11 May 2012

The Comprehension Constant #nlpoli

Premier Kathy Dunderdale seems to have a chronic problem of saying things that are not correct and also saying things she does not mean.

This is not just a poor imitation of George W. Bush.  Kathy Dunderdale is in a league of her own.

Regular readers know some of the better examples:

  • a violation of the public tender act had nothing to do with the public tender act. (2006)
  • a bankrupt German company that she still held out as a likely prospect to take over the former AbitibiBowater mill in Grand Falls-Windsor (2010)
  • federal job cuts that she dismissed based on numbers that were a fraction of the actual numbers that were available publicly (2012)

The latest one happened on Thursday in the House of the Assembly. In response to a question about the Nova Scotian review of the Muskrat Falls project, she said:

Mr. Speaker, what happened here in Newfoundland and Labrador was the government directed the PUB to do a review of Muskrat Falls, answering the burning questions that have been put forward, the two questions that were put forward by the Opposition day in, day out, day in, day out in this House. We took their questions, Mr. Speaker, and referred them to the PUB.

Well, no. 

The people opposed to Muskrat Falls haven’t posed two questions.  She is apparently confused with Jerome Kennedy.  He’s the fellow who likes to talk about two questions:

  • Do we need the power? and,
  • Is Muskrat Falls the cheapest option to deliver the power?

But that isn’t what the provincial cabinet asked the public utilities board to do.  Here is the exact wording of the question posed to the PUB in the terms of reference in a section called, oddly enough, “The Reference Question”:

The Board shall review and report to Government on whether the Projects represent the least-cost option
for the supply of power to Island Interconnected Customers over the period of 2011-2067, as compared to
the Isolated Island Option, this being the " Reference Question".

Not the reference questions – plural – but the singular reference question, without an “s” on it.

The PUB was supposed to compare two options and determine which one was cheaper.


No determination of the need for power.

And under no circumstances was the PUB to look at anything but the two options presented to the board in the question set by cabinet.

To give a sense of how limited a mandate Kathy Dunderdale’s cabinet gave to the board, note that  they told the PUB explicitly that the board could not consider what would happen to the electricity not used in the province nor could the board look at any aspect of the line to Nova Scotia.

Now the Premier was speaking in the House of Assembly during Question Period so you might cut her some slack for thinking on her feet.  But, this is not a new subject for her and the question was pretty lame.  Dunderdale shouldn’t have been rattled enough to make a statement that was simply not true on a number of fairly obvious points. 

Dunderdale’s comprehension and communication problems didn’t end there:

What is happening in Nova Scotia is a bill before their Legislature that will allow the Government of Nova Scotia to set up an inquiry in the same manner with the same kind of – to be able to set parameters in the same way that the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador is.

The Maritime Link Act is significantly different from what happened in Newfoundland and Labrador.  For starters, understand that, as the Premier should have known, the Lower Churchill project is entirely exempt from the PUB jurisdiction thanks to a decision by the Liberal administration of Beaton Tulk in 2000.

What’s more, Dunderdale and her cabinet sent the PUB a specific review of the project and dictated the terms under which the PUB would operate.

The MLA makes the Nova Scotia-Newfoundland link subject to the utilities board’s jurisdiction and the Public Utilities Act.  The Nova Scotia cabinet will make regulations under the MLA, but they will do that just as they would for any other piece of legislation.

There’s no question Kathy Dunderdale often says things that are not true.  One question that remains is why she does it.  The bigger question, though, is what problems her misunderstanding and incorrect statements are causing.