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Friday 28 September 2012

The Balvenie Affair – Part III

I want to acknowledge “JM” who again authored today's post.  While respecting his desire for anonymity, he is, nevertheless, owed a debt of gratitude for his contribution to the PUB’s review of the Muskrat Falls project as well as for the research and analysis he continues to perform.   -   Des Sullivan, Uncle Gnarley Blog.
Following our eventful meet with ‘JM’, Uncle Gnarley requested a couple days ‘Close to the Ground’, as he was known to say.  I assumed that this meant he had departed for his annual moose hunting gallivant, where he would partake in a week of reflection, introspection, and self- infliction.  This would all then be followed by a great massacre on some remote barren in Central Newfoundland.

But after a number of days with no contact, I decided to take a drive down the shore and pay a visit to my cantankerous old friend.  As I neared his door I could hear what sounded like rapid fire.  A familiar sound from my youth, but one I could not readily place.  Concerned, I cautioned ahead, and peered into the window.  Well, it was like seeing a great moose in the headlights.  There before me was the old economist himself, wearing only his wistered underwear.  His old frame was whiter than the fresh snow.    
The clanking which alarmed me was coming from his old manual typewriter.  Although I have never seen it in use, I know that the great man often referred to it as his ‘arsenal of democracy’ in homage to one of his personal heros.  It was clear that Uncle Gnarley had a bee in his bonnet, and I naturally assumed that it was related to our recent encounter with ‘JM’.

To not startle the old man I knocked on the door. 

Wednesday 26 September 2012


Note: Uncle Gnarley wishes to acknowledge and thank "JM" for having written today's Post.  "JM" will also write part 3 of this Series.

JM took the bottle of Balvenie and placed it on the board room table.  He placed good catholic disbursements to each of us, as he seemed to collect the thoughts in his head. 

“Uncle Gnarley this issue is a complex one indeed.  It is difficult to argue the Premier’s position that it is prudent to invest our current oil wealth for future generations of Newfoundlanders.  It is a noble effort and I believe that the Premier is sincere when she speaks these words.  Yet, with rumor of recent cost increases, I am more troubled by this great project that they call Mush-rat Falls”.
With that JM took the first sip of the golden nectar.  Despite his preference for Rum his response confirmed that he was well accustomed to the peaty taste of the Scottish juice.  “Muskrat Falls represents one of the greatest public works projects in our province’s history, the type of project that engineers and tradespeople dream of working on.  Yet our economy is booming, labour is in short supply, and project costs are increasing due to the other resource based projects.  If you remove all the arguments about demand forecasts, and overall feasibility I just don’t know why the government is doing this project now.

“Roosevelt built the Hoover dam during the great depression.  It provided a livelihood and hope for a generation of Americans.  However, we are completing Muskrat Falls in a time which is so busy that Newfoundlanders will not be able to truly benefit from its construction, despite the fact that their tax dollars will fund it.  Why are we doing this now?”
It was clear that Uncle Gnarley was animated, and eager to long join a debate with someone near his own caliber.  But as I thought he was about to embark on one of his own lengthy discourses, he seemed to rethink.  Happy to hear more from JM he asked what, at first, seemed simple enough.  The question was not just loaded, it was lobbed, as if it was a test for JM:  “But don’t we need the power now?”

Monday 24 September 2012


(Author's Note: After a fortuitous encounter with the anonymous, but very real "JM", the person whose 175 page Submission to the PUB on the Muskrat Falls was frequently referenced in that Agency's Final Report, the author and JM have agreed to write a three part Series dealing with certain critical issues pertaining to the Muskrat Falls project. Part 3 will disclose new issues regarding Muskrat which new research by "JM" has uncovered.  Today's Post is written by this Author; Parts 2 and 3 will be composed by "JM". Part 2 will be posted on Wednesday, September 26, 2012 and Part 3, a couple of days later .  While Uncle Gnarley is a fictional character, the issues dealt with in this Series, and in earlier Articles by the author, are real).

“Now, Nav”, Gnarley continued, “who would have undertaken such a demanding project? Who would have made such a commitment knowing that he could neither benefit financially nor on an academic level?  After weeks of difficult research, the decision to sign off on the work, under the anonymous "JM", had to be tough.  Whoever JM is, Nav, I believe he left the signature of a real academic; a person in pursuit of the truth rather than any reward, not even self-aggrandizement”. 

That was Uncle Gnarley, in July, long after having read “JM’s” 175 page anonymous Submission to the PUB on the Muskrat Falls project.  That Agency had relied upon JM’s Brief to help it with its analysis, frequently quoting him in the Final Report. 
Now, Uncle Gnarley was sitting in my SUV, fidgeting and exhibiting his characteristic impatience as he waited to be driven to meet the same JM, the heretofore ‘anonymous’ expert on Muskrat Falls.  Impatient may not be the best word to described Uncle Gnarley’s demeanor; he wore an aspect that suggested ‘agitation’; some ‘dilemma’ was clearly causing him conflict and, on this occasion, I was not invited to assist with a resolution.  I wondered if it involved JM or if there was some other matter causing him distress.

The invitation had popped into my “Inbox”; not only had JM written a new Paper on Muskrat, entitled, Upper Churchill: The Unexplored Alternative, to which, I knew, Uncle Gnarley would want to give thoughtful consideration; it was accompanied by a request from JM to meet Uncle Gnarley face-to-face.

Monday 17 September 2012


When a Member defects, as Tom Osborne did last week, there are always repercussions for the party leader. 

When the act is by a Member on the Government side, as Osborne was, the ensuing questions and concerns are magnified.  Why?   The defection speaks less to the defector, personally, than to the message he sends regarding the condition of the ‘ship of state’.
Cartoon Credit: John Meaney, Rant and Roar
For that reason, the political fallout must first, be understood, and then, skillfully (intelligently) handled.

People are unnerved about any political upset; but, they are alarmed when the Premier’s response is perceived as one that diminishes her person and her office.
Unfortunately, most people do not engage politics except on a superficial level; they should not be judged too harshly, for life intervenes and there are mouths to feed.  But they are never completely tuned out; that is why, intuitively, people take note when they feel ill at ease by the very government they have put in charge.

Tom Osborne’s decision to quit the P.C. Caucus is a clarion call, a call to action.  Skillful leaders know that, in these circumstances, the public wants re-assurance, expressions of intelligent thought and consistency, overlain with a reasonable rationale for what has just transpired.  None of that was on offer, last week. Indeed, the sheer scale of the vituperation emanating from Government Members was truly appalling.  
Osborne, it must be remembered, is not just any MHA.  He was the longest serving member of the P.C. Caucus. Both he and his family boasted a record of Party service that outshone every other Member. He held three Cabinet posts. He enjoys respect in his constituency and has been returned to the House of Assembly a total of five times. He has not quit over any point of principle or singular issue, except for, as he clearly stated, a lack of confidence in the Premier. 

A party stalwart with that record, is not one that you should mindlessly pillory or denigrate.  He has not defected to another Party; hence, with the leadership problem fixed, he could possibly be back in his usual seat within months.  These are the facts.

Let’s look at the Government’s response.

Friday 14 September 2012

Tom Osborne Defects: Time for a Realty Check

The announcement by the MHA for St. John’s South, Tom Osborne, that he is quitting the Dunderdale P.C.s, had me recalling my June 25th Post, entitled, “All Eyes on the Backbench, Please”.

Since posting that warning of the political cost of Dunderdale’s declining popularity her personal Poll numbers have been in free fall.  Her comment, that ‘strong leadership’ does not govern by Poll results, was unconvincing. 
Everyone knows, Premiers can’t let a single poll result or two cause a reversal in decision making.  But a trend will.  And what Premier Dunderdale is experiencing right now, is exactly that, a trend. 

Tom Osborne’s decision begs five points of analysis:
First, when the Premier’s popularity descends into free fall, the authority of leadership is the first casuality. Most Premiers have enough personal IOUs with caucus members that they can survive periods of voter displeasure, especially when it occurs early in the mandate. This is a crucial test which Dunderdale has failed.

Second, when Osborne refused to endorse Dunderdale for the uncontested Tory leadership position, she all but shunned him.  It was one thing not to appoint him to Cabinet; that is her prerogative.  It is quite another not to make him feel welcomed inside the Tory caucus and attempt to gain his confidence.  That is an error in judgement. 

Monday 10 September 2012

On Muskrat Falls, Fortis fails to live up to its name

(The following Essay, written by Uncle Gnarley scribe, was published in The Telegram 30/08/2012 and is provided here for Blog readers.  To date, neither Fortis Inc. nor its subsidiary, Newfoundland Power Co. Ltd., have offered an explanation for their complete silence on the Muskrat Falls project eventhough it will have a significant negative impact on their 227,000 captive customers in Newfoundland.  Their customers deserve better.)

A few weeks ago, I took a phone call from a well-spoken young lady from Newfoundland Power.  Her purpose was to inform me that electrical power rates, beginning July 1, 2012, would increase by 7%.  She could not have known my thoughts at that time.  I did not want to seem ungracious, so I thanked her and ended the brief conversation. 
Perhaps, it was good PR.  The power utility wanted to save me, and other commercial customers ‘rate shock’; it thought a little advance warning was necessary.  The caller was an able representative of her company.  Yet, I could not help thinking that Stan Marshall, President and CEO of Fortis Inc., parent company of Newfoundland Power Co. Ltd. (NP) was really the person with whom I wished to speak.  Why?  It was not because of this shock, but because of all the rate shocks that are pending, for both commercial and residential customers, as a result of the Muskrat Falls project.

Monday 3 September 2012

NL Finance Minister Gets Downgrade (PART 2)

Last time, I discussed the Dominion Bond Rating Service (DBRS) Report which confirmed the “A” credit rating of the Province. The Minister of Finance, in making that announcement, noted a comment by DBRS that, he said, was proof of why the Government should proceed with Muskrat Falls.

Uncle Gnarley obtained a copy of the full DBRS Report and caught Tom Marshall being selective; too selective for a Finance Minister.  Transparency is an important watchword; people have a right to know what their government is up to and how important agencies, like DBRS, feel about the fiscal management of our economy, especially the budgetary process, over which the government has substantial control. 
When government decisions go awry or they engage in bad management practices, the public should not be shielded from the result by 'bafflegab'.  It is part of the reason we are rightfully upset about the recent amendment to Bill 29, the Act governing public access to information. 

This week, let’s look at what DBRS had to say about the NL Budget, our current fiscal position and how the Muskrat Falls project will play a key role in economic forecasts.