Tuesday, 27 September 2016

Open Letter to Premier Ball - It's Time for a Change in Education

Open Letter to Premier Ball - It's Time for a Change in Education

By: Ryan Young


September 27, 2016

Dear Premier Ball,

There are many issues that I could be writing you on today. It is no secret that the people of this province are unhappy with many of the decisions that your government has made since last November. People are suffering under your “tough choices,” and there has been a total breakdown in communication between government and the people of this province. This has resulted in many of us losing faith in your ability to successfully manage our province.

Of the many issues we are facing, Education has been the one getting the most attention as of late. Schools being closed by an un-elected school board, the rush to implement full day kindergarten, shared classrooms, overcrowding, bussing issues, and child care are just a few of the issues that people are concerned about. There has been an up-welling of public outrage at not only the cuts to our children’s education, but at the continued arrogance and disdain shown by Minister Dale Kirby towards legitimate concerns.

We all understand that the province is in a tough spot, but the old adage that you can’t cut your way into prosperity is a true one, especially when we are talking about our children’s safety and education. By taking money from our children to fund projects like Muskrat Falls we are setting ourselves up for failure. Only by investing in our children and our families can we expect to build a real “stronger tomorrow” for our province.

Less than a year into his tenure as minister, Mr. Kirby has already alienated the NLTA, the Federation of School Councils, and the Child Care Coalition of NL, among other groups, as well thousands of parents across the province who are unsatisfied with the job he is doing as minister, and with his utter disregard for their concerns. He has repeatedly dismissed legitimate concerns as “foolish,” and has refused to engage in meaningful discussions with education stakeholders. He has been accused by leaders of stakeholder groups of being dishonest and spreading falsehoods. And maybe worst of all, the arrogant and dismissive nature in which he has been dealing with criticism has been very unprofessional and has left the public feeling that Minister Kirby is completely out of touch with the people of this province.

We are less than a month into the school year, and already we have heard stories of not enough furniture in classrooms, and teachers have been asked to scrounge for supplies. Parents won a court decision to keep their school open and were hopeful that an elected school board would decide their future, but they were denied that right. We have heard numerous complaints about safety concerns regarding our bussing system, and just last week we had the majority of children at Riverside Elementary kept home in protest to a dangerously overcrowded school. These are serious concerns that deserve to be dealt with in a timely and effective manner. We are talking about the safety of our children. That should trump any budget concerns we have. Our children are worth the expense. At the very least the minister should be having open discussions about these issues instead of calling us all foolish and refusing to talk with stakeholders.

This government campaigned on a platform of openness and transparency. It was the very first part of the Liberal 5-point plan that outlined your plan for the next four years. Were these just buzzwords used to get elected? Since you have taken office, your government has been anything but open and transparent. I myself have had to file ATIPPA requests for simple budget documents and have been ignored by both Minister Kirby as member of the coalition, and as MHA Dale Kirby, who represents my district of Mount Scio. Does my being vocal mean that I don’t deserve government assistance when dealing with issues? Does it mean that the stakeholders of the education and early learning system in this province have their concerns ignored? Apparently it does. At first I thought it was just me, but as we now know, many others are saying the same thing. Minister Kirby’s response has been to either ignore or dismiss each and every concern that has been brought forward by the people of the province.

Based on Minister Kirby’s performance thus far, I call upon you, Premier Ball, to step in and take necessary action to restore the faith of the people in Newfoundland and Labrador in the management of our education system. If Minister Kirby is unwilling or unable to address the concerns of the people, then he needs to be replaced with someone who will. We can’t afford to waste time playing with word games and clashing personalities. The children of this province deserve better and the people need to know that our education system is moving in the right direction.

Minister Kirby has had ample opportunity to put ego aside and begin engaging in meaningful conversation with education stakeholders to begin tackling the major issues we are facing. The issues are many, and can only be resolved when all stakeholders have a seat at the table. In the spirit of openness and transparency and the commitment that your government made to improve education for children in this province, it is time for a change in the education portfolio. If you wish to restore the faith of the people in your leadership, you must be willing to listen to the concerns of the people and prove to us that you are willing to act in the best interest of our province. We will accept nothing less.


Ryan Young

Saturday, 24 September 2016

Taking the Fight to the Hill

Taking the Fight to the Hill

By: Ryan Young

It was suggested to me this week that I was somehow dishonest or not forthcoming to the public that I was now an “active political partisan.” While I must admit that I found the idea of me being a partisan of any sort extremely humorous, I figured it would be best to put my thoughts about the issue here on the Rogue Bayman where anyone can see them. I certainly have nothing to hide and I plan to continue to have an active voice in support of this great province and its people. I have made this information public knowledge several times, on my blog profile, on social media, and in the community. I was a little surprised to see an issue made of it at all, but in the spirit of openness and transparency, let’s put the whole issue to rest.

Over the summer, I accepted a part-time position as a Political Assistant to the Independent Member of the House of Assembly from Mount Pearl – Southlands, Paul Lane. As a part-time employee, I don’t make a giant salary, I don’t have a fancy expense account, and I wont be drawing a fat pension. I am, however, very excited to be working with a man that is willing to address the serious issues facing our province right now and who is demanding better from all of our elected officials. When I applied for the position with Mr. Lane, I felt that my education and experience were more than adequate for the job and it certainly didn’t hurt that I am very active and knowledgeable about the current political scene in this province. I felt like I was a good fit for the job and Mr. Lane felt the same way and offered me the position. The rest as they say, is history.

Mr. Lane has been echoing many of the sentiments that I have been speaking out about for the past few years such as education, democratic and electoral reform, injured workers, and accountability for Nalcor, just to name a few. My decision to support Mr. Lane comes from my personal belief that he is a man in the right place at the right time to be saying the things that need to be said, and he has been successful in getting people to take notice of the issues. I take pride in the fact that I will be able to play a small role in ensuring that these important issues continue to be brought to the public’s attention and I will do my very best to make sure these issues do not go away. While I will maintain a separation in my own views, both as Ryan Young and the Rogue Bayman, it is very likely that the message will very often be similar. Whether or not that makes me a partisan, I will leave for my readers to decide.

The Independent office means just that. It is independent and holds no affiliation to any party. There is no party line to toe on the issues. There are no outside lobby groups or political interests that have to be considered. Basically, it is an office that is independent from everything that is currently wrong with the way we do government in this province. Frankly, I think it is the only office that I would be able to work in, as real change on real issues is much more important to me than political ambitions or money. Not that any other office would touch me with a ten-foot pole. The party system is not usually fond of the “wild-card” types that are not afraid to tell the truth and get their hands dirty digging into the issues. While working for Mr. Lane was certainly not part of my plan, I could not pass up the opportunity to learn how things really work on the inside and to assist him in bringing the message to the people.

So there it is for the world to see. I will continue my quest for a better future for my children and yours, and I will not be silent on the issues. If anyone feels that my position within the Independent Office makes me a partisan and nullifies my views and opinions, then that is certainly their choice to make. At the end of the day I can only stand on my track record of what I have done and said, and ask that you stick around, dear reader, and let us fight this fight together.

"Only by working together and standing up to demand better for ourselves and our children, can we truly get our province to what we know it can be. Great men and women have been forced to rise up before and remove from power those who would steer us astray. We must call upon their noble spirits and rise again to the challenges of our time."

-The Rogue Bayman

Friday, 23 September 2016

Questions, Inquiries, and not Forgetting Injured Workers

Questions, Inquiries, and not Forgetting Injured Workers

By: Ryan Young

I think that I speak for most people in this province when I say that I was pleased to see the announcement today regarding the public inquiry into the death of Don Dunphy. Supreme Court Justice Leo Berry, a man with 26 years of experience on the bench, will head up the inquiry. The terms of reference were also released, stating that the purpose of the inquiry is too determine:

-The circumstances of Dunphy's death;
-The reason RNC officer Joe Smyth visited Dunphy, whether he was directed to do so, and if so, by      whom;
-What information was provided as the reason for the RNC officer's visit, as well as its reliability;
-The reason an RNC officer visited Dunphy in the RCMP's jurisdiction;
-The facts surrounding police operations on the day of Dunphy's death;
-Whether use-of-force protocols were properly followed;
-Whether Dunphy's use of social media played any part in his death.
These terms of reference should give Justice Berry a wide enough scope to fully investigate the matter, and hopefully provide some much needed answers in this ongoing tragedy. With the recent comments by retired justice David Riche circulating in the media, we have even more questions about the case and answers must be forthcoming if the Dunphy family and indeed, the whole province, are ever to have some closure in this matter.
Riche’s comments covered a number of concerning issues in the case and have raised more questions than they have answered. Many people are calling for Riche’s independent report to be released to the public but the RCMP maintains that the report will not be released prior to an inquiry. When asked about Riche’s comments, Justice Berry said that Riche was not acting under the purview of legislation, such as the Public Inquiries Act, and as such his opinions were his own. He went on to say: “I will say that I will be dealing with evidence that's presented under oath.” In other words, if Riche’s report is admitted as evidence and/or Riche is asked to testify during the inquiry, Justice Berry would consider the evidence at that time.
Credit must be given to Minister Andrew Parsons for ensuring that this inquiry be realized and for committing to give the truth to the family and the people of Newfoundland and Labrador. It is important to note that Parsons also announced that the Citizen’s Representative would be tasked with examining the history and treatment of Dunphy’s case with Workplace NL. This should be considered a key part of the inquiry process, as it is Dunphy’s ongoing issues with Workplace NL that caused him to become angry and outspoken. Like so many injured workers in this province, Dunphy felt that he was not being treated fairly and demanded better from our elected officials.
I never knew Don Dunphy, but I know plenty of people like him. People that worked hard and were unfortunate to have suffered an injury that resulted in them no longer being able to work. You don’t have to go to far to find someone in a similar situation. It is a broken system that is set up to treat each and every injured worker like a crook. The sheer number of appeals claims should be evidence enough that the system is not working in the best interest of the workers. The process is long and drawn out, with obstacles and barriers at each step along the way. For many it not only means a loss of income and quality of life, but also the loss of everything they had worked so hard for in life up to that point. Mandatory reviews are completed every few years, with Minister Eddie Joyce saying that his government is reviewing the recommendations outlined in the last review in 2013. I urge Minister Joyce and his government to pay more than lip service to this promise and to ease the burden of those who are suffering under the current system.
We really need to do better for our injured workers. Labeling them all as crooks and scam artists and greatly reducing the amount of funds available to them during such traumatic times is wrong and it needs to stop. I am very glad to see the Dunphy inquiry moving forward but I plead to our government that you remember the cause that Don Dunphy died for and do better for our injured workers. Fix the broken system that Mr. Dunphy and so many others have been speaking out about for so long. A fitting tribute to the life of Don Dunphy would be to ensure that no injured worker in Newfoundland and Labrador would ever again be forced to suffer at the hands of an ineffective and uncompassionate system. We can make it happen, we must make it happen. What are we waiting for?

Tuesday, 20 September 2016

Stepping Down to Search for Dale Kirby

Stepping Down to Search for Dale Kirby

By: Ryan Young

It was with mixed emotions that I announced last week to my colleagues at the Child Care Coalition of Newfoundland and Labrador (CCCNL), that I would be stepping down as chair, effective at our next AGM in October, 2016. I did not make the decision to step down because the work was done. We still face the second highest childcare rates in the country and a staggering 75% of children in this province have no access at all to regulated care or any type of subsidy. Early Childhood Educators are still struggling with wage and quality issues, and private operators have been forced into a two-tier system under a government operating grant that allows some parents to pay low rates while others pay much higher ones, regardless of income. Yes, there is still lots of work to be done, and I hope that our members we elect me to remain on the board on October 22nd so that I may still be able to offer help and advice as we fight the good fight for our children, educators, and hard-working parents.

No, the reason I am stepping down as chair is because I no longer have an effective voice in the governments ear. Many of my readers will note that I have been very active and very vocal in the pursuit of a better future for our children. That started long before the election last fall, and it will continue after the Liberals fall from grace in 2019, or sooner. I have been on open-line and have done several interviews with various news outlets on why we need to do better, and how government policies just are not working. Some of the things I say come from my own personal experiences, but as the chair of a broad reaching coalition I hear from stakeholders from all sides of the childcare spectrum. When I bring a concern to the department or to Minister Dale Kirby, it is not just my own concern, it is a concern that has been raised by our members. These are legitimate concerns that deserve legitimate answers. Unfortunately, these answers have not been forthcoming.

The CCCNL board has prepared several emails for Minister Kirby since the budget last April. We have raised the legitimate concerns of our membership and have offered recommendations on how we can work together to move forward. Before the election, Minister Kirby was a very vocal ally of the coalition. He demanded to know why the government of the day refused to hear the concerns of a grassroots group made up of concerned stakeholders. After the election we were able to have a meeting with the minister and other members of the department, and we were able to cover a lot of ground. While I realized that it would still be an uphill battle, it seemed like the minister was listening to our concerns and seemed willing to make some key policy changes. The real resistance to getting things changed seemed to be coming from the bureaucracy within the department. It is worth noting that when we met with the minister, he was the only new face at the table. All of the others were the same bureaucrats from the previous administration who had created the plan that we wanted to change. I have to question how ministers can expect to make real, meaningful change in such an environment.

Despite my concerns about the bureaucracy, we continued to have follow up meetings with department officials to talk about specific concerns, and we were confident that we were making some real headway. We were concerned about the budget, but with a tiny expenditure of under $50 million, we did not foresee any major cuts to funding in Early Childhood Development. What actually came down the pipes was a 16% reduction in funding and the elimination of the transportation subsidy program that so many low income parents depended on. We were shocked at such large cuts without any consultation whatsoever with stakeholders but at the same time a little relieved that core program funding had been left intact for now. We were hoping that the operating grant money would go into the subsidy department and that was a disappointment, but overall the consensus was that it could have been worse but we still had some major issues to deal with. I contacted the minister in a personal message after the budget and thanked him for not cutting core funding and keeping our children in mind, even if I was not happy about the cuts. I even offered him advice on communicating things better, as I felt that the government was doing a very poor job of that. I soon started hearing from our stakeholders with concerns that wanted me to speak out about these cuts as they educated me on the real life effects that they were having. The more we talked to people, the more we realized how many people were being affected by these cuts, despite the departments assurance that cuts would have a minimal impact on service.

So I spoke out. I stated publicly that these cuts were a bad idea and that we felt let down by a minister who promised to make investments in childcare, not cuts. This did not go over well with the minister and he let me know that he did not agree with my position. The day after the budget I spoke with two senior bureaucrats from the department via conference call to discuss the budget changes and at that time I asked them to provide me with some documentation of the actual funding changes so that we could break down the numbers and prepare an analysis. I waited two weeks but had not yet received any information so I called the Director of Child Care and Family Services and again requested the breakdown. After another week, on May 5, I emailed the director again, so as to have a record of my request, and to this day I still have not received an email reply from her office. I brought this issue up to the minister in a private message and hoped that the information would be provided to me in a timely manner. Again, nothing happened, and on May 31st, I filed an Access to Information request for the requested documents.

On June 3, I forwarded our official budget response to Minister Kirby and the Director of Child Care and Family Services. I informed them of my disappointment at having to file an ATTIPA request for documents that should have been easy to obtain. They were not secret government documents; they were budget documents that would be released to the public anyway. I outlined our position on the budget and other issues, and suggested that we have another meeting to discuss the issues in question. As was becoming a pattern, there was no response from either the minister or the director. I waited a week and then went to write the minister a personal message and discovered that we were no longer friends on Facebook and that he had removed me as a follower on Twitter. I’ll note that he didn’t block me, but it is a pain in the butt having to re-follow him every few days just to try to find out what he is saying about education in this province. I thought this was in very poor taste and I wrote the minister one last message letting him know how I felt about it. He sent me back a simple “Thank You.” That was on June 10th. We have not spoken since.

Since then I have made several calls and emails to the minister and department officials. I got through on the phone once, from a different number than my own, but other than that the response has been silence. Minister Kirby also happens to be my MHA and I have written him several times on issues and concerns that I have had but my emails are ignored. I don’t even get the customary, “we have received your email” response. I have brought this up with the premier’s office but they didn’t seem too concerned about it either. I guess a dissident rogue like myself does not deserve representation from a MHA if they dare speak out. Just last week the minister stated on CBC radio that parents with bussing concerns could write him and he would provide school board contact information. I wrote and asked for that information and that email too was ignored. After all of this and plenty of soul searching over the last month I came to the conclusion that I must step down as chair if the stakeholders of the Child Care Coalition are to have a real voice with the minister.
So it has come to this. A former activist has become the Minister of Education and Early Childhood Development and he has totally turned his back on everyone that he has promised to fight for. Further than that, he has decided to shut out anyone who opposes him, and to punish the stakeholders of the Child Care Coalition because I dared to speak out against him. What does that say about Dale Kirby the person? What does it say about his character? I certainly did not get involved in this fight for our children for my own gain and I have no desire to be involved in a public battle of ego’s with the man who I used to consider an ally to the cause. If I have to step aside to give this group a voice, then this is what I will do, but I will tell the truth about why I am going. When I heard the exchange between Dale Kirby and Peter Whittle this summer about activism directly affecting funding, I knew this eventuality was only a matter of time for me.

The message here is loud and clear, if you speak out against Dale Kirby, your organization will be punished or ignored. If poor Dale’s inflated ego wasn’t clouding his vision he might see the irony in the fact that he is acting with the same arrogant disdain for the people that the PC’s did for 12 years. He likes to blame them for every decision he has made so far, but when he opens his mouth he sounds just like every other minister before him. I’m pretty sure at this point, Minister Kirby can see the writing on the wall for his political career. Maybe that would make me bitter too if I were in his shoes, but it is no excuse for the pure arrogance he has continually shown to myself and other parents, educators, and concerned residents in this province. The issues we bring forth are real and he dismisses them out of hand. We are not even a year in, and already this government has totally lost touch with its people.

I don’t usually get so personal with my posts. Even in politics we have to respect that we are talking about other human beings who have families and are most often good people in their heart of hearts. But when I continually hear Dale Kirby make excuses and tell half-truths regarding our children’s future, I can’t help but speak out and say that this is not good enough. If he responds to this post at all, he will tell you that he has met with members of the coalition board and that action has been taken on some issues. This is true, but these members had to approach the minister as private operators through personal channels and not on behalf of the coalition. We made the decision to rally the troops that way, and have been successful in making him hear the concerns they have. In the meantime, our email inbox is collecting cobwebs waiting for a response, any response to any of our inquiries in the last four months. I am almost lost for words at how a minister could act this towards any organization, let alone one that represents the interest of our most precious resource, our children. If Minister Kirby thinks the people of this province will stand for such behaviour, I fear that he may soon find himself mistaken. Parents have long memories.

It is no secret that parents in this province are angry. Childcare, full day kindergarten, bussing safety concerns, overcrowded classrooms, school sales, and many other issues are already putting a black mark on Mr. Kirby’s tenure. He would do well to look back at how that has historically worked out for education minister’s in the past. There have been many battles over education in this provinces history and the parents almost always win.  If Mr. Kirby can’t get that through his inflated head, we will be sure to remind him at the ballot box next time around. Until then I promise to be a thorn in his side by continuing to speak the truth and to show the contrast between a seemingly genuine, sincere, opposition critic and the arrogant, untrustworthy minister he has become.  Game on!

Tuesday, 13 September 2016

The Fisher’s Revolt

The Fisher’s Revolt

By: Ryan Young

Go take a walk around any wharf in outport Newfoundland and Labrador and ask the inshore fisherman how they feel about the Fish, Food, and Allied Workers Union (FFAW). For the last two summers I did quite a bit of that, and the reaction was always the same. Either a scowl and a curse at the very mention of the name, or a laugh and a shake of the head and the words: “The union don’t do nothing for us fellers.” That sentiment is common in all corners of the province, and this week it reached a fever pitch.

No matter how much the pundits spin will try to tell you that it was the other way around, a group of concerned fisherman decided they needed to do something and contacted Ryan Cleary and asked him to find out if anything can be done to separate them from their union. A few busy months of research and unsatisfactory answers culminated in a press conference in Petty Harbour on Monday to announce a series of meetings that will determine if there is enough interest among harvesters in the province to break away from the FFAW and form their own Federation of Independent Sea Harvesters-FISH-NL.

The meetings will be held on September 19th in Corner Brook and September 20th in Clarenville. According to Cleary, these meetings will determine the future of the movement to break away from the FFAW. The harvesters claim that the union operates in a constant conflict of interest and does not fairly represent their needs. Questionable federal funding, offshore operations, and lack of transparency are all major issues that the harvesters claim are negatively affecting their livelihoods.

The tension between harvesters and the FFAW grew considerably last winter when scallop harvesters brought the union to court over compensation payments and won. During the trial, the union’s lawyers tried to discredit the intelligence of the harvesters, which didn’t do very much for the already strained relationship between the two. In the end the harvesters got their lump-sum payment, but they also got the satisfaction of having it proved in a court of law that the union was doing them wrong. Now the battle is heating up again. One quote from the FISH-NL press release says: “The union has warped into a well-paid branch of the Government of Canada, more interested in feeding itself than representing the best interests of its membership.” If that kind of sentiment is the norm among harvesters, it looks like the FFAW might be in trouble.

FFAW President, Keith Sullivan, has avoided any admission of wrong doing and went on the offensive yesterday, questioning Cleary’s reputation and his motives. He says that the push for a new union is coming from a “vocal minority” of fish harvesters. That type of comment just goes to show how out of touch Sullivan is with the real concerns of people he is supposed to represent. A quick look to social media or a listen to the open line shows paints a very different picture, with support for Cleary and FISH-NL coming in from all over the province. Sullivan might be better off putting the offensive on hold and making himself available to harvesters to really hear their concerns and make promises to do better. I’m sure many feel it is too little, too late for that kind of action, but at least it would send a message that they are listening and willing to do better. By maintaining that the union is currently working in the best interest of the harvesters feels like a kick in the guts to the hard-working men and women who feel that their voices are not being heard. Union membership is mandatory and many feel that they are paying good money to shoot themselves in the foot.

Whether or not you like Ryan Cleary is irrelevant. As much as Sullivan and the FFAW would like to turn this around by attacking the messenger, the message is too important and too loud to be silenced. The harvesters that approached Cleary did so because the man knows the fishery. He has been writing or fighting about it his whole professional career and he has pulled no punches in trying to take the FFAW to task on their actions over the years. The fact that it is Ryan Cleary sending the message makes the media pay attention and that is good for the cause. As they say, any publicity is good publicity and Cleary has never been one to back down from a challenge. But it is important to note that there are no guarantees that Cleary will even be the eventual leader of the movement. They promise to be open and transparent and if a new union is formed the harvesters will have their own say in who leads them. Cleary certainly seems like a tailored fit for the job, but in the end that decision will be left up to the harvesters, as it should be.

No matter what happens at the meetings next week, I am encouraged to see a discussion emerging about the future of the inshore harvesters in Newfoundland and Labrador. Fishing is our very raison d’etre, in this province and if we want to get serious about rebuilding our rural communities, the fishery needs to be an integral part of our future plans. Maybe a separate union for our fish harvesters will be a positive thing, that will help facilitate the changes needed to bring the inshore fishery into the 21st Century. The harvesters certainly are not satisfied with the representation that they have now, and as our fishing industry continues to face massive challenges, maybe it is time that we started listening to them on some of the issues. Sure we need a union that works closely with government, but more importantly we need a union that represents and protects the best interests of its workers. If the FFAW can’t fulfill that mandate, maybe it is time for a union that can.

Monday, 12 September 2016

Where is the Dunphy File?

Where is the Dunphy File?

By: Ryan Young

We all know the story of what happened to Don Dunphy on that fateful Easter Sunday. I don’t think there is a need to look back at the scant details we have of the shooting and the subsequent RCMP investigation. By now we are all ready to look forward to the day when we might finally know what really happened on that day in 2015.

As part of the Liberal election platform a full public inquiry into the Don Dunphy shooting was promised, and according to Justice and Public Safety Minister, Andrew Parsons, that is still the plan. As a first step, Minister Parsons handed the file to the Alberta Serious Incident Response Team (ASIRT) in January after the RCMP had concluded their own investigation. The report was due at the end of August and according to a recent article by James Mcleod in The Telegram, the report was handed back to the RCMP on August 31. So why have we not seen it yet?

In an interview with Paddy Daly on VOCM Open Line on August 29th, Parsons said that he was frustrated that he had not yet received the report and that he believed that it should be released to the public right away. In the Telegram article this past weekend, Parsons places the blame on the PC’s, saying “The PC’s sort of shagged this up right from the start.” Now I wont argue with that assessment, but the point is that Minister Parsons did take the necessary steps to try to restore some credibility to the investigation, and he has promised to make that information available to the public. He is the one that needs to take control of the situation and get the report released in a timely fashion.

I truly hope he does release the information to the public, but those readers with not-so-short memories might remember the minister telling us not long ago that his department would release their findings into the Ed Martin severance scandal. We all know how that turned out. Lawyer for the Dunphy family, Erin Breen, is not expecting information to be forthcoming any time soon and anticipates having to use access to information requests in order to obtain the review. I hope it does not come down to that. Minister Parsons has promised transparency with the public on this file and reiterated on both Open Line and in the Telegram that the government remains committed to a full public inquiry. If he does not release the report as promised it will be another huge blow for a government already on shaky legs.

Maybe someone can fill me in on the process of review when a file comes back from an outside investigator. According to the facts that have been made public, the ASIRT investigation was ordered by the Minister of Justice and the Attorney General of Newfoundland and Labrador. Why then, has the file been handed over to the original investigating force and not the minister who ordered the investigation? At the very least, why were they not given copies at the same time? I understand that reviews take time, but the RCMP had their time with this file and now the people, and more importantly, the family, deserve some answers and some closure. It has been 12 days since ASIRT sent their report back to the province. It’s time for Minister Parsons to get the file and then give us the truth. 

Thursday, 8 September 2016

Wind Power and Wind Bags

Wind Power and Wind Bags

By: Ryan Young

I am sure that I am not the only one who found it curious to hear our eminent sage and wind bag, Dwight Ball, talking up our renewable energy potential at the annual meeting of New England Governors and Eastern Canadian Premiers held last week in Boston. While Ball continued to blow the same regurgitated hot air about Muskrat Falls as a source of renewable energy that we have been hearing year after year, from at least five different premiers, he surprised many by pointing to our wind energy resources as a possible source of green power for energy hungry New England states.

It seems that after half a decade of being told that Muskrat Falls power was simply too expensive for the American markets, that somebody in government finally got the memo. Labrador hydro will never light the lamps of Boston, and everyone and their dog knows it. But still it was crunch time, and Ball was given the difficult task of making the case to the governors that everything is not arse-up in Newfoundland and Labrador, no matter what they might have been briefed. It must have become apparent at some point that the governors were simply not interested in talking about Muskrat Falls anymore so our government had to take a new line of talking points into the meetings to try to paint a positive picture of what we have on offer here at home.

I’d really like to believe that this government is interested in moving the province towards green energy generation. The American markets certainly want green energy but they also want it to be cheap. The only chance we have of developing our offshore wind energy is if we can develop it and transport it to the American market at a profitable price point. We certainly have the potential to generate the power, but can we sell it?

The biggest knock against wind energy in NL is that power is not always produced when it is needed and that we would still need a way to supply power to customers at times when production is low and demand is high. With Muskrat Falls and the Maritime Link, that problem will be eliminated and wind will become a viable option. The problem then becomes having more energy than we need. That would mean that we would need to strike a new deal with Emera to export wind power across the link to markets further south. Then we run into an issue of capacity. With Emera already taking up a third of the capacity of the 500MW link from their Muskrat Falls block, can we even sell enough power to make it worth investing in the development of wind technologies? This is certainly something that would be worth crunching the numbers on before heading into a meeting and pretending that we have all the answers.

One of the major selling points of Muskrat Falls was that it was supposed to be a cheaper alternative than wind. The independent studies by Hatch and Manitoba Hydro both weighed Muskrat Falls against an isolated island option that would require upgrading the thermal generating capacity at Holyrood. Neither considered the option of building a link to Nova Scotia (or another partner) to facilitate a two-way exchange of power to utilize our wind resources. The numbers that Nalcor presented based on the independent studies were not necessarily all wrong. They just didn’t paint the full picture of what other options were available. The desire to sanction Muskrat Falls seemed to override the need for a slow and measurable decision making process when it came to weighing other options.

 When you consider that a local company, Beothuk Energy, is currently developing a 1000MW wind farm off the coast of Nova Scotia that will supply power to New England via a 200km subsea link, it makes you wonder why a similar option was never considered to be weighed against Muskrat Falls. Nalcor tells us that our maximum reliable capacity for wind generation in the province is around 300MW, but in fact, Beothuk is currently constructing another, smaller, wind farm that will be based in Bay St. George on the west coast of the island. That project will produce 180MW alone, making the 300MW number offered by Nalcor seem quite small.  With Muskrat Falls and the Labrador-Island Link in place we will be able to produce as much wind energy as we want. Can we produce it cheaply? Beothuk Energy certainly thinks so and is working hard to prove their point. But with likely $15 Billion we will have sunk into Muskrat Falls by the time it is finished, will we be able to justify investing in producing even more energy that we can’t use?

I’m certainly not suggesting that we should abandon all of our offshore wind potential because of Muskrat Falls, but sanctioning another multi-billion-dollar mega-project to produce power will be a hard sell to the people of the province. More likely they should create partnerships with companies like Beothuk Energy to develop offshore leases that could provide royalties much the same as our offshore oil leases do now. Then it would be up to the producing companies and the purchasing consumers to take the risk of building the infrastructure and transmission links. With the boondoggle on the Churchill River front and center in people’s minds, I don’t see any other viable way to harness our wind resources at this time.

How different might the economic outlook of this province have been if there was a serious effort put forth by Nalcor and the provincial government to look at real green energy alternatives to Muskrat Falls? We will never know the answer to that question, but I hope that we have learned some lessons this time around that will guide us in our future development pursuits. We are still a very energy rich province, but years of mismanagement and deceit have left us unable to capitalize on our resources. I can only hope that Dwight or his eventual usurper will take a look to the past to help better understand our future. We can’t afford anymore hot air. 

Thursday, 1 September 2016

The Renewal

The Renewal

By: Ryan Young

I have been dreading having to write this particular post for quite a while now.  As of 12:01am on September 1, 2016, the original Churchill Falls power contract with Hydro Quebec officially expired. Unfortunately for us, however, the expiration of the original contract triggers an automatic renewal clause that will see us selling power to Hydro-Quebec for an another 25 years at an additional 20% discount. This means that from today until the contract expires in 2041, we will see even less revenue from Churchill Falls coming back to the province.

The whole Churchill Falls story would take hundreds of pages to tell, but we all know how it ends. Hydro-Quebec earns more than a billion dollars each year from the sale of Churchill Falls power, while NL earns only a few million. Many wonder how such a lopsided deal could ever have been signed in the first place. I will try to summarize some of that long, dark story, to help us better understand how we came to this place so many years later.

It’s no secret that Newfoundland’s first premier, Joseph R. Smallwood, was hell bent on developing the province into an industrial hotbed. His “Develop or Die” mentality was behind some of the most elaborate (and often shady) business schemes in our history. Joey’s memory is often tainted now with the revelations of the size of the giveaways of Newfoundland resources to lure outside investments into the province. The greatest giveaway of all was Churchill Falls. But how did it happen? Let’s take a look…

Soon after Newfoundland’s Confederation into Canada in 1949, Smallwood began working on developing the mighty Hamilton Falls (later renamed Churchill Falls) for hydroelectric power generation. The site had the potential to be one of the largest power producing dams in the world, with the prospect of providing cheap, renewable power to the fast growing industries in Quebec, Ontario, and the United States. Smallwood organized a consortium of investors to finance the project and formed the British Newfoundland Development Company (BRINCO). With all of the investment in place, Smallwood was anxious to get the ball rolling on the project but he was having issues negotiating with Quebec for the right to transmit power across their province in order to bring it to market.

Quebec was only interested in using its power to attract large steel and manufacturing industries and would never participate in any scheme that would transfer its energy to power-poor provinces to give them an advantage. A bitter battle of words ensued, and the project was left at a stalemate. Prime Minister of Canada Lester B. Pearson and his Liberal government failed to defend Newfoundland's right to engage in inter-provincial trade through Quebec in the same manner that oil and gas moved seamlessly from western provinces to the east. This right was supposed to be protected under section 92.10(a) of the Constitution act of 1867. Some believe that Smallwood’s failure to demand that Ottawa uphold the constitutional right to export power across inter-provincial borders, was his greatest failing as premier.

It must be noted, however, that at the time there was a great divide growing between Quebec and the rest of the country. The FLQ was rising in power and the separatist movement in Quebec was the biggest it had ever been. With the very real threat of sabotage and terrorism if Newfoundland were allowed to put its transmission lines across Quebec, Pearson was left in a very hard spot. In one famous, but unverified story, Smallwood paid a secret visit to Pearson to ask him to invoke the constitutional protections. As the story goes, Pearson said to Joey: “I know what you are going to ask, and if you ask it I shall have to say yes, but I ask you premier to please not ask it.” Smallwood got up and left without a word, his relationship with Pearson forever shattered. We may never know if this story is true, but if it is, it underscores the severity of the situation of the time. It also underscores the decades of contention that has existed between the two provinces.

After well over a decade of negotiations a letter of intent was finally signed and construction began on the project in 1966. In 1969 a deal was finally signed with Hydro-Quebec and the project was officially a go. Smallwood touted the agreement as a great victory for Newfoundland and Labrador and promised that great prosperity would come from the mighty falls on the Churchill River. He was certainly right about the prosperity part, but just not about who would benefit.

Under the lopsided contract, Hydro-Quebec would buy electricity from CFLCO, the BRINCO subsidiary created to build and manage the project, for 0.25 cents per kilowatt hour until 2016 and then at 0.20 until 2041 under the automatic renewal clause. Within a decade of Churchill falls starting to generate power, Quebec was earning $600 Million a year compared to just $23 Million for Newfoundland and Labrador.  By 2010 Quebec’s share had grown to $1.7 Billion, while NL took in a mere $63 Million.

So why did we sign such a lopsided deal? There are many reasons to consider; large foreign investment, the ongoing construction of the dam, the ability to get something instead of nothing, the low price of oil, pride. But was there another reason that might have tipped Joey’s hand to get the deal done?

When Frank Moores ended Smallwood’s long reign as premier, he ordered a Royal Commission to look into some of the dealings of the previous government. It was discovered that Smallwood and two of his business partners had taken a $1.6 Million loan from the Bank of Montreal to purchase shares in BRINCO. This ultimately left the premier in an extreme conflict of interest that many believe led him to put his own financial needs ahead of those of the province. In the end the deal was signed, the shareholders all made money, and Hydro-Quebec gets to laugh all the way to the bank until 2041.

Scores of court challenges have been tried and lost since the deal was signed. The legality is clear, we gave up our rights to Churchill Falls and we wont get them back until 2041. Some have suggested that we simply flick the switch and force Hydro-Quebec back to the bargaining table. This is an option that sounds very nice to our patriotic ears, but would it work or would it just cost us even more money in the end? More intelligent people than myself have tackled this problem over the years, and still the contract stands. No matter how much we wish it to change, it will continue to stand for another 25 years.

The renewal clause is a sad reminder of our long history of failure. To even discuss it brings out the dirt in each and every one of us. It is important to recognize those emotions, but instead of dwelling on our past mistakes and being angry over by-gone backdoor deals, we need to harness that sentiment into something positive to ensure that we don’t keep being led down the same road. To many observers it looks like the Muskrat Falls project may end up being an even worse deal than the original Churchill Falls contract, but only time will tell on that one. Our long history of failed projects and giveaways needs to end sometime, and I can only hope that days like today remind Newfoundlanders and Labradoreans why we need to stand up to the corruption and the greed that has kept this province underachieving for centuries. We need to renew ourselves to believe that we can do better and that we will do better the next time around. As the wise sage and former U.S. President George W. Bush would say, “you can’t get fooled again.”