Wells’ in­quiry tes­ti­mony brought Dun­derdale into fo­cus

The Aurora (Labrador City) - - Editorial - Bob Wake­ham

As noted here on oc­ca­sion, Andy Wells rarely dis­ap­points the seek­ers of head­lines, the pur­suers of quotes — a New­found­land pub­lic fig­ure who, like him or loath him, al­ways “gives good clip,” or so went an apt de­scrip­tion of the for­mer politi­cian by a CBC col­league of mine dur­ing one of the cave­man days of lo­cal jour­nal­ism.

It doesn’t mean there was al­ways some­thing sub­stan­tive in what Wells had to say, but his an­i­mated and of­ten nasty dis­putes with his en­e­mies in­vari­ably pro­duced colour­ful and provoca­tive re­marks that were near im­pos­si­ble to ig­nore.

So I paid at­ten­tion to his re­cent ap­pear­ance be­fore the Muskrat Falls In­quiry, with, ad­mit­tedly, the rather shal­low premise that it might have, at the very least, some en­ter­tain­ment value; I wasn’t dis­ap­pointed.

Wells was in fine form bang­ing his gums for Com­mis­sioner Richard LeBlanc, but there’s no need for me to re­gur­gi­tate his ev­ery ut­ter­ance, since any­body with an in­ter­est in Muskrat Falls would have prob­a­bly ob­served the per­for­mance by the for­mer chair­man of the Pub­lic Util­i­ties Board, or its cover­age in the me­dia.

But the most im­por­tant as­pect of his tes­ti­mony, at least in my view, was a re­minder to the prov­ince of the crit­i­cal role Kathy Dun­derdale played in what may turn out to be the most sig­nif­i­cant fi­nan­cial dis­as­ter in this prov­ince’s his­tory.

It’s not that the prov­ince has been unaware Dun­derdale was premier when the fi­nal sanc­tion, the fi­nal go-ahead, was given to the Muskrat Mess, but it seems to me she has been get­ting a rel­a­tively easy ride on the Muskrat train, hav­ing got­ten lost (to her ev­er­last­ing de­light and re­lief, I’m sure) in the huge omi­nous shadow of Danny Wil­liams.

Now, don’t get me wrong; I, and many other com­men­ta­tors, colum­nists and crit­ics of Muskrat Falls have noted time and again that this was Danny’s baby, he gave it birth, at a time when he was the most pow­er­ful and pop­u­lar man in the prov­ince, when he could merely wave his hand and ex­pect com­pli­ance from his cabi­net and back slaps ga­lore from his mostly ador­ing con­stituency.

And if Muskrat Falls is the fis­cal night­mare it cer­tainly ap­pears to be, cre­ated with an atro­ciously min­i­mal amount of fore­thought and over­sight — and this in­quiry has done noth­ing thus far, to al­ter that per­spec­tive — it will leave a dark mark on Wil­liams’ record, one he’ll take to the grave. (Wil­liams, of course, is stick­ing to his ar­gu­ment that Muskrat Falls stands as a project for the im­mense ben­e­fit of fu­ture gen­er­a­tions).

But we some­times for­get that Dun­derdale could have pulled the plug on Muskrat Falls be­fore even a sin­gle bucket of ce­ment was poured at the Labrador site.

Yes, there were cabi­net min­is­ters and cau­cus mem­bers who could have taken a stronger stand on Muskrat Falls. But Dun­derdale was the boss. She had the au­thor­ity. She could have saved the prov­ince a for­tune. But she pushed ahead, stop­ping only — if you be­lieve Wells — to try and bully the Pub­lic Util­i­ties Board into tak­ing a be­nign view of the project. (I know, I know, it is some­what hyp­o­crit­i­cal on Wells’ part to moan about be­ing bul­lied).

Dun­derdale will get a chance to ex­plain her­self when she ap­pears be­fore the In­quiry in midDe­cem­ber.

But Wells has pro­vided some pre-emp­tive ground­work, re­mind­ing all of us that this fi­asco was not strictly “The Danny Show.”

Ironic, though, that Dun­derdale should be treated with kid gloves, given the fact that there are some res­i­dents out there in ob­server land who ac­tu­ally be­lieve she was given an ex­tra hard time when premier be­cause she was a wo­man.

But I’ll make the point I’ve made be­fore in this space: Dun­derdale was given the gears by peo­ple like me be­cause she was a flop as premier. Her gen­der was ir­rel­e­vant.

It was the same sort of inane crit­i­cism I re­ceived in some cir­cles, that of be­ing a sex­ist, for sug­gest­ing Judy Foote’s ap­point­ment as lieu­tenant-gov­er­nor was an ex­am­ple of pa­tron­age, that it was no co­in­ci­dence that she had been a press sec­re­tary to a Lib­eral premier, had been a provin­cial Lib­eral cabi­net min­is­ter, a fed­eral Lib­eral cabi­net min­is­ter, and had be­come the Queen’s rep­re­sen­ta­tive in New­found­land on the or­der of her for­mer boss, Lib­eral Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau.

So you know I’m fright­ened to death to risk the ire of dog­matic fem­i­nists for once more res­ur­rect­ing Foote’s job qual­i­fi­ca­tions here in the con­text of the pa­tron­age plum given her daugh­ter, Carla Foote.

Sure I am.

As you know, Foote the Younger was given a highly paid po­si­tion at The Rooms with ab­so­lutely no com­pe­ti­tion, no in­ter­view as such, with the gov­ern­ment main­tain­ing — in an amaz­ingly weak ar­gu­ment by Busi­ness Min­is­ter Christo­pher Mitchelmore — that her po­lit­i­cal con­nec­tions had shag-all to do with her get­ting the job.

It’s a trip to the pa­tron­age trough for Foote, pure and sim­ple, the same sort of trip made by her mother.

Pa­tron­age stinks. has. It al­ways will.

And you can mark it down that Ches Cros­bie, now con­demn­ing the Foote ap­point­ment will, if he some­day be­comes premier, find him­self de­fend­ing sim­i­lar pa­tron­age jobs.

It’s the na­ture of the beast. As be­ing a shit-dis­turber the na­ture of Andy Wells. It al­ways is

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

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