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Bob Wakeham: The ghosts of Muskrat past

Kathy Dunderdale
Former premier Kathy Dunderdale. — File photo

It would be decidedly unfair to suggest Kathy Dunderdale might resemble Jacob Marley, and it’s obviously out of season for references to Dickens’ man in chains, but it was, indeed, Ebeneezer Scrooge’s dead partner who came to (my probably warped) mind while watching that chance encounter between the former premier and Ches Crosbie, captured by a CBC crew during the early days of the Windsor Lake byelection campaign.

Neither Crosbie, the moose-man turned Progressive Conservative leader, and now the Tory candidate in Windsor Lake, nor Dunderdale, the politician turned private citizen, appeared comfortable when it turned out the wannabe premier had arrived at the door of retired premier and prospective constituent Dunderdale during his street-to-street appeal for votes, although Dunderdale did manage to awkwardly promise her full support for his MHA ambitions — as, I guess, you would expect from one Tory to another.

But it was also a videotaped example of a tell-all political moment, a microcosm of an issue that will (and should) dominate not just the byelection, but the next general election as well.

It was, after all, the present, and possibly the future, coming face-to-face with the past, an ugly past at that, Dunderdale wearing those Jacob Marley chains of ignominy, the chains of Muskrat Falls, and Crosbie trying desperately, and unsuccessfully at this point in his fledgling political life, to extricate himself from the Muskrat Mess, a Tory-made state of unthinkable affairs that could derail his career before it even leaves the station.

Now, if there was any justice, and in fairness to Dunderdale, Danny Williams should also have appeared in this microcosmic picture, wearing Dickensian chains, the heaviest of them all, destined to weigh down his reputation in perpetuity for his pivotal, architectural role in the Muskrat Falls debacle.

But, alas, this was Dunderdale’s stage time in the fog, and Crosbie’s, as well, the two of them intertwined on videotape for the province to see.

The CBC crew had to have been delighted to be situated where it was that day, at the doorstep as the two PCs exchanged greetings, but I thought the reporter dropped the ball (I’m presuming a journalist was tagging along); I would have loved to have seen him or her milk the piece of serendipity for all it was worth, and have asked Crosbie right there and then about Muskrat Falls and the impact Williams, Dunderdale and company will have on his political aspirations.

What a crock! The Tory administrations picked and chose the information it needed to plow ahead, ramifications be damned.

It was just such an ideal, appropriate time to put him on the spot.

Even a polite request for an interview about Muskrat Falls would have been absolutely unnecessary; the cameras should have kept rolling as Crosbie walked away from the Dunderdale home and he should have been peppered with questions, should have had his feet put to the fire, as they say. It would have made for good television and good journalism, a combination that always has an appeal for the viewing public and the editorial bosses (at least it did in my day).

Up to this point in his leadership tenure, Crosbie has been wishy-washy on Muskrat Falls, and instead of burying his predecessors in the waste they created and engineered, he has somehow managed to half-apologize for the actions of the Williams and Dunderdale regimes, saying they made decisions based on the information they had at the time.

What a crock! The Tory administrations picked and chose the information it needed to plow ahead, ramifications be damned. If Crosbie had the political sense, the political intuition of, say, his loose-cannon father, he would have emptied his barrels in the direction of anybody who had anything to do with Muskrat Falls.

And it’s not as if the Liberals are free of Muskrat Falls sins; they’ve handled this explosive issue from the outset like a live grenade, evidenced by Premier Dwight Ball’s weak and disingenuous promise (one made, not coincidentally, during the launch of Paul Antle’s candidacy for the Windsor Lake seat) that none of us will have to pay for the Muskrat Falls fiasco through our monthly electricity bills. (It will be of great solace to me as I split junks next week in preparation for a winter of woodstove heat).

You could almost hear the reaction in every nook and cranny of Newfoundland: Where in the name of Joey are you going to get the money, Premier Ball?

And it’s not just the economic brains of the province who know it’s the generations to come who will pay the piper if Ball and his cohorts attempt to mitigate electrical bills in the next few years through some sort of surge in our already staggering debt.

In any case, the Dunderdale/Crosbie moment is behind us.

Now we might have to make do with a structured meeting of the so-called minds: Antle and Crosbie, Ball and Crosbie, the present and the past, with the NDP present as a sobering, neutral observer.

Roll cameras!

Action!

Enter Jacob!

Bob Wakeham has spent more than 40 years as a journalist in Newfoundland and Labrador. He can be reached by email at bwakeham@nl.rogers.com

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