“There’s one thing to be a pundit. There’s one thing to be an armchair critic. … If the pundits have some other expertise that they can bring forward to show us where our rationale is flawed, then I’m looking forward to that.” — Premier Kathy Dunderdale, on CBC’s “On Point” on Sept. 15.
I thought about that comment from the premier as I edited another letter on Muskrat Falls for Monday’s paper — this time it was former premier Roger Grimes writing about his concerns with the project.
It was just another letter to be either ignored or dismissed by a government that seems to have made up its mind on the issue, one of a number from people who either oppose the project or question some part of the rationale that the government is putting forward.
So, here are a few of those pundits and armchair analysts, and a little bit of their expertise.
There’s Grimes — a former premier, and before that, minister of natural resources. (He’s perhaps easy enough to dismiss by those with an axe to grind about former attempts to develop the Lower Churchill, except, of course, that those are virtually the same credentials Dunderdale brings to the table.) But he’s not the only former premier to raise concerns. There’s also Brian Peckford, the Progressive Conservative premier who negotiated the Atlantic Accord — and before he was premier, minister of mines and energy.
There’s longtime former PC finance minister John Collins, a regular correspondent on the topic.
Dennis Browne is a lawyer with 10 years’ experience on the Labour Relations Board, and not incidentally, eight years as the provincial consumer advocate.
David Vardy: a trained economist, he was chairman of the Public Utilities Board for seven years, from 1994 to 2001, secretary to cabinet for seven years and a former member of the board of directors of Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro. His energy expertise was broad enough that he served on the province’s Atlantic Accord negotiating team.
Ron Penney, a lawyer and former provincial deputy minister of justice who was, as former premier Peckford points out in his new book, critically involved in drafting the compromise that repatriated Canada’s constitution. Penney also was part of the Atlantic Accord negotiating team — a team that brought in the oilfield cash benefits the Dunderdale government now wants to spend on Muskrat Falls — and he was on the Hibernia statement of principles negotiating team.
Cabot Martin is a lawyer and former senior adviser to the province: here’s a snippet of his résumé. “In 1972, he became legal adviser to the minister of mines and energy for the province of Newfoundland and Labrador with special responsibility for offshore oil and gas matters, a post he held until 1979 when he became senior policy adviser to the premier of Newfoundland and Labrador. Mr. Martin has served as Newfoundland and Labrador’s representative at the United Nations Law of the Sea Conference and on the Atlantic Accord and Hibernia negotiating committees.”
There’s Edward Hearn, a lawyer from Labrador who’s usually identified simply as a former Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro board member. It’s worth keeping in mind, though, that his expertise includes handling a case on the Upper Churchill for the province at both the Newfoundland Court of Appeal level and at the Supreme Court of Canada.
On the academic side, there’s James Feehan, a professor of economics at MUN who specializes in the impacts of public sector investment and project evaluation.
There’s engineering professor Steve Bruneau, whose interest in energy policy includes natural gas, small hydro and wind power.
There’s businessman Des Sullivan, a former assistant to both Frank Moores and Peckford. And St. John’s businessman Brendan Sullivan, a former provincial government economist.
There’s former FFAW head and member of Parliament Richard Cashin, whose energy experience includes stints on the board of directors of PetroCanada.
There’s Bern Coffey, a criminal lawyer who rose to the province’s special prosecutions office, was co-counsel on the breast cancer testing inquiry and has fought cases before the Supreme Court of Canada.
There’s Ontario-based energy analyst Tom Adams, and Brian Lee Crowley of the conservative think-tank the MacDonald-Laurier Institute, who called the project “nutty.”
Obviously, these are not complete résumés nor a complete examination of the issues each of the opponents may have raised — nor is it all the opponents.
There are also people who have yet to put their oar in, and whose opinion would be valuable. Rex Gibbons, a former mines and energy minister, for example — or Vic Young, who, as a former head of Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro and FPI CEO, could provide credible insight.
If the current track record holds true, though, they’ll be ignored or dismissed, too. And that’s a shame.
Russell Wangersky is The Telegram’s editorial page editor. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.