He was
always a jokester.  You could be
splitting your sides and Crosbie would be dead pan serious.

If you were
the serious one, John would be whoopin’ and hollerin’.  That’s just the way he is.

Same thing
with his Saturday Telegram Column, “Muskrat Falls is worth the risk”.   You
might have
thought he had joined Kathy Dunderdale in support of Muskrat Falls.

But be
careful with that one.  John’s approach
to serious issues might differ from yours.

What tipped
me off was his attempt to justify the Project with a single snippet from Bartlett’s
Favourite Quotations.  Intoned Crosbie: “Only
those who would risk going too far can possibly find out how far you can go.”
 Cripes, he must have known T.S Eliot was pure
giveaway.  He was saying, ‘don’t be surprised
if you fall off the deep end’!   

After T.S.
Eliot, he put down his pen.  That was
another clue. Two years late, we still await Dunderdale’s explanation for how
Muskrat is either necessary or economic. 
John could have posted about this megaproject in the next fifty-two
editions of The Telegram.  Yet, he hardly used
up even one. 

The younger
crows won’t remember, but the older ones will…it was Crosbie, along with Clyde
Wells and Ray Guy, who helped ‘slay’ Joe Smallwood.  He extricated John Shaheen and John C. Doyle
from the public purse, two gadflies who had big ideas, all of the Muskrat scale,
and no money of their own.   He practically shoved his boot up their arse.  And we cheered him on!

With John on
the loose, again, it’s just a wonder Ed Martin hasn’t needed rectal surgery.

As a Federal
Cabinet Minister, he “delivered” and not in the way Peter Penashue suggests.  He was a damn good Minister.

John knows
better than most, NL is a place that needs comic relief; on this, too, he has
excelled.  Don’t discount humour in a
place where you need a jack hammer to sow potatoes, Frank Moores used to say.
Little wonder that for decades we put politicians on a pedestal.

Smallwood, Crosbie recognized that people tend to put too much faith in
political icons.  Likely, he and they discovered
the risk that, too often, bombast is substituted for informed argument.

It is one thing
for the current Premier to engage in Smallwoodian hyperbole to bolster Muskrat,
but, Mr. Crosbie, given his personal political history, would reflexively,
eschew this attraction, especially in matters financial. 

As Ray Guy
might suggest, in a creaky voice: it’s good to have a healthy scepticism for things
wrapped ‘in the flag’;  they are a better
cure for rickets or rheumatism.

Crosbie makes
no reference to the objections of Vardy, Penney or Martin, for whom he has the greatest
respect.  And, he offers ‘neither a jot nor
a tittle’ when it comes to the concerns raised by the PUB.  As he would say, “what’s the pint?”

Crosbie always
demanded a “good brief”; staff and paper going everywhere, an entire
departmental bureaucracy never allowed to sleep.  He would give little time to ass-kissing
economists or for ‘provincial’ minds.  Imagine
him giving Dunderdale a free pass on a $7.4 billion Project. Brigitte Bardot
would have more luck french-kissing a seal.

“I consider
Muskrat Falls the last and best chance we have to overcome the disastrously
unfair provisions of the original Upper Churchill agreement”, Crosbie wrote, careful
to conceal how a bad deal on the Upper, could possibly assuage the risk and terrible
economics demanded by the Lower.

Crosbie has
always been a good laugh.  Read one of
his stump speeches and you are guaranteed to need your appendix out.  Like a good wine, the guy improves with age.  As I was reading his stuff, I said Christ, he’s
sharper than Majunder or Mercer.  There’s
another career here. This guy won’t quit!

Then he went
for the ‘kicker’, as Don Cherry would say:

Crosbie, “(t)he priorities of the project are to achieve maximum benefits for
our people and to secure stable rates and markets with good returns for our
province and Nova Scotia”. 

Crosbie is truly
at his best when ‘tongue in cheek’.  This
was vintage John.  He knows that the Nova
Scotia power cost will be less than half and possibly a third the rate paid by
Newfoundlanders. He understands that Nova Scotia’s risk is capped while
Newfoundland’s risk is unlimited. Yet, he’ll try and tell you the opposite…just
to see if you are listening.

Yes, you
have to be careful with Crosbie; he can, in a moment of weakness, revert to
hyperbolic claims or spout completely irrelevant quotations, but in a pinch,
he’ll always go for understatement. 
Majunder and Rick Mercer are simply too young and inexperienced: they can’t
win against such lithe humour and extemporaneous wit.

power, Crosbie suggested, may be available for “New England”. 

This was too
much; there are only so many jokes you can bear, unless that is, you are a
Member of the House of Assembly.  At this
point my sides were getting pretty tender. Of course, John knew the difference!  He had signed into law, before Christmas, the
Government’s “monopoly” legislation on local power production.  He knows it is the kiss of death for any
power exporter to the U.S.  Yet, by god, he
was able to keep a straight face.

Many critics
have advanced the “isolated island” option and other ideas. John didn’t go
there.  Likely, he’s not over Dunderdale’s
insult, knowing as he does, the wisdom of “filling in” our power needs, until
2041.  That’s when the Province’s
ownership stake in the Upper Churchill begins to have merit.  Crosbie, in the Moore’s Administration, was one
of the people responsible.  Why didn’t he
mention it? “Jesu’ Chr’st B’y”, why would I state the goddam obvious”, you can just
hear him now!

If you picked
up Mr. Crosbie’s Article, looking for the ‘smoking gun’ of Muskrat, you were
sorely disappointed. 

He knew all
along who is about to get skinned!      

Are your ribs sticking out?  What! You’ve
haven’t laughed hard enough?  Alright,
alright, one more from Uncle John, for ‘ol times sake; but, just one more!

Let’s pick
the “North Spur”; that tricky matter of “quick clay”, over which Nalcor failed
to perform essential geotechnical study, prior to Project sanction. Can’t you
just hear Minister Crosbie,
shouting at some sheepish bureaucrat, from Nalcor, having been forced to
explain that this is a ‘project killer’: 
“why are you putting the goddamn cart before the goddamn horse”? he
would rightfully ask.

You got to
hand it to Mr. Crosbie; he’s good.  He’s
better than the best.

Thing is,
with John, he makes you laugh so hard, you can never take him too seriously.

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. It's good to see the Telegram has given John Crosbie a job which is identical to his previous engagement – reciting and regurgitating government proclamations.

    Without the fancy house, mind you.