Prime Minister Stephen Harper told a room full of friendly supporters Thursday evening that if re-elected, the Conservatives would provide a loan guarantee — or something equivalent — towards the Muskrat Falls hydroelectric development.
Harper made the announcement, as expected, at a rally for the province’s Conservative candidates at the Delta hotel in St. John’s.
Premier Kathy Dunderdale was also on hand and stood flanking Harper with the seven men who will run for the party in the May 2 federal election.
The prime minister said Dunderdale has brought up the Lower Churchill at every opportunity and has touted its benefits including reduced green house gas emissions, a more secure power grid for the island part of the province and the importance of the project to the Atlantic region.
“With these criteria in mind, a re-elected Conservative government would provide a loan guarantee or equivalent financial support for the Lower Churchill Hydro project,” Harper said, with the last few words being drowned out by thunderous applause.
Harper also said similar consideration would be given to other green projects across the country including in Quebec.
Earlier in the day, media reports quoted both Bloc Quebecois Leader Gilles Duceppe and Quebec Premier Jean Charest, voicing their displeasure at the suggestion Harper would help this province with the project.
Charest went so far as to say he would get involved with the federal election campaign if such a promise was made, suggesting a Quebec ABC (anything but Conservative) campaign, of sorts, could be in the works.
Harper took no questions from reporters at the event, leaving many scratching their heads on what exactly “equivalent financial support” means.
“With these criteria in mind, a re-elected Conservative government would provide a loan guarantee or equivalent financial support for the Lower Churchill Hydro project.” - Prime Minister Stephen Harper
Dunderdale spoke briefly with reporters after the rally and said she was satisfied with the commitment from the prime minister.
She also said the equivalent of a loan guarantee would be a lump sum payment, equal in value to what such a guarantee would save the province in interest payments.
However national reporters travelling with the prime minister told The Telegram they were briefed on the plane ride from Nova Scotia, and told a loan guarantee was the Conservatives’ preference.
But they were also told no taxpayers’ money — in the form of cash — would be paid to the province and there would be no help coming for the subsea cable that will link this province with Nova Scotia.
The Liberal MP for Humber-St. Barbe-Baie Verte Gerry Byrne was quick to respond to Harper’s announcement.
“Ten short days ago, the Harper government tabled a budget that contained none of the legislative provisions required to enact a Lower Churchill loan guarantee,” Byrne said in a news release.
He suggested to The Telegram Harper’s promise for such a guarantee was hollow.
“It’s basically saying he would be willing to consider approving some sort of loan guarantee, or some sort of financing, if it met some sort of criteria,” said Byrne. “There is nothing done on this project yet.”
The president of the province’s Federation of Labour, Lana Payne, said Harper has made promises to the province before that were not kept.
She wondered if the other federal leaders would also commit to support for the first phase of the Lower Churchill project before the campaign is over.