Honestly, there isn’t that much left to say about #DarkNL that hasn’t been already been nailed by Ed Riche or Ed Hollett or this Telegram editorial. But I thought there might be a few things I could add to the discussion before all of this is erased from public consciousness by the 2014 Winter Olympics.
This line was already dropped by my good comrade Jeremy Rumbolt, but it bears repeating: the last few days did see a crisis in Newfoundland – most obviously, a crisis in leadership. Generally, you’d expect to see politicians hamming up the severity of an event like this in order to score points off the emotional crescendo of a distraught electorate. Instead, the Premier breaks a three-day silence to wax philosophical about the difference between a ‘critical situation’ and a ‘crisis’ and then calls into VOCM the next morning to get mad at everyone who wasn’t impressed. While I love a masturbatory debate about semantics as much as the next academic, she probably should have saved it for an occasion that wasn’t her first public appearance since a power plant caught fire.
But then again, what do I know? Maybe Dunderdale is right and this is really just a giant, generalized inconvenience. After all, the hospitals were working and if you were shoveled out by Sunday you could probably drive to McDonald’s. This is basically what Trevor Taylor, the Northern Peninsula’s answer to Chuck Norris, published in the Telegram today: some good old-fashioned conservative wisdom. All our modern conveniences like indoor plumbing and electricity have made us soft and we’d never even have to worry about this if we all tapped into our inner Bay Wisdom and made sure we always had enough wood chopped to survive five days in the dark at -30. Who cares if all our energy infrastructure is past its expiry date and everyone in charge knew about it (and knew that it couldn’t withstand this “completely predictable winter weather”)? Pop trusted only in himself and his Premier, and so should you.
Conspiracy theories that this was a publicity stunt for Muskrat Falls were rightly mocked when they first popped up, but given all the PR mishaps it’s easy to understand where the sentiment comes from – especially when the Premier used her first media appearance to shrug that ‘yeah this sucks but by the way, Muskrat Falls is going to solve all our problems (after three more years of this)’. It’s like the executive is so indifferent to public opinion that they can’t even be bothered with properly pandering to us anymore. Everybody knows that Newfoundland is an oligarchy where a certain ex-Premier sits primus inter pares, but when there’s enough power to put off an Ice Caps game while pipes are bursting across the island and people are still evacuated into hotel rooms, it’s a little bit too obvious. Even as a cynic, I appreciate a little subtlety.
Like Ed Riche above, I want to give Kathy Dunderdale the benefit of the doubt in this situation. But even in this most generous reading, we’re still left with a Premier who is genuinely competent and empathetic but incapable of conveying it. And in a political culture where appearance and perception effectively make reality, there isn’t that much difference in the end. Dunderdale had very little public credibility going into this and she has close to none coming out.
It is, after all, a little hard for people to eat cake when they can’t even turn on the stove.