Williams proves the point

Russell Wangersky
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Somewhere, the gods of irony are having themselves a great big chuckle, or maybe even a belly laugh. Late last week, former St. John’s city manager Ron Penney and former Public Utilities Board head David Vardy wrote a letter to The Telegram talking about Muskrat Falls.

It was a letter that was relatively moderate in tone. The guts of it? “What we need is the most robust and thorough review possible, and the consumer advocate should be given all the tools he needs to ensure this is the case and that the public interest is protected.”

Seems reasonable.

Vardy and Penney also chided those who have private concerns about the massive project, but prefer to keep those thoughts to a gentle backroom murmur: “We know there are many knowledgeable people who have strong reservations about this project but, who, for personal reasons, are reluctant to make their concerns public. It is now vitally important that they make their concerns public while there is still time to influence this decision.”

Once again, seems reasonable. If you’ve got something to say, say it publicly, while it still has some kind of chance to have an effect.

But apparently that’s not reasonable at all, according to former premier Danny Williams, the original architect of the Muskrat Falls project. The CBC tracked him down

to get a comment or two, and Williams was obligingly offensive.

“I’m very disappointed in Dave Vardy's comments, and the kind of nonsense that he’s getting on with,” Williams blustered.

“Basically (they are) saying that it’s a small community and people are afraid to speak out. What kind of garbage is that?” Williams said. “To try and sort of taint it with some insinuation that people don’t want to speak out on this is absolutely absurd and it’s irresponsible.”

Oh, and, by the way, it’s true.

Because if you do speak out, you’re speaking, um, irresponsible garbage and absurd nonsense.

I’ve spoken to a series of business people in this city who are unsure about the project as a whole, decidely concerned about the current process that seems to trundling along with all the decisions effectively already made, and yet are absolutely determined not to say one single public word.

They’ll phone and tell you issues they’d like to see addressed, they’ll ask questions and explain their concerns, but they start every conversation setting the ground rules — not one single thing they say is to be attributed to them in any way.

Their fears?

That they’ll be singled out and publicly lambasted — something we all know happens, and which Williams himself, even in premierial retirement, is once again living proof of — and more sinisterly, that their businesses will be affected.

Will their businesses be affected? The fact is, the provincial government has a long arm in this economy and no business person worth their salt will harm their own opportunities if there is even the appearance that speaking publicly will bring corporate repercussions.

Does that appearance exist? Well, it must: otherwise, companies doing consulting work for the provincial government would not feel it necessary to buy whole tables of seats at party fundraisers. The same business people who aren’t talking publicly about Muskrat Falls also aren’t talking publicly about being telephoned by party representatives — telephone calls where the business people are told how many seats they are expected to buy for specific events.

Clearly, there must be some concern that there’s a direct line between your actions and corporate repercussions.

It may not be a legitimate fear that if you speak out against Muskrat Falls, your business will be affected.

But one thing is for certain: if you do speak out on Muskrat Falls, there’s a good chance you’ll be publicly roasted.

It’s ironic that Williams not only decided that the Vardy/Penney letter was more strident than it actually was, but that he also had to then go out and prove that what they hadn’t really said was actually true.

You could not make this stuff up.


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

Organizations: Public Utilities Board, CBC

Geographic location: Muskrat Falls

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Recent comments

  • B Lane
    January 17, 2012 - 19:44

    As far as I'm concerned the only way it makes sense to bring power across is to do so in tandem with a tunnel being built that would link the Island to Lab.. This would make upgrading the transmission wires easier (as well as lower repair costs) ,and lower transportation costs for imports for both sides of our Country!Doing them together lowers the cost of borrowing for both projects and solves many issues that face us as we grow.

  • John Smith
    January 17, 2012 - 14:50

    Just as I thought, lots of bluster and bravado, yet no valid reasons why we should not proceed with the project...not one. We can talk all we want about people hiding in fear, and various conspiracies...it's fun right Russell? Yet the fact remains that our power bills have gone up by 60% since 1998, and will have gone up by a staggering 14.8% by this coming August. There are several large projects on the island and in labrador that will require additional power. There is only one viable way to provide the power, as many educated professionals at NALCOR have stated. Oh, and yes I do take the people with maters degress in energy delivery over that of the Cyril and maurices of the world...no offence guys. Like I said before you naysayers can gripe all you want, but the need is there, and the project is the best way to provide the power. Any silly talk about alternatives is just that...pipe dreams about importing natual gas, and converting holyrood, or tidal power or solar power or wind power is all nonsense. The other thingabout demand is we often hear the naysayers say prove it, prove that we will need additional power. well my response to them is prove that we will not need it...prove that our needs will not increase.

  • M-Power-ed
    January 17, 2012 - 14:49

    Good point. However, to add to the irony, the media, at times, has little room to criticize. The current project, for some, is to eliminate anonymous commenters in the social e-media or at least the most bilious or "garbage" comments. The editors/producers have a point with some postings but this e-window of opportuinity on the internet is probably closing fast and social media is a work in progress with all parties on a steep learning curve for protocol and content. As far a the subject matter goes..... best I can tell there will be a Debt/Equity financing scheme with rates between 7% and 10%. Problem: What is the rate that the NL government will charge Nalcor? After the War with Ottawa the Two Billion was dumped in the PS pension fund. Now the M of Finance says a half a billion a year more is required. Will this fund invest in Muskrat? Is this the lowest rate%%? EU Bonds investors are hungier all the time to protect their cash. Will those on a subsistance Federal Pension subsidize those on a comfortable Provincial Pension via their Heating Bills? The last Provincial Referenda eliminated Term 17. Under the religious schools, religion class only allow multiple choice questions, that is there was only one correct answer. will this proposed referendum have only one correct choice as well?

  • Political watcher
    January 17, 2012 - 11:27

    Remember when Williams told us that there were "loop-holes" in the Voisey's Bay deal that you "could drive a truck through". Yet he didn't show us one loop-hole but did go on to execute the Liberal plan and then laud the benefits of the Voisey's deal to the Province. If you challenge Williams you face a judge; sure look at his first few years in office, anyone who spoke out against him was threatened with a law suit until he realized that as a public figure you are open game for many comments and pot-shots. Even when he left office and couldn't have his little side-kick appointed to the CNLOPB he then turned his poison to the Premier and labelled her as incompetent. Oh yeah, the NAPE Union were also the ones who gave his little boy a "shot in the conk" downtown weren't they?

  • R. Price
    January 17, 2012 - 11:12

    Well written Doug Long. Our Premier is hiding in the shadows and her henchmen are out in front telling our people that deadlines will be kept - despite the fact that most Newfoundlander are not happy with the way the Muskrat Falls project is been rushed through. Mr. Williams - please stick with your other interests and stop berating those who might have concerns about this major project. We all have a right to ask questions and voice comments without bullies like yourself attacking. This is our province, our money and the debt will all ours! We want answers and we want a warm and rosy feeling about this mega project before we plunge ourselves into enormous debt.

  • sealcove
    January 17, 2012 - 11:12

    Some one need to tell williams to take his med,s

  • Lori-Ann Campbell
    January 17, 2012 - 11:11

    Five things are apparent about the Muskrat Falls project. 1. It has and will continue to make work for thousands of people in Labrador 2. It has and will continue to pay out millions of dollars to the Innu Nation under the New Dawn agreement 3. It will have a significant ecological footprint both in terms of emissions reduction and land, wildlife and water quality effects 4. It will allow the government of NL some measure of predictability with respect to the cost of its own future energy use by 2025, when 25% of the population is expected to be over age 65. and 5. It will put NL in a better geopolitical position for renegotiating sale of power to Quebec after the expiration of the Upper Churchill contract in 2041. Like the old saying goes, money makes money and that's the clear goal of this, beyond the techno-speak. If oil does end up cheaper than electricity by 2015 people will have other energy choices. What concerns me is the fact that government has found no other way to better prepare for 2065 from an investment perspective which is why this project has such an urgency around it. Surely there is a need for better ideas beyond Joey Smallwood's classic insistence that if you provide the 'electricity' industrial development will follow.....

    • Eli
      January 17, 2012 - 15:38

      Two points. 1. Why the urgency? 2. Will the people of NL be held responsible for those "ecological footprints" at some point down the road?

  • Maurice E. Adams
    January 17, 2012 - 10:59

    To Cyril Rogers. Cyril. I sent you an email (as per your advertised email address) but received no reply. Maurice

  • Cyril Rogers
    January 17, 2012 - 10:30

    Mr. Williams' comments only add further fuel to the firestorm that is Muskrat Falls. It is obvious that there are major problems with that project but like Max Smart, the Tories have retreated into their own cone of silence. They cannot accept that there are fundamental flaws in most of their assumptions and are arrogantly dismissing any form of dissent. THERE ARE BETTER AND LESS COSTLY ALTERNATIVES FOR THE ISLAND OF NEWFOUNDLAND. It is time for all of us to wake up and realize that this project, as proposed is going to be a financial albatross for the people of this province. We need only start with the premise of greater conservation efforts to begin looking at these alternatives. From there you can incorporate wind and small hydro developments as needed. As well, converting Holyrood or at least cleaning it up is both feasible and environmentally effective. We need Holyrood as a back-up only for most of the time and, in fact, with proper conservation and smaller projects we can effectively negate any perceived or projected power shortages in future. Another factor in all this is whether or not the government will actually be able to borrow the six or seven billion dollars it will need up front. That is a huge amount of money and will require astronomical repayment rates. In total, we will easily pay out 20 billion to pay for it so any perceived lessor cost will be eaten up by interest anyway. As for Mr. Williams, I always believed that he ruled by decree and his lessor minions are doing the same. Should I fear their wrath for expressing this opinion? I hope not, for I do believe Mr. Vardy raises a fundamental democratic principle when he asserts that many people are afraid to speak out for fear of repercussions. All of the evidence points in that direction and I will not be silent on that issue. I trust that other fair-minded people will do the same and not hide behind the cloak of anononymity like the supporters of MF do when they attack Mr. Wangersky, or those of us who dare voice a dissenting comment.

  • Mark
    January 17, 2012 - 10:07

    Stooping to compete with VOCM, CBC feels similarly compelled to give an instant bully pulpit to Danny Williams on demand. It's growing tiresome. Move on.

  • John Smith
    January 17, 2012 - 10:03

    Russell, I don't care who these people are, but I do care about what their objections to the project are. Could you please tell us what these concerns are? I would love to debate them. That is all Mr. Williams was saying. Lets not drop lies and innuendo, then scurry back into the shadows. Lets get the problems out into the light so they can be discussed. Once again Russell, you are trying to diviate from the important part of the discussion, the project, and are trying to create something that doesn't exist. Sad really. If these guys don't want to speak publicly fine, but let us at least hear what they have to say. My bet is that any fears they have could quickly be remedied, by a little truth. Then again that wouldn't sell many papers now would it?

    • Eli
      January 17, 2012 - 15:44

      Johh, you just gave yourself a whip to beat yourself with. "Lets get the problems out into the light so we can discuss them". That's the whole problem my son!

  • Bully Beef
    January 17, 2012 - 09:00

    Whats wrong with using a pen name. People died for that right, my right, since our ability to speak publicly has been muted for the fear of repercussions on our careers and bussiness ventures. But I do that so the weak minded people can actually focus on the issues and the facts on hand, rather than like a juvenile attacking a persons credibility because they can't understand the theme of the conversation.

  • doug Long
    January 17, 2012 - 08:30

    Once a bully - always a bully! School yard bullies grow up to be adult bullies and they always be-little others so that they can feel their own self professed greatness! The Newfoundland & Labrador people are all so confused, bewildered, and totally in the dark about this Muskrat Falls that the Conservatives are trying to rush through. the Conservative government do not care if the people are uniformed - they want to rush ahead with this mega project, costing us so very much. The world economy threatens to free fall - still our Premier and her hence men want to rush to put us in major debt without and guarantees of a financial return. We smell a rat - no, we smell many rats!

  • s parsons
    January 17, 2012 - 07:51

    remember when the williams gov't refused to advertise in The Express?

  • Geoff Meeker
    January 17, 2012 - 07:50

    Well said, Russell. I had the exact same thought, when I heard Williams's comments. No wonder people are hesitant to speak out. if they do, they get attacked as "ignorant" by the ex-premier. Way to encourage healthy debate there, Danny. If you want to see ignorant, look in the mirror.

  • Maurice E. Adams
    January 17, 2012 - 07:42

    Last year we used just under 7,500 GWh of energy. From 1989 to 2009 our rate of growth was 0.1% annually. In any event, 0.1% works out to 7.5 GWh increase per year. In the first 9 months of this year alone, NL Power's energy conservation plan has saved 8 GWh of energy and is forecasting about 10 GWh for the year --- and that is with only 1% of their customers participating in their conservation efforts. So conservation alone is already more than meeting our 20 year actual rate of growth. And if 6% of NL Power's customers participated in NL Power's conservation efforts, we would meet more than Nalcor's 0.8% forecast rate of growth (which is itself 8 times our 20 year growth rate) --- AT NO COST, NO INCREASE IN DEBT, NO RISK.

    • Say What
      January 17, 2012 - 10:05

      Wow, that's not good because over that 20 year period we lost over 10% of our population and our consumption of electricity still rose. Why are we consuming more per person?

  • MBC
    January 17, 2012 - 07:21

    You only speak out if you are a ignorant, bully, non-respecting of others person such as DANNY WILLIAMS and ANDT WELLS. Williams did not point out where Vardy and Penny were incorrect. All he did was trast-talk !

  • Casey
    January 17, 2012 - 06:44

    It is funny how some journalist give the perception that they want to get to the truth on some issues, yet they won't do so on others. Maybe Wangersky can write about the fishery and how the feds have played the major role in it's destruction and continue to play the major role in it's non-recovery. No beating around the bush now!