25 July 2013

Bubbles and the Politics of Neener-Neener-Neener #nlpoli

Kathy Dunderdale called Bill Rowe on Wednesday [via daveadey] to have one of her periodic core dumps on what is going on in the universe.

When the talk turns to Muskrat Falls, there’s this truly bizarre moment. She told Rowe about having a chat at some provincial premiers’ gathering with Dalton McGuinty and Jean Charest about how they might work together to bring Gull Island power to Ontario, through Quebec. 

According to Dunderdale, Charest lamented the cost of the 1969 power contract on the relationship between Quebec and its neighbour Newfoundland and Labrador.  Charest warned their fellow premiers against the sort of bickering that had gone on for decades.  Given that Charest died a horrible political death shortly after, the story has eerie echoes of Yul Brynner after he’d died of lung cancer coming back to life in a film clip to warn people against the evils of smoking.

As freaky as that story is,  that’s not the weird thing.

The thing about the Charest-McGuinty story is that Kathy Dunderdale and her colleagues had a chance in 2006 to develop Gull Island in partnership with Premier Dalton McGuinty of Ontario and Premier Jean Charest.  Develop the whole thing, Newfoundland and Labrador.  Build it and operate it and Ontario and Quebec would buy all the power at a very fair price.  The two big provinces even agreed to cover the entire cost of a new line between Ontario and Quebec to handle the extra electricity.  Come, work with us,  said the two enormous provinces.  Let us put the past behind us and step forward together in a new spirit of harmony.

In reply, Danny stood up in a news conference and told the two provinces to shag off: he and Conservatives would be doing the whole thing themselves.

And then right after lamenting to Bill Rowe the legacy of bitterness that has come from the 1969 contract, Dunderdale launched into yet another vicious tirade against the “arrogant” utility owned by an “arrogant” government that was trying to destroy Newfoundland and Labrador yet again, this time with a lawsuit.

Back in 2009, Kathy was ranting about how the same utility backed by the Charest government didn’t want to own a piece of the Lower Churchill.
I’ve been meeting with Ministers and so on. And we say to them, okay, y’know, we’ll set the Upper Churchill to one side, but, y’know, let’s sit down and have a talk about this Lower Churchill piece. Y’know, we know that we have to have a win-win situation here.
No redress at all, despite what she told Rowe about how she and her colleagues will never stop challenging that 1969 contract.  No redress despite the solemn  commitment the Conservatives made before the 2003 election that they would never sign a deal with Quebec on the Lower Churchill without redress.

Five years of secret talks,  Dunderdale told Randy Simms back in 2009.  She tried.  Danny tried.  Ed Martin tried.  And “no sir, no sir, there is no takeup on that proposal.”   Hydro-Quebec just wasn’t interested.   A few months later, in early 2010, Kathy’s boss was still ranting about the evil crowd in Quebec. The Old Man even went up-along to explain to the mainlanders about the world he lived in.

And Danny then, like Kathy on Wednesday with Bill Rowe, attacked anyone who criticised the Lower Churchill pan of the moment as a Quebec lover, as someone who always takes Quebec’s side against their own crowd. 

Listen to enough of the Premier’s conversation with Bill Rowe and you can understand why so many of her own caucus think she and her staff live inside a bubble, that they are out of touch with reality on so many levels.  They are.

Kathy and her supporters are out of touch with the reality in which the rest of us live. They live somewhere else.  You can find your way into that world if you look at her scrum from Tuesday.  Pay particular attention to the comment she made in answer to a question from David Cochrane about a possible connection between the Hydro-Quebec lawsuit and Muskrat Falls.
There’s a nebulous line, without a doubt, between the renewal contract of the Upper Churchill contract and the development of the Lower Churchill, but it is nebulous.

She says it twice in that sentence.

There’s something about that word that looks out of place.

It’s like “due diligence piece”, a classic Dunderism from 2005 when the department she was running at the time couldn’t figure out how to do a background check via the Internet on a company that got government  cash to start up only to shut down when the cash ran out.

“Nebulous” sounds like a word Kathy got out of a briefing or a briefing note.  It’s not a word many people drop into a conversation and it certainly doesn't sound like the kind of word Kathy uses herself.  Go through any of her more relaxed conversations, including the one with Rowe and you just don’t hear anything like it.  Kathy uses plainer words, which is a good thing if you want a lot of people to understand what you mean.  When she’s uncomfortable or maybe a bit insecure or threatened, as she was in that scrum, Kathy trots out a “word”.

She used “nebulous”, just as she used “due diligence piece” and like she uses jargon a lot.  She thinks it sounds smart.  The problem for Kathy is that people who use jargon or big words when they ordinarily wouldn’t, just sound like they are trying to sound smart.

Right at the start of the interview with Rowe, Dunderdale talks about how it was in 2003.  The Conservatives came into office and set about to learn everything about the Churchill river, the contracts and all of it.  They dug into as if no one else knew anything. Jerome Kennedy said much the same thing around the time Nalcor launched the “not fair, n’uh uh” lawsuit. They spent years going through everything.  Danny Williams used to say the same sort of thing, like around the time of the recession when he said that “we” were reading everything “we” could get “our” hands on to figure everything out.  Very Palin-esque.

You hear the same sort of thing whenever Kathy Dunderdale talks about Muskrat Falls and the critics.  She and her friends know it all.  Everyone else is wrong.  And a traitor.  Kathy has facts.  Everyone else doesn’t.  It’s the same core message from the Muskrat Falls announcement:  We did it.  We did what no one else could.  All you so-called smarty-pantses failed.

This is the politics of neener-neener-neener.

Having already pronounced the gloriosity, the wonderment, the accomplishment,  the people who practice this style of politics cannot ever be wrong.  They cannot be wrong even if everyone else can see they obviously are.  To admit that they were wrong about anything would destroy their carefully constructed self-image.

Decisions like that are based on anything but logic and evidence.  You can see the decision-based evidence making in the way Dunderdale or any of her allies can mingle contradictory statements like the ones about Charest and Hydro-Quebec.  Charest is both friend and enemy simultaneously.  Quebec and Ontario are potential partners ready to work together as if we never rejected their advances before. 

We have surplus power to sell to Nova Scotia and will do so, but we will not sign a deal to sell them power because we need it now or sometime in the future. 

We will go it alone on the Lower Churchill, said the Conservatives in 2006,  but if anyone wants to partner with us, we will take them in gladly.  We will sign no deal with Quebec without redress for 1969.  We will never stop challenging that hideous injustice.  And at the same time, we will carry on five years of secret talks to entice them into a deal without redress for 1969.  We must put the past behind us and work together.  We cannot tolerate the arrogant bastards.

Cathy Bennett supports the Conservative Party and its policies. Until last year, she sat on the board of the company building Muskrat Falls.  She did not split with the Conservatives.  She does not criticise them.  She agrees with them. 

Naturally, Cathy Bennett wants to be the leader of the Liberal Party.  When asked, Bennett insists she has always been a Liberal.  Even when she was funding the Conservatives in 2007 to wipe the provincial Liberal Party off the map.  Big Liberal.

Muskrat Falls is a “complex interweaving of multiple businesses cases”, Bennett told the world as she launched her leadership bid.   Remember what her Conservative patrons told the world when they announced Muskrat Falls in 2010, while Bennett sat on the Nalcor board. They talked about a “revenue stream”, about exporting power.  The connection to Nova Scotia would break the legendary stranglehold the untrustworthy “Quebec”.

And when a decision in Nova Scotia threatens the route by which we are supposed to run our Labrador power to the rest of the world,  free of the arrogant utility,  the web evaporates.

“Muskrat Falls in and of itself was a deal designed for the benefit of Newfoundland and Labrador first. So the intention was that it was to give us a source of clean, stable energy that will meet our needs today and help us deal with what we have to deal with at Holyrood,” she said.
“We could spill the rest and it would still be the lowest-cost option for us. So what’s important to remember is the sale of that excess hydro to Nova Scotia or elsewhere is a bonus, and that the project doesn’t rely on it.”
We were never really going to export the power anyway.  The people of the province will pay for the whole thing.

Muskrat Falls is not a complex interweaving of multiple business cases.  Muskrat Falls is an intricate web of rationalisations, of self-delusion, of internally contradictory babbling. It is both the product of and an emblem of the type of politics that has dominated Newfoundland and Labrador for the past decade. It survives in a symbiotic relationship inside the bubble alongside those who created it.

One cannot live without the other.

One may kill the other.

How long before the bubble bursts?