Monday, 2 June 2014


Dissatisfaction at the media’s handling of the PUB's Interim Report consumed much of the space afforded  DARKNL: WEAK MEDIA NO MATCH FOR DAMNING PUB REPORT  on May 19th.  The media's coverage of the Report was brief to the point of being inconsequential.  I thought the public had a right to expect additional detail and analysis of the PUB’s work into the causes of  the January 2014 'Blackouts'. 

Why? The chief reason is the sheer scale of the outages and their impact on so many lives and businesses. 

Another is that the level of condemnation by the PUB of Hydro management was unprecedented.   

While the media admittedly are an easy target, no one should think that it is solely their role to ask questions and to inform. 

The Opposition Parties and their leaders, and others, play a vital role in the process, too.  When media are not prodding them they ought to be prodding the media.  Typically they don’t, but now and again, as in the Humber Valley Paving affair, the Liberals show occasional energy.

If this Province boasted a more mature democratic infrastructure, a House of Assembly Committee represented by all three Parties, would have already begun the process of holding public hearings into the PUB Report.  Witnesses from Hydro and Nalcor would be required to testify and to answer for the litany of failings the PUB cites. 

The red face of Ed Martin would be appropriately served up for the evening news (if only following the weather forecast).  We would know why Hydro V-P Rob Henderson receives less attention than Nalcor’s Christmas lights, which have not been taken down, though it is the month of June.

We don’t have that oversight infrastructure.  We don’t have many people even minimally prepared to challenge the political or bureaucratic leadership. Many are ready to be 'cheek to jowl' when their is occasion for boosterism, such as on Muskrat Falls; anyone can be a suck-up, but it takes a far different pedigree to put authority in its place.

Indeed, most people have remained as silent as the lambs.  

No one can use the excuse that the PUB Report was too technical, that it exceeded comprehension. 

Indeed, one of the striking aspects of the PUB’s phraseology is that it is fairly easy to understand. The following, the PUB states, caused or contributed to the outages:

 Hydro’s deferral of scheduled preventive maintenance and testing of key transmission
system equipment, including the 2013 scheduled and recommended testing and
maintenance on the transformer and circuit breaker at Sunnyside, which failed.

 Hydro’s failure to properly execute repairs and maintenance.

 Hydro’s failure to ensure the availability of qualified resources and vendor support.

 Hydro’s failure to procure critical spare parts for its generation assets.

 Hydro’s decisions on timing of generation asset repairs, notably the Hardwoods and
     Stephenville gas turbines.

The Report continues:

“…the Board finds the number and nature of equipment failures that occurred is unusual, raising questions as to Hydro’s operation and maintenance of its equipment especially given that this is the second consecutive winter that customers on the Island Interconnected system have experienced widespread outages. 

There is more, but those excerpts serve as proof of the PUB’s clarity; they demonstrate that Hydro failed, in its duty of care, to its customers.

Many rightfully ask why heads have not rolled, why ‘performance’ bonuses to senior Nalcor management have been doled out in spite of such high level failure and incompetence. These same questions are now repeated.  Why has the CEO of Nalcor Ed Martin not been asked to account? Why is he still in his job?

                                  NALCOR'S NATTERING NEANDERTHAL
It is strange that we have the capacity for complaint when we are being inconvenienced but not the willingness to offer sustained and direct challenge when specific politicians and bureaucrats screw up. 

I can think of knowledgeable people in Memorial’s Engineering and Business Schools and Departments like Political Science who ought to possess those skills.  Officials of the Boards of Trade, the City and Town Councils surely have a stake in the issue, too. What about the Law Society or the Association of Professional Engineers?  Is it too risky for them, in the current political environment, to elevate public policy issues above the level of private chit chat?

Some of them can teach management or electrical engineering, defend legal rights while others  organize ‘warming centers’ but, on matters that relate to the basic governance of a society, they are all tongue-tied! We subsidize Memorial to the tune of tens of millions; yet, our intellectuals are no more generous with their expertise at bridging our political deficit than are welders and longshoremen.     

Some citizens commenting in the case of the HVP affair have noted that the politically connected are a force unto themselves, that they set their own standards, however offensive they may be.  As a consequence the rest of us, including the media, just watch; too passive, too financially conflicted, or too scared of what we might lose to fight back.

No one should be content that this small society, notwithstanding its wealth and education is incapable of defending its most basic economic, political and moral interests against a deficient and frequently incompetent governmental leadership. 

The ballot box was never intended to be the sole underpinning of democratic government, the sole expression of distain for poor leadership, or even the sole manifestation of personal responsibility, in our relationship with the State.    

While we ought to be hard on the media, we should demand more of ourselves, too.
If we are afraid to require politicians and public servants to account, cower under those who take advantage of their power, flinch against bullies who diminish the integrity of our public institutions, or if we live life always in mortal fear of derailing the gravy train, we deserve to be called lambs.

We will pay for that silence.