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Brian Jones: Inquiry announcement is more of same

Justice Minister Andrew Parsons (right), Premier Dwight Ball and Natural Resources Minister Siobhan Coady announce details of the Muskrat Falls inquiry Monday at Confederation Building in St. John's.
(From left) Justice Minister Andrew Parsons, Premier Dwight Ball and Natural Resources Minister Siobhan Coady announce details of the Muskrat Falls inquiry, Nov. 20. — Glen Whiffen

 

If nothing else, the impending Muskrat Falls inquiry will prove Newfoundlanders have an infinite tolerance for being manipulated and treated with contempt by their government. In fact, this week’s announcement of the inquiry has already proven it.

Astute observers may have noticed that the same arrogance and self-interest that propelled the approval of the Muskrat Falls project is also on display in the Liberals’ Frankenstein inquiry, a monster that will be assembled using only the parts personally approved by the premier and his party.

 

Brian Jones
Brian Jones

 

The Frankenquiry will have a gestation period of two years. Two years! Babies are born and learn to walk and start to talk faster than the Liberals’ contrived creature will utter answers to questions that, in any event, have already been asked and answered by critics many times over.

The manipulation and condescension of Premier Dwight Ball and his sidekicks are as clear as Danny Williams’ conscience. The Liberals think Newfoundlanders are too stunned to get angry about the crass self-interest in setting the inquiry’s deadline as December 2019.

In an amazing coincidence, none of the bad news will be officially proclaimed by the inquiry’s report until after the next provincial election.

This is the same kind of detestable politicking that got the province into this monumental mess in the first place.

Ball’s strategy is simple: the Muskrat Falls fiasco is entirely the fault of the Progressive Conservatives. He conveniently overlooks the fact that the Liberals supported the project from the beginning. He ignores the cowardice and incompetence shown by the Liberals when they didn’t immediately cancel the disastrous project upon being elected in November 2015.

He apparently hopes to ride this strategy to another electoral victory in the fall of 2019, pointing an accusing finger at the PCs all the while.

After all, when the inquiry’s report is completed and all the warnings of the naysayers are finally officially proven to have been accurate, whatever anger Newfoundlanders are by then capable of mustering will be directed at the governing party.

Here’s a question worth asking now, rather than after the inquiry is over: why limit the inquiry’s investigation to the years the Tories held office?

For the Liberals, it’s better to deal with that anger after they’ve just been re-elected rather than during a campaign leading up to an election.

Does this tactic disgust Newfoundlanders? Of course not. It is what they are accustomed to in provincial politics, year after year, and administration after administration.

The parameters set for the Muskrat Fall inquiry highlight an essential characteristic of Newfoundland politics: the government, whether PC or Liberal, is always extremely confident of its ability to manipulate the public.

They are justified to have such confidence. It took more than half a decade for a majority of Newfoundlanders to realize the Muskrat Falls project was built on lies and deceit. It will probably take another half decade for most Newfoundlanders to realize the Muskrat Falls inquiry was — is — an exercise in political manipulation.

Here’s a question worth asking now, rather than after the inquiry is over: why limit the inquiry’s investigation to the years the Tories held office? The inquiry should look not only at the approval of the project by the PCs, but its continuance by the Liberals.

Of course, the latter issue is not among the stated terms of reference of the inquiry (Newfoundland and Labrador Regulation 101/17, Section 4).

It gets worse. Commissioner Richard LeBlanc is instructed by the terms of reference to look only at the past. He isn’t asked to examine various options for the future and offer recommendations, which is exactly what ratepayers need, and have needed for at least two years, and which the Liberals have ignored.

The Liberals avoid the topic of options because it is in their own best interests to do so, even to the detriment of the public. The nature of Newfoundland politics is crass manipulation, and the Muskrat Falls inquiry continues that tradition.

 

Brian Jones is a desk editor at The Telegram. He can be reached at bjones@thetelegram.com.

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