On February 16, 2012, The Telegram printed an article I had submitted entitled, MUSKRAT FALLS: SOME ADVICE TO THE PREMIER. Though I had been away from the political scene for many years, I had never lost my interest in politics or public policy. It was with a great deal of dismay I watched the Premier and he Minister of Natural Resources offer only rebuke to the early critics of the Muskrat Falls Project, making it clear they did not appreciate being questioned and that no voluntary information would be forth coming to assuage their worst fears. I had spent eleven years on the staff of Frank Moores and Brian Peckford, 1979-85. I had invested a geat deal of personal effort to help oust Smallwood and then to play a role in two Tory Administrations.
It would be an understatement to say I was never keen on Danny William’s style of Government. But I found Kathy Dunderdale’s approach, in both style and substance, not just one that undermined good public policy, it was an embarrassment to any citizen who cared about such matters. I took up pen again, and the missive that follows was my first commentary on Muskrat Falls. Like the comments of David Vardy and Ron Penney, of Cabot Martin, Richard Cashin, Dennis Browne, Bern Coffey, Dr. Jim Feehan, JM, Brendan Sullivan, Maurice Adams, Tom Adams of the Tom Adam Energy Consultancy, Winston Adams and many others, my own advice was, as expected, summarily rebuffed. I am certain that, had the Premier, listened to at least some of the advice from some of her critics, the Muskrat debate would have been more useful for everyone. At worse, it would have advanced the cause of democracy.
the inability to accept criticism — refusing to believe that someone holding a
different opinion, and having the ability to articulate it, could be anything
Another unfortunate characteristic is the refusal
(sometimes, lack of ability) to answer, in a straightforward manner, the
specific arguments of the critic, including the partisan. Even when valid
issues are raised, the politician often employs that lazy tendency to strike
back with the implausible or the absurd.
I don’t know David Vardy well, but well enough to
feel confident that when he raises alarm over an impending public policy
decision which could add some $5 billion to the public debt, he is not doing so
out of partisanship or for any reason other than genuine public interest.
pilloried by politicians like the former premier or the current minister of
They should be encouraged to engage in public
discourse, not just because we live in a democracy, but because it is
respectful to listen to those who wish to play a role in vital public policy
Indeed, anyone who believes Muskrat Falls is not a
vital public policy matter has missed the enormity of concern over the
decision. It may have serious, enduring financial ramifications for the
fearful of speaking publicly against the project. When I served on Brian
Peckford’s staff in the 1980s, it was a great source of frustration that key
players in the province’s economy were not prepared to come forward and assist
in the struggle to negotiate the Atlantic Accord — which current politicians
conveniently forget is the basis of our newfound wealth.
At that time, we recognized it as a fact of our
small population that public comments quickly became personalized and that relationships,
both family and business, became the subject of scrutiny. The attempt by
elected officials to discredit the critics and accuse them of scaremongering
should never substitute for informed debate.
Yes, there are partisans out there who have already fulminated against Muskrat
Falls, and will continue to do so. Government may not enjoy it, but it’s
Instead, the premier and ministers need to take some
time to review Nalcor’s analysis, ask tough questions and be entirely satisfied
that the decision to proceed is based upon solid estimating, accounting,
financing and engineering practices.
The premier and cabinet need to understand that they
are at the mercy of Nalcor’s analysts and consultants; that they cannot rely on
the expertise being available in other areas of government as they can on
lesser public policy issues, and they can’t rely on the PUB. The expertise
simply isn’t there.
tapped the bond markets for six years. As a consequence, it has had no need to
maintain a relationship with the province’s fiscal agents. How is cabinet to be
advised, and by whom?
should have been performed for the government rather than for the PUB.
Government requires its own private energy and financial consultants to analyse
Nalcor’s work, to answer government’s own concerns (it must have some
questions) and to prepare it to make a decision.
I have no doubt Nalcor officials have every good
intention, but in the end, it is this government that will bear responsibility,
especially if it fails.
House opens, to engage in rigorous debate; debate that informs, that deals with
contrary views, that is not juvenile or obnoxious.
The government has an opportunity (as well as a
responsibility) to display its knowledge of the project, and especially of the
issues which torment the critics.
Muskrat is a legacy project. The current premier and government will wear it
for generations to come, just as Smallwood has worn the Upper Churchill.
My advice to the premier: take your time. Ask tough
questions of Nalcor. Get solid, independent advice. Make your decision only
when you are certain you have received it. Be respectful to all who wish to
participate in the debate. Instruct your
Ministers to follow your lead.
you, have a job to do. Show them why you were the one whom the people elected.
They will respect you more, and so will a very concerned public.