REFLECTIONS ON A DEBATABLE YEAR

It did not
come as any great shock that Muskrat Falls had not ranked, either first or fifth,
among the top news stories of 2012, according to CBC’s unscientific on-line
poll; though I worried that the Tory caucus had influenced that outcome, too.  A Telegram front page story, on December 29th
, made public the news that the Premier’s communications people directed Caucus
Members and their staff, to influence poll questions posed by the media, online;
though I am unsure who is surprised.

Rightfully,
the Burton Winters story received top billing; everyone felt the sadness and
loss shared over one so young.  It was
understandable how a grieving family, and the larger NL community, felt embittered
that, despite all our technology and resources, a rescue effort could be so
badly botched. 

The Premier
treated the matter politically, first agreeing to meet the deceased youth’s
parents, then refusing to do so, for fear of being challenged on the role the
Province played in the failed search effort. 
 A more confident leader would
have pushed aside such considerations and conveyed, to the family, the sense of
shared sadness felt by the whole Province. 
In addition, she ought to have asked the Chief Justice of the Supreme
Court to appoint a Judge to look into the tragedy, expeditiously, if possible,
and to make public the findings.


The death
of a lost child, perhaps unnecessarily, will, because we are human, tug at our
sensibilities more deeply than any single public policy issue. Bill 29, too,
resonated strongly with the public from the standpoint that something important
was also lost.  Opposition Parties were more
vigorous and united, on this issue, than on any other matter.  Supplementing Bill 29’s doubtful underpinnings,
was the compounded concern over the lack of scrutiny of the Muskrat Falls
Project.  In the absence of a real debate
on MF, it took Bills 60 and 61 to, again, allow the Opposition to show their
mettle.


A popular
story, too, was a forecast $253 million deficit having ballooned to $725
million.  A decline in the world price of
oil, the source, arguably, of up to half of the gross public revenue stream,
could not convince either the Premier or her Minister of Finance to deal with the
problem.  Even when he announced
confirmation of the higher number, just before Christmas, more than eight
months into the fiscal year, any plan to deal with the problem was stamped with
delay.   

Though the
Government said it was the fault of PIRA, its forecasting agency, the utility
of the high price estimate served as a convenient budget plug, making
unnecessary any worry that public angst would cause new questions to be raised among
those comfortably ignorant of the risks of the Muskrat Falls Project.

Likely, electronic
concordance (computer
listing of every contextual occurrence of words in a text) of this past year’s
news, would confirm MF as the issue most mentioned, even if it was not the
favourite.  Most people, especially the
business community, appeared to view the Project as just another government
sponsored public work, though their glowing regard for the Premier’s vision
offered as much insight into high level finance as did a freshman’s social
science paper (and just as much math). 

Letters to
the Editor advanced the fine art of ‘lips to posterior’, in the direction of
Government, but their disguise as argument, was unconvincing.  Cheerleading the campaign was the St. John’s
Board of Trade, such was the unanimity of its membership; though the august
group never felt confident enough of its monopoly, on fervor, to invite even a
single one of the ‘naysayers’ to break bread with their own Knights Templar.

Giving
entertainment to something serious, one notable doctor wrote the
Paper suggesting MF ought to have a context similar to that of the Pyramids. I looked
for, but failed to find, where he had offered himself as slave labour to be
beaten and starved, as were the lower orders of Egyptians, to ensure the
erection of a monument to hubris. Likely, he was only making nice, too.

Of course, I
may have missed the point entirely. Perhaps, the god Kings had justified their supersized
sarcophagus as future tourist traps, as MF is supposed to diversify our
economy; risks to the Treasury, to an unproven demand curve and high power
bills, for the next fifty years, notwithstanding. Only a god King, or a
soothsayer, would have the temerity to engage in a speculation on either the
rate of growth or the price of oil for more than short time.

These, of
course, are mere trivialities when placed alongside the pillorying of critics
by Dunderdale, an unfinished Federal Loan Guarantee or the botched 29 page
sanctioning agreement with Emera.  Not
surprisingly, a slightly chastened Minister of Natural Resources, committed to
less stridency in dealing afresh with opposition questions
, once again found the challenge too great when the House of Assembly re-opened in the Fall; evidently, a nasty demeanor had
been suppressed, far too long in a previous career, by less mercurial and more
thoughtful court justices. 

And, speaking
of justice, select local ‘big shots’ must be in terror over the likelihood of
being denied the opportunity to rub shoulders with SNC Lavalin’s former
officers, whose ability to  parse the
tune, “Jailhouse Rock”, at least from the outside, may soon be limited.  What better Company to don the tools with
which to construct our very own sarcophagus! But, that is a story for another
time.

Perhaps,
one day, the media will get around to reporting on Emera’s conditional sanction.  Likely, though, they are still drunk on the
hyperbolic vapors that hung over the sanctioning ceremony; such was the exotic
extent of verbal overkill.  Rex Murphy,
on crack, might best describe the Premier’s performance. 

The other
story of the event was absence of even the janitor, let alone the CEO, to
represent Emera’s interests.   It is
truly an omen of some magnitude when the Company, pretending to desire a large
stake in the Project, rejects an opportunity to prove its financial heft by refusing
to spend the cost of a plane ticket from Halifax, to join in the festivities,
denying even the Lieutenant Governor the opportunity to pucker up.

Bad form must
have its attractions.  Even the corporate
head of Steele Communications, the largest media group in the Province, with
ample profile, felt a need to throw in his lot with the Board of Trade types; as
if his own sanction could not possibly be absent, given the size of the loot
that would be unleashed by the ensuing spending spree.   A good communications strategy is
fundamental, especially as costs continue to rise.

Muskrat Falls
is not a story of just 2012.  But, what’s
another year of enlightenment when we are no better equipped to relate to any
singular aspect of its need or viability or even the ability to execute the Project.
Why would we worry?  Ed Martin was plucked
from the middle management strata of Petro Canada by Danny Williams, given the
role of the Province’s Energy Czar, and instructed to produce a multi-billion dollar
hydro Project, on demand. The initiative failed to cause even the slightest murmur
among either the media or the general public, giving proof to the notion that
‘fit for work’ can be just as easily achieved by proclamation as by experience.
 But, we are all rich now, which allows the
importance of virtue to be more easily massaged.

That is, perhaps,
why I have saved my most generous comments for last.  It is a fact, most disturbing, that the
Muskrat Falls Project, given the manner that it has unfolded, both in dimension
and manifestation, has uncovered the weak underbelly of our Newfoundland and
Labrador society.


The facts
are indisputable. The Project is beyond our means, existing social programs
will have to be diminished to pay for cost overruns, it is the most expensive
power being developed in North America and any merit, it might have had, was
refused independent scrutiny. Yet, in a MQO Poll, conducted by the Telegram, 59%
of the Newfoundland and Labrador public approved of the plan to develop Muskrat eventhough 37% acknowledged  they had a poor understanding of the Project.  Our political leadership marches us to the
edge of a financial cliff.  What do we
do? We applaud!


Such a state of affairs gives legitimacy to the question of whether we
have matured, as a democratic society, since Amulree, and subsequent suspension
of responsible government.   

But hey, don’t worry your heads off about any of that.  We’re going to screw Quebec, we’re going to
screw them good!   Well, aren’t we?

Have a Happy New Year.        

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.

THE PROOF MUSKRAT FALLS IS NOVA SCOTIA’S PROJECT

The substance of Hydro’s mission is to satisfy the contracts with Emera to get large amounts of power flowing into Nova Scotia for the betterment of that province and its ratepayers.  The Island could easily live without the Muskrat Fals project and in fact, other than for the onerous Emera contracts, NL ratepayers would be best off if it was abandoned and left to rust.

FIRST YEAR OF OFFICIAL ENERGY DELIVERY NOT QUITE WHAT EMERA BARGAINED FOR

PlanetNL52: Happy Anniversary Emera on 1 Year of Official Energy Delivery Not Quite What Emera Bargained For Despite all the bad news related to Labrador Island...

GROUP SEEKS PUBLIC SUPPORT FOR CABOT MARTIN RESEARCH AWARD

Cabot Martin’s sudden passing, in September, has stirred his friends, colleagues, and others familiar with his work, to honor him and encourage continued work in applied research and public policy development.

3 COMMENTS

  1. Our maturing sense of political astuteness has regressed to the level of juvenile self-absorption and unconcern about the wider world. That nearly 60% of those polled would support a clearly flawed project says a lot about how much people choose to analyze such projects.

    It is frustrating beyond measure that we, as a society, have abdicated our position as the stewards of any real democracy and turned it over to politicians who hold self-interest to be paramount. We, that ordinary electorate, seem oblivious to our own "fiscal cliff" and continue to practice the partisan politics of past generations.

    That Muskrat Falls should be sanctioned is, in part, our failure as a society to rise up from our stupor and challenge the lunacy that passes for the rationalization of this project.

    I thank you and all of those "naysayers" who had the courage to speak out and continue to do so under difficult circumstances. It is not merely that the naysayers are right in their criticisms…it is that it is crucial that we do everything possible to stop this project before that fiscal disaster stymies our progress for decades.

    I go forward in the hope that somehow, some way, this madness can be stopped.

    Thank you again for your valuable contributions and may you and your family have a Happy New Year.

  2. Cyril:
    It's always good to receive your comments. An important motivation for these essays is the encouragement of expression of others ideas and feedback on my own. I continue to enjoy receiving your thoughts and hope you will continue the exercise as I plan to do in 2013.
    Happy New Year to you and your family.

    Des Sullivan

  3. Mr. Sullivan You inject a hope of acknowledgement into reminding those of us agains this Williams insanity, we are on the right track. Never the less we must watch as this express to fiscal disaster, evironmental degredation, and social ineptness speed on to even worse legislation to protect it. Talk about, this electroate is not only unaware, it's totally inconsious. Nobody in their right mind would allow freedoms curtailed, compeditive options taken away, rates to be doubled, and chain themselves to paying for something which will never yeild a cent of profit for the next 50 years, if ever. Why? Simply because the government is doing it makes it right. Mindless indeed, and the sane minority has to live with this threat of insanity, ignorance, and self deprecating lot. Lard save us.