Wealth of experience ignored

Russell Wangersky
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“There’s one thing to be a pundit. There’s one thing to be an armchair critic. … If the pundits have some other expertise that they can bring forward to show us where our rationale is flawed, then I’m looking forward to that.” — Premier Kathy Dunderdale, on CBC’s “On Point” on Sept. 15.


I thought about that comment from the premier as I edited another letter on Muskrat Falls for Monday’s paper — this time it was former premier Roger Grimes writing about his concerns with the project.

It was just another letter to be either ignored or dismissed by a government that seems to have made up its mind on the issue, one of a number from people who either oppose the project or question some part of the rationale that the government is putting forward.

So, here are a few of those pundits and armchair analysts, and a little bit of their expertise.

There’s Grimes — a former premier, and before that, minister of natural resources. (He’s perhaps easy enough to dismiss by those with an axe to grind about former attempts to develop the Lower Churchill, except, of course, that those are virtually the same credentials Dunderdale brings to the table.) But he’s not the only former premier to raise concerns. There’s also Brian Peckford, the Progressive Conservative premier who negotiated the Atlantic Accord — and before he was premier, minister of mines and energy.

There’s longtime former PC finance minister John Collins, a regular correspondent on the topic.

Dennis Browne is a lawyer with 10 years’ experience on the Labour Relations Board, and not incidentally, eight years as the provincial consumer advocate.

David Vardy: a trained economist, he was chairman of the Public Utilities Board for seven years, from 1994 to 2001, secretary to cabinet for seven years and a former member of the board of directors of Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro. His energy expertise was broad enough that he served on the province’s Atlantic Accord negotiating team.

Ron Penney, a lawyer and former provincial deputy minister of justice who was, as former premier Peckford points out in his new book, critically involved in drafting the compromise that repatriated Canada’s constitution. Penney also was part of the Atlantic Accord negotiating team — a team that brought in the oilfield cash benefits the Dunderdale government now wants to spend on Muskrat Falls — and he was on the Hibernia statement of principles negotiating team.

Cabot Martin is a lawyer and former senior adviser to the province: here’s a snippet of his résumé. “In 1972, he became legal adviser to the minister of mines and energy for the province of Newfoundland and Labrador with special responsibility for offshore oil and gas matters, a post he held until 1979 when he became senior policy adviser to the premier of Newfoundland and Labrador. Mr. Martin has served as Newfoundland and Labrador’s representative at the United Nations Law of the Sea Conference and on the Atlantic Accord and Hibernia negotiating committees.”

There’s Edward Hearn, a lawyer from Labrador who’s usually identified simply as a former Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro board member. It’s worth keeping in mind, though, that his expertise includes handling a case on the Upper Churchill for the province at both the Newfoundland Court of Appeal level and at the Supreme Court of Canada.

On the academic side, there’s James Feehan, a professor of economics at MUN who specializes in the impacts of public sector investment and project evaluation.

There’s engineering professor Steve Bruneau, whose interest in energy policy includes natural gas, small hydro and wind power.

There’s businessman Des Sullivan, a former assistant to both Frank Moores and Peckford. And St. John’s businessman Brendan Sullivan, a former provincial government economist.

There’s former FFAW head and member of Parliament Richard Cashin, whose energy experience includes stints on the board of directors of PetroCanada.

There’s Bern Coffey, a criminal lawyer who rose to the province’s special prosecutions office, was co-counsel on the breast cancer testing inquiry and has fought cases before the Supreme Court of Canada.

There’s Ontario-based energy analyst Tom Adams, and Brian Lee Crowley of the conservative think-tank the MacDonald-Laurier Institute, who called the project “nutty.”

Obviously, these are not complete résumés nor a complete examination of the issues each of the opponents may have raised — nor is it all the opponents.

There are also people who have yet to put their oar in, and whose opinion would be valuable. Rex Gibbons, a former mines and energy minister, for example — or Vic Young, who, as a former head of Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro and FPI CEO, could provide credible insight.

If the current track record holds true, though, they’ll be ignored or dismissed, too. And that’s a shame.


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

Organizations: Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro, CBC, On Point Hibernia Labour Relations Board Public Utilities Board United Nations Newfoundland Court Supreme Court of Canada.On MUN PetroCanada Supreme Court of Canada.There MacDonald-Laurier Institute

Geographic location: Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada

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Recent comments

  • Maurice E. Adams
    September 26, 2012 - 13:56

    MCCADDEN. See vision2041.com

  • McCadden
    September 26, 2012 - 11:35

    Congratulations to Russell Wangersky on a well-researched editorial. There are too many professionals - more knowledgeable than I am - who say that Muskrat Falls development is a mistake. My problem with the project is that I've actually SEEN Muskrat Falls personally. It makes more sense to damn off the Chaudiere Falls in Ottawa than to spend my tax dollars on this expensive project which offers no projected profits - just losses. Why isn't there a website for people opposed to this project? We need to all get together to stop Dunderdale. That or get an election called - quickly!

  • Pierre Neary
    September 25, 2012 - 18:22

    Something to be said for experience.

  • Jay
    September 25, 2012 - 18:02

    Isn't that what you're doing now?

  • Jerry Bannister
    September 25, 2012 - 16:52

    The column makes an important point, but I hope that the debate doesn't descend into an ad hominem CV war. I'm sure there are smart, experienced people who support Muskrat Falls as well. (There just doesn't seem to be as many of them). One of the problems with placing too much emphasis on the biographies and opinions of designated "experts" (however they are defined) is that it keeps the debate largely boxed into the discussion over economic parameters of cost projections, resource options, and future power needs. Debating all the fine print of the project is important, of course, but so too is debating the shifting logic of the project itself. Muskrat Falls may be about future power needs, but it is also about collective memory. Churchill Falls represents much more than the site of past or future hydroelectric projects. Over the past 40 years, the River has become deeply embedded in the province's political mythology. While the current proposal needs to be parsed and debated on its own merits, this discussion also needs to deal with the political elephant in the room -- i.e., the 1969 contract and its legacy. Consider the words of the Premier herself, in her speech to the Board of Trade last January: "There are some people, haunted by the infamous Upper Churchill contract, who see its ghost every time development of the Lower Churchill is put on the table. For these people, no project will ever be good enough and no amount of scrutiny will ever be long enough. But we must remember: Failure to take the right course of action today would be no different than taking the wrong course of action a generation ago." In framing her argument in terms of perceptions of what happened 40 years ago, Premier Dunderdale is making a political argument rooted as much in history as in economics.

  • Winston Adams
    September 25, 2012 - 14:32

    Sheldon, are you the guy with the PHD in physics? Who feels superior to engineers? I guess you can define engineering as a trade. I have done some research on the application of efficient heating here in Nfld. Not sure if this is still engineering, maybe so. My point being, with lots of energy a foot outside of the house structure enevelope, why build something to bring energy from a thousand miles away, at much higher cost, and with reliability issues. That the Efficiency optiion is valid option which is being ignored. Perhaps your knowledge of the physics of this entitlles you to comment and confirm the vality of this as an important option and alternative. Perhaps your expertise can enlighten the readers, in all seriousness, as most , even many engineers , unless working with heating systems, are puzzled that systems run entirely by electricity can use less than half the electricity of baseboard heaters. Bring on the physics.

  • Cold Future
    September 25, 2012 - 14:17

    Shooting the messenger seems to be all the government side has to put out there. But you can't help feel they are firing blanks. They go to Nalcor and navigant when they want advise-give us all a break. We can't wait to see what the spin is when the premier comes back from thr cap in hand interaction with the much ABD'D Steven Harper. Good luck if it all don't benefit the Feds and Nova Scotia enough. You have got to love the politics and democracy and who pays thriough the nose in the end.

    • Jay
      September 25, 2012 - 18:00

      Isn't that what you're doing now?

  • Bill
    September 25, 2012 - 13:42

    Good to see Wangersky took time from being the Liberal representative on talk shows to put this together. I need some medical advice too...should i call this bunch of lawyers for that? Thanks again for the non partisan article Russell.

  • Strickland
    September 25, 2012 - 13:06

    Unless the opposition forces can gather around a single issue and find a personality to be their public face, it will remain fractured and ineffective. It is called a credibility gap and the public is served badly on an issue as important as this one. They need to get their act together now, not for a one week debate.

    • Eli
      September 25, 2012 - 19:23

      Don't be so stund STRICKLAND, there's only a handful in opposition, or havn't you noticed, the government (if you can call it that) has a huge majority? More constructive if you asked those silent lamb MHA's to state their positions. There'd be more than one red face or yellow streak.

  • John Smith
    September 25, 2012 - 13:02

    So...if these guys started talking about heart surgery, would we suddenly all sit up and listen? These guys are lawyers, and are probably good at it...I don't know. However, when it comes to electrical generation, and distribution do we call up the lawyers? When we want surgery done do we call up a bunch of lawyers? When I want to know about electrical generation I listen to what people like Ed Martin have to say. He has dedicated his life to the business, he has access to information that these lawyers do not. He has many, many experts that thses people do not. Nalcor has enlisted Navigant, an internationally reknowned company, with hundreds of experts in electrical generation, and in building large projects, these are the people I choose to listen to when I want to know about this project. When I want to know about law, I call a lawyer, when I want surgery I call a surgeon, when I want to know about the needs and plans for power generation in NL I will go to Nalcor. Remember what Shakespare said about lawyers...

    • George S
      September 25, 2012 - 14:10

      Interesting that your speaking points contradict the behaviour of your masters again today. The Hebron deal was negotiated by lawyers representing the Government of NL and Nalcor. Mr. Martin was not present. Dept. of Justice, subcontracted millions of dollars in legal fees for this file alone. Navigant is indeed a good company. They have less than fifty professionals cross appointed to the Energy-Utilities Group in North America which would manage files like Muskrat Falls. Some are lawyers and accountants and have billed the Province/Nalcor for their contribution to the studies they were instructed to write. So, shouls we disregard their work? And what about your credentials, Mr. Smith. Dust off your resume. Where does it cite your decades of education and experience in energy? Didn't think so. How about doing what you are told? Ah, there it is.

    • William Daniels
      September 25, 2012 - 20:39

      Isn't Jerome Kennedy a lawyer? Isn't Danny Williams a lawyer? Does that mean we should not listen to them? By the way, Danny goes south for his surgery.

    • charlie
      September 25, 2012 - 21:15

      Our government appointed a beer distributor as Chair of the Board of Directors for Nalcor and Hydro. No university degree just a guy who has been selling beer his whole life. This government is not fooling anyone. This life time Troy supporter does not support this government. They are making way to many mistakes!!

    • HJ
      September 25, 2012 - 23:10

      Martin wasn't present for the Hebron negotiation George S??!! It is common knowledge he was the chief negotiator for the province. Ask anybody in the oil industry or with the government. Get your facts straight.

  • Cold Future
    September 25, 2012 - 12:17

    And then there are the many many taxpayers and ratepayers who know that: you cannot make a silk purse out of a sows ear, you cannot fabricate a justification for a project and make it a successful project, you cannot develop power for 30 cents per Kwh and sell it for 6 cents per Kwh and make it work. You cannot make untruths truths: such as, Holyrood must go because it cannot be cleaned up economically, the electricity rates will go up anyway so we might as well roll over and accept it, a project of this magnitude carries no risk, a project of this magnitude will not affect our credit rating , its a good project at $6.2 billion and therfore it is still good if it goes to $8.5 billion and higher, that we need the power but we are building it for export and on and on. And finally you can not justify a decision to proceed based on nebulouis general statements like; its for the grandchildren, its for the future, its part of the vision for the future, it cannot be monetized and on and on. Take some wisdom out of the policies of the great province of Quebec, if it can shown to be a benefit ot the people build it if not let it gather dust on the shelf.

  • Gerry
    September 25, 2012 - 12:17

    A wealth of experience indeed but at what? Excluding all the lawyers and teachers there are a few there that do have the credentials. Those few alone have raised enough points to question the need or decision to pursue MF.

  • Winston Adams
    September 25, 2012 - 11:10

    An impressive list of oppponents, mostly lawyers and economists, but not a single local engineer, and this is after all a engineering project. As a local engineer with experience in power systems and heating systems, I made a presentation to the PUB dealing with Nalcor's power demand assumptions. In essence, that with efficient heating we have the potential to reduce demand by 600 MW. And this can be done at a cost of 1/4 that of new MF power. The Telegram and most others are largely silent on this issue, although Feehan see some value in conservation. The silence by the Telegram is surprising, given the early critizism by the Telegram and others that engineers were reluctant to speak out for fear of retribution. I had hoped that my analysis would get some constructive critizism instead of being ignored. As few people actually read the PUB submissions, I hoped the Telegram would have raised the issue. My 2000 word letter to the Telegram on this subject was too long for publication. I had hoped Russsell would have used his skills to at least bring up the Efficiency argument. I have done some work for another try at getting my views published with the Telegram, but there seems little interest in this subject and its implication for our future power needs and potential savings for the residential consumer. On the ohter hand , I have posted comments on line a number of times, but this seems to be seen by a few readers compared to the Telegram paper. Perhaps, the Telegram feels my analysis is not significant, or my article was just too wordy, or that engineers opinions don't compare with lawyers or economists. Go figure.

    • Sheldon
      September 25, 2012 - 12:11

      The trades are useful in telling you if a project can be done and how much it will cost but that's where their skills end.

  • Frank M
    September 25, 2012 - 10:36

    Excellent argument Mr. Wangersky. I wish to raise a point of concern that includes several of the personalities mentioned in your article. Energy 2041 Inc. launched on August 16, nearly six weeks ago. At their inaugrel press conference (which NTV's Week In Review has replayed 3 times, most recently 3 days ago) sevarl of the company's members stated the orgaisation would have more to say "In the next few days" (Cashin, Browne and Coffey) on the areas that they were individually responsible for such as contracts and environmental issues. To date not one single additional word has come from this group. The areas that Browne and Coffey are responsible for are not dependent on the DC 3 numbers. Why has this group gone silent when They stated publicly more of the positions would come forward? It is unfortunate.

  • Water rodents
    September 25, 2012 - 09:10

    I see MRF like this. Danny had us all beating our chests, like a NBA player who just make a lucky basket, after taking shots at the prime minister, quebec and then amongst all the confusion announced he was retiring from politics, signed an MOU with nalcor and emera on the lower churchill and waltzed out the door. Everyone was shocked to learn it was an MOU on muskratfalls and not the lower churchill. It sure is quite the stimilus package for nalcor. They have spend enough money todate to pay for refurbishment at holyrood or even buy enough fuel for it for 3 years. Nalcors mandate, to me, seems to be more about their own job security. Sure, they maybe smart enough to make it look could on paper if they can control the infomation on the project. THis is no more then a private money making scheme that will be paid for by the taxpayers for the best part of 60 years. We are being sold something we already have, don't need and are over paying for it. We are seen as NLer's, with our southwester on sideways walking down the street with a pocket full of oil money. Now with our gullible new premier we are being taken advantage of. And the used car salesperson is selling us a lemon. The final thing that dunderdale and her coat tail cabinet determined was the next big important step toward MRF and latest nail in our democracycoffinwas this term 29. What a disgrace for a so called leader of an administration to have to wear. I guess like danny said....you can bring a horse to water but you can't make her drink

  • Scott Free
    September 25, 2012 - 08:08

    And, on the other hand....there's John Smith, a paid Tory wag.

  • t
    September 25, 2012 - 07:57

    Such a co-incidence, that all these well educated, experienced experts in this area should all be wrong on this issue. But they must be, as Dunderdale says it's a good deal.

  • Eli
    September 25, 2012 - 06:31

    A shame for sure. A disgraceful one to boot.