Shoot the messenger. When you haven’t got the goods to support your own argument, it’s probably the most popular method to deflect attention from your own shortcomings.
That seems to be where we’re heading with the Muskrat Falls debate, adding a whole new layer of waste-of-time to a complex, multi-billion-dollar project that, depending on your perspective, is either a boon or a blowout.
There are those who suggest that the real failing in media coverage of the project has been in the area of investigative journalism; that there has been no single, clear-cut issue involved with Muskrat Falls that would immediately anchor either misgivings or their support.
The thing that always fascinates me about those who call for more investigative reporting is that, invariably, they’ve never really done any themselves.
Why? Because it’s difficult, long-term work involving tonnes of paper or electronic records, all of which has to be reviewed extremely carefully to find the devil in the details. Often, you do hours of dull, particular work uncertain if the devil’s even in there. You cultivate sources with disparate scraps of material that often aren’t even significant to the sources themselves, so that you and they are searching blind.
And it can all leave you empty handed. The fact is, there isn’t always a smoking gun.
But you’d have to lever yourself out of the comfy critic’s armchair to actually realize that, so it’s easier just to sling out innuendo about “work not being done” instead of actually doing a bit yourself.
Reporters and editors at The Telegram have pored over thousands of pages of documents, exhibits and reports on Muskrat Falls — not just in Newfoundland, but with agencies as diverse as Manitoba’s Public Utilities Board and with nuances as delicate as the U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s rules on energy transfer.
There’s been work on shale gas and on the declining price of electricity exports to the United States, an examination of what the cost of Muskrat Falls power will really be once it’s delivered to the Avalon — a dizzying amount of complex information.
CBC has done similar work. While Richard Cashin may feel comfortable accusing CBC’s David Cochrane of giving the government an easy ride on Muskrat Falls, I certainly wouldn’t agree. Other CBC reporters have also turned over a large number of rocks trying to find new material on a project that’s been covered to the point that a significant part of the population doesn’t even want to hear about it anymore.
If anything, the problem is that there is too much information available — so much, in fact, that the difficulty is spotting the most significant and realistic problems out there amongst everything else that’s being thrown around.
Is there work still to be done?
Of course. There will be plenty more work, especially when the provincial government finally gets around to releasing the Decision Gate 3 numbers, the newest (and most accurate) financial numbers for the project. There’s also work to be done on a couple of glaring leaps of faith in the current debate — for example, the clearly bogus claim from the government that it doesn’t matter if Muskrat Falls costs go up, because every other cost for every other power source will go up in lockstep.
What makes that such a false trail? Well, because of the two scenarios the provincial government has been willing to fully look at, one demands massive infrastructure investments, while the other’s costs depend on the price of oil. Significant increases in the cost of building a dam and transmission system don’t immediately result in an increase in the price of oil. It’s a hand-waving dismissal of a serious issue.
Likewise, there’s work that could be done examining both Nalcor’s argument that a province with an aging, declining population will necessarily buy more power every year — as well as whether there aren’t significant conservation steps that could squeak the province through to 2041 and cheap Upper Churchill power.
I don’t think it’s correct to say that investigative work isn’t being done.
Perhaps it just hasn’t led to what some people want to hear.
Russell Wangersky is The Telegram’s
editorial page editor. He can be reached by email at email@example.com.