Update: No Muskrat Falls debate: Darin King

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House of Assembly file photo.

A meeting between house leaders today has left Darin King to conclude there will be no special debate in the province’s House of Assembly this fall concerning the feasibility of the Muskrat Falls hydroelectric project.

“The Liberal Party has pulled the plug on the debate,” said the Government House Leader, speaking with The Telegram this afternoon.  

The Liberals were looking for a debating arrangement under which expert witnesses could be called to take questions from members. This was something the governing Progressive Conservatives would not agree to.

“It’s been our position as government that we’d be willing to compromise on the hours the house sits, on the type of question period, on the amount of time that members — including leaders and critics — get to speak,” said King. “All of those things we were willing to compromise on.”

King said the New Democratic Party and independent MHA Tom Osborne were in agreement with government on how the debate would proceed, but the Liberal Party would not take part under the conditions proposed.

The House of Assembly is scheduled to open for the fall session on Nov. 19.

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(Story from today's Telegram print edition)

By James McLeod/The Telegram

Unless somebody backs down in a big way, there will be no special debate on Muskrat Falls in the House of Assembly.

In all likelihood, when the House of Assembly reconvenes on Nov. 19, politicians will be talking about whose fault it was that a debate in the House fell apart instead of talking about the

$7.4-billion Muskrat Falls project.

The divide comes down to whether a special debate in the Legislature will involve expert “witnesses” answering questions from MHAs about the project.

“We’re not prepared to bring so-called experts in. That’s a deal breaker,” Government House Leader Darin King said Monday afternoon. “So if one party decides that they’re not going to participate in a debate because of that, then there will be no debate.”

Liberal deputy House leader Andrew Parsons said witnesses are a deal breaker for him, too.

“No witnesses, no special debate,” Parsons said.

 

“We’re not going to have a special debate that they dictate the rules on us. It’s just not going to happen,” Parsons continued.

Premier Kathy Dunderdale promised this spring that the government would hold a special debate on the Muskrat Falls hydroelectric project. Dunderdale has always said she envisions that debate following a similar format to the Voisey’s Bay special debate in 2002.

But a special debate in the House of Assembly requires that MHAs suspend the regular rules of the legislature, and that has historically involved political parties negotiating mutually acceptable provisional rules for a debate.

“When the Voisey’s Bay special debate was done, all three parties agreed to it, right? It wasn’t dictated by the government of the day,” Parsons said.

The Liberals say they need the ability to question Nalcor officials and independent consultants the government has hired to review the Muskrat Falls deal in the legislature.

“I think that the people of this province should have a right to turn on their television and watch this debate and see the experts that the government are relying on,” Parsons said. “If there’s no witnesses then we’re not prepared to consent to these rules, and we’ll have to go into the House under the standing rules as they are currently laid out.”

Legally, there’s no requirement for the government to debate the Muskrat Falls project in the House of Assembly, and a regular session of the House wouldn’t give politicians to talk in as much depth about the project.

A regular session of the House would also open the government up to the possibility of a filibuster — something the Liberals have already threatened to do.

King said as far as he’s concerned, the province’s legislature just isn’t the right place for questioning experts.

“There’s been ample time for public debate, public critique, public criticism, public questions and so on,” he said. “But in the House of Assembly, that’s where politicians get to debate the merits of the project and then vote yea or nay on it.”

If the government doesn’t get unanimous consent from all MHAs on Nov. 19 when they come back to the House, they’ll proceed with their regular fall legislative agenda.

King said they may look for some other way to debate the project, but it won’t be a special debate.

“We could bring a private member’s motion on a Wednesday afternoon, for example, and debate it for two hours, and get our speaking time in and get our points across,” King said. “If the opposition parties are not prepared to co-operate with us, then they can defend that to their constituents as to why they won’t participate. We’ll try to find another way so we can have our say on the project, because we want people to understand where we all stand on this project and why we believe in the project so passionately.”

One person who seems to be looking for compromise and accommodation in all of this is New Democrat Leader Lorraine Michael.

She said she’s used to private, frank meetings between party house leaders, and the three parties haven’t spent much time doing that in this whole process.

“I want a meeting of the House Leaders so we can talk about this; I’m not going to have a discussion around this with the minister through the media,” she said. “I think it’s absolutely essential. We need to sit and talk to find out what it is we’re agreeing to. You know, what is the unanimous consent? What is it we’re agreeing to? I have no idea at this moment.”

 

jmcleod@thetelegram.com

Twitter: TelegramJames

Organizations: The Telegram, House of Assembly.In, Government House House Leaders

Geographic location: Muskrat Falls

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  • Hankey
    November 07, 2012 - 12:26

    Let the NTV NEWS hold a public debate televised for the whole province to see, with a panel that would let members ask Questions, and the ministers answer those Questions, A public debate controled by an independent panel, where a member can ask a question and the panel decide if it is a question that should be answered or not, The independent panel controling the debate.

  • Dan
    November 07, 2012 - 07:47

    Disgusting! Imagine not wanting to debate this project in public! We no longer have democracy. People of Newfoundland Labrador please remember this the next time you vote and PLEASE do vote!! Its your only voice in this dictatorship! ABC in NL sounds like a very good plan!

  • P F Murphy
    November 07, 2012 - 06:31

    I had hoped that the questioning of experts by the House would allow me to decide whether this deal is good or bad. I don't believe the opinions of the House of Assembly members are any more valid than the discussions that you might have at any of the bars around town and therefore I believe the examination of experts would have provided us with important information for us to decide to accept or reject this project. Darin King has just declared himself not an expert in psychology in the matter of the HMP and he is obviously not a legal expert so I wonder what would make him or any other member of the House of Assembly an expert on hydro-elecricity projects. What we are seemingly going to be struck with is a debate of non-experts all talking through their hats on a $7.4 billion project. I think that the Tories are so uninformed and unable, that they are afraid to expose themselves to experts who are not going to mouth the opinions that they have paid them for. Just more Dunderdale unaccountability and uninformed decision-making and it's all on the backs of NL tax and rate payers.

  • H JEFFORD
    November 07, 2012 - 06:25

    I know that the NFLD power will use the under water route to the mainland of Canada but will this also give NFLD access to US markets at a special rate, what type of contracts are in place.

  • roy
    November 06, 2012 - 18:26

    Is this a case where the Lib. members are incompetent, to ask questions. They are against the project, have stated so and are looking for anything to get out of the debate. They were elected by the people to represent those who elected them and the province as a whole. If the govt. lets tyhem question their expert wittnesses, they will want to bring in their own, the Group of five lawyers. To question the PC experts who will then question themselves . They want to create a three ring circus. Let them try and look after their own affairs a debt of over 800,000.00 with interest of over 35,000.00 per year. At least the NDP and Osburne are willing to represent the people and do their best, not run away because they can't play their kind of ball. I sure hope Coady and her renewal group shake up the liberal party, it needs to be done, if they want any credability as an opposition.

  • John
    November 06, 2012 - 18:10

    What are the Tories so afraid about the experts coming to testify? It is obvious to a blind man, there is definitely something to hide here. Why the resistance to a reasonable request? Even if the government is being honest about the cost of Muskrat Falls, you can be 100 per cent positive it is going to cost more money than they are saying. Industrial projects in NL always do especially those ones that are government driven.

  • which way is up?
    November 06, 2012 - 17:50

    no need for debate !! no need to ask questions !! we don't need to know the answers !! our government has everything under control !! our government is looking after out best interests !! our government can do "no" wrong !! maybe we don't really need elections !! our government knows whats right !! isn't that the way Dictatorships work?? Joey Smallwood thought he had all the answers and we're still digging out from that hole, ( upper churchill )

  • STanny
    November 06, 2012 - 16:55

    King, the RAT !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Cyril Rogers
    November 06, 2012 - 15:52

    Is anybody really surprised at this? The bullies are just looking for an excuse to pull the plug on any debate. We have a better chance of having a referendum....and that is definitely not on!

  • Eli
    November 06, 2012 - 15:49

    Imagine! "Darnit" King 'compromised' by allowing conditions for debate. Imagine again, he's talking about setting the government's rules for debate in the peoples house? Has he and they gone mad altogether?

  • Cormack
    November 06, 2012 - 15:46

    The King has spoken. All hail the King!

  • Virginia Waters
    November 06, 2012 - 15:41

    Much better no debate than the farce govenment has in mind. It passed a secrecy bill, it ignored a critical report from the federal/provincial evnironmental review panel, it stonewalled its own regulatory review agency until the PUB threw up its hands, it publicly ridiculed its critics or engaged others to do it form them, it juggled the numbes and fudged forecasts to justify the largest outlay of taxpayers' cash in the province's history, it kept changing its story on why the project was needed in the first place, and it spent large gobs of the public's own money to sell people like seniors on the idea that somehow this boondoggle was good for them. So, stifling debate in the House of Assembly is hardly a surprise. Did anyone think their elected representatives would be allowed an open, informed and free debate on this fiscal monstrosity? But 'tis an ill wind blows no good. It will put large chunks of change in the coffers of big business which it will pay for by leaching every dollar it can from ratepayers and taxpayers for the next 60 years. There you have it folks - our democracy at work.

  • Scott Free
    November 06, 2012 - 15:21

    Finally...that Secret Society known as the Con Party of NL is showing its true colors. Contempt of constiuents and distain for democracy; the legacy of the Danny Damage Era continues on under the Dunderdale Dimwits administration.

  • Graham
    November 06, 2012 - 15:19

    What an absolute joke and complete farce this so called government is. Come on 2015 so we can turf this arrogant non democratic bunch of Danny trained bobble heads.