24 February 2011

Whiff and poof #nlpoli #cdnpoli

Labrador member of parliament Todd Russell is not popular among Conservatives in the province. The reason has more to do with Russell’s unwillingness to kiss the Old Man’s derriere since 2003 more so than the fact Russell is a Liberal.

Russell made the news in Newfoundland and Labrador on Thursday as a result a virtual town hall he held.  Basically it was an opportunity for Russell’s constituents to discuss the proposed Muskrat Falls project using a giant conference call.  This was a big call, according to Russell’s office, with dozens of people who got a chance to speak, dozens left on the line when time ran out and a couple or so thousand people participating overall.

Here’s how Russell summarised the views he’s been hearing to a reporter at the Telegram:
“They have expressed their opinions around environmental issues, about economic issues, social issues and cultural issues. The overriding concern that’s come to light is that no thought has been given to meet the needs and aspirations of the people who own this resource, the people of Labrador,” he said.
Not surprisingly, one-time Conservative party executive director Mark Whiffen took some time on Thursday to explain to CBC’s Peter Cowan what he thought of Russell and Russell’s concern to ensure the people of Labrador benefit from the project:
“if Todd Russell doesn't see the overall benefit then he isn't a good MP.” and “there will be long-term benefits to Labrador. They all may not be direct, but they'll be there.” and “also, Lab is benefiting from offshore oil - not off Lab's coast, but no one cares. It's 1 province. Shame an MP can't see that.”
Yadda, yadda, yadda.

It is so easy to spew out a bunch of talking points and Whiffen’s tweets are a fine example of the enthusiastic but decidedly insubstantial nature of the partisan talking point.   Someone else joined in the exchange at one point but the general thrust didn’t change much.

But just notice that not just accepting those benefits, especially the indirect and undefined ones, makes one a bad member of parliament.  Asking for more, presumably,  would be naughty.

Naughty, naughty, Todd.

Makes you wonder what a Conservative might say.  Well, a Conservative other than Whiffen who is not, quite evidently, either from Labrador or very familiar with the issues as seen from the perspective of someone who lives in the Big Land.

Why what about someone like John Hickey, currently drawing a cabinet minister’s pay and rumoured to be organizing a run for the federal Conservatives in the next federal election?

Back in 2002, Hickey took part in a massive anti-Lower Churchill rally organized by the guy who would one day deliver the starting bits for the Muskrat Falls project.

Here’s how the Telegram (December 4, 2002) reported Hickey’s comments at the rally:
He said they want to see a development fund set up for Labrador and a plan for long-term sustainable development attached to the project that will bring new industries to the region.
Hickey was even more forthright in his insistence – back then, of course – that not one megawatt of power should leave Labrador until local were met.  As the Globe reported 9 December 10, 2002:
Mr. Hickey said the community of Happy Valley-Goose Bay can only acquire 55 megawatts from Churchill Falls and has been stymied in its attempts to bring in industries such as an aluminum smelter because of uncertainty about the electrical supply. 
Mr. Hickey was one of several Labrador business and political leaders who met with Mr. Grimes two weeks ago and demanded that any Lower Churchill agreement contain a clause that would allow Labrador communities to obtain 500 megawatts of power for future industrial development.  
"I've got a message for Mr. Landry: 'you aren't going to get a megawatt of power out of Labrador until our needs are looked after,' " Mr. Hickey said.
That was then, of course.  Hickey’s been notoriously silent on the project and whether or not the existing proposal meets the standards Hickey set back in 2002.  (Hint:  it doesn’t). But if you look at Hickey’s view you can see it is pretty much along the same lines that Todd Russell is talking about today. There’s none of the vagueness of Whiffen’s comments.

So is the former Conservative party executive director going to be supporting John Hickey in the next federal election or is John already branded as a naughty boy in Conservative circles for expecting more for Labradorians than the island Conservatives are willing to cough up?

Hard to say at this point but this little exchange does go to show the problems that come when you only know the TPs and not the wider context. 

- srbp -