18 August 2009

Great Gambols with Public Money: The Stunnel

Normally, governments in Newfoundland and Labrador don't turn to the freakishly large, insane, totally whacked out, over-the-top, no-evidence-to-support-it kind of ideas until, like the Peckford crew, they are at the end of their time and have run out of all the good ideas.

That's what happened with Sprung, basically.

Smallwood didn't get into them - including the Stunnel, incidentally - until he was at the end of what for most people would have been a normal political lifespan.

Some, like Wells, for example, never got into them. Tom Rideout, Roger Grimes, Beaton Tulk and Brian Tobin just weren't around long enough for the air to get a little thin in the New Ideas department.

Not so with the current crew.

They endorsed a tunnel across the Straits of Belle Isle from Day One. They even commissioned a feasibility study of the whole idea even though - on the face of it - the thing just didn't add up.

Well, the nutty ideas haven't gone away. The stunned tunnel - or Stunnel - is good enough to get ministerial junkets to Norway and prompt the odd letter to the local papers. No word, incidentally, from transportation minister Trevor Taylor on what he found out from his fact-finding mission to Norway.

Take a look at that letter to the Telly by the way and you'll see all the classic warning signs of megaproject proponents. You got your gross and unsubstantiated claims of benefits and pretty much no talk of costs, risks or alternatives.

Don't take Dave Rudofsky's letter in isolation, by the by. It comes hot on the heels of a mention for the project in an interview the Premier gave to yet another safari journalist. If the Big Guy is still talking about these things, others will take the cue.

Megaprojects are like the crack cocaine of ideas: all hype, buzz and spin and a great feeling on the way up.

Followed by a hideous crashing sensation when the high wears of and reality returns. They are highly addictive too, especially in places like Newfoundland where there has been so much of this crap going on that short-term memories have been affected. In Newfoundland (not so much Labrador) some people can't remember what they did politically yesterday so the peddlers of the nuttiest of schemes can find a willing buyer for their wares.

Way back in those early days, your humble e-scribbler took a look at the whole Stunnel idea and put some numbers on it. Since the nutty idea never went away, here's the link to that again for your mid-August reading enjoyment.

And if you want something even better, try Megaprojects and risk, a devastating study of megaprojects by three Scandanavian academics. One reviewer described it as "a warning against the betrayal of public trust when hubris and profit come together." The book could have been written in Newfoundland and Labrador.