A match made in ...

Bob Wakeham
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Although it's an image that might induce a province-wide upchuck, I do believe Andy Wells, Newfoundland's mouth that roars, is deserving of a big kiss on the lips from Kathy Dunderdale, Jerome Kennedy and company in appreciation for his Muskrat Falls verdict.

Of course, as anybody with even half an ear cocked to this past week's events would realize, not only will Andy be waiting until Satan's abode freezes over before he's had the pleasure of locking lips with the premier and her natural resources minister, but Dunderdale, in particular, has actually been decidedly ungrateful, unappreciative, nearly nasty, about the gift of the Muskrat Falls report presented to her by the Public Utilities Board chairman and his little gang of killjoys (as the administration views them).

The PUB "wasted $2 million," the fiery premier declared (the engaged and enraged Dunderdale seems to have turned the corner dramatically on that cool and collected persona she had implied she would maintain in the legislature, and is spiking her blood pressure on what seems to be a daily basis).

And Dunderdale also welcomed to the debate her patron, Danny Williams, the architect of the Muskrat Falls project, a deal announced coincidentally, we're told (wink, wink, nudge, nudge), as he was set to ride off into the IceCaps, land development and mining sunsets. Predictably, Danny Boy had no time for the report compiled by his own appointee (he's had this love/hate thing going with Williams forever, it seems, threatening at one point to give him a good "shit-knocking." But, in later years, he tried to appoint him to the offshore petroleum board and then, successfully, to the Public Utilities Board. Now, it could be guessed, the former premier is once again ready and willing to deliver that shit-knocking).

Also crawling out of the woodwork for Dunderdale was Williams' old cable comrade, Dean MacDonald, the man who would be Liberal king, possibly irritating some of his future leadership supporters by trying to scuttle the credibility of Wells and company and their report.

Ironically, the government should be grateful to the utilities board for providing an opportunity for the Tories to engage in an about-face of sorts, a compromise; a way to appease the multitude of citizens practically begging for more information on cost overruns, natural gas and wind options, and a debate in the House of Assembly dedicated to the Muskrat Falls project.

Right from the get-go, as anybody with half a grain of sense could see, this Muskrat Falls proposal has been a public relations disaster, a communications nightmare.

It began, as I noted earlier, when Williams hinted about retirement, while reiterating that his legacy would be incomplete without a Lower Churchill project; and then, voila, Muskrat Falls is on the table, and Sheriff Danny's roundup is complete. The two may never have been connected, but there was immediate speculation that they did, and it stuck.

Along with the premier's chair, Dunderdale then inherited Muskrat Falls and has handled it like a hot potato.

Even as highly respected former civil servants and others began to ask polite but pointed questions, the government closed ranks and became palpably defensive. Dunderdale was sticking to her guns. Damn the torpedoes; full steam ahead.

And the deeper into the muck Dunderdale sank, the more difficult it became to admit she may have been hasty, may have made the odd mistake along the way (politicians absolutely hate, with a vengeance, having to admit they might be wrong).

Muskrat was turning into a piece of political dynamite for the new premier, containing arguably enough sparks to blow her right out of her Confederation Building office.

But evil Andy has given her and Kennedy an opening. And they've taken it (although they'd never admit such was the case).

More information, more study, a legislative debate; that's what it appears Wells' report has prompted.

Now there are some who might view a debate in the legislature on Muskrat Falls as much ado about nothing, that the government will ultimately use its majority to give the project approval. Nevertheless, it'll be a time where Muskrat Falls will be on the legislative docket, exclusively, for a period of time this summer, front and centre, dominating the television and radio stations and newspapers, the media giving it more coverage than it's ever gotten before. And, surely, that has to be viewed as a healthy development.

Eventually, there might even be enough information forthcoming from both inside and outside the legislature to actually allow Newfoundlanders to say that they're OK with the project, that it's what they want, that it gives them a level of comfort.

Or, of course, they could start to realize that Muskrat Falls is a financial horror show, and that government will write off what's already been spent and look at other means of power for the island.

In any case, we have - at least during this past week - Andy Wells to thank for pushing the government in the way he has.

And he should pucker up and await the thankful embrace of Dunderdale and Kennedy.

Bob Wakeham has spent more than 30 years as a journalist in Newfoundland and Labrador. He can be reached by email at bwakeham@nl.rogers.com.

Organizations: Public Utilities Board, IceCaps

Geographic location: Newfoundland and Labrador

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  • Thanks Bob Wakeham for your no nonsense columns
    April 07, 2012 - 19:15

    I agree Bob Wakeham deserves to be commended for telling it like it is. Thanks Bob please keep the truth coming. Maybe, just maybe we will be able to have the truth aired on why our province, Newfoundland and Labrador, which was endowed by nature with a wealth of natural resources has languished in creating a vibrant economy for itself, despite the great supply of natural resources and great strategic location. Could it have had something to do with the politicians we elected down through the years and the manner in which they played the political game to enhance their own personal riches? Unless we change the way our politicians operate, we will never get ahead in this beautiful and well endowed province. We have to take a stand right here and right now and take some control over the say in the development of our natural resources.

  • willi makit
    April 07, 2012 - 11:42

    It is a disservice to the citizens of this province to politicize such an important decision. The proposed project will affect generations. Our government owes us a full and carefully considered examination of all alternatives. Forcing a decision between only two alternatives is unlikely to lead to the best choice. For our sakes, let's hope all elected representatives can take a step back, investigate, consider the implications, and make an informed decision.

  • tall
    April 07, 2012 - 11:15

    What ever the Telegram is paying B. Wakeham, double it, he deserves it !!!