Now things are getting nasty

Russell
Russell Wangersky
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Two caveats: first, Telegram columnist Brian Jones is a big boy, and he is perfectly capable of fighting his own battles. Second, I may be reading far too much into a single line in a letter to the editor from Finance Minister Tom Marshall, who wrote last Saturday to complain about a column by Jones on Muskrat Falls.

But as we head into the upcoming debate about whether Muskrat Falls will proceed — a debate that may well be moot, given the positions taken by individual cabinet members — it’s interesting to look at the tone of the debate, and the way it is being reframed as we head into the next phase.

Tom Marshall is usually one of the province’s more moderate ministers. He doesn’t boil over in House of Assembly debates or question period, and when he’s faced with something that he views to be inaccurate, he will usually find a plain and almost soft-spoken way to correct the record.

And that’s what makes his response to Jones stick out.

Now, he may not have even written it — it may have been written by his communications staff for his signature, but he certainly read it and agreed with its contents before it dropped into the email box.

The part of the letter that was, to me, of most concern?

Well, after first maintaining that the Muskrat Falls debate should use accurate facts and not suspicions or suppositions, Marshall did a little suspecting of his own in a section that starts like this: “I suspect Mr. Jones is not really interested in seeing Newfoundland and Labrador reach its true potential by moving forward with large-scale energy developments that are clearly in the best interests of this province.”

Baseless, factless and a lovely little dark smear, that simple out-of-character line made me wonder if we’re about to see a sea change in how the Tories are going to address opponents to the project, or even those who question it.

Plenty at stake

This is a massive project with huge implications, not just the obvious financial ones. The two-kilometre-wide power line reserve — not the actual cut area where the power lines will run, but the strip of land that Nalcor wants set aside to run the lines around specific land features — covers an area equal to one-third of the total land mass of the province of Prince Edward Island.

The project is big enough that some observers have suggested that even before shovels are really in

the ground, a price increase of $2 billion is not out of the realm of possibility.

And $2 billion is, well, equal to an additional $4,000 from every single man, woman and child in the entire province.

So there are pressing public policy reasons for have a clear, open and informed debate, right back to the simple question of whether or not we actually need the power —  whether, for example, historically inaccurate power-needs modelling is now magically more accurate.

Marshall’s attack is not without precedent — in fact, it’s a model that other governments have tried to use for a number of years, with varied success.

It echoes former U.S. president George W. Bush’s position on the war in Iraq, loosely paraphrased as “Either you support our troops, or else you hate America.”

Another, less successful model? Federal Public Safety Minister Vic Toews, with his now-legendary (or infamous) argument about the Tories’ failed Internet spying legislation, “you either stand with us, or you stand with the child pornographers.”

We need a lot of things in this province — we need to find new sources of revenue to replace oil if we are to continue to spend like drunken sailors, and that might even include needing more electrical power, albeit expensive power that ordinary citizens will pay full price for, while industry is almost certain to get its electricity at much, much lower prices. (Industry, you see, has to have competitive prices or it will go elsewhere. Since ordinary citizens in this province are not able to move as easily, we are a captive market, and we will pay for that.)

The fact is that you can question the Muskrat Falls project and still have the best interests of the province and its people at heart. The government does not hold some kind of monopoly on caring for this place, and if you question the direction we’re taking, that doesn’t mean you hate the province or want it to fail.

That argument is simply ludicrous, and it’s the sort of desperate salvo that makes you think the proponents don’t have anything better to use.

If the government is going to take this debate down into the “you just want this province to fail” dirt, it is going the wrong way.

Russell Wangersky is The Telegram’s

editorial page editor. He can be reached by email at rwanger@thetelegram.com.

Geographic location: Newfoundland and Labrador, U.S., Prince Edward Island.The Iraq

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Recent comments

  • Billy Maguire
    August 20, 2012 - 13:36

    THANK GOD Russell was able to avail of this opportunity to get in another dig at George Bush.

  • Jonesism
    August 20, 2012 - 08:04

    Nasty? Really? You're only noticing that now? I suggest you try reading some of Jones previous columns and you'll see how he has contributed to the "tone of the debate". It's interesting that you can see it in one letter from someone criticizing Jones but you are blind to it in Jones' columns.

  • yes b'y
    August 19, 2012 - 16:08

    marshell comments are out to lunch. Mrf's is nothing but a politicial boodoggle. Marshall has hit plausible deinability rite on the head. Its sad really, for someone to get out of politiic's on comments like that.

  • EDfromRED
    August 19, 2012 - 13:54

    The minority who have the money and power and their lackey's (politicians) don't give a damn how much Muskrat Falls will cost us. They'll laugh all the way to the bank. Send their kids to mainland private schools away from us riff raff, and retire to Florida and where they will host the cronies who got them loaded. It seems like the provinces business leaders and current PC lapdogs, laugh at us ignorant masses who are put here on Earth to serve at their whims

  • EDfromRED
    August 19, 2012 - 13:47

    The minority who have the money and power and their lackey's (politicians) don't give a damn how much Muskrat Falls will cost us. They'll laugh all the way to the bank. Send their kids to mainland privite schools away from us riff raff, and retire to Florida and where they will host the cronies who got them loaded. It seems like the provinces business leaders and current PC lapdogs, laugh at us ignorant masses who are put here on Earth to serve at their whims.

  • Anon
    August 19, 2012 - 10:18

    Nah b'ys let's just burn oil for the next thousand years. Clearly we have an unlimited supply of it. Just look at all the six-wheel trucks drivin' around.

  • Pierre Neary
    August 18, 2012 - 10:51

    Russell, Completely agree.I read the letter and had some of the same thoughts. Dissappointed in the Minister for sure. Me thinks Mr. Williams has rubbed off on Mr. Marshall.

  • Brad Cabana
    August 18, 2012 - 10:03

    Exactly right Russell. "Yer either with us or you are a baby-killing, Quebec loving traitor who cares not for the province." Its the terrible byproduct of extreme nationalism gone very badly. As you say, nobody holds the title of being the only one looking out for the province. Marshall's radio comments that only "smart" opinions are needed on Muskrat are in the same vein. Which would be fine if it were only "them" paying for it...

  • Richard
    August 18, 2012 - 09:03

    People who oppose Muskrat Falls in its current form do so because they do knot want to see their province crippled with debt, and with no one to pay for its construction costs other than burdened elderly rate-payers or the next three dwindling generations of taxpayers. It's not about wanting to see Newfoundland fail, it's about wanting to make sure it doesn't squander an opportunity to succeed.

  • I am not against the Muskrat Falls Project being developed if it is viable on its own accord.
    August 18, 2012 - 08:47

    I am not against the Muskrat Falls Project being developed if it is viable on its own accord. I have been waiting for the Lower Churchill to be developed for years so that our province could benefit economically from it. The developers of the proposed Muskrat Falls Project, it appears, want the hydro consumers of the province of Newfoundland and Labrador to bear the complete financial burden and risks of the development. It appears the developers and NALCOR want Newfoundlanders and Labradorians to accept sight-unseen the final figure in guesstimate form, with the terrifying clause added that there will be "cost overruns". I have heard :cost-overrun" figures touted anywhere from $ 2 Billion dollars to $6 Billion more than the $6.2 Billion that it was originally scheduled to cost. Are the developers and NALCOR out of their minds to expect us to accept such a loose figure? I heard an Ottawa Bureaucrat on Talk Radio yesterday suggesting that wages will have to come down in this province so as to compete with the wages of the United States, in the meantime everything we are to consume here is going up exponentially, for instance our Hydro energy invoices have gone up quite a bit this year. Our Telecommunications services invoices (Internet, Telephone and Television bundle) have taken a 40% hike (mine has gone from $99 to $152 with less telephone minutes) over the past year, no doubt, a present of the of the creative accounting that Sector has adopted through the method of giving short term promotions in order to raise the cost to the consumer on their invoices for services. Then there are the Mining companies and the province of Nova Scotia waiting in the wings waiting to get cheap energy to run their operations, while the hydro consumer of our province will be dinged with the exorbitant kilowatt hour price that it will cost to bring the project to complete development.

  • Winston Adams
    August 18, 2012 - 08:06

    Do we need the power? You refer to modelling for power need forecasting. Remember that Manitoba Hydro reported that Nalcor doesn't use best methods for forecasting as they don't use end modelling. This allows then to ignore efficient heating technology which reduces electricity consumption by 60 percent without rationing, and to promote silly ineffective things that is a joke, so that other jurisdictions are 10 times more progressive in this to stabilize electricity costs.