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.
“The notion that we needed a railway, when likely more coastal boats would have sufficed, suggests more pipe dream than vision. Yes, the jobs were sorely needed, but what were they worth if their cost threatened the country’s solvency; Whiteway was warned that financing the railway could cause bankruptcy. I have the feeling, Nav, that earlier politicians were enamoured of ‘mega projects,’ as are some of the current ones.
“This generation has its own challenges to confront, surely. But, I can’t help but wonder how much of the confounded debt that caused Peter Cashin and others to make an unwelcomed journey to Britain, in the very depths of the Depression, in search of financial assistance, was the result, less of our contribution to the war effort, than to the noisy rolling stock which rattled over this fine T’railway”.
“Of course”, Gnarley said, pausing and showing difficulty with the words he needed to utter; taking a deep breath, the comment finally fell off his lips: “it may have cost us our sovereignty”. Gnarley paused again, less for emphasis, than the need to swallow a deep and abiding sadness. “A big price, wouldn’t you say, Nav!
Uncle Gnarley fell silent and remained pensive for some minutes as we drank in the warm evening air. When he was ready to speak, it was as if he had not noticed any break in the conversation. “I wonder” he commented, “if Muskrat Falls will be the Newfoundland Railway of this generation”. It wasn’t phrased so much as a question, more a statement of despair.
“It’s not as if we have enjoyed prosperity for any length of time, stated Gnarley…a few years of oil revenues coupled with the thirty thousand or so high paying jobs, found in Fort McMurray, has given us some breathing room to get our finances on track. It has afforded us time to consider what will sustain our workforce, in the absence of a cod fishery; it has given us an opportunity to keep an eye to the emptying out of our rural communities, to question whether they have a future, that is sustaining; to reflect on who we are, as a society, in the 21st century
“Strangely, I think our people are so caught up in a whirlwind of high paying jobs and new cash, that the notion of what oil was supposed to represent, has now completely disappeared from our radar.
“Interestingly enough, he continued, “it is the job of our political leadership to keep us on track, to provide some thoughtful guidance on our direction; but alas, I think Nav, they have failed us; they are truly intellectually bankrupt. Although, me thinks there are a few, in the wings, ready to take advantage of their stupidity.
“Anyway, Nav, I am off topic. I bent your ear rather badly before dinner telling you why Muskrat Falls is a cockamamie scheme. Well, I have a few more things to say on that account.
It is a contrivance, of course. Imagine spending $9-10 Billion, possibly $12 billion with cost overruns, just to replace Holyrood!Like the Newfoundland Railway, which required a huge capital cost and annual operating subsidies, Muskrat will demand billions of dollars and an increase in the cost of every year, for fifty years! It will be a fiasco, Nav, for all, except Alderon.
“Hydro Quebec must be laughing their heads off over Nalcor’s stupidity. They know we will never be in a position to access power from the Upper Churchill even when it comes available in 2041. Based upon current forecast trends in power demand, we won’t have need for it then, if we proceed with Muskrat. We will be so indebted, we risk being forced to do another bad deal!
“If Nalcor were less concerned about ‘empire building’, we would be using conservation measures, installing smart meters to encourage a levelling of electrical demand, developing smaller hydro projects on the island and adding wind power.
“Did you know, Nav, that NRCan, which performed the review of Nalor’s submission to the Federal Government, presumably in relation to the loan guarantee, stated that our grid, properly balanced, could accommodate 300 MW of wind power, though it failed to explain why Nalcor has put a cap on wind generation at 80 MWs – that’s power that would not have cost the province a penny of capital investment! But, wind farms, are not the stuff of empires, are they?
“The point is that Nalcor has plenty of alternatives, and I have not even mentioned the natural gas option.“As if it were the taxpayers’ job to find power for Alderon! Bowater looked after its own power requirements in Corner Brook, so did Price Pulp and Paper in Grand Falls, in an earlier time. IOCC did, too, and Vale Inco in Voisey’s Bay. Now, Nav, help me out here, why do you think Alderon is so special? Is Alderon part of some new ‘policy of progress’? Is Danny Williams a modern day Sir William Whiteway?
These weren’t so much real questions, as expressions of bewilderment. Gnarley didn’t allow me time for response, anyway. He quickly continued the point he wished to complete.
Before dinner, Nav, I described, at length, why we have heard so little about export contracts for the so-called surplus power from Muskrat Falls and why the Nova Scotia link is practically silly; now I want to explain why the Island/Labrador Link is also wrong-headed.