"We can't allow things that are inaccurate to stand." — The Word of Our Dan, February 19, 2008.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Mutatis mutandis

A self-defeating argument

If Frank Moores and his PCs are to have any chance in this election campaign, it won't be through attacking Churchill Falls.

Neial R. Hankey
The Independent
August 16, 1971

“There’s a pulse out there,” said Frank Moores after he was named the leader of the provincial PC Party. Moores was referring to what he believed to be a growing opposition to the government’s plan to develop the Churchill Falls. With such a bold statement made directly after his coronation and on the eve of an election, it seems clear that leading the charge against the mega-project is going to be a major plank of the Moores’ election platform. I can’t help but think that Moores is way off the political mark on this one.

The role of the official opposition
Yes, it is the duty of the official opposition party to ask the important questions, press the governing party for details, present a different point of view, and hold the government accountable for its actions. This is something the PC’s were sure to do under Gerry Ottenheimer’s leadership; seemingly every opportunity Ottenheimer had in the House of Assembly was used to interrogate Smallwood or his ministers on the Churchill developments.

And yes, there is no doubt that there are some very real issues with the project. Are we giving too much to Quebec? Is Brinco, a private corporation, too partisan in its drive to develop the resource? This is just a sample of the important questions we must ask our government about Churchill Falls; Newfoundlanders owe it to themselves to give the project a sober second thought; it’s not like we haven’t made mistakes on mega-projects before.

This is now an election campaign
But from a strategic point of view, hammering away at the project throughout the course of an election campaign is political suicide.

The reasons for this are twofold. First, the Churchill Falls agreement was engineered and delivered by one of the most popular politicians in the history of the country, let alone in Newfoundland. Whether the PC’s agree with his politics and methods or not, they have to accept the fact that he was and still remains one of the most beloved characters of Newfoundland and Labrador. He is the man who depleted the PC opposition to just 3 seats in the House of Assembly, and he regularly enjoyed approval ratings between 77% and 82%. His track record for delivering for the province makes the majority of Newfoundlanders not just believe in him, but trust him. And if Joey Smallwood was the man who created the Churchill Falls agreement, then he knew what he was doing. An attack on the Churchill Falls agreement is not just an attack against the governing Liberal party, but is an attack on the works of Joey Smallwood… and people just won’t like it.

The second reason Moores should stay away from Churchill Falls in the election is even more important than the first: it is a self-defeating strategy. The better argument he can make, the worse off he will be. Let’s just say that the PC’s actually manage to gain some traction in their position against the Churchill Falls development, and voters in the province on a large scale really start to question whether or not this is the right thing for Newfoundland and Labrador. What do you think the odds are of Joey Smallwood staying on the side lines while his pet project is even mildly threatened by PC momentum? Nil. If Moores and his PC’s make gains in the campaign through opposition to Churchill Falls, Joey Smallwood will be there to defend his project, his legacy, and our future. And if Joey Smallwood gets involved in this election campaign, I’m sorry but it’s over.

Let go of Churchill Falls for now
No matter the case Moores can make against Churchill Falls, the defence of the project is much more attractive: our economic future beyond fishing and mining, regional cooperation, clean energy, job creation, independence… the list goes on. And that message is infinitely more powerful if delivered by Smallwood. The PC’s have to let go of Churchill Falls for now, swallow their resentment for Smallwood, and fight the Churchill Falls battle another day within the confines of the House of Assembly.

So whatever tricks Frank Moores has up his sleeve in the next two months, let’s hope they extend far beyond feeling this pulse. Note to PC’s: let the sleeping dog lie.

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At 11:58 PM, August 16, 2011 , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I. Pissed. Myself.

At 5:44 AM, August 17, 2011 , Blogger Brian said...

Is that like, “It's déjà vu all over again"


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