There’s nothing wrong with asking

Gerry Phelan
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I guess just asking questions can touch a nerve, and I rubbed a few last week. My 50 questions on Muskrat Falls wound up seeing me verbally drawn and quartered.

I’m glad I write for Friday’s paper — I don’t want to think what would have happened if Saturday’s readers had grabbed the bone.

Some of you were happy with the placement of the column right next to the obituaries.

Several suggested it’s where the project itself should go, others where my opinion deserved to rest.

I’ve always known the death notices are a must-read, but come on folks, be kind.

I said I was on the fence, that I had not made up my mind yet.

I can’t imagine the messages I would have received if I was for or against the Muskrat Falls project.

Heck, I got nailed a few times electronically because I even asked questions that — as one person put it — have been answered ad nauseam. Ahem.

One reader took the time to answer each and every one of the 50 questions for me.

I figured Nalcor would do that, though I admit some of my queries require the final decision gate numbers, and others are political in nature, something Nalcor should avoid if it can.  

The one obvious theme from the feedback was no surprise — that this is truly a divisive issue, and Kathy Dunderdale is making a decision for the history books.

The closest controversy I might compare it to was the battle over denominational education.

The proposed privatization of Newfoundland Hydro by the Wells administration in the 1990s is a close second.

In both cases, we saw campaigns for and against muster support and go to battle. We are seeing a similar situation now.

Some groups are just getting off the ground. There has been talk of a lobby to have the Public Utilities Board get a second shot at assessing the project.

The pro forces seem to be picking up as well. Several business leaders have shown their support with letters to the editor. I heard at least one businessman supporting Muskrat Falls in an ad on the radio, and there was an open letter to Newfoundlanders and Labradorians in this newspaper last weekend.

Danny Williams, with his speech this week, left no doubt (if there ever was any) that he wants this thing done.

Somehow, though, we have to tone down the rhetoric. I keep hearing that those who oppose the project present no reasonable alternatives.

Alternatives to what?

Some of us are confused by the changing messages and want to judge the project on its merits, not by someone’s simple say-so.

I get pretty ticked when I read “now is not the time to be a naysayer.”

I’m not. I’m just asking questions and hoping that the answers and pros and cons of the project be made available for all to see.

Nalcor and the provincial government have to go above and beyond to provide easy-to-understand information for the public.

I know the Nalcor website has reams of material; it even offers to answer questions directly, and that’s fine for people with the time and resources to go online and do that. Many do not.

As one Telegram reader said, “If the answers to the questions were easily accessible in a pamphlet to all citizens, then we would have a chance to digest it.”

Other premiers have delivered special statements on radio and television to discuss such important issues. A project of this magnitude is no less deserving of that kind of attention. Perhaps we’ll see that in the next few weeks.

We’re in an unusual situation on this one. Even the opposition parties’ positions are unclear, but at least I get where they are coming from. Like me, they are awaiting clear-cut answers.

The end of the month is near and with it, welcome updated information on Muskrat Falls. Prepare for more questions, because it’s the right thing to do.

Still no opinion. Still asking.    

Gerry Phelan is a journalist and former broadcaster.

He can be reached at

Organizations: Public Utilities Board

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