a major coup when he recruited Wildrose leader Danielle Smith and eight of her Wildrose MLAs, getting them to cross the floor just before Christmas. That should have ended the Wildrose threat — but it didn’t. Instead, under new leader Brian Jean, Wildrose’s five remaining MLAs and 81 candidates are attracting nearly a third of decided voters — 31 per cent.

Read Penney Kome’s full column, Alberta poised to turn NDP orange as Tory grip on power withers, on Rabble.ca.  

Copyright Penney Kome 2015

Penney Kome is an author and journalist based in Calgary.

 

 

 

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Today’s election could change Greece — and Europe

Some 100,000 anti-austerity protesters demonstrate in front of the Greek parliament in 2011. Photo by Kotsolis via Wikipedia, Creatiive Commons

Some 100,000 anti-austerity protesters demonstrate in front of the Greek parliament in 2011. Photo by Kotsolis via Wikipedia, Creatiive Commons

For years the world has watched Greece, the cradle of democracy, implode in protests and economic decline. Indebted Greece has long been ill-served by its political and business leaders, and lately beholden to creditors bent on austerity. And today when the Greek people go to the polls in a general election —  if most pundits are right — not only Greece will change, but the ripples will be felt throughout Europe and globally.

Excerpt of an analysis by academic Theo Papadopoulos:

Syriza is poised to win by a large margin and this victory will end four decades of two-party rule in Greece.

Since 2010 – and as a result of austerity measures – the country has seen its GDP shrink by nearly a quarter, its unemployment reach a third of the labour force and nearly half of its population fall below the poverty line.

With the slogan “hope is coming” Syriza, a party that prior to 2012 polled around 4.5% of the vote, seems to have achieved the impossible: creating a broad coalition that, at least rhetorically, rejects the TINA argument (There Is No Alternative) that previous Greek administrations have accepted. In its place, Syriza advocates a post-austerity vision, both for Greece and Europe, with re-structuring of sovereign debt at its centre.

How significant is this victory for Europe and the rest of the world? Comments range from grave concerns about the impact on the euro and the global economy to jubilant support for the renewal of the European left. For sure, Syriza is at the centre of political attention in Europe.  Click here to continue reading  Why the Greek election matters.

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Help sustain independent, non-partisan and professional journalism by buying a $1 day pass or subscription to Facts and Opinions. An online journal of first-rate reporting and analysis, without borders, F&O is employee-owned, does not carry advertising, and is funded entirely by readers. Click here to purchase a $1 day pass or subscription, from $2.95/month to $19.95/year. Receive free blog emails via the form on FRONTLINES. Thank you for your patronage. Please tell others about us.

 

 
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New Liberal leader in Newfoundland

BLOG-LIBERAL-Dwight-Ball__GSL6539

ST. JOHN’S, Newfoundland – The Newfoundland and Labrador Liberal Party elected Dwight Ball as their new leader following an election designed to make it easier for more people to participate. Ball had been interim leader since Yvonne Jones quit to run and win in a federal by-election last year. The sitting member of the house of assembly, from rural Newfoundland, fought off four other candidates, two sitting MHAs, also from rural Newfoundland, and two high-profile business persons from St. John’s.

In a broad reaching attempt to open up the party, attract new members and extend the democratic process, the party opened the Nov. 17 leadership election to the public allowing people to sign up and vote online, over the phone or at the convention in the provincial capital.  Considering the rise in Liberal popularity, it also meant the public had the opportunity to possibly vote for the next premier of the province directly.

The Liberals signed up 38,006 new party supporters during the five-month leadership race, and more than 23,000 of those cast a ballot. Party president Judy Morrow said the next two years are all about turning that list into a province-wide organization going into the next election. This Liberal race also featured a preferential ballot with each eligible voter ranking their choices, from first to fifth.

The party was nearly wiped out when millionaire businessman and lawyer Danny Williams became premier under the Progressive Conservatives in 2004, and at one point nearly lost official opposition status to the New Democratic Party, which has enjoyed major growth in the urban ridings in St. John’s. Since the confederation debates of 1948-49 the political divides in the province have been traditionally rural Liberal vs urban Conservative with the Liberals being the party that brought Newfoundland into the Canadian confederation and St. John’s conservatives in the merchant and clergy classes, opposing it. Other than this historical footnote and a few oddities along the way, there is very little difference, ideologically, between the provincial parties.

 The performance of Williams’ successor, Kathy Dunderdale, has been underwhelming since she took over the premiers’ seat following Williams surprise resignation in 2010. Her polling numbers have led her to the dubious position of the least-popular provincial premier in Canada. This, and her government’s lackluster performance and general disorganization, has meant a resurgence of support for the Liberal party again and set the stage for the next provincial election in 2015. Until a recent attempted palace coup inside the New Democratic Party, that saw two of its five caucus members depart to sit as independents, the NDP stood a good chance of making significant gains in the Newfoundland and Labrador House of Assembly.

With possible leadership changes in the NDP and PC parties in the coming year the stage is almost set for the next election in Canada’s most eastern province.

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