20 November 2017

When a change is not a change: the NDP and Muskrat Falls #nlpoli #cdnpoli

One newsroom.

Two different interpretations of  federal NDP leader Jagmeet Sing's position on Muskrat Falls.

In Sarah Smellie's online story,  Singh had a few concerns and is "not comfortable" with the project.
But he didn't outright condemn the project. 
 "Right now I'm concerned … I'm concerned about those two pieces and I want to make sure that those are addressed. I'm not comfortable with a project that doesn't have those things addressed."
Yet,  in the story that went to air,  the provincial NDP were opposed to the project, as provincial leader Lorraine Michael had always been according to the voice-over.

New Democrats bobbed their heads up and down approvingly because that is the story they want us to believe.  It is the story they fervently believe in their own hearts:  Lorraine Michael and the NDP have always opposed Muskrat Falls.

The problem is that the story isn't true.
For starters,  the NDP in this province is very much tied to the national body, unlike the other two parties in the province.  There's a division in both the organisations and in the philosophies, the latter of which can differ quite substantially.

But that's not the root of this issue, nor does it really describe the change here.

The federal NDP endorsed a loan guarantee for the Lower Churchill long before it became Muskrat Falls.  That's significant because all of the issues about First Nations land claims,  the environment,  and even the need for the project existed before Muskrat Falls turned up as the project.  No one raised a peep about any of those things politically, although they were well known.  It's basically the same as the way the provincial NDP under Jack Harris and later Lorraine Michael facilitated all sorts of provincial Conservative ventures including massive overspending.  All the parties in the province did:  no party gets away without blame.

Once Muskrat appeared,  nothing changed provincially or federally on the loan guarantee. The fact that there was an NDP government in Nova Scotia made it virtually impossible for any New Democrat in this province to say one teensy word against a deal that saw free electricity flow south.  Huge benefit for Nova Scotians at the expense of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians,  and just to reinforce the point this wasn't an aberration, in 2011, the provincial NDP wanted to increase the benefits flowing to Nova Scotians through tuition at Memorial University.  It is a sizable benefit,  as SRBP noted in 2013.

Like every other party, the NDP was basically practising a bit of retail politics with the tuition freeze and on the whole Muskrat thing they were governed by the internal politics of the party such that they couldn't reject a minority NDP government in Nova Scotia.

They also couldn't bite the hand that controls it by rejecting a project favoured by the unions in the province.  After all,  Muskrat Falls would turn out to be a massive boondoggle for union members.  Imagine what would have happened if any New Democrat in this province had spoken against doubling electricity prices because of the impact on fixed and low income earners in the province (as was the plan from the beginning) when thousands of union workers would therefore be deprived of the chance to earn the exorbitant wages Nalcor has been paying at Muskrat.

Your humble e-scribbler collected yet another example this past week of the extent that Muskrat is a cash-cow for everyone on the site.  How many heavy equipment operators do you know who are pulling six figure incomes?  It's nice work if you can get it but the idea that the benefits of the project are only flowing to white collar workers and the business community is just not true.

But from a political standpoint, it's hard to see how Lorraine Michael as leader of the NDP could have bucked the two saints named Jack AND the unions for a pesky thing like doubling electricity rates and the public debt.

The NDP locally started to raise a few peeps once the party lost the government in Nova Scotia but that union thing still loomed large.  That's why, in 2012,  the provincial NDP basically took the position that Muskrat was okay but the government just needed to slow down a bit. That was basically Lorraine Michael's position in the House in December 2012 during the great filibuster that wasn't.  Go ahead with the project,  but be careful.  Don't be quite so hasty because you might shag up like you did in 2008.

Here's Lorraine in her own words:
I am terrified, Mr. Chair, that is what it is. It is not that I want it to fail. I am terrified with the speed; I am terrified with the way in which we are being asked to make decisions, having had these documents in our hands for such a short period of time. I am terrified that we not make a mistake like the one they led over Abitibi and the mill, where just a little wrong number in a latitude and longitude definition helped this Province buy a mill they did not want to have. No, I do not want it to fail; I want us to slow down so it will not fail.
Slowing down meant giving people a chance to make sure their were no little shag-ups like in 2008 and by shag up in 2008,  remember that Lorraine and her colleagues didn't have any objection to expropriating private property based on a political fraud,  stripping away the right to sue without any compensation, and of rigging the compensation for the companies affected by the fraud.


On principle, all that abuse of rights and democracy was perfectly fine.

The mistake was in rushing so that the government got a cesspool of a mill in the bargain.

She didn't even notice that,  as officials explained in the private debrief the opposition parties got,  the government expected the company to bankrupt, which meant that the taxpayers would be stuck with the liabilities anyway.  Nor did she mention that, as it turned out, Abitibi ditched its liabilities in Newfoundland and Labrador - thanks to the political fraud endorsed by both opposition parties - AND didn't go bankrupt.  Meanwhile, the taxpayers of this province picked up Abitibi's obligation to its pensioners and got stuck with the liabilities for environmental issues dating back to 1909.

The expropriation was a sweet deal for a multinational company,  but not for the people of this province, but Lorraine had no problem with that.  She was just fussed about a relatively minor aspect of the big scheme.  Procedural stuff.

In that respect then,  Singh's statement in the province last week wasn't an actual change of position at all.  As Sarah Smellie reported Singh's own words, the party has a couple of concerns.  But he won't condemn the project. In other words,  the NDP is fine to let it go ahead but they just want some tweaks or have some things they think need a bit of attention.

The spin that the NDP have changed tunes or that the party has always opposed the project is a recent fabrication aimed at winning over converts to the party now that Muskrat Falls looks like the mess it always was.  The timing of the NDP change in how they want to appear on Muskrat is also convenient since it is long past the point of stopping, anyway.

The more things don't change

So, yeah, the NDP is acting like all other parties in the province, which is nothing new either. And the conventional media operates like it always has as well.  They get stuff right and they get stuff wrong.

This post is not a condemnation of either:  it just establishes that what you see reported is often not accurate.  The reasons the news is sometimes not accurate have as much to do with how the media operates as anything else.  Political parties know that and work with it.

Fact checking is tough and it is even tougher when the standards they might be looking for on Muskrat would be a clear "I love it" statement from Lorraine.  You won't find it but,  somewhere along the line some editor might have asked where the statement from Lorraine was in November 2010 (when the thing started) or in December 2012 (the pro forma sanction date) where she said "This is wrong and must be stopped now."  You won't find that either.

Here's the thing, though:  if the absence of the positive statement is supposedly proof the NDP never endorsed the project,  then the absence of the negative statement is proof the current claims are untrue as well.  No?  it is basic logic and that alone makes the CBC story about huge shift in position just wrong.

What you have here is closer to the truth than anything else you will hear and the reasons offered for it as as true as any account you will find unless someone inside the party starts leaking transcripts.


For the record:

1.  When you fact check the other opposition party in 2012,  you find precisely the same sort thing.  In the Liberal case, there is fairly obvious gap between what Dwight Ball said then and what he claims he said now.  Making up stuff about the past is not just happening in the political parties.  It is a wider social phenomenon that SRBP drew all together earlier this year:  Muskrat, Risk, and Memory

2.  There's a lot to say in this about Newfoundland's political culture, which is a topic too big for this post or maybe this blog.  The draft on political culture that flowed out of this hit 2500 words with ease.