rrrrrr…ing of the telephone became insistent. 
A peaceful short snooze, after dinner, suddenly seemed too high an

Leaving my
warm couch I wondered why a bloody email couldn’t have done the trick.  Hello! I answered with as
much equanimity as I could muster.  “Hello,
Nav! It’s Uncle Gnarley. I didn’t disturb your little cat-nap, did I? Now that
you’ve surpassed 100,000 hits on “my” web site, must even I give you fair
warning before you pick up the phone”, he teased. 

Gnarley chuckled
but gave me no opportunity for retort.  “I
am coming over to spend Christmas with you, Nav.  Those single malts beckon.  I presume you have adequately re-stocked, he bantered
mischievously.  Anyway, make sure you let
me in” and abruptly disconnected.      

No sooner
had the receiver landed in its cradle than the doorbell initiated its own
intrusive summons.  I opened it quickly
and the big framed, slightly balding, old professor pushed his way inside.  “Merry Christmas, Nav”, said Uncle Gnarley,
shaking my hand vigorously.  “Aren’t
these cell phones wonderful? Everything is so fast these days!” 

giving me a chance to offer the usual courtesies, Gnarley proceeded to take off
a new tweed overcoat with all the flourish of one strutting a catwalk.
   I patted the new threads lightly and enquired
quizzically: “a new purchase, Uncle Gnarley”?

“My god, man”,
Uncle Gnarley barked, “can’t a poor old retiree be permitted to enjoy the
“golden” age, like everyone else.  Isn’t
that what the Minister of Finance calls it?”    

The age of debt
is more like it, I retorted.  “Now, Nav”,
said Gnarley, his lip curled slightly to exhibit a characteristic scowl, “one
ought not to venture into that territory on the dry”.  Gnarley was never one for subtlety and his
emphasis on “dry” was a signal to get him settled.

Where have
you been, Uncle Gnarley? I enquired earnestly. 
Have you been away?  

“I’ve been
over in bloody Halifax, where else would I be?” he replied, sounding

Let’s try the
Oban, I suggested.  It’s the 14 year old…has
a nice subtle peat flavour; a smoky finish, too, I added as I held out the
bottle to an anxious hand.  I think Liz
has the perfect complement for this fine malt, Uncle Gnarley. 

The tapered
glass refused to acknowledge fulfilment until the contents had been more than amply
served.  Fearing oversupply, I lifted
the bottle and raised my gaze in search of confirmation; a beaming,
if somewhat grizzled, visage held the guarantee that this evening’s
conversation might last ‘til sunrise.

We toasted with
the usual greetings and took a sip from our generous glasses.  As if on cue, Liz brought in a plank of
smoked salmon.  “My god, girl”! Uncle
Gnarley declared, practically bursting with excitement; “now there’s a woman
who can read my mind, Nav.  It will go
perfectly with our wee dram.”  Gnarley
hugged her in appreciation.

As Liz departed,
allowing us to pursue our favourite subject, I immediately sought the earlier
thread in the conversation.  Halifax,
Uncle Gnarley? I again raised the question of his extended absence.  “Did you think, Nav, I was merely going to
read the transcripts of the UARB hearings on the Maritime Link and not be
present to get a sense of what the Nova Scotians were saying in the hallways
and the restaurants?  Good god, man, you
don’t think that stuff makes its way into a transcript do you?”

Ummm, I
replied, as if to intone understanding, adding, I ought to have known you
wouldn’t be content not being in the thick of it.

“And, just
in case you are wondering, there was not a single reporter there, from
Newfoundland.  You’d swear Muskrat Falls
had nothing to do with us; our only job is to pay for the damn thing.  That media crowd will get their comeuppance
yet, he swore.”

How did you
keep a straight face in the Hearing Room? I asked, attempting to lighten the
already heavily laden air.  “Why, Nav, I
don’t know what you mean”. 

Gnarley, if I remember correctly the transcripts noted the presence of a Mr.
Sidebottom, a Mr. Outhouse and a Mr. Smellie. 
Must have been quite a stink in that room I ventured, not cracking a

The little
was rewarded only
Gnarley’s intense
glare; he took a gulp of the golden liquid, closed his eyes and let his frame
relax into the curves of the big leather chair.   His serious face became reflective for a
moment; it just didn’t seem possible that the glow of the fireplace could
produce such a worried countenance.   I remained quiet permitting the old man to
gather his thoughts.    

“Nav, tell
Liz she needn’t cook a turkey on my account, the bearded face muttered finally.  I just came from the biggest celebration ever
held on the east coast of Canada.  I
don’t mean the one held in Confederation Building either.  In Nova Scotia there was no need for a choral
group to burnish any announcement”, he roared with derisive laughter. 

“I tell you,
Nav, the UARB hearings had all the markings of Christmas come early; just about
everyone over there feels Premier Dunderdale upstaged Santa.  The Members of the UARB brimmed with
satisfaction taking obvious delight in the deal they extracted from her and Ed Martin. 

“In the
restaurants and over coffee no one even attempted to hide their bewilderment
that NL wanted so badly to build a hydro project.  Why would the Newfs build 30 cent/KWh  power and sell it to them for 4.2 cents, they
wondered?  Of course, it made no sense.

“To be fair,
Nav, the Hearings spoke to that Province’s institutions and their role in
limiting political excess; yet, everyone knew the outcome. But for the
requirement of “due process”, the UARB might have immediately issue a one word Report,
“A-P-P-R-O-V-E-D”, Gnarley spelled out the word letter by letter, adding “and
like the good Scotsmen so many of them are, they would have headed for the
whiskey cabinet”.

“I tell you
Nav, I will never again think as ill of Joe Smallwood as I have for the last
forty years.  In my wildest dreams I
never thought possible that his level of stupidity could be outdone.  But, Ed Martin and Cathy Dunderdale have succeeded!”




Even the new
Liberal Government jumped on the band-wagon I interjected, allowing Uncle
Gnarley to wet his lips. 

indeed, Nav; except their reversal was completely predictable. It was really a
great charade.  The new Energy Minister turned
up at the Hearings, all in a flutter, with eight new conditions.  Of course, they were only intended to offset
the Liberal Government’s full endorsement of the Maritime Link.

“Some of
them were barely comprehensible, for Christ’s sake”, Gnarley spit out the words.  “The UARB Members weren’t without political
savvy.  It was they who extracted the
Energy Access Agreement, the 21 year 1.2 TWh power commitment and the Balancing
Agreement from Nalcor. In one deft move”, Gnarley raised his arm giving it a
broad stroke, “they ordered that all eight conditions part and parcel of their
final Decision.” 

“The new
Government could have added a partridge in a pear tree, if they wished.  The UARB felt totally empowered to tack on the
whole lot even if they did not quite understand what they meant.  They knew, better than most, that Ed Martin
and Cathy Dunderdale would say: it’s all fine with them, which they did. 

“But, to the
point Nav, the Nova Scotians could easily see the position in which Nalcor had
placed this Province. They weren’t going to let such an opportunity go unrealized.

“Ed Martin
and the Premier have now succeeded in accomplishing the direct transfer of your
oil money to Nova Scotia.  These two
obviously weren’t around for the fight on the Atlantic Accord.  Likely, they have no recollection of how
little we owe that Province for its treachery in Peckford’s battle over the
Atlantic Accord”, he growled.

A sullen Gnarley
stopped for a few seconds to sip from his glass.  But, he had not finished the subject.

“What the Nova
Scotians understand, Nav, is that their leadership took a strategic approach to
its approval of the Maritime Link.  They
saw Nalcor willingly expose this Province to all the financial risks of the
Project, including most of the cost overruns on the Maritime Link.  Why wouldn’t they go for more!  They had a free hand.  It was easy to force Nalcor to commit”, he emphasized the word, “more
than half the power from Muskrat and Nalcor; the bloody fools, who are supposed
to be working for us, agreed that Newfoundland and Labrador would be under
penalty of fine if we failed to deliver!

Gnarley continued, “that Province has given up no advantage; they have established
a ceiling on their power costs and even retained the right to refuse our
obligation to them if they locate even cheaper sources.  

“But that’s not
all, Nav.  Nalcor’s determination to
build Muskrat Falls, at any cost, for which purpose it had to secure the
Federal Loan Guarantee Agreement has essentially driven Nalcor to lose control
over the Newfoundland island system. 
Hardly a goddam soul in the Province understands what Martin and
Dunderdale have done but, in committing an average 1.2 terawatts annually and not
linking the obligation strictly to Muskrat Falls, they have not only committed
most of our excess power; they committed all our power assets including Muskrat

face was flush at this point.  His glass
was still more than half full, but I could see that Nalcor’s egregious level of
stupidity had made him very uncomfortable.

“Nav, you
will recall when former NS Premier Dexter rose in their Legislature and
declared Nova Scotia ‘in the driver’s seat’ if the Province agreed to Nalcor’s
Maritime Link proposal.  Dexter was
expressing a vision understood by many in that Province. All Ed Martin and
Dunderdale have achieved is to help Dexter and the Nova Scotians complete their

Now, as Alderon
is given the balance of recall power, NL has little left for growth.  New mines and other industry will require
FIRM power.  That additional power will
not be available, Nav, especially in the winter months unless, of course,
Holyrood is kept open.  That, Nav, is the
true  picture that underscores Nalcor’s
untruthful narrative.”
Uncle Gnarley paused for a moment, signalling he was
coming to the end of his rant.

When he spoke again, he uttered this comment: who will
Newfoundlanders and Labradorians use as a scape goat this time when the bills come in,
when we can’t keep up with the cost overruns?
Undoubtedly, Cathy Dunderdale will look for another bogeyman.  Quebec surely can’t be too far removed from
this narrative.

“You insinuated there might have been a stink in Halifax, Nav, crassly I might add; they were all fine gentlemen.  But, it’s the stench in Newfoundland that
worries me.”

It was
getting late.
  The night had already
dissipated and an early morning sky contained the promise of a distant sun. 

“Keep telling the public what these people have gotten us into, Nav, Gnarley counselled, as he bounded from the chair. You’ll always be subjected to the Alice In Wonderland types; that’s not going to change.  All you need do is read the front page of the Saturday Telegram.  Mr. MacLeod and the couple of Nalcor types seem to fallen face and eyes into Ed Martin’s “Kool Aid”.  

“The newest narrative is: we’re trading power with Ontario! Oh my! Oh my! As if there was any quantity of power not already committed to Nova Scotia, as if there was any transmission capacity, as if we would receive more than a pittance for the power, given Ontario’s overcapacity. 

What version of the Muskrat story is that Uncle Gnarley? Why, Nav, he responded, that must be at least the tenth, rolling with laughter! They should be writing fairytales!

Isn’t that exactly what they are doing?, I replied.

“I think next year, Nav, let’s resolve, once again, to stay close to sensible people.”

That’s a good idea, Uncle Gnarley, I added, ending the long night.  Anyway, competition for the ‘Mad Hatter’ award seems already oversubscribed! 

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. After examining this project for almost 2 years, I am often still confused about this project. There is alot of detail, and without Nalcor presenting the full business case it is difficult to understand what the net benefit will be once all the direct debt, and equity debt is repayed. However, one thing is certain. It is a great deal for Nova Scotians. They are the principal beneficiary of NL resources.

    This government has been negligent for not originally considering a 20 year power import plan, until the UC is available in 2041.

  2. Ontario's Green Agenda is costing taxpayers now & into the future – The Newfoundland Conservative government is going down the same path with the public funded hydro electric project that will double the province's debt burden for a costly form of power; the strangest thing that I have never witnessed before occured in this ongoing drama – a Conservative government undertaking a multi-billion dollar infrastructure project without any critical judgement from the any of the local or national media parties or the local or national federal parties – this is an excellent example of the Green Agenda at work. I can safely wager a bet, if this project was a public funded multi-billion dollar offshore Oil & gas project, the pom-poms would be replaced for the knives from all of the current Chorus.