Offside at the House of Assembly

Bob Wakeham
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Darin King is starting to remind me a bit of Gary Bettman. King, of course, is the government House leader who stubbornly refused to give into Liberal opposition demands that witnesses be called during a special legislative debate on Muskrat Falls.

That debate, which requires unanimous approval of MHAs to take place, has now gone belly up (apparently), with little chance of revival, the democratic process receiving another kick in the groin.

Bettman, as most hockey fans would know (and perhaps more than a few non-jock afficionados, as well, given the fact that his smug mug is appearing with regularity outside the realm of sports stories) is the NHL commissioner who put players in an untenable position by playing the lapdog for owners and ordering a lockout, rather than attempting to negotiate an agreement during the course of the season.  

Now, millions of fans are paying for his arrogance and stubbornness.   

Even with the knowledge that the lockout would have repercussions for years, Bettman — whose emotional ties to hockey are those of a basketball man, which he is — kept his snobbish nose up in the air, as if his you-know-what didn’t stink, and made it impossible for him to get a whiff of the foulness that surrounded his every move in this absolutely frustrating dispute, a fan’s worst nightmare.

He is a bully.

In our home rink of Newfoundland, we have our own version of the bully. Minister King, the politician who runs the affairs of the Dunderdale administration in the legislature. He isn’t dealing with well-heeled suits or rich hockey players or millions of hockey fans. But he’s in much more important, crucial territory: he’s at centre ice with an audience of thousands of Newfoundlanders looking on, people who have every right to a detailed legislative debate on what is arguably the most important project the province has ever undertaken.

And, from where I sit, and most rational-thinking Newfoundlanders sit (one would assume), King and Premier Kathy Dunderdale should have been willing to compromise, to bend over backwards, if the voters were to be the beneficiaries, if their knowledge of the Muskrat Falls proposal had a chance to be enhanced by witnesses brought before the bar of the House. It might have been a tough political pill to swallow.

But Muskrat Falls is too important a matter to be used as a political football — or a political puck, for that matter.  

On the other hand, of course, and there’s always that “other hand,” Liberal Leader Dwight Ball in some ways resembles Donald Fehr, the head of the NHL players union.

Fehr may have cut off his nose in spite of his players’ faces (which are usually deformed, not by labour disputes, but by lifetimes of elbows and high sticks and fists) when he delayed moving in a direction that could have given the negotiations some impetus. Bettman is still the ultimate bad guy, but Fehr is not without some blame.  

In Ball’s case, he boxed himself into a corner by declaring unconditionally that witnesses be called or there would be no debate.

There was little room to manoeuvre and he provided King and the Tories the ammunition to charge that he was singularly responsible for the fact that the special debate would not take place in the House.

That’s totally disingenuous, of course: this is government’s call, and the ruling Tories could afford to be magnanimous. Nevertheless, Ball did take a penalty and gave government an advantage, a power play, and it scored.  

Lorrraine Michael, the NDP leader, could be viewed as representing the fans, in keeping with this hockey analogy of mine, as she sought ways to ensure the debate, the season of the Muskrat, could take place, even if it meant she had to hold her nose.   

Michael has suggested the witnesses be called in another setting. The debate, meanwhile, could go ahead. The games could begin. It was a sensible stance and politically astute as well.

If there’s no late peace agreement this week in the off-ice hockey wars, Bettman’s credibility, never pronounced at the best of times, will continue to take a justifiable beating.  

And if the Muskrat Falls debate remains in limbo, it’s King who should receive the most severe chastisement.  

Hockey fans are the big losers on one stage, Newfoundlanders the big losers on the other.

Bob Wakeham has spent more than 40 years as a journalist in Newfoundland and Labrador. He can be reached by email at ­

Organizations: NHL, NDP

Geographic location: Newfoundland and Labrador

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Recent comments

  • Cyril Rogers
    November 18, 2012 - 11:45

    JM has completed a detailed analysis, which I have taken the time to read, and I hope that anybody with any questions about this project will take the time to read it as well. His analysis points out the huge flaws in NALCOR's rationale and the disingenuous way that the government is twisting the facts to support an untenable position. Given their majority, they will rout the Opposition in the house but that only proves that they are ALL bullies or, in the case of their backbenchers, ALL sheep. If they had any integrity, they would stop sending out their chief puppets, Kent and Lane, to tweet their inane comments, and stop having their other backbenchers get on the open line shows to spout their misinformation. The Premier herself is acting like a bully, Mr. Wakeham, so why would you be surprised if Darren King is exactly like her in his approach? They are all clones of the Great One, without his verve and panache, but, nonetheless, a bully is a bully is a bully!!! Mr. Ball has taken a position on principle, and, in this instance, I would have been very disappointed in him, had he backed off from that position. There is not a whole lot of integrity in the Liberal Party at this point so a decision on principle is welcome. Besides, the debate is mere window-dressing to the bullies that are in control. They don't want the truth to get out, so they will obscure and confuse the electorate with a deluge of misleading and erroneous propaganda and happily use any excuse to stymie any real debate. A few of us warned, before the last election, that they were incompetent and dangerous in their obsession with Muskrat Falls, but many people still didn't vote and we consequently have a massive PC majority that was supported by less than 35% of the electorate. Perhaps, we got what we deserved, but do we really deserve to go down the road to financial ruin, or at least incapacity, with a bullying government that caters only to the business elite?

  • JM
    November 17, 2012 - 07:53

    There is one piece of critical information which has not been released by the Government, and it must be released to ensure that the Consumers in this province do not spend 50 years in the penalty box (Sorry it is not a strong analogy). That is the Power Purchase Agreement between Nalcor and Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro. The Power Purchase Agreement is reportedly for a 50 year term. It has a delivery of initially ~2 TWhr of power, gradually increasing until when the full output of Muskrat Falls will be used by the province of Newfoundland. But there has been nothing in the public domain as to when the energy will be delivered (ie; equal amounts per month, or primarily in winter when we need it). More importantly it does not state what capacity (in MW) will be guaranteed to Newfoundland Hydro. This is important because in the DG2/DG3 numbers presented in the CPW analysis Nalcor have assumed that the Muskrat Falls plant has been modeled as an unconstrained thermal generation unit of 900 MW (Go to page 16 of the following link . This means that we can effectively get 900 MW when we want it. I would like to understand if the Power Purchase Agreement would have similar language. This is critical because if we have access to 900 MW (as the cost comparison assumes) how can Nalcor then sell power to Labrador Mining, or indeed also give 167 MW to Nova Scotia? Also what hat are the penalties payable from Nalcor to Newfoundland Hydro in the event it can’t deliver it’s obligations. It is a critical piece of information. It’s omission from the public debate is as obvious as the omission of hockey from Saturday nights.