Muskrat Falls criticism and pledges to curb government spending went largely unheard at the St. John’s Board of Trade debate Tuesday night, which saw a sparse turnout.
Provincial candidates squared off on economic issues at the Sheraton Hotel on Tuesday night.
But those who were there — about 50 people — saw Liberal candidate Danny Dumaresque repeatedly slam the government’s planned hydro megaproject in Muskrat Falls — even as he suggested it’s an issue that isn’t getting enough attention.
“The issue of Muskrat Falls is so real and people just don’t want to zero in on it,” he said during a discussion on the level of government spending and civil service growth. “If you are committing, relentlessly pursuing a $5-billion project with the possibility of cost overruns which we are taking 100 per cent of the risk on, this is very serious business. I don’t know if people don’t understand that if you take five years to build it, we’ve got zero revenue and we’re going to have to pay back the bank $5 billion.” Dumaresque added former PC premier Danny Williams would have listened to the people of the province: “He would take a break. He would not go and shove this down the throats of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians.”
The province’s debt — a constant bone of contention of the Board of Trade — had Conservative Finance Minister Tom Marshall pointing to his party’s fiscal record.
“To get the debt down, the first thing you have to do is run surpluses,” he said. “You can’t pay down debt if you’re running deficits, so we went to surplus and we’ve had six in the last seven years, after years and years of deficits, which were financed by increasing debt, which meant that the interest would go up, which meant that we were sending money up to our moneylenders rather than using it for programs here in the province.”
NDP Leader Lorraine Michael — the only party leader who participated in the debate — said the NDP approve of how quickly the government has cut about $4 billion from the province’s net debt. “My concern is, and we do say this in our platform, is that we have to make sure we maintain a balanced budget so that we do not add to that debt,” she said.
“Another concern that we have, and this is not something that’s in the platform but it is something that we’re concerned about, is that government has been balancing our budget but government has been eating away at our cash assets," she added. "Right now we have cash assets of almost $2 billion, and if government continues using the cash assets for our programming, then within a very short period of time, three to four years, our cash assets will be gone.”
More in Wednesday's Telegram.