Here's to the crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers, the
round pegs in the square holes... the ones who see things differently -- they're
not fond of rules... You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify
them, but the only thing you can't do is ignore them because they change
things... they push the human race forward, and while some may see them as the
crazy ones, we see genius, because the ones who are crazy enough to think that
they can change the world, are the ones who do.

Steve Jobs
US computer engineer & industrialist (1955 - 2011)

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

A Time for Courage

There has been so much said about Muskrat Falls. Various experts have tossed out numbers, proposed alternatives, and vetted the costs associated with this project. Political hacks from each Party have tried to destroy their opponents. The media has dutifully reported on each twisting and turning curve like a soap opera. Instead of factual contemplation many have centered their focus on marginalizing each other. Yet in all the chaos that has made up the Muskrat Falls debate one thing has been clearly missing - the bottom line. Who will make the money. Which corporations are driving it. Who are the players quietly maneuvering the project from behind the scenes. What is the payoff, and who will be getting it.

The nasty, dark side of what is being spun as some sort of nationalistic mission to revenge the Upper Churchill. and as one player would say, "be masters of our own destiny". Rock Solid Politics will be releasing a series of blogs this week on the corporate history, and the players. Enriching oneself has never been reserved for any particular political party, and the Muskrat Falls story is no different.

This week in the Telegram Editor Russell Wangersky scribed what I believe is one of the most courageous and overdue editorials I have seen describing politics in Newfoundland and Labrador today. I call it courageous, because to shine a light on the banana republic - feudal politics of Newfoundland and Labrador is to immediately invite scorn and marginalization. I call it overdue, because it is so truthful that it amazes me other press outlets have not done the same. The real story of Muskrat Falls starts Monday, but please take a moment and read a very special column by Russell Wangersky reproduced below:

Williams proves the point

Somewhere, the gods of irony are having themselves a great big chuckle, or maybe even a belly laugh. Late last week, former St. John’s city manager Ron Penney and former Public Utilities Board head David Vardy wrote a letter to The Telegram talking about Muskrat Falls.

It was a letter that was relatively moderate in tone. The guts of it? “What we need is the most robust and thorough review possible, and the consumer advocate should be given all the tools he needs to ensure this is the case and that the public interest is protected.”

Seems reasonable.

Vardy and Penney also chided those who have private concerns about the massive project, but prefer to keep those thoughts to a gentle backroom murmur: “We know there are many knowledgeable people who have strong reservations about this project but, who, for personal reasons, are reluctant to make their concerns public. It is now vitally important that they make their concerns public while there is still time to influence this decision.”

Once again, seems reasonable. If you’ve got something to say, say it publicly, while it still has some kind of chance to have an effect.

But apparently that’s not reasonable at all, according to former premier Danny Williams, the original architect of the Muskrat Falls project. The CBC tracked him down

to get a comment or two, and Williams was obligingly offensive.

“I’m very disappointed in Dave Vardy's comments, and the kind of nonsense that he’s getting on with,” Williams blustered.

“Basically (they are) saying that it’s a small community and people are afraid to speak out. What kind of garbage is that?” Williams said. “To try and sort of taint it with some insinuation that people don’t want to speak out on this is absolutely absurd and it’s irresponsible.”

Oh, and, by the way, it’s true.

Because if you do speak out, you’re speaking, um, irresponsible garbage and absurd nonsense.

I’ve spoken to a series of business people in this city who are unsure about the project as a whole, decidely concerned about the current process that seems to trundling along with all the decisions effectively already made, and yet are absolutely determined not to say one single public word.

They’ll phone and tell you issues they’d like to see addressed, they’ll ask questions and explain their concerns, but they start every conversation setting the ground rules — not one single thing they say is to be attributed to them in any way.

Their fears?

That they’ll be singled out and publicly lambasted — something we all know happens, and which Williams himself, even in premierial retirement, is once again living proof of — and more sinisterly, that their businesses will be affected.

Will their businesses be affected? The fact is, the provincial government has a long arm in this economy and no business person worth their salt will harm their own opportunities if there is even the appearance that speaking publicly will bring corporate repercussions.

Does that appearance exist? Well, it must: otherwise, companies doing consulting work for the provincial government would not feel it necessary to buy whole tables of seats at party fundraisers. The same business people who aren’t talking publicly about Muskrat Falls also aren’t talking publicly about being telephoned by party representatives — telephone calls where the business people are told how many seats they are expected to buy for specific events.

Clearly, there must be some concern that there’s a direct line between your actions and corporate repercussions.

It may not be a legitimate fear that if you speak out against Muskrat Falls, your business will be affected.

But one thing is for certain: if you do speak out on Muskrat Falls, there’s a good chance you’ll be publicly roasted.

It’s ironic that Williams not only decided that the Vardy/Penney letter was more strident than it actually was, but that he also had to then go out and prove that what they hadn’t really said was actually true.

You could not make this stuff up.

Russell Wangersky is The Telegram’s editorial page editor. He can be reached by email at

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