05 December 2016

Mazel Tov Cocktails #nlpoli

Scottie Nell Hughes is one of the legion of ident-a-bots who turned up on news programs during the recent American election spouting lines from the Trump campaign. She's already famous as the one who gave us the mazel tov cocktail flub.  She grabbed some headlines last week for making the comment that there is no such thing as facts.

Specifically, Hughes said that "...one thing that has been interesting this entire campaign season to watch, is that people that say facts are facts—they're not really facts. Everybody has a way—it's kind of like looking at ratings, or looking at a glass of half-full water. Everybody has a way of interpreting them to be the truth, or not truth. There's no such thing, unfortunately, anymore as facts."

That's not really as crazy an idea as it might seem.  Jay Rosen has documented a number of discussions on American political reporting that hinge on the current tendency to play with interpretations as if they were facts.  He's also written about George Bush and his preference for making decisions and then rationalising them afterwards.

It's the same phenomenon really. There are no facts. There are merely interpretations. That's where politics lives.  And in a certain sense it is bizarre that reporters who, for the most part, play in the same "there are no facts" world find the idea so difficult.

What's even nuttier is what happens closer to home.  Many of the people  - including prominent reporters - who enthusiastically supported a thin-skinned xenophobic nativist land-developer with hair issues think that Donald Trump is totally whacked out.  And that stuff like Scottie Nell Hughes' comments are weird or insane.  Anyone who has been alive in this province for the past 15 years or so should understand how an entire province can run based on things that are - demonstrably - not true. People believe all sorts of nutty things around here.

The change of the governing political party in December 2015 didn't alter that world, apparently.  Premier Dwight Ball seems to be one of those fellows who makes a decision and then justifies it based on something other than facts.  Muskrat Falls is a good example.  Ball claims he decides things based on evidence yet he decided to continue Muskrat Falls despite the evidence it was an enormously troubled project with little chance of doing anything but doubling domestic electricity rates.

Ball's view of Muskrat Falls, as we have noted before, is that the project itself is great.  The problem was that the crowd who came along after Danny Williams just didn't do a good job of managing things. Ball always contended that once he got his hands on government superior management would somehow make everything right as rain.

That's precisely what you hear at the start of his interview last week with CBC's Debbie Cooper that marked the anniversary of  the November 30, 2015 general election.  "We've been able to make significant changes," Ball told Cooper,"in getting [Muskrat Falls] back on track."  Bear in mind that when Ball did the interview, he knew the project is badly behind schedule,  the costs are likely to hit triple the original estimate of $5 billion, the contract with Astaldi remains unresolved, and that, by shagging around with the construction schedule,  Nalcor has run into some enormous problems with the cofferdam at the site. 

Ball and Cooper get into a brief discussion of the impact the project will have on domestic power rates. Prices looking to double, says Cooper, accurately,  putting that against that the paltry 1.5 cents a kilowatt hour that the very tiny additional federal loan guarantee is worth when mitigating  additional increases. Well, 21 cents a kilowatt hour is the current estimate Ball says, correcting her. As if a few fractions of a penny shy of doubling isn't really doubling once you factor in all the costs incurred since that 21 or 22 cent per kilowatt hour estimate.

"I did not support this project at the beginning,"  said Ball.  "I find myself managing our way through this, realising that our energy rates have to be competitive."

Did not support it at the beginning.

Utterly false.

Here's what Ball said on Twitter at the end of the long debate about Muskrat Falls in 2012:
MF has dominated my life since election 2011. Could always support the principles of MF. Its been a fantastic wee.k 
One of the principles of Muskrat Falls from the outset was that local consumers alone would bear the full cost of the project.  Flowing from that, it was obvious even in December 2010 that Muskrat Falls would double domestic electricity prices for consumers.

During the opposition filibuster on the Muskrat Falls bills in December 2012,  Ball was no less emphatic in his support for the project:  "I have always said I hope that this project turns out to be the best thing that we have ever done in our Province."  Ball said the conclusion of the debate marked "an historical moment."

"I really believe that at some point down the road people will look at back at this evening and they will remember December 22, because I will tell you now, there is no celebration in a failed project. There will be no celebration for anybody if this project does not work. We need it to work. We will need the money that it will generate. We will need it for the power that it will generate. We will need it for the certainty that will be created."

Money that we need and certainty.  An historic moment.  Could always support the principles of Muskrat Falls.  None of that sounds at all like someone who didn't support the project. Indeed, Ball recounted in December 2012 what he'd thought two years earlier.  He'd heard about the impending announcement while driving in central Newfoundland.  He pulled the car over to the side of the road, Ball said,  listed to the details of the announcement and the term sheet.  "I will say I was quite happy to hear what I was hearing."

So Ball read everything he could lay his hands on about the project. "I can assure you the principles of the development of Lower Churchill are always something I could support," Ball said during the filibuster.  "The economic benefits that the development could create I think is a good thing. The opportunities we will have in Labrador as a result of this will be a good thing. Closing down Holyrood, as I said earlier tonight, will be a good thing. The fact that we have taken a different corridor around Quebec will be a good thing. That is the message they need to hear and it gives confidence to the people here in the Province. We need that."

Not just something Ball could support.  Muskrat Falls was something the province needed. The filibuster was not about opposing the project.  For Ball it was the chance to let everyone in the province sees the merits of the project discussed fully in public.  Ball accepted every aspect of the project wholly and without question.

Now four and six years later,  Ball appears on province-wide television and tells everyone that he "did not support this project at the beginning."  Debbie Cooper,  unprepared for the interview or unwilling to challenge Ball's claim simply let him carry on, without interruption.  This is nothing different from the way Cooper and her colleagues at the CBC or, indeed, at any newsroom in the province has handled any Premier of the province since 2003 on controversy after controversy.

Are there really any facts at all in such a world?

There are and they are as real as mazel tov cocktails.