THE PUB: ANTIDOTE TO A GONG SHOW?

Nalcor’s warning to the public last week: ‘conserve power or
suffer more rolling black-outs’
  lends
credence to suggestions that the Agency is a ‘Gong Show’.
 


A winter weary citizenry co-operated but not without
expressing bewilderment of the people in charge of the Island’s electrical
system. 

No leadership is expected from either Premier Marshall or
Natural Resources Minister Derrick Dalley. 

In the real world, Nalcor CEO Ed Martin would have been sent
packing early in January.  But, the Government is weak and cannot distinguish those matters which are truly in the public interest. 

The one source of light in this whole sordid business is an
Order from the Public Utilities Board, specifically No. P.U. 3 (2014).  The Order followed the lodging of a formal
Complaint by the Official Opposition and by a five person Citizen’s Group.

The
accompanying Media Advisory to P.U. 3 (2014) had this to say:
“the Board has determined that certain
issues should be addressed on a priority basis to allow for timely
implementation of any necessary changes before next winter. These issues
include a review of the system events, evaluation of possible changes to the
Island Interconnected system to enhance preparedness for the upcoming winter
seasons, and an examination of each utility’s response to the power outages.”

The PUB has
targeted mid-May as a delivery date for the interim Report. 

The Agency rightly
placed specific issues relating to Hoyrood at the top of its agenda.  But, it must be noted the PUB did not listen
to Nalcor who wanted any broadening of the investigation scotched.  The preamble to the PUB’s stated in part:

“WHEREAS Hydro (that’s Nalcor) submits that the
key period for the investigation and hearing should be the upcoming winter
periods until the Muskrat Falls generating facility is commissioned and that it 
would be beyond
the appropriate scope
of this matter to address reliability after the
commissioning of the Muskrat Falls generating
facility and the Labrador Island Link;



Then the PUB adds:

WHEREAS Newfoundland Power, the Consumer Advocate, Danny
Dumaresque, Des Sullivan, 
Cabot Martin, Dave Vardy and Ron Penney submit that the Board
should examine how 
reliability on the Island Interconnected system will
be assured after the commissioning
of the 
Muskrat Falls generating facility; and….” (emphasis
added)

To put it succinctly, the
PUB will examine, against the wishes of Nalcor, the capability of Muskrat Falls
post-2017.
 

It is too early to
judge whether the PUB’s assessment of relevant issues will be adequate.  The Agency has not yet said if the Water
Management Agreement, the Labrador Island Link, the Energy Access Agreement with Emera and the multiplicity of sub-issues will be placed under the
microscope.


Likely, we won’t know
until after the Interim report is released. 


But we do know that while
the Provincial Government and Nalcor continue to keep us in the dark the PUB has the capacity to shed light on several substantive
issues.  It certainly seems willing to perform its legislated role.
 

In the good
faith belief that the PUB’s investigation will be thorough, that Agency’s
decision ought to serve as a reminder to the public of the importance of such institutions. 


A society that contains a
strong institutional structure has an in-built capacity to protect the public
interest even when elected governments fail.   
 

This is a lesson to all of us to pay more attention the Office of the Auditor General, to the Public Accounts Committee, to the development of additional oversight structures.   In particular, consideration must be given to how unwise governments can be prevented from easily undermining these bulwarks against poor democratic practice.

The PUB has an opportunity
to put on display, not just for Newfoundland and Labrador, but for all open
democracies its independence and its obligation to serve
the public rather than succumb to the Government that appointed it. 


It is an opportunity that transcends
considerations of incompetence by senior public servants or even the need of
modern society to be assured basic heat and light. 
 

It is difficult to conceive that a Government Agency, the very one at risk of being exposed, is the only one opposed to public examination.  


But, secrecy is what Nalcor has relied upon and demanded throughout the entire Muskrat saga, too.  


In time, it will have to be stripped down, exposed, cleaned out.  It is a Gong Show with many bad Acts.  It needs to be gonged.


The PUB may well deliver the first one.
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.

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