Wrapping a muskrat in the flag

Bob Wakeham
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If you didn't know differently Monday evening, you'd have sworn CBC reporter Lee Pitts must have had an inkling that the announcement of the Muskrat Falls sanction he was introducing live was going to be wrapped in the Newfoundland flag, exploited with a nationalistic fervour that would make an elite propagandist proud.

Pitts told us - his television audience - that we were listening to the "Ode to Newfoundland" being sung by a choir in the background just as the curtain was being raised on the Muskrat Falls show in the lobby of Confederation Building.

As most of us were aware, it wasn't the "Ode," but "O Canada" we were hearing at the time (I gather from a piece in The Telegram that the "Ode" did make its way into the program, along with some Christmas ditties; perhaps there was even a version of "Good King Wenceslas," as in Good Queen Kathy Wenceslas struggling through a mid-December cold snap to deliver an $8-billion present to the peasants: dirt cheap electricity rates for eternity).

We should cut Pitts some slack for the minor miscue, though, because Newfoundland patriotism was heavy in the air as he started his "hit" after "Here and Now" (and, I would presume, "The NTV Evening News") were hijacked by the government, having scheduled its extravaganza for exactly 6 p.m., just in time to give the two television broadcasters little choice but to relinquish valuable news slots to an unedited Premier Done-Deal and company.

Joey Smallwood once said Confederation was the best thing to ever happen to Newfoundlanders, "other than life itself," and Kathy Dunderdale was trying to convince the province Monday night that Muskrat Falls was in the same existential orbit, God's latest gift to poor Newfs everywhere.

And her government pulled out all the stops, putting on a Tory dinner theatre show: music and political thespians, a menu of fried muskrat, smothered in nationalistic gravy and stirred up by rantin' and roarin', true Newfoundlanders. An appearance by Gordon Pinsent, the "codfather," as he was once so colourfully dubbed by the crowd at "This Hour Has 22 Minutes," would have fit right in.

The performers were introduced as some sort of Newfoundland all-star team, each basking in his or her own glory. I was waiting for a Newfoundland mascot - Sammy the Seal or Mike the Moose or Clar the Caribou - to trot across the lobby.

And you'd have to give an "A" to the script writers who fashioned Dunderdale's speech. This was a hymn for the flag-wavers. Most people probably ate it up. But it left me in need of an Alka-Seltzer.

Now don't get me wrong. I'm as die-hard a Newfoundlander as anybody else: I've had the pink, white and green flag hanging outside the house (until the Flatrock winds ripped it to shreds); we have a bookcase blocked with Newfoundland publications; and, yes, I still get goosebumps whenever I hear "The Ode," no matter what the occasion.

But this piece of Muskrat theatre Monday came awfully close to making a mockery of Newfoundland pride and the unique Newfoundland identify, of utilizing that strong sense of place we all embrace, as a political tool.

Danny Williams was in the audience, and it was appropriate that he was front and centre, not so much because he was the one who dumped Muskrat Falls in our laps just before saying bye-bye to the political wars, his legacy in place (at least from his perspective), but because the tenor of Monday night's announcement fit him to a tee.

Williams, for all his accomplishments (and they weren't few in number), frequently had this discomforting habit of implying that if you didn't applaud his each and every move, if you didn't accept unconditionally what the government was doing, you were somehow a traitor to the Newfoundland cause. You were either with us or against us. There was no in-between. Question what we do and you're to be stripped of your Newfoundland badge of pride. Branded and scorned.

And that was the less-than- subtle message Monday night. It was all about being a Newfoundland patriot. Continue to wonder publicly about the viability of Muskrat Falls and you're not a true, blue bonafide Newfoundlander. Do you hear that Cabot Martin, Ron Penney and others? A real Newfoundlander would keep his or her trap shut.

Well, Dunderdale and her caucus choir can sing the Muskrat melody all they want. This is still a controversial business deal, period. It has nothing to do with being a proud Newfoundlander.

It might turn out to be a financial bonanza for Newfoundland and it could be the answer to electrical needs for this place forever and a day.

Or it could be a financial disaster.

We still don't know.

And it hasn't helped that the project has been cloaked in ambiguous, fuzzy terms and a resulting public uneasiness right from the get-go. To say nothing of the inept process used by the government to peddle the project to taxpayers and to debate its merits, a process that would have brought tears to a competent public relations professional.

What shocks me is a recent poll indicating that Newfoundlanders feel they don't have enough information about Muskrat Falls, but are still inclined to give it their support. You'd think we'd have learned a lesson or two about accepting whatever we're told by those in authority, to trust them all, the political and religious leaders, the upper crust, and the like.

But I guess not. For the gullible, there was another vat of Kool-Aid served up Monday evening.

Bob Wakeham has spent more than 40 years as a journalist in Newfoundland and Labrador. He can be reached by email at bwakeham@nl.rogers.com.

Organizations: CBC, NTV Evening News, Flatrock Muskrat theatre

Geographic location: Newfoundland and Labrador, Muskrat Falls

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  • Winston Adams
    December 23, 2012 - 12:45

    I justed listened to how Obama would make big decisions, like whether to save Chyslar. At a key meeting, his advisors would each give their opinion and advise , both for and against. And anyone there who had not commented, he would ask their opinion. Having listened to each, he took a few minutes, hand under his chin, and in this case, said "if we can save it , we will." We know that Kennedy , as Dunderdale's Minister said " i'm going to convince myself that Muskrat falls is a good deal" And it seems that most all of his convincing came from the proponent Nalcor or experts selected or fed assumption put forward by Nalcor. Did he meet with or seek or listen to anyone that questioned this project? An an engineer, my views were made public as to the potential of energy efficiency to fully offset Holyrood and reduce , not increase , energy costs. Direct requests by me to Nalcor for their view were ignored. And no one in the media raised the issue , and I heard no MHA raise it before sanction. All we heard was the continuous praise of the expertise of Nalcor.Granted, they have expertise, but are not the sole sourse of all knowledge and valid opinions. Others were dismissed, as Kennedy said, If You are not paid for your opinion, your opinion don't count. And our Premier asssured us that hired consultant's opinions are without bias, as they would'nt risk their their reputations. I watched Dunderdale Friday night explaining to all the MHAs about wind. "Yes we have good wind resources. But sometimes the wind don't blow. And sometimes the wind is too high. Too much wind can be worse than not enough wind''. And the other MHAs swallowed such a simplistic statement as sufficient cause to dismiss wind. That many problems with low wind , and with high wind, and numberous other problems have been solved over the post decade became irrelevant. That our present wind generators are working well and making significant contribution to offset oil consumtpion, is not acknowledged. That how to optimise our wind , with our hydro and efficiency options, was never a goal. Her limited knowledge must have appeared as indepth knowledge, to most of the MHAs there. Her hand and arm movements, as she spoke, could , I suppose , further reinforce her views with her audience. I guess it is a skill utilized that can help cover her ignorance on technical subjects. It actually reminded me of Hitler.This may seem an extreme view. And I have long wondered how he could have persuaded the people of Germany on their path to war. Perhaps her wish to demonise Quebec is a factor. Here, with the consent of most of our population, we are preapproving very high power rates for ourselves, instead of assessing many more cost effective options. Fear was a factor. How often did she warn of 'rationing electricity' if we didn't follow her plan? And many beleived we are heading for blackouts. Now you suggest most of our people are gullable. I feel most don't have a deep understanding of our own history, and have too much faith in this 'upper crust'. I support that view. Our history shows that for the most part , the enemy is within. Corrupt and ignorant elected officials is the cause of most of our problems that have kept us poor as a country and province. And I guess that your book case of history books, like mine, documents this, and little of it ever reached the school systems. 70 or 80 years seems the norm for truths of corruption to be accepted fact. And recent tightened rules on secrecy, with little public dissent , ... who can disagree that as a people , we are yet very gullible? Too few see these fed flags. I am not absolutely convinced that Muskrat falls will be a failure. One can get lucky. I see it as too big a gamble given the present circumstances.

  • EDfromRED
    December 23, 2012 - 12:38

    I do not trust with our future, a leader or a government that refused to investigate the tragic death of Burton Winters. If somehow arrogance could be used to create energy, the PC's and their cronies could supply the entire world with energy. They would put money and power before the lives of anyone of us. Where is the money trail leading? It's going from our pockets to...who knows where it'll end up? The media seems to exist in a state of ignorant bliss. With history as a guide as to how corruption goes hand in hand with mega projects such as this. And current day investigations in Quebec over construction crimes that have brought down mayors before the final reports have come close to being done, there seems to be a decided lack of forceful scrutiny. With the censorship bill C-29 covering up trails, a blind person can see a environment ripe for corruption. I wish more media outlets would set up shop here. When you see deeper investigations on mainland news programs about used car lots and mom and pop store schemes -- than you do here about Mega-Mega Billion dollar projects, you wonder when will hard questions be asked? Maybe local news agency's should enrol their reporters into university classes on past corporate/government misdeeds and propaganda? Can't hurt.

  • hard tory times
    December 22, 2012 - 18:33

    Im glad to see that alderon was well represented at the announcement. But who knows, maybe they have been for quite along time? We even a had a pretend MP there.

  • Skeptical Cynic
    December 22, 2012 - 17:00

    The bit I saw of Dunderdale's carnival sideshow before I grabbed the remote was enough to give someone the dry heaves... as corny as that Captain Newfoundland junk on NTV.

  • James G. Learnibg
    December 22, 2012 - 13:43

    On the issue of flag wrapping, I realloy enjoy the telegram articles on the mf, because I'm opposed to it as well. So Newfoudlanders get the ode to nl. Labradoreans get nine destroyed rivers, poisoned waters and ifsh. You know damn well we are owned, none of this would be our chioce, a gift from most of the 500,000 to the 29,000 who have little or no say, unless you are the right Aboriginal selling the right part of Labrador. All I can say is a big thank you to the people on the Island who oppose this fiasco, to the rest, enjoy your bills, they will be huge.

  • DisappointedUpset
    December 22, 2012 - 13:10

    The Opposition dropped the ball all along the way, even after bill29. They should have grabbed it and ran when they knew gov was screwing up and not folowing through on election promises of Muskrat transparency, discussion. Sad they get paid for nothing relating to Muskrat Falls. No opposition and now leave the ppl hanging to pay these hydro bills. NL needs a new party or the Green Party. Only Fed party that opposed Muskrat Falls along with the Bloc QC. The others all supported it. Lets let Opposition parties know next election when this Rat Party is thru. No Oposition protested in the street or supported the ppl crying out. Just like Abitibi they all screwed up again with the blind leading the blind. Only this time not listening to the ppl. Dismall failures all three of them.

  • Maurice E. Adams
    December 22, 2012 - 09:00

    While it would have been more difficult to have dissected the Muskrat Falls project in as detailed a way over the last several months as the opposition parties did this week, nevertheless, they could have done so long before now. This weeks very good work seems to have been too little, too late. If they had been more critical earlier and provided more leadership to their people, those polls may have been significantly different. So I place at least some share of the blame on the opposition (recognizing of course that government kept them out of the picture, kept changing the picture, refused committee analysis, provided little or no notice for legislation, etc, etc.). It is the oppositions job to oppose, and at the political level there was virtually no opposition to Muskrat Falls with the exception to the week before Christmas when citizens would not have had the time to be paying attention. Not a good 2 years for democracy. Not a good project for the people. Not a good 50 years for our children and grand children. After the Upper Churchill project fiasco, we should all be ashamed of ourselves.

  • Home Sick Thomas Griffiths
    December 22, 2012 - 08:42

    While being trans-planted here to Alberta I try to keep up with whats happening back home, but I must confess my support for Muskrat falls and the sub-sea lines to NS come from the bad deal we got related to the Upper Churchill, sort of giving quebec the middle finger if you will.I have been a little blinded as to all the details of the project.The writer is correct that accepting whatever we're told by those in authority has not always worked out well for us Newfoundlanders.Speaking for myself I guess when you want something bad enough you may over look some warts if it means getting some more of our pride back that's been stole from us by liberal/quebec political hacks that came acting as our friends but have done more things to hurt us over the last 60 years than any foe ever could. Merry Christmas to all sure wish I could spend this Christmas in gods country this year.