Premier Dunderdale refuse a proper debate on the Muskrat Falls project in the
House of Assembly? Why would any government, want to assume complete control
over the issue and bring upon itself full and unfettered blame if the costs
become more massive than already projected?
Kennedy and Marshall leave me in a state of bewilderment as to what influences their thinking.
My own reference
point is the late ’70s to mid-1980s, when Brian Peckford was Premier; it was a time
of deep and often bitter federal/provincial exchanges over the Atlantic Accord,
fisheries jurisdiction and repatriation of the Constitution. The level of engagement he fostered with the
public was simply huge; it still has no parallel.
approach favoured by Dunderdale; she is not one given to citizen engagement in
public policy matters; sadly, she does not claim to be one of those confident politicians
who engage citizens freely and fearlessly nor one who regards the House of
Assembly as a focal point of our democracy.
recent book, “Some Day the Sun will Shine and Have Not Will Be No More” painstakingly
describes, the achievement of the Atlantic Accord was a tortuous exercise. NL
was ‘as poor as a church mouse’ and could ill afford to make enemies in Ottawa;
yet, he persisted. Strikingly, neither local labour nor business groups, like
the St. John’s Board of Trade or the Liberal Party or the NDP, got behind
Peckford’s dogged initiative.
was not prepared to go along with an Ottawa-centric policy of inscribing our
status, as an economic backwater.
little time for the business types. He
carved out a constituency among ‘ordinary’ working folk who were not bent out
of shape by vested interests. Day in, day out, he went into towns and little
communities to explain why a Nova Scotia Offshore Agreement was unacceptable to
him, at one critical point, inviting heads of various provincially based
organizations into the Cabinet Room to explain the importance of getting the ‘right’
offshore oil agreement. Invitees
included labour, business, civic and even church organizations. He did not see
it as a partisan issue and he felt he should have their support.
Many groups did
not show up. Partisan politics interfered, as did
the view among some (though, not all) businesspeople that Peckford should get
on with it.
lesson to be learned here.
prudent management of government money is not proven by occasionally commenting
that, “government has to get its fiscal house in order”, as the Board of Trade is
fond of doing. Credibility on such
matters is earned through serious and consistent advice; providing support,
even when it comes at a price, or refusing to be a cheerleader when bad government
decisions are obvious, are part of the price of being taken seriously.
Trade will not even invite a single critic of Muskrat Falls to address its
membership! It has allowed itself to be a door mat for Dunderdale and Williams
whenever a timely microphone is needed. Rather
than a forum for public policy debate, the Board is just another ‘old boys
club’, now gender neutral.
It was no
different on the Atlantic Accord. For
many businesspeople, knowing, as they did, that Nova Scotia would do virtually anything
to service the NL offshore from Halifax, thoughts of instant gratification interfered
with the calculation of what they might be conceding.
not a place where Peckford sought solace or support, as he held out for a
better Atlantic Accord. Yet, both labour
and the business community have profited immensely from the Atlantic Accord.
been as weak as Dunderdale, the ‘contract coalition’, the business group that
emerged last week in support of Muskrat Falls, would still be drooling over the
crumbs dropped from the table of the ‘big boys’ who have bigger pocket books
and bigger limos and who are vastly more capable of navigating the complex web
of bureaucracy in Ottawa, where the big contracts get doled out.
efforts have made these same business types far richer than their talents, otherwise,
would allow; now, in Muskrat Falls, they see the icing on the cake and an
electorate not tuned in to the fact that it is they, not the business types,
who are under threat.
has fallen into that same cesspool of short term thinking, where back slapping
and bravado are misconstrued as support.
Having failed to step back from a group that Thomas Hardy would see as
the antithesis of “the madding crowd”, she hides behind the very groups whose vested
interests are not grounded in public policy considerations, long term thinking or
a preoccupation with the thought that this Province could sink back into the
mire of poverty.
single mindedness is not for or on behalf of the average citizen, in the
Peckford tradition; rather, it is one reinforced by the very self-serving group
that is rarely aligned with governments’ interests.
What can the
government lose by permitting keen debate on Muskrat in the House of Assembly
following cross examination of a bevy of expert witnesses? Even if Dunderdale has
little patience for the democratic process, if she truly believes in the
viability of the project, she will see it as an opportunity to let that
viability be proven against the test of rigorous scrutiny.
start to go awry, Dunderdale will have earned not a single expression of
respect with which to cushion the fury that will be expressed by an angry
interests are unconcerned about transparency or public policy debates. They
worry only about controlling the end game.
in NL, no independent policy organizations have emerged to influence public
thought or to act as a safeguard against decisions that threaten the social and
wonder small societies fail.