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Wednesday 30 May 2012


(Uncle Gnarley is hosting the Class of 2012; his umpteenth time performing high level instruction to the politically naïve.  Let’s listen in…as he addresses the group.) Here's Uncle Gnarley:

People, often to their detriment, enjoy a belief in the fundamental fairness of political institutions.    Human progress is frequently inhibited because, all too often, we give way to, what I call, “the tyranny of naïve realism”.  

The art of the process is not as much science as it is attitude.  Perhaps it is our relative isolation, maybe it is in the generous nature of island people, as most of us are; whatever its source, we have a tendency to see things as ‘we want them to be’ rather than ‘as they are’.  It is a common weakness, especially in politics. It has to stop!

But don’t worry. Uncle Gnarley will have you wearing the grim aspect of a Presbyterian in no time. 

Now, Johnny, down in the far corner; you look so wise, yes, you, the one with the Walmart ‘Prices are Falling’ sticker on your jacket.   Answer me this question, what does the phrase “envelope approach to federalism” mean?  No, Johnny, I didn’t ask you to let your eye balls fall out; it’s not time for ‘show and tell’.  What do you mean, ask, Mary.  I’m asking you!  You have never heard of it? Then sit down and let Mary speak. 

Sunday 27 May 2012


“What is it that we have to do down here to get your attention?  We try to co-operate; it doesn’t work.  We vote for you; it doesn’t work. What is it?”

That was Premier Cathy Dunderdale, quoted verbatim from The Telegram Editorial page, Saturday, May 19, 2012, edition entitled “Fracas With the Feds”.    Of course, the lament was directed at the Prime Minister.
From the time Newfoundland entered Confederation, every Premier has felt ignored by the federal government; Smallwood had a running battle with Diefenbaker, Peckford with Trudeau and Chretien, Wells with Mulroney and now, Dunderdale with Harper. Do you see a trend?

Newfoundlanders and Labradorians seem to think that Ottawa wakes up every morning hell bent on screwing us.  Somehow, we can’t seem to figure this out:  Ottawa simply wakes up.  That’s it.  They are not hell bent on ‘screwing us’; Ottawa just doesn’t think of us, at all!
After more than sixty years in confederation, we still don’t get it.  Well, it’s time that you get it!  Think of this as boot-camp for the politically naïve.

Let’s start at the beginning.

Monday 21 May 2012

Telegram Article: A BIG MAChiavellian Diatribe

Talk about contrasts. The Editor of the Saturday, May 19th edition of the Telegram must have had that thought when he situated two opinion pieces on opposing pages containing very opposite views; one, an article by Brendan Sullivan, a former provincial government economist, called, “Muskrat Falls: how much are you prepared to pay?” and the other by Cathy Bennett, entitled, “Making the right decision, a former Nalcor board member speaks out”. 

Sullivan’s item deals with the singular issue of the high cost of Muskrat Falls power (27.7 – 40.5 cents per KWh compared with 10.4 cents per KWh, right now), and suggests Nalcor needs to look at an on-island solution. Bennett’s purpose is to defend Nalcor’s staff.     
Ms. Bennett writes, “I believe the work Nalcor has completed has an attention to detail and a discipline to best practice management that has positioned Nalcor as a world class corporation”. 

Ms. Bennett feels it is necessary to defend the professionalism of Nalcor staff.  Why?  Could it be because someone has exaggerated their expertise?  The fact is, no one has ever questioned Nalcor’s passion, professionalism or commitment, to their work or to their province.  But, some have correctly pointed out that Nalcor’s former incarnation, Newfoundland Hydro, has not built a major project since Cat Arm was constructed in the 1980s, which, by the way, went way over the original estimates. That’s thirty years ago!
Surely Cathy Bennett has not been influenced by the inaccurate belief, voiced by no less a personage than  Premier Dunderdale on VOCM's open line show, that it was the experts at Nalcor who built the Churchill Falls project, rather than Brinco?  Such a claim is, of course, a preposterous case of 'gilding the lily'.

Is it not a legitimate question to enquire how Nalcor is suddenly replete with the expertise for a project of the size and complexity of Muskrat Falls?

Monday 14 May 2012


Uncle Gnarley was in a reflective mood.  He had difficulty getting Jos Arnell out of his mind.  Mostly, he was distressed that she felt vulnerable, perhaps even tormented, that her small pension might be in jeopardy. He knew she was one, isolated case, among thousands!

Declared Uncle Gnarley, “there is a larger issue at stake with this pension business”. 
“Nav”, he said, pausing, until he was sure he held his attention, “I have ‘Statement IV’ on page 5 of the Budget Details for the current fiscal year right in front of me.  Do you have any idea how large the ‘Unfunded Pension and Retirement Benefits Liability’ will be at the end of this fiscal year?” Nav feigned ignorance, knowing that he would soon be reminded anyway.  “Would you believe me, if I said $5.6 billion? Yep, $5.6 billion”, Gnarley repeated for emphasis. 

“Know what else, Gnarley demanded?   It did not even get mentioned in the Minister’s address; you have to dig for it in the budget details. When the Minister of Finance says the public debt is $8.7 billion, he knows that figure is actually much higher…what’s the phrase we economists are fond of, ‘lies, damn lies and statistics’.  Fits what this Minister is saying perfectly, growled Gnarley.  This fiscal year, alone, he ranted, the unfunded pension and the post-retirement benefits liabilities increased by a net figure of $467 million.  He was clearly frustrated.  And, the public sector unions let him get away with it!  There must be a ‘turnip’ allegory here, suggested Gnarley, and I’m not the one who fell off the turnip truck!” 

Thursday 3 May 2012


Uncle Gnarley had put behind him the levity of his evening at the Royal Society of Old Farts.  Today, he seemed more pensive, indeed, quite self-possessed. The ‘Old Farts’ had given him a break from his worrying over the Muskrat Falls project. Now, he was ready, once more, to get his mind around, what he termed, ‘this dangerous venture’.

“Nav”, Uncle Gnarley, exploded, “I don’t understand these numbskulls.  How could they place our beloved province in such jeopardy”?

“I am thinking, Nav, I need to revive my public speaking career. I am a bit long in the tooth to be carrying out such a project.  But I prefer to be a virus on the government than viral on You Tube, he quipped”.

But Uncle Gnarley, I responded, did you not hear that the government is actually hosting a few public meetings to explain the Muskrat project and they are going to send out a pamphlet in the ‘Go Bag’.  Isn’t that enough, afterall?

Gnarley, glared, as only he could, and spat: “forced to put on a charade, is more like it.  They see a letter to the editor in The Telegram complaining that the Minister of Natural Resources needs “PR Rehab” and they run to cover their arses”.