Thursday, 30 June 2016

Libraries Flip Flop: Is it a Win or a Stay of Execution?

Libraries Flip Flop: Is it a Win or a Stay of Execution?

By: Ryan Young 
Education and Early Childhood Development Minister Dale Kirby announced today that he has asked the libraries board to “suspend" its decision to implement a regional library model while a complete organizational and service review of libraries is conducted.” Kirby told reporters that the decision was based on heavy pressure from the public.

At first, I read the headline and jumped for joy at this unexpected victory for the people of Newfoundland and Labrador. But then I looked a little closer at the news release to see what this announcement really means. The first clue is the word “suspend.” This indicates that the regional library model is not dead, it has just been postponed until a review of the libraries system is completed. Such a review is what you would have expected a competent Minister and a competent government to do before they went about slashing and burning budget lines with reckless abandon, but as we all know competence is not this governments strong suit.

As outlined in the official news release: A steering committee will be formed including members from the Provincial Government and Provincial Information and Library Resources Board. The review will include:

  • Provincial stakeholder consultations;
  • Analysis of the current service delivery landscape including locations, types of services offered, usage and service delivery methods;
  • Review of the governance structure;
  • Review of library service standards including operating hours, programs and types of services offered; and
  • Research of trends and leading practices from other jurisdictions.

The review will also consider broader governmental objectives that focus on the use of innovation, modernized service delivery and alternative use of buildings and service locations.
During his statement today Kirby said that the review will be done by Ernst & Young and will be completed in mid-winter. A long-term decision on libraries will be made at that time.
So in short, they will be looking at all of the things that they should be looking at before considering changes to the way library services are delivered. Why wasn’t this done before the cuts to the library board were made in the first place? As outlined in my recent video, Rogues & Liars: Episode 1, Dale Kirby was a very vocal supporter of public libraries while in opposition and his sudden change of heart came as quite a surprise to many of his long-time supporters. The desire to toe the party line without having any real evidence to present is exactly the sort of thing we have heard Mr. Kirby speaking out against before he was put in a position to change things. Now the non-stop onslaught of phone calls and messages that he has received regarding the library cuts have forced his hand in trying to deflect some if the criticism away from himself.
Make no mistake, many of the library closures will still happen. This is just a tactic to buy some time and take the pressure off while they gather the evidence that the should have gathered before the decision to cut library funding was made in the first place. The whole point of evidence-based decision making is…well…evidence. The problem is that decision makers have a tendency to bend the evidence to fit their own narrative.
Some libraries may survive this review, but it will depend on how determined the communities are to keep them. This announcement is not a victory, but it is encouragement to keep up the pressure and demand that more of these short-sighted decisions are reversed. Our words and actions do matter. Don't let this announcement fool you, the fight to save our libraries has only just begun.

Official Government News Release:

Thursday, 16 June 2016

The Liberal Astronauts

The Liberal Astronauts

By: Ryan Young

The irony is not lost on this blogger that the Liberal government that was handed power solely on the basis that they were not the PC’s, has decided to govern exactly like the PC’s. Political scandal, increased spending, and pure arrogance and disdain for the people are just a few of the enduring traits that Dwight Ball’s government has kept since taking over from Paul Davis and the Tories last November. Each day we get a new example of just how out of touch our politicians are. The last few days have been even more dysfunctional than usual.

Finance Minister Cathy Bennett stated that the recent budget will not have a noticeable impact on the economic recession that the province now finds itself in. I’m not sure what world the Finance Minister is living in, but every economist that I have heard from agrees that this budget will indeed have a detrimental effect on economic growth in this province, even as oil begins to rebound. Maybe Minister Bennett does not understand what drives the economy in this province. As much as we depend on our oil revenue, the real heart of our economy is our small business. It is consumers spending money that stimulates economies and creates jobs. Even someone as self involved as Bennett should know that. With the harsh measures in the 2016 budget, people in this province will simply have much less money to spend. For the Minister of Finance to say that a budget that will take $3000 or more out of peoples pockets each year will not be a contributing factor to a prolonged recession, means she is either pandering or really, really bad at her job. Yes, it can be both.

Then there was the revelation by Peter Whittle, President of the Federation of School Councils, that Education Minister Dale Kirby is making funding decisions based on whether or not an organization falls in line with the Liberal program. During a meeting this week, the minister was quick to directly correlate Mr. Whittle’s speaking out publicly against government decisions, with continued funding for the organization he represents. Mr. Whittle, quite honorably walked out of that meeting in protest to the bullying tactics of the minister. Inside sources tell me that “the little king” is not well liked in his department. His temper tantrums and lack of decorum are becoming well known on the hill. He has also shut the door to other organizations and continues to ignore anyone who dares to speak out against him in public. This kind of behavior in a minister has not been seen since the Joey years. The worst part is that the only defense he seems to have for any of his decisions is that the PC’s are bad. I’m pretty sure that people knew that when they voted Liberal, but in the absence of a real plan for a stronger tomorrow for our children, Minister Kirby has to resort to these bully tactics to deflect from the continued incompetence displayed by him and his department.

Continuing with our theme, Environment Minister Perry Trimper announced this week that the government will make no changes to Nalcor’s proposed methods of flooding for the Muskrat Falls project. Despite public opinion siding with the people of Labrador and their science backed by Harvard University, Trimper has determined that methylmercury poisoning concerns are not valid enough to warrant real action. Instead the government has offered to “monitor” the methylmercury levels, and to compensate the local people for loss of use of land or food that may occur due to increased toxicity levels. Understandably, the people of Labrador are furious with this decision and feel betrayed by a minister who had promised accountability for the residents who live downstream from Muskrat Falls. Are a few compensation dollars worth the loss of land and culture of the residents of Labrador? The message that this government is sending to Labrador is very clear. We don’t care about you.

And where is the premier in all of this? “Stubborn as they come.” Yup, that’s ole Dwight alright. Too stubborn to realize how mad people really are in this province.  I have met Dwight Ball in person. He is a nice man, very polite and well mannered. But like the rest of the province, he lied to me when he said he cared about our children’s future. You see Dwight Ball might have come from nothing, but he also grew up in a time when he could get an education without being buried in tens of thousands of dollars in debt. Dwight caught a few lucky breaks in the business world early on and built himself an empire. Dwight Ball doesn’t need his premier’s salary anymore than Danny Williams did. Do I begrudge the premier of his business success? Of course not, but the point I am trying to make is that Dwight Ball has no idea what it is really like to live as a regular person in this province. His idea of tough choices is much different than the realities that most of us face in our daily lives. He can afford to be smug and to dance around questions, because at the end of the day it is just a power game for him and the business Liberals.

I could go on and on. Jerry Dean, Al Hawkins, Colin Holloway, Eddy Joyce, pick a Liberal member and we can find an example of the arrogance that has been the continuing mark of the ruling class in this province for 67 years. It becomes more painfully obvious with each passing day that our government is utterly and completely out of touch and without the talent pool needed to think outside of the box to come up with innovative solutions to our many problems. We need real leadership and instead we are getting bad accounting and pathological lies. It’s scary to think where we might end up if Dwight is stubborn enough to stick around for the full 4 years. Someone needs to bring our Liberal astronauts back down to earth.

Monday, 13 June 2016

What's Next for the NDP?

What’s Next for the NDP?

By: Ryan Young
The NDP held their annual convention this past weekend in St. John’s, and voted 91.6% to keep Earle McCurdy on as leader. This is not surprising as there is really nobody waiting in the wings to take over the leadership of the party. Despite placing 3rd in St. John’s West in the election and not having a seat in the house, Earle has been a fairly effective leader. His glib comments always make a direct point and he is never shy to speak his mind. The problem with Earle is not his leadership, it is his baggage. In rural Newfoundland and Labrador, McCurdy will always be known as the FFAW traitor. It doesn’t matter if you think this is true, what matters is that rural voters think it is true. The FFAW has always had a tenacious relationship with rural areas of the province and that identification has followed Earle to the NDP. I had the pleasure of driving 3500km around the island last summer, and I took the time to talk politics in every little town I visited. The answer to the NDP question was always the same. People might be willing to vote for the party but not with Earle as leader.

So how do they tackle the problem of reaching out to rural voters? If Earle can’t lead the party out of the rural wilderness, then who can? After giving it a bit of thought I have come to the conclusion that in order to gain support in rural, they will need to attract a quality rural leader. Ideally it would be someone a little younger than our regular leaders, and someone that is not tainted by politics already. It will be a tall order to fill, but if they can find that person they just might have a chance at building credibility among rural voters.

Another stigma the party faces is its image as a labour party. I know many people are against the unions. I a not one of them, but I do understand why some people feel the way they do. Part of it is our jealous nature but part of it is also that people feel that the unions have helped to create the mess we are in. Again, I disagree. While the amount we spend on public service salaries and benefits is staggering to say the least, the real bloat in the public sector comes from the appointed bureaucrats that often earn salaries much larger than our elected officials. These appointed managers are accountable to no one, and they are the real waste that we need to address in our public service sector. Our mess was not made by library workers or teachers or nurses, but you better believe that they will be the ones to take the fall when our government makes cuts to public sector spending. Our public sector unions represent many of the most important workers in our province and they need to be supported. Certainly the unions have a role to play in helping to fix the mess, but it is not fair to lay the blame at their feet for our fiscal situation.

One of the most important things that came out of the convention this weekend was a changing of the guard in the party executive. Lawyer and Mental Health Advocate Mark Gruchy was elected as president of the party and MUN economist Allison Coffin became vice president. Having an economist on the executive can only be good for the NDP, and may go a long way to gaining credibility for their future fiscal policies.

Many NDP supporters should be excited to see Mr. Gruchy take over as president of the party. Mark does not pull any punches and he has been very vocal in saying that the party needs to make some big changes in the way they organize if the are ever going to have a real shot at governing. I am not totally convinced that the party will be able to gain enough credibility to be a viable option in 2019, (or sooner) but with Mark Gruchy’s determination and leadership they at least have a chance. It will be interesting to see what the NDP looks like when Gruchy and Coffin have a chance to put their fingerprints on party policy. Will it be enough to turn the tide and get elected? Certainly it will be an uphill battle, but I give them more of a chance today than I did on Friday.

Tuesday, 7 June 2016



By: Ryan Young

When Al Hawkins, Minister for Transportation and Works, stood up in the House of Assembly during question period and admitted the department’s role in the removal of posters that were plastered along Prince Phillip Parkway in St. John’s calling for Dwight Ball to resign, our government officially admitted that democracy holds no place in their version of Newfoundland and Labrador.

Opposition Leader Paul Davis asked if the removal of the posters had been ordered by government and we were told by Minister Hawkins that it was an “operational decision” made within the department. An “operational decision” to pay employees to go out at three in the morning and remove posters that were placed there by protestors exercising their democratic right over the weekend. Hawkins was quick to throw this mysterious official under a white van by saying that if the order had come across his desk the outcome might have been different. It was later reported that the department had paid a private contractor $200 to remove the posters in the middle of the night. Bizarre does not even begin to explain this story.

Premier Ball denied any involvement from his office, but with his track record with the truth lately, we can take that denial with a grain of salt. According to the official government story we are supposed to believe that some Dwight Ball admirer at the Department of Transportation & Works ordered the use of taxpayer money to send contractors out in the middle of the night to take the posters down. Apparently this official never bothered to check with either the minister’s office or the premier’s office before making this “operational decision.” They acted on what Minister Hawkins tried to pass off as standard procedure. Just to be clear, we heard in the House of Assembly that it is standard procedure to send out an unmarked white van at three in the morning to remove posters that just happen to call for the resignation of the premier. Have we got that clear? Yeah okay…

So back here in the real world that exists outside of the egos that fill the House of Assembly, it has become painfully clear that this is just another half assed effort by this government to do some damage control. For some reason, some official in government thought it would be less damaging politically to use taxpayer money in the middle of the night to tear down the posters than to just leave them up. Even people who didn’t have much of an opinion on Ball resigning are now outraged that taxpayer money could be wasted in such a trivial and petty manner. Even the $200 figure that the government threw out seems absurd. Who were these contractors they hired anyway? A couple of guys they found in a white van over by Costco? The whole thing would be funny if it did not cut to heart of the sad reality we must now face. This government does not have a sweet clue what they are doing.

The protestors have already started putting the “resign” posters back up and requests are being made from all over the province for copies. This is just another Liberal controversy that ended up as an exercise in futility. Well it won’t be exactly futile I suppose, they did manage to give the people one more example of just how incompetent they really are. With such a simple lack of foresight on matters like this how can we expect them to successfully navigate our troubled economic waters? From the time they have taken office they have gotten everything wrong. The funny/sad part is that these ministers sit at the table with their little armies of bureaucrats wondering how to make things better, seemingly not realizing that these are the same bureaucrats who ran things for the Tories for the last 12 years. The same bureaucrats that crafted the Tory policy that the Liberals habitually blame for each and every problem they now have to manage. It’s like a video of a dog chasing his tail, it’s funny at first but then it just gets sad. It seems like this crop of Liberals had no idea of how to run a government from the start, and decided to rely on the team already in place to get the job done, despite the obvious track record of that team. Sound like incompetence? Maybe you are starting to see the pattern.

It doesn’t even matter if Minister Hawkins or Premier Ball are telling the truth about their lack of involvement in #POSTERGATE at this point. There have been so many lies now that nobody believes a word that is coming out of any of their mouths. They have lost the confidence of the people and there is no miracle that Dwight Ball has up his sleeve that can get it back. Dwight’s resignation is only a matter of time. If he wanted to rally the masses to make sure, #POSTERGATE was the perfect choice. Using taxpayer money to take his smug mug off of poles is the perfect way to show us how you really feel the people’s concerns. As much as I don’t want to see another election in a year, how much more can we really take?

*Author's Note* You can get a PDF version of the RESIGN poster here:

Monday, 6 June 2016

Welcome to the 21st Century

Welcome to the 21st Century

By: Ryan Young

I couldn’t help but start off this week by writing a post about the irony that I observed in some comments made by Education and Early Childhood Development Minister Dale Kirby last week in the House of Assembly. First, Mr. Kirby rose on a point of order in regards to Mount Pearl North MHA Steve Kent’s tweets  that acknowledged members who were absent from the house during the budget vote the day before. Under parliamentary tradition a member is not allowed to question the absence of another member in the house, since that member may have many legitimate reasons for missing a sitting. In the end, the speaker ruled in Kent’s favor but ordered a review of the use of social media in the house.

Later that day the MHA’s debated full day kindergarten. Minister Kirby rose again, this time accusing the opposition PC’s of governing from the 19th century and claiming that this new slash and burn style of Liberal education reform is how things are done in the modern age. I won’t bother getting into the absurdity of Kirby’s comments. I am more interested in the fact that out of all of the stupid tweets Steve Kent has made, this is the one that got him in trouble. After all, shouldn’t the people have a right to know if a cabinet minister walks into the house directly AFTER the most important vote of her career? Why should Kent be disciplined for doing his duty as an MHA by keeping his people informed? It all raises some very interesting questions about the role of social media in politics in this province.

Aside from the debate about appropriate use of social media in the House of Assembly, we have witnessed a more direct use for technology when it comes to politics in Newfoundland and Labrador. Social media in this province has absolutely exploded since the budget speech on April 14th. People have turned to platforms like Twitter and Facebook to vent their frustrations and get their voices heard by their elected members. Government MHA’s are being bombarded daily with messages and there seems to be no end in sight. Communications workers in the premier’s office have been working overtime removing tags and documenting posts. They just can’t keep up with the sheer volume of angry messages and tweets. Before social media we had to depend on the media to fire up the people. Now that role has reversed and we see our media outlets following social media to see where the stories are. The end result has been an online political maelstrom that has been directly sucking the lifeblood right out of our out of touch government.

It’s not hard to tell that it is working on them. Every member on the government side is beginning to look worn and haggard after nearly two months of solid assault. They have all become very quiet on their own social media accounts, knowing that each comment will only stir another round of backlash. It is amazing the effect a few keystrokes can have when the message is being repeated over and over again. Insiders tell me that the liberals still think they can ride this out and that people will forget as they always do. Well thanks to social media they no longer have that luxury. People are not going to back down and they are not going to go away. That next angry comment or demand for accountability is only a keystroke away. If anything the action is just getting started. Welcome to the 21st century. 

Friday, 3 June 2016

Three Cheers for the Grassroots

Three Cheers for the Grassroots

By: Ryan Young

Yesterday we marked the seven week anniversary of arguably the worst budget in provincial history. A small but boisterous crowd turned out to a march and rally at Confederation Building, organized by the grassroots group, Coordinated Approach, to “Scrap the Gas Tax.” It is no surprise that the numbers were small as there is a bit of a feeling of a lull in the air. People are getting rallied out and are ready to turn their attention to summer. Over the last seven weeks we have witnessed dozens of protests and rallies all across the province, with no less than 5 major events at Confederation Building. The people have been eager to bring the anger and disappointment straight to the doorstep of those who created it. They have taken to social media in a way that has never been seen before in this province, and the open line shows have been flooded with pissed off citizens who want better from the crowd up on the hill.

It has been a wild ride for sure. I remember hearing more than one commentator expressing the opinion that these protests would be short lived and would fizzle quickly. We can’t blame them for expecting as much. Traditionally we are a very docile and forgiving people when it comes to politics. I know from experience that mobilizing people in direct action is often a near impossible task. To expect more of the usual was only to be expected. That is probably why the media has been so quick to jump behind the protests when it became apparent that the people were not going away.  That too was a pleasant surprise, as too often they give our elected officials a free pass. It has been nice to see some hard-hitting journalism gracing our news pages again.

Certainly the unions did a good job of mobilizing and being outspoken. I know some will criticize the unions and their place in our current fiscal situation. This blogger himself has commented on more than one occasion about the need for reform in our public sector. But the simple fact that we need to remember is that the union members that are showing up at the marches and rallies across the province are hard-working rank and file members that will be affected by this budget as much as anybody else. They deserve a lot of credit for organizing and uniting around the cause.

The real stars of the show, however, were the people. It was the average Newfoundlander’s that marched in the street, bombarded their MHA’s with emails and phone calls, and were active on social media to spread the information around that the public needed and wanted to know. They deserve the real credit for the major shift in political thinking that has occurred over the past seven weeks.  It was because of their actions that we saw Paul Lane soul search himself right out of the governing party because he heard the call of the people. It was their actions that forced the governments hand at scrapping most of the levy. And it was the grassroots action of the people that has managed to awaken the beast in so many people that were previously in a deep slumber when it came to the state of politics in this province. This might be the most important victory of all as it may finally open the door for a real discussion about change in our political system.

So where so we go from here? Several groups and movements, from direct action groups to those aspiring for new political parties, have been popping up almost daily. It has become apparent that Newfoundland and Labrador is ready to finally start a real conversation about change. It will be up to the grassroots to keep that conversation going and to steer it in a meaningful direction. I have heard rumors about a new grassroots group that is being formed with plans to visit every nook and cranny in the province to develop a true platform of the people. I think this is exactly the type of step we need to take to rebuild this province that we all love so much. People are no longer willing to sit idly by and watch our government sell us out. They are ready for action and they need a direction. The grassroots will continue to provide that direction and to give the people the voice that they have never had before. It turns out many people like having a voice in democracy! If I was an MHA that wasn't Paul Lane, I would enjoy my summer because more pain is coming in the fall and not just on the budget sheet.  The movement of the people has only just begun. Consider yourselves warned.