“May you
have sensible leadership”, is a mantra that ought to replace our copious use of
the Chinese proverb, “May you live in interesting times”.  Most of us don’t recognize good leadership until
it disappears; appreciating it only in the context of more recent comparisons
or with the hindsight of history.  Naturally,
we always hope for the energetic and visionary type, though its arrival is as
fleeting as an apparition in a warm mist. I’ll take the sensible kind any
day.  That will keep us on course in case
the visionaries never arrive or we are unlucky enough to be visited by the quixotic
and absolutely reckless.  Regrettably,
the latter group recently got elected.  “What
is in their wine?” seems a suitable, if somewhat immodest, question.

A recent MQO
Poll plotted the Dunderdale Government’s popularity in free fall, since the
last election.  A 19 point difference
separates the MQO numbers and the popular vote of the 2011.  The figure offers proof, not only of how
strongly the Premier basked in the afterglow of the Williams firmament, but how
irresponsibly she squandered the goodwill of election night. 

Was Muskrat
Falls the price of Kathy Dunderdale becoming Premier?  Has she imposed on the Province, her
Administration and herself, a burden that is as improvident as it is perilous?  We are left to wonder if we are witnesses to a
classic Faustian drama in which the Premier has sold her soul, for the
temporary honor of employing overbearing hubris. 

Last year
was the Premier’s “annus horribilis”. Likely, this year, a break from the
ruckus would be a welcome. 

reality brings even the most star struck back to earth.  A new Budget beckons along with labour
confrontation and, with retrenchment, cranky voters, many of whom have
succumbed to the notion that everyone lives on “Easy Street”.  Bad news breaks hard.

consultations have begun; the wish lists keep coming, eventhough the cupboard
is bare.  It is a golden opportunity for
sensible people to give the Minister a good verbal thrashing and, simultaneously,
send a clear message to the Premier and the Government, that their kind of
leadership is just not acceptable. 

Wednesday, Feb 13th, the Finance Minister announced a $1.6 billion
deficit in the next fiscal year and the one that follows; a $4 billion deficit
over three years. A day later, the Premier told the Telegram, “that’s not going
to happen; whatever the deficit is this Spring, it won’t be $1.6 billion”.

The conflict
seems strange, especially given her additional comment that she had just
completed “two days of cabinet meetings” on budget matters.  Shouldn’t a maximum deficit target have been determined
then and the two reached agreement, at least, on that much? 

Added the
Premier, “We’ve got to ratchet back our spending so that when things do get
better, we’re at a place where our spending is sustainable.”

While the
objective sounds sensible, on the surface, the Premier needs reminding that
things have gotten much better; Government revenues have dramatically increased
but it is Government spending that has outstripped long awaited progress.  An increase of 82% over the 2005 Budget
figure surely suggests, spending ‘like drunken sailors’, is not an unreasonable

The cost to
rectify poor roads and bridges (the infrastructural deficit) does not explain the
increase in the size of the public service, either. In the period 2006-2010
alone, the number of public servants increased by 2400 or 26%, (that figure
does not include new hires by Government Agencies, MUN, Health Care Corp., etc.),
in the same period,
our population increased by 2491 or a mere 1.43%. 

The Finance
Minister can point to the end of ‘offset payments’ under the Atlantic Accord, and
over $500 million transfers, but the date of its termination has been known for
a long time, suggesting the issue is really about planning and decision-making,
not falling revenues.

people prepare for the “known knowns” and maintain a reserve for the “known
unknowns” to paraphrase a wily, though usually blunt, former U.S.  Defense Secretary.  Dunderdale and Co. have done none of that;
indeed, she seems perplexed as to why her Administration is even in this spot.

While the
Williams’ Government began the unwarranted and steady increase in public
spending, the proposed deficit spending of this Government finds no parallel in
the budget deficit practices of any government since Confederation, even on a relative

too, if the forecast $1.6 billion deficit is trimmed, it will likely still not reflect
the impact of forecast additional decline in the price of oil, an aging
population, a less busy mega project environment post-2017 or the inevitable
cost overruns at Muskrat Falls.

The public
sector union leadership may legitimately believe their membership is due for a
wage increase; but, while they cheerlead for more public spending, an over-
sized public service and Muskrat Falls, they deny concern over the ballooning public
service pension deficit or the possibility of some nasty surprises causing more
grief in our placid domain.  One is truly
forced to wonder if they, too, are drinking Dunderdale’s wine.  Public Servants, both former and current, with
whom I speak, are not!

If the
Minister of Finance makes even one sensible decision he would advance any call
regarding lay-offs.  The lives of thousands
of public servants should not be held in abeyance until late March or until the
Premier finds the right words to hide an embarrassment of leadership.

There may
have been a time when we thought we could have it all. But, Danny is gone now.
Let us hope that his deplorable legacy of big dreams and big risks, with the
public treasury, find a grounding in the here and now.  Unfortunately, it eludes this Government.   
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. Muskrat Falls over-runs are inevitable? Valid question. However, if the project was sanctioned in April 2012 (which it would have been if the PUB rubberstamped the project)then it would already be 2 Billion overbudget. But over budget don't matter as this goverment will gouge their citizens for every required nickle to pay for the project. I only hope that this 1.6 Billion deficit will evoke some level of fiscal responsibility in this government. We need a dose of reality.

  2. Muskrat Falls may indeed be the price of Dunderdale becoming Premier, but it may well be more than hubris. Danny indeed was reckless and selfish, and she fell for it. Meanwhile, has ther ever been an instance in the last half fo the 20th century, or outside of banana republic, where a leader blew so much political capital? Danny could have done a lot. However, he was just to damn selfish.