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iPolitics.ca

August 4, 2020. Incoming premier Dr. Andrew Furey says ‘everything’ is on the table to cure N.L.’s disastrous debt – iPolitics

September 28, 2020. A new Atlantic Loop faces some old obstacles – iPolitics

November 9, 2020. An offshore sale flops and Newfoundland and Labrador’s economy takes a hit – iPolitics

December 23, 2020. The unfolding Muskrat Falls fiasco: Ottawa offers NL debt relief – iPolitics

January 18, 2021. Andrew Furey’s Liberals roll the dice with a winter election in N.L. – iPolitics

February 11, 2021. N.L. election collides with COVID-19 outbreak – iPolitics

February 15, 2021, Uncertainty follows suspension of N.L. election – iPolitics

February 28, 2021. The strange N.L. election just got stranger – iPolitics

March 25, 2021. Voting finally coming to an end in N.L. election – iPolitics

March 27, 2021. Liberals win slim majority in N.L. election – iPolitics

The Shoreline News

Shoreline News February 25, 2021.

Vaccines and Voters

Premier Andrew Furey looks into the camera during the government’s

COVID-19 briefings and encourages viewers to stay strong. In his best bedside manner the surgeon turned politician asks for patience. “We’ll get through this” says the candidate for the district of Humber Gros Morne. And just when you can almost feel Dr. Furey’s comforting hand on your shoulder Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer, Dr. Theresa Tam is looking into another camera and telling you, “For the next few months, we’re not going to have a lot of people vaccinated. That’s just a fact.”

Locking down may keep people safe for, but getting vaccinated is the only way life is going to get back to some kind of normal in Newfoundland and Labrador. Unfortunately, given Canada’s disappointing roll-out of vaccines and the province’s absolute dependence on Ottawa for its supply don’t expect a call from Eastern Health with an appointment time anytime soon. Asked about the delays in getting vaccines into arms Premier Furey says, “We all recognize this is a struggle.”

The national dimensions of the “struggle” are nothing to be proud of. In the Oxford University’s global tracking of vaccinations on February 19 Canada ranked 41st in the world. At a rate of 3.6 doses administered per 100 people Canada ranked behind countries like Iceland, Poland, Romania, and Morocco.

Measuring the Federal Government’s performance another way, in what is being called a national embarrassment, Canada is the only G-7 country to draw vaccine out of the UN-backed Covax Facility, a pool of vaccine intended for distribution to low and middle income countries.

How is Newfoundland and Labrador faring in the “struggle”? As of the reporting period ending February 17 the Province has administered 16,458 doses of COVID-19 vaccines for a vaccination rate of 3.1 doses administered per 100 people. That is below the national average of 3.6 doses administered per 100 people. If the province were a country it would rank just behind Barbados, but a bit ahead of Latvia.

Barbados and Latvia may be having similar success (or lack of success) to Newfoundland and Labrador in getting their citizens vaccinated, but they are different from the province in one crucial way. Barbados and Latvia are led by parliamentary governments who are mid-term in mandates won in 2018 while Newfoundland Labrador provincial politics are in a state of unprecedented chaos. What was scheduled to be a 28 day campaign in a province with an elections act limiting campaigns to 35 days has become a 56 day campaign.

In a provincial election for the history books, 70,000 votes were cast via advance polls and special ballots prior to the original in-person voting day of February 13. The Chief Electoral Officer advises that he has received a further 110,000 requests for mail-in ballots and some of those requests were for multiple ballots. Presume for a moment, however, that the net return is 110,000 votes cast, then the total votes cast will be 180,000 or significantly less than the 212,845 votes cast in 2019 or about half of the 368,000 people eligible to vote in this election.

The “turnout” in this election raises several questions, but setting aside the issue of charter or other legal challenges Andrew Furey’s opponents have focused on two of them. One, whoever wins may have a weak if not suspect mandate or what NDP Leader Alison Coffin calls “a questionable” mandate. Two, the potential 110,000+ voters who will be casting ballots following the most recent lock down may question Premier Andrew Furey’s judgment in calling a winter election in the midst of a pandemic in a way earlier voters did not. Andrew Furey’s opponents obviously hope they will and in an unfavorable way.

In a media release issued on the last day to request mail-in ballots the PC Party Leader Ches Crosbie said “He could have waited until more vaccines were in the arms of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians before calling the election, but he did not . . . Mr. Furey could have put Newfoundland and Labrador first. Instead he put Andrew Furey first.”

Several weeks ago pollsters thought this election campaign would result in Andrew Furey forming a majority government. They may be less confident today, because nobody predicted a variant of a COVID-19 virus called B.1.1.7 would throw this election into disarray. Voting ends on March 12 or that is the Chief Electoral Officer’s current plan. Counting the last of the votes follows and then a government is sworn in? Depending on legal challenges, maybe. When a new government is eventually sworn in what kind of a mandate will it have? Who knows.

What is the chance of getting vaccinated in the meantime? Go back to the first paragraph. Last sentence. Read Dr. Theresa Tam’s answer again. And, good luck, be careful, stay safe.

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Shoreline News. March 112, 2021

Getting Jabbed

On March 3 Federal Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland joined Prime Minister Trudeau for a COVID-19 briefing and striking a note of optimism told Canadians there was “light at the end of the tunnel.” An hour later during Newfoundland and Labrador’s COVID-19 briefing Premier Andrew Furey seemed to be reading from the same script when striking a note of optimism said “the light at the end of the tunnel is shining brighter.”

The source of their optimism? Five hundred thousand doses of a vaccine produced by an Indian pharmaceutical company, Serum Institute, was arriving in Canada. Seven thousand doses were due to be delivered to Newfoundland and Labrador. Couple that with a decision to stretch out the interval between administering the required two doses of the Pfizer vaccine to four months and acquiring vaccines at a seriously accelerated rate left Premier Andrew Furey brimming with confidence. His prediction? Every person in the province who wants to get vaccinated will be vaccinated by the end of June.

A reason for caution? It is a long, long tunnel. A reason for cynicism?

There are a lot of other countries, big and small, that are doing better than Canada in getting to the end of the tunnel.

Justin Trudeau. Good Job/Bad Job?

Prime Minister Trudeau says his goal is to have every Canadian vaccinated by the end of September. U.S. President Joe Biden says every American will be vaccinated by the end of May.

How about a comparison to a country closer to Canada’s in size? Ok, take Morocco. Similar in population. . .36 million to Canada’s 37 million. Canada is geographically 20 times as large as the North African country, but Canada is far more urbanized and much wealthier. Measured by per capita GDP, according to the World Bank, Canada’s economy is 14 times the size of Morocco’s.

So, which country is closer to the end of the tunnel? Prime Minister Trudeau says Canada’s goal is to vaccinate about 10% of Canadians by the end of March. Morocco’s goal is to vaccinate almost 80% million of its citizens by the end of April. According to the Oxford Our World in Data count on March 1st Canada ranked #43 in doses of vaccine administered per 100 people. Morocco ranked #14.

In a recent national poll 57% of respondents agreed with the statement that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has done a “bad job” of distributing vaccines to the provinces. Andrew Furey acknowledges Canada has faced what he calls “challenges,” but he doesn’t offer a single word of criticism.

The Premier is asked, is it too early to be talking about lessons learned? Yes, he replies. Unlike Manitoba which is taking steps to secure its own supply of vaccines, Andrew Furey is betting on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to deliver and he is all-in.

Rose-Coloured Glasses and Other Clichés

When the candidate for the district of Humber Gros Morne dragged out the century-old’light at the end of the tunnel’cliché on March 3 voters were still voting. After an outbreak of the B11.7 COVID-19 variant slammed the provincial election campaign it is understandable that even the promise of a few thousand additional doses of vaccine is reason enough for Andrew Furey to take a victory lap.

The risk, however, is one of rising expectations. By March 3 sixty-thousand people have registered for vaccination during Phase 2 of the vaccine roll-out. They are over 70-years-old and the most vulnerable. When their phone rings they will wonder if it is someone calling with their appointment time. If Andrew Furey and John Haggie can’t jab vaccines in the arms of those thousands of senior citizens sooner rather than later, then their enthusiasm will turn to. . .well, it’ll turn.

The Oxford English Dictionary describes a cliché as “a phrase or opinion that is overused and betrays a lack of original thought.” Like ‘We’ve turned a corner.’ Freeland used that one in the March 3 Ottawa briefing. Or, ‘We’re not out of the woods yet.’ Furey used that one in his March 5 briefing.

I sincerely hope this doesn’t come to pass, but if Canada Day/Remembrance Day comes and goes and you are still waiting for a jab in the arm you won’t have to be reminded of another old cliché . . ‘all that glitters is not gold.’

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Shoreline News. March 25, 2021.

Voting Might Prove to Have Been the Easy Part

Barring any last-minute surprises voting in the provincial election is scheduled to end at 4 PM on March 25. That doesn’t mean the election is over. It just means the part where the Chief Electoral Officer accepts ballots is over.

Again, barring any last-minute surprises the ballots will be counted and according to Elections NL results are expected to be announced at 2 PM on Saturday, March 27. Then the next part of the election will begin. How the next part ends and how long the next part takes is a story that is yet to be written.

While waiting for events to unfold it may be helpful to recall what happened in a provincial election 50 years ago. It was like a play in three acts. The first act opened on October 6, 1971 when the election was called.

When the votes were counted three weeks later for the then 42-seat House of Assembly the result was 21 PCs, 20 Liberals, and one independent, a member of the New Labrador Party.

Six districts had been decided by less than 100 votes so recounts were conducted. While the recounts were being conducted the Liberal Premier of the day, Joey Smallwood, refused to resign despite the fact his party was the one with 20 seats.

Smallwood held out for two weeks until the independent New Labrador Party candidate said he would support the PC party led by Frank Moores. The decision gave the PCs, depending on the outcome of the recounts, a working majority of 22 – 20 seats in the House of Assembly. Fate, however, had some surprises in store and Smallwood did not step down.

Act II – Burned Ballots and Other Suspicious Affairs

Ten days later the recount in the riding of St. Barbe South came to a sudden halt when it was learned that the ballots in the polling station in Sally’s Cove had been burned. The PCs had won the district by eight votes, but the Liberal party asked the Supreme Court to declare the St. Barbe South outcome void.

Smallwood carried on as Premier until the Supreme Court ruled on January 11, 1972 that the eight-vote PC victory in St. Barbe South stood. Two days later Frank Moores and his PC government were sworn into office. However, the House of Assembly did not re-open and Moores’ “government” did not last long.

On January 21st a Liberal member resigned giving the PC’s a 22 – 19 seat majority in the House. Two weeks later a PC party member and the New Labrador Party member quit the PCs and joined the Liberals, giving the Liberals a 21 – 20 lead in seats. Then, two weeks later a Liberal member resigned deadlocking the House of Assembly in a 20 – 20 tie with two seats vacant. Speculation about money changing hands has never subsided.

Act III – Voting Again

The curtain went up for the final act when the House of Assembly finally opened on March 1, 1972, almost five months after the October 6 election call. Frank Moores, after appointing a Speaker, was left with 19 members facing 20 opposition members. He was in an impossible situation.

Moores asked the Lieutenant Governor to dissolve the Assembly and call an election. Three weeks later as Spring arrived and the PC party won 33 seats, the Liberals won 9 seats, and the electoral process that had begun the previous Fall finally came to an end.

Fate and Andrew Furey?

Rookie Premier Andrew Furey called a winter election in the midst of a pandemic. It was a gamble. Will he prove to have been an inexperienced but compassionate physician/premier who gambled and lost? Or, will history remember Furey as an ambitious, cold, and calculating risk-taker who gambled and won? Or, something else? We are about to find out.

One Liberal cabinet minister’s speculation is that there could be eight close contests in this election. If that speculation is accurate and those eight seats represent the balance of power, then judicial recounts will almost certainly be coming. However, that process would likely lead to a resolution in a matter of days. What will be a journey into the unknown is if Charter challenges are lodged.

Section 3 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees everyone’s right to vote. It is sacrosanct. It is beyond the reach of the notwithstanding clause.

So, if aboriginal voters go to court and allege Election NL’s English language voting kits prevented them from exercising their Section 3 rights, then the odds are the Supreme Court of Newfoundland and Labrador is going to hear the matter.

If another party goes to court and argues the Chief Electoral Officer contravened the provincial elections act by some of his actions, then the odds are the Supreme Court is going to hear that matter.

If Andrew Furey is rewarded with an overwhelming victory after the votes are counted, then this election may be over shortly. If the outcome is close, then we could see the skills of PC Party Leader Ches Crosbie, a career litigator, on full display.

It took the best part of five months after the votes were counted in the 1971 election before a majority government sat in the House of Assembly. So, what does the future hold as we await the results of the 2021 election? The answer is, nobody knows.

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Shoreline News. April 29, 2021.

It’s Hard to Kick the Sugar Habit

August 14, 2016. Liberal Finance Minister Cathy Bennett introduces a budget with a deficit of $1.83 billion despite cutting jobs and raising taxes and fees. Ms. Bennett says, the “culture of spending” is over.

April 6, 2017. Liberal Finance Minister Cathy Bennett introduces a budget with a deficit of $778 million. Ms. Bennett says, “We’ve taken a smart, focused approach.”

March 27, 2018. Liberal Finance Minister Tom Osborne introduces a budget with a deficit of $683 million. He says, “We’re definitely headed in the right direction.”

April 16, 2019. Clouded by an accounting maneuver to include $2.5 billion from the Federal government that will arrive over 38 years Liberal Finance Minister Tom Osborne introduces a 2019-20 budget with a deficit of $575 million. He says, “Today, our financial outlook is significantly improved.”

December 11, 2019. Liberal Finance Minister Tom Osborne updates the 2019-20 budget. The deficit is now $943 million. He calls the government approach “balanced.”

February 17, 2020. Liberal Premier Dwight Ball announces he will resign.

August 3, 2020. Andrew Furey wins the Liberal leadership race. After promising to “re-imagine” government Andrew Furey told www.ipolitics.ca there was no sense in “sugar coating” the economic challenge facing the province. Furey said the way out of the fiscal hole the province has dug itself into is to “right-size government.”

September 3, 2020. Premier Andrew Furey announces that Dame Moya Greene has been appointed to the position of Chair of the Premier’s Economic Recovery Team.

September 30, 2020. Delivering her first budget, the new Finance Minister Siobhan Coady forecast a $1.8 billion deficit for the fiscal year 2020-21. Ms. Coady calls it “a stable budget in unstable times.”

September 30, 2020. The Chief Economist at Laurentian Bank Securities says NL “remains in a structural and unsustainable deficit position.”

October 6, 2020. Andrew Furey wins a seat in the NL House of Assembly

October 22, 2020. An Executive Council news release announces the Premier’s Economic Recovery Team will provide an interim report to the Provincial Government, “by February 28, 2021 and a final report due by April 30, 2021.”

November 5, 2020. Echoing then-Leadership candidate Andrew Furey’s call to “right-size” government Dame Moya Greene says “When you’re in a hole you definitely need to stop digging.”

January 15, 2021. Premier Andrew Furey calls an election for February13, two weeks before Greene’s Economic Recovery Team’s interim report is scheduled to be delivered.

January 16, 2021. Andrew Furey’s view of “right-sizing government” appears to have shifted as he tells reporter’s at a campaign stop, “Now is not the time for cuts.”

February 2, 2021. The CD Howe Institute releases a report titled The Rock in a Hard Place. The Institute’s economists conclude that “without strong corrective action, provincial finances appear to be set on an unsustainable track.”

February 12, 2021. In-person voting in the provincial election is delayed because of a coronavirus outbreak. Deadline for mail-in voting is eventually extended to March 25.

Feb 27, 2021. Dame Moya Greene announces in an unscheduled, Saturday morning media briefing that her interim report expected by February 28 would not be ready for another “four or five weeks,” or well after voting concludes.

March 10, 2021. The author’s of the Royal Bank of Canada’s provincial outlook for Newfoundland and Labrador concluded, “The provincial government will be called on to make tough choices to address its precarious fiscal position.”

March 27, 2001. Andrew Furey wins a slim majority in the provincial election.

April 5, 2021. Five weeks have elapsed since Dame Moya Greene’s unscheduled Saturday morning media briefing. Dame Greene misses another delivery date.

April 15, 2021. Andrew Furey’s first Throne Speech says “Hope is transformative” and “The coming years will bring reimagination and reinvention for our industries and the reinvigoration of the provincial economy.”

The Throne Speech also said “Dame Moya Greene will be presenting the recommendations of the Premier’s Economic Recovery Team in short order.”

June ?, 2021. Liberal Finance Minister Siobhan Coady introduces a budget with a deficit of _____. Ms. Coady says,

a) “These are unprecedented and challenging times, so I would like to quote the lyrics to the Ode to Newfoundland like I did in my last budget speech”

or

b) “Please pass the sugar.”

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