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Pam Frampton: Six Stages of Boondoggle

['The construction site of the hydroelectric facility at Muskrat Falls, Newfoundland and Labrador is seen on Tuesday, July 14, 2015.']
['The construction site of the hydroelectric facility at Muskrat Falls, Newfoundland and Labrador is seen on Tuesday, July 14, 2015.']

Boondoggle — noun. North American informal. 1930s. • a public project of questionable merit that typically involves political patronage and graft. Nalcor CEO Stan Marshall agrees that in this province, at this particular time, we’ve reached Stage 4. I don’t think many people would dispute that.

Pam Frampton

I’m talking about the six phases of megaprojects, which apparently are familiar to seasoned observers of such grand schemes.

Marshall listed the phases in a speech he gave in St. John’s to an electrical and computer engineering conference in November 2016, back when we were in Stage 3.

I prefer to call them the Six Stages of Boondoggle as they pertain to the $12.7-billion massive Muskrat Falls hydroelectric project.

Marshall’s definitions are provided in italics below, paired with news or commentary of the day that reflects each phase.

Stage 1

“First, comes wild enthusiasm. A big announcement followed by the endorsement of all concerned.”
Telegram article, Dec. 18, 2012: “Premier Kathy Dunderdale formally sanctioned the $7.7-billion Muskrat Falls hydroelectric project Monday evening, calling it a pivotal moment in the history of Newfoundland and Labrador.

“With all the pomp and ceremony the government could muster, Dunderdale held a formal announcement in the lobby of Confederation Building with current and former politicians, business leaders and members of the public in attendance.
“She framed the announcement as a matter of deep pride for the people of the province, and a move that cut to the heart of the Newfoundland and Labrador identity.

“‘The most important benefit of this development is that it allows us as Newfoundlanders and Labradorians to stand tall and proud on the national stage,’ Dunderdale said.”

Stage 2

“Second, comes delusionment. Reality sets in as forecasts and budgets go out the window.”
Letter to the editor, Tony Rockel, March 13, 2013: “While the rest of the developed world is rapidly moving off the electricity grid, thanks to new energy-saving devices, rapidly evolving power-storage technologies and ever cheaper and more efficient wind turbines and solar panels, the Dunderdale government is telling us that we absolutely must ‘develop’ the Lower Churchill Falls.
“Yes, let’s ignore the new reality and blunder our way into one more ecological and sociological disaster, the cost of which, incidentally, will cripple us financially for generations.”

Stage 3

“Third, comes confusion, panic and hysteria.”
Letter to the editor, J.F. Collins, Oct. 2, 2013: “Is it too late for rescue? Though already one-fifth the way down the path to disaster, must we still go the other four-fifths over the cliff?
“The reference is, of course, to the monstrous Muskrat Falls sleight-of-hand. … Nova Scotia is now to be guaranteed most (60 per cent) of Muskrat Falls output at minimal cost, leaving this province with 40 per cent egg on its face and 80 per cent of the total expenses. This is much worse than the Upper Churchill.”

Stage 4
“A search for the guilty. Who’s responsible for this boondoggle?”
Tweets from @dennisburden, Aug. 19, 2017: Expose the works, make Nalcor naked, lock up the real criminals, send (message) to any future would-be corrupt politician…
“Can’t wait for the real criminals associated with this Monster to be held accountable…”

Stage 5

“Punishment of the innocent. The people who were primarily responsible are long gone, so let’s punish those who are left trying to fix the problems.”

Stage 6

“After the project is finished, it’s time to reward the uninvolved.… Everything that could be done to fix the problem and bring the project to the finish line has been done. Roll out the trumpets, hang the ribbons and break out the cameras for a big splash.”

In parting, Stan Marshall told his audience: “I fully anticipate that we will come to that phase, but I don’t expect I’ll be included.”

I’m thinking a public inquiry could preclude Stage 5 and provide the opposite effect to Stage 6, by holding to account those who are actually responsible. Of course, that will only happen if an inquiry is called while the people who need to answer key questions still have total recall.

It’s funny how the memory can go when it’s needed most.


Pam Frampton is The Telegram’s associate managing editor. Email Twitter: pam_frampton

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