Friday, March 30, 2007

Part 1: Media coverage of current events

This province stands at a pivotal point in its history. Critical decisions are being made and actions taken by the provincial government that will have repercussions for generations to come. And the news media often fail to bring clarity to some complicated, critically important issues.

I am talking, of course, about the direction that Premier Danny Williams is taking this province. Is he leading us to the promised land… or toward disaster?

Premier Williams has approval ratings in the stratosphere. But how aware is the public about the many issues that are on the table? Is their approval fueled more by emotion than rational thought? Is the media bringing clarity to complex issues? Are they connecting the dots and showing the cause and effect between various issues?

Yes, there is some good work happening right now. Last night’s political panel on CBC Here & Now was the most enlightening and honest discussion about current events that I have seen in many months. Mike Rossiter of CBC Radio News has also been doing some good work, as has Jeff Gilhooly of the CBC Radio Morning Show. Moira Baird and Rob Antle of The Telegram have also been filing solid stories. (There are no doubt others – I may have missed some things too.)

However, an astonishing amount of coverage and commentary is still obsessing over whether or not Prime Minister Harper lied, and tracking the obvious fall-out.

It is abundantly clear to even the most passive observer that Harper deceived us. This has been demonstrated and proven beyond a doubt. And the denials from Harper, Flaherty, Hearn and Manning have been too cute by half. A lie is a lie.

More to the point, an election promise was broken; a first, I am sure, in the history of politics in this country and province.

But we haven’t gotten past the anger. The real question is, what do we do now? The media are reporting diligently on the Premier’s national ad campaign, but not pushing him on strategy.

For example: What do we hope to achieve through revenge, by turfing out the three provincial Conservatives in the next election? What if Harper wins a majority? Will he take vengeance by vetoing Marystown’s chances to win a major naval supply ship contract? What about federal loan guarantees on the Lower Churchill? How about these other provincial plans, which are all contingent on federal provincial cooperation? There is certainly an air of foreboding in this story. What we have here, according to David Cochrane from last night’s Political Panel, is “a complete detonation of federal/provincial relations.”

Should the media be content collecting saliva on their microphones, or should they be digging deeper and really pushing on these critically important questions?

The media could also be doing a better job connecting the dots between various issues; to put things in context and help us understand the confluence of events that have brought us to where we are today.

One example: There was much wringing of hands in the media about the people who stood in their thousands last November, outside the Capital Hotel, looking for work in western Canada. But I don’t think any media outlet made the connection between that spectacle and the failure of the Hebron negotiations. Yet, that is why most people were there that day.

Another example: Premier Williams' most frequent response, when pushed on issues of economic impact, is to bridge to a different answer: “There will be no more giveaways.” Most of the time, the media accepts that answer and rolls over to the next question.

Well, here’s the thing. The Hebron project was not a giveaway. It was, in fact, a tremendously good deal no matter how you look at it. Had it proceeded, we would not be worrying today about sheltering our transfer payments from our earned income. The day would be fast approaching when we could stand on our own bloody feet and say to hell with handouts from Canada.

The full details of the tentative deal were not released publicly, but we do know that Hebron would have been worth about $10 billion in royalties and taxes to provincial coffers, at an oil price of $50 per barrel. We know that prices will likely average higher, thus increasing provincial revenue by another billion or two. And this doesn’t include the $5 billion investment in construction and $6 billion to drill the development wells, which would have created thousands of jobs, stimulated business growth and sustained industry momentum. This in turn would fuel further exploration and possible new discoveries.

Had it proceeded, Hebron would have given us the capacity to pay down – totally eliminate – our provincial debt of $12 billion, the highest per capita debt in the country. Provincial budgets would no longer be saddled with those enormous debt servicing charges. Think about that: a single project would have made us a ‘have’ province.

How many people are aware of this? How many reporters are even aware of this? I don’t expect media to be cheerleaders for Premier Williams or the oil companies. But I would like to see them dig a little deeper, ask tough questions and insist on real answers.

There is a lot of heat right now, but very little light.

And there is so much at stake...

Coming soon, part 2: An economist’s viewpoint.


WJM said...

Any truth to the rumours that Danny is planning a ThoughtCrime jail for Bell Island?

Or is it Belle Isle?

Either way. It's gonna fill up quick! ;)

Liam O'Brien said...

Geoff said:
"It is abundantly clear to even the most passive observer that Harper deceived us. This has been demonstrated and proven beyond a doubt. And the denials from Harper, Flaherty, Hearn and Manning have been too cute by half. A lie is a lie."

Show me the lie.

As far as I can tell, the premier is railing against the possibility of any gauge of our province's fiscal capacity in a system called "Equalization" that is based on gaging fiscal capacity.

I've looked at the 2004 CPC Election Platform.

I've looked at the November 4, 2004 speech given by Stephen Harper and now quoted by the Premier's office.

I've looked at the March 19 2005 CPC Policy Document section on Equalization.

I've looked at the November 28, 2005 Letter from Danny Williams to federal leaders.

I've looked at the January 4, 2006 letter from Stephen Harper to Danny Williams.

I've looked at the January 2006 CPC Federal election platform.

I can't see any evidence of a promise to ban all caps and gauges of fiscal capacity.

You see, I've also reviewed the budget documents

We folks here in NL might disagree with how the new proposed system DOES gauge our capacity as a province, we may even feel that we need to lobby for a new system before 2012 comes around and the Accord II arrangement benefits effectively end (as they would have in any case). But none of that warrants or excuses what we're hearing from the Premier's office or in the Operation Goose Egg ad campaigns that we're paying Margaret Wente's paper to run . . .

If you have some specific quote that you can explain as showing evidence of what you claim, Geoff, please, provide it for us here on your blog.

In the meantime, even using the darkest (or brightest) and most creative interpretations of what we do have in terms of policy and promises in 2004, 2005 and 2006 from the CPC, the most we might be able to say is that a very small part of a bundle of promises on the revenue and equalization issues wasn't kept quite in the way we envisioned.

And who would really deserve the "goose egg" here? Delivering it to the federal Conservatives given the inconsistency & shifting of the premier's position since 2004 and the true record of the federal Tory government on equalization and revenue, makes no bloody sense at all.

If Danny Williams wants to address some issues that come down to the Canada/NL relationship and our lace in Canada, There are possible hydroelectric, infrastructure, and fisheries issues that have been long neglected by his government that should be addressed now and with a strong voice. If he meets resistance on these issues and if there's an actual legitimate beef here based on past promises, I'll gladly join the racket. Right now, this is very much a mountanized mole hill.

Liam O'Brien said...

mike said:
"If so then I point out that many feel that if Harper does get a majority he definitely will take a harsh position towards NL. He’s already done it with a minority."

Mike, could you please substantiate that claim with some reference to specific policies here?

While I'd like to see a lot more done and changed, I'd have to say that the facts show us that Newfoundland and Labrador has realized more of its policy objectives, as best they can be determined and when they aren't being altered by the premier in midstream, under the current federal government than under the previous government.

Even on this very revenues/equalization issue, it is very odd to hear talk of "shaftings" when had the other party that had a chance at forming government made it in instead of Harper, they would have done less positive reform for Nl than Flaherty did. Would you prefer a 5 province standard instead of a 10? No promise on provinces not being adversely affected? no special treatment of non-renewables post-Accord? Well, if so, then the best thing you could hope for is the defeat of the current federal government. . . though it'd certainly fly in the face of NL interests.

The talk of "reprisal" is rather ridiculous. If this was the approach that the Harper government wanted to take, the ideal time to have started taking it was right after Danny began his operation Goose Egg at the Gander PC convention in October of 2006.

If that had been the case, why would Harper have bothered with any exclusion of non-renewables, the 10 province standard, the honouring of the accord or any of it?

Again, Mike, please specifically cite the promise that was not kept. You seem to take this on blind faith, but I'll help you . . . .

Here is the 2004 Federal Conservative Election platform. Equalization promise on page 27.

Here is the Speech given by Stephen Harper in the House of Commons on November 4, 2004 and which was quoted recently in Danny's news release.

Here is the Fiscal/equalization section of the Federal Conservative Policy Document passed in Montreal in March 2005.

Here is the page dealing with equalization of Danny Williams letter to the federal party leaders from November 28, 2005.

Here is Stephen Harper's reply , dated January 4, 2006.

Here is the federal Conservative Party's 2006 federal election platform.

I'd like to know where we can find:

A - (looking at Danny's letter) - a clear indication of NL's interest in any end to any caps or even focus on the non-renewables part of the policy.

B - (much more important) - any mention of Stephen Harper or the CPC on matters of gauges of fiscal capacity, caps, or anything else of the sort.

Mark said...


As much as I dislike Stephen Harper and almost everything he stands for, I don't believe that he or any other Prime Minister of any political stripe would take a position of "retribution" against any province on account of any Premier's behaviour.

As for the point about media coverage, I think Geoff rasies a legitimate concern. Throughout all of the last big kerfuffle, the entirety of the media coverage was on along the lines of emotion/betrayal/allegiance, and nothing at all on the substantive facts around Equalization, the ramifications of different changes, and (heaven forbid) the impact such changes/promises/expectations would have anywhere else.

If we had that kind of media analysis, we probably wouldn't have people ranting against Harper today because they would have instead had the information they needed three years ago to dismiss his position as impossible anyway.

But news media is no different than any other type of - an emotional soap opera will always draw more viewers/readers than an explanation of facts or a geniune debate of ideas.

That's why I find lines of yours such as: "I am supporting the Provincial position on these issues" so frighteningly ignorant.

It implies that there is only one position anyone could possibly take that is consistent with being a Newfoundlander.

That is simply wrong.

Mark said...

oh, and Liam:

It seems like what you have suddenly adopted the view that the proper analysis of a promise is based on what Harper himself said and not what Williams implies he said. It is good to see that your method of analysis has changed dramatically from what it was in 2005, where Williams' word was gospel.

Liam O'Brien said...

Mark: In 2005, we had a markedly different FEDERAL position . . which also changed. I didn't need to rely on Danny Williams to determine that. And I attempted to sound my concerns about Danny's preferred methods the day after Martin came to town and supposedly "covered us off."

Liam O'Brien said...

sorry - the incident to which I refer happened in the 2004 campaign. . . and I was always demanding it in writing . . .even though Danny (possibly purposely in retrospect) didn't . . . [and also incidentally didn't see exclusion of non renewables from equalization as better or even remotely preferable . .. just as he didn't in nov 2005 too . . ]

Erik Sorenson said...

QUOTE: "It is abundantly clear to even the most passive observer that Harper deceived us. This has been demonstrated and proven beyond a doubt. And the denials from Harper, Flaherty, Hearn and Manning have been too cute by half. A lie is a lie."

Show me the (Harper) lie, Liam O'Brien said...

In reading the responses, no one provided any evidence of what this widely-quoted "lie" is. NOT ONE. On the other hand, tons of FACT are presented by Liam against Williams assertion , and no one has refuted or even addressed, any part of these facts.

So one is left to conclude that, as usual, even this article/post is based on hysteria, emotion, and no fact. Williams is the only one that lied, and there is proof of that. Pure and simple. Big surprise, he follows in a long line of NL politicians proficient at this.

And you all seem to have drunk Williams' kool-aid, while yelling "good-on" for other people (Craig Westcott, David Cochrane) to take up your "cause", whatever it is.

If this articale is an indication, the purpose was only to complain and whine some more. How typical. What an attitude of defeatism.

Geoff Meeker said...

Erik: You clearly aren't reading the responses. First read Posts 1 and 2, then the comments in both, in particular the quotes from Hansard. If all you have to contribute is poorly informed insult, please keep it to yourself.