There are times when the talk in the province sounds a bit like the soundtrack to a movie, a comedy to be precise.
On Monday, finance minister Tom Marshall sounded a bit familiar: “This is a golden age, Mr. Speaker,” Marshall said, “a golden age.”
Recall only a few years ago, Marshall was talking about Muskrat Falls like it was Bay d’Espoir: build a hydroelectric facility to supply lots of cheap electricity for industry that can create jobs for the people who will pay for it all. Now Bay d’Espoir is another story altogether, but there’s a bit more to the history that makes this click together.
Bay d’Espoir, like comparable development in New Brunswick in the 1950s and 1960s, was supposed to provide cheap electricity to spur economic development. The formula is so familiar that people in this province accept it, from the outset, as a sensible explanation for Muskrat Falls even if it makes absolutely no sense to anyone familiar with the economics of the issues involved.
This “cheap power = industry” link is why people talk about using Muskrat Falls to run an aluminum smelter or power mines, for example. Yet there’d be no reason to build a smelter here any more than a phosphorus plant, and the mines can get cheaper electricity right now by using their own generators. Still they talk about it.
Well, the mother of all these cheap power and industrial development ideas, even before Quebec started in on it, was the Tennessee Valley Authority. Established in the 1930s, the TVA was – in the words of Ulysses Everett McGill - was a plan
to flood “ this valley so they can hydroelectric up the whole durn state. Yes, sir, the South is gonna change. Everything's gonna be put on electricity and run on a paying basis. … We're gonna see a brave new world where they run everybody a wire and hook us all up to a grid. Yes, sir, a veritable age of reason.
So Tom Marshall’s golden age comment is understandable, if you put it in that context. Maybe even funnier than it was, but still understandable. Of course, you have to leave out a few things, too. Leave aside the veracity of Tom’s statements, and even leave aside the stuff he didn’t say.
But for another bit of fun, let’s just accept Tom’s claim at face value.
If we are indeed in some sort of unprecedented age of prosperity in the province, then it seems odd that Tom and his colleagues need to spend millions of taxpayers dollars to run an ad campaign telling people how great things are in the province.
Yet, that is exactly what they are doing.
The ads are supposed to “build confidence and motivation in ourselves,” Dunderdale told the throng. “We don't want everybody in our province thinking that the only things that we have here are energy and fish.”
It stands to reason, though, that people in the province, the people experiencing this Golden Age, ought to realise that things are going well. Indeed, the people of this place seem to have transformed so fundamentally due to this prosperity thing that Kathy Dunderdale herself said it in the very same speech:
“The difference in this place is nothing short of incredible,” she said. “We are no longer struggling to keep up; we are leading the pack and we're showing the way.”
As much as you can put yourself inside some peoples’ heads and figure out how they are looking at the world but, when you step back into the world the rest of us live in, Tom Marshall’s comments don’t make sense. That’s not unusual, as regular readers know.
And every time they hear Tom say something, from now on, they will probably think less along the lines of “O brother, where art thou” and more along the lines of “O brother…”, with or without the eye rolls.