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Monday 30 July 2012


The strain was showing on Uncle Gnarley’s face as he fought to complete his oration on that “dreaded” Muskrat Falls project.  His declaration that the Province should kill the power generation plant at Muskrat completely and build only the transmission line now, was deemed by him, a ‘modest’ proposal. 

Though he had reservations, Gnarley made certain that I understood, even his ‘modest’ proposal contained a significant qualifier: Nalcor must purchase access to 250-350 MWs from Hydro Quebec.  Together with the balance of ‘recall’ power from the Upper Churchill, of about 80MWs, the cost of which is small, might, he suggested, “and I emphasize, might, justify such an expensive transmission link to the island”.
The proposal had its face saving elements which Gnarley knew would have to be offered.  Some politicians would ‘go down with the ship’, he suggested, rather than acknowledge they had made a grievous error in judgement. 

Though he was a skilled Economist and retired University Professor, Uncle Gnarley had spent many a summer plying the waters off Petty Harbour, as a fisherman.  For him, turbulence, breaking waves and an unforgiving coastline were acceptable risks, though measureable when prudently assessed.  Those who conjured up Muskrat Falls were landlubbers, he suggested, for whom even the crises in Greece barely served as a metaphor for peril. For Uncle Gnarley, Muskrat Falls, wore all the hallmarks of impending disaster.
 “Just a drop”, Nav, as I offered to re-fill his glass.  I wish to be clear about my conclusions.

Monday 23 July 2012


Editor’s Note:  Part 3 of Uncle Gnarley’s review of the Muskrat Falls project became more expansive than first expected, as he explains why it is a bad idea right now, and what alternatives the Provincial Government ought to be considering.  Gnarley was not prepared to compromise completeness for brevity; hence, part 4 will be posted Monday, next).

Uncle Gnarley seated himself comfortably in his ‘own’ chair and gave me a look of expectation when his favourite ‘lubricant of the soul’ was not in evidence.  Sensitive to his most egregious habits, I proposed that we try a recent purchase, a 12 year old Balvenie, a personal favourite, aged in portwood and full bodied; the spirits boasted a taste and character that was delicious and smooth.  Producing the evidence, I received no comment on what a friend had thought was a “shrewd” purchase, though the look of surprise and satisfaction, which characterized his discerning smirk, afforded me confidence, that, this evening at least, I would not be reminded of my shortcomings on the water.
Uncle Gnarley was now ready to get on with his review of the Muskrat Falls project. 

“Indulge an old man for another few minutes, Nav, and I will head back down to the Shore, Gnarley began, simply. 
“Last time, I put paid to the Nova Scotia link.  For the reasons I explained, there is little or no power to export, so why give away 20% of the project for free. Though, the point is rather academic, he added.

“More importantly, replacing Holyrood at all, with Muskrat Falls, and at a cost that may well climb to $10 billion or more, is just such an incredibly terrible idea”.
“What about Alderon? I interjected.  The company says it needs power. “Yes, Alderon”! He scratched his head, shaking it a little: “they really should consult IOCC to see how they got their power”, replied Gnarly, dismissively.

“40% of Muskrat, 330 Megawatts (MWs), is thought necessary, by Nalcor, to replace Holyrood; the cost of the whole project will be repaid by levying the Newfoundland taxpayer a rate increase every year for 50 years. 
“That is the basis of the ‘take or pay’ contract they have designed for us, he declared, regardless of whether the power is needed, regardless of changes in technology over that period; regardless if oil prices fall; and, regardless if natural gas overtakes other forms of energy, as we are now seeing in the U.S. with shale gas. 

Monday 16 July 2012

Muskrat Falls: NO POWER TO EXPORT (Part 1)

The distinctively loud and rapid sound of the gargoyle, which serves as a knocker on my front entrance, confirmed that a visit from Uncle Gnarley was imminent. I opened the door quickly and the grey bearded eminence himself entered in a flourish.  A day old newspaper covered his favourite ‘river warrior’, but could not hide its delicious aroma.  Uncle Gnarley had caught a salmon. 

Gnarley did have a sense of timing. He had been absent for several weeks and I had begun to miss the irascible old man.  Luckily, the day held no impediments and a dangerous shortage of our favourite elixir had just been remedied.
“Nav”, Uncle Gnarley barked, as he pushed the parcel towards me, “I thought I might invite myself to dinner.  I suggest you put a lid on this one, he was a real fighter”.

As Gnarley headed for the only chair that fit his broad frame, he allowed that we had some business to discuss and quickly held out a whiskey glass for an ample serving of 15 year old Macallan’s; a perfectly suitable reward for his victory on the Gander River.
“I have had a lot of time to think”, Gnarley bellowed, now anxious to share what was clearly bothering him. “I have never felt more unsettled”, he continued”. 

Monday 9 July 2012


(Uncle Gnarley had many views to share, regarding the Muskrat Falls Project, upon his return from the Gander River.  His comments were written as he expressed them, but the material suggests  his ideas should be shared in three Posts, beginning with part 2, to be followed later by parts 1 and 3.)

Having wolfed down the better part of his prize from the Gander River, Uncle Gnarley was ready for an evening stroll to aid digestion and to inspect all the little changes, in the neighbourhood, that were apparent to someone with his keen eye.

He loved improvements that showed pride of place.  There was much to see as we strolled down the old Newfoundland Railway bed, whose current purpose, as a T’Railway, seemed more suited to the charm of the Waterford Valley than any of the dreams of Sir William Whiteway, Newfoundland’s longest serving Prime Minister, before Confederation and the railway’s chief promoter.

“A Policy of Progress”, voiced Gnarley, in a tone that sounded almost derisive.  “That was a key Whiteway slogan and a trans-island railway was the centrepiece of his policy.  It had worked for many countries, including Canada.  But unlike central and western Canada, Newfoundland’s pattern of settlement was established around hundreds of coves and bays, built around an inshore cod fishery. 

Monday 2 July 2012


Small societies suffer from a distinct disadvantage: smallness. Smallness permeates our politics, our economy and all the institutions that constitute our societal underpinnings.
Smallness is not just about the absence of scale, it is about history and geography. Sometimes, it’s about diminutive politicians and business leaders, too.  The diminutive effect is compounded by a short history of democracy, compared, for example, with other small societies such as Iceland, where political maturity has overcome their small scale.

From a different perspective, smallness affords familiarity, the quaintness of distinguishing one resident from another, as tall Jim and short Jim.  It also imposes a certain discipline; to be careful about criticism and the giving of offense; perhaps, it is what prevents us from publicly telling the Chairman of Alderon Iron Ore Corp. to mind his own business.  
In small societies, a few people, often just one or two, can influence, not just the politics, but public policies, too.  Indeed, some often achieve a sway over their government that is disproportionate to their wisdom and ability.   Could one of those have been Danny Williams?