Muskrat Falls is a distant second-place election issue in the Corporate Research Associates (CRA) poll done exclusively for The Telegram, but the poll also reveals most respondents are in favour of the costly, proposed hydroelectric deal.
The Telegram first reported poll results in Thursday’s edition, showing the PCs are in the lead and the NDP and Liberals are fighting for second place.
While that result is no shocking revelation, the in-depth poll has a large sample size of 800 and examines voter leanings in detail, as well as what’s important to the electorate.
The Weekend Telegram will also feature stories and analyses of the poll.
The poll was conducted between Sept. 29 and Oct. 3 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points with a confidence level of 95 per cent.
Twelve per cent of respondents — without being prompted by choices — placed Lower Churchill/Muskrat Falls as the top issue for them in the election, far behind top issue health care, which was mentioned by 31 per cent of respondents.
In fact, more people — 17 per cent of respondents — said they don’t know or had no answer than the percentage of people who named Muskrat Falls.
Asked specifically about the hydro deal, 23 per cent of respondents said they completely support the deal, followed by 35 per cent who mostly support the deal.
Only 14 per cent of respondents indicated they mostly oppose the deal, followed by 11 per cent who completely oppose it.
The strongest support for the deal lies with those in higher income brackets, particularly those who earn more than $75,000. They may be looking at the economic spinoffs of the project and may not be as concerned about rising power rates. Support for the deal is also strong among respondents with higher education levels, CRA president and CEO Don Mills said.
Older people are less likely to support the deal, possibly because they are out of the working world and so won’t see the economic benefits, and they don’t want to see their light bills go up.
The $6.2-billion Muskrat Falls project, if it goes ahead, will generate 824 megawatts of electricity.
That juice will flow over transmission lines from Labrador to the island.
An estimated 40 per cent of that power will be used to meet this province’s needs. The remainder will be redirected over a maritime transmission link.
Nova Scotia’s Emera — a 29 per cent partner on the transmission link but not the generating plant — will take 20 per cent of the power.
The excess electricity — initially about 40 per cent — will then be put up for sale, likely in New England, where it would be traded like a commodity.
Nalcor officials acknowledge power rates will rise if Muskrat Falls proceeds, but caution the cost of electricity will rise even higher if the project doesn’t go ahead because of power demands and the high cost — both price-wise and environmentally — of continuing to burn Bunker C oil at the Holyrood generating plant.
Mills said obviously Muskrat Falls is not the priority issue among the general electorate that some politicians, open-line callers and pundits say it is.
“It’s not to say the Lower Churchill/Muskrat Falls is not an important issue, but in terms of an election issue it falls quite a bit below,” Mills said.
The Liberals have placed priority on Muskrat Falls as an issue throughout the campaign.
“The Liberal party is getting killed in this election so that issue is not helping them,” Mills said.
Speaking to reporters in Gander about The Telegram’s polling, Liberal Leader Kevin Aylward consistently pivoted back to the party’s cornerstone issues: the fishery, rural Newfoundland, forestry and, most of all, Muskrat Falls.
While he also named health care as a perennial issue, Aylward said the reason he tends to talk more about issues like Muskrat Falls and the fishery is because they affect the economy, and by extension, the provincial treasury.
Aylward suggested that there may be a major shift in public support coming, as people consider the proposed Muskrat Falls hydroelectric deal.
“We could easily see a move — especially when it comes to deciding on Muskrat Falls and where the future is going with four and a half billion dollars worth of debt,” Aylward said.
“This is going to affect health-care spending, it’s going to affect our budget.”
Tory Premier Kathy Dunderdale said the Tories are not getting much talk of Muskrat Falls as they knock on doors.
“When it is mentioned, the majority of the commentary is in support of Muskrat Falls. It’s not an issue at the door,” Dunderdale told a Telegram reporter while on her campaign bus.
NDP Leader Lorraine Michael concurred when she spoke to The Telegram during a phone interview from Labrador.
“On the doorstep, we’re certainly not hearing much about Muskrat Falls. I did hear a bit about Muskrat Ralls (Wednesday) night at the gathering in (Happy Valley-Goose Bay),” she said.
“There, the concern is that (Muskrat Falls) is not going to benefit Labrador.”
But she said on the island, the issue isn’t a big deal.
with files from James McLeod,
Steve Bartlett and Dave Bartlett