06 October 2012

The Last Refuge #nlpoli

Call them the Dam One Percent.

Call them Dan-Dam Style.

Call them Millionaires for Muskrat.

Call them MFers, with tongue firmly in cheek.

The business people who back Muskrat Falls are now writing letters to the newspapers and forming political action groups to show their support of Muskrat Falls.

Like nobody knew that people like Nalcor directors Cathy Bennett and John Steele, former Nalcor chair Deanny MacDonald, and Labrador businessman Peter Woodward didn’t love the Muskrat Falls project already.

What’s most interesting about the onslaught of Muskrat lover is the arguments they use in favour of Muskrat Falls.

None of them – not a single one – explains that they support the megaproject in business terms:  return on investment, profitability, revenue stream or in any analytical terms.

They all speak in emotional terms.  They all rely heavily on mistaken assumptions and, in at least one case, the argument is founded on completely false information.

Start with the earliest letter, from Chris Collingwood.  He claims that the people of the province are “nervous and apprehensive”  about “moving forward” with a megaproject.  This is an unfounded assumption on Collingwood’s part.  He likens it to Hibernia.  Some of the strongest critics of the Muskrat falls project were people who negotiated the Hibernia project and who have been directly involved in the province’s energy sector for decades.

Collingwood refers to “final numbers” even though he ought to be aware that the ones he is talking about – the Decision Gate 3 estimates – are just that:  estimates completely with an allowance for 30% variation.

Once we have those “final numbers” that are not final numbers, Collingwood argues that we can get on with the project and “can get out from under Quebec’s stranglehold”.   Since Collingwood’s  “stranglehold” comment is based entirely on misinformation,  it is almost laughable that he implies that opponents take a position that is “uninformed and based on emotion or politics”.

It’s almost as funny as the business friends of the Hibernia project who lobbied furiously in favour of Meech Lake not because it was the right thing to do but because they were shit-baked Ottawa wouldn’t support the project financially.

How wrong they were.

Then there’s the letter from Rob Crosbie.  He talks about “final numbers” that aren’t really final, the need to “put politics aside”  and “act strategically”

“Muskrat Falls is an opportunity to demonstrate to Canada and the world, the visionary, tenacious people we are.”

But on how the provincial government will bear the the debt load that goes with it and meet growing demand for services with a declining revenue base from oil, the possible sources of revenue from Muskrat Falls,  selling electricity below cost, and the prospect for long-term profit or anything else that would be genuinely “strategic”?

On those things, Crosbie is absolutely – chillingly  - silent.

And then there’s Cathy Bennett.  For her, Muskrat Falls is a “bold move”.

She refers to  a “complex interweaving of multi-business cases,…” that underpins the project to her mind.  But she does not discuss even the tiniest part of any of those business cases. Her comment is nothing more than the appalling collection of words smashed into a processed chicken-nugget of flavourless nothing.

Instead of reason, Bennett relies on fiction to explain her support for Muskrat Falls

As I stood on the ground in Churchill Falls, I reflected that its story, too often, shackles us to the past.

Instead, it should enable and empower us to feel more accountable to get things right.

Implicitly, we oppose the project out of fear.  This is nonsense, of course, or at best Bennett has no evidence to justify the belief just as, apparently she has no sound business reason for backing Muskrat Falls.

Perhaps the most unsettling part of her letter is what she holds out as the reasons why she rejects fear and endorses Nalcor’s project:

We built Churchill Falls and we keep it running today.

We built and managed Hibernia, White Rose and Terra Nova.

That is true, but only if by “we” Bennett means people other than us.

Brinco, a private sector company, built Churchill Falls using expertise from companies like international engineering company Bechtel.  While Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro keeps the plant running, and a few original employees might be left on the payroll,  they certainly can’t be said to have build it. 

And Hibernia, White Rose and Terra Nova?  They are all projects built, owned, run, managed and otherwise directed by international oil companies without any input from any individual or group that we the people of Newfoundland and Labrador might possibly recognize as “we” in the way Bennett evidently meant it.

The people of Newfoundland and Labrador – “we” the people who will be forced to pay for this project  - can take no comfort from the fact that provincial business leaders can’t use facts to support the leaders’ case for Muskrat Falls.

These business leaders obviously have not conducted any sort of reasoned, thorough assessment of the “business case” for the project.  If they had done so, they would be able to tell us the results of their assessments. The fact that after two years some of them believe we don’t have enough information only confirms that they actually haven’t looked at what information is available.

What they have given us is a hodge-podge of fiction, misinformation, falsehoods and truckloads of sheer nonsense.  Imagine if they made decisions about their own businesses and their own money on such a basis.

Incidentally, Dean MacDonald believes that all of these people, who have been active in provincial politics for decades, haven’t been involved and should come forward to play a greater role. 

Think about that.