Ball’s March 20, 2020 letter to the Prime Minister was clear: Newfoundland and
Labrador had “run out of time”. No one, except the Government of Canada, could be found to buy the
bonds of a bunch of drunken sailors.

mid-April the Provincial Government would not have had sufficient cash to meet its
payroll or send cheques to the plethora of people, businesses, and organizations
who rely upon them to pay their bills, unless the Governor of the Bank of
Canada intervened.

The debacle of insolvency now greets all the people of the province at the worst possible time – during a health pandemic and a global
economic crisis. I suspect that no one needs to hear the historical parallels –
economic or political – with the 1930s. I will save you the imposition.

one should greet the news with surprise, however. The Finance
Minister, Tom Osborne, let the cat out of the bag in the second week of March. The
collapse of the global price of oil, exacerbated by COVID-19, suddenly found
the Minister giving gravitas to the phrase “perfect storm”. The facade
of invincibility, long displayed on the public media, had dissipated; the false bravado of Budget battles, never
fought, too.

could “smell” what the Minister was thinking. There is nothing quite as odorous as the smell of fear. The Minister knew that the “jig” was up; he had just realized
that he was the unlucky Finance Minister, the one in a long succession of hapless
Finance Ministers who collectively had brought the province to its fiscal knees.
The motley cowards dated back to the Administration of Danny Williams; the feckless
and the reckless enjoined. Trumpian unctuousness is about to exact a terrible price.

legend of “Danny” is full of reminders of massive wage increases and an
explosion of helpers within the public service. It is a tale of $5 billion provincial
money squandered on Muskrat– along with $8 billion more – enough to fight a dozen
pandemics. That’s where you will find the origins of excessive debt and unparalleled deficits. It’s
just that no Premier and no Finance Minister after him could tap down
their own egos, or cure the worst effects of his. None could wheel back the public’s sense of entitlement either. Politics found no room for leadership; the awful vacuum affording only room to up the ante.  

Premier Ball was one of the worst culprits. Imagine a province with the highest per capita revenues in the Country bankrupt; five years of dither his only legacy. The whole Liberal Caucus looked on. Their gutlessness will hurt more than any virus.

was about to report the seventh billion dollar plus deficit Budget in a row – or was it the eighth
– I’ve lost count. I wonder if it dawned on him that the “lucky rabbit’s foot” which
had sustained the unbridled profligacy of his predecessors – Cathy Bennett, and
Tories, Tom Marshall, Jerome Kennedy, Ross Wiseman and Charlene Johnson – had been rubbed raw. 

shucks, “sure there’s lots of oil out there”, the worthies at the Board of
Trade guffawed; the cocktail circuit’s enthrall. Geology and markets bowed
to their foresight…but only if you believed.

CUPE, the Municipalities played along; it wasn’t their job; heaven forbid that “leadership” should interfere with vested interests.

how long will the Bank of Canada back the otherwise unsaleable bonds of this
Province? After the health pandemic
recedes, what then? Can we keep on spending, hoping that Canada will turn a
blind-eye? Is the Muskrat Falls fiasco still our problem; ergo, we should pay?
How much pain can bravado endure? And, what is the amount needed to balance the
books….I mean…after Muskrat Falls mitigation?

are a hundred such questions. Today is just not the time to answer them. But we
will need to – soon.

Now is a time to self-isolate, to maintain “social-distancing”, to keep healthy
and in good spirits. We need to beat COVID-19.

something is bugging me. And it’s not ‘just’ that successive irresponsible Administrations
have waltzed us over a fiscal cliff or that the very thought terrifies me, makes me furious and sad.

it’s that the very same crowd who said that they had a grip on the province’s
finances for the past five years claim to have a handle on this pandemic, too!

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?