History repeats itself…

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John Crosbie went on record a few years ago calling Smallwood’s endorsement of the 1969 Churchill Falls hydro contract with Quebec “one of the greatest public policy disasters entered into by a province or government in the history of Canada.” No news to all of us poor minions. I was a kid when this deal with Brinco and Quebec was signed in 1969 and have no memory of the news of the day. But I certainly grew up in a province whose people, over time, grew bitter over the lack of foresight and, more importantly, the lack of resources, while watching most of the revenue from this deal land in Quebec’s coffers. It still does and will continue to until 2041. A bitter pill indeed. Newfoundland and Labrador has seen, and will continue to see, more hard times, courtesy of the current Muskrat Falls project. A yoke around the neck of generations of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians, and we all knew it. A whole generation, and more, of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians have grown up in a have-not province and all that this moniker entails, and yet, here we find ourselves. Again.

Danny Williams, the premier this time, signed up the province for billions, and spent considerable energy heralding Muskrat’s boon to the province’s economy. Senior public servants cautioned and warned us about feasibility and cost overruns. Fears and concerns were drowned out. No one cared to heed these warnings, including the premier. Yet, here we are. Again. N.L. had about 10 prosperous years, thanks mostly to world oil prices, and now the bottom has fallen out — again — in a spectacular way, and resonating for a long time coming, according to the experts. Housing prices and economic forecasts are negative going forward; the government predicts that by 2020 N.L.’s unemployment rate will reach almost 20 percent. How in the name of God did it all go so unbelievably wrong? Were we all asleep at the switch?

 I  can’t quite put my finger on it, but why have we collectively adopted this cap-in-hand mentality with authority, and with governments in particular?

With the fullness of time and distance, similarities with Smallwood and Williams have come into focus; ditto for Churchill Falls and Muskrat Falls. Not all of them are kind either. Both were (are) men with big egos, and bigger mouths, both brooked no opposition, and to hell with the naysayers. Uneducated folks believed that Smallwood reached into his own pocket and paid them baby bonuses. Williams ran a national Anything But Conservative (ABC) campaign and wasn’t happy until there wasn’t a single Newfoundlander or Labradorian left sitting at the federal Cabinet table. The home crowd loved it. The logic of Williams’ rationale escaped me then — it fed his ego, along with his dislike and ‘I’ll-show-you-buddy’ distaste for Stephen Harper. Over that cliff we went. Like lemmings. Again.

Far be it from me — I’m not a politician, nor an economist, but clearly N.L. is in big trouble, and things will likely get dramatically worse over time. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but why have we collectively adopted this cap-in-hand mentality with authority, and with governments in particular? I’ve watched this spectacle my whole lifetime. Perhaps it’s the old merchant/fisherman dynamic that’s morphed over time. One can only speculate. This same dynamic applies to municipal government, especially St. John’s City Council, with the bloated executive compensation packages that taxpayers can ill afford. Especially now.

There is a growing grassroots call for action for some serious accountability in this recent provincial debacle. There are faces and names that we all know attached to it, along with their fingerprints. They know who they are, and so do the people of Newfoundland and Labrador. Every one of these individuals needs to be called out and held accountable. The people of Newfoundland and Labrador deserve to know how and why it all went so wrong on their dime. Again.

Sheilagh Malone / Ottawa, Ont.

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