“No Brainer”
says Danny Williams, as he urged the new temporary Marshall Government to build
a third transmission line to Labrador West, substantially at public expense.

I’m not sure
when the public will grow tired of Mr. Williams.  I wish they would ask him to stop trading on
the goodwill with which he was rewarded while in Office.  

Danny lets
no one forget his popularity.  Even his Notice
of appointment as a Director to the Alderon Board is careful to point out: “Mr.
Williams served as Premier of Newfoundland and Labrador from October 2003 until
November 2010, retiring from the position at a time when his government had an
approval rating of over 80%.” 

The Chinese
Government, through Hebei Iron Ore, the largest shareholder in Alderon must be
very impressed.

There is
nothing wrong with a retired politician, even a former Premier, continuing to contribute
to public life.   But there is a great difference between a public
policy role and engagement for the purpose of corporate self-interest.

Peckford advised caution on Muskrat Falls to Kathy Dunderdale, but was
summarily rebuffed when his remarks failed to reflect positively on her
high-handed approach to the issue. 

During the
eras of both Williams and Dunderdale one could ever say there was room for
critics, including former Premiers, if their interests were unaligned.  Unlike Williams, Peckford lives in British
Columbia, and is not reported to have business interests here with which to
cause potential conflict.

does; though he need never fear that the current Premier will give him rebuke. 

Not even the
Consumer Advocate would dare chastise Williams even if his demands are far too expensive
for ratepayers.

Is the third
transmission line to Labrador West really such a “no brainer”? 

There was a time,
not long ago, when $260 million plus cost overruns, was a lot of money. How did
the new standard of fiscal prudence, in this Province, get to be: just add it
to the public debt?   Fiscal over-exuberance, during Williams’ tenure,
will find many parallels with the recent ‘bubble’ in the iron ore industry.   Bubbles
burst. Just ask Cliff Resources.  

Bubbles can
be extended using public money.  If a Company is lucky enough to be in possession of a rich ore body, all the better; no public money is justified.

What does
Alderon boast about the feasibility of its Kami Mine? It states:

Based on the
Feasibility Study, Alderon plans to commence commercial production at a rate of
8 million tonnes per year at a grade of 65.2% iron with a mine life of 30
years. The Feasibility Study also illustrated robust project economics
including a pre-tax NPV8 of US$3.24 billion, a pre-tax IRR of 29.3%, a payback
period of 3.8 years, capital costs of US$1.27 billion, and operating costs of
US$42.17/tonne concentrate.

An Internal
Rate of Return of 29.3% and a capital payback period of 3.8 years! Those
numbers do indeed constitute “robust economics”, just as Alderon suggests. 

Does that
fact not confirm Alderon’s capacity to assume a larger part of the financial burden
of a transmission line? Why should rate payers, directly or indirectly, have any
responsibility to be burdened by private corporate objectives?

In the
interest of fairness and equity, for all large industrial users, shouldn’t the Government
have a policy for when it steps in versus when industry should look after its
own investments and assume its own risks, as did IOCC with the construction of Twin
Falls (later incorporated into the Upper Churchill) and Vale to develop
Voisey’s Bay?

Should a Government
be milked? Or, is it the case that if a Company possesses a powerful lobbyist,
public policy can be altered to favour the more influential?  

In a
Province experiencing a dearth of public policy debate, what better place for a
former Premier to infuse his reputed business knowledge?  What better time to chide his protégé,
Premier Marshall, for practising reckless financial decision-making. 

But, the
former Premier is counselling nothing of the kind.

Somehow, “no
brainer” just seems such an intellectually deficient contribution for one possibly
capable of more.  

Should we be
robbed of a more generous elaboration of Danny’s public policy heft?  Must we be content with pith now that time
has run out on his pro bono offer of governance? 

Can it be,
Danny, that only the Alderon Boardroom is worthy of your earnest contemplation,
that our limit is two words: “no brainer”; not even a third could be spoken without
the offer of commensurate pay?

When matters
are left to the ragged arsed artillery, they are apt to ask questions.  They might not be prepared to glorify “no
brainer” as even a pedestrian example of inspired thought.  One might even ask the former Premier:

Why should such
a huge expenditure fall on the public’s shoulders when IOCC is up for sale,
when the Cliff Resources’ Wabush Scully Mine is about to be shuttered, the Bloom
Lake development suspended and put up for sale? 

Didn’t Labrador
Iron Mines announce that it is reviewing whether it is feasible to start
seasonal production this year?    

Given the declining
price environment of the iron ore industry worldwide, wouldn’t it make sense to
confirm that the transmission line will be needed, in the foreseeable future, before
committing the expenditure of a quarter billion dollars or more? 

Wouldn’t it
be appropriate if the Power Purchase Agreement with Alderon was made public,
allowing those who will pay the cost to be informed of the commercial terms of the
Company’s obligations?

No one will
dispute the right of Directors of Alderon to advance its corporate interests in
this Province.  That is exactly what one
would expect.  But Danny Williams is not
just any corporate Director.  Few have
access to the Premier’s Office or to senior Ministers of the Government as he

Very few get
to be so personally engaged in the choosing of a new Premier. 

When a
former Premier gets that close to the decision-making machinery of the
Government shouldn’t the public
feel uncomfortable?  Ought
not the burden of restraint weigh more heavily on him?

vacuums, characterized by weak leadership especially weak First Ministers, like
Kathy Dunderdale and Tom Marshall, are fertile soil for those tempted to confuse
the public interest with those personal and corporate. 

announced yesterday Danny’s resignation from its Board, stating he will stay
on as a Consultant.  What’s left to do,
now that the transmission line is assured, except to get paid for services

Of course,
he will want to deliver Frank Coleman the mantle of Tory Premier.  Then he must find a hockey team.

leave much time for inspired public policy, does it?

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. Prudent fiscal responsibility would have been to take the risk of the costs of this transmission line away from us as citizens and rate payers. I would have suggested at the very least Govt. of Newfoundland take a bond or letter of credit from Alderon for 50% of the outstanding costs of the transmission line, (~$130M) until such time the mine is open and we are earning some royalties back. If they are committed to the project and based on IRR this shouldn't of been a problem. In meantime we're holding the bag should the price of iron ore tank further and for other unforeseen circumstances Alderon pulls back from operations in Labrador.

  2. The day of reckoning will be coming for Williams and the conservatives. It will be in 2017/2018 when the power bills are nearly double where they are now. This is from the MF project, Third Line to Lab West, and the third line required in Newfoundland. People will finally wake up when our power bills double, and NS bills decrease all from MF power. Meanwhile at the same time, the resource projects (Hebron, LC, Husky WHP, Vale, and Alderon) will all be complete, and the short term construction jobs gone as well.

    The echo boom will be very dramatic on how this unfolds in Newfoundland. 2010-2016 will have hyper inflation. The hangover from that will be severe. 2017 will be a very difficult year in NL.

    In 2017 Danny Williams popularity will not be there, because his legacy was of terrible fiscal management. People will finally become aware of this because it will be hitting them directly in their pocket books.

    I am just not sure he will actually give a F$ck.