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Monday 25 August 2014


Memorial University represents not just a place of learning or of creativity meeting the academic needs of civil society.  Its very name is a commemoration of our young people who fought two World wars in order to protect democracy.

For that reason alone, Memorial must never flinch from its obligation to be a source of vibrancy and transparency for our democratic institutions. It should never become a convenient vehicle to promote government policy. It should rebuke government when it uses it fiscal muscle to diminish the University’s independence from political influence.

There is growing concern that such influence is growing inexorably. 

There is no better example than the attempt, a few years ago, by former Premier Danny Williams and his Minister, responsible for Post-Secondary Education, to subvert the process of appointing a University President.

Thursday 21 August 2014


For most political parties a leadership contest represents opportunity and renewal.  It is a time not just to listen to voters but to re-connect with them in a way that helps to refurbish frayed nerves and replenish lost hope. 

For some, such competitions are only about policy; a candidate must be perceived an agent of change. Sometimes, it will suffice that the message is believable; the candidate is straightforward and his intentions are simple and clear.

For others, leadership contests are about giving men and women, who have already completed modest missions, a larger stage and to see which of them will shine.

Because each of us has different expectations and recognizes different qualities in the same person, such democratic competition assumes a respectful, even hopeful, multi-dimensional character. 

At the end of it all, each of us want to see contenders who have invested everything in their personal pursuit of high public office; to exhibit the wear and tear of a warrior, the exhaustion of one who has laid bare not just their body but also their intellect and their very soul. 

Even if they are not loved, the hope is they have, at least, engendered respect; a foundation of goodwill on which to build.

When such contests are characterized with such vigor and intelligence, we have reason to believe our democracy is mature, resilient, and progressive even if we chose to vote for the other Party.

Then, there is the reality.

Monday 18 August 2014


The Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) is not a sexy subject though it is important; far more than suggested by the negligible attention it received two months ago.

The PPA defines the terms, conditions and amounts ratepayers are obligated to pay Muskrat Falls Incorporated, the Nalcor subsidiary holding the generating assets of Muskrat Falls.  A separate Agency was established for the purpose of holding and financing the Labrador Island (LIL).  It is not clear if the 51 years of “Base Block Payments”, rising from $148.5 million in year 2 to $933.3 million in year 50, include the transmission costs, too,  or whether we ought to expect a second PPA.

This PPA details, in 196 pages of legalese, a host of obligations on ratepayers via Newfoundland Hydro (NLH).  In typical Nalcor fashion, no details accompanied its release.

Your attention is drawn to Section 4.2(C) (d) (pp. 37-38) regarding “Base Block Payments” which the PPA calls an “Irrevocable Obligation”.  It states:

“Notwithstanding any other provision of this Agreement, including Section 15.1, until the date on which the Initial Power Purchase Agreement Page 33 of 76 Financing is Paid in Full, NLH’s obligations to make the Base Block Payments shall be absolute, unconditional and irrevocable, and shall not be subject to any reductions under any circumstances whatsoever.” (Emphasis added).

Fundamentally, that means Nalcor can lose the Water Management case now before the Quebec Superior Court, the turbines coming from China can seize up, the water can dry up but your obligation to pay is “absolute, unconditional and irrevocable…”

Just possibly, the Consumer Advocate might awaken from his blissful slumber and report to ratepayers, on the implications for them, of this and many other parts of the Agreement.

Saturday 9 August 2014


When Governments run State Owned Enterprises (SEOS) the public have a right to be confident they will be operated professionally.  There are many ways to measure credibility, including Nalcor's.

One might be to count the number of residential style generators installed since DARKNL. Just recently, I saw one group of workmen lift a monster version onto a concrete platform for a private dwelling.  It was attached to a 146 gal. fuel tank!  Is this the low point of confidence in Nalcor? I pondered the question doubtfully.

Another benchmark might require the evaluation of how Nalcor’s senior management treats the public. Are they respectful? Do they treat the public like the the shareholders they truly are? 

Off the top, I suggest SEOS should be more than non-partisan; any politics ought to be minimal. In the same way you never hear of the CEO of the Newfoundland Liquor Corporation bolster any but the policies of that Agency, so, too, has that been the case for CEOs of Newfoundland Hydro; until now. 

Monday 4 August 2014


If the hot summer sun is making you testy, you’ll get no shade from the Government’s Oversight Committee on Muskrat Falls. 

The Committee released its first Report last Thursday, July 31st.    

Partisans will say Muskrat critics can find nothing right in this project; I suggest the latter profess the hope they are wrong.  But, hope has a spiritual undertone; a large construction project is a purely commercial undertaking, one to which hope is supplanted with solid planning, analysis and oversight, too. 

On March 26, 2014, following Tom Marshall’s establishment of the bureaucratic oversight committee, I wrote a post entitled: WHY MUSKRAT OVERSIGHT COMMITTEE IS A FARCEIt noted: “… the Premier eschewed demands for project reviews when he was both Minister of Finance and Natural Resources. He supported Premier Dunderdale’s position on ‘oversight’ even as he watched his colleague, Jerome Kennedy, bolt the Cabinet over the issue.” 

Given Marshall's long held refusal to acknowledge the importance of oversight, it was difficult to see how a Committee, one not independent of government, could effectively function.