Monday, 23 December 2013


The rrrrrr…ing of the telephone became insistent.  A peaceful short snooze, after dinner, suddenly seemed too high an expectation. 

Leaving my warm couch I wondered why a bloody email couldn’t have done the trick.  Hello! I answered with as much equanimity as I could muster.  “Hello, Nav! It’s Uncle Gnarley. I didn’t disturb your little cat-nap, did I? Now that you’ve surpassed 100,000 hits on “my” web site, must even I give you fair warning before you pick up the phone”, he teased. 

Gnarley chuckled but gave me no opportunity for retort.  “I am coming over to spend Christmas with you, Nav.  Those single malts beckon.  I presume you have adequately re-stocked, he bantered mischievously.  Anyway, make sure you let me in” and abruptly disconnected.      

No sooner had the receiver landed in its cradle than the doorbell initiated its own intrusive summons.  I opened it quickly and the big framed, slightly balding, old professor pushed his way inside.  “Merry Christmas, Nav”, said Uncle Gnarley, shaking my hand vigorously.  “Aren’t these cell phones wonderful? Everything is so fast these days!” 
Before giving me a chance to offer the usual courtesies, Gnarley proceeded to take off a new tweed overcoat with all the flourish of one strutting a catwalk.   I patted the new threads lightly and enquired quizzically: “a new purchase, Uncle Gnarley”? 

“My god, man”, Uncle Gnarley barked, “can’t a poor old retiree be permitted to enjoy the “golden” age, like everyone else.  Isn’t that what the Minister of Finance calls it?”    

The age of debt is more like it, I retorted.  “Now, Nav”, said Gnarley, his lip curled slightly to exhibit a characteristic scowl, “one ought not to venture into that territory on the dry”.  Gnarley was never one for subtlety and his emphasis on “dry” was a signal to get him settled.

Where have you been, Uncle Gnarley? I enquired earnestly.  Have you been away?  

“I’ve been over in bloody Halifax, where else would I be?” he replied, sounding agitated. 

Let’s try the Oban, I suggested.  It’s the 14 year old…has a nice subtle peat flavour; a smoky finish, too, I added as I held out the bottle to an anxious hand.  I think Liz has the perfect complement for this fine malt, Uncle Gnarley. 

The tapered glass refused to acknowledge fulfilment until the contents had been more than amply served.  Fearing oversupply, I lifted the bottle and raised my gaze in search of confirmation; a beaming, if somewhat grizzled, visage held the guarantee that this evening’s conversation might last ‘til sunrise.

We toasted with the usual greetings and took a sip from our generous glasses.  As if on cue, Liz brought in a plank of smoked salmon.  “My god, girl”! Uncle Gnarley declared, practically bursting with excitement; “now there’s a woman who can read my mind, Nav.  It will go perfectly with our wee dram.”  Gnarley hugged her in appreciation.

As Liz departed, allowing us to pursue our favourite subject, I immediately sought the earlier thread in the conversation.  Halifax, Uncle Gnarley? I again raised the question of his extended absence.  “Did you think, Nav, I was merely going to read the transcripts of the UARB hearings on the Maritime Link and not be present to get a sense of what the Nova Scotians were saying in the hallways and the restaurants?  Good god, man, you don’t think that stuff makes its way into a transcript do you?”

Ummm, I replied, as if to intone understanding, adding, I ought to have known you wouldn’t be content not being in the thick of it.

“And, just in case you are wondering, there was not a single reporter there, from Newfoundland.  You’d swear Muskrat Falls had nothing to do with us; our only job is to pay for the damn thing.  That media crowd will get their comeuppance yet, he swore.”

How did you keep a straight face in the Hearing Room? I asked, attempting to lighten the already heavily laden air.  “Why, Nav, I don’t know what you mean”. 

Uncle Gnarley, if I remember correctly the transcripts noted the presence of a Mr. Sidebottom, a Mr. Outhouse and a Mr. Smellie.  Must have been quite a stink in that room I ventured, not cracking a smile. 

The little jibe was rewarded only with Gnarley’s intense glare; he took a gulp of the golden liquid, closed his eyes and let his frame relax into the curves of the big leather chair.   His serious face became reflective for a moment; it just didn’t seem possible that the glow of the fireplace could produce such a worried countenance.   I remained quiet permitting the old man to gather his thoughts.    

“Nav, tell Liz she needn’t cook a turkey on my account, the bearded face muttered finally.  I just came from the biggest celebration ever held on the east coast of Canada.  I don’t mean the one held in Confederation Building either.  In Nova Scotia there was no need for a choral group to burnish any announcement”, he roared with derisive laughter. 

“I tell you, Nav, the UARB hearings had all the markings of Christmas come early; just about everyone over there feels Premier Dunderdale upstaged Santa.  The Members of the UARB brimmed with satisfaction taking obvious delight in the deal they extracted from her and Ed Martin. 

“In the restaurants and over coffee no one even attempted to hide their bewilderment that NL wanted so badly to build a hydro project.  Why would the Newfs build 30 cent/KWh  power and sell it to them for 4.2 cents, they wondered?  Of course, it made no sense.

“To be fair, Nav, the Hearings spoke to that Province’s institutions and their role in limiting political excess; yet, everyone knew the outcome. But for the requirement of “due process”, the UARB might have immediately issue a one word Report, “A-P-P-R-O-V-E-D”, Gnarley spelled out the word letter by letter, adding “and like the good Scotsmen so many of them are, they would have headed for the whiskey cabinet”.

“I tell you Nav, I will never again think as ill of Joe Smallwood as I have for the last forty years.  In my wildest dreams I never thought possible that his level of stupidity could be outdone.  But, Ed Martin and Cathy Dunderdale have succeeded!”



Even the new Liberal Government jumped on the band-wagon I interjected, allowing Uncle Gnarley to wet his lips. 

“Yes, indeed, Nav; except their reversal was completely predictable. It was really a great charade.  The new Energy Minister turned up at the Hearings, all in a flutter, with eight new conditions.  Of course, they were only intended to offset the Liberal Government’s full endorsement of the Maritime Link.

“Some of them were barely comprehensible, for Christ’s sake”, Gnarley spit out the words.  “The UARB Members weren’t without political savvy.  It was they who extracted the Energy Access Agreement, the 21 year 1.2 TWh power commitment and the Balancing Agreement from Nalcor. In one deft move”, Gnarley raised his arm giving it a broad stroke, “they ordered that all eight conditions part and parcel of their final Decision.” 

“The new Government could have added a partridge in a pear tree, if they wished.  The UARB felt totally empowered to tack on the whole lot even if they did not quite understand what they meant.  They knew, better than most, that Ed Martin and Cathy Dunderdale would say: it’s all fine with them, which they did. 

“But, to the point Nav, the Nova Scotians could easily see the position in which Nalcor had placed this Province. They weren’t going to let such an opportunity go unrealized.

“Ed Martin and the Premier have now succeeded in accomplishing the direct transfer of your oil money to Nova Scotia.  These two obviously weren’t around for the fight on the Atlantic Accord.  Likely, they have no recollection of how little we owe that Province for its treachery in Peckford’s battle over the Atlantic Accord”, he growled.

A sullen Gnarley stopped for a few seconds to sip from his glass.  But, he had not finished the subject.

“What the Nova Scotians understand, Nav, is that their leadership took a strategic approach to its approval of the Maritime Link.  They saw Nalcor willingly expose this Province to all the financial risks of the Project, including most of the cost overruns on the Maritime Link.  Why wouldn’t they go for more!  They had a free hand.  It was easy to force Nalcor to commit”, he emphasized the word, “more than half the power from Muskrat and Nalcor; the bloody fools, who are supposed to be working for us, agreed that Newfoundland and Labrador would be under penalty of fine if we failed to deliver!

“Yet”, Gnarley continued, “that Province has given up no advantage; they have established a ceiling on their power costs and even retained the right to refuse our obligation to them if they locate even cheaper sources.  

“But that’s not all, Nav.  Nalcor’s determination to build Muskrat Falls, at any cost, for which purpose it had to secure the Federal Loan Guarantee Agreement has essentially driven Nalcor to lose control over the Newfoundland island system.  Hardly a goddam soul in the Province understands what Martin and Dunderdale have done but, in committing an average 1.2 terawatts annually and not linking the obligation strictly to Muskrat Falls, they have not only committed most of our excess power; they committed all our power assets including Muskrat Falls.”

Gnarley’s face was flush at this point.  His glass was still more than half full, but I could see that Nalcor’s egregious level of stupidity had made him very uncomfortable.

“Nav, you will recall when former NS Premier Dexter rose in their Legislature and declared Nova Scotia ‘in the driver’s seat’ if the Province agreed to Nalcor’s Maritime Link proposal.  Dexter was expressing a vision understood by many in that Province. All Ed Martin and Dunderdale have achieved is to help Dexter and the Nova Scotians complete their Plan.

Now, as Alderon is given the balance of recall power, NL has little left for growth.  New mines and other industry will require FIRM power.  That additional power will not be available, Nav, especially in the winter months unless, of course, Holyrood is kept open.  That, Nav, is the true  picture that underscores Nalcor’s untruthful narrative.”
Uncle Gnarley paused for a moment, signalling he was coming to the end of his rant.

When he spoke again, he uttered this comment: who will Newfoundlanders and Labradorians use as a scape goat this time when the bills come in, when we can’t keep up with the cost overruns?Undoubtedly, Cathy Dunderdale will look for another bogeyman.  Quebec surely can’t be too far removed from this narrative. 

“You insinuated there might have been a stink in Halifax, Nav, crassly I might add; they were all fine gentlemen.  But, it’s the stench in Newfoundland that worries me.”

It was getting late.  The night had already dissipated and an early morning sky contained the promise of a distant sun. 

"Keep telling the public what these people have gotten us into, Nav, Gnarley counselled, as he bounded from the chair. You'll always be subjected to the Alice In Wonderland types; that's not going to change.  All you need do is read the front page of the Saturday Telegram.  Mr. MacLeod and the couple of Nalcor types seem to fallen face and eyes into Ed Martin's "Kool Aid".  

"The newest narrative is: we're trading power with Ontario! Oh my! Oh my! As if there was any quantity of power not already committed to Nova Scotia, as if there was any transmission capacity, as if we would receive more than a pittance for the power, given Ontario's overcapacity. 

What version of the Muskrat story is that Uncle Gnarley? Why, Nav, he responded, that must be at least the tenth, rolling with laughter! They should be writing fairytales!

Isn't that exactly what they are doing?, I replied.

"I think next year, Nav, let's resolve, once again, to stay close to sensible people."

That's a good idea, Uncle Gnarley, I added, ending the long night.  Anyway, competition for the 'Mad Hatter' award seems already oversubscribed!