Accounting for the chaos of cash

Brian Jones
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Somewhere, someday, an unheralded accountant is going to get up, leave his — or her — cubicle and do the public the enormous favour of explaining a complicated, controversial issue in simple language untainted by propaganda.

There are many issues where a straightforward dollars and cents description could quickly clear things up, and forestall further manipulation by people who are so inclined.


Financing fur

For irritating instance, Green party Leader Elizabeth May this week repeated the oft-cited accusation that sealing is a dying industry that only survives because the government subsidizes it. “Stop throwing taxpayers’ dollars” and “propping up” were two sound-bite worthy phrases she used.

As is often the case, she makes it sound as if public money is being deposited directly into sealers’ savings accounts. If this were so, the Green party, Greenpeace, IFAW, PETA, etc. would have printed the total amount on a large banner and hung it, say, from the CN Tower.

The cost of government regulatory oversight, mostly by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, is not a subsidy, but a necessary expense.

Using May’s logic, health inspectors comprise a subsidy to the food and restaurant industry; highway pavement and traffic enforcement are a subsidy to the auto industry; government spending on airports is a subsidy to the airlines and the transportation industry; building a hospital is a subsidy for doctors.

We need a friendly accountant to step forward and concisely explain when a subsidy is actually a subsidy, and when a “subsidy” is not really a subsidy.


Infinite inquiries

New St. John’s South-Mount Pearl NDP MP Ryan Cleary wants a federal inquiry into the collapse of the cod fishery. He plans to introduce a private member’s bill this fall in the House of Commons seeking just that.

Considering how much Newfoundlanders (and Labradorians) love patriotic rhetoric, the popular Cleary will likely pad his polling numbers with this effort. Fingers will be pointed, predictably, at the federal government and foreigners (the F-words of the fishery).

The late Leslie Harris already conducted such an inquiry, in the early 1990s. Harris’s conclusion — and the cause Cleary ostensibly seeks — can be whittled down to one word: trawlers.

Cleary should redirect his focus. He can revive the endless, circular argument of whether Canadian (and Newfoundland) trawlers or foreign trawlers were more responsible for killing off the cod, or he can join the few, lonely rational voices calling for a scaling back of technology in the fishery.

As an accountant might say, “This inquiry will cost us X million dollars to tell us what we already know.”


Power play

In a better world, an accountant named Casey would step up to bat and smack Premier Kathy Dunderdale’s “semantics” pitch right over the outfield fence.

The learned leader of all the Newfoundlanders is of the opinion that the difference between a report and an audit is mere semantics.

Actually, no — the former is open to judgment and subjectivity, while the latter is strictly numbers.

Regarding the Muskrat Falls hydroelectric deal, the estimated numbers that residents primarily know are twofold: 1) the project will dramatically increase household power bills, by double according to the Liberals; and 2) residents of the province will pay at least 14.3 cents per kilowatt hour for Muskrat Falls power, while residents of the Maritimes and the U.S. will pay about 10 cents per kilowatt hour for Muskrat Falls power.

These numbers seem nonsensical, unfathomable and incomprehensible.

Newfoundlanders will supposedly benefit, but their bills will get a hefty boost, and they will pay more for power than Nova Scotians or New Englanders.

Accountants could objectively explain all this, but, in these booming economic times, they’re probably too busy counting their own money.


Brian Jones is a desk editor at The Telegram. He can be reached by email at

Organizations: Greenpeace, Department of Fisheries and Oceans, House of Commons The Telegram

Geographic location: Muskrat Falls, Newfoundland, U.S.

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Recent comments

  • Bob
    June 18, 2011 - 13:03

    Private Members' Bills go directly nowhere! Ryan knows that but it'll increase his poll numbers. Just ask Jack Harris.

  • Cyril Rogers
    June 17, 2011 - 15:35 accountant in his or her right mind can make sense of the Muskrat Falls deal because it simply does not make sense, period! Until somebody who is truly independent and in possession of all the facts can sort through these numbers, I remain skeptical of the so-called benefits. In fact, I fear we are heading for a lose-lose propostion --higher power costs and an annual subsidy to people in Nova Scotia and elsewhere. It will bankrupt us if we do the deal as proposed!

  • Maurice E. Adams
    June 17, 2011 - 08:36

    Brian, I think your comment on the fishery is right on the money. That's why, at least in part, a large part of the focus if we are to move the fishery forward, is to have much, much greater support for the inshore/nearshore versus the high tech offshore sector. But so far, even with the MOU, the push has been to 'rationalize/downsize' the wrong sector ---- the MOU was and is all about cutting back instead of growing the inshore/nearshore sector. Newfoundlanders and Labradorians must speak up more on that. ---------- With respect to Muskrat Falls, to say "supposedly benefit" is being generous to a fault. We cannot afford to make a mistake on Muskrat Falls. Maurice E. Adams, Paradise