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Rats leaving the sinking ship

Nalcor was puzzled by the expression. He had never heard it before. Now that he had, he needed to do what he often did when he learned a new expression the people use.

He went to the internet for an explanation.

What he found was puzzling because, as usual, the people took what was a common sense occurrence and turned it into some sort of a moral lesson.

Readers of this column will remember Nalcor was now back home in Labrador among his own kind, the muskrats, in a swamp beside the river the people had named after the Prime Minister who had smoked the ‘Big Cigar’.

Nalcor was snugly installed in his cozy new lodge alongside the Big Cigar River where the falls, named after his species, the muskrats, were now at the centre of a growing controversy.

Nalcor was keeping track of the day-to-day developments using the internet, which he had learned to use during his time as a pet muskrat, living with the premier of Canada’s Rich and Poor Province at her home in St. John’s.

‘MizKat’, the pet name Nalcor had given the premier, had become more and more distressed by her inability to defend the idea of damming the Big Cigar River at Muskrat Falls. In the last days before he fled her home and hitchhiked back to Labrador, Nalcor had listened as Mizkat poured out her misgivings about the cost of the project and the enormous debt it would leave for the people of the province to repay.

To Mizkat it became ever more clear the Americans, who were supposed to pay for the hydro power from Muskrat Falls and thus shoulder the bulk of its cost, had found much cheaper sources for the electricity elsewhere.

Mizkat was distraught because she suspected she had been suckered into taking the seat in the premier’s office on the umpteenth floor of the Confederation Building, and with it the blame for the impending failure of the mega project.

It was so unfair she could see now.

She would go down in history as the premier who sank the ship of state once again in a bottomless ocean, from which 45-gallon oil drums had only recently bailed it afloat.

It was so unfair because the whole thing had been dreamed up by her predecessor, the ‘Angry Man Who Talks Too Fast’, her colleague ‘Jerome the Giraffe’ and ‘Ed with the White Head’, whose job it was to justify the headlong rush toward the inevitable collision with the oncoming fiasco.

This, all because The Angry Man Who Talks Too Fast thought he could single-handedly right the wrong done so long ago to the Rich and Poor Province, by its neighbouring province to the west when they partnered on the Big Cigar Falls hydro project.

In that province they spoke a different language, which the Angry Man did not understand, so he didn’t comprehend he would never succeed in intimidating them, for they were every bit as ruthless as the Angry Man himself, which is saying something.

Thus was born the Anglo Saxon Route, bypassing the intransigent neighbours whose language he couldn’t understand. Muskrat power would be shipped at great expense in cables undersea from Labrador to the island, across the island, underwater across the straits to Nova Scotia, across it, and into New Brunswick and thence over the border into the rich markets of the U.S.A.

A bold scheme that would make The Angry Man a hero, and if he and his associates could scoop up a few bucks at the same time, so much the better.

Somehow, from somewhere though The Angry Man got wind of some kind of trouble ahead. Nalcor had pieced together the story up to the moment, when totally without warning and in all haste The Angry Man announced he was quitting, and anointed Mizkat his successor.

“If he realized the project had become unprofitable, why didn’t he just call it off?” wondered the little muskrat scratching his head.

The answer came to him in a flash. It’s because humans, the people who are so proud to call themselves the most intelligent of all species in existence do not realize in that very thought is concealed their fatal flaw.

They are a proud species thought Nalcor. He had come across this phrase on the internet ‘Pride goeth before a fall’. It came from the Bible, a book that contained a lot of wisdom Nalcor realized, but had led to a lot of trouble and pain as well.

The Angry Man had seized on the Anglo Saxon route because he believed it would make him a proud hero in the eyes of an adoring populace, but when he eventually began to believe it wouldn’t, he appealed to Mizkat’s pride and gave her his job.

Let her take the heat.

When she in turn realized Muskrat Falls was a disaster in the making, her pride was hurt, and she admitted it all to Nalcor believing he couldn’t understand her language. At the same time, her pride prevented her owning up to the public who would end up footing a huge bill.

Strange folk these human people, thought Nalcor.

Take for example the phrase ‘rats leaving the sinking ship’ or Nalcor’s version of it, ‘muskrats leaving the sinking ship’.

To Nalcor, it seemed completely sensible a muskrat on board ship, who realized the vessel was going down, should part company with it. Just common sense right?

Apparently not to the humans.

At first when the Romans first noticed rats possessed a sixth sense of when a ship was on its way to the bottom, and they got overboard, the writer Livy reported his great admiration for the foresight of the rats.

But humans being humans, somewhere along the way pride intruded and instead of crying out “Follow those rats boys, if you don’t want a one-way trip to Davey Jones locker”, the people, too proud to follow the lead of rodents, instead cried out “Cowards!”

Nonetheless Nalcor hoped in the coming months increasing numbers of muskrats would be seen leaving Newfoundland and Labrador’s foundering ship of state.

to be continued ...

Peter Pickersgill is an artist and writer living in Salvage.

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