It wasn’t quite Open Line, but it was darn close.
This province’s first “virtual town hall meeting” took place Wednesday night, with Labrador MP Todd Russell inviting his geographically widespread constituents to join a phone conversation on the Muskrat Falls hydroelectric project.
“Throughout Labrador in my travels and conversations, and through our most recent survey, Labradorians have told me they have concerns,” Russell said during his opening comments.
“They have expressed their opinions around environmental issues, about economic issues, social issues and cultural issues. The overriding concern that’s come to light is that no thought has been given to meet the needs and aspirations of the people who own this resource, the people of Labrador,” he said.
Just fewer than 2,200 people listened to the conversation, but there was only time for about 15 speakers, none of which were overly enthused about the Lower Churchill Project.
Some commenters were vehemently opposed to the idea, for varying reasons, while most wanted clarification from Russell on exactly what the benefits would be for Labrador.
There was concern wild game and fish would suffer from the project and others wanted more done to protect the environment as a whole.
“I don’t think we should be talking about Muskrat Falls or the Lower Churchill at all,” said Clarice (last names were not given for callers).
“There is just too many negative impacts (because of) this project and no amount of benefits can justify the destruction that it’s going to wreak on our river, on the ecosystem and the rest of the environment,” she said.
Others talked about the possibility of power rates in Labrador skyrocketing.
Roberta wanted to know if power rates on the mainland would be going up as a result of the project.
“I can’t say whether or not that’s going to happen. I can say with some certainty that is a very high probability,” said Russell in response.
“It is a question that is very important to the people of Labrador.”
Others wanted to know if jobs would be created for local people.
Brian from Wabush asked, “what guarantee do we have that the majority of the jobs are going to be for the people of Labrador?”
Russell could not give him a definite answer, mainly because there wasn’t one, he said.
“There’s nothing to say we are guaranteed jobs here in Labrador, even if we are qualified and are willing to take those positions,” said Russell.
The discussion over the pros and cons of the $6.2-billion proposal raged for 90 minutes. Once the time limit had run out Russell invited anyone who wanted to comment but could not, to leave a message through the call-in system.
He also expressed his gratitude for everyone’s participation.
“It has certainly buoyed my spirits to know that so many people ... are concerned about something so fundamental to us here in Newfoundland and Labrador.