Premier Kathy Dunderdale is saying a loan guarantee for Muskrat Falls is still on track, and there will be a fully open public debate on the project — eventually.
Dunderdale was speaking to reporters Wednesday following a meeting with Prime Minister Stephen Harper earlier this week, where they talked about the loan guarantee along with a range of other issues. Dunderdale said the loan guarantee is almost finalized; and with luck, the public will have a full package of information on final cost estimates for the massive Labrador hydroelectric project by the end of October.
“That was a conversation I had with the prime minister, again, about the importance of the loan guarantee, what it will mean to the people of the province, because it’s significant savings directly to the people of the province by reducing the cost of the project,” Dunderdale said.
A federal loan guarantee for borrowing associated with the Muskrat Falls project could be worth on the order of $600 million in savings, since the province would be able to borrow at a lower interest rate.
Dunderdale said they were finalizing the last bits of the loan guarantee, but didn’t go into details.
She said in order to finalize the loan guarantee they first need final project cost estimates — so-called “Decision Gate 3” numbers — which Ottawa wants to see before they nail things down.
Dunderdale expects Muskrat falls debate in October
Once the loan guarantee is finalized, those terms will be provided to Manitoba Hydro International (MHI), an independent contractor which is doing an analysis on the final decision gate three numbers.
“That information that’s needed to inform MHI’s final report so that we all know what we’re talking about,” Dunderdale said. All of this represents yet another delay for the Muskrat Falls project.
When an agreement in principle for a loan guarantee was signed more than a year ago — in August 2011 — there was some hope that the terms could be drawn by the end of November 2011.
At one time, decision gate three numbers were expected by late June. As recently as August, there was widespread hope that the final cost estimates would be made public by mid-September.
The current timeline appears to be that Dunderdale hopes the decision gate three numbers will be finalized, then the loan guarantee language will be pinned down, then MHI will complete its report all within the next four weeks or so.“I expect all of that to be in play before the month of October is done,” she said.
From there, the whole thing will go into the House of Assembly for a debate. Opposition parties had expected some negotiation on the structure of that debate — notably, the Liberals have said they need the ability to question experts on the floor of the House — but it looks like that won’t be happening.
“Listen, the Liberals laid down the template for these kinds of debates on Voisey’s Bay and that’s the template we’re going to use,” Dunderdale said. “There’s the same opportunity to question facts and figures. There has been no other project in the history of this province that has ever gotten this kind of scrutiny. Ever. There’s never been this amount of information release, this amount of study being done.
”All of this got a chilly greeting from the “2041 Group” a confederation of lawyers and former civil servants who oppose the Muskrat Falls project.
At a news conference coming on the heels of Dunderdale’s conference, former politician and labour activist Richard Cashin called the whole situation undemocratic.
He argued that the government has effectively neutered oversight of the project when they limited the scope of the Public Utilities Board review of the project.
“I think every man woman and child in Newfoundland expects this government to do the right and honourable thing. No more secrecy. Have the debate open. Have the MHAs the right to call their own witnesses. The government can provide theirs,” Cashin said. “What is wrong with open parliamentary debate? It’s the essence of democracy which up until now has been thwarted by this government.