(Uncle Gnarley had many views to
share, regarding the Muskrat Falls Project, upon his return from the Gander River.  His comments were written as he expressed
them, but the material suggests  his ideas
should be shared in three Posts, beginning with part 2, to be followed later by parts 1 and

wolfed down the better part of his prize from the Gander River, Uncle Gnarley
was ready for an evening stroll to aid digestion and to inspect all the little
changes, in the neighbourhood, that were apparent to someone with his keen eye.

He loved
improvements that showed pride of place. 
There was much to see as we strolled down the old Newfoundland Railway
bed, whose current purpose, as a T’Railway, seemed more suited to the charm of
the Waterford Valley than any of the dreams of Sir William Whiteway,
Newfoundland’s longest serving Prime Minister, before Confederation and the
railway’s chief promoter.

“A Policy of
Progress”, voiced Gnarley, in a tone that sounded almost derisive.  “That was a key Whiteway slogan and a trans-island
railway was the centrepiece of his policy. 
It had worked for many countries, including Canada.  But unlike central and western Canada, Newfoundland’s
pattern of settlement was established around hundreds of coves and bays, built
around an inshore cod fishery. 

“The notion
that we needed a railway, when likely more coastal boats would have sufficed, suggests
more pipe dream than vision.  Yes, the
jobs were sorely needed, but what were they worth if their cost threatened the country’s
solvency; Whiteway was warned that financing the railway could cause bankruptcy.  I have the feeling, Nav, that earlier
politicians were enamoured of ‘mega projects,’ as are some of the current ones.

generation has its own challenges to confront, surely.  But, I can’t help but wonder how much of the
confounded debt that caused Peter Cashin and others to make an unwelcomed journey
to Britain, in the very depths of the Depression, in search of financial assistance,
was the result, less of our contribution to the war effort, than to the noisy
rolling stock which rattled over this fine T’railway”.  

“Of course”,
Gnarley said, pausing and showing difficulty with the words he needed to utter;
taking a deep breath, the comment finally fell off his lips:  “it may have cost us our sovereignty”. Gnarley
paused again, less for emphasis, than the need to swallow a deep and abiding
sadness.  “A big price, wouldn’t you say,

Gnarley fell silent and remained pensive for some minutes as we drank in the warm
evening air. When he was ready to speak, it was as if he had not noticed any
break in the conversation.  “I wonder” he
commented, “if Muskrat Falls will be the Newfoundland Railway of this
generation”. It wasn’t phrased so much as a question, more a statement of

“It’s not as
if we have enjoyed prosperity for any length of time, stated Gnarley…a few
years of oil revenues coupled with the thirty thousand or so high paying jobs,
found in Fort McMurray, has given us some breathing room to get our finances on
track.  It has afforded us time to consider
what will sustain our workforce, in the absence of a cod fishery; it has given
us an opportunity to keep an eye to the emptying out of our rural communities, to
question whether they have a future, that is sustaining; to reflect on who we
are, as a society, in the 21st century

I think our people are so caught up in a whirlwind of high paying jobs and new
cash, that the notion of what oil was supposed to represent, has now completely
disappeared from our radar. 

enough, he continued, “it is the job of our political leadership to keep us on
track, to provide some thoughtful guidance on our direction; but alas, I think
Nav, they have failed us; they are truly intellectually bankrupt. Although, me
thinks there are a few, in the wings, ready to take advantage of their

“Anyway, Nav,
I am off topic.  I bent your ear rather
badly before dinner telling you why Muskrat Falls is a cockamamie scheme.   Well, I have a few more things to say on
that account. 

It is a
contrivance, of course.  Imagine spending
$9-10 Billion, possibly $12 billion with cost overruns, just to replace

Like the
Newfoundland Railway, which required a huge capital cost and annual operating
subsidies, Muskrat will demand billions of dollars and an increase in the cost
of every year, for fifty years! It will be a fiasco, Nav, for all, except

Quebec must be laughing their heads off over Nalcor’s stupidity.  They know we will never be in a position to
access power from the Upper Churchill even when it comes available in
2041.  Based upon current forecast trends
in power demand, we won’t have need for it then, if we proceed with Muskrat.  We will be so indebted, we risk being forced
to do another bad deal!

“If Nalcor
were less concerned about ‘empire building’, we would be using conservation measures,
installing smart meters to encourage a levelling of electrical demand,
developing smaller hydro projects on the island and adding wind power. 

“Did you
know, Nav, that NRCan, which performed the review of Nalor’s submission to the
Federal Government, presumably in relation to the loan guarantee, stated that our
grid, properly balanced, could accommodate 300 MW of wind power, though it
failed to explain why Nalcor has put a cap on wind generation at 80 MWs –
that’s power that would not have cost the province a penny of capital
investment!  But, wind farms, are not the
stuff of empires, are they?

“The point
is that Nalcor has plenty of alternatives, and I have not even mentioned the
natural gas option.

 “As if it were the
taxpayers’ job to find power for Alderon! 
Bowater looked after its own power requirements in Corner Brook, so did
Price Pulp and Paper in Grand Falls, in an earlier time.  IOCC did, too, and Vale Inco in Voisey’s Bay.  Now, Nav, help me out here, why do you think Alderon
is so special? Is Alderon part of some new ‘policy of progress’? Is Danny
Williams a modern day Sir William Whiteway?

These weren’t so much real questions, as expressions of
bewilderment.  Gnarley didn’t allow me
time for response, anyway.  He quickly continued
the point he wished to complete. 

Before dinner, Nav, I described, at length, why we have heard
so little about export contracts for the so-called surplus power from Muskrat
Falls and why the Nova Scotia link is practically silly; now I want to explain
why the Island/Labrador Link is also wrong-headed. 

Let’s head back; hopefully, you have saved a wee dram to lift
our spirits.  Given, what I have to tell
u, it will take the aroma of a very good scotch, to
supress the odour of Muskrat Falls!


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. Salient points, Uncle Gnarley, and enough to cause a sense of despair. When will we ever learn from our sorry past? Not until the average person wakes up to the reality that those we put in charge of our affairs are not as altruistic as they make themselves out to be.

    The bankruptcy of the country of Newfoundland and the humiliation of having to be ruled by a Commission will be repeated if we continue with this folly called Muskrat Falls. It will not, and cannot EVER make any money for us as a people and will indebt us for generations.

  2. We also have approximately 850MW of undeveloped small hydro potential on the Island. which could be developed if needed with far less risk. A scanned copy of the Shawmont report "AN INVENTORY OF SMALL HYDRO SITES FOR ENERGY SUPPLY TO THE ISLAND GRID" is linked to the article.

    The potential for reducing demand and getting rid of Holyrood is here: Main points include: declining population, Holyrood is needed for winter heat demand and geothermal can cut that by 80%, solar passive homes would slash consumption, Norway has similar problems and rebated heatpumps and pellet stoves. Bottom line, we absolutely do not need Muskrat Falls or the debt.