Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Dirty NL secrets

I'm filling in for Bill Rowe as host of VOCM's afternoon radio call-in show, Backtalk, for the month of July, followed by a week standing in for Randy Simms as host of Open Line. Each day I'll post the show's monologue, which I prepare in advance.


Good morning Newfoundland and Labrador and all the ships at sea.

This time of year is what’s known, in some media circles, as the silly season.

Because the news tends to slow down.

And the news can get a little silly.

More to the point, stories often get a little weaker.

Not this summer.

We’re deep into July and there’s still an awful lot of hard news around.

Hard news is front-page news, information cut to the bone, the facts and only the facts.

Look for colour somewhere else.

Let’s start today with offshore NL.

Nothing silly about that.

The offshore, where Chevron continues to drill the deepest well in Canadian history on the Orphan Basin, one kilometer deeper than the Gulf of Mexico well that caused the biggest oil spill in U.S. history.

The Gulf leak may have been stopped, but there’s concern that oil may be seeping from the ocean floor.

Talk about a nightmare, a nightmare that never ends.

A national story broke Tuesday (July 20th).

Front-page Telegram news.

Hard news.

What it comes down to is the watchdog agency that oversees oil drilling off Newfoundland — the Canada/Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board — is keeping secret key information about how companies would respond to an oil spill.

Information like details about who would be in charge of any cleanup.

And where oil spills are expected to drift.

Canadian regulators say they’re being as transparent as possible within the law.

Critics say the lack of full disclosure is “inexcusable” at a time when the public’s confidence in offshore drilling has been shaken by the Gulf of Mexico disaster.

The media tried to get its hands on response plans for 3 production projects off our coast — Hibernia, Terra Nova and White Rose, as well as details for Chevron’s response plans for the Orphan Basin.

Only some of the details were withheld.

In the case of Chevron’s response plan, an entire section labeled project emergency and spill response teams was blacked out.

First question of the day: should the response plans for potential offshore spills be made public?

Should we know simple stuff, like who exactly would be in charge in the event of a spill, a spill that could pollute our environment?

And where exactly the oil from a spill off Newfoundland would drift?

Do you think you have a right to know that?


Still with oil, most people are familiar with the Upper Churchill contract between Quebec and NL.

About how we’re tied into that incredibly lopsided contract — supposedly tied in until 2041 (the province is still trying to undo it through the courts).

Most people are also familiar with the Lower Churchill and problems between Quebec and NL that have been preventing the project from getting off the ground.

But did you also know there’s an offshore oil and gas dispute between NL and Quebec?

The dispute is over a potential oil and gas deposit in the Gulf of St. Lawrence known as Old Harry.

Old Harry may have twice as much oil as Hibernia — the only way to find out is to drill.

Only there’s a dispute between NL and Quebec over the boundary in the Gulf of St. Lawrence between the two provinces.

There are other problems, but that’s the main one.

Will relations between NL and Quebec ever improve?

Of course, the other question is whether you think offshore drilling should be allowed in the Gulf of St. Lawrence.


In other hard news, looks like the strike by 850 longshoremen in the Port of Montreal has woken us up to as to how much food and other essentials we import.

Half of all goods coming to the island of Newfoundland arrive via shipping containers from the port of Montreal.

The other half comes via Marine Atlantic.

CBC’s Here and Now had a piece last night on how the strike may impact us.

St. John’s apparently gets five container loads of bananas every week.

If the containers don’t get here from Montreal, we won’t have any bananas.

Oceanex, which brings in the containers from Montreal, is trying to work around the labour dispute by rerouting its container ships to Halifax for cargo pickup.

The cargo is being shipped to Halifax via road and rail, which is more expensive, significantly more expensive.

We’ll have to wait and see how much freight actually makes its way here.

No doubt, we’ll probably see an impact on grocery store shelves.

Bananas don’t last too long, maybe we could make banana bread with the ones we have?

A not so subtle hint to my mother.


There’s an interesting editorial in The Telegram today as well on how dependent we are on food and goods imported from the mainland.

The Telegram asks us to take a little test: “Look in your cupboards, and then in your refrigerator, and see how many products there are that are 100 per cent made right here.”

Not many, I can tell you.

I had a look in my fridge.

Even most of the stuff made here has mainland ingredients.

The Telegram say we’re hardly masters of our own house.

Hardly masters of anything.

Do you agree?

I can tell you this, I bought blueberries the other day from Costco, cheap too, but I felt guilty.

I should have filled the freezer last fall with berries I could have picked myself.

Should we be doing more for ourselves?


Speaking of freight, I see the owner of a local trucking company is so frustrated with Marine Atlantic that he’s chartered his own barge to ship freight here from southern Ontario.

Greer Hunt, owner of Mount Pearl-based Hunt’s Transport, has leased a barge for three years.

So he’s serious.

Hunt’s barge will set out on its first run later this week from Hamilton, Ont., and is scheduled to arrive on Long Pond, C.B.S., early next week.

The barge can handle 50 trailers at a time, and make a trip every 21 days.

Give Greer Hunt credit, he’s got initiative.

Local trucking companies are more than welcome to call in.


There’s a new study out that says crime is climbing in the St. John’s region.

According to Stats Canada, crime is more frequent, but not necessarily more violent.

I guess they didn’t factor in the two young fellas who threw rocks at cars from that Mount Pear overpass over the weekend, or the holdup at McDonalds.

I’m only joking.

Stats Canada says the crime severity index in the St. John's area was slightly higher than the Canadian index.

Drugs are apparently behind a lot of it.

The Stats Canada survey showed that reports of violent crime in the St. John's area had dropped by six per cent in 2009.

Good news.

St. John's ranked 13th overall among Canadian cities for crime.

That’s still pretty high.

The report ranked Newfoundland and Labrador 10th among the provinces and territories in terms of the severity of crime.

Not bad.

How do you see crime in your community?

Do you think the media spend too much time reporting on crime?

Some crimes are reported here that would never be reported on in mainland cities.

The rule of thumb is if it bleeds it leads.

Only we don’t have too much blood down here in Newfoundland and Labrador.


Another Canadian soldier has died in Afghanistan.

Twenty-year-old Brian Collier from Ontario died on Tuesday morning by an IED (improvised explosive devise) while on foot patrol.

Since Canada's mission in Afghanistan began in 2002, 151 Canadian soldiers have been killed in the country, along with a diplomat and a reporter.

No word on how many soldiers have been injured, the Canadian government doesn’t release that information on a regular basis.

Over the past few days I’ve raised the issue of the federal Conservative government’s decision to spend $16 billion on new fighter jets.

Some people agree with it. Some people don’t.

I don’t.

I want to read an e-mail I received this week on the issue.

It reads:

“In response to the e-mailer who said Canada needs the $16-billion jets to conduct peacekeeping. I would like to point out Canada's current UN ranking when it comes to military and police personnel contributed to UN peacekeeping missions. It is usually around 50th with only about 200 Canadians involved. Canada was a peacekeeping force in the past, but people who think Canada is currently one have a out of date and narrow perception of reality.”

Thanks for the e-mail, Frank.

Are you comfortable with Canada’s military role in world affairs?

I, for one, used to think we were a nation of peacekeepers, that that was our role in conflicts around the world.

Are you comfortable with our current role?


Few other subjects I want to mention quickly …

I see that Marystown is going after a piece of the $2.6-billion contract to build support ships for the Canadian Navy.

The feds scraped the plan to build 3 new ships two years ago, saying the contract didn’t come within budget.

Marystown’s hopes were dashed.

So the Marystown shipyard is going after the work again.

Only it my take 18 months to select the yard where the work will be carried out.

Mayor Sam Synyard is hopeful they’ll get the work.

Are you?


I see that 5 Nova Scotia fisherman, who were fed up with the low prices they were getting for their catch, have set up the first direct-to-buyer fish co-operative in Atlantic Canada.

The co-op is called Off the Hook, and essentially eliminates the middleman.

Fishermen have been complaining about low fish prices for years.

With stores charging two or three times what fishermen are paid.

The Nova Scotia fishermen, hook-and-line fishermen, I might add, hope to get 200 subscribers, who will be able to pick up their fresh seafood once a week at a market in Halifax.

If this works it could mean new jobs and allow the fishery to move away from factory trawlers to a more sustainable industry.

Tell me now, do you like the sound of that?


Onto Labrador …

According to VOCM news, a spokesperson for the United Steelworkers says it’s time for the Danny Williams administration to help resolve the nearly yearlong labour dispute with Vale in Voisey’s Bay.

The most recent talks broke off Tuesday after two days of talks.

The union says Vale is offering a lesser bonus system than the one given to Sudbury workers two weeks ago.

And Vale refuses to discuss other outstanding issues until the union agrees to the bonus system.

What do you think, should government get involved?


As for the other ongoing strike in Newfoundland, the strike on the Burin Peninsula involving support workers who help developmentally delayed adults with a community-based work program, is well into its eighth month.

The workers earn slightly more than the minimum wage.

NAPE wants government to agree to send the dispute to binding arbitration.

In fact, they formally asked for binding arbitration two weeks ago, but no word apparently from Finance Minister Tom Marshall.

Should it go to binding arbitration?


Finally, for now, July 21, 2010 marks the discovery of a world-renowned site in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Can you guess what it is?

I’ll give you a guess — Viking.

In 1960 the discovery and excavations in L’Anse aux Meadows started due to the meeting between Helge Ingstad of Norway and George Decker of L’Anse aux Meadows.

Together, they discovered the only authenticated Viking site in North America.

Happy 50th L’Anse aux Meadows.

The Backtalk lines are open.

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