01 November 2012

King Kop. Kennedy Kop. #nlpoli

Expect to hear a lot more in the next couple of days about a comment Jerome Kennedy made on CBC Radio’s Crosstalk on Wednesday.

The reason is that back in the spring Kennedy said this to CBC about the opposition parties and debates:

"The problem right now is that I'm not sure these opposition parties are going to provide quality debate on anything," Kennedy said at the time.

Now his tune is different:

…And at that point, I was more critical of critics that I am today," said Kennedy.

"And I became very open to the debate as a result of the PUB's failure to make a decision."

Jerome wasn’t alone in voicing that extremely arrogant and condescending view back in the winter.  Kathy Dunderdale has said the same thing and much worse.  Arrogant and condescending is the Conservatives’ favourite approach and they keep going back to it over and over and over again.

Jerome said a bunch of other things – quoted in the CBC story – that suggest that maybe the government has changed its tune.  After eight years of the most petty personal crap imaginable, a lot of it perpetrated by Kennedy and Steve Kent and others like them, it’s hard to believe they have suddenly become democrats.  You can’t go from making scurrilous personal attacks on the critics one day and the next acknowledging their right to raise questions in the public interest.

Well, you can’t switch like that without people considering the switch is just not believable.  Kennedy, Dunderdale and company have helped to create poisonous political environment across Newfoundland and Labrador since 2003. It will take more than Kennedy’s claim that he now looks at everything logically for people to believe that he has changed his spots.

The thing is, you see, there is no objective sign the Tories have changed anything at all in either their objectives or their methods.  Take Darin King’s letter to the other two parties in the House about the upcoming debate.  Here’s the rules as we have dictated them, to paraphrase King’s letter.  Accept them now, without question and we will get on with the debate.

Arrogant and dictatorial.

Hyper-aggressive and hyper-partisan

The same old crap.

The one thing that joins Kennedy’s comments and King’s letter together is the key to understanding that Kennedy isn’t really signalling any substantive change in the way he and his colleagues will behave.

They just want something.

They want the debate.

They don’t want just any debate.  They want one that is limited to what they want.

You can find a  big clue to what Kennedy is up to right there in his comments on CBC:  he changed when the PUB didn’t deliver the endorsement that Kennedy wanted.

Remember what triggered the racket with the public utilities board?  it was a deadline.  The board wanted more time.  The provincial government – via Jerome – said no. 

The reason for Jerome’s refusal was key:

“We need the report March 31. The premier has clearly indicated she wants the opportunity for debate in the House of Assembly,” Kennedy told The Telegram Wednesday.

He stuck to the same argument a month later.  And what “debate” were they looking for?  Well, it wasn’t a special sitting of the legislature.  The Tories sent the public utilities board a set of guidelines designed to produce an endorsement of Muskrat Falls.  That endorsement was supposed to be the foundation of any talk about the project in the House.  But remember that the talk would take place only during the course of the budget debate and other discussion.

With that wrapped up, the provincial government would have approved the project and moved on. The PUB was supposed to be part of the manufactured, rigged process the provincial government would use to give their project a veneer of credibility.  The government would not submit the project to a genuine regulatory  review.  A previous Liberal government had saved them of that concern and the Conservatives were happy to keep the details of the project to themselves.  If anyone complained about a lack of transparency and accountability, the government could just point to the PUB “review” as proof everything was great.

Problem was that the PUB didn’t play ball.

So the provincial government changed its tune in the twinkling of an eye.  Then Jerome came up with the idea for all these special “reports” for the special debate they had previously rejected.

As it turned out – no coincidence – a hired consultant delivered the “endorsement” of Muskrat Falls the Conservatives originally wanted from the PUB but couldn’t get.  The provincial government also has a bunch of other reports they commissioned to back up their claim that they have examined the alternatives to Muskrat Falls. 

The scenarios for things like wind are entirely contrived, of course.  They only have to look plausible to the punters as they are rolled out in news conference after news conference after news conference.  Muskrat Falls is a done deal.  The reports are just props.

The grand finale is supposed to be a show in the House of Assembly to replace the one that didn’t happen last spring..  The Tories don’t want a genuine debate.  They just want a show. They need something to end the pounding their popularity has taken because of Muskrat Falls.  To try and get their way, King is playing the bad cop. Kennedy is trying to play some sort of bizarro good cop. They are both backed by an orchestrated legion of voices online who want to just “get on with it.” 

The strategic problem for the Tories is that they only stand a chance of winning the Muskrat Falls war  if they get their way on the House “debate”.  Anything else – including no formal debate at all –  is a loss for them and a victory for the opposition parties.  Kennedy’s switch of messages is a sign of both just how desperately the Tories need this “debate” on their terms and just how unlikely it is that they will get it.