Pillar to Post: Crosbie must be pinching himself

By Craig Westcott   |   Pillar to Post   |   Vol. 31 No. 49 (February 20 2019)

Is Ches Crosbie walking funny lately?

He should be, because it can’t be easy strolling around with a horse shoe up your kettle.

The man who should be the least-likeliest leader to win the next election – because of Muskrat Falls and the nearly billion dollar a year structural deficit left by the last PC government – keeps having things fall his way as we edge closer to voting day.

Ches’s latest break is the bad news rocking Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the federal Liberals, namely the SNC Lavalin scandal. As Trudeau keeps pumping his legs looking for traction in a bog of his office’s creation, his party’s re-election chances in the fall erode. The longer Trudeau’s agony goes on, the more possible it is that it will cost him the election, despite both the federal Conservatives and NDP lacking strong leadership or any kind of appealing platform of their own.

Canadians don’t like political corruption and the whiff coming from Ottawa, caused by speculation the Prime Minister’s Office pressured the former Justice Minister to cut a deal with SNC Lavalin to keep it out of court on bribery charges, has the makings of another Sponsorship scandal, which cost then Prime Minister Paul Martin his majority.

All this helps Ches, because if it looks like the federal Liberals are going down, he’ll be able to make the age-old Newfoundland claim that we need to have a provincial government of the same stripe as the one in Ottawa to get anything done. Despite this having been proven false countless times – the Danny Williams years being the most recent example – it has cachet with some voters.

The increasing likelihood of a federal Conservative win in the rest of the country also hurts Liberal MPs here, especially Seamus O’Reagan, as it gives the local Conservatives a good argument that Newfoundland has to elect at least one federal Tory to ensure we have a warm body at the cabinet table.

Trudeau’s troubles are bad news too for Premier Dwight Ball. His Liberals are tied in the polls with Crosbie’s PCs and badly need the lift, by association, that a popular federal Liberal government could give them. If Trudeau remains in trouble, there will be no benefit of association, making the coming provincial election all the more of a slog for anyone wearing red.

The nub of it

Still on the subject of SNC Lavalin, it’s interesting that some of the very same company principals implicated in bribing Libyan officials to get contracts were the same ones in charge when SNC was angling to get work on the lower Churchill project.

Little has been revealed of the planning and negotiations leading up the moment in 2006, when then premier Danny Williams swept all the publicly requested lower Churchill proposals off the table, famously declaring we were going to go it alone, and October 2010 when he announced he had struck a deal to develop Muskrat Falls involving Nalcor and Emera.

So far, the Muskrat Falls Inquiry has not pinpointed who was responsible for coming up with the idea for this particular project and why. This is significant because Muskrat Falls involved a completely different concept than anything Newfoundland Hydro or the Newfoundland government had ever contemplated in the past. All past ideas were predicated on developing the lower Churchill River for power exports to other jurisdictions. It was the only way development made financial sense. The Muskrat Falls deal turned that notion on its head and entailed financing the project on power sales to the relatively small market in Newfoundland.

It made no financial sense then, and even less now in the face of massive cost over-runs.

But somebody was determined to conclude the deal. One has to wonder, why? It’s not like Newfoundland was running out of power or facing shortages. There was no urgent need for a deal. Premier Kathy Dunderdale’s assertion the power was needed because more people were buying flat screen televisions was ludicrous.

But the PC government was so set on proceeding that it excluded Nalcor’s biggest customer, Newfoundland Power Limited, from having any look-in or say on the project. Similarly, it limited the role of the Public Utilities Board to such an extent that all the P.U.B. was allowed to do was sift the fantasy numbers of two competing make-believe scenarios presented by Nalcor which made Muskrat look like the winner. No other scenarios to meet our future electricity needs, such as wind power, or developing some of the smaller rivers here on the island, were allowed to be considered. The Williams government had even put a moratorium on the development of wind power. No wonder the P.U.B.’s board members couldn’t offer a ruling on Nalcor’s airy fairy Muskrat numbers.

One can’t help wondering what role SNC Lavalin played, if any, in the leadup to the signing of the deal between Premier Danny Williams and the premier of Nova Scotia. We know that SNC Lavalin was jockeying, like other big engineering firms, for a major part of the work.

It has been a failing of the Inquiry not to completely flush out the genesis of the Muskrat Falls project and to examine whether any Newfoundland politicians were in a potential conflict of interest because of business or other associations with SNC Lavalin or any other entities that stood to benefit if the project went ahead.

Unless the Inquiry doubles back to get at those details, that answer may have to await a later day.

New Democrats

A final thought on the poor old NDP, which seems determined to spoil any election chances it has provincially. Last week, the party released the rules for contenders seeking the leadership. A candidate must have signatures from 20 card carrying party members drawn from at least five electoral districts. “At least ten nominators must be people of marginalized genders.”

In other words, half of any leadership aspirant’s nominators must be gay, transsexual, bisexual, etcetera.

There’s nothing wrong with ensuring an avenue of influence for a marginalized gender, race, or any other community. But to insist that half the nominators must be gay, or trans or bisexual sends the message the party is run by a special interest group that is more interested in serving its own narrow causes than participating in the next election as a mainstream party competing for real political power.

The NDP finds itself in the unexpected and peculiar position of actually having an opportunity on the eve of a provincial election to select a leader who has more appeal than either Ches Crosbie or Dwight Ball. Rather than grasp that chance, it is limiting its options by letting itself be dominated by one interest group among many that compete for attention in politics. These rubber booters may say they want to change the world, but they’re too busy jostling among themselves to do it.

The Newfoundland NDP is like a handful of fleas sparring over the fleeting warmth of a dead cat. They’d sooner destroy each other than join wings and find a better host.

Dumb doesn’t describe it.


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