The Indy News Hour (March 16, 2014)
Transcript by Erika Steeves
“THERE WASN’T VERY MUCH IN IT AT ALL”: CRITICS RESPOND TO LAST WEEK’S THRONE SPEECH
JUSTIN BRAKE: On Wednesday the Progressive Conservative Party announced its intentions for the coming year when Chief Justice Derrick Green, sitting in for Newfoundland and Labrador Lieutenant Governor Frank Fagan, delivered the 2014 Speech from the Throne. In the speech the Tories, under interim Premier Tom Marshall, praised their commitment to social justice, touting the fact that the province has some of the lowest tuition fees in Canada and how over eight years the government has invested $900 million into its Poverty Reduction Strategy. In an apparent effort to distance itself from the secrecy that devastated the government’s reputation under Premier Kathy Dunderdale, the Tories also committed to cultivating an environment of openness and transparency, including the enactment of whistleblower legislation. Ed Hollett is the author of award-winning political blog The Sir Robert Bond Papers and was a special assistant to former premier Clyde Wells. And Robert Sweeney is a professor of History at Memorial University and a columnist for TheIndependent.ca. Welcome to The Indy News Hour.
ED HOLLETT: Good to be here. Thanks for having me.
ROBERT SWEENY: Thanks.
JUSTIN: I just want to start by basically asking each of you what stood out the most in the Throne Speech this year? Let’s start with you Ed Hollett.
ED HOLLETT: What stood out? Wow. Not very much. It struck me right from the beginning, with the exception of the commemorations that they talked about, which are worthwhile, no doubt, there really wasn’t very much in the Throne Speech at all in the way of new initiatives, in the way of significant changes of directions. For all the things that are going on, really it was very light, it was very thin. That’s the biggest thing that stood out to me: there wasn’t very much in it at all.
JUSTIN BRAKE: And Sweeney in you column—
ROBERT SWEENY: —Yes, I’d agree with that. I think that there’s basically a position that this is an interim government and they don’t wan to upstage whoever’s going to be elected in July. So it’s kind of steady as she goes for most of the things. So in terms of actual content for new legislation there’s very little. When I read it I was struck by the way in which that very little content was shaped, the language that was used, the types of reassuring language, and the way in which the new premier was presented as being a kind of responsible father figure who can see us through this difficult time to the new leadership and calm the waves that have been disturbed by the Dunderdale administration. And so I felt that it was quite patriarchal and paternalist, and its lack of actual content meant that in many ways we were debasing the value of a Speech from the Throne, which I think is really a quite fundamental thing in our democracy. It’s supposed to set out how the Crown thinks things should be going. And our elected representatives should then have an opportunity to have fundamental debate about the direction of our society. And that’s not the Throne Speech we got. It’s not a Throne Speech that allows that really to happen.
JUSTIN BRAKE: Now the language in the Throne Speech though, there’s a lot of really nice language. It sounds like everything is hunky-dory. There’s several points that the government makes to remind us how good they’ve been doing – the $900 million into the Poverty Reduction Strategy – that’s something that we’ll get a into a little bit with you, Robert Sweeny because you’ve written—
ROBERT SWEENY: —The Poverty Reduction Strategy passage is very interesting. I thought about whether or not I wanted to write about that in the column that I did for the Independent because it’s something that I’ve worked on for quite a long time – poverty reduction. Actually, I work on poverty eradication, not reduction. But the way that they presented the issue I thought was quite misleading. I know it’s unparliamentary to say that somebody lies, so I suppose it would be unconstitutional or treason to say that a Throne Speech lies, so I won’t say that. But there are no publicly available statistics that support the statements – apparently of fact – in the Throne Speech. They say they’re going to have a review, presumably during this session, that will be revealed, released of the Poverty Reduction Strategy, and I will look very carefully at the statistics. They said that Newfoundland’s income support was now at its lowest level. That could be taken several different ways – income support for people living in poverty, its lowest level. If it’s measured as a percentage of total expenditures that’s probably true, because in the last decade total government expenditures has doubled, and we have certainly not doubled the amount of money we’re putting into welfare. So it’s at its lowest level. There are fewer people on welfare. We’re down around 8%. In 2003 we were at 11%. So there are fewer people on welfare. But they say that we’re, I think, tied for second place in well doing of people, relying on income support. And the community count statistics of the provincial government say we’re thirteenth out of thirteen jurisdictions in Canada. The National Household Survey of the federal government, done in 2011, says that we have the highest reliance on government transfers of any of the jurisdictions in the country. We’re only one of two jurisdictions in the country – PEI is the other – where employment insurance is more important for revenues of people living in this province than either old age security or Canada Pension. And the amount that people draw, on average, from employment insurance in Newfoundland is half as much as it is in the average for the rest of the country. So $7,900 compared to $5,000. The existing figures that are out there in the public do not indicate the rosy picture. In fact, quite the contrary. They suggest that poverty has been increasing between 2005 and 2010, particularly among young people, by about 3%, so that we’re now well over 20%, but it depends on your age group. Under 6 it’s 23%, under 18 it’s 22% of the young people in our province who are living in poverty. So I’m looking very much forward to seeing their detailed review of how they’re doing, because I think the $900 million is probably not been well spent. We’d have far fewer people living in poverty in this province if we’d given the $900 million to the people living in poverty when they announced the Poverty Reduction Strategy. That would really have reduced poverty in the province, but of course we can’t do handouts. But that would have been more effective. What they have been doing with poverty reduction, in my opinion, is that they for a number of years, under the Williams administration, that was a way to get a pilot project funded that wasn’t under the normal purview of your department. So you could fund new initiatives by saying, “Well, it’s going to reduce poverty,” because that was a favoured policy item under the Williams government that fell out of favour with Dunderdale. Dunderdale was, of course, the head minister in the review of the Poverty Reduction Strategy the last time around, and I think she actually realized it wasn’t actually doing very much, and so she didn’t trumpet it as premier. But now it’s back in favour, and I think it’s kind of part of a resuscitation of certain Danny Williams’ elements to help us to forget the Dunderdale interlude.
JUSTIN BRAKE: There’s a significant part of the Throne Speech as well here, under the heading “Investing with oversight to grow our economy,” and in it they talk about public investments in infrastructure to attract private investments and industry here. CETA is mentioned there. There’s a population growth strategy. And, again, there’s a lot of numbers kind of thrown at us, in terms of investing in municipal infrastructure as well. Over a billion dollars invested and we’re ready to do more. There’s language as well, a quote here, “To align with industry needs.”
ROBERT SWEENY: There’s quite a lot of language about what the government is intending to do as an administrator, as a manager. But there isn’t any real discussion, except for the whistleblower legislation, of problems that we need a legislative solution to, that our elected officials can debate and we can come up with an effective, agreed-upon solution to problems. It’s all presented in terms of we are the managers, we know what we’re doing, we don’t really need public debate over these issues, we don’t really need a House, we certainly don’t need any kind of permanent committees that would oversee what the ministries are doing, and if you’re worried about something we’ll oversee it for you, instead of having public debate about issues.
ED HOLLETT: The point Robert made a minute ago about numbers is very interesting because it is one of the hallmarks of this current government. Other governments have done similar things, but this one in particular. The number that I started throwing out a couple years ago was the average, or the fact that of all tax filers in Newfoundland and Labrador 60% claimed an income of less than $35,000 a year, which I think is one statistic that leads you to understand that this notion that we are all profiting and we are all prospering is a bit of a myth, at the best. What it really does reveal to you though is that the longer-term issues that we’ve been dealing with in the province, back to the time that I was in the Confederation Building, working for somebody else, these persist. And the longer-term solutions that we need are what we need to be talking about. But we had an example of exactly – this point that I think Robert was getting at – with Danny Williams and the discussion about demographics. We’ve known, government officials have known, anybody who’s looked at it has known for the last almost thirty years, the population in Newfoundland is decreasing in size and the people that are here are getting progressively older. We are at the early edge of the point where there will be more people who are not working every day and generating income and paying taxes. There will be more people in the so-called dependent part of the population – i.e., over 65 and under 15 – than there are people working. That has significant impacts on policy. Danny Williams, when he was interviewed a couple of weeks ago, said yeah he heard that when he got into office, and he immediately just ignored it as nonsense. Not the first premier to do it, but it tells you a lot about what they have subsequently done. A lot of it has been simply to deny and ignore, because a lot of these things are knotty and they’re difficult and they require long-term solutions. They don’t lend themselves to news conferences and flashy discussions. Part of what we’ve seen going on, I think, to really amplify Robert’s point, the language that’s used that talks about how wonderful things are, that’s actually the same language they’ve used in every Throne Speech: things have been perfect since about 2006, after we supposedly won some great victory in 2005 – or actually Danny won a great victory in 2005, a single $2-billion cheque handout from Ottawa – everything supposedly got perfect. And part of the government message has been, ever since, is that there’s nothing to talk about because everything is fine here. So they constantly deny things. They don’t want to have a real discussion about a lot of issues because it takes away that myth. The cotton candy disappears and you notice that things are not really, the streets are not as clean as they pretend. So there’s been a lot of that. That’s actually one of the things, in my ongoing theme of continuity, that’s another one of those continuities that’s been going on, which is a denial of things that are right in front of you.
ROBERT SWEENY: Real structural problems and I think the issue that we need to be honest about is that we have an exceptional revenue window of perhaps fifteen years in which we can address these long-term structural problems. We have exceptional revenues coming in from non-renewable resources. It’s between 45 and 50% of provincial revenues – depending on the year – for the last five years. We might have another ten years of that. We might have perhaps as much as another fifteen years of that, and then it’ll be gone. It’s non-renewable. So that means that if we are going to address the long-term structural problems – and those are difficult – we need to debate where we want to go, where we want our society to go. That’s what I think the House is for. Initiatives and plans and reviews and everything is hunky-dory type management doesn’t take us anywhere near the sorts of difficult discussions that we need to have.
ED HOLLETT: If you talk to former public servants who’ve retired over the last decade from the departments that deal with people who are on income support, who are trying to get back on their feet from downtimes, the marginalized, whatever phrase you want to use to describe them, but they are basically at the lower end of our socioeconomic spectrum. They will tell you – the people who have been working with this, in many cases, for 20 or 30 years – are the people who worked in departments where they minimized their own creature comforts in the office in order to maximize the amount of money that they were able to provide in income support and in job retraining programs, and so on. They will tell you that they retired probably more angry than they’ve ever been before, because at the time that all this money was going out the door, this government has had more than $16 billion in oil money that they’ve spent. It’s gone, we’ll never get it back again. And relatively little of that went into dealing with a lot of these long-term issues that we’ve had. And they continue to be at the bottom-end of government priorities, despite—
ROBERT SWEENEY: —Some of them are actually getting quite a bit worse. Housing, for example, we now have higher poverty rates on the Avalon than we do in the rest of the province. And in large measure that’s due to the very high costs of housing and the very serious problems people are facing in trying to find adequate housing. This is something that not a word was said about. I mean this is a problem associated with the growth that they’re trumpeting, that is being in part caused by that growth, and we need new and creative thinking about how to address it. That’s the sort of thing that should be in the Speech to the Throne and is just ignored. So the real problems, I think, of social justice issues were not spoken of and instead they said support for post-secondary education was the single most important form of social justice they could offer.
JUSTIN BRAKE: And of course moving forward as well – we only have a few minutes here, so I want to talk about the whistleblower legislation and government transparency generally. But moving forward in terms of having a healthy public discussion and debate about how to address our economic woes for the people who are on the lower end of the spectrum, and our social justice issues more generally, I’m hearing a lot of people say, and I think you’d both agree, there needs to be more interaction and attentiveness on the government’s part to what people and groups in the province are saying, who are trying to address social justice issues. What about the whistleblower legislation part of the Throne Speech? It was said that this government in 2003 enacted the toughest disclosure legislation in the province’s history to [reform] the electoral law, public accounting lobbyist registration information access, and there’s some other things. We fast-forward to Bill 29, and many have called it the most regressive piece of legislation in the province’s history with respect to access to information. It hinders even journalists from being able to do their job. What does this new language around whistleblower legislation, what does it tell us—
ROBERT SWEENY: —They spoke of two different measures. There’s an Open Government Initiatives, and that is to make sure that the government is providing sufficient information to people on issues. And then there’s the whistleblower, and that’s presumably to protect civil servants who are seeing problems from being penalized if they say publicly, or they jump over their immediate superiors to say that there’s a very serious problem here. So those are actually two different sorts of issues: one is transparency and the other is respecting the integrity of civil servants who are speaking on behalf of the public despite the political pressures on their job. All it’s said is that we’re going to have one. We’ve had first reading. I’ll admit, I have not read the document.
ED HOLLETT: Actually it hasn’t even been presented to the House, and I think that’s an important part about it. Just to go back though, in your introduction, to correct a point. The Conservatives didn’t bring the access to information law in 2003. They inherited a bill that had been passed by the previous administration by the House previously. It just fell to them to implement it, which they did. The Progressive Conservatives were actually the party who brought in Freedom of Information legislation in the early eighties. But the current administration inherited a bill and brought it in the way any administration would. The most significant thing that started to happen after about 2005-2006, from those of us who are using the Act fairly regularly, is that government started to tighten up what they were releasing. And by the time we got to Bill 29, Bill 29 merely codified what in many cases they were doing already and in some cases were doing illegally or contrary to the spirit of the Act. Whistleblower legislation – just to get at that point – my question would be what about whistleblower legislation? Yes, it’s in the Throne Speech, but we don’t have a bill. We don’t have a document. We don’t know what they’re going to talk about. In 2007, we were promised whistleblower legislation, protection for people who disclose government information in the public interest. A friend of mine, we got together and he drafted a piece of legislation, which I posted in 2009, in exactly the same fashion that government could do it, which is to take somebody else’s bill and adapt it to our circumstance. So there’s been legislation, it’s easy to do. The problem is that the Conservatives don’t want to do it, and really haven’t done it. We won’t be able to judge whether they’ve delivered the promise until we see it. And if past experience is true, is anything to go by, we’ve seen the Conservatives start out with very significant pieces of legislation, like last year I think it was or the year before, with an overhaul of the Public Tender Act. First reading of the bill, bill number one on the agenda. And by the end of the session there was no legislation. So we could wind up very easily in a situation where in June, or whenever the House closes, we still haven’t seen the whistleblower bill. Words on the paper don’t mean anything – it’s the actions that count. And when it comes to access to information, when it comes to public accountability and openness, there are no actions that match up to the rhetoric. The Open Government Initiative that you talked about, when I read it, it seems to me to be something literally as simple as what most other jurisdictions have taken for granted, which is to post readily available and information that should be generally available, whether it’s GIS (Global Information System data), maps and things, just to make that available. It’s actually cheaper. It’s more sensible for government to make lots of that information available so that people can make use of it, whether it’s innovation or whether it’s in their day-to-day life, to make statistics available, like the community accounts you referred to. That’s basically part of an open government initiative. Why are we here ten years later now heralding this as a great triumphant move forward when everybody else has been doing it a decade ago?
ROBERT SWEENY: Because one of the main criticisms of the Dunderdale administration was that they weren’t open. We want to show that we are not the Dunderdale administration. It’s a political point they’re trying to make. I think that’s it, but the content we’ll see. I remain skeptical.
JUSTIN BRAKE: We’ve got about thirty seconds left and I just want to finish with a question for Ed Hollett here, because you have written about the PC leadership race. The substance of the Throne Speech, we don’t know who’s coming in, although I think you’ve predicted that it’s going to be Mr. Coleman that will probably win the leadership race.
ED HOLLETT: It’s actually already decided. It’s pretty well done.
JUSTIN BRAKE: How does the Throne Speech, the language used in here, the things that are said in here, set things up for Mr. Coleman? Is there anything planned out or does it make anything difficult for him?
ED HOLLETT: To go back to the point, Frank Coleman won’t make any difference to the fundamental direction the government has done. In the same way that the fundamental difference did not change with Tom Marshall, or it didn’t change with Kathy Dunderdale. What Robert was referring to a minute ago was about a change in public perception. The Conservatives collectively, even while Kathy Dunderdale was there, were backing off the things that they had done in 2012 when they collapsed to the bottom of the poles. That’s part of an ongoing pattern that they’ve been trying to do. Where Frank Coleman fits into this is that there seems to be a belief amongst the Conservatives that I’ve either talked to, or that you hear talking – and other people have told me accounts that they’ve had of conversations – they seem to think that the only thing they really need to do is replace the spokesperson, the front man, that nothing else needs to change fundamentally. They just need to sound a little different and look a little different and that will be enough. So Frank Coleman is the latest parrot to occupy the throne. And the fundamental policy of the government, the fundamental approach from the government is still the same. You’re not going to see a hell of a lot of change.
JUSTIN BRAKE: Thanks, very much. We’re out of time. Ed Hollett is a political blogger, The Sir Robert Bond Papers, and a former special assistant to Clyde Wells. Robert Sweeney is a history professor at Memorial University and a columnist for TheIndependent.ca.
THE ‘REALLY IMPORTANT NEWS’ WITH HANS ROLLMANN
HANS ROLLMAN: This week in ‘Really Important News’, St. John’s City Council is still trying to piece together how it accidentally issued a demolition order for City Hall. The familiar granite edifice in downtown St. John’s was crushed by wrecking balls last week, but it turns out the entire demolition was a mistake. The confusion was apparently triggered by a proposal to designate City Hall as a heritage structure. According to sources of City Council, application for a Heritage Status is often a trigger for City Council to demolish a building and offer the site to come-from-away oil companies. “We didn’t realize the building being reviewed in this case was still in active use,” said a member of the city’s planning committee. “We just assumed if it was seeking heritage status it must belong to some charity that could no longer afford the upkeep. Destroying Newfoundland heritage and selling the rubble-strewn former locations to oil companies is a key part of our fiscal renewal strategy, but clearly we should have done a little more research is this particular case.”
While City Council scouts for a new location for City Hall, they’ll be holding interim council meetings in Doc O’Keefe’s second cousin’s nan’s shed.
The provincial Liberals have released a policy document they say will shape their future election platform. The party, which is leading in the polls, has in recent months taken in members from both the left-leaning NDP as well as the right-leaning Tories, along with a range of candidates whose position is politically nebulous. According to Liberal policy advisers, the new document successfully achieves a balance between these competing political ideologies. The document proposes increasing the minimum wage to $15 an hour with the money to be raised by means of a new tax on the unemployed. Tuition fees will be reduced at Memorial University, although the library will be sold to McDonald’s for conversion into a new Happy Meal superstore. Public servants will receive a 5% salary hike but will have to pay for the rental of their office desks, chairs, and Internet use while at work.
Memorial University has announced plans to launch a strategic research intensification initiative. According to a media release, this plan reflects a synergistic and integrated approach for strengthening all aspects of research, as well as the translation of knowledge into products, practices, and policies. It will feature a comprehensive life-cycle approach to supporting students, will emphasize quality project management, integrate and streamline grant facilitation processes, with attention to a life-cycle support of contract activities, and apply a network-based approach to cultivating a culture of high standards. The result will position the university to operate within a complex knowledge-based, value-added, economic system while aligning seed and bridge funding in order to cultivate, nurture, and cascade institutional and extra-institutional post-redundancies with game-changing impact. When asked what that means in common English, Memorial spokespersons said they weren’t entirely sure.
In Sports, we are going to take you live to the provincial championship round of competitive parliamentary floor crossing. We go to our correspondent on the scene, Paddy Staley. Hello, Paddy.
“Hello, Hans. Well it’s a nerve wracking championship round here today at the House of Assembly. Things are quiet right now as the House discusses the recent Speech from the Throne. NDP, I mean, sorry, Liberal MHA Dale Kirby is speaking and he’s – oh hold on, hold on just a moment. We have movement. We have Darin King. He’s getting up from the Tory side! He’s inching toward the end of the aisle. He’s going to make a run for it. He’s going to cross the floor! The Tory whip sees him and there goes Tom Marshall running after him. Can he tackle him before he gets across the floor? King is headed towards the Liberals. He’s making a run for it. Crossing the floor, the Liberals cheering him on with open arms. I don’t believe it! Charlene Johnson just tackled him and brought him down just shy of the Liberal line. A failed floor crossing by Darin King. That’s two points for the PCs. King is getting up. They’re brushing themselves off. He’s arguing with Marshall and Johnson. Steve Kent is in there arguing as well. Hold on now. Hold on. Kent is maneuvering himself around the crowd. Could it be? Could it be?! Yes, he’s bolting, he’s dashing across the floor. Steve Kent is heading towards the Liberals. No! He’s heading towards the NDP. Steve Kent crossing the floor to the NDP. Will he make it? Will he make it? Lorraine Michael, she’s reaching out. Now this is a new gameplay. The NDP are forming a human pyramid to extend their range. Gerry Rogers is reaching out. And she’s got him. She’s got him! Steve Kent successfully crosses the floor to the NDP. They’re cheering, slapping him on the back. Lorraine Michael wrapping an NDP team banner around his neck and fist pumping in the general direction of the PCs. There’s no smiles in the PC camp today. Ten points for the NDP. And I don’t believe it! We have movement again! It’s Tom Osborne. He’s in motion. He’s leaving the Liberals, making a run for it, heading back to the PCs. This is a chance for them to recoup their losses. Tom Marshall beckoning him on from the edge of the PC line. Osborne moving but he’s a bit slow. The Liberals are after him. Can they catch him and drag him back before he crosses the floor? Scott Andrews makes a tackle and misses. Osborne dodges to the left. He dodges to the left and, I don’t believe it. I don’t believe it! George Murphy has reached out and grabbed him. Murphy has got him by the ear! Ladies and gentlemen, Osborne was crossing to the PCs, but has been intercepted by the NDP! It’s a hostile floor crossing. The NDP are dragging him into their part of the court. The PCs are crying foul. The NDP have him! Tom Osborne, intercepted in an amazing play – a hostile floor-crossing interception by the NDP, who gain an extra 20 points for the manoeuver. That’s the end of the third period. The NDP are leading. We’ll be back with more competitive parliamentary floor crossing action right after these commercials.”
ROGUE METEOROLOGY WEATHER REPORT WITH MATTHEW GRANT
JUSTIN BRAKE: Matt, tell us about last week’s weather — what you predicted and what actually happened.
MATT GRANT: Well, last week’s weather went pretty much according to plan. We had a little bit of snow on Wednesday and most of that was washed away by Thursday’s rainstorm. The only little bit in the forecast was that snow that fell on Monday, while clear skies prevailed over the rest of Eastern Newfoundland. St. John’s and some other areas were hit by some sudden intense snowfall. My first guess was that it was a snow quall. I was in Clarenville all day and we had perfectly clear skies out there and when I got back to town in the evening I was surprised to see so much snow had already fallen on the ground, especially considering we’re expecting somewhat high pressure. Snow squalls will get you like that – it’s whenever you least expect it. See, snow squalls are created when air passes over open water in the winter and that water is significantly warmer than the land. So the air passing over the water is warming up, then it hits air above the land, which is colder than the air coming off the water. Since warm air rises that air coming off the water is forced upwards and the moisture in that air turns to snow crystals and then it falls as snow. So that was my guess, that it was snow squalls. And someone told me it had been snowing all day. Well, that shot a whole in my theory because it is possible to have snow squall conditions for an extended period of time. But for a whole day it’s usually not the case. Finally, I got to my computer and got to see the radar, but that was just as the storm was dying down. A tail of precipitation was retreating into the Atlantic, as if it was trying to sneak off the radar before I could see it. The tail shape made me think it must have been a small trough probably associated with a low somewhere way up north, and just crept down towards us. I should have checked the radar to check my theory, but I was lazy and I was satisfied enough with my answer at the time.
JUSTIN BRAKE: What’s a trough?
MATT GRANT: A trough is a section of low pressure. So usually you’ll have sort of a circular shape to your low-pressure system, but it’s easier to think of it as kind of a comma – the shape of a comma, the punctuation – generally round but sometimes you get these little tails that stick off. So that would be your trough of low pressure, which will bring you the same type of precipitation that the low would, but it extends farther out than you might expect with the whole low. But today I got a little curious and so what I did was I looked up the historical radar, which is a cool little tool on Environment Canada’s website. It just basically gives you past radar images. So I look up the radar data for the full day and saw that it really did look like snow squalls. They had streaks of dark bands of precipitation. Now, if there had been a similar tool for satellite imagery, then I could have known for sure. So what I did then is I checked the climate data online, which, again, is another tool that’s available on Environment Canada’s website. And I looked through the St. John’s airport weather data and found that the wind direction was consistent with the wind directions that typically give us snow squalls, which is north and northeast-ish. You can also get some from the northwest.
So that brought me to my final conclusion. I’m done with it. I think it’s a combination of the two. It was probably a weak trough that brought us some snow and that steered our winds in the right direction to set up some snow squalls. So if anybody has any more facts they’d love to share with me, I’d love to know because I’m still a little bit curious about it.
JUSTIN BRAKE: So the Monday weather mystery was solved. That was last Monday’s weather mystery. What are we looking forward to tomorrow and the rest of this week?
MATT GRANT: We’ve got a very similar type week setting up. Temperature wise it’s still a little chilly. It’ll be between zero and minus ten for the first part of this week, and it’ll slowly warm up as the week goes along. We’ll get above zero by next weekend. Winds will generally be light throughout this week. There is a big system passing just to the southeast of the Avalon on Tuesday and then another one on Thursday. Not a great time to be out on the oil rigs, but it shouldn’t affect us here on land. A small system will bring snow out of Labrador and past of the island on Tuesday. And it looks like there will be a much bigger system that’ll cover the entire province next Friday. And at this point it’s a little too far out to see if that’s going to be rain or snow, or probably it’ll end being a combination of both. But it’s a little too far out to call it for certain.
JUSTIN BRAKE: All right. Thank you, Matt Grant. That’s Matt Grant with the Rogue Meteorology Weather Report.
CONCERNS PERSIST OVER UNDISCLOSED TERMS OF CETA, THE MASSIVE FREE TRADE DEAL BETWEEN CANADA AND THE EUROPEAN UNION
JUSTIN BRAKE: Last October, after four years of negotiations, the federal government announced that it had reached an agreement with the European Union on CETA, the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement, a massive free trade deal between Canada and the EU that the Harper government has said will create $12 billion in new wealth and put $1,000 into the pockets of every working family, the equivalent, the government says, to creating 80,000 new jobs in Canada. Under the agreement it’s expected 98% of tariffs will be lifted on imported and exported goods between Canada and the European countries. CETA will eliminate tariffs on almost all of Newfoundland and Labrador key exports, the provincial government announced in a recent press release, and it will provide access to new market opportunities in the EU. Tariffs will be reduced or lifted on fish and seafood exports and will permanently lock in the duty-free access currently received by goods in the mineral and petroleum sectors. In turn, minimum-processing requirements will be eliminated in the province, meaning more of the fish and seafood caught in Newfoundland and Labrador will be processed outside the province. Fish, Food, and Allied Workers union President Earl McCurdy joined the provincial and federal governments in lauding the agreement, saying the benefits of reduced tariffs on fish and seafood exports outweigh the loss of minimum processing requirements in the province. Despite the positive response to the deal though, opposition parties in Ottawa and St. John’s and citizens groups across the country have criticized both the federal and provincial governments for negotiating CETA behind closed doors and without adequate public input. The text of the agreement has not been made public, but bits and pieces have been leaked. On Friday, we had three guests in our studio to discuss CETA and its potential implications for Newfoundland and Labrador.
Marilyn Reid is a columnist for TheIndpendent.ca and a member of the Council of Canadians and Citizens Against CETA. Lorraine Michael is the provincial NDP leader and MHA for the Signal Hill-Quidi Vidi district. And Jeff Loder is the Director of Trade Policy for the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador. Welcome everyone.
[all] Thank you.
JUSTIN BRAKE: Jeff, let’s start with you. This is the first interview, I understand, since the main part of the negotiations have sort of wrapped up, since the announcement was made last fall that there had been an agreement reached. Can you just begin by explaining what your role is as a negotiator for the province in the wider CETA negotiations between Canada and the EU?
JEFF LODER: Absolutely, Justin. Since May 2009, when these negotiations were announced, Newfoundland and Labrador put a team together of experts from across government, officials from the Government Procurement Agency, Natural Resources, Fisheries and Aquaculture, Intergovernmental Affairs, as well as Innovation, Business, and Rural Development. IBRD was the lead on the file, and since that time we have participated in all the formal rounds of negotiations with the European Union. And just to give sort of a very clear picture of how that worked, provincial negotiators – and we had a team, depending on the period, between six to ten people – we would sit in the negotiating room in areas of provincial jurisdictions. In areas of federal, solely within federal jurisdiction, we did not sit in the room. In addition to being there present for the negotiations themselves, there were repeated numerous federal, provincial, territorial meetings in Ottawa, as well as Brussels, where federal government would advise us of the current state of play and where the negotiations were to. And to be quite frank, the entire team, there was a lot of sacrifice, spending a lot of time in Ottawa as well as Brussels, to ensure that the provincial interests were represented.
JUSTIN BRAKE: And can you explain from your perspective as well, just explain what the sort of nuts and bolts of a free trade agreement of this size is – because we’re talking about not just between Canada, this is not like NAFTA, Canada, United States, and Mexico. This is with the European Union. There’s a lot of countries in the European Union. So what exactly does this free trade deal mean for Canada, but more specifically for the province of Newfoundland and Labrador?
JEFF LODER: Well, I think there’s sort of two questions there. So I’m going to parcel them out. The first question, I think the best way to answer that is to sort of compare it to NAFTA. The North American Free Trade Agreement was a deal that largely dealt with what we call border measures: things such as tariffs – so customs, duties, and taxes that apply to goods, in particular, that cross a border. It did go into certain measures at the federal level, behind the border, such as regulatory measures, the recognition of professional qualifications, a few areas where some parts of the agreement attempted to really take sort of the first step in economic integration in terms of facilitating trade and services, for example. So if a lawyer wants to leave Toronto and operate in New York, there has to be some understanding around his qualifications, how long he can stay in New York, and a whole range of other issues. But on the whole NFATA was largely a border measure agreement. New age sort of trade agreements – if we want to call them that – like CETA, deal as much with behind the border measures. So to give you an example, CETA has a chapter that deals with technical barriers to trade and a full section that deals with something we call conformity assessment, which is a framework put in CETA that will allow Canadian companies, some fairly large ones in Newfoundland and Labrador, to have their products assessed in terms of EU standards in Canada. Because of course you can’t take your laptop, if it’s made in Canada, and just sell it in Europe. It has to be examined to make sure it’s safe, whether it meets the technical standards, and so forth. So CETA deals with a whole range of issues like that where there are frameworks put in place for Canada and the EU to come to some sort of understanding around those types of issues to facilitate trade. But of course, at the highest level, CETA, very much like NAFTA, is about reducing tariffs. And the difference, I think, the question you’re trying to get at, is where does it go in terms of provincial jurisdiction? There’s no doubt that CETA – and this is why we were at the negotiating table – does go more into provincial jurisdiction than NAFTA did. And it was the European Union that asked provinces to be at the negotiating table, so that there would be a clear understanding of what the commitments would be, and that the provinces would live up to those commitments.
JUSTIN BRAKE: Marilyn Reid, we’ll go to you. The Council of Canadians has been very vocal in its dissatisfaction with the level of transparency that has been demonstrated, I guess, but the federal government throughout this negotiations period, which has been a little over four years, I believe. And locally the group that you’re involved with, Citizens Against CETA, is expressing a lot of concern with how the trade agreement might affect Newfoundlanders and Labradorians on a very local level. Do you want to explain – I should say, as well, to people listening that you authored a series of articles for the Independent that has kind of outlined, has tried to analyze the free trade agreement and has shed light on several of the concerns that you have, in great detail, the final article of which will be published tomorrow. Can you kind of give us a run down of some of the primary concerns that you have as an individual, as a Newfoundland and Labrador citizen, and as a member of these groups?
MARILYN REID: First of all, I’d like to say that I think the federal government is deceiving us in calling this a trade agreement. Certainly there is trade in this agreement, but there’s a lot more than trade. And really we don’t talk about that at all. I think the trade benefits are miniscule, if you look at them overall, and I think even the corporate sector has admitted that. The Royal Bank has made the point of saying that there’s a lot more hype in the agreement than there should be and that the benefits would be modest. Capital Economics, which is a corporate research group, has said that the trade benefits will be very small. There has been opposition from civil society groups and good research that has suggested that there will be job loss of 28,000 to 150,000. The figure that the federal government gives of 80,000 is something that I think everybody [was just] embarrassed about. And the study that the $12 billion supposed increase in GDP is based on a very flawed study. But having said all that, really my group is most opposed to CETA because we think it’s not primarily a trade agreement. It is really an agreement where the investment section is of primary importance. And if you look at that investment section – and here I’m saying from leaked documents because of course we don’t have access to it – I think it comes out that it’s very much a corporate rights agreement. I don’t even think it’s good for investments in Canada, but it is certainly good for the corporate sector, and the language in it is such that, I think, it will be easy for corporations from Europe to contest, if you like, the right to regulate on the part of government and the right of government to create new policies in the future to address the unexpected, be that social, economic, or environmental. And they will be able to contest that, and here’s the really big part. They will be able to contest that in these offshore tribunals. There are not judges in them. They are three lawyers, one by the federal government, one by the corporate sector that is addressing the litigation, and one appointed jointly—
JUSTIN BRAKE: So this is the investor-state dispute settlement process that you’re referencing here?
MARILYN REID: It is. And if you look at that you will find that there is a lot of conflict of interest in there. There is no appeal mechanism in there. There’s a lot of other things wrong with this. I guess, I would sum up by saying we have an investment section, with loosy-goosy language and loopholes, that allow the corporations to challenge government in ways that we may not be able to anticipate and they will do this on their terms, which is offshore.
JUSTIN BRAKE: Another big concern that you have was with regard to the privatization of public services, which, if I understand it correctly, there’s nothing specifically in CETA, and maybe you can address this after, Jeff, or correct me if I’m wrong now, there’s nothing specifically in there that says public services are open to privatization, but it could be an unintended consequence. Can you elaborate on that point, Marilyn, because you have written about that a bit in your articles?
MARILYN REID: The government has done its best to say ‘we’re going to protect public services.’ But the way they’ve done that is they’ve had to detail every single public service that we have. It’s what’s referred to as a negative list. The government has – instead of the corporations listing what they want liberalized and what they want access to and everything else is safe, we have in CETA an approach where it is the government that lists what we want to protect, in terms of public services, and everything else is up for grabs. So if the provinces or the federal government forget to list something – and you have to make a detailed list of these – then that’s vulnerable. But more importantly, I think, if you want to introduce a public service in the future – and let’s take an example of we have an aging province that perhaps in the future we would like to bring in public home care – and that could keep people at home, keep them out of nursing homes – that could not be public, in all probability. The government can pay for it, can finance it, but it would have to be delivered by the private section. So that’s a concern in the sense that we are strapped. We cannot develop public policy in the future. There’s a good change it’ll be challenged and, again, offshore.
And I also have to say that the federal government, in the way that they are funding the provinces, and their emphasis on public-private partnerships, wastewater management is perhaps the best example. Twenty-five percent of wastewater management infrastructure in the country has to be more or less replaced or substantially upgraded. That’s a $20 to $40 billion expenditure. The federal government is saying, ‘if you want money to…’ I live in Conception Bay South. If you want money to do this kind of upgrade – I have no idea whether CBS needs it or not – but if you did you are best able to get that money if you go into a public-private partnership. A public-private partnership means that the private section becomes an investor in that. So they will invest their money and they will run the infrastructure for, say, 20 years and get back their investment and make a profit. In a sense, public services are protected as long as we don’t initiate any kind of private involvement, but once we do we’ve lost that protection. And the thing about CETA is that if you look at who are these investors going to be, you need big bucks to do this. These aren’t small local companies. So even if you are for privatization, really who’s going to get the big deals? It’s going to be the water companies in France or elsewhere. And why would we do that to ourselves? I don’t know whether I’ve answered the question.
JUSTIN BRAKE: Absolutely, and I know there’s a lot more to talk about, so I’ll come back to you, but I want to go to Lorraine Michael right now. Lorraine, maybe you can kind of start by just telling us what the NDP’s position on CETA is more generally, based on what we know, speaking from a provincial perspective, obviously.
LORRAINE MICHAEL: Right, well, first of all, as a party our membership, in our convention in 2012, did have a resolution of real concern around CETA and wanting the NDP Caucus to be pushing for more information, to have government reveal more information, and to keep pushing the government with regard to the whole issue of CETA and the fact that we really feel that we don’t have information that we need. And so when we went back into the House of Assembly, we went with a resolution of our party telling us what the position was that they wanted us to take in the House of Assembly. So that’s from the party perspective. For myself, as an individual, so many memories are coming back to me from the 1980s when we were up against the free trade agreement – the FTA and then NAFTA. And some of the issues that we had major concerns about at that time are now issues that we’re revisiting under CETA. And as the leader of a political party, and somebody who represents people in the House of Assembly, now more than ever I’m looking at the issues from the perspective of what really will maybe affect the lives of the people in Newfoundland and Labrador. I think it’s from that perspective that I’ll be speaking. I’m not an expert in the agreement, and obviously there’s an awful lot of information that we don’t have because the main documents haven’t been released. We don’t know the full details. But the information that we have, for example, around the whole issue of pharmaceuticals. I don’t know how many people who are listening to us understand – they do know the difference, I think, between the brand drugs and generic. I think everybody now knows that, and that generic drugs, which come on stream – right now it’s 20 years after a brand drug does – the generic drugs are cheaper. They’re cheaper because the research has been done and now it’s deemed that the companies who have first brought the brand drugs on have made the money that they put into the research and it’s a level playing field now and you have a new price for the generic drugs. People look forward to that.
What CETA does is, I understand, from what we’re being told, adds two more years to the exemption before generic drugs can come on board. We do know that that’s going to mean that people will be paying higher prices for a longer period of time on various brand drugs. So it slows down the process for getting cheaper drugs on the market and into the hands of people. There are other aspects to the deal, I understand, that will also add possibly to the cost of drugs. So I’m really concerned for the low-income people, people on fixed incomes in our province, seniors, about the cost of drugs. That’s one area that we’re concerned about. Another one, which has been mentioned by Marilyn, is the whole issue around investors’ rights. And that has a real big meaning for us now more than ever because of the larger number of international companies that are involved in Newfoundland and Labrador in the resource development sector. And I agree with Marilyn, from the information that we have, the investor rights is basically something that’s protecting corporations. And I’m going to use an example of something that we’ve already experienced here in this province because of NAFTA, and I think people will understand, then, clearly what we’re talking about. One of the things that we fought about in the 1980s was chapter 11 in the NAFTA, and chapter 11 was basically the investors’ rights; that’s what it was about. There is a tribunal, a NAFTA tribunal, and companies can actually take governments to the tribunal and get judgments made with regard to whether or not a company could do a certain thing or whether or not a government should have done what it’s done. The corporation can basically take the government to the tribunal. When the provincial government here expropriated AbitibiBowater, the mill and the properties that went with it, basically they expropriated the properties first and accidentally took the mill; at that time I knew that was against chapter 11 in NAFTA, and I think Mr. Williams knew it was as well, but he took a gamble. And what happened was AbitibiBowater challenged the federal government, because in NAFTA it had to be the federal government that it challenged because the federal government were the signers of NAFTA; they let the federal government know that they were going to go to the tribunal. So the federal government instead of having you go to the tribunal, cut them off at the pass, got an agreement, but paid $130 million because the provincial government had taken over the AbitibiBowater properties. With CETA, that kind of thing will happen, but what’s even more concerning for me is that the three levels of government now – federal, provincial, and municipal – will be under CETA, will be there as entities with responsibilities. This is my understanding. So that, for example, in this case where a province did the expropriation, if that happened under CETA, it seems to me that it would have been the province that the company would have said it was going to bring to the tribunal, and then the province would either have to pay up based on a judgment of the tribunal or negotiate with the company. So it has a real implication for us, I believe. Especially, too, when it comes to the issues of environment and environmental cleanup. There are an awful lot of issues that can be attacked under CETA under the section of investors’ rights. Now I can be proven wrong when I see the details, but I don’t think that’s going to be the case because usually, as we say, the devil is in the details. So I don’t have a great expectation. And there’s one more area, if I can mention, I’ll do this one shortly and then I can talk more to it later, it has to do with the whole procurement issue and the concern that we have with regard to municipalities here in Newfoundland and Labrador. Marilyn mentioned one example. Having to do a whole new water-sewer system could be very expensive. With CETA the tender for that work, if it’s under a certain amount of money, about $360 million I think it is, is where it starts. If it’s under that, the municipality can just put its tender out in Newfoundland and Labrador. Under CETA, the tender, if it’s over that $360 million, could go out to all over Europe. There are jobs, not many, but there are jobs in this province that could be over $360 million. I understand in the larger municipalities in the country, for example, Toronto, one subway car could cost that. But talking from our perspective, there are things that could cost over $360 million, and that tender would have to go out to everybody who was part of the agreement, and that would go against local hiring, et cetera, et cetera.
JUSTIN BRAKE: Unfortunately, we’re out of time, but you can hear the rest of the interview and read the full story on TheIndependent.ca tomorrow. The Indy News Hour is produced by Matthew Thomson, Justin Davis, and myself, Justin Brake. Tune in again next Sunday at 8 pm. Thanks for listening.