26 October 2016

Truth and Reconciliation #nlpoli

Long ago, so long ago no one remembers when, they did away with Virtue in Newfoundland​ politics.  To be on the safe side, they slit the throats of her twins, Truth and Justice, and tossed the little corpses on top of their mother's still-moving body before leaving the three in a shallow, unmarked grave in the woods.

Newfoundland politics is a daily metaphor of that Original Sin. This fall, we are seeing the crime repeated everywhere with more people drawn in than ever before. Such is the power of modern media.  Such is the state of democracy that mortal sin, like political power, is no longer the exclusive domain of the rich and powerful.  Everyone can get their taste.

There is no monument to Virtue and her murdered children but if Muskrat Falls is ever finished, we can perhaps use it to remember what happened, who was involved, and why.  That is the only way you can reconcile,  the only way you can sincerely balance the accounts  - financial, historical, political - one with the other.

Des Whalen is president of the St. John’s board of trade.  Des unveiled a debt clock on Monday.  This is the board of trade's new campaign against the provincial government's staggering debt burden.  Des isn’t interested in truth and reconciliation.  This is no time for pointing fingers, Des told reporters.  No need to blame anyone. Let's just deal with this debt before it bankrupts us all.  Let us deal with this before someone comes and takes our government away from us.

Noise from Muskrat Falls and the current round of protests drowned Des out in the news lineup.  There’s a delicious irony in that since Muskrat Falls accounts on its own for $15 billion of new public debt.  Altogether we are somewhere around $29 billion in liabilities according to the information in the Auditor General’s reports. The Board of Trade doesn’t include that in their tally, for some silly reason. Likely it has to do with the truth of Muskrat Falls being a wee bit too inconvenient for its members to reconcile with their current debt-aware position.   

There are other ironies.  Or are they hypocrisies?  Anyhow, Des is the current chair of the only business association in the developed world to vote against free markets and free enterprise.  They did it in 2012 with their endorsement of Muskrat Falls.  A key element of the project is the monopoly on power wholesaling given to Nalcor.  Otherwise people could find cheaper electricity elsewhere, you see.  Cheaper electricity is everywhere and if you had half a click in 2012 or even in 2010 you could have seen that.

If people found cheaper electricity, Nalcor could not deliver the guaranteed increase in electricity rates needed both to pay off the loans and give the government the "revenue stream" Nalcor promised.  The board of trade supported Muskrat Falls because some of its key members were from Nalcor. Other members thought they could make a fast buck off the public treasury and well, the rest just went along with the whole thing because everyone else was backing Muskrat Falls too. 

Muskrat Falls is the most expensive source of electricity for the province that anyone could find.  The board of trade supported the project without noticing what it would do to electricity rates, how doubling electricity rates in the province would make local business less competitive and less profitable. We have seen the result already as one ice cream manufacturer shut it doors to consolidate off the island, where costs will be cheaper.

You can see why Des and his crowd might not be interested in truth even as the Great Reconciliation looms over his head. At least, they have made a nod to the humiliation we would face having lost self-government twice in a century to financial incompetence.  Last time, we were headed for the financial rocks, the St. John's Board of Trade were among the loudest voices crying for the British to take away our government.  Take a break from democracy is how they put it.  Thinking only of themselves, the little shits thought that a British-appointed government would just keep the gravy train running for the local business community and cut off the people outside town who were not fit for running a government in the first place. Never mind that, in truth, it had been the little shits and their little shits that had actually been running the place.

They got a rude surprise.  When the government money stopped flowing to their pockets, the board of trade turned against the Commission government. The condemned it at every turn. The final straw for the old townie elites was when the Commission allowed people from Labrador to vote and, worst of all to some ways of thinking,  set the rule that a member from a district to the National Convention had to live in the district. At that point they started the nonsense about a conspiracy to deliver the country to the Canadians.  

Basically, they were like Trump now:  faced with certain defeat, they did everything in their power to spread the lie that the whole thing was fixed.  You can still hear echoes of that these days. If you haven't read Greg Malone's account of Confederation, by the way, pick it up if only to go through the part where he condemns the Commission policy.  A travesty to Greg's way of thinking since it kept the best and brightest of the country - that is, townies - from controlling the Convention and the country's agenda once again.  Greg could run for public office following in the footsteps of another television comedian turned politician.  You can see the slogan: Make Newfoundland Great Again.  

Anyway,  the noise from Muskrat Falls carried over into Tuesday.  Lots of people involved with the circus that is the protest talk about truth and reconciliation but that has more to do with political fashion than any reality. The truth is that the government and protesters agree on most things.  Both want Muskrat Falls to keep going, at all costs.  It is the greatest make-work project in history and there are still lots of bucks to be made.  They are also not that far apart on methylmercury, either

The current crisis over Muskrat Falls is like everything else about that mess and about the public debt:  we got here because the folks behind it did everything but tell the truth, whether it is about their objectives or - in the case of New Democrats - what their actual position is or was. The truth is that they never really did anything to stop it, not when they could have had a chance of success.  In the beginning,  the local Dippers wouldn’t speak out against the project because it was popular and because the Dipper government in Nova Scotia would get free electricity from it.   Later on, they only made out like they opposed because, after all, the thing was still popular.

On Twitter,  folks in the south are playing out their own agenda, which may only coincidentally have something to do with what the people of Labrador are concerned about.  There are all sorts of self-described experts on there, each of them as knowledgeable about events in Labrador as Brad Cabana is an expert on events in the Middle East. Incidentally, bored reporters turn up all sorts of weird stuff as they kill time.  Finding out that English-language Russian television uses Brad Cabana as an international affairs expert has set the bar pretty high on bizarre for the foreseeable future.

In many respects, the current crisis *is* a crisis because the provincial government made it so.  Dwight Ball's half-assed effort to resolve the occupation,  his half-assed excuses when reporters ambushed him sneaking back from a quickie trip to Florida,  and then the complete lock-down of the Confederation Building for a simple meeting seem like actions designed to make a simple situation worse.  The heavy-handed security arrangements, entirely unnecessary in every respect, just confirmed the perception many hold that Ball is not just weak but frightened.  

This post is finished at around 10:00 PM Tuesday night.  The meeting is still going on and thus far there is no sign it will end soon.  There is a possibility the thing can end positively.  Indeed, the longer they talk the more likely it is that the provincial government will cave in to demands to do more clearing of the reservoir area before final flooding.  No matter what happens, though,  we are only a few days or a few weeks away for another crisis likely related to the budget and likely exacerbated by political fumbling.  This is the political curse that has followed Newfoundlanders since the original sin.


The original version of this post was a draft that included repetitious sections that didn’t fit together properly.  It was a raw version and should never have seen the light of day.  SRBP apologizes for the error. 

This edited version contains all the major elements of the original and remains the post as intended.