Friday, 29 July 2016

Paul Lane Wants Accountability for Nalcor

Paul Lane Wants Accountability for Nalcor

By: Ryan Young

In the spirit of openness and accountability, Independent MHA Paul Lane is calling for the Auditor General to complete a full investigation into Nalcor. According to Lane, the people of the province have lost faith in their crown energy corporation and it will take nothing short of total disclosure to start earning it back.

In addition to calling for a full investigation into all of Nalcor’s activities, Lane is also looking for an investigation into all former board members to ensure that no conflicts-of-interest occurred during their tenure. That might be a tall order to expect the government to fill, since Finance Minister Cathy Bennett was chair of the Nalcor board in 2012 when the project was sanctioned. Paul Lane believes that a full investigation, including accountability, is the only way to restore the people’s faith in Nalcor.

Lane is also asking questions about why large bonuses were paid out to Nalcor executives despite the findings of the Liberty Report that concluded that the infamous DarkNL blackouts in 2014 were a direct result of negligence by Nalcor.

With all of the controversy surrounding the Ed Martin departure, the government had a great opportunity to open things up at Nalcor and regain some public trust. We all know how that went. Then the former chair of the board, Ken Marshall, started talking about gathering ammo against the government. If Dwight Ball had any cajones, he would have called in Terry Paddon right there and then, calling Marshall on his bluff and putting the actions of the board under the microscope. But as we all know, that didn’t happen and the premier has found himself mired in controversy and scandal. That moment was another perfect opportunity to seize back the power and to shift the public outrage back where it belongs, Nalcor. Instead Ball has decided to let the entire board and the CEO walk away with absolutely no accountability for their actions. Even worse for the government, he has allowed this new government to be dragged down into a boondoggle that they didn’t even create.

But why should we open up Nalcor to such scrutiny? Some would argue that what’s done is done and it is best to leave the past behind and look ahead. Generally, I agree with such sentiments, but in the wake of nearly $6 Billion in cost overruns, this blogger thinks it might be a prudent time to start looking at how we got here. When it became public that former CEO, Ed Martin, had lied about fixed-term contacts at Muskrat Falls, alarm bells should have been ringing and the premier’s office should have been taking a much closer look at the actions of the Nalcor brass. What else were we lied to about, and how much is it going to cost us?

Bringing in the Auditor General is not only a good move, it is the only move that this government has left to regain any credibility in the eyes of the people. The cloak and dagger politics of Muskrat Falls have reached a tipping point and the people want to know the truth. Sooner or later that truth will come out. Wouldn’t it be nice if it would come from the government themselves…

If you would like a hard copy of Paul Lane’s petition, please email

Thursday, 21 July 2016

The Dornan File

The Dornan File

By: Ryan Young

It seems like our poor government just can’t get anything right. That is the public perception again this week after Cathy Bennett announced that the services of communications consultant Cathy Dornan will no longer be retained. This comes as a bit of a surprise since Premier Ball has continually defended the hiring of external consultants for labour negotiations on the merit that it is something that has been done before.

It was back in April that the government announced that it was retaining the services of law firm Mcinnes Cooper to assist with labour negotiations, at a rate of $350 per hour. Dornan, an independent communications and crisis management consultant, was hired in turn by Mcinnes Cooper to provide strategic communications advice for those negotiations. There were a few eye rolls, but surprisingly very little scrutiny of Dornan’s Liberal ties. Dornan was Director of Communications in the premier’s office under Brian Tobin and her husband was Chief of Staff under Roger Grimes and was a key member of Cathy Bennett’s bid for the Liberal leadership in 2013. If none of that strikes you as particularly odd, it is worth noting that the Liberal Party threw Robert Dornan under the bus over comments made to Fred Hutton of VOCM regarding scheduling of debates during the election campaign last fall. In some circles on social media it has been suggested that the Dornan’s are still very close with the Liberals and the labor negotiations were a great place for the party to start making amends for their earlier actions against Mr. Dornan. Such allegations are, of course, nothing but wild speculation from an angry public at large, but you have to admit that the Liberals have been great at adding fuel to that particular fire.

The government maintained that the external expertise was needed, but after negotiating deadlines with the largest unions were missed, and there was apparently no communication happening between the government and the unions, people began to ask questions about the validity of the work being done. Crony consultants hired on the public dime are nothing new in this province, but when you consider that we paid Dornan over $20,000 last month for her services and the total bill to Mcinnes Cooper is now over $100,000, we have to wonder where do we draw the line?

In a statement issued to the press on Wednesday, Finance Minister Cathy Bennett said that the government has advised Mcinnes Cooper that external communications resources would no longer be required and that they will now be handling all of their communications in-house. NAPE President Jerry Earle insists that with over 40 lawyers already on the government payroll, there is no need for the hiring of any external legal staff to assist with negotiations. According to Earle, over $100,000 of public money has been spent on these external consultants and no negotiations or communications have taken place. Just where has all that money gone?

For a government that is desperately trying to save face and repair its image, you have to wonder who is making these key decisions. Getting cozy with Mcinnes Cooper may seem like an innocent relationship to the government, but when you factor in John Greene’s recent departure from the firm to head up the Nalcor board, in addition to the non-existent labor negotiations and Dornan’s obvious political ties, the whole thing just reeks of patronage and cronyism, the very things that the Liberals campaigned on reforming just last fall. I have no doubt that Mcinnes Cooper is a credible and honorable firm that does good work, but in politics image is everything and this story just perpetuates the negative, business-as-usual image that this government has created for itself in a very short time.

Sadly for Ball and Bennett, while letting Dornan go was the right move, the government again left themselves with no way to look good in the public eye. If they had kept Dornan on, despite the lack of anything to show for her billing charges, people would be angry. Now by letting her go, the government is admitting that they made another mistake, adding to the perception that they are not capable of making sound financial decisions. This government desperately needs someone to make some good choices and then effectively communicate it to the public. The PC’s were notoriously bad communicators, and this new government has retained all of the same staff that were responsible for the lack of credible dialogue between government and the public during their tenure. In the face of the scope of the communications breakdowns that we have witnessed since the Liberal’s came to power, it is baffling to why there has not been a major shakeup in communications at the top.

To anyone who has watched Seinfeld, you may find yourself wondering if Dornan was hired to work on the Penske File. $20,000 for missing deadlines and failing to communicate seems like a pretty sweet payday, even by government standards. Unfortunately, the people of this province are the ones again left wondering if we will ever have a government that truly works in the best interest of our people instead of their people.

Monday, 4 July 2016

Out-Migration 2.0

Out-Migration 2.0

By: Ryan Young

It was just over a year ago that the former PC government announced their strategy to tackle negative population growth in this province. The plan: Live Here, Work Here, Belong Here, certainly lacked measurable goals, which was the major flaw of most PC policy, but it did mean that the government was at least acknowledging that the issue of population growth needed to be addressed.

To get a real accurate look at our population change, we need to go back to the last glory days of rural Newfoundland. In 1992, Newfoundland reached its peak population of 580 000. That same year saw the cod moratorium and the beginning of the largest out-migration in our history. Around the bay, no matter how bad things were, you could always fish. When that birthright was taken away in 1992, the exodus began. Over the next 15 years, the population had dropped by more than 70 000 people to just 509 000 in 2007. Many of the ones who left the province for greener pastures were the young families with children.

Although the population of Newfoundland and Labrador actually grew by 19 000 people between 2008 and 2013, the overall downward trend has led the Conference Board of Canada to predict that our population will decrease by more than 45 000 people, to around 485 000 by 2035. Perhaps even more disturbing is that by 2035, more than 30% of the total population will be made up of seniors. The cumulative effect of all of those young families leaving the province is catching up with us, and we are not ready for this major demographic shift.

Last week it was announced that the provincial population had dropped by 2500 people in 2015. With the measures contained in Budget 2016 and the total abandonment of the population growth strategy, we can expect that the numbers for 2016 will be much larger than 2500. Many have already left in search of better opportunities, and with little opportunity for new, debt-laden graduates, there is not much to entice our young families to stay and contribute to a real stronger tomorrow.

If you are asking yourself why all of this is important to you, I’ll put it in the simple terms that anyone can understand. If our population continues to drop, that means a smaller tax base for the government to collect from. That means that in order to maintain revenue levels, governments will have to continue to raise taxes to provide services. Simply put, it will cost you more money if we don’t find a way to fix the problem. On top of the tax base, an aging population also means increased healthcare costs, which again will have to be paid for by the limited number of tax payers left in the province. It is a dangerous combination, and our government seems quite content to leave the problem for future generations to figure out.

The measures contained in Budget 2016 were short sighted for a number of reasons, but maybe most important of all is the effect that it will have on our population. The Conference Board predictions were based on natural trends and did not take into account the extra financial burdens that would contribute to a new wave of out-migration. With the province in a recession and no relief in sight, it is reasonable to assume that the rate of depopulation will continue to increase. A perfect storm is gathering that has the potential to leave our province in financial ruin, without enough capital to provide adequate services to our aging population.

So how do we turn the trend around? There is no quick fix or magic solution. It will take a combination of new measures and policy shifts that will need to be implemented with long-term, measurable, goals. It will take time, but if we act now we can attempt to reverse the trend and start to grow our population.

Immigration is certainly part of the solution, but I am skeptical of how much long-term growth we can realistically expect from attracting new residents to the province. The biggest problem is that Newfoundland and Labrador does not have any large ethnic communities. While some immigrants come and build a new life here, the vast majority end up moving on to larger centers such as Montreal, Toronto, and Vancouver where there are more social and economic opportunities, and often large communities from their native homes, established by previous immigrants. It is unlikely that this trend will change anytime soon, and for that reason, immigration can only act as a partial solution to the population problem.

In order to grow our population, the most important thing we need to do is provide a stable economy and better support for our families and young people. We need to invest in real economic diversification that includes investing in Newfoundlander's. We need to provide better support for small business and to think outside the box to find solutions to renewing our rural economy. We are blessed with an abundance of talent and ingenuity in this province and we need to find ways to tap into that spirit through targeted investments in order to create a stable economy that will encourage our young leaders to stay at home and raise a family.

While we rebuild our economy, we must also do better in supporting our young families. Increased child care supports and subsidies are needed to ensure greater workplace participation, especially by women. We must also work with our federal government to develop better parental leave options that encourage families to have more children. In my work with the provincial child care coalition, one reoccurring theme has been that people want to have more children, but it is just too expensive. When you consider that a family with an infant and a toddler in St. John’s will pay around $25 000 a year for child care, it is easy to see why they don’t consider having a third child. In rural areas of the province, the problem is often lack of any child care supports at all. ¾ of all children in Newfoundland and Labrador have no access to registered child care. If we really want to encourage our young families to stay here and have more children, we need to support them.

Keeping our young graduates in the province is another major issue that needs to be addressed if we are going to grow our population. “Brain Drain” has been an ongoing issue for this province for decades. Many of our best and brightest minds leave the province in search of opportunities that are not available to them here. The first thing we need to do is facilitate more of our young people to receive a post-secondary education. Cancelling tuition grants was another very short-sighted decision by this government. It will lead to lower enrollment numbers and less qualified people in our workforce. We need to encourage our youth to be educated and available for future growth opportunities. In order to keep our youth here we must also continue to invest in research and development and to support our graduates to become entrepreneurs and the new leaders of our economy.

We can do it. We can turn it around. All we need is someone with the political will to realize how big the problem is, and how important it is that we tackle it head on. There are many solutions that we could explore to grow our population but unfortunately none of them can be found in Budget 2016. Unless we want to see another mass out-migration like1992, we need to start working together to build a Newfoundland and Labrador that can support its own people. We have everything we need, except the will to change.