Editorial: Delayed reaction

Published on April 12, 2017

The old saying is “a stitch in time, saves nine.”

What it refers to, of course, is the idea that you can stop a whole seam from unraveling by taking early preventative action with a needle and thread.

Maybe it’s an adage that several provincial governments should have taken to heart when dealing with the Muskrat Falls fiasco — especially, the “in time” part.

The only real problem? Effective independent oversight hasn’t arrived until long after the project has become bogged down in serious and expensive trouble.

The hydroelectric project, as we all know, is well over budget and far beyond schedule, and the increased costs will come back to bite ratepayers and taxpayers for years to come.

Yet it wasn’t until Monday that the provincial government finally appointed anyone other than provincial bureaucrats to the three-year-old oversight committee. The committee describes itself as: “Chaired by the Clerk of the Executive Council, the committee comprises senior officials from Executive Council and the Departments of Finance, Natural Resources and Justice.”

In other words, public servants reporting to their political masters.

Until now, the committee has been unsatisfying in the extreme. Its last occasional report was filed in December 2015, and its minutes are a study in brevity. A December 2016 meeting, an hour and a half long, generated just 55 words, seven of which were “The meeting was adjourned at approximately 6:15 p.m.”

What was accomplished? They briefed the chair on an earlier meeting and planned a site visit.

Now, the committee is going to include four new members — Jason Muise, Jim Feehan, Sterling Peyton and Vanessa Newhook. Musie and Feehan are particularly good choices. Muise is an engineer with experience in project delivery, while Feehan, a Memorial University economist, has had a keen and critical eye on the project since its inception.

Peyton and Newhook have experience in the bureaucracy.

But all four bring the critical requirement of not having to remain in anyone’s political good graces.

The only real problem? Effective independent oversight hasn’t arrived until long after the project has become bogged down in serious and expensive trouble.

That’s something that is too often the case in this province; no stitches in time here. Our governments seem to prefer the great and lengthy unraveling.

And that raises a particular concern.

Why do successive governments feel it necessary to entrench themselves in their decisions, no matter how badly those actions are going?

Why is it that provincial administrations in this province seem incapable of saying, “We made a mistake”?

Why is it that governments, Liberal or Tory, prefer to keep digging when they find themselves in a hole?

It’s got to change. We need a government that solves problems, rather than ones that let matters fester until there is no way out — followed inevitably by commissions of inquiry designed to teach us where we went wrong, and that seem to prove, repeatedly, we seem incapable of learning.