WHEN MEDIA SILENCE HURTS EVERYONE

The act of
telling a lie is nothing new. In the English language the word “mendacity” has
hardly changed from its ecclesiastical Latin origin, mendacitas or ‘lying’.
Individuals
lie. Often they are only fibs with harmless intent, like those that preserve
innocence about belief in the Easter Bunny.   
Governments
lie too, sometimes with minor consequences — to escape political
accountability, to bolster popularity, or to avoid public retribution.  
There are
different classes of mendacity. Society can tolerate political and bureaucratic
lies, up to a point. But when the consequences are too injurious — that is to
say, when the policy makers or their proxies are reckless enough to have
“gambled” (to use Stan Marshall’s word) and lost, or worse, possibly having
contrived the fundamentals going so far as to assure billions in profit— a
minimum expectation is that the culprits will be held to account.

In
democratic societies, instances of egregious public policy failures on the
scale of the Muskrat Falls project — given magnitude by a small population and
limited fiscal capacity in our case — are rare.
While
government’s refusal to install credible oversight is a major problem, it is
also the case that most people deny that politicians or senior bureaucrats
might act with such callous disregard for the public interest. They demand
accountability only when calamity hits them in the face. A weak and conflicted
government counts on such passivity.
Recently, a
professional engineer — a Nalcor insider — alleged mendacity at the executive
level of the company. He allowed himself to be extensively quoted. In the post
entitled Muskrat: Allegations of Phony Cost Estimates and the preceding post,
the engineer stated, “I could not put up with falsifying information anymore.”
Said he: “The likely costs (of Muskrat) were known about three years ago, but
Nalcor Management kept it a secret, steadfastly denying that there were major
schedule delays and cost overruns, until it was no longer possible to hide the
true status with the election of a new Provincial Government.”
“Nalcor, he
said, “simply took a policy decision to understate the project costs” which —
together with the ensuing bids for the work — required “creative accounting on
a massive scale”
In short,
the cost estimate of $7.4 billion, he alleged, was mendacious from the very
start.
Now at
$11.7B — expected by some experts, including this engineer, to rise to around
$15B — the project will vastly worsen our fiscal circumstance. 
The public
should be more proactive, but in matters that are complex and that have not
been subjected to transparent review, they rely on the authorities, especially
the media, to exercise their respective roles and to ensure that mendacity — or
malfeasance — is laid bare. Yet, the “authorities” (a rather diverse group to
be sure) are unwilling to exercise those responsibilities. They can’t rise
above their own incompetence or their conflicts to intervene.
As to the
professional engineer’s narrative of “falsified” project estimates, there has
not been a whimper.
Not from the
Premier, not from the Minister of Natural Resources, nor even from the Minister
of Finance who sat on the Nalcor Board during much of the time the deceit
allegedly occurred.
There is not
a word from CEO Stan Marshall, whose silence is affirmation that he may as well
as have been appointed head of a University Department — feigning ‘ivory tower’
as long as the fee is right.
His
Chairman, Brendan Paddeck, addresses the best paragons of mendacity on the
northeast Avalon, the St. John’s Board of Trade, and in so doing expresses a
desire to restore Nalcor’s pride without acknowledging that simple honesty in
the administration of public affairs is a vital place to begin.
Then then there
are the Opposition Parties.
The
self-righteous NDP are nowhere to be found, incapable — speaking of
incompetence — to perform their first duty as members of the House of Assembly.
Of secondary importance, they are too politically dumb to recognize that they
are in possession of a portal out of the political wilderness.  
Then, too,
there is not a word from the current Tory leader — notwithstanding our
engineer’s claim that the true project estimates were held “until it was no
longer possible to hide the true status [of the project] with the election of a
new Provincial Government.” By the standard of modern democratic societies,
when a major conflict of interest is alleged, Paul Davis is expected to step
aside until the allegations have been dismissed. There is no place for
unallayed perceptions of conflict among Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition. 
And, there
is not a word from the Consumer Advocate or the Auditor General.
The media
are complicit by their silence. And silence metastasizes mendacity. It
propagates ignorance.
The media
have ignored the engineer’s allegations, evidently finding a convenient
sidestep in his anonymity. They refuse to see that this man took a courageous
step in making the disclosure at all. He didn’t have to. Yet, their lethargy is
endorsed by news directors and station owners who no doubt warn about risk of
lawsuit — and the threat to ad revenue — thereby allowing a mendacious
government to be excluded from the responsibilities of journalistic licence.
They do not as much as pick at the fringes of deceit. Not just flat-footed,
they are muzzled.
A quote
attributed to the Russian writer, journalist, and philosopher Dostoyevsky
reads: “Much unhappiness has come into the world because of… things left
unsaid”.
It is a
suitable citation and it invokes two disturbing reminders.
The first is
that our engineer alleges not just deceit but also the pervasiveness of who
knew about it. He said “everyone knew” that the budget estimate was
unsustainable.
“Everyone
knew” — but no one said anything. The statement needs no interpretation, and
its clarity invokes a jarring second reminder: the Mount Cashel scandal.
Painful as
it is to recall, the abuse was allowed to perpetuate because it was kept
secret, and the abusers given protection from prosecution. The cover-up
occurred at the highest level — politics, government, the justice system, and
by at least one member of the media.  
All bowed in fealty to a lesser god to protect special interests, especially
abusive priests and the Roman Catholic Church — and to subvert the public
interest.
Perhaps not
everyone, but a good many knew — and did nothing about it.
That was the
1970s and the fallout — the pain and the lawsuits — attributable to the
officially prescribed silence continues.
Now, a new
scandal threatens. The government, the opposition parties, the oversight
institutions of government, the media, the academic, social, and commercial
elites, and the public have been given not the whole story, by a long shot, but
clear, unambiguous insights into alleged mendacious behaviour on a grand scale.
The consequences are easily quantified — the imperilling of the economic and
social fabric of our society. But the cause — the process used to give the
project sanction, and those responsible — await investigation.
The pain of
those who will have to choose between heating their homes and feeding their
families may never equate with what young boys endured at one of the darkest
times in our history.
It hardly
seems sufficient, but what can’t be reversed can be accounted for.
We can
ferret out the truth. It is our collective responsibility.

The very
group charged with illuminating darkness is the media. Though they have been
flatfooted, they are vital to this process — that is, unless the claim of
journalistic licence is a sham.

Veteran
journalist Nazlı Ilıcak, 72, among those detained.

The
Economist recently reported that during Turkey’s latest round of troubles the
state, headed by the increasingly tyrannical President Recep Tayyip Erdogan —
another tender ego — arrested 100 reporters to suppress examination of its
violations of human rights and the rule of law.

This isn’t
Turkey or Russia or any of those places where reporters, doing their jobs, fear
for their lives. Here the rule of law is defeated only by opacity and silence —
by inertia, by denial, and by the willingness of special interests to be
deferential or to entertain their own conflicts.
The media
are not supposed to be part of that group.
In Turkey,
Russia, and other places, reporters face down state thugs.

Imagine:
history will record that, here, reporters couldn’t even face down Dwight Ball.

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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27 COMMENTS

  1. Unlike Turkey where journalists are threatened, Canada and the USA employ self censorship. Every news actor knows that if you cross the line into journalism (saying things that people with power don't want you to talk about) your career is threatened. Google Ben Swan for example. There are a few brave practicing journalists who, like this blog, have a following but they will soon be demonized as being "fake news". The outcome of the US election did not surprise me, the system is broken and people voted for a radical candidate. We also need a radical ("as in common sense, serve the people, refuse corporate sponsorship etc.) non politician to run for premiere.

  2. I think the issue in Newfoundland is that the subject is too difficult. Nalcor has always controlled the flow of information on the project. During the PUB they produced mounds of data, most of which was outdated and irrelevant. However, they could most rightly say "we have produced more data than any project in our history". Yet the real information Nalcor kept close to their heart. They did not provide detail on the schedules, the cost information, or a "readers digest" version of the Emera partnership.

    They did however release the 17 separate legal agreements related to Emera. These agreements were produced by lawyers on a reimbursable contract. they are complex, convoluted, repeatative, and will spell trouble down the road by their unneeded complexity.

    One would need weeks to properly understand how teh Emera agreements work.

    No one in the media has this time.

    The problem is not the media (although MF was not the NL media's best hour). The problem is that Nalcor and the Government has never once allowed this project to go to a truly independent body for review, unfettered, with a open mandate and open access to the information.

    This project has failed. It's failure sits squarely on Ed Martin, Gilbert Bennett, Danny Williams, Tom Marshall, Kathy Dunderdale. They were the people who could have open the public to the project.

    Dwight Ball and Stan Marshall will soon have to start wearing some of the blame as well.

  3. Thank you Uncle Gnarley for the unvarnished truth about the Nalcor "mendacity". This is the closest anyone has come to my view that Muskrat Falls is a testament to corruption. The enforced silence of the provincial bureaucrats was in full view at the JRP. It was chilling to watch well paid professionals humiliated with Justice jackboots at their throats.

    The Nalcor crew, headed by Gil Bennett, refused to provide fiscal justification for the "least cost" mantra. It was clear their loyalty was not to rate/taxpayers but to a higher authority. It was also clear from the evidence presented by constrained but honourable federal scientists that the north spur poses a grave threat to the project and anyone downstream. The real possibility of tragedy must be added to the mendacity that justified the unfolding tragedy at Muskrat Falls.

    Indeed there has been widespread collusion by media, academics, regulators, the courts and of course the courtesans that benefited directly or stood silently by despite knowing full well what was transpiring was an unneeded looting of the treasury. Order was maintained by bullying, threats and legal action against those that dared illuminate the truth. The still feudal nature of a small province is at the root of the dysfunction. Unless this changes the social inequity will undermine the social fabric and cause widespread suffering. Like Mount Cashel, Muskrat Falls will disproportionately affect the weakest (the old, the poor, the failing middle class)residents. The suffering with MF will be much more widespread.

    I am sad my cynicism has been reaffirmed after your explosive revelations from the MF engineers did not rouse the media from their slumber. With the information this blog has provided it would take very little for a gumshoe to pull at the exposed threads to unravel the MF reality. Collusion and mendacity facilitated this disgrace.

    Nalcor continues to spend as quickly and wastefully as possible to in their twisted logic get past the point of no return. This ensures the wasteful incompetence on display with the doomed dome and the coffer dam.

    Given the collusion of the Fourth Estate the best way to solve the immediate and underlying problem of feudal suppression is to shame the Consumer Advocate and the Auditor General into acting in the interest of residents and not those responsible for their ascension to Quisling in chiefs.

  4. Good luck with getting the press to fight this battle of wits against the elected regime.

    Those who supported the recent provincial and federal "elections for change", bear the responsibility for the continued obfuscation on Muskrat. Until such time that support wanes for the two similarly minded major parties, not much will change with respect to an inquiry, nor divulging sensitive information.

    Has anyone figured out the corporate benefactors/beneficiaries for Muskrat? Both provincial and federal parties are handsomely supported by select corporations.

  5. I've said it before and I'll say it again—someone who has the ability and knowledge about the debaucle to discuss it with The Fifth Estate and/or W5, should. If the local media is unwilling, as appears to be, because of the possibility of revenue loss/career loss etc etc, these two "Investigative" news outlets will surely,if not get to the truth, at least force a public inquiry and /or the Auditor General to do a thorough investigation.
    Without mentioning names there is at least one KNOWN bully who has most everyone stymied. The "5th Estate" and "W5" are not intimidated. Getting them interested will be the first step.

  6. The late Angus Bruneau was a founding member of the Academy of Engineering, consisting of the learned of the academic engineers of Canada. If the MUN Engineering Faculty is unwilling to step up for the sake of the professional engineering academia, and take a hard look at the Muskrat, maybe the Academy will do us the honour. Mr. Bruneau was a very respected founder of the MUN Engineering Faculty, as all should know, as well as a leader in the Energy field. Such an action by the Academy, would honour the many contributions by Mr. Bruneau.

  7. From what little I know of Bruneau, he was a respected and competent engineer. Did he not initiate the starting of Fortis?
    I knew nothing of the Academy of Engineering, but I just googled it and see that Gilbert Bennett is a member, and is also on MUN's Board of Regents! Does this support both the Uncle's and Bruno's opinion, Robert?
    Winston Adams

  8. A well stated case by The Uncle, needing investigation, and long overdue.
    Questions raised here demand a response that there be accountability. That information was falsified on a grand scale….is this not a criminal act? Has the police contacted Des Sullivan suggesting this engineer make a formal statement that this matter be investigated?
    Then too, where is the justice when recent large scale frauds here has taken so many years to investigate that they run out the clock and drop the issue, when tens of million were at stake.
    Why has he main media has not sought to publish or broadcast these allegations and seek more evidence?
    Were fundamentals contrived to get this project sanctioned? It seems they were. Many engineers must know that.
    As stated, little has changed since Mount Cashel… the fallout which is still not over. And it is business as usual.
    Meanwhile Mr Kennedy is doing his best to keep the lid on, as to the incompetence of our police and justice system, with faith in our police and justice on the decline.
    Fortunately. Justice Barry seems keen on letting some light shine through. Kennedy assured the public we could sell power on the new England market, at times, for 1 dollar per kwh, for large windfall profits.
    "Those were the days, my friend , they thought they would never end" The days when the province were sold a bill of goods, and the connected would make millions .
    Many of the most corrupt countries are those that have oil wealth.
    Imagine that there was a time when we got upset about the Sprung cucumber scandal, a minor affair. Yet this 12 -15 billion dollar blunder ……hardly a whimper!
    Fighting Nflders …….sure. What a myth!
    F–ked Nflders…….whether by priests or all the others who are party to this latest crime.
    Winston Adams

  9. Des the NL media epitomize money talks ethics walks mentality, don't want to rock the adverting boat or alienate gov friends of station owners. VOCM and CBC not only do little investigative journalism but they have disabled their comment sections, sometimes the only place in articles to find facts or sourcing.
    Populism wasn't just the trademark of every Premier after Wells, NL media love their fluff/entertainment over substance, it is far easier and costs less while still bringing in views/listeners.
    The initial MF rate was quoted as 16.4c kWh, I can't recall anyone in the media asking if the proponents think ratepayers can afford such an excessive hike in their electricity bills. Nor can I recall NLM questioning Nalcor's energy demand and oil forecasts, comparing natural gas generation kWh prices across other Canadian jurisdictions. Odd that Nalcor even had NG kWh prices from Ziff energy considering NLMs most infamous populist has stated oil and gas companies won't sign long term supply contracts for NL, reasons or sources not given.

    Cost of living has been largely ignored in regards to Muskrat Falls: if you think restaurants/businesses aren't faring too well currently wait until $700-$1600 is taken away from each home in NL for the most expensive GHG reduction plan to date.

    NLM took Nalcor's word at face value, much like the police forces and a current ongoing inquiry in NL.

    "people will have to choose between heat and food after MF" Some already have to do this in winter, the socioeconomic effects of excessive power rates isn't to be understated or underestimated (reported would be nice but who are we kidding)

  10. Interesting that the Uncle would connect the MF scandal with Mount Cashel, and it is appropriate, in that wrong doing is widely known but kept secret.
    As to whether the PUB should hear evidence on the impact of the North Spur stability and the possibility of only 218 MW of power for the island,(due to water flow issues), the filings with the PUB show:
    The Consumer Advocate filed 2 pages saying it was within the power of the PUB, and appropriate to consider this.
    The Grand river Keeper group filed 7 pages of reasons why it should be allowed
    Nfld Hydro filed 100 pages against hearing this this matter. Many of the pages are copies of case laws of the jurisdiction of tribunals and their scope of hearing evidence that may be deemed not relevant.
    I skimmed this case law…..asking myself…..who`s going to read all this s–t. Certainly few if any of the public. Nalcor has filed tens of thousands of pages of material on Muskrat, much is appendix, and appears deliberate to overwhelm the system, while critical information appears to be withheld or hidden in the vast filings.
    In the current filing, one of the arguments against hearing evidence about the possible instability of the North Spur and water flow is a case I beleive from Ontario some 20 years ago, and get this: it`s about a 17 year boy who was charged with a sexual offence against a 16 year girl.Who could imagine this act and case might impact whether the North Spur might fail, people in Labrador might drown, and the MF dam and generating facility become useless.
    No doubt Nfld Hydro could have filed 1000 pages instead of 100. It is business as usual. They are experts at tying up legal proceedings, lots of legal expenses, and letting this boondoggle rumble on….large synchronous condensers and transformers heading for Soldiers Pond is the story of this week ( is there 10 people on the island who even knows what a synchronous condenser is,and why these are needed when we have several large one already at Holyrood), and the ongoing issue whether Ed Martin quit or was fired.
    What a joke this had become, when the PUB was shut out at an early stage of the game.
    I guess the outcome of this now before the PUB can be case law for future sexual assault decisions. Law and justice…..Nfld style!
    Winston Adams

  11. I feel the pain and could get depressed over past events.

    I would encourage you to work with others of similar bent to resolving a better future for your grand children. Should there not be an overall review at this time, of the sustainability of the Avalon as an entity into itself? Consider all elements and resources, community growth centres, transportation/communications, energy, etc. say a fundamental plan for next 100 years. Look at what Iceland, Shetland, Greenland, Northern Europe have done. NL seems to be disconnected with its own reality, and want to be like New England and Florida. My own NL roots always pondered the two geographical solitudes, the mysterious connection, (Isthmus), which divided the rest of the Great Island from the Avalon. The political will resolve itself in time, for better or even worse! You and others on this blog need to get beyond the mire.

  12. The Avalon has very little in natural resources. Imagine,having used up vast island hydro resources to heat houses on the Avalon,then wasting 12 billion for a very small amount of power to continue on a path of wasting energy, for the Avalon.
    Even the Beothic generally avoided the Avalon. Two advantages: St John`s Harbour, and closest point to the mother country, in the days when sail was important. And of course a cultural center, that worse part of our culture where corruption flourishes, in our government, business and justice system. Any student of history leading up to our 15 years of 6 cents a day should know this.
    I personally have a record of a politician who bought votes with rum in 1932……and went on to become a Supreme Court Judge. It is included in his documented election expenses. Has that culture changed much……doubtful. Look at our political landscape …….desperate. Ches Crosbie says he will bring TRUTH to the scene. Now there`s a novel idea.
    Sad that as having the majority of the population on the Avalon, most now think rural Nfld is a drag on the province.
    A small quake that separates the Avalon at the Isthmus, say by 3 miles, would solve the problem.
    WA

    • So let's start with agriculture; what options are there on the Avalon, to enhance home production of food, green and root vegetables, grains, berries, seafood, dairy, meat, etc. Reduce dependence on trucked foodstuffs from the mainland. Reduce non essentials and low food value, unhealthy junk food. Provide consumers with alternatives to long haul food chain from Ontario. Jobs in home grown food and distribution, (local markets), is a lot more productive, economically than waiting for the less desirable politicians to fade away.

      The rest of the island does have more options in home food production than the Avalon, I realize. What do we tackle next, Waste and Recycling?

  13. Robert, while pondering your comment, (and reflecting on Waste of electricity), I went to the British Guardian paper. It has an article on the sugar tax for improving health problems especially overweight and diabetes……19 countries now do this. Mexico started 2 years ago, California has 33 cent tax on 1 litre of pop. Britain starts next year and will raise a billion dollars a year from this.
    We make pop locally but with imported sugar. So….your suggestion to reduce imported low value food and junk. Now our finance minister is a McDonalds outlet owner…….and obvious a conflict of interest as to imposing this tax here, and was also on the Nalcor Board, which is set to make a mint for all the rate payer!
    In the USA many are protesting at town hall meetings…..maybe here we need to dump the sugar into the harbour, a reversal of the original Tea Party in Boston,when the British taxed tea. We should demand a sugar tax in this budget…..33 cents per litre.
    WA

  14. I'm an import. A (mostly) island province that can't control its catastrophic use of plastic shopping bags (ave 5 million a week) or recycle its own glass to help fix the broken roads infrastructure ensures its own death knell by investing in a 15 dollar billion project without aforethought or budgeting.

    And can't feed itself without trucks and ferries?

    And does not avail of cheap wind power and green tidal energy?

    It all makes awful sense.

    In a terrible way.