23 August 2011

Venus in Furs: Muskrat Falls edition

There’s a kind of political writing that makes you squirm.

On the face of it, and in isolation, a sentence can be perfectly correct.  The problem comes when the politician, political staffer or bureaucrat puts that perfectly correct statement in another context where it’s purpose is to make other stuff that isn’t so correct seem better.

Think of it as the reverse of guilt by association.

The good sentence makes the bullshit seem better than it actually is.

You can find an excellent example of this sort of writing in a statement Kathy Dunderdale issued on Monday about a sooper sekrit visit by two New England governors this past weekend to tour the Churchill Falls hydro plant.

It was sooper sekrit because Kathy didn’t bother to issue any sort of notice that the two governors would be dropping by.

That way no one could ask them any pesky questions.

Kath just got to send out a bullshit statement telling us what these two fellows may well have thought.

In any event, here’s the sentence:

Creating revenue from our development of the Lower Churchill with the sale of excess power, and doing so in a way that maximizes benefits to the people of Newfoundland and Labrador, is an exciting prospect.

As sentences go, this is one that not even its mother could love.

It’s passive, for starters.  We don’t know who will find that creating revenue is exciting.

Then there’s the phrase “creating revenue”.  Blech!  Truly horrid.  “Creating revenue” sounds a bit like it means making a profit when it could be as simple as bringing in some cash even if it is a lot less than one needs to pay the bills.

Then consider this revenue will come “with” the sale of power.  Not through the sale, as in,  getting cash as a result of selling power, but “with”:  as in, creating revenue goes alongside of and may not be connected to the power sale.  Don;t ask how.  this is just looking at the words.

Once you get beyond that, there’s that little subordinate clause stuffed in the middle:  “and doing so in a way that maximizes benefits to the people of Newfoundland and Labrador”.

What exactly does it mean?

Whatever it means, though, the sentence seems to be saying that selling power from the Lower Churchill would be exciting.

Not is.

Not will.

But would be.

It’s a prospect, after all and prospects are things that are indefinite.  Uncertain.  Conditional.

And that certainly is true:  selling power from the Lower Churchill would be exciting. People have dreamt about it for decades in this province.

The only problem is that any sale of Muskrat Falls power outside the province using Kathy Dunderdale’s scheme will be a gigantic money loser.

Electricity is forecast to be so cheap  - outside newfoundland and Labrador only - that the incredibly expensive stuff from Muskrat Falls will only flow outside the province’s borders if the taxpayers of the province carry the whole cost and a handsome profit for the two companies involved.

Yes, selling power like that would be exciting, if only in a Marquis de Sade kind of way. 

Masochists everywhere would sign up for that in an instant. If you tossed discount video of flogging in on top of the pillaging of household bank accounts needed to prop up the little scam, you could probably make more money from the Internet porn rights than you would from selling Muskrat Falls power to New England.

But anyway, the truth of the sentence is still there – somewhere – and it appears in the government’s news release in order to make the rest seem better.

How can you be sure?

Because the last sentence in the release piles on the raft of reasons why Muskrat Falls must go ahead:

But it only complements the reason why we are developing Muskrat Falls – to meet our own electricity needs in the most cost-effective manner and to stabilize rates over the long term. Job creation, attraction of industry, and the creation of significant income for business, not to mention the environmental benefits, make this development the right one for our province and one that the rest of the country and North America has its eye on.

Yes, folks.  The only thing Muskrat won’t do is cure cancer.

Give it time, though.

It wouldn’t surprise your humble e-scribbler if a Nalcor release popped up one day promising amazing health benefits from Muskrat.  it’s about the only thing, the megadebt project won’t do.

After all, as you should know by now, people who push megaprojects over-estimate the benefits and under-estimate the costs.

- srbp -