The Consumer Advocate’s legal Counsel, Chris Peddigrew, was questioning Marshall's assertion a day earlier when he opined that the vast majority of people in the province had supported the Muskrat Falls project and that, accordingly, we are all to blame for what has occurred.
It did seem for a moment that Peddigrew was engaging in overreach. Marshall, after all, exhibits patience only for matters black and white. But Peddigrew approached his prey tenderly, which is his skill: “[When you say that] we are all to blame do you mean that as voters we are all to blame in the fact that we elected a government that sanctioned this project in 2011 that was largely built on the Muskrat Falls project?”
|Nalcor CEO Stan Marshall|
Replied Marshall in a tone less arrogant than certain: “We elect our governments, they are entitled to make public policy decisions, sometimes we don't challenge them enough; this is not a jurisdiction that politically welcomes challenge… So yeah, I certainly agree that we all bear some of the responsibility.”
Peddigrew might have pursued the matter with Marshall, but chose to move on. Though less categorical than de Maistre, Marshall's assertion deserved to be vigorously challenged even if he is correct that, as a polity, deference all too often characterizes the relationship with our political masters.
Indeed, while it is not wrong to criticize the voting public, in the blame game it is best to be sure that the evidence is decidedly tipped. Given what we know about Muskrat and its origins, the question is not so much why the public voted for the Government that gave it sanction but, in light of how badly conceived and executed it was, why their anger hasn’t taken them to the streets.
As CEO, Stan Marshall has been exposed to the Muskrat narrative since early 2016. It would be terribly naive to think that he does not get a daily briefing on testimony heard at the Inquiry, unless he is as deaf as his predecessor. When one considers the falsification of the project estimates and an otherwise contrived business case, including with respect to the issue of power demand forecasts — now long debunked — followed by deliberate and continuous deception of the numbers surrounding the project cost overruns, a wiser head might have acknowledged the public's treatment by their odious leadership as akin to the lowly mushroom (feed them sh*t and keep them in the dark) rather than as mindless devotees of the vainglorious kind.
In addition, we have to be careful when voters in an immature — some would say broken — political system are blamed to justify events when others more experienced, knowledgeable and savvy in the world of big business, including Stan Marshall, failed to perform their civic duty and sound the alarm even if the choice exacted a price.
Of course, it is not new for the voter to be appointed whipping-post when something has gone awry. A prescient warning is often issued with similar force — just in case — should the great unwashed dare not follow what the self-assessed clairvoyant sees as history's preferred course.
In an address in Milan, Italy in 2017 former American President Barack Obama included this remark: “People have a tendency to blame politicians when things don't work, but as I always tell people, you get the politicians you deserve… and if you don't vote and you don't pay attention, you'll get policies that don't reflect your interest.” You see, the poor voter just can’t win.
Perhaps it’s no more complicated than that elements of de Maistre’s philosophy constitute fuel for personal and political agendas. On the other hand, an orator in full flight, like Obama, intent on spicing a well-paid gig with lofty intonations of Mahatma Gandhi (“You must be the change you want to see in the world”), shouldn't always be taken seriously — any more, that is, than Stan Marshall deserves the effort of attribution.
Still, if the job of leadership is to prevent the masses from straying off the deep end, shouldn't the basis of the inspiration so afforded not be more exacting? In that context, shouldn't Stan have appended to the admonition “we are all to blame” with the words: “but some are more responsible than others”? In that case he might have shared with the Commissioner a pathway for assessing the real culprits, already having long been exposed as worthy of the Sheriff’s pursuit.
While it may feel momentarily gratifying to bash partisans over the head for their readiness to forgive Party leaders who badly screw up, having sold them on misguided public policies, it makes a lot more sense to recognize the voters' limitations when only a few hundred get to choose the leader/Premier in a leadership convention.
Equally, it is good to remember that, in Canada, the British Parliamentary system has been engineered to diminish even the role of the Party Caucus in the selection of the Leader. In our system, the Premier/PM holds virtually all the political cards. More baldly stated, the Executive Branch has been gifted with overbearing power when it comes to defining its public policy agenda. The notion that elections are sated with insightful discussion around public policies is another fanciful notion — to say the least.
Otherwise, the public’s assumption that senior public servants might offer a bit of backbone with their expertise, which itself is in doubt, has been proven to be an unwarranted expectation, too.
Notwithstanding Marshall's qualified admonishment of the public, while voters ought to ask themselves what they hope to achieve by following Danny Williams over a cliff, we should not be too judgmental of voters, most of whom are just trying to make it to Friday.
But that’s not important when a scapegoat is sought.
Incidentally, Joseph de Maistre was also an advocate of the need for the public executioner. Said he: “Remove this incomprehensible agent from the world, and the very moment order gives way to chaos, thrones topple, and society disappears.”
It’s too bad that his dictum exempted Kings and Premiers and heads of Crown Corporations, likely even for wrecking the public Treasury.
How easily we might have been adherents of de Maistre, too.