It wasn't long after we arrived that I engaged with the local PC's as I had been with the Conservatives since 1991. Danny Williams was premier, and the place was unabashedly nationalistic (which I could've done without). However, he suddenly resigned as soon as he'd pushed through Muskrat Falls, and the party was calling for contenders - although in reality it was fulfilling a backroom deal to put Kathy Dunderdale in place (not so affectionately referred to as "Danny Williams' flack jacket - meaning she was to take all the "bullets" from his actions). I put my name up to run because I was convinced Williams' Lower Churchill scheme was the financial death nail for the province. For my trouble I was roundly accused of being an uppity "come from away" and/or "mainlander". And still am.
I realized quickly that corruption was rampant throughout the PC party, and tried to warn people. They would not listen. In fact, Paddy Daley, a local radio "shock-jock" host even stated that Ministers demanding pay back donations was "just the way it is". The same host would later refer to me as "a dangerous zealot" for opposing the Muskrat Falls development. Curiously, he now advocates for donation free politics and puts across many of my views from our discussions on Muskrat Falls without much acknowledgement they were never his. In any case, the point is that the political culture of the province was so rampant with corruption that people never took it as such. It was just "the way it's always been".
Once the people of the province started getting the idea that they shouldn't go along with corruption, and they became concerned about Muskrat Falls, they turfed the PCs out and elected the Liberals. The Liberals promised the moon and the stars to people, and the people ate it up. Less the half a year later the province was in open revolt because the Liberals broke every promise they made - blaming the PCs for ruining the province and that the provinces economic position was something "nobody could have seen coming". This a typical saying here. Nobody could see it coming. The reality is anyone with half a brain could see it coming from a thousand miles away let alone one. It was that obvious right from the very beginning, but people just refused to see it. They refused to educate themselves on it. They said we trust the government. We trust the "experts" the government paid and paraded. It was so obvious what was happening yet apparently too difficult to believe by most.
Then, while the fight over finances and the Muskrat Falls project raged, the government, media, and people in general went after the "known Critics" (as the government labelled those of us in opposition to their plans). It got personal. It became an effort to debase those that stood in their place for the truth, and the actual real issues of the direction the province was headed in were tossed to the wind. The best way I can describe it is from a scene in a children's movie called Ice Age. It's the part where the small group of animals desperately try and stop the DoDo birds from going "lemming mode" until they are all extinct. It's this part:
It may not be the most serious way to put it, but you get the point. A small group of people who could clearly see what the government was doing, and the peoples complicit agreement with it, were ignored and marginalized as everyone around them took a flying leap.
You would think that eventually people would catch on - preferably before it's too late, however, that never happened. In fact it is still going on. The most recent case of the protests in Labrador. Just days before the Aboriginal leaders met with the new Liberal government to "try and stop" the flooding of the reservoir, and thereby avoid methylmercury poisoning of their people, the Nunatsiavut Government (Inuit) President said this:
"Unless all vegetation and soil is removed the threat to our health, culture and way of life remains. Nalcor should also be directed to delay plans to begin initial flooding...to allow for the removal of trees, vegetation and topsoil. Initial flooding is expected to take place within days, and once you flood the land the damage has been done. There is no turning back".
That was October 20, 2016. You can read the release here
And a week before that statement the Nunatsiavut President said this: (you can find the press release here
"The concerns over methylmercury contamination is rea, and to proceed with flooding without fully clearing will clearly violate of human and indigenous rights. This project has to be stopped now before it's too late."
After meeting with the Premier for eight hours or so, the Nunatsiavut Government position became:
"As part of their response to the review of the engineering reports, the three leaders reiterated the principles that were committed to during the October 25 meeting, namely: that the protection of human health and well-being would be paramount in decision-making related to the Muskrat Falls project; and – with respect to first-phase impoundment – water levels would be raised to the minimum acceptable level if such impoundment was deemed necessary, and drawn back down to normal levels as soon as the risk of ice damage had passed...
The leaders also insisted that the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador actively communicate with them on Nalcor’s management of this issue, including regular and timely information on all facets of initial flooding, to demonstrate that concrete actions are being taken to minimize impacts to human health." (you can read it here)
As you can see, the Aboriginal leaders completely capitulated, even at the risk of their own people being poisoned further with methylmercury. The claim that the government would "actively communicate" with them prior to flooding was proven totally laughable when the news release was put out after flooding of the reservoir was actually taking place. By the time the release was published flooding of the reservoir had already caused water levels to increase by 7 feet. It's just another example of the hundreds of examples I've witnessed here in the last six years of this province's political establishment, including Aboriginal, selling people a bill of goods that is so obviously flawed that they can't even keep a short term story straight.
What does all this lead to. Well, there is the issue of the province's finances. The death nail if you will. The collective gross debt of the government, including Nalcor's debt, is in the $29 billion range. The governing Liberals came out yesterday and said the province would be back to surplus by 2023-24. What that means is they will be borrowing for another six or seven years, and that is if you take them at their word - which hasn't turned out well in the past. Nevertheless, an additional 6 years of borrowing to fund the government's operations and its capital budget will see about another $12 billion added to the province's gross debt for a grand total of $41 billion dollars - not including any further cost over runs with Muskrat Falls.
As astounding as that number is for 510,000 souls to carry it doesn't end there. You will find on this blog any number of posts that refer to this province's "demographic time bomb". The truth is that not only does the province have the highest gas prices in the western hemisphere (North and South America), but it has the fast aging population in the Western World. As it is today, only 30% of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians make enough money each year that they must pay taxes. The cumulative effect of all these different factors means that this province financially is a "dead man walking". There is no way out. There is no plan. There is only accountability for a lost decade of spending left, and that accountability will rest on a very small percentage of the province's population. In other words, anyone with half a brain that earns a decent income, and can transfer that expertise outside the province will.
So, bottom line, this province is politically and economically irredeemable. In other words, it can not be fixed. Politically the people refuse to do more than complain incessantly. They do not rise up in a way that would force the political establishment to reform itself. They seek simply to get whatever crumbs they can out of it. It is that simple. That sums up the political culture here, and that is why people of actual integrity are viewed with suspicion and tagged with innuendo. Ditto financially. The various boards of trade swooned over the previous governments, and the current one, to get their hands on that oil money that flowed freely from the government's coffers. They rewarded first the Pc and now Liberal party with generous donations to get their feet in the door. They set up and financed PR campaigns to promote the Muskrat Falls project and marginalize those that wisely opposed it. And now? Now they are crying so loudly it is almost laughable. Cut civil servants, and spending on programs and what ever you can they scream, but don't cut our little bit of the gravy...ok? This is Newfoundland and Labrador in the nut shell.
No doubt, and I can hear it now: "You are so negative"; "If you don't like it get out"; and "Mainlanders trying to tell us what to do." That's the culture of unaccountability that pervades society here. Whether it's something as large as Muskrat Falls or something as small as blaming a neighbor for all your troubles. It is everywhere here. And that is the great undoing of this place. The refusal to learn from past mistakes. The refusal to be held accountable for past mistakes. The refusal to be responsible. It is inescapable, and it is everywhere in this province. It is the fatal flaw of Shakespearean lore. The province eagerly awaits its next pied piper. It's next saviour. That is what truly makes Newfoundland and Labrador irredeemable. This will be my last post on Newfoundland and Labrador politics, economics, or anything of the sort. It is futile to waste the energy God gave you in a lost cause.