Following her speech at the Mineral Resources Review 2012 mining conference in St. John’s Thursday, Premier Kathy Dunderdale was asked about her discussions on Lower Churchill power with other provinces and other premiers.
As she stated earlier this week — when the final, pre-construction cost estimate on the Muskrat Falls development was released — the premier said she is in talks with Ontario about that province’s appetite for power from the Lower Churchill.
“Ontario is very interested in the development of Gull (Island),” Dunderdale told reporters, adding she has had regular discussions with Ontario leadership on the subject.
There have been no commitments to date for the 2,250 megawatts of power that would come from building a hydro plant at Gull Island, an area between Muskrat Falls and the existing Churchill Falls power facility.
There has also been no predictions for a start of construction at Gull Island — the current focus being on planning, costing and building the power facility at Muskrat Falls.
The premier was asked about the new Parti Quebecois government in Quebec as well, and whether similar discussions on Lower Churchill power have been ongoing with that government.
Dunderdale said she has not spoken with the new premier of Quebec, Pauline Marois, on the subject, but expects to have an opportunity to do so later this month in Halifax.
The meeting will be the first opportunity for Marois to offer any reaction to the Dunderdale government’s heavy rhetoric and hardline stance against Quebec taking the lead on power.
In an address to the St. John’s Board of Trade on Oct. 3, Dunderdale spoke on the issue as if Newfoundland and Labrador was being held back by Quebec, talking about “Quebec’s predatory grip on our province’s economy” and “the yoke of geography that Quebec has tried to place around (Newfoundland and Labrador).”
“Indeed, as we witnessed between 2006 and 2010, Quebec’s actions, through its regulatory process, forced us to reconsider Gull Island for the initial stage of the Lower Churchill development,” the premier said in her address to the board of trade.
The current administration has accused Quebec of dictating the potential for industrial growth here, by blocking power deals that would benefit Newfoundland and Labrador.
The same kind of statements — of Quebec’s energy “stranglehold” — were made during a news conference held earlier this week, with the release of the final pre-construction cost estimate for the first phase of the Lower Churchill development, the so-called DG3 number, of $7.4 billion.
Asked about Quebec, Dunderdale said the province has “a troubled relationship” with its neighbour. She acknowledged she has been saying more about that relationship as of late and the fact that, “because of their geographic location, that (Quebec) are ... have been an obstacle to our development of our energy resources here in the province.”
That opinion has been disputed by individual critics and politicians.
All of that said, provincial Minister of Natural Resources Jerome Kennedy and the premier have been consistent in expressing a willingness to get back to a table with Quebec, to discuss the subject of power exchanges, with Muskrat Falls approval under their belt.
Both have said the Lower Churchill hydro development, the first dam and associated transmission infrastructure, as well as the plan for the Maritime Link with Nova Scotia, offers the province the ability to negotiate from a new “position of strength” in its relationship with both the Government of Quebec and Hydro-Quebec.
The question remains how the new Government of Quebec will respond to the rhetoric.
“I don’t want to prejudge what the relationship will be,” Dunderdale said of her upcoming meeting with Marois.
“I’ll try and gage then her level of interest in working with us in developing Gull in particular.”