22 February 2012

Dip-Flop Fly #nlpoli

Twitter flame wars between cabinet ministers and Dale Kirby over Muskrat Falls.

Surely Darin, Jerome and Clyde have better things to do with their days.

Then again, maybe not.

But at the heart of the whole flare up was Lorraine Michael’s theatrical delivery of a letter to the public utilities board on Tuesday explaining she would not be making a presentation on Muskrat Falls.

Like they really gave a flying frig in the first place.

Right after she handed the envelope to someone from the utilities regulator, Michael took some questions from reporters.

Michael is in a bit of a political jam, you see.  Tuesday’s little bit of a show was a way to try get out of it.  Michael campaigned during the last federal election alongside Jack Layton.  The provincial and federal NDP supported a loan guarantee for Muskrat Falls.  Good for Newfoundland and Labrador (votes), as it seemed at the time, and definitely good for some votes in Nova Scotia.

That was then.

This is now.

In the meantime, public sentiment in the province has shifted against the project.  Lots of people - lots of significant people – have turned up lots of significant problems with the deal. While Michael went along with the whole thing back in 2011 when she was the lone Dipper in the provincial legislature, she now has a caucus to contend with.  Some of them don’t like Muskrat Falls.

Hence the softening of official Dipper support for the project.

But Michael still can’t get away from the unions.  They love the project.  Lots of public dollars to employ lots of unionised members and potential union members. 

Want to know how strongly the union support the project?  Check any comment by federation of labour boss Lana Payne. And when the unions want something, their political wing – Lorraine’s bunch – will have a hard time opposing them.  All of this allows for big internal divisions in the NDP caucus and that’s without getting into the egos and the ambition.

Part of what you saw in the Twitter fight on Tuesday was the Tories pounding on a wedge issue: the NDP position on da Falls.  And they were hammering the wannabe leader, Dale Kirby.  He gets on Tory nerves, big-time, for a whole raft of reasons.  There were lots of school-boy taunts about getting him in the House where people would see the Dippers for what they are.  Yada, yada yada, blah, blah, blah.

All that bravado doesn’t get away from the fact that the only caucus more fractured than the Dipper one is the Tory crew.  They’ve got splits over the fishery and the budget and Muskrat Falls.

What’s more, Kathy Dunderdale has no control over her cabinet, let alone her caucus. One day after she says that people have to put their egos aside and stop playing the blame game so everyone can sort out the fishery, former fisheries minister Clyde Jackman is out there playing the blame game on province-wide radio. 

So amid all the bluster and fury on Tuesday between the Tories and the Dippers lots of things were not as they seem.

Go read Lorraine’s letter, for example.

In effect, it is a submission to the commission review of the Muskrat Falls project.  You see, if Lorraine really didn’t want to participate in the whole exercise she just wouldn’t have shown up in the first place.

Instead she says that a presentation wouldn’t allow her to outline the NDP concerns. Then she outlines them without having to face any questions from the panel or Nalcor. 

Oddly enough, the Liberal Party’s natural resources critic managed to sit in front of the commission and lay out substantive concerns.

In the letter, Michael states the NDP criteria for a successful project;  economically viable, environmentally sustainable and beneficial to the province. Like anyone would propose an economically foolish and environmentally destructive project that would screw taxpayers to the wall.

And in the letter itself, she doesn’t say that the provincial NDP think the whole idea of the project is nutso.  Lorraine basically says that there isn’t enough information and that there should be time for a more detailed review.

“We are not yet convinced…”

She doesn’t say “not convinced”.

Lorraine says not yet convinced.

The Big Tories who have come out against the project are saying they want a proper process.  That’s so they can’t be accused of betraying the party.  No one can mistake their meaning though, even if the actual words are soft. They know Muskrat Falls is ludicrous.

The NDP use coded language, too.  But notice the difference between the Tory code and the Dipper code.  With the NDP, you really can’t see an unequivocal rejection of the project.  Lorraine left a hedge in her letter, the letter that is a submission to the review while claiming it isn’t a submission.

The one thing you can’t mistake though is the political turmoil in the province at the moment.  If any of it erupts into the open, this could be an amazing year in local politics.

- srbp -