It certainly was a bizarre juxtaposition this week: as the Public Utilities Board (PUB) held hearings about the Muskrat Falls hydroelectric development and heard from opponent after opponent, Kathy Dunderdale sat in an elementary school classroom, answering questions and telling the kids how wonderful it is to be premier.
It must have been fun and thrilling for the youngsters, surely, but extremely weird for political observers.
Was the premier oblivious to the extremely important events happening elsewhere?
Did she seem unperturbed because she is a great leader, or because she plans to obstinately pursue her chosen course of action, despite facts to the contrary?
Was she unaware of Dubya’s lesson in Florida that photo-ops in classrooms can backfire?
Newfoundlanders (and Labradorians) could have had their faith in the educational system strengthened if a pupil had raised his or her hand and asked, “Ms. Premier, since you’re here instead of at the Public Utilities Board hearings, are you going to go back to your office and read a transcript of the submissions that were made?”
No, Johnny, she will wait for the PUB’s report, and then she will dutifully ignore it, as she has ignored every other bit of information that goes against the government’s determination to blow $4.1 billion on the dam and transmission lines for the for the sake of “future generations.”
There is good chance future generations will interpret that determination as pathetic irony, as they struggle to pay their monthly power bills.
It is understandable the premier would not be swayed by the critical utterings of letter writers and pundits, if she is even aware of those little people with their little opinions.
She is equally dismissive of a former premier and a former PUB chairman. (In her own defence, Dunderdale could argue she is an equal opportunity ignorer.)
In an open letter, Brian Peckford said the province, by approving the Muskrat Falls development, would take on an unnecessary and potentially disastrous level of debt.
He also pointed out, as Cabot Martin recently did, that the cheap availability of natural gas has changed the energy market, and thus the economic projections regarding Muskrat Falls are outdated.
Here’s the most striking sentence from Peckford’s letter: “A lot has changed in this area as a result of the shale gas phenomenon of recent years. The whole North American energy equation has been turned on its head.”
In keeping with more than 500 years of tradition, it is risky to speak out against the governor of Newfoundland.
Defenders of the PC empire jumped on their party’s former leader like Giants on a Patriot.
His letter is arrogant interference, some said. What does he know, living 4,000 miles away in Lotusland? Why, he gave up his status as a Newfoundlander when he retired, packed up and moved to B.C.
These are strange and unfair criticisms indeed, coming as they do from residents of an island where some residents — whose families are 200 years removed from Ireland — brag in brogue about their Celtic background, wave the tricolour and, in their own minds, are more Irish than the green ale that flows in Dublin pubs.
The PUB hearings will prove one thing: any support for Muskrat Falls development is entirely political, rather than being based on facts.
All the facts have not been considered, and cannot be considered, as long as the government insists there are only two options: develop Muskrat Falls or keep burning oil at Holyrood.
As more and more people have been saying, there are plenty of other options. Dunderdale and her government are intent on ignoring those options. Get ready to pay up.
Brian Jones is a desk editor at The Telegram. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.