Wells’ inquiry testimony brought Dunderdale into focus
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]