Masters and servants
It might not be a crime. But it was certainly a boldfaced lie, one told repeatedly and with extreme confidence by provincial politicians more concerned with partisan politics than with good government.
And it should, all things being equal, change the way we look at future provincial governments, at the commitments they make, and the diligence they claim to have taken.
The saddest part of all is that it is likely to change nothing at all.
The first section of the Muskrat Falls inquiry is over, and after all of the evidence that’s streamed out in thousands of pages of documents and days of testimony, the clearest takeaway is that, despite claims that the project was the most-studied ever in this province, the government of the day had more faith in their own infallibility than they had facts.
Politicians overseeing Nalcor Energy — and making the final decision to move ahead with Muskrat Falls — didn’t ask for independent analysis of the myriad of assumptions used to underpin the project. When reports were done, the politicians didn’t read them, at least not further than the executive summaries. Testing the rationale of a $12.7-billion project was apparently someone else’s job — a job, by the way, that wasn’t done first nor last.
Yet, when questioned, they stood up in the House of Assembly, they talked about “world-class” experts, about miles of careful, detailed analysis, about the way the project was being gone through, “Mr. Speaker,” with a fine-toothed comb.
Should we be surprised that a government that was so cocky about its own brilliance could have fumbled the ball so horribly?
Because it was business as usual: anyone who has covered provincial politics in this place — year in, year out — can tell you that there was nothing particularly sinister or, in fact, different about the majority-holding Tories who governed this province during the sanctioning of the Muskrat Falls project.
They acted just like every other majority government this place has ever had — convinced of their own superiority, dismissive in the extreme of the opposition, and downright contemptuous of any poor member of the great unwashed electorate who might dare to question their actions.
The irony is that those same politicians have used the witness stand at the inquiry in the same way they used the government benches in the House of Assembly — still trotting out the same blather despite everything that has already been made abundantly clear about the shoddy process used.
Muskrat Falls is only a large and obvious symptom of a greater and deeper political disease: there comes a point in every provincial government — sometimes early, sometimes later — when they stop being servants of the people, and start believing that they are masters.
We have to stop touching our caps in deference to those who believe they are everyone’s betters, and demand better.
But will we?