Each of us will
define benchmarks of progress, in 2013, differently. They may be as varied as a
bigger paycheck, a larger house or the kids’ advancement in school.  However they are calculated, in addition to
matters personal, they ought to also reflect whether Newfoundland and Labrador,
as a society, is better off.  We are,
after all, “part of the main” to use Patrick O’Flaherty’s titled phrase. 

Many in this
Province have done well even if national statistics suggest we have more work
to do.  High personal debt levels, poor retirement
readiness, health care issues and job security challenge us, as they do other

and Labrador is engaged in a seemingly endless process of transition.  The emptying of hundreds of rural communities
is a continuing flag giving confirmation that the last threads of an enduring rural
culture can no longer resist the attraction of larger towns. 

Perhaps it
is our lot, as a society, that we are forever in the grip of fundamentally
painful change.

Yet, the
Province has prospered even if many have not landed on the sweet side of the economic

The recent
oil finds, by partners Statoil and Husky Energy, offer new hope that the
prosperity horizon can be extended. Indeed, the very success of these companies
illuminates our increasing dependency on a singular resource and of our
capacity to willingly gulp the petroleum prize far too quickly.

Lest we delight
in selective amnesia, we might acknowledge that oil, directly and indirectly,
represents roughly one-half of provincial government revenues.  A large share of our nascent prosperity is
linked to a series of megaprojects and successively huge budgetary
deficits.  The government aims to spend
every cent it can get its hands on without a thought to the future.  Many people, in positions of leadership,
cheer them on.

Corner Brook
Paper has been given new life with a new subsidy and labour concessions though
any talk of that declining industry’s longevity is carefully avoided.
Come-By-Chance is threatened by another roll of the dice.

The fishery,
a perennial victim of over-dependence, social and political, looks to a
European Trade Agreement for new impetus though the large sum of Federal money,
which persuaded the Provincial Government to sign on, is a warning of fresh
challenges for this critically important industry.

Late in the
year the Government brought out the choristers to herald the Federal Loan
Guarantee (FLG) for Muskrat Falls, though most commentators failed to note that
any of the benefits, to which it gave pretense, had already been assigned to
Nova Scotia. 

In the midst
of all our good fortune, we have the bad luck of having elected an unwise
government to manage it for us. It is reckless and arrogant.  It acts like one who, having found full-time temporary
work, has decided to ‘max out’ the credit card. 

Though the
Muskrat Falls Project represents some of the most expensive hydro power ever built
in North America, and a huge risk to our small economy, the full cost will not
be clear for some time. 

It was only
after the FLG ceremony that Nalcor CEO Ed Martin allowed himself to invoke the words,
“cost overruns”; though some unofficial reports have long confirmed what Mr.
Martin refused to concede. 

Likely, the
Polling numbers which have placed the Premier’s personal popularity in last
place are a reflection of a body politic unamused by her or even Ed Martin’s hijinks.

But a modern
society is more complicated than might be indicated by the sole interplay of
government and governed. 

That is why
mature societies boast the effectiveness of their public institutions, whether
legislative, or purposefully constituted. 

independent review, and damned by economics, Muskrat Falls still managed to
serve one noble purpose.  It placed a
spot-light on our inability to guard against overbearing hubris, rank stupidity
and excessive exuberance.

Have far
have we come? In most democratic societies, even if the institutions of
Government fail to live up to our expectations, there is always the media, isn’t

Well, no, not
really! Though next week’s Post will deal with more fully with this topic,
arguably the media, with one limited exception – the editorial department of
the Telegram – demonstrated an abysmal failure to compensate for a lack of infrastructure
designed to check government excess.

The media
displayed no stomach to challenge the Government’s frequent deception and
misinformation or its constantly changing narrative.   

How many
citizens of this Province can claim even a scintilla of knowledge of what this
Province gave up to secure the Federal Loan Guarantee?  The job of reporters is to…well, report. That
is far different from taking sides.  Lacking
expertise is no excuse for failing to retain independent counsel, whether
engineering or legal.  Media organizations
owed that much to the body politic.

Then, too, most
of the so-called ‘elites’ stayed quiet, for yet another year.  Jerome Kennedy, the former Natural Resources
Minister, grew tired of the Premier’s singular, if not myopic faith, in Nalcor’s
unchecked arithmetic.  Unfortunately, it
was not within him to be a public voice for as little as departmental oversight. 

Many others,
capable of doing the Government damage, stayed quiet, too, fearing retribution
from vengeful Premiers. Dunderdale joined Danny on this list, though only
privately were their names mentioned. 
Wasn’t that the same reason people hated a spiteful Joey Smallwood, in
the 1950s and 60s?  

How far have
we come, indeed!

Even the
Opposition Parties, perhaps fearful of being out of step with Unions and
contractors, revised Webster’s consideration of the word ‘tepid’, at least as
it applied to Muskrat, as something less than lukewarm.  

The past few
years, including this one, has surely exposed the weak political underbelly of
NL society. 

unvarnished truth is we are not all we need to be.  We have allowed a democratically elected
Government to act ‘rogue’.  We will pay
for this laxity.   

When the
Government gets it wrong, when the media is reticent, and the institutions we
expect to act as counterweight are non-existent or light weight, individual citizens
had better not have nodded off.

After what
we have endured as a society over the last five centuries, it would be unfortunate
if the bells and whistles, on a new F-150, were allowed to constitute any gauge
of progress. 

Giving challenge
to unwise leadership will never be easy. But, it is the price of real and
enduring prosperity; one that has a strong and stable foundation, one on which we
are safe to build a larger house.   

We have the
resources, the wherewithal of growth, most any society would envy.  We have to stop allowing incompetence rule;
we must insist on better institutions to protect our interests when
collectively, even electorally, we misstep.

We are not
there yet.  
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.


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?