Tagged: Frank Corbett

How Frank Corbett… etc. [update & correction]

[Update and correction] I have taken down my post analyzing Frank Corbett’s near defeat in Cape Breton Centre, because I had the turnout percentage in his riding wrong. Since this was the key data point on which my analysis hinged, it no longer holds up.

I am on the road all day today, but I will have a second look at the numbers first chance I get. If anything useful turns up, I will put up an amended post. Apologies to Frank and to the electors of Cape Breton Centre for my error, and many thanks to Contrarian reader Rob Spencer for pointing it out.

Losers & winners

Nova Scotians tune in on election night to learn two things: Who won, and who are the sore losers. Darrell Dexter was a smart loser, delivering the best speech of the night, a gracious amalgam of congratulations to the winners, and thanks and condolences for his followers, upbeat but laced with sadness he could not hide.

Perhaps the worst thing about the crushing defeat meted out to the NDP is the suboptimal quality of the survivors.

  • I heard both both N-Dips and Tories Tuesday night predict Sterling Belliveau will bolt to the Liberals who, if they are smart, will not take him.
  • DPR, the minister who stood by while her department nearly destroyed Cape Breton’s venerable Talbot House Recovery Centre, snuck through in a three-way race with just 35.3 percent of the vote, two percent more than the theoretical minimum. As the member who needed more babysitting than any other cabinet minister, mark her down as a liability for probable interim leader Maureen MacDonald.
  • By standing the gaff, Gordie Gosse and Lenore Zann (that’s Zann, Paul, not Zahn) win fresh respect as gifted politicians. Still, they might not be your first choice as  lieutenants to rebuild a party.
  • Frank Corbett, having maxed out his pensions, will lose money for every day he hangs in the back benches, a location that will hold little charm for him. Under pressure to stay until the Liberal honeymoon eases, Nanky will be eyeing the exits. Cape Breton Centre will be a hard seat for the NDP to hold in a by-election.

Jamie Baillie succeeded in restoring the party base, enabling him to address the province last night as a winner, albeit one with only 11 seats. He carried out this role with appropriate enthusiasm, but spoke far too long. Viewers want a spirited but quick thank-you wave from the second-place finisher, not a detailed policy address.

Still, it was tacky for Premier-designate Stephen McNeil to start his victory lap while the Opposition Leader was still speaking — a possible sign that for all his promises of a respectful demeanour, the new premier won’t be gentle in the corners.

McNeil has a tough job ahead, not least because of populist policy positions that will serve the province and his government poorly should he have the ill-judgment to implement them. He would do well to cast a backward eye at the lessons of humility so harshly meted out to his predecessor tonight.

Six things the NDP did wrong – part 2

Further evidence, if more were needed, that God is a New Democrat: No sooner did I put up the first part of my Things the NDP Did Wrong post than I was laid low by a chest cold that obliterated deep thought.* Here, finally, is Part Two of What the Dippers Did Wrong, to be followed, more swiftly I hope, by a two-part Things They Did Right.

4.  Tone deaf to rural NS

Four years ago, Nova Scotia’s New Democratic Party formed its first ever provincial government by adding an historic sweep of the rural mainland to its traditional Metro stranglehold. From the Canso Causeway to Lower East Pubnico, Dexter’s troops painted the entire Atlantic coastline orange.

Were it not for Tory Angus Tando MacIsaac hanging onto Antigonish, and the thin strip of coastline that belongs to Colchester North, the party would have registered another clean sweep along the Northumberland coast, from the Causeway to the Tantramar Marsh. Antigonish joined the orange tide a year later in a byelection.

NDP Mainland Seats 2009-600

Credit for engineering this triumph goes to the party’s cucumber-cool leader, whose stolid personality calmed fears of barbarians at the gate, and the small group of smart political operatives who surrounded him. Like the leader, and all but a handful of the party’s longstanding MLAs, the apparatchiks were firmly rooted in Halifax. None had neighbours who made their living with Stihl 041s, Ford 2Ns, or Ace Pot-Pullers. None lived 25 km from the nearest post office or NSLC outlet. None commuted to and from work over kilometres of unpaved road. None lived on their grandfather’s farm. None had used dialup in more than a decade.**

They were, however, thoroughly familiar with fashionable economic theories about the the inexorable urbanization of Canada, and the foolhardiness of propping up dying regions and economies. They knew governments are supposed to get unpleasant tasks—breaking promises, raising taxes, and killing popular programs—out of the way early in the mandate.

CatSo when Bay Ferries Ltd. asked for another in a long and growing string of annual subsidies to keep the Yarmouth Ferry running, Dexter’s boys abruptly shut off the tap. For the first time in decades, there would be no ferry connection between Yarmouth and Maine. The announcement came a week before Christmas.

There was no consultation—not with the town, the county, or the surrounding municipalities; not with the 120 ferry workers who would lose their jobs; not with the hoteliers who feared the ferry shutdown would render their businesses unviable. Dexter and Fisheries Minister Sterling Belliveau, the political minister for Southwest Nova, were both out of the country. It may just have been, as Dexter said in a television appearance last week, the biggest mistake of his first term.

It wasn’t simply a failure to calculate the massive collateral damage removal of the ferry would cause, it was a general cluelessness about the nuts and bolts of rural life. The NS NDP brain trust doesn’t get rural Nova Scotia, and rural Nova Scotia knows it.

5.  Maladroit on big negotiations

Whether chastened by the Yarmouth fiasco or hip to the hundreds of union jobs at stake, Dexter’s boys moved aggressively to shore up two venerable industrial behemoths—the paper mills at Brooklyn and Point Tupper—and to invest in two potential industrial employers—Daewoo’s wind turbine fabrication plant at the old Trenton Rail Yard, and Irving’s bid for a massive federal shipbuilding contract.

  •  In December 2011, the province gave Bowater Mersey a $50 million rescue package aimed at saving 320 jobs, only to see the plant shut down permanently six months later. About half the money went to purchase woodlands owned by the newsprint company; the other half took the form of grants that were mostly unspent when the owners pulled the plug. In December 2012, the province took over most of the company’s assets and liabilities, including a $20 million debt to one of the two owners, $120 million in pension liabilities, and environmental liabilities of unknown dimensions.
  • port-hawkesbury-paperIn September, 2012, the province paid the venture capital firm Stern Partners $124.5 million to take over the idle Pt. Tupper super-calendar paper mill. It had already spent $36.8 million keeping the mill in restartable condition. As the deal-making dragged on, Stern continually upped its demands, and the province repeatedly met them. Only after tiny Richmond County balked at Stern’s ultimatum for extreme property tax abatement, and Stern backed down, did the province finally draw a line in the sand, at which point Stern quickly agreed to the too-rich aid package.***
  • In June 2012 2011, the province put a total of $60 million—$40 million in grants and $20 million for a 49% equity stake—into a subsidiary of Korea’s troubled Daewoo Group that would manufacture wind turbine components at the old Trenton Rail Car plant. Daewoo put up just $30 million. The operation was supposed to create 500 jobs, but by the fall of 2011, employment had peaked at just 70, and the province acknowledged the plant was struggling with slack demand.
  • In 2012, the Dexter government staged a smart, successful communications and lobbying campaign to help Irving Shipbuilding land a purported $25 billion shipbuilding contract that could produce up to 11,500 direct and indirect jobs, according to the Conference Board of Canada. The jobs were supposed to begin as early as December 2012, but instead, Irving laid off 70 workers that month, as the start-up date for steel-cutting drifted off to 2015 at the earliest. At the same time, it emerged that the province had agreed to “loan” Irving $304 million (though only $44 million of the amount was repayable, a quality normally intrinsic to the concept of a loan). Then Dexter rejected Freedom of Information requests for details of the loan, but offered selected leaks to favoured reporters.

No one outside government knows the ins and outs of these deals, but on the results, it’s hard to avoid suspicion the New Democrats repeatedly got hosed when they went up against experienced corporate negotiators.

6.  Failure at Community Services

It was inevitable that a New Democratic Party government would look more like previous governments than its most ardent supporters might have hoped. No aspect of the Dexter-guided drift to the centre will have disappointed the party’s base more than its failure to reform the imperious bureaucracy of Nova Scotia’s Department of Community Services.

Dexter-RafuseWhen senior officials of the department, eager to win control of addiction treatment centres over which they had no statutory authority, promoted vague—and, as it turned out, false—allegations of managerial and sexual misconduct against the respected Roman Catholic priest who ran Talbot House in Frenchvale, Community Services Minister Denise Peterson-Rafuse vigorously championed the character assassination for seven months. She also pilloried Talbot’s volunteer board of directors, despite ample evidence the allegations were the empty ravings of an aggrieved crackpot. As political minister for Cape Breton, Deputy Premier Frank Corbett deserves special mention for his failure to step in.

Throughout its history, the NDP had defended the rights of income assistance recipients, but once in power, it turned its back on these citizens, clawing back benefits, and then defending the meanspirited changes with a despicable PR campaign that played to the nastiest stereotypes about welfare recipients. So much for today’s families.

Of all my complaints about Nova Scotia’s first social democratic government, this is the saddest.

Next: Six things the NDP did right. I encourage readers to submit comments and reflections on the NDP’s first term, and my evaluation of it. I will print a selection of the most thought-provoking, least partisan.

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* Before swamping me with email, please check the batteries in your irony detectors. I am an atheist, and while I believe the province would be best served by returning an NDP government, despite first-term ineptitude I describe here, I will vote for the Tory in my riding, a decent man with decades of community service facing a cynical challenge from a Liberal whose sole qualification for office is her status as wife of a currently serving Member of Parliament.

** The same can be said most of Nova Scotia’s political reporters, who rarely venture past the Armdale Rotary.

*** Disclosure: I played a small role helping Richmond County prepare for these negotiations.

How phoney scandals poison democracy

Moments after Auditor General Jacques Lapointe’s decision confirming Richmond MLA Michel Samson’s eligibility for an outside member’s housing allowance, but denying his current claim on the slenderest technicality, NDP House Leader Frank Corbett rushed out a news release.

In it, he falsely stated that Lapointe had found “Samson lives in both Halifax and Arichat and as a result his residency cannot be the basis of providing a housing allowance to Samson.” [Contrarian’s emphasis]

There are many things not to like in Lapointe’s decision, among them, the time and ink he wasted dreaming up residency tests not found in any legislation governing MLAs’ allowances. Nevertheless, he eventually acknowledged that the only test with legal weight confirms Samson’s entitlement to the Outside Member’s Allowance.

It’s true that along the way to this self-evident conclusion, Lapointe mused that Samson “lives in both locations.” Yes, and so do the 29 other MLAs who claim an outside allowance—17 of them New Democrats. Their jobs require them to live in two places. Conflict Commissioner and retired Supreme Court Justice Merlin Nunn nailed this months ago when Samson referred the matter to him days after a scandal-aspiring CBC reporter floated the bogus issue.

It is very important to understand that we have had, and will have, members elected to our Legislature from rural areas. They are required to work in two areas, their constituency and Halifax, for Legislature and constituency matters. To do so they must leave their homes and area for both short and extended periods of lime. Recognizing this, the House Rules provide for certain reimbursements to offset the extra costs involved.

In the end, Lapointe denied Samson the bona fide expenses his job requires, not because of where he lives (or where his wife lives, in the sexist reasoning of the CBC and the NDP), but because his Halifax abode is a house not an “apartment,” the word used in the regulation. As everyone now acknowledges, the word “apartment” was chosen not out of any preference for dwelling type, but to ensure MLAs only claim reimbursement for rental spaces, not real estate in which they are building ownership.

Frank-Corbett-Maureen MacDonaldEven the hyper-partisan Corbett recognized this when he said the rule, “prevents an elected official from using their housing allowance to pay for mortgages for themselves or their associates.” Then, brazenly, he rejected any plan to clarify the wording, “so that taxpayers are not left paying the mortgage for MLAs or their friends and then have to watch as they profit from the resale of property.”

In an interview with Contrarian last May, Samson categorically denied he has any equity in the Halifax house he rents from a Richmond County associate, insisting the terms are a standard rental arrangement. If Corbett has evidence to the contrary, he hasn’t provided it. He refuses to clarify the rule in a way that would focus on the distinction that matters, between rentals and mortgage payments, while clinging to the meaningless distinction between an apartment and a house, because it conveniently gores a Liberal ox.

In one of her least distinguished moments in the public sphere, Finance Minister Maureen MacDonald, who knows better, parroted the same party line.

Lapointe, Corbett, and MacDonald ought to consider the damage they are doing to public confidence in the democratic process—Lapointe with his querulous nit-picking; Corbett and MacDonald with their poisonous partisanship. Commissioner Nunn recognized the danger straightaway:

To be perfectly clear, yes, these reimbursement claims must be honest and made only when warranted.

However it is vitally important that our elected members of our Legislature are not open to public denouncement on the whim of a media member who, without first pursuing the necessary facts, raises a suspicion which is akin to serious issues in one or more other jurisdictions, knowing it will be scandal and embarrassment to the person involved.

We need the best members we can get and we must not put in their way a fear of baseless scandal and embarrassment brought on by immature and sensational oriented reporting. Our elected members give up a great deal to serve the people of this Province and should not be dishonoured to the public in any way without a sound basis of facts to support the matter or claim being made.

I am not using a “kill the messenger” approach but rather the approach that the “messenger bring the correct message.” Otherwise, over time, we will have fewer capable and desirable people offering to represent the public in a constituency to the detriment and loss of the whole Province.

Corbett’s release got one other crucial point wrong: after an election, he may not be the house leader who makes the final decision on any clarification of MLA expense rules. He may be sitting on an opposition bench, or even a park bench.

A human right that’s inconvenient for MLAs

A committee meeting at Province House this week has the potential to correct a logstanding injustice in the way Nova Scotia is governed.

At the behest of the James McGregor Stewart Society, a disability rights organization, the House of Assembly Management Commission will consider requiring constituency offices to be fully accessible before MLAs can claim reimbursement of office expenses.

Gosse-250You might expect this to go without saying in 2013, but it doesn’t. Many MLAs’ offices are only partly, if at all, accessible. They may have a level entry or a satisfactory wheelchair ramp, but lack a paved parking lot or an accessible washroom. They may have a wide enough door to admit a wheelchair, but no automatic door opener to let wheelchair users come and go unassisted.

People with unrestricted mobility sometimes miss the significance of that last distinction. Wheelchairs users value their autonomy as much as anyone else. They  want to participate without having to ask for help.

The House Management Commission doesn’t have to guess about what constitutes an accessible office. The standards are clearly set forth in Section C of the Nova Scotia Building Code, which all new commercial construction must meet.

It’s not clear that any of the constituency offices now in use fully comply with this standard. This effectively bars Nova Scotia’s 28,000 wheelchair users from full participation in the political process. It puts constituency office jobs beyond reach of applicants with disabilities.

MLAs know this is unacceptable. The gentle explanation for why it wasn’t fixed a generation ago is inertia. In many parts of the province, it’s hard to find good office space. Many MLAs enjoy a close relationship with their landlords, which they aren’t anxious to disturb. No one likes the hassle of moving to new quarters.

That’s why the summer of 2013 offers a unique opportunity to correct this injustice. The election that’s expected this fall will produce an unusually large crop of new MLAs, all of whom will be seeking office space. The Commission could require any new constituency offices to comply with Section C in order to qualify for reimbursement. It could establish a firm timetable—certainly no more than the five-year term of a typical commercial lease—by which existing constituency offices  must be brought into compliance. The first election after 2013 could serve as a final deadline for existing offices.

Leasehold improvements are a standard feature of office leases. The landlord carries out the work, builds the cost into the rent, and ends up with a more desirable, barrier-free property at the termination of the lease.

Fixing this problem will undoubtedly cause some inconvenience for MLAs. In a letter to the Commission, the society put that burden in perspective:

The challenges MLAs will face meeting this requirement are real, but they must be weighed against the perpetuation of second-class citizenship for 28,000 Nova Scotians. One is a matter of inconvenience; the other a human right.

Speaker Gordie Gosse chairs the Management Commission, whose members include MLAs Frank Corbett, Becky Kent, Pam Birdsall, Moe Smith, Michel Samson, Chris d’Entremont, Andrew Younger, and House of Assembly Chief Clerk Neil Ferguson. The Commission meets Thursday at 1 p.m. in the Red Chamber.

If it fails to act before the upcoming election, we’ll have to find a strong word than “inertia.”

What the NDP’s tougher renewable energy targets mean

windmills-s2
In a post yesterday Monday, contrarian observed that a little noticed NDP campaign promise would advance Nova Scotia Power’s renewable energy targets by five years. Today Tuesday, the new government made that promise official government policy. NSP must generate one quarter of its energy from renewable sources (hydro, wind, tidal, wave, solar, biomass, biofuel, or landfill gas) by 2015.

It’s certainly a laudable step, but how big a step is it? The answer to that is incredibly complicated.

It’s complicated because various stages of the renewable energy requirements imposed on NSP define renewable energy three different ways:

  • as overall generation from renewable sources;
  • as generation from renewable sources built after 2001 in Nova Scotia by companies other than NSP;
  • as generation from renewable sources built after 2001 in Nova Scotia, whether by NSP or third parties.

It’s still more complicated because the amount of generation from each of these sources can be measured in two ways: in absolute terms, as so many gigawatt-hours (GWH) of electricity; or in relative terms, as a percentage of NSP’s overall generation.

Bear in mind that the second yardstick is a moving target. If NSP’s efforts to curb electricity use (known as demand side management, or DSM) succeed in reducing our overall power consumption, a fixed amount of gigawatt-hours would constitute a larger percentage of that smaller consumption. If consumption of electricity falls, NSP could conceivably move from 12 percent renewables to 13 percent renewables without actually adding any new renewable energy to the grid. If one of our large industrial power users were to shut down—the NewPage mill at Point Tupper, for example—the percentage of NSP’s energy from renewable sources would shoot upward, even without NSP producing any new renewable energy.

So let’s walk through the various targets NSP has to meet.

2010:

Under the Electricity Act, a set of regulations known as the Renewable Energy Standards (RES) requires NSP to purchase at least five percent of its 2010 energy supply from renewable sources owned by third parties and built after 2001.

Newspapers and broadcasters sometimes misreport this target as stating that five percent of NSP’s generation must come from renewable sources. A Canadian Press story carried by the Herald made that mistake today. NSP already produces 11 to 12 percent of its overall generation from renewable sources, mainly hydro. The RES standard calls for five percent of new renewables owned by third parties. That would bring NSP’s overall use of renewables to something over 16 percent.

NSP forecasts that it will sell 12,200 GWH of energy in 2010. Five percent of that figure is 610 GWH. So to meet the 2010 target, NSP must generate 610 GWH from new, third-party, renewable sources.

Of the renewable energy NSP already uses, approximately 180 GWH qualifies under the 2010 RES rules. That leaves a shortfall of 430 GWH. In 2007, NSP put out requests for proposals that led to contracts with independent producers for 711 GWH of wind power—more than enough to meet and exceed the 2010 targets.

Unfortunately, the worldwide financial meltdown that hit late last summer has stalled or killed several of those projects. Environmental approvals have also been slower than hoped for, especially in parts of the province with strong NIMBY proclivities. To compensate for the possible shortfall, NSP, NewPage Port Hawkesbury Corp., and Strait Bio-Gen Ltd. cobbled together a slapdash proposal for a biomass generation project using wood waste, and then sought unprecedented prior approval from the Utility and Review Board for the scheme. To no one’s surprise but NSP’s, the UARB didn’t bite, so the utility’s ability to meet the 2010 target remains in serious doubt.

NSP still has one escape hatch. If it fails to meet the 2010 target, if can still comply with the regulations if it meets the target in 2011, and produces an additional amount of new renewable energy in 2011 equal to twice the amount of its 2010 shortfall.

Does your head hurt yet?

2013:

Two different standards apply to NSP in 2013:

  • Under the province’s Environmental Goals and Sustainable Prosperity Act (or EGSPA, pronounced, “Eggs-puh” by provincial bureaucrats), 18.5 percent of Nova Scotia’s electricity needs must come from renewable sources by 2013. (This extraordinary act was the crowning achievement of former Environment Minister Mark Parent, defeated in the June election, and retired Deputy Minister Bill Lahey, who together somehow steered it through the Tory cabinet and won unanimous legislative approval.)
  • Under the Renewable Energy Standards (RES) regulations of the Electricity Act, the 2010 requirement for five percent new renewables increases to 10 percent in 2013, but this time it doesn’t all have to come from third parties. NSP can produce its own renewable energy.

Depending on overall energy consumption, meeting the RES regulations would bring NSP’s overall renewable production to something like 21 percent, well above the 18.5 percent required by Eggs-pah. (I love talking like a bureaucrat.) So the tougher RES standard rules the day. And that brings us to…

2015:

Acting Energy Minister Frank “Nanky” Corbett announced today that NSP would be required to produce 25 percent of its overall energy needs from renewable sources by 2015, five years earlier than the Renewed Energy Strategy unveiled last winter would have required. [Disclosure: contrarian spent part of 2007 and much of 2008 under contract with the Department of Energy working on this strategy, mainly as a writer.]

On its face, this is a reasonable decision. It will keep the renewable portion of NSP’s generation increasing at about two percentage points per year, a pretty good clip. It’s much tougher than what the Tories had imposed.

It may also serve as cover for cutting NSP some slack on its probable failure to meet the 2010 standards. Asked about this today, an official of the provincial energy department said, “It’s going to be a challenge for Nova Scotia Power to meet the 2010 target. We’re looking at some different options for dealing with that, and this [relaxing the 2010 deadline] is one option we will present to government.”

“The point is that we need more renewables,” he added. “It doesn’t make sense to get too hung up on this particular target.”

David Wheeler, Dean of Management Studies at Dalhousie University, will carry out a public consultation on how best to reach the tougher targets Corbett announced today.  Meeting them won’t be easy, or cheap. It’s a pity the NDP won’t have the $28 million it promised to spend subsidizing dirty, coal-fired eletricity to help with this crucial environmental task.

[Note: This is a long post (my longest ever) about an important but mind-numbingly tedious set of regulations and calculations. It shouldn’t astonish anyone if I got some of the details wrong. If any of contrarian‘s friends in the Department of Energy, the Ecology Action Centre, Nova Scotia Power, the independent wind industry, the Department of Environment, the NDP, or the PC Party have corrections or amplifications to offer, please click the “email a comment” tab at the top of this post.]

Waiting for NDP policy

Dexter at the Pride Parade - mediumSeven weeks after electing Atlantic Canada’s first NDP government, Nova Scotians have seen little if anything in the way of policy initiatives from Dexter and Co. Senior civil servants, however, seem practically giddy with delight at the NDP’s methodical approach to policy.

“They actually read the briefing books,” exclaimed one official, referring to the massive tomes each department prepares detailing the policy issues an incoming minister will face. “They read them, and they ask intelligent questions. They are really into policy.”

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