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BOB WAKEHAM: Muskrat Falls and other things down the toilet

By the end of the calendar year, the report from the Muskrat Falls inquiry should be in the can, pardon the pun. —
By the end of the calendar year, the report from the Muskrat Falls inquiry should be in the can, pardon the pun. — 123RF Stock Photo

You could safely say that Dan Schaumann, an Australian photographer who now calls Canada his home, and Richard LeBlanc, the head of the Muskrat Falls inquiry, have never met.

But if I could, I would modestly propose — as part of my pure addiction to the furthering of human dialogue — that LeBlanc and Schaumann get together for a couple of medium double-doubles to discuss a cover for the report the commissioner will eventually share with the Newfoundland public.

Schaumann, you see, is currently in St. John’s as part of an ongoing photographic pursuit of Canadian toilets — that’s right, toilets — particularly those whose images are worth sharing on Instagram.

(I have no idea what Instagram means, a generational gap in knowledge I’m too old to narrow, but I see it in print enough to assume it’s an online medium of sorts that allows individuals to spread the product of their expertise to what are called “followers,” a word that has always given me the woolies, associating it, as I do, with brainwashing — the Catholic brand being the one I am most familiar with).

In any case, I was thinking that Leblanc, who just last week finished up what seemed like an eternity of hearing evidence in the Muskrat Falls fiasco — some of it mind-numbingly dry, the stuff technocrats embrace with evangelical zeal, but more importantly, a great deal if it of the shocking, the jaw-dropping variety — hould ensure that the report’s cover symbolizes the content. And I’m presuming, and hoping, his conclusions will have not even a hint of ambiguity and will tell us the full, definitive financial horror story of the Labrador hydro project, birthed like a Newfoundland version of “Rosemary’s Baby” with only a handful of exorcists in sight.

So, what better illustration of the Muskrat Falls boondoggle than one of Schaumann’s photos? A toilet, or innumerable toilets, if Leblanc is so inclined, to remind us of the pure, unadulterated stink, the nose-pinching stench, that has permeated every aspect of this disastrous development from the outset.

In keeping with this crude pictorial metaphor, you could argue that the problems with Muskrat Falls had their genesis in the fact that so many Newfoundlanders believed Danny Williams swim through sewage and come out the other end blessed with an aroma Pepé Le Pew would be proud to call his own.

The vast majority of Newfoundlanders absolutely adored Dan the Man, and were unwilling or unable to question anything he proposed for their supposed betterment, and were quite ready to follow him down a Yellow Brick Road, one that ultimately led to the outhouse called Muskrat.

Very early on in the sad saga of stupidity and gall of Muskrat, I wrote a column about my Uncle Bill Judge and his fondness for the fried muskrats he and his buddy trapped in the outdoors of Grand Falls, and how his father — my grandfather — Joe Judge, would curse and swear about the godawful smell the evening fry of “rats,” as Bill called them, would leave in the kitchen, and how he would scrub like a crazed man any of the pans or instruments used by his culinary son. I thought at the time, even with my very, very limited knowledge of hydro projects, but based on the warnings being issued by a number of agenda-minus souls, that there was a stench, not unlike Uncle Bill’s cooked rats, emanating from Confederation Building and the Nalcor offices. I was right.

Now, if Leblanc is looking for a secondary image for his report’s cover, and is inclined to “think local,” as it were, as in recent local headlines, he may wish to take advantage of all the hoopla surrounding the town of Dildo, presently attaining its 15 minutes of fame through American comic Jimmy Kimmel’s fascination with the community’s unusual name. A sense of propriety, along with the editor’s delete button — and, of course, obscenity laws — prevent me from explaining in detail why a “Welcome to Dildo” sign would seem appropriate for the LeBlanc cover, and would represent what the Muskrat Falls project has done, and will continue to do, to people in this not-so-smiling-anymore land of ours; but I’m sure you get the picture, as unappetizing as it might be.

(An aside here: like many, I did get a few chuckles initially from the Kimmel/Dildo segments on late-night television, but, at the risk of being a killjoy, I couldn’t help but eventually wonder why it is we continue to get absolutely giddy and star-struck whenever someone of note west of Port aux Basques pays us a bit of attention, as if we required such notice to reduce our insecurity. And that’s to say nothing of selling this magnificent place of ours through a quaint and goofy place name, and having Premier Dwight Ball (or the “premiere,” as mispronounced by Kimmel), looking as comfortable as a cat at the Westminster Kennel Show as he tried unsuccessfully to join in the “fun.” Ah hell, perhaps I’m displaying an acute case of Newfoundland sensitivity once again.)

My message, though, is to Judge Leblanc: a picture of a toilet, a picture of a dildo. Take your pick, Your Honour. Either, or both, should appear on your cover.

I’m sure Mr. Schaumann or a municipal leader in Dildo would take your call.)

Bob Wakeham has spent more than 40 years as a journalist in Newfoundland and Labrador. He can be reached by email at


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