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Bob Wakeham: Muskrat Falls inquiry should be well worth the price

Construction of towers for the power line connecting the power plants at Muskrat Falls and Churchill Falls, circa 2014.
Construction of towers for the power line connecting the power plants at Muskrat Falls and Churchill Falls, circa 2014.

About the only occasion I don’t reject manipulation is at the movies. Take the opening of the magnificent and provocative western “The Wild Bunch” — one of my all-time favourite films, right up there with “The Deer Hunter,” “Raging Bull,” “Fargo” and “The Revenant”: the individual credits appear over black and white, freeze-framed shots of a platoon of soldiers riding into a quiet town, their identity as outlaws hidden from both the local folk and theatre patrons until almost the final seconds of the opening when William Holden, forever a good guy character on the screen, shockingly orders his men who’ve grabbed bank employees and clients, “If they move, kill ’em!” Holden’s snarly image is frozen, and the identity of the director (the manipulator) about to take us on a two-hour excursion into carnage and an iconoclastic rendering of the simplistic John Wayne-era Western is revealed:  “Directed by Sam Peckinpah.”

Bob Wakeham

I still get goosebumps as I recall that scene, watched with jaw-dropping anticipation with my father way back in 1969 in a small New Jersey theatre (Dad was as enthralled as I was, and we talked about the movie forever).

One thing of which I’m sure: Peckinpah had me, and I had no desire to protest.

Take me, I’m yours, Sam, I probably thought. 

And he delivered.

That little trip down my cinematic memory lane — I’ll use any excuse to take that route — is to illustrate, as I say, that the movies are the just about the exception to my life-long resistance to being manipulated, especially by politicians, and especially given the fact that that is a critical element in their modus operandi.

But I may have recently come across another exception, if what some are saying — Telegram columnist Brian Jones among them — that the inquiry into the Muskrat Falls fiasco is nothing more than “political manipulation” by Dwight Ball and his cohorts, a waste of money to showcase what has already been uncovered about this most colossal of white elephants, this embarrassing and financially strangulating boondoggle.

Because if, in fact, this announcement by Ball is absolutely political in nature, the Liberals in search of higher poll numbers leading into the next election a couple of years from now, I’m willing to buy in, and argue that whatever manipulation that exists in the move will ultimately be worth the price, and will be over-shadowed by the findings of a full-fledged, uncompromising inquiry.

That is, of course, if such an inquiry is afforded the type of mandate that will allow not only for an exhaustive search of Nalcor’s financial records on Muskrat Falls — a forensic audit — but an uncompromising investigation into the who, what, when, where, why and the how of the political decisions made, the behind-the-scenes ins and outs, from the moment the project caused a stirring in the legacy loins of Danny Williams.

Williams, to be sure, had Smallwoodian control over his cabinet and caucus, most of whom, if not all, would likely respond, “in which corner of the room, Premier?”, if he happened to even mumble the word “shit” (or, if your nature is prim and proper, you might prefer the puritanical version, the one in which the Williams’ apostles would ask, “How high, Premier?” whenever he ordered them to jump.)

Either way, there was to be little oversight from his elected disciples, or, for that matter, from an adoring public who thought Williams spoke ex cathedra, with near papal infallibility, on all matters, once the then premier, with little opposition, brought blessing to bear on Muskrat Falls, the last feather, as he saw it, in his historical cap.

And that set the tone for what has turned into $12.7-billion nightmare.

There were a few vociferous and high-profiled skeptics — David Vardy, Ron Penney, Cabot Martin and company — along the way, and a handful of columnist and commentators who raised doubts about Muskrat Falls, but all were dismissed by the Williams’ congregation as traitors to the Newfoundland cause.

(Early on, I suggested in this space that the project was really beginning to smell to the high heavens; and, as is my wont, made comparisons, not all that subtle or highfalutin, to a snippet of family history involving muskrats, how my Uncle Bill Judge, as a young fella in Grand Falls, would trap, skin and fry up the rodents, much to the chagrin of his father, my grandfather Joe Judge, who would spend hours scouring the pan in which the animals had been cooked, and angrily complain about the incredible stench the rat fry had left in his Monchy Road home).

Ball did the right thing in deciding on an inquiry.

But he shouldn’t be left off the hook.

The inquiry judge, whomever he or she may be, should not only ensure that Williams is held accountable for his Muskrat Falls decisions, but that our newest premier himself have his feet held before the fire for not having the fortitude to shut down the project two years ago.

Naive on my part to hope for such satisfaction? Perhaps.

But it’s worth a shot, even if it’s an expensive shot, as most inquiries tend to be.

Manipulation? Bring it on, I say.

DIRECTED BY SAM PECKINPAH.

 

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

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