The Hearing Room, on the first day of the Muskrat Falls
Inquiry, might have served as metaphor for the author Joan Clark, and her story
of madness and altered perception in “An Audience of Chairs”. She would find
plenty of sub-plots here, except that the madness to be assessed will likely
have only a tangential association with delusion.
its silver lining — may seem excessive. Madness? Delusion? On this first day,
at this Inquiry, at $12.7 billion and counting, we might wonder: who is asking?
That’s because the audience was mostly chairs. The place was virtually empty,
except for the usual bevy of blue suits and a few others.
|Judge Richard LeBlanc|
to participate in the Inquiry. A few individuals, not yet lawyered up, waited
for the Commissioner to arrive. This minority included the Grand River Keepers,
the Labrador Land Protectors, Democracy Alert and the Concerned Citizens Coalition under whose
banner David Vardy, Ron Penney and this blogger had teamed up. Otherwise, a few
Commission staff, media, and a lone spectator gave the bare place some semblance
must have known that.
for the known suspects, the complicit, the deferential and the tangentially
involved. There was not even a hint that the Hearing presaged a far larger event.
The queue of blue merely constituted proof that private interests outnumbered
the public interest. It remains to be seen if they might cleverly outweigh it,
proceedings got underway. I wondered if Judge LeBlanc thought, as I did, that
the Inquiry was the most important undertaking in NL history — at least since
Amulree, which presaged Government by Commission in 1934.
role will entail a component of destiny, though some of the individuals he will
soon confront certainly helped hasten its arrival. The Judge rightly indicated that
he would not have time to assess our democratic deficit, but he must know that nothing
he could say will stop our determined rush into the abyss, anyway.
intrigue — if one knew where to look for it. Waiting to be appraised was not
who sought Standing but under whose tent the parties had aggregated.
called “Former Provincial Government Officials 2003–2015” which also included
former Premiers Tom Marshall and Paul Davis, and former Natural Resources
Ministers Sean Skinner and Derrick Dalley. In contrast, Kathy Dunderdale’s application
suggested she was sharing her tent with no one.
PUB — with her — when Dunderdale was Premier? Didn’t they strategize to limit debate
in the Legislature and preside over the Sanction of the project, too? How had
Dunderdale distinguished herself from them, I wondered?
have, since her dismissal, assumed monumental gravitas. Her most famous (and
banal) of platitudes, “if you got the juice, we got the use” — more braggadocio
than aphorism — now seems sillier than ever in an oversupplied North American
market of collapsed electricity prices.
rhetoric, was she? That may have been because she was always in competition with
one far more practiced — her predecessor — for whom self-aggrandizing bluster was paramount.
What does she thinks now of the vortex of deception which she helped create? Does
she better understand the weight of Danny Williams’ millstone – the term “boondoggle”
an inapt ascription for something so ruinous?
oversaw “ring-fencing” of “isolated-island” and “inter-connected” options, the latter
given an untruthful advantage, even if the PUB was told to choose it anyway.
with answers to our most urgent questions. What was the hurry for Sanction,
when an economy in overdrive was already looking to Ireland and Poland for
help? Why was Nalcor allowed to spend millions, inviting in the process a royal
screwing by Nova Scotia? Why the charade when the Water Management Agreement was
Queen. One might have thought that such a status would have assured protection
for all public servants — past and present — who played some role in the
project. But, evidently, not so.
Council under Dunderdale, joined with that Premier’s Deputy Minister of Natural
Resources, Charles Bown, who went on to chair both the fake and the strengthened
Oversight Committee. Robert Thomson, former Cabinet Clerk under Premier Danny
Williams, insisted on his own tent and took on lawyer Bern Coffey — also a
former Clerk — to represent him.
Standing for Nalcor, but four former Nalcor Board Members — Ken Marshall, Leo
Abbass, Gerry Shortall and Tom Clift — wanted Standing all by themselves, too. Now, they
really must think that they are special! The Commissioner awarded them limited
who begs asking: will he deliver luminosity or just magnitude?
podium and looked on, seemingly enthralled, as Martin displayed the skills of the
silver-tongued; the capacity evidently having eluded Smith even after a lengthy
legal career. On display was Martin’s ineluctable attraction to the absurd. As
if readying his response to a victim impact statement over the Muskrat debacle,
he again offered assurances that the $12.7 billion project would work out for
the province. Given Standing by the Judge, he quickly disappeared — with the
media. Only one reporter returned, giving
confirmation — like the nearly empty room — that not much has changed.
PUB, stepped forward on behalf of ratepayers, though confirmation of his status
will await a directive from the Provincial Cabinet; the authority governing his
current appointment, for matters before the PUB, being insufficient for this
for, and receiving from the Commissioner, Standing for itself while it was expected
to authorize Standing for a third party, too!
or delegated such a matter to the Inquiry Judge. The Commissioner might, as a
result of such deference, chose to create a public interest advocate, one who has
taken no public stand on the project, and who is mandated to protect both
ratepayers and taxpayers.
“naysayer”. But transparency demands means full disclosure. His
two Terms as Consumer Advocate occurred under Liberal Administrations. He is a
brother-in-law to the Inquiry’s star witness, former Nalcor CEO, Ed
Martin. Can he be a partisan, cross-examine Martin and represent ratepayers,
the Commissioner. The status of other Groups has now been posted.
Impressions after the first day of the Inquiry?
Governments pushed hard enough will respond. Then, too, the Commissioner is a highly
regarded Judge in the legal community, earning the ascription competent and
hard working. Co-Counsel and Commission staff are thought to be top drawer. Essential
due process is underway.
decision-making in NL history has had an inauspicious start.