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Monday 26 August 2013


The saying “don’t go chasing rabbits” evokes a warning against one going off on a tangent, getting distracted or confused.  In politics, it is a caution, to politicians, that they may have missed the big issue in pursuit of one minor or of no consequence at all.

Former Prime Minister John Diefenbaker was once quoted as saying something like: ‘when I hunt bears I don’t go looking for rabbit tracks’. 

That’s what the NDP did recently.  It needs reminding that it should be hunting bears; that its job is to stay focussed on “big picture” politics.
The NDP barely noticed the bomb-shells planted, for the Dunderdale Government, in the Nova Scotia UARB Decision on the Maritime Link.  The UARB is a semi-judicial body; its decisions should not be ignored, even when they come out of Nova Scotia.

The NDP chose instead, to explode, like lightening, over the Legislative Commissioner’s Report on the poor judgment of Tory MHA, David Brazil; as if the Commissioner had not effectively dealt with the matter and proposed the correct response.

The NDP could have mined several far richer nuggets, compliments of the UARB, and exploded them in full view of the media.  

At a time when the House of Assembly is closed, you might expect that they would be looking for reasons to steal some of the scant spotlight put on politics, in the summer.  You would think that they would want to, at least, share public attention with Candidates for the Liberal Leadership.  

Of course, that would have required studying the 137 page UARB Report and figuring out what it all meant.  Much easier to read the Ethics Commissioner’s 17 page Report; one that even a simpleton could understand.

What were the UARB revelations and why are they so critical?

Nova Scotia’s Utility and Review Board refused sanctioning the Maritime Link (ML), as the lowest cost option for Nova Scotia.  In order to satisfy that condition, it stated, Nalcor must commit the remaining surplus or “Market-priced power” from Muskrat Falls. It did say the power could come from another source, but everyone knows there is no other cheap power, unless Bay d’Espoir is offered up. 

The UARB demands the legal certainty of being able to “levelize” the cost of the power previously committed Nova Scotia Block.  It anticipates the surplus power will in the 5-7 cent range per KWh; making Nova Scotia’s cost of all the power it receives, from Muskrat, average around 10 cents per KWh over the thirty-five year contract. 

The UARB’s demand was made notwithstanding the fact that Nalcor informed our own PUB that at least 80% of this power is committed for our domestic consumption to 2030.

The UARB stated, using impeccably clear language, that Nalcor had committed the power to Emera.  All that was left was for the parties to “codify” the agreement, in writing.   

NDP researchers, checking Hansard, will likely find multiple occasions when the House was misinformed as to the purpose of Muskrat Falls and the arrangement between Emera and Nalcor.

Indeed, either of the Opposition Parties might legitimately ask those and many other questions, too; such as:

Did the Premier and the Minister of Natural Resources deliberately lie to the House, on those occasions when they spoke of that Project’s ability to meet future domestic demand, meet the needs of Labrador mining and be available for export to the United States?

Were Newfoundland’s domestic demand numbers 'jacked up' to justify the Project?

How much of the anticipated capital, to be spent on Muskrat Falls, will actually be capital invested for Nova Scotia?

What is the annual cost, to this Province, of subsidizing up to 60% of Muskrat Falls power to that Province?

Undoubtedly, there were other “untruths”, too, that were laid before the House in an effort to secure Muskrat sanction.

Aren’t these the types of questions the NDP would want to put to the Government in a reconvened House of Assembly? 

The Ethics Commissioner reported that the Member for Conception Bay-Bell Island broke the rules of the House, that he should receive only a “reprimand”, noting that he did not profit, personally, from the Adult Basic Education Program he ran on Bell Island.

The Commissioner could have recommended a harsher penalty. He did not.

A call for the Government to re-convene the House, while not having a snow ball’s chance in hell, is nevertheless a clarion call that an important issue is afoot. It is a standard part of any Opposition Party’s tool kit; but it should not get overuse, especially when more important issues are ignored in favour one borne, in part, out of rank partisanship.  Notably, it was former MHA Yvonne Jones’ written complaint that sparked the Commissioner’s investigation. 

Following release of the UARB Decision, it makes no sense that the NDP did not use the opportunity to call for the re-opening the House to air the serious revelations that it contained.

Little wonder that the NDP, like the Liberals, are still viewed as a Party that pulls its punches on Muskrat Falls. 

The NDP chose to “chase rabbits” while the Liberals are off chasing each other.  Yes, I understand the Party has its sights on Mr. Brazil’s District.  Likely, though, they turned off more of his constituents than was sensible. 

The fact is, both Parties forgot to pursue the biggest issue of the summer, one that demands public attention. 

It is a credit to neither of them. 

I bet no one, in the NDP, ever thought a lesson could be learned from “Dief the Chief”.

Postscript: The NDP should get a boost soon.  Independent MHA, Tom Osborne informed the Weekend Telegram that: "I think I'll be making an announcement next week." Osborne was referring to his political future and which Party he intends to join. I can’t imagine, though, he is going back to the Tories or that he would favour the Liberals, and not just because the Leadership contest is unfinished.  “Big picture” politics could get more interesting.  Readers may wish to revisit TOM OSBORNE: OPTIONS FOR A POLITICAL ORPHAN.  Tom Osborne may wish to read : TOM OSBORNE AND LANA PAYNE ON DIFFERENT PAGES.