Sunday, 10 November 2013

MY ABC CAMPAIGN: WHY I CAN’T SUPPORT CATHY BENNETT

The Liberal Party is in the midst of choosing a Candidate who will lead it into the next election.  It is an important choice; the Province badly needs an alternative to the Dunderdale Tories.

The Contest has been a very civilized affair, almost too civil, given how fractious such events can become.  I have been amused from the start that Tory Cathy Bennett was allowed to join the race.  Usually a leadership contender establishes political pedigree well before being allowed to compete for the top spot.  The Liberal Party has decided there is wisdom in the crowd and who can argue.

When I discussed the idea of an ABC Campaign (Anyone But Cathy) with Uncle Gnarley he thought the idea sound.  “Don’t go getting all caught up in big words or sarcasm”, he suggested.  “You are not very good at that stuff.  Just state the facts”, he counselled. “The public aren’t stunned you know.”    I looked at him with a grin and agreed to state my case, straight up. So, here goes.

Newfoundlanders and Labradorians require better leadership than we have had in a long time.  Our patience has surely been tested over these past two years.  I am ever hopeful that following Dunderdale we will be spared another Premier whose best talent is the ability to ride on the coattails of arrogance, secrecy and misbehaviour.

Ms. Bennett may have spied the easy pickings of a failed Tory Government.  But that is not leadership.  “Never mistake opportunism masquerading as opportunity”, Uncle Gnarley always says. 

Political leadership manifests public interest.  It embodies the strength of one offering direction rather than a talent for gauging prevailing winds and following them.

When one is on the inside, looking out, that person has a far greater responsibility than those of us on the outside, looking in. Cathy Bennett, an insider, used her knowledge as a weapon against the public interest when it ought to have been a tool giving fair warning.

Rather than chide Nalcor or the Dunderdale Government that appointed her, she chose to be a cheerleader for them.      

Cathy Bennett was a Member of the Board of Nalcor during the most pivotal period in its history. Now she wants us to reward her by making her Premier.  She is not due any such recompense.

You may not see the relationship instantly but the new schedule of UARB Hearings, in Nova Scotia, is one of those moments that illuminate.

The Dunderdale Government shut down the PUB’s consideration of Muskrat Falls when it asked for the “DG-3” numbers.  PUB Chairman, Andy Wells, displayed uncharacteristic civility when he required more than 100 pages to say to Nalcor what one line could have said better:  “please send the PUB the correct information”.

Since then, those attempting to extract truth from Nalcor have been forced to parse every syllable of the Nova Scotia UARB Hearings on the Maritime Link in order to keep abreast of what new deals Nalcor is making.

Not only was time allotted for Technical Hearings and Intervener Submissions the first time, that Agency also arranged for the new and even sweeter deal, with Emera, to go through the same review process a second time. 

It is not the role of the UARB to examine whether Nalcor’s senior executives are poor managers or whether the Dunderdale Government is mad to be risking public money.  Its job is to look after Nova Scotia’s interests.  Our leaders should look after ours.

Cathy Bennett, as an appointee to Nalcor’s Board, had the opportunity to council prudence and to insist on full disclosure.  Real leaders will even put Premiers in their place.  Ms. Bennett’s problem was not just a lack of heft or vision.  She simply agreed with Premier Dunderdale and said as much.    

What else should Ms. Bennett have done?  She ought to have loudly protested Nalcor’s unwise decision to proceed in the face of serious legal challenges, cost overruns and premature sanction. 

She ought to have railed against Nova Scotians being given the equivalent of 60% of Muskrat Falls’ power at 8-10 cents per KWh while we pay in excess of 30 cents per KWh. 

Let’s be clear.  As riled as one feels that Nova Scotia interveners are once again haggling over whether the new deal with Emera is sweet enough it is impossible not to note that Province’s civilized and inclusive forum. 

If Bennett was Premier material she would have been out in front leading the charge for the same transparency, the same accountability as that afforded Nova Scotians.

That would have constituted real leadership; it would have been a refreshing change.

Nova Scotia will not have to rely on the uncertainties of transmission lines collapsing in a Labrador winter storm or even the likely prospect that the Quebec Superior Court will uphold Hydro Quebec’s legal challenge to the Water Management Agreement.  Its power will come from our current hydro power sources, such as Bay d’Espoir, the juice that we count on summer and winter.

The NL public have a right to be outraged.  In time they will be marching in the streets against those who failed to warn them.

Cathy Bennett had an opportunity to prove she was a real leader. She made the wrong choices.  She failed to place the interests of the Province first. 

If Ms. Bennett wins she will carry on Kathy Dunderdale’s unwise and costly legacy.   

Uncle Gnarley won’t be happy about that!

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