societies suffer from a distinct disadvantage: smallness. Smallness permeates
our politics, our economy and all the institutions that constitute our societal

Smallness is
not just about the absence of scale, it is about history and geography. Sometimes,
it’s about diminutive politicians and business leaders, too.  The diminutive effect is compounded by a short
history of democracy, compared, for example, with other small societies such as
Iceland, where political maturity has overcome their small scale.

From a
different perspective, smallness affords familiarity, the quaintness of distinguishing
one resident from another, as tall Jim and short Jim.  It also imposes a certain discipline; to be careful
about criticism and the giving of offense; perhaps, it is what prevents us from
publicly telling the Chairman of Alderon Iron Ore Corp. to mind his own

In small
societies, a few people, often just one or two, can influence, not just the politics,
but public policies, too.  Indeed, some often
achieve a sway over their government that is disproportionate to their wisdom and
ability.   Could one of those have been
Danny Williams?

Canada has
been a very good partner for this Province. 
It has not only removed much of the risk associated with smallness in a
highly competitive and sophisticated world economy, the larger country has been
a shield to our cyclical economic vulnerabilities and, through a variety of wealth
redistribution programs, has supported both the public and individual

Some might
disagree with this thesis and, indisputably, Canada could do some things better.
But any grievance, however legitimate, does not diminish our obligation to
behave as the mature and skilful people we believe ourselves to be.

We would do
well to pause on occasion and think that perhaps the country expects more of us,
too.  Likely, greater political maturity is
at the forefront of that expectation.

Our heft, as
a Province, should not be a reflection merely of the politicians we elect,
their colourfulness, feistiness or bad manners. 
NL should be respected for its public policies and institutions, for its
essential self-reliance, its governance record, its commitment to transparency,
and to financial prudence.

These are
the things that evoke confidence that our historical claims to the values of
decency and self-reliance are well grounded. 
In addition, rather than notions of what we have given up, our new
wealth should inspire a confidence in what we have become.

We need to be smarter about the messages we
send to the rest of Canada.    Some
examples come to mind:

First is the
former premier, Danny Williams’ triumphal return from Ottawa, in 2005, upon having
negotiated an improvement to the 1985 Atlantic Accord.  It should have been a defining moment of
nation building; instead it was akin to a jingoistic drumbeat that the ‘natives’
had outsmarted a weaker prey, in PM Paul Martin.  In place of the rallying cry, “we got It”, a
more prudent rant would have been: ‘we negotiated in good faith and achieved a
fair settlement’.  A later federal budget
substantially nullified ‘what we got’ as a result of changes to the resource
provisions of the equalization formula.

Premier Dunderdale, just a short while ago, in reply to an Opposition question,
stated that $8 billion would be an acceptable cost number for Muskrat Falls as
opposed to the original estimate of $6.2 billion.  Her almost knee jerk response suggested that $9
billion would have fine, too, which, in fact, is the new number, if you include
interest costs during construction!

These are
not the mature expressions of wisdom characteristic of a province ready to take
its rightful place in Confederation.

Real political
maturity ought to afford us the right of certain rebuke when those, who have no
business interfering in our affairs, take such liberties anyway.

That the Chairman
of Alderon could inject himself into the Muskrat Falls debate, which is
internal to this province, speaks either to his bad manners or bad coaching.  The Company wants the public of this province
to get on with developing Muskrat power. 
Its controlling shareholder is from China.  The Chinese would never countenance such
impudence; likely, they would have him ejected from their country. 

involvement might have been welcomed had he shown up with an offer of
assistance, rather than what seemed more like a demand for a free ride.  I might suggest to Alderon a ‘take or pay’
contract just like the one Nalcor intends to imposed on the NL taxpayer, or an
offer to share the risk of this project or even an offer to pay the same electrical
rate as NL ratepayers.  But there was
none of that.  Where was Premier Dunderdale
to provide the justifiable rebuke? 
Likely, she had not even recognized the insult!

I didn’t
hear any proclamation from the former premier either, to his new boss,
demanding that he “process the iron ore in this Province” nor any accompanying
ultimatum, “else, you can leave it in the ground”, as he once admonished Vale
Inco on Voisey’s Bay.  Perhaps he
believes that being on the Board of Directors of Alderon justifies such an
omission; that it is OK, if his new found interest is in conflict with the
public interest of this province; that his status offers protection for his Chairman,
from common courtesy.  It should not!     

government has thrown caution to the winds, using our new found borrowing
capability to take on a foolish and risk laden venture in Muskrat Falls; one
that is disproportionate with the level of risk we should entertain and what is
prudent and responsible for a small population.

wonder that the ghosts of John C. Doyle still come a callin’.

Ah, yes, the
adage: ‘A fool and his money are soon parted’.
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?


  1. An excellent summary of all that is wrong about the self-serving politics of the so-called leaders of this province. Of course, we have lauded and supported such politicians, in the name of nationalism, and it culminated in the election of one Danny Williams.

    In retirement, he continues to haunt our political scene and one does have to wonder about:
    his affiliation with Alderon and the sudden new interest in power for these iron ore mines in Labrador after his appointment to their board;
    the stubborn insistence of his former government colleagues on chasing this development in the face of mounting evidence of its badly-flawed design;
    and, the "new" rationale" for the Muskrat Falls project having more to do with supplying power to the mines than any actual need for it here on the island.

    There are any number of options for supplying power to the island but NALCOR and the government don't care to listen and are hell-bent on taking us down this road to financial ruin. We must NOT let it happen!

    Cyril Rogers

  2. On the topic of debt for Muskrat, consider the insanity of compound interest.


    Let's begin with Julias Caesar. Somehow he got ahold of a Canadian loonie ($1) and bought Canada savings bonds yielding 10%. Today he checks it out and finds, 2050 years later that it has grown to:

    Aside from the fact, that the coins would now weigh more than the known universe, this is a ridiculous number. If you want to try this with an Excel spreadsheet, use the formula =FV(0.1,2040,0,1) .

    more at link …