13 things to watch in 2013

The coming year is brand-new but is already poised to have a full and busy news agenda, writes John Gushue.

"Prediction is very difficult," the physicist Neils Bohr once noted, "especially if it's about the future."

With that warning in mind, we nonetheless look ahead at what's to come, certain that what we expect may not necessarily come to pass, and just as certain that many surprises will command our attention before the year is out.

There are, though, some things we expect to cover at CBC Newfoundland and Labrador in 2013. Here's my list of what's on the agenda.

1. Municipal elections

Expect politics to get more heated at the local level, as our cities and towns prepare for elections in the early fall for the first elections in four years. There probably will be a bunfight in many of them, but we're going to be watching two in particular. In Corner Brook, incumbent mayor Neville Greeley has been a lightning rod of controversy since his election, and he and the other councillors could draw fire over lingering resentment of how the city handleda labour dispute with firefighters.

In St. John's, it already feels like we're in an election cycle, with Mayor Dennis O'Keefe prepping for a challenge. Coun. Sheilagh O'Leary's aspirations were pushed out into the open during federal NDP Leader Tom Mulcair's visit last May. The fuss over the fence? It could all be a prelude to a much longer piece of work ... as it were.

2. The price of oil, and the bottom line

If the last year proved anything, Newfoundland and Labrador's fortunes are directly tied to the trading price of oil. The provincial government set a target of just over $124 for a barrel of Brent crude (lest we forget, we do not base our budget on the much more widely tracked West Texas Intermediate), and not once did the markets push oil that high this year. The result?A deficit that exploded from $258 million $726 million. All of that leads to a budget expected in April, and a probable deficit. How much? Much will depend on that figure, and just how much red ink the Tories are prepared to handle. 

3. Provincial restraint and layoffs

Speaking of the budget, let's not forget that all of the dire talk about finances is playing out as Treasury Board prepares for what are expected to be a difficult round of bargaining with NAPE, CUPE and other organizations representing workers in health, education and the civil service. The last round resulted in most everyone getting a raise of just over 20 per cent over four years. No one expects the government to offer anything remotely similar. And that's just the start. In an interview with David Cochrane for On Point, Premier Kathy Dunderdale was frank in her assessment of the size of the civil service: it's "pretty heavily populated." Layoffs seem to be increasingly likely, especially since the government is plowing ahead with what it calls its core mandate review.

4. Kruger's future in Corner Brook

You could almost hear a collective sigh of relief when most of the unionized workers at Corner Brook Pulp and Paper signed on (albeit reluctantly) last summer to a cost-cutting deal intended to keep the mill alive. The company, though, was clear to say that the story didn't end there, and that hard decisions would still need to be made. Just before Christmas, Kruger idled two papermaking machines for 15 days. Workers will be on edge to see what else is in store for the rest of the year.

5. Liberal leadership race

Newfoundland and Labrador's Liberals are poised to pick a leader in November, although there may well be a debate on whether the date will stick. After one high-profile businessman (Dean MacDonald) pulled himself out of contention, another (Paul Antle) said the leadership convention should be held closer to the election in 2015. Expect to see more from possible candidates, including Dwight Ball, who became interim leader at the beginning of 2012.

6. Muskrat spending

While the process of getting Muskrat Falls to December's sanctioning decision was drawn out, there are still quite a few steps to go. (Not the least of them, incidentally, is the legal language coming out of the term sheet that Prime Minister Stephen Harper signed in November in Happy Valley-Goose Bay.) One of the major consequences of sanctioning is that Nalcor can now actually let contracts go, and if you thought the pre-construction prep work on the grounds around the Churchill River was something, stay tuned. "Let 'er rip" may well be the motto of Nalcor for the coming year. Meanwhile, Muskrat Falls, or at least the Nova Scotia elements governed by Halifax-based Emera, will undergo scrutiny in a study commissioned in December by N.S. Premier Darrell Dexter.

7. What will Tom Osborne do?

The veteran MHA quit the Progressive Caucus in September, saying that he did not have confidence in Kathy Dunderdale's leadership. He also left the door open for a possible jump to one of the Opposition parties. Osborne said by year's end that his plan is to canvas his constituents in St. John's South during the early months of the year before he makes a decision.

8. Night flights

The Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board is currently reviewing a recommendation from oil companies to resume helicopter flights in darkness to installations like the Hibernia platform or the Terra Nova FPSO. Unions do not much like the proposal, with some calling the move unnecessary and too risky for those who make a living offshore. A decision could come early in the winter.

9. At the courthouse

Stories involving crime and from the courts are always among our most widely read. Keep an eye for the Crown's appeal of Ray Newman's acquittal in the death of Chrissy Predham Newman. The first-degree murder trial of Steven Neville will resume in a couple of weeks, while there will be developments in the murder trials of defendants Trevor Pardy, David Folker, Philip Pynn and Lyndon Butler.

10.  Mizzen and offshore exploration

Mizzen is emerging as one of the possible great hopes for the continued evolution of Newfoundland and Labrador's offshore oil industry. Statoil expects to drill a new wildcat well in the deepsea area, although with exploration officially cited to continue into 2014, a more definite word on the scope of the project may not be forthcoming. Statoil has, however, already said the field contains between 100 million and 200 million barrels of recoverable oil. If you remember your history (see Hibernia, et al.), you'll know that those estimates can increase mightily over time.

11. Workplace changes

The minimum wage is poised to increase again, to the delight of labour activists and the consternation of employers, with the Labour Relations Agency calling for an increase this year and annual adjustments that would kick into gear in 2014. That's not the only story we're expecting in the workforce. A mandatory review of the workers' compensation system will conduct hearings this winter around the province.

12. OCI and the fishery

It was announced on the evening of the Friday before Christmas (or, as my irascible colleague John Furlong put it, "the cover of darkness"), but expect the flounder-for-Fortune deal to get more scrutiny in the weeks and months to come, not to mention the broader implications. The details of the deal itself will be one thing, but many eyes will be on what happens with the rest of the industry, to see if OCI's model of involving the export of unprocessed fish becomes more of a game plan for other resources.

13 A new lieutenant governor

A new Queen's representative will be appointed soon, with John Crosbie wrapping up his tenure at Government House in a couple of months. It's an appointment that is often accorded to someone with a high profile, often someone who has been in politics. Past LGs include Ed Roberts and Jim McGrath. Then again, past appointees also included physician and telemedicine pioneer Max House and businessman Fred Russell. As for Crosbie, he appears to have plans. "I'll find something else interesting to do," he said in July, during the annual summer garden party at Government House. "I may even say something controversial every now and then. If I could say something and have no controversy, it wouldn't be much fun."


  • An earlier version of this article mistakenly identified Charles Pender, not Neville Greeley, as the mayor of Corner Brook.
    Jan 01, 2012 11:40 AM NT