Scramble” is a word that conveys something
more than a sense of urgency.
suggests a disorganized, frantic, confused, even undignified effort to do
something or get somewhere. There is a lot of scrambling going on in the
Province, right now.
Premier and his Finance Minister are scrambling
to put together a Budget; private enterprise is back in vogue as they contemplate
selling off public services; the crown jewels can’t be far behind.
Furlong is scrambling having recognized,
too late, the government has public employees in the crosshairs.
President, Wayne Lucas, says “there will be war”; it’s a safe bet he’s scrambling; some call it leading from

groups are scrambling. They want to
steer Premier Davis away from tax increases.  Seems they have been thrown off the party bus. The Chair of the Board of Trade outlined
her prescription for improved stewardship, in The Telegram, on Saturday. She
doesn’t as much as offer a “tut tut” for reckless behavior and not much in the
way of ideas, either.
Hydro is scrambling…. to keep the
lights on; even though power demand is average for the time of year.
is scrambling to keep a lid on the
fallout as the construction schedule slips at Muskrat Falls.
is scrambling having discovered
frostbite, from a Labrador winter, is just as numbing as project logistics in Ed
Martin’s office.

There is no scrambling by the Government’s Oversight Committee. They have succumbed
to hibernation; the inoculation is so overwhelming they missed Groundhog Day.  The latest meeting, for which minutes are
posted, is Dec. 5, 2014, and its last quarterly report was for the period
ending Sept. 31, 2014. 

there’s no scrambling inside the
Office of the Independent Engineer (IE).
guess it is hard to get noticed when, all around you, everyone else is scrambling
But the IE’s latest Report gives us a clue as to why many of the others are scrambling.
warning: don’t read the IE’s Report unless you have a strong stomach!
It almost caused
the loss of one Muskrat “watcher”, this week. The email read as if the writer was threatening self-immolation, the sense of despair palpable: “I do not have the
stomach to read any more of (it)”, he declared. 
What was most shocking is that this
is a fellow constantly on the front lines; battle ready, as they say.  
wrote him back a curt reply telling him to pull himself together.  I said: don’t you understand, as a citizen of
this Province, you are a member of a grand society of poker players”. I thought he might do with a bit of cheering up, even if the odds were poor.  I reminded him, as gamblers say, we are all “pot committed”.  Perhaps, he knew that already. Come to think
of it, he did seem a tad “all in”. 
I don’t think it worked.  He wrote
back looking for assurance it was too early for PTSD.
What did the
Independent Engineer (IE) say that sent his blood pressure soaring?
explanation is actually quite simple. You see, he’s an engineer.
Now, engineers
tend to be very technical people. They expect to read a diatribe of complex words;
all of them obscure to the great unwashed. 
They know, full well, their frequent usage and incomprehensibility is
what we pay millions of dollars for. But the most complicated word in the IE’s
Report was “SLIPPAGE”. 
Now, we all know what slippage means.  As an engineer,
he knew in an instant the jig was up; whatever was left of the façade of
Muskrat Falls, and the engineers that manage it, is gone.
What did the
IE say? 
Now, this is
where things get serious:
Said the IE’s
Report “…it is understood that there has been schedule slippage…” at Muskrat Falls. The IE does not volunteer who understands there has been slippage or how much, but the word SLIPPAGE was
given unabashed amplification. 
That wasn’t
The Report talks
about the status of the “dome”. 
Remember the
dome? That was supposed to be the answer to everyone’s inexperience; Nalcor’s and Astaldi’s.
States the
IE: Astaldi Canada’s “…progress on the ICS (shelter structure) for the
Powerhouse construction is behind schedule…..Bays 1 and 2 (are) substantially
completed (minus much of the wall cladding….)”.
The IE adds:
“…concrete works were underway for the spillway structure… (but) this work is
behind schedule…”
(The IE could
have used the word SLIPPAGE, but
thankfully for one engineer, he chose words not so hard on his blood pressure.)
The Report
states Nalcor is “actively working with Astaldi to identify and implement
production improvements to maintain the schedule for River diversion in 2016
and First Power in 2017”
The implication
is, they are scrambling to prevent
more slippage which, in the meantime,
demands we assume the failure to complete the “dome” will have no effect on the
completion schedule. Except, as another astute engineer points out: if that is
the case, why was the dome needed in the first place?
I didn’t want
to be the author of my own demise, so I didn’t say to the second astute engineer, I was encouraged by the IE’s comment
about the site of the Powerhouse. The IE stated the “work area is fully protected
from the weather by a tarpaulin…”
And, I bit my
tongue, too, when I could have offered him encouraging words like: what’s
another $100 million!
the Report, the IE seemed anxious to note that ‘construction works observed
during the site visit were all in accordance with good construction standards’.
I think those
were the words that turned the normally demure (but astute) engineer apoplectic.
I had only
studied Political Science, but I was beginning to feel like I had gotten mixed
up in a graduation bash in the engineering building. The astute engineer, now
banging on the pots and pans, shouted: how can the IE even talk like that, if the
winter covering is not complete and has little chance of being completed?  The “dome” may come down before it is even
finished and this is supposed to be in accordance with “good construction
I don’t think
I have ever seen an engineer as depressed; following which he actually turned apologetic,
 as if he had done dentistry at
But, there is
The IE
states: “No work was being carried out on the North Spur stabilization works at
the time of the site visit…”
So, the North
Spur and the water diversion can
both be delayed for one year and not affect the date of first power?
Now, the
engineer is screaming:  you can’t even
make this god damned stuff up!!!!!!
And, still, it
gets worse.
The IE
informs us of “the positive outcome of …discussions with Astaldi Canada’s upper
management (and a) new reorganization of Astaldi and LCMC (Nalcor) site
personnel…targeting a significant contract progress improvement…”
Astaldi, is
getting their feet frozen; its first time in Labrador. Nalcor is doing their very
first big project. Top management is trying “reorganization” as they figure out
what to do next.  
The result……a
very technical term, but I think we all know what it means…SLIPPAGE!
It’s a busy winter on the Island and especially in Labrador.
is not much work getting done; but…
But (almost) everyone is scrambling.

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. Seeing all of those orange tarpaulins and the "frost fighter" backup heaters does not fill me with confidence. Is there any way the feds can withdraw their loan guarantee? This may be a way to stop the entire thing. I am sure there will be many who will say it is too late to stop but it is not. From the photos in the report this project is still in the initial construction phase and given this province's real inability to continue to provide financing, we should halt work immediiately and start invoking some of those contract cancellation clauses, of which i am sure there are many. Perhaps some lawyers among the readers can spot some opportunity in the loan guarantee documents that will enable the feds to bring this to a halt. Not likely we get our money back on all of those orange tarps, though…

    John D Pippy

  2. Mr. Pippy, I concur with you that indeed it can be stopped. They can continue to build it but, if time delays and cost overruns add up to hundreds of millions more, it is simply not worth the risk. It has been a colossal failure from the beginning but we have a government and business community with their heads buried in the proverbial sand…demonstrating the abysmal lack of leadership among the so-called elites in this province.

    Like the engineer, Mr. Sullivan describes in his column, I am thoroughly discouraged by what I see as a complete and utter abandonment of principle by our politicians, union leaders, and the corporate elite….all of whom seem to think it is perfectly fine to shaft general populace as long as they get to benefit.

    I am not ready to abandon hope of the complete collapse of this project and the subsequent dismantling of that monstrosity called NALCOR….but we are approaching the precipice.

  3. Only 3 percent of those polled consider Muskrat Falls an election issue. A friend suggests that almost no one realizes that the power rates will soon go up 50 percent or more. What will the other 97 percent say once these rates are fact……..

    • Jim Lovell said it best. "There are people who make things happen, there are people who watch things happen, and there are people who wonder what happened…"

      NL is full of people in the "what happened" category.