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?

Canada has been a very good partner for this Province.  It has not only removed much of the risk associated with smallness in a highly competitive and sophisticated world economy, the larger country has been a shield to our cyclical economic vulnerabilities and, through a variety of wealth redistribution programs, has supported both the public and individual welfare.    
Some might disagree with this thesis and, indisputably, Canada could do some things better. But any grievance, however legitimate, does not diminish our obligation to behave as the mature and skilful people we believe ourselves to be.

We would do well to pause on occasion and think that perhaps the country expects more of us, too.  Likely, greater political maturity is at the forefront of that expectation.
Our heft, as a Province, should not be a reflection merely of the politicians we elect, their colourfulness, feistiness or bad manners.  NL should be respected for its public policies and institutions, for its essential self-reliance, its governance record, its commitment to transparency, and to financial prudence.

These are the things that evoke confidence that our historical claims to the values of decency and self-reliance are well grounded.  In addition, rather than notions of what we have given up, our new wealth should inspire a confidence in what we have become.
We need to be smarter about the messages we send to the rest of Canada.    Some examples come to mind:

First is the former premier, Danny Williams’ triumphal return from Ottawa, in 2005, upon having negotiated an improvement to the 1985 Atlantic Accord.  It should have been a defining moment of nation building; instead it was akin to a jingoistic drumbeat that the ‘natives’ had outsmarted a weaker prey, in PM Paul Martin.  In place of the rallying cry, “we got It”, a more prudent rant would have been: ‘we negotiated in good faith and achieved a fair settlement’.  A later federal budget substantially nullified ‘what we got’ as a result of changes to the resource provisions of the equalization formula.
Then, Premier Dunderdale, just a short while ago, in reply to an Opposition question, stated that $8 billion would be an acceptable cost number for Muskrat Falls as opposed to the original estimate of $6.2 billion.  Her almost knee jerk response suggested that $9 billion would have fine, too, which, in fact, is the new number, if you include interest costs during construction!

These are not the mature expressions of wisdom characteristic of a province ready to take its rightful place in Confederation.

Real political maturity ought to afford us the right of certain rebuke when those, who have no business interfering in our affairs, take such liberties anyway.
That the Chairman of Alderon could inject himself into the Muskrat Falls debate, which is internal to this province, speaks either to his bad manners or bad coaching.  The Company wants the public of this province to get on with developing Muskrat power.  Its controlling shareholder is from China.  The Chinese would never countenance such impudence; likely, they would have him ejected from their country. 

His involvement might have been welcomed had he shown up with an offer of assistance, rather than what seemed more like a demand for a free ride.  I might suggest to Alderon a ‘take or pay’ contract just like the one Nalcor intends to imposed on the NL taxpayer, or an offer to share the risk of this project or even an offer to pay the same electrical rate as NL ratepayers.  But there was none of that.  Where was Premier Dunderdale to provide the justifiable rebuke?  Likely, she had not even recognized the insult!

I didn’t hear any proclamation from the former premier either, to his new boss, demanding that he “process the iron ore in this Province” nor any accompanying ultimatum, “else, you can leave it in the ground”, as he once admonished Vale Inco on Voisey’s Bay.  Perhaps he believes that being on the Board of Directors of Alderon justifies such an omission; that it is OK, if his new found interest is in conflict with the public interest of this province; that his status offers protection for his Chairman, from common courtesy.  It should not!     

Our government has thrown caution to the winds, using our new found borrowing capability to take on a foolish and risk laden venture in Muskrat Falls; one that is disproportionate with the level of risk we should entertain and what is prudent and responsible for a small population.
Little wonder that the ghosts of John C. Doyle still come a callin’.

Ah, yes, the adage: ‘A fool and his money are soon parted’.