THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS

The loud and intemperate knocking on the front door didn’t
just announce Uncle Gnarley’s arrival. It was a sure sign that Nav would have
no peace this Christmas.

Suddenly, broken Christmas lights and spouse’s irksome claims
regarding Nav’s diminishing utility were forgotten amidst an overcharged sense
of anticipation, one that the old man instantly inspired. Nav had not felt so happy
since Gnarley visited a couple of years ago on his way to the Charbonneau
Commission Hearings in Quebec.

“My god, man, I thought you were going to leave me out here
the whole bloody winter.” Gnarley‘s first words exploded with the gale force of
a Wreckhouse wind.

He and his single worn suitcase soon filled the foyer, along
with myriad ornaments. Spouse was a tiresome devotee — of St. Nick.

Ignoring his characteristic bluster, Nav looked his lofty and
erect frame up and down, finding not a shred of evidence that the aging economist
was slowing. “Am I to be consigned to the porch for the remainder of this visit,
or shall I have to call spouse to rescue me?” he thundered. “It’s only been two
years, Nav.” Gnarley lowered his voice a little, giving empathy to Nav’s
inspection. “Wait ‘til you hear what I am up to,” he intoned conspiratorially.
“I’m a long way from having measurements taken, my boy,” he added, allowing a
mischievous grin to underline a look of bemusement.  

Taking his arm, Nav directed Uncle Gnarley to his favourite
chair in the sitting room — absolutely certain that one more word of ‘small talk’
would cause an outburst far worse than the mere mention of the ‘international
experts at Nalcor’. Former Premier Kathy Dunderdale was always capable of
setting Gnarley off with that confounding utterance.

Sensing his irritation, spouse entered the room with an air of
rushed deference, prompting the old man to stand. He embraced her warmly but
efficiently. He liked Liz, and she returned his fondness with equal favour even
if his spirited compliments, in their formality, seemed practiced. It was just
that Gnarley expressed them with such a mellifluous quality.

All formalities having been completed, the predictable
question — “Oban or something a little more peaty?” — caused even the embers in
the fireplace to telegraph that the room was ready for weighty conversation.

Gnarley relaxed his large head, letting it fall back against
the chair’s padding as he gulped the first taste from a generous glass. Motionless
but for the almost imperceptible movement of his Adam’s apple, his discerning
palate seemed to take extra pleasure in the elixir’s slow burn. Even his large
hooded eyelids stood sentinel for what seemed an eternity. Nav savoured the
moment too, content that his old friend’s palpable weariness found resolve in the
‘smoky’ tonic from the Highlands.

“Nav,” he began, “I’m afraid we have been visited by the well-known
Chinese curse: ‘May you live in interesting times.’” He paused to let the
declaration take effect. “Perhaps it is in the nature of Christmas to be
reflective,” he continued, “but I seem to be thinking a lot about this place lately.

“I was born and grew up here. I fished. I was an educator. I
got around the province. Oh! Unlike you, Nav, I needed no GPS,” he laughed
heartedly. Gnarley was taking direct aim at Nav’s well-known failure as a
navigator. “I suppose you had someone get you safely down the Churchill River
in that little boat of yours; river right or river left must have been a tough
choice,” he wailed.

“You fished summers, didn’t you, Uncle?” Nav shot back —
reminding the old man that he didn’t paddle on just fine days! Gnarley seemed
to sense that he had hit a sore spot and decided a refill might be in jeopardy
if he continued to rub Nav’s sensibilities. The room went silent again as Gnarley
sank back into his earlier reflective state.

“What is unique, of course, is not the incompetence or even
the complete absence of political leadership,” he began again, as if there had
been no break in the conversation.

“What distinguishes the moment is not even that a problem exists
— or even that the denial of the problem is so large.” His huge hands extended giving
his point reinforcement. “The worry is that the denial is reinforced by every
stratum of our little society. It’s as if everyone is in pay and there is no
bill. Denial doesn’t make a problem go away,” he stated solemnly, a cloud of
gravitas descending over the room.

“What this province has undergone is something even deeper
than what Charbonneau exposed,” he continued. “I was at the hearings,” he noted
weakly. “I saw the gangsters. Quebec is big enough to absorb them and their
deeds. This place is not. The population is small, which makes it sensitive;
its rural character, with communities as small as ten or twenty, suggests it
has no shock absorbers at all.”

“Uncle Gnarley, are you saying that something even deeper than
corruption gave birth to Muskrat?” Nav interrupted Gnarley, just as he seemed
to be building a head of steam, NL’s economic morass having abraded a pressure
point in his nervous system.

Gnarley didn’t object to the intervention. In an even voice which
confirmed that he had thought deeply about what he wanted to say, he added: “Actually,
Nav, there is even something far more insidious than corruption, as deeply
harmful to our institutions and corrosive to the public trust as corruption certainly
is.  It is the quality of the dishonesty
that is so striking.”

“Quality of dishonesty,” Nav interjected again. “I hadn’t
considered that idea before; but isn’t one lie or one liar as bad as the next?”

The Uncle’s eyes looked at Nav with a doubtful cast, as if his
subject had not grasped the seriousness of the subject. “I am not talking about
some isolated act of corruption, Nav, or even long-running acts of thievery,
which was certainly the case in Quebec. This is about avar-ic-ious-ness on a grand scale.” He stretched out the word and gave
it volume in a way that signified the kind of disgust for which only his
wrinkled old face could give phrasing. “This involves a level of malice so great
that even the possibility of social collapse did not concern the perpetrators.
Its conception was well enough thought out, and kept secret among the few, such
that any event which threatened sanction was sidestepped and given a new
rationale. Its management spoke to extreme cronyism; its execution kept all the
naysayers at bay while self-aggrandizement was allowed to impoverish a whole
society. The perpetrators knew, from the very beginning, that billions of
dollars were at stake. They knew, or ought to have known, that there would be consequences
for a small society like ours. It didn’t matter. This wasn’t merely about
legacy, Nav. This was about money.”

Uncle Gnarley paused and took a sip from the still-full glass,
seemingly determined to take a break from what his face described as a
nauseating epistle. Still, his lips kept moving as if his brain had mistaken
the message, intent on completing the point anyway. “Nalcor is still putting
out press releases enthusiastically telling people that the Maritime Link is
completed, that the Labrador Island Link is virtually done, too. They tell us
that the powerhouse construction has entered its final phase. Everything seems
positive. The claims are given no context, no reminder about the overruns,
delays, management incompetence, or the fact that sanction was a mad decision
made by stupid, avaricious people. There is no hint of regret. There is only
the institutional lie that everything is manageable — when, of course, it isn’t.
Even the Minister of Finance, whose predecessors annually borrowed two billion
dollars or more in excess of revenues, tells us we are not in crisis.”

Gnarley’s anger wasn’t just visceral; it was palpable. “And
talk about dishonesty!” he thundered. “The crowd around Dwight Ball want to
help the Tories cover it all up. There’s not a goddamn political party on the
Hill worth the minimum wage,” he swore. “Still they will obfuscate, deny and
placate until they have two terms and the promise of a pension.”

“They are greedy and short-sighted to be sure,” Nav agreed. “But
those behaviours will only get them so far,” he suggested as a matter of fact.

“That’s right, Nav,” Gnarley cut him off, signifying he had
not finished. “Here’s what I find especially interesting in a group of
politicians who are normally expected to be empathetic about the body politic: they
have not even a basic understanding of how a society functions. What none of them,
Premier Ball included, can see is that people are forgiving when trouble
strikes, as in times of war or disaster. But there is no forgiveness when the
root cause of the problem is dishonesty and deception.”

Nav raised his hand, indicating the need to interject, but the
old man continued without signalling he had more to say. “I heard what the
Anonymous Engineer stated… his words are inscribed in my memory. He said, and I
quote: ‘I could not put up with falsifying information anymore.’ He gave
details on how the project estimates and budgets were contrived. He established,
for any inquiry or forensic audit, a series of signposts for where any
investigation might lead. He gave the government a gift, coming as it was from
a senior Nalcor engineer. The Premier will live to regret that he barely
noticed the queue.

“In going about the public inquiry as he did” — Gnarley’s
voice now in crescendo — “he has deigned that his Administration will be robbed
of power, even if the Liberals win the next election. Any government with a
brain would know: we are not at war with anyone,” he said, raising his hand to
signify the obvious, “and when the bond markets choose, likely when Muskrat is
commissioned after the next election, no government will be permitted to stay
in power having failed to protect the public Treasury. Yes, Nav, their
preoccupation with their pensions will also be for naught.” The colour of Gnarley’s
face was fast becoming beet-red, suggesting the close of his narrative was
near. He took a gulp of the golden elixir and continued the rant.   

“One of the panelists examining the terms of reference of the
Muskrat public inquiry recently spoke of reconciliation and of the need for a
focus on the future. Missing from her narrative, Nav,” he said solemnly, “was
that reconciliation is subject to at least one pre-condition. That
pre-condition, I suggest, is the truth. It is not just a matter of coming to
terms with the broader social and financial implications of the deceit —
because so many people will be affected on a personal level. People will have
to grieve over their reduced circumstance,” he added, lowering his voice as if
in pain. “In the absence of war or some tragedy, an understanding of who was at
fault, how the decisions got made, and who profited unfairly… all these answers
are mandatory. The Premier, undoubtedly having a different motivation, missed
that most essential of human expectations.

“For that reason — there are others — the Liberals calculated
badly, Nav, in setting up this public inquiry on Muskrat. They thought they
could placate a public only slowly growing weary. And they wanted to provide
cover for the culprits who got us into this mess. They even allowed some of
them to help draft the terms of reference!” Gnarley exploded. “Little wonder it
is so fuzzy and insubstantial!”

“But Uncle Gnarley,” Nav stopped him, “the public only want
solutions. They think that, ultimately, the government got them into the mess
and the government will get them out of it. It’s a mistaken belief, but what
are you suggesting? Surely Uncle Gnarley has some answers,” Nav tendered,
perhaps a little too sarcastically.

If Nav was exacting a little revenge, having suffered more
than one of Gnarley’s snide comments, the old man was not willing to concede. “Actually,
Nav, I have thought about the problem a great deal. A decent people will see
their society under pressure; a five hundred year-old culture will be forced to
confirm, again, that it has learned to survive. Still, the loss of trust will
harm democratic government and inspire kick-back on a scale not even witnessed
in the 1930s. The fallout will shock the whole country. So, when Dwight Ball
talks about ‘rate mitigation’, Nav, I think about mitigation — not of rates,
but of the social and, yes, political impacts, too. I fear they will gnaw at
our sense of justice and fair play. If the Inquiry isn’t permitted to identify
malfeasance, rest assured that the public will, even if they get some of it
wrong.

“I have thought about this problem a great deal, Nav, and I
think I am finally ready to share with you at least the skeleton of a plan, not
just to deal with that issue but with the Liberals, the Tories, and the NDP
too. They are all ultimately to blame — the Tories just a hell of a lot more
than the others.”

“And what would those plans be, Uncle Gnarley?” Nav inquired,
suddenly discovering that his voice was becoming less audible — as if it were being
slowly absorbed by the atmosphere in the room to which Uncle Gnarley’s expostulations
had just given vent…

“… Nav? Nav, are you coming up to bed? It’s already Christmas,
you know. Are you asleep in the chair, again? Oh, for gosh sake!” Nav shuddered
awake at the sound of Liz’s voice. He could hear spouse intone, “It’s past
midnight, Nav. I guess Uncle Gnarley isn’t coming after all.”

“Oh, he’s been here.” Nav rubbed his eyes. “Perhaps we will
get some peace this Christmas after all! “

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.

NALCOR (Masquerading as ‘Hydro’)LIVES IN AN UPSIDE DOWN WORLD

If a Big Mac costs McDonalds $10 to produce and it is sold for $1.50, McDonalds will go out of business. They would not declare a profit!

REMEMBERING BILL MARSHALL

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.

17 COMMENTS

  1. Very well said indeed.

    I have long thought (since late 2011) what has been so well expressed here ——– "Its conception was well enough thought out, and kept secret among the few, such that any event which threatened sanction was sidestepped and given a new rationale. Its management spoke to extreme cronyism; its execution kept all the naysayers at bay while self-aggrandizement was allowed to impoverish a whole society. The perpetrators knew, from the very beginning, that billions of dollars were at stake. They knew, or ought to have known, that there would be consequences for a small society like ours. It didn’t matter. This wasn’t merely about legacy, Nav. This was about money.”

    —- organized deception on a grand scale, and yes, so-called rate mitigation intended to placate, and to hide rather than expose the truth.

    Will the pubic inquiry also be part of that coverup?

  2. There is no doubt that the public inquiry will be part of the coverup. The terms of reference condemn it to be part of the obfuscation and terrible injustice being foisted on the polity.

    All three parties have failed to find the truth that as pointed out, is a precondition to reconciliation. I stubbornly contend that understanding the reality is not enough. An obligation to the old and poor, future tax/ratepayers and to democratic tradition demand that active resistance and political DEMANDS be forcefully put to government to ensure the inquiry is empowered to get to the truth.

    The terms of reference and time frame need to be overhauled. Who will demand Ball act now to expose the rot?

  3. Me.
    Everyone in the province.
    Demand a way out.

    All those involved will get what comes around after all their going around, that is a natural phenomenon.
    Remember other tainted legacies, Valdmanis, Doyle, Shaheen, Sprung, sure we paid for those guys corruptions but what did they get other than a cold shoulder and a perpetual shame?
    Why would it be any different for Dan E., Kathy, Tom, Dwight, Ed, Gilbert?
    Eventually they will all slink off to their tax havens.

    Demand, demand, demand.
    There is nothing else we can do.

  4. "This wasn't about lagecy, but all about the money". That's very interesting and maybe what muskrat was all about. Yes, there was one 6 million dollar man, that we all know about, how many more are there, but got their millions in different ways. Contractors, hiring firms, and skullduggery, machines operating for days on end at full pay with no work to do….we use to call it all about jobs one time, yes guess there were some innocent who did a days work for a days pay, and some diligent workers. And the bottom line the plan was this would all be paid for with oil money, that was the way to get at the oil money if you couldn't get you foot in there. What they couldn't get through the front door they would get through the back door. Except the fly in the ointment was, what goes up must come down, including the world oil prices. Now we are all stuck with it, and up shits creek without a paddle. Now….how to get out of it….yup pretty messy for sure….

  5. It was pretty low alright. Even Bernie Madoff mostly only stole from the rich. The poorest will suffer the most on this one and it harms the whole future of the province.

    Sister Elizabeth confuses reconciliations after war and ideological differences with pure avarice. To curtail crime it needs to be punished or it will happen again.

  6. This is not run of the mill corruption…….it is at a level of dishonesty far worse…….that they did not care if they took down the whole society of the province………..and it not about legacy ……it was about money. Well said Uncle Gnarley. The Quebec gangsters, the subject of the Inquiry there, to not compare to this.
    I suppose we could reference the Bible : For the love of money is the root of all evil. So nothing new as to motivation.
    Now who in our fair province so lusts for money to carry out this scheme?
    As for money , we know Honest Ed got awarded with 6 million, and Premier Ball is anxious to explain his part in that, but there must be many others who made big time from 12.7 billion!
    Will Leblanc name names…..or does this require a forensic audit, which may never come.
    PF

  7. This is a great piece that reminds me of the Christams story of Schrose, and the ghosts(nightmares of what was to happen) ……..only Schrose changed his ways from the pursuit of money above everything else, and became kinder, and there was an happy ending.
    Here it is difficult to foresee a happy ending, and no change of ways in the culture of lies and deceit fed to us by Nalcor and the government, and unlikely this Inquiry will transform our culture that allows such schemes to go forward, time and again, to the detriment of us all.
    Come to think of it, the sanction of MF wa just before Christams…..what a Christman gift that was, goes on ticking and ticking, like the Timex watch, due to run for 57 years.
    PF

  8. "UG says, I am willing to share with you a skeleton of a plan" , what could this mean, another of Nav's dreams, or is UG ready to tell us his plan, seems it might involve political parties, guess we have to stay tuned for the New Year, or will it just be another nightmare…..

    • "This will mean ignoring the doomers, but they’ve had more than their say".

      This letter is truly frightening and misrepresents everything about the NL economy and dismisses the Nalcor disaster with sophistry.

      "The deficit is not crippling. The government is forecasting a balanced budget by 2022". This is a bald faced lie buttressed with smoke. Forecasting a balanced budget down the road without a plan to get there is just political spin. Coming from Labour this is alarming.

      23 cent KwH power is no problem? I wonder what persons on fixed incomes will feel about NL not having the highest rates in North America when the bill doubles?

      The cruelest bit of sophistry is comparing per capita spending and public employees to the GDP of the other provinces. Much of NL GDP is resource wealth that accrues to multinationals without a sniff of that money generating spinoff spending in NL. This comparison is meant to deceive and hide the deep economic woes NL faces.

      This is no time to send a "no problem, be happy" message. It is sick watching Labour wanting to put the pedal to the metal when NL is already doing 160km/hr heading straight for a brick wall.

      What a disgraceful piece of deceitful misrepresentation of the reality.

    • It's the mindset of (should I say) IDIOTS such as what Mary Shortall has penned in this letter to the editor, that has us in the economic disaster we now find ourselves in.
      ms. Shortall must have been nipping into the Christmas cheer while writing this total load of crap.
      Fot the love and honor of God ms. Shortall wake up from the drunken stupor you must be in. The rest of us are not idiots as you seem to think we are.

  9. The Telegram letter……Building a better future, by Mary Shortall, president of the NL Federation of Labour.
    What is he salary and benefits? Is she ofpne of the top whoo wants to pay ab it more in tax? She says big corporations can afford to chip in more, what about big union bosses?
    PF