Who are the Guardians of Democracy in NL?

and all the rights and freedoms represented by that most cherished of systems, historically,
has demanded the spilling of blood as the price of victory over tyranny.  Canadians are an exception.  The Great Wars notwithstanding, no blood was
spilled in this country in pursuit of such a noble cause.  But as many democrats know, winning democracy
is only a beginning; rights are constantly under threat of being diminished.

Poor access
to information and the capacity of government to be willfully secretive is a
daily issue for the media and for everyone else. Arrogance and ‘legislative
creep,’ translated as the progressive restriction of rights over time by modest
changes to legislation, is an ever present danger.   Most
of us know that public release of information exposes poor analysis, shoddy
administrative systems and, sometimes, outright illegality. Governments often prefer
to tighten the process of disclosure rather than fix the root cause of the problems.

Bill 29 is
an example of legislative creep.  Then
too, Muskrat Falls is an example of poor analysis.  But powerful interests want Muskrat Falls
built.  Those vested interests, I suggest,
are in conflict with the public interest. 
Most people want to believe that governments are well intentioned.
Still, experience suggests that government decisions are often subject to
competing interests and influences rather than objective analysis or the rigid
criteria of cost vs. benefit. 

While many
agree that this government’s determination to beat off dissenters of Muskrat
Falls is a serious display of poor democratic practice, we should ask: who has the
responsibility to be on guard when such practices threaten basic rights?  

Brits will
inform you that elites played a key role in the signing of the Magna Carta to
kick start Britain’s very robust history of democratic government.   Ask a Pole
and you will be reminded that ordinary people took to the streets in a
‘Solidarity’ movement for basic rights. Hence, let’s ask the question again, who
should be on guard?  The answer is, all
of us!

Having been
born into a system of good democratic practice, we have no claim to the term ‘freedom
fighter’ as do citizens who fight for basic rights everywhere democracy is
prevented from taking root.  But, we are,
or have a responsibility to become, ‘guardians’ of democratic practice. It is not
a job to be taken for granted.

We live in a
society of relative wealth where everyone has access to a high level of
education; it comprises a large professional group; business people, lawyers,
doctors, accountants, engineers and many others, like the academics of our university.  Some of our brightest populate boards of
directors and occupy senior positions in the private sector.  In fact, many have the expertise to take note
when challenging issues arise.   

It is not as
if Muskrat Falls were a partisan issue; though, in a real democracy,
individuals should not recoil, no matter their partisan leanings. The issue does
not require a purely qualitative analysis either.  On the contrary, most of its components have
a quantitative aspect.  Several
disciplines are required to conduct the analysis; all participants need not be
experts, though an appreciation of business risk would be useful.  

re-stating the wide range of arguments on both sides of the issue, suffice it
to say, Muskrat Falls has the potential to overtake our limited financial means.
Therefore, it deserves the attention of the whole population, and especially those
who are academically equipped to make assessments that lack bias.

Has the
media performed its historical role to ferret out the truth and to inform its
subscribers?  I believe most media have
performed poorly on this issue, with possibly the singular exception of The
Telegram. This is a matter that requires greater discussion at another time. Suffice
it to say, journalists, today, enjoy less the status of “gatekeeper” or
“watchdog” they once claimed.  They too, seem
preoccupied with the problem of declining market share.

Is it not the
job of opposition parties to raise the alarm when government is acting contrary
to the public interest?  Indeed, it is.  But, to be blunt, neither opposition party
has done a credible job of challenging the government on Muskrat.  In part, the problem maybe their small size
and limited resources, but I fear it is not that simple. 

The NDP has
conflicts, both ideological and political. The Liberals are conflicted,
too.  They would prefer that the Government
‘fall on its own sword’ rather than be forced to take a position contrary to a potential
leadership contender in the Liberal Party. 
That relationship has an unhealthy aspect.  Afterall, “opposition” is not only called
for, it is a constitutional obligation; hence, the title “Her Majesty’s Loyal

Who will
speak for NL when everyone is conflicted? 

This is an
interesting state of affairs; not merely an academic one, either. At other
times, writers, including this one, have discussed the problem of small
societies and the reticence of individuals to speak out for fear of bringing
rebuke on family members and business associates.  But government does not touch everyone.  It is unlikely that the ‘unconflicted’ group,
however small, have studied the project and that all are in complete agreement.  

We might
well ask this question: has recent social change failed to note a fundamental alteration
in the way we behave to ‘threats’, whether economic or on a more basic democratic
level?  Perhaps.  But other questions need asking, too. For
example, are we, as members of a modern transnational economy, no longer seeded
to the place that nurtures us?  Is the
failure of one place, a licence to move to the next rich economy? In other
words, is the 21st century citizen now no more than a franchise is
to modern business; a Starbucks, ready to close shop the minute the money runs

Does the
concept of nationality or patriotism even still exist?  Is there no longer a need to worry about an esoteric
concept like responsibility in a democratic society? Is all that remains a
slavish regard to the pay cheque, irrespective of whether it is Canadian or

questions are certainly easier to state than are the answers. But we can be
certain of one thing.  If our only
interest is to ensure that we get our piece of the Muskrat Falls pie, there is
little to be done. 

If we fail
to assess the project’s foolhardiness and risk to this Province, or if we
refuse to face the issue of how well we have fared as guardians of our
democracy, Kathy Dunderdale and Danny Williams will not be the only ones with a
lot to answer for.
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. I fear we trust our politicans as we once trusted our priests. And more citizens followed the TV soap operas than the PUB hearings on this. It is said we get the politicans we deserve, so if we are not all guardians on an issue so important, then we will get what we deserve. It's amazing there's no other comment on your piece here. Nothing (no comments) says a lot about where our priorities are, or so it seems to me. Winston Adams