Muskrat Falls and other things down the toi­let

The Southern Gazette - - Column - Bob Wake­ham

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-smilin­gany­more 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.)

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.

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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