“I like
taking my daily constitutional.  In fact,
Nav, I walked the other day, along my favourite coast line, Cape Spear, when I
spied two mates paddling along in those ‘tippy’ boats; kayaks, I believe, you call

“I might not
have noticed but for the commotion that was evident, both on sea and in the
air; there were, in fact, no fewer than two offshore vessels engaged in manoeuvres
with fast rescue craft within easy reach and a helicopter airborne; my first thought
was that you, Nav, were out for a little sport and took the entire Newfoundland
navy for protection”!

Somehow, I
knew no compliment would be forthcoming!

“Were you
one of those kayakers?”  Uncle Gnarly
pursued the matter, giving special emphasis to the ‘yak’ in kayak, rather than to
the beauty and artistry of that perfect craft. I nodded in the affirmative. 

Instant was
the speed of response: “I thought as much”, Nav.  “Rougher weather and you would need the
entire Canadian fleet to get you back home. 
For most of us, man, a two dollar compass would get us back to Quidi
Vidi”, he chuckled derisively. 

Not giving
me a chance to inform him that this was a frequent exercise conducted by
vessels from the offshore oil industry, Uncle Gnarly scratched a wrinkled face which
formed a bizarre smile only a suitably curled lip and a sharp tongue could
construct.  For the moment, the man
seemed pained, yet, still energized.

I had
anticipated that the assault might continue but, as usual, the enigmatic and
often inscrutable old bugger was just using me as a foil for bigger quarry.

Said, he: “at
least, Nav, you had more sense than the Minister of Finance.  With all those electronics, dry suits and
special gear you kayakers seem to drag with you, you could teach him something about
wearing protection”! 

Gnarley: “I don’t think I would have had the nerve to go into the House of
Assembly with a Budget like that one, without fearing half the Chamber was in
possession of a quantity of size large eggs. Why wouldn’t they, he cried; that
Minister designs the best of ‘shell’
games, Gnarley laughed at own humour. He should get some of his own medicine”.

Soon the
man’s demeanour turned grim. “But the ‘people’s house’”, he barked, “is not a
suitable place for confidence games, is it, Nav?  We have listened, for the past three months,
to the Minister and the Premier talk about the need for an austerity budget in
the face of the loss of certain revenues. 
What does the Minister do?  He
announces $664 million for Nalcor; much of it for a hydro project that,
ostensibly, has not even been sanctioned. The debt is increased from $7.7
billion to $8.45 billion, a difference of $750 million, but the Minister only
refers to the deficit of $258 million.  Oil
revenues, which comprise a large part of the Budget, are based upon nearly $124/barrel,
a forecast at the high end of the range; lower prices will result in a higher
deficit, especially if the European debt problems slow their economies down further
and cheap natural gas continues to penetrate industrial and utility markets”. 

“But that is
not all, Nav. The Minister is wrong in telling the public that our debt will be
$7.7 billion at the end of the year.  The
simple fact is our “net” debt will be $10.8 billion, once the unfunded pension
liability is factored in. This is a serious piece of business”, Nav.  “This pension liability increases again this
year by $520 million. All governments have been ignoring the problem for years”,
he railed, “hoping it will go away.  It’s
a great shell game, Nav, and it isn’t at all funny! I have more to say on this
issue, Nav, but I need a day when my stomach is stronger than it is right now; this
is not easy conversation for me”.

“As you can
see, Nav, this budget business is all about kicking the can down the road. The
idea is, let some other government make the tough decisions”.

Old Gnarley
looked as he clearly felt. The Minister, he said, had ‘copped out’; missed an
opportunity for leadership, let slip one more chance to secure the financial
ship of state. An $8.6 billion debt, a huge unfunded pension liability and now
they want to assuage big egos with a $6.2 billion power project.  In disbelief, Gnarley expelled, as if talking
to himself would make the thought disappear: “the people seem happy. For now”!

tore at Gnarley; disappointment comes all too often from ‘the hill’.  

Finally, he was heard to say: “If only, I didn’t love this place”!     

Des Sullivan
Des Sullivan
St. John's, Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada Uncle Gnarley is hosted by Des Sullivan, of St. John's. He is a businessman engaged over three decades in real estate management and development companies and in retail. He is currently a Director of Dorset Investments Limited and Donovan Holdings Limited. During his early career he served as Executive Assistant to Premier's Frank D. Moores (1975-1979) and Brian Peckford (1979-1985). He also served as a Part-Time Board Member on the Canada-Newfoundland Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board (C-NLOPB). Uncle Gnarley appears on the masthead representing serious and unambiguous positions on NL politics and public policy. Uncle Gnarley is a fiscal conservative possessing distinctly liberal values and a non-partisan persusasion. Those values and opinions underlie this writer's views on NL's politics, economy and society. Uncle Gnarley publishes Monday mornings and more often when events warrant.


Bill left public life shortly after the signing of the Atlantic Accord and became a member of the Court of Appeal until his retirement in 2003. During his time on the court he was involved in a number of successful appeals which overturned wrongful convictions, for which he was recognized by Innocence Canada. Bill had a special place in his heart for the underdog.

Churchill Falls Explainer (Coles Notes version)

If CFLCo is required to maximize its profit, then CFLCo should sell its electricity to the highest bidder(s) on the most advantageous terms available.


This is the most important set of negotiations we have engaged in since the Atlantic Accord and Hibernia. Despite being a small jurisdiction we proved to be smart and nimble enough to negotiate good deals on both. They have stood the test of time and have resulted in billions of dollars in royalties and created an industry which represents over a quarter of our economy. Will we prove to be smart and nimble enough to do the same with the Upper Churchill?