Monday, 16 September 2019


If any of the 338 Federal MPs in the House of Commons entered a race to name the “most quiet” politicians, the Newfoundland and Labrador seven would win hands-down!

For them, flying under the radar is a practiced art, a condition which may change slightly during the next six weeks of the Federal Election Campaign — though, if they are re-elected, reversion to “same ol’, same ol’” is a certainty. Even NL's Minister in the Federal Cabinet loses his tongue for extended periods, occasionally bobbing up to utter some vague assurance that he is on the job. What job is seldom clear.

The condition persists because voters believe their financial condition is generally acceptable; the large fiscal issues obscured by “I'm OK, Jack” sentiments. With the local fiscal can kicked down the road, people believing that neither ratepayers nor taxpayers will have to ante up for Muskrat Falls, and demands on MPs obscured by what constitutes Federal Responsibility — though Bill C-69 ought to resonate — the public seems less than preoccupied with public policy issues that may impact their near-term fiscal future.

The Premier looms large in this narrative, too.

Decent political leadership should be preparing the public for bitter medicine. But “decent” is far too high a standard for the Ball Administration. Partisanship, and a general unwillingness to put up any fight on anything, also puts Trudeau's Ottawa ahead of matters local. There being no evidence that they are engaged in a national agenda either, the seven MPs face no expectations except to prove occasionally that they have a pulse.

A modicum of forethought (it's not as if the date of the Federal Election was a secret) by Ball and co. would have spelled out the urgency of “rate mitigation” in particular. Back in April, the Premier's purchase price to diminish the Atlantic Accord, in favour of Bill C-69, was a mere $2.5 billion for the period to 2056: 37 years. This, in a demographically and geographically tangly, albeit fiscally irresponsible, place not eligible for Equalization!

In April, Seamus O'Regan could be heard saying: “The Government of Canada will be expeditiously working with the province to examine the financial structure of the [Muskrat Falls] project so that the province can deliver rate mitigation.” Since then, Liberty Consulting and Synapse, both Consultants to the PUB, have returned Reports containing dubious results as to the latitude available to reduce the threat of 23 cent per kWh power.

The most noteworthy of their proposals is the idea of stripping dividends due to the Province — which was always Nalcor's intention. To avoid “rate shock”, they said, as if they expected us to be impressed by their ingenuity! Emera will get paid their dividends but how the province's nearly $4 billion equity will be returned - at all - is a matter unspoken. Does anyone recall the Premier saying that the taxpayer would be liberated from Muskrat, too? There is a contradiction here, if anyone noticed!

Even the savings from Holyrood's closure — a dumb idea unless you are desperate to build a megaproject — is no longer a certainty.

There is another problem, too, that links our pocketbooks with those sleepy MPs. I refer to the coterie of Newfoundlanders who suggest that we can't invoke Federal responsibility for Muskrat.

Some even state the assertion with such force that you might wonder how we could be so unkind to Ottawa.

An enthusiastic desire to fall on one's own sword would be commendable if, in the same breath, they removed cheque book from tight grasp, confirming their responsible, possibly even generous, nature.  But, alas, it's only talk.

Most of those blokes haven't even figured out that Budget balance alone is highly improbable. Or that Budget balance and rate mitigation, barring social chaos, is impossible.

This Blog could invoke, as it has done frequently, Federal complicity in the sanctioning process of the Muskrat Falls project and, therefore, justification for Ottawa's cheque. That — giving notice to the timid and the partisan — does not suggest that Williams/Dunderdale/Martin and their ilk are less complicit than first supposed. It's just that on a cock-up of Muskrat's size, there is a lot of blame to go around. And Ottawa's complicity is visible to all, if people want to see it.

Related to this post:
Federal Complicity: The Untold Story of Muskrat Falls (Part I)

A Debacle and the Federal Government's Role in it (Part II)

When NL Needs A Heavyweight There's Only Shamus O'Regan

That said, if Dwight Ball had even a modicum of spine, he would have (publicly) prepped Seamus and the other members of the Silent Seven as they boarded their Air Canada flight for Ottawa each week. As it stands, the Federal Election is upon us and those MPs — and the Premier — have allowed Federal Finance Minister Bill Morneau to maintain the vagueness that saw the local Liberals kick off the provincial General Election.

There is no cure for what ails Premier Ball. The voters told him as much in May. But unless the $200 million share of “rate mitigation” for which the Feds have been fingered forms part of the additional $706 million Muskrat operating requirement in 2020, this place is in a really tough spot.

If the Federal Minister eventually comes across, be sure to check the nature of the commitment, especially its duration and from whence it comes (i.e. will the sum be assigned to your great-grand-children to pay?).  

But, first, just be wary of more pleasantries from the Federal Finance Minister (and from the Silent Seven, too).