08 October 2010

Public too stupid to understand

Apparently, deputy premier and natural resources minister Kathy Dunderdale believes firmly in the public’s right not to know what she’s up to.

She told an audience in Grand Falls-Windsor that “[i]t is probably wiser not to share information because people don ‘t understand the analysis that has to go into it once a proposal comes up, you have an obligation to do an analysis on it.”

Dunderdale was referring to the problems that resulted when the people of the province learned she and her cabinet colleagues were entertaining a proposal from a bankrupt company to take over the Grand Falls paper mill the provincial government mistakenly expropriated in 2008.

The province doesn’t want to comment any more on who the proponents may be, said the minister, given what happened with the Lott Paper incident where that news was revealed in the media.

“Once bitten, twice shy,” she said. “It underlines why you can’t share information, even though people ask the questions and they want to know.

In late June, Dunderdale told reporters that Lott, a German paper company, was interested in taking over the mill. What she didn’t tell the public – and apparently didn’t know – is that the company filed for bankruptcy protection in a German court.  Bond Papers posted that information two days after Dunderdale’s comment to reporters.

Confronted with the new information, Dunderdale’s department stuck to the original story and added that she was still waiting on a proposal from the bankrupt company.

Talks broke down however, with the company accusing the provincial government of overtly politicising their business proposal.

At that point, Dunderdale changed her story.  The proposal would have come from another, related company and not the one she had named. As it turned out, the proposal also wasn’t about making paper. And even though the provincial cabinet apparently wouldn’t entertain cash subsidies, Dunderdale and her cabinet colleagues were entertaining a proposal that reportedly included a request for more than $50 million in provincial cash.

Dunderdale also told her audience in Grand Falls-Windsor that she would be asking the nine companies that had expressed an interest in central Newfoundland wood to resubmit proposals.  None of them measured up the first time.

The most common proposal Dunderdale mentions is one to turn top quality trees into wood pellets.  While Dunderdale seems to downplay pellets because they don’t produce enough jobs, the reality is she is still thinking about pellets.  Everywhere else, pellets are what you make out of the sawdust and scraps from other high-quality wood product manufacturing.

But for all that, Dunderdale apparently thinks the people of Newfoundland and Labrador are too stupid to understand what she’s doing. Maybe what Dunderdale is really afraid of is that they understand all too well and that the only way she’ll survive any longer is if she keeps them in the dark.

Of course what else would one expect in an administration where the Old Man refuses to deliver his own campaign commitment to protect whistleblowers.

- srbp -