Publication:

The Gulf News (Port aux Basques) - 2020-03-25

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Let’s keep Muskrat Falls on our radar

Opinion

Bob Wakeham Bob Wakeham has spent more than 40 years as a journalist in Newfoundland and Labrador. He can be reached by email at bwakeham@nl.rogers.com

What with the blanket, 24/7 news coverage of this catastrophic illness the world is facing, it’s possible, I would think, that some local types enduring the most everlasting type of castigation (I speak of Danny Williams, Ed Martin, et al.) would be overjoyed to discover that the endless commentary on their “misguided” creation and management of the Muskrat Falls project would come to a virtual halt, losing his place of prominence in the Newfoundland psyche to the coronavirus. That old adage, “it’s an ill wind that doesn’t blow anybody some good” comes to mind. Well, I’m here on this weekend — not having had the opportunity last weekend to deliver my immediate spin on Justice Richard Leblanc’s report on that Calamity on the Churchill; to do my part, as relatively extraneous as it might seem, to ensure the condemnation remains alive and well. As it should. First of all, of course, the report may prove to be just the beginning of a long, drawn-out legal process, given that Dwight Ball (looking uncharacteristically tired and ragged last week, his retirement plans still intact, but being forced to try his best to appear premier-like and sing a swan song on the virus and Leblanc’s verdict), has asked the cops to investigate the possibility that laws were broken during the Muskrat fiasco; that it was more than just a boondoggle and extended beyond mere arrogance and stupidity. I don’t need to repeat the nuts and bolts of the report here — the public has gotten the message. But I’d note that even though Leblanc’s overall findings were not all that surprising, especially to anyone who paid even token attention to his inquiry’s deliberations, it was the blistering and unequivocal language he used to describe the actions of the Muskrat operatives — including politicians, civil servants and Nalcor executives — that Newfoundlanders (one can only hope) will long remember. It was a shocking assessment that reinforced just how disastrous the project was from the outset and continued to be so throughout its white elephant history. As we all know, Danny Williams retired shortly after placing Muskrat Falls in the shaky hands of his successors (Danny devotees all), departing for the lucrative grounds of Galway and his dilettante-like role in local professional hockey. He was not in the corridors of authority and power as the project wandered its “unprincipled” (to use Leblanc’s word) way towards the financial nightmare it has turned out to be. But Leblanc certainly made it clear it was the Williams administration that “was determined to proceed” with the project, “and failed in its duty to ensure that the best interests” of the province’s residents were protected. And, look, Leblanc may not have had the mandate to say it, but all Newfoundlanders know full well that Muskrat was Williams’ baby. He was its progenitor, and gave God-daddy status to Ed Martin at a time when even his most ardent fans acknowledged that his was a oneman government; that it was Danny’s way or the highway, that he wanted things done his way or not at all. And the bulk of the Newfoundland public loved his domineering personality and felt he could do no wrong, that he could walk on water — even the Churchill River (they would have gone willingly over the falls in a wooden trap skiff if he had given the order) — failing to realize, at their peril, as it turned out, just how unhealthy such a behind-the-scenes autocracy can be. Even after Williams left politics, his spirit remained, his popularity embedded like cement among the vast majority of the residents of this gullible land of ours, and it was such blind faith in his infallibility that kept the support of Muskrat Falls continually high, allowing and provoking, I believe, Kathy Dunderdale and company to adopt the politically advantageous (but short-sighted and downright stupid) philosophy of damn the torpedoes, full steam ahead. Danny had wrapped Muskrat in pink, white and green, waving the patriotic flag in Quebec’s face. The Newfoundland populace cheered and the politicians followed — like obedient sheep — the former premier’s lead. There were a few outspoken, prescient (as it turned out) souls wondering aloud about the repercussions, short and long term, of Muskrat Fall; those malcontents, those traitors to the Newfoundland cause, those naysayers, as they were described by Williams and his disciples and those who continued to carry out his mission, the gift to his legacy. But it is those “bottom-feeders,” the Ron Penneys, the Dave Vardys and others, to whom Newfoundland history will be generous whenever the topic of Muskrat Falls arises. It will verify that they were among the few to realize the emperor was sans clothes, that he was skinny-dipping beneath the Muskrat Falls. As for Williams, Martin, Dunderdale, Gilbert Bennett and the rest, Muskrat Falls will stick to their bios like tar, and it won’t be pretty. This coronavirus, unprecedented and frightening as it might be, will eventually come to an end (and I, for one — putting this in myopic and self-centred terms — will be able to feed my addiction to sports again.) But Muskrat Falls will be with us forever and a day. Its illness will never dissipate.

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