Monday, 5 November 2012


Former Premier Brian Peckford, my boss for six years, (1979-1985) was on my mind this week.  I had read that he was spending several days conducting a Book tour in central and western Newfoundland in connection with his recent publication: Some Day The Sun Will Shine And Have Not Will Be No More.  The Globe and Mail reported recently that his Book had placed second on the Canadian Bestseller List for non-fiction.  His publisher also indicated that Peckford’s tome was already into second printing.  

I thought it appropriate that I should congratulate him on his Book’s success and enquire about his tour.
Of course, I was not without an ulterior motive. I also wanted to quiz him about the Muskrat Falls project, in particular whether the subject had emerged in his conversations with the people attending the Book Signings and what they were reporting.  I thought those two reasons were sufficient to ring him up.

I know no one else in the Province who possesses Peckford’s ability to gauge public opinion.  His instincts are uncanny and virtually incontestable. I can attest to that fact as one who directed and analyzed dozens of public opinion polls during my eleven years in the Premier’s office, working on the staff of both Peckford and Frank Moores. 

Anyone with statistical knowledge, appreciation for care and objectivity in crafting clear and concise questions and access to a suitable computer program, can generate raw data, though not everyone has the skillset to adequately interpret the results.  Peckford was one of those rare people who had his finger on the public pulse with or without the numbers; a fact that often rattled this “numbers” man.  Hence, getting his ‘fresh’ perspective was an opportunity too good to pass up.
“I had a phenomenal tour”, declared the ever upbeat and energetic former Premier, “I could not have anticipated a better turnout” he added, clearly happy that his years away from political life had not broken the connection he enjoyed with thousands of people thoughout the Province. 
Only later in the conversation did I learn that he had escaped the fog which had engulfed most of the island, just over a week ago, by flying out of Deer Lake.  Having arrived home and with just two hours sleep he was quite prepared to suffer my inquisition on what the ‘people’ were saying. 
That’s as much as you ever said you needed in one night I jostled him, knowing his penchant for going days with barely any shut eye.

Dismissing the comment with a laugh, he added, “I was really pleased with the turn-out…there were line-ups in Gander, Lewisporte, Springdale and Corner Brook.  I was received well, just great…the book is going over fantastic….I had no idea…”.

What about Muskrat I interjected, perhaps a bit hastily…did the subject come up? ''It did'', he replied, showing no irritation that perhaps my call might have had a dual purpose. “Actually, it came up a lot”.  He added:  “Interestingly, people raised the issue with me; they wanted to know how I felt about Muskrat and, as I answered, sometimes a bunch of people would crowd around and the line-up behind them would come to a stand-still…some of them would say, Brian, it’s OK, we also want to hear your answer….but'', remarked the former Premier, ``what I heard from them was most interesting.

''I think, most prominently, I heard a 'deep concern' about Muskrat Falls; an 'unease', really.  People feel they are not getting the information they need to assess the project and they don’t understand why the government is not taking an approach to get us to 2041'' when when Upper Churchill power is readily available. "That is really what was on people’s minds and I think it’s a very widespread view, certainly among those who came out for my book tour”.
I did not press the former Premier further. The words “deep concern” and “unease” resonated with me as lacking a solid foundation for the government to press on with this multi-billion dollar project.  Certainly, I could not help but note some sadness as he articulated the sentiments of people who he remarked had come from a host of communities from Point Leamington to St. Anthony.

Afterall, his book had very substantially dealt with the fight for shared jurisdiction with the Government of Canada over offshore oil and gas resources, which culminated in the Atlantic Accord…the very same Accord which now accounted for nearly a third of government revenues.
These were the very same people whom, over twenty-five years ago, he had met in school gymnasiums, bingo halls and kitchens to explain why the Province’s pursuit of a ‘fair deal’ deserved their support and his obstinacy.

Likely, he felt some of pay off that resulted from that obstinacy for Newfoundland and Labrador was about to be squandered in the Muskrat Falls Project.
With the people of the Province worried about this government`s electricity agenda and the question of what is motivating the Government`s rush to get them entangled in a very uncertain and expensive project, I can`t help but think any politician, especially the incumbent Premier, ought to be more than a little worried how the ``unease`` Peckford spoke of will be manifested.