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Letter: Here’s what we need from a Muskrat Falls inquiry

The Muskrat Falls hydroelectric generating site, circa June 2015.
The Muskrat Falls hydroelectric generating site, circa June 2015.

 

“Beware lest you lose the substance by grasping at the shadow.” — Aesop

The imminent inquiry into Muskrat Falls runs the risk of being a waste of time and money and, therefore, not satisfying the projects critics or an increasingly skeptical public.

There will be much hoopla upon its release, with Liberal politicians and their communications colleagues attempting to convince a near panicked citizenry that scrutable diligence will be performed. There will be the impression that swamps will be drained (to borrow a recent U.S. Republican metaphor), smoking guns revealed and noxious bodies identified.

There will be the expected rebuttal from the Conservatives that it will not reveal Liberal complicity and accountability and that the inquiry is merely an attempt to pivot blame.

Media and pundits will point out obvious shortcomings, such as investigation into the inadequacy of the environmental review process, determining the efficacy of the generation and transmission structures, rationalizing operational costs, etc. There will be blather and caterwauling from all quarters.

Unfortunately, there is real potential that there will be more smoke than fire. More sound and fury than substance. Much ado about nothing (but without the comedic elements of the Bard’s play).

If this inquiry cannot subpoena key personnel involved in the project from its inception to testify under oath subject to laws of perjury, it will be a waste of time. If it cannot identify who made decisions when and for what purpose, it will not satisfy critics. If it cannot trace decisions made around major projects, where the money actually went and the appropriateness of the expenditures, little benefit will accrue.

“The role of genius is not to complicate the simple but to simplify the complicated,” noted American writer Criss Jami.

If this inquiry cannot subpoena key personnel involved in the project from its inception to testify under oath subject to laws of perjury, it will be a waste of time. If it cannot identify who made decisions when and for what purpose, it will not satisfy critics.

Many questions in John Q public’s mind require answers. For example, if corruption is revealed, will charges follow? If malfeasance is demonstrated, will attempts be made to recover misspent money? What role did the civil service play in the debacle? How best to remove the “rat” from “bureaucrat” and return the civil service to its intended non- partisan function? Will bonuses and other financial benefits be revoked, even retroactively? Is government prepared to act on information revealed before the inquiry is completed? Will people be fired? Will legislation be put in place to ensure this does not happen again? Will there be a Sunshine List of employees (including subcontractors) who received in excess of $100,000 and companies who received more than $1 million?

Payments to law firms alone should provoke a run on law school applications, with accounting designations a close second. Suspected or proven political connections will add cynical grist to the mill.

If these and other questions are not answered, the inquiry will be perceived by many to be a waste of time. Lipstick on a pig. The powers that be already know that a largely complacent public has been asleep at the wheel. That so far we have acted more like medieval subjects than modern republican citizens. That we are more akin to Chase the Ace organizers than the rebellious and vengeful Madame Defarge and company in Dickens’ “Tale of Two Cities.”

At least that’s how we have mostly behaved to date. With the arrival of the first electricity bill increases, that may change. Then, faced with even higher taxes, combined with reduced or eliminated government programs and services, it will be too late to demand answers.

And that would be a pity.

 

Tom Hawco

St. John’s

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