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. 

“Nav… I have been expecting you.  Reach behind the door and you will find an old soldier that I now want to finish off”.  I was not surprised to find the half full bottle of Balvenie, the liberated souvenir from our encounter of a week ago.   

“Can I pour you a wee dram Uncle Gnarley”
“Nav I thought you wouldn’t ask. But now on to a more important matter.  Since we met our man JM, I have had the opportunity to review his Volume II, entitled Labrador Mining - A Reason to Rethink which investigates all the mining prospects in the Big Land.  He makes a compelling argument that Labrador demand means that we should rethink the entire development on the Grand River.

But, it is JM’s conclusion that it may cost us ratepayers more to transmit power through the Maritimes rather than through Quebec that has me troubled.  Very troubled indeed, Nav.  With this Uncle Gnarley got up from the typewriter, took his glass, and proceeded to look out from the front window over the cold North Atlantic.    
“The more that people look at the Muskrat deal, the more questions there are Nav?  These are questions that relate to the very basic structure of the project.  It is a sobering thought that Dunderdale and Kennedy would potentially sign up to an agreement that would actually cost us more to export power!  Why would they do this?  Is it only an effort to correct the mistakes of 40 years ago?  You probably weren’t even born then Nav ,were you?”

I wasn’t sure if this was meant as a compliment.  But the delayed laughter from the old warrior was testament that a compliment it was most certainly not.   
“Nav, this Muskrat venture is risky, but if JM’s hypothesis is true, it would make the deal downright foolish!  Sobering thought indeed”.  With that he took his glass, quickly finishing the contents in an personal effort to will JM as being wrong. 

Despite the magnitude of this statement Uncle Gnarely was uncharacteristically calm.   I asked ,“Gnarley in your learned opinion do you thing JM is correct”? 
“Nav… JM himself questioned the validity of his conclusion….  Likely because he too would question what government would undertake such an inane proposition?    He concluded his Paper by requesting that Nalcor provide a full comparison for public review during the upcoming debate within the House of Assembly”

To this, I replied: “A reasonable request in my books Uncle Gnarley”
“Reasonable it is, but likely it is not.  There is one thing about this government, you don’t need to file an Access for Information request to hear good news.  With this government the good news is recycled more times than a Dominion Ale bottle.

But sometimes the lack of information is even more telling.  The very fact that Minister Kennedy did not produce statistics demonstrating how the Emera deal would save money, compared with going through Quebec, makes me think that our JM may be onto something. But no matter if JM is right or wrong, the question is so fundamental to the debate that it has to be answered”. 
It was clear that the great economist was troubled.  He wanted to analyze the numbers for his own benefit.  Before I could speak, Gnarley jumped in.

“In the conclusions, JM requested that Nalcor release the final numbers with all the inputs.  He called them the Open Access Tariff pro-forma.  They were referenced in the 1500 pages of Emera agreements, but they were not included for public review”.
With this Uncle Gnarely returned to the old typewriter, and due to the generous backlight, was momentarily a silhouette of his younger self.  “You know, Nav, it has been 20 years since I have participated in reasonable political debate in the province.  I thought I was done.  But these questions have to be answered, and I am compelled to act”.  With this statement the entire scene was now clarified in front of my eyes.  Uncle Gnarley had his ‘Arsenal of Democracy’ dusted off, the mound of paper was ample evidence that it had been in use. 

“You see Nav… I am putting in my very own Access to Information request to get a hold of these Tariff proforma.  They will tell me once and for all what we will pay to Emera for each and every kilowatt hour exported to the United States.   If it is true that it will cost more  to go through the Maritime Route, compared to Quebec,  then it nothing more than deception of the purest form”.
Now with this Uncle Gnarley’s blood pressure was beginning to rise.  In an effort to play the diplomat I asked.  “Gnarley do you not think that the media, Navigant, the Joint Review Panel, Manitoba Hydro or the PUB would have picked this up.  It seems like a pretty big deal to me”.

“Nav… the Government was very deliberate in the review process.  The Emera component was excluded from all these third party and independent reviews.  Only Nalcor and the Department of Natural Resources have seen these numbers.  So now we are in the precarious position of depending upon a debate in the House of Assembly to bring these questions to light.   The lack of public review and oversight in the first $400 million spent should not be extended to the next
$8 billion. 
Nav  as you know I do not play favorites to any political party.  In my opinion they have all been reduced to the lowest common denominator in the Muskrat debate.  However, the Liberal party’s recent proposition of witnesses, questions, and an unrestricted terms of reference is something that must be considered.  It is such a sensible proposal, how can it be denied? 

More than that Nav, in the absence of committees, it should be considered as a minimum standard for a democracy.   The people of the province should demand it.  Dunderdale has recklessly said no… it as if she did not learn anything from the Bill 29 debate.  It is to lead to her demise, and it will define her legacy”.
As Gnarley finished his great lament, I could not but think about a great quote attributed to President Roosevelt.  Democracy cannot succeed unless those who express their choice are prepared to choose wisely. The real safeguard of democracy, therefore, is education”. 

For when it comes to this debate education will be the true ‘Arsenal of Democracy’, and it should not be thwarted by those trying to maintain power.  The politicians tasked with this decision should be given the basic right to education on the subject, and that should be unrestricted.  Nalcor are the only ones who can properly educate the public on the entire deal, including the Emera portion.  They should defend their project to those who have to pay for it.  Premier Dunderdale should do what is right and concede to the Liberal request. 
To draw the night to a close Uncle Gnarley finished the last drop from the bottle, and that was the end of the Balvenie Affair.