Despite a few bumps in the road and a political deadlock over terms, it looks like the House of Assembly will see a very brief debate over the Muskrat Falls project after all.
But the debate may not happen until after the provincial government has already made the final decision to sanction the $7.4-billion hydroelectric project in Labrador.
Premier Kathy Dunderdale announced Monday the debate will take the form of a private member’s resolution. After a breakdown in negotiations between Dunderdale’s governing PC Party and the Official Opposition Liberals, a private member’s resolution was the only procedural way the government could hold a debate on its own terms.
“We’ve done everything we can to encourage the opposition parties to come forward and have a debate amongst representatives of the people on the policy of Muskrat Falls. We believe it’s time to do that,” Dunderdale told reporters.
“We’ve been hearing from experts for over two years. There’s a tremendous amount of information in the public arena that has been validated by any number of experts. It is now time for politicians to do what we were elected to do.”
New Democrat Leader Lorraine Michael has spent much of the past month calling for discussion and compromise, but Monday afternoon she was livid.
“A private member’s resolution is a very, almost insignificant event in the House of Assembly, and here’s the government choosing to use that day as the day to bring forward something about Muskrat Falls,” the NDP leader said. “They’re playing a game with the most expensive project this province has ever taken on — billions of dollars of taxpayers’ money. It’s absolutely outrageous.”
Private members’ matters are debated weekly in the House; in total, the matter will get roughly two hours of debate.
Last spring, government members used private member’s motions to praise the government’s 10-year social housing plan, to support the government’s efforts to prepare people for “career opportunities in the skilled trades” and to applaud the work of foster parent, and commend the government’s work in supporting them.
Liberal Leader Dwight Ball wasn’t as fired up as Michael, but he wasn’t happy about the prospect of a Muskrat Falls private member’s debate either.
“It seems very odd. I would say we were expecting, of course, much more than that,” he said.
Muskrat Falls dominated question period on the opening day of the fall sitting of the House, with opposition parties calling on the government to send the project back to the Public Utilities Board for a full regulatory review.
Dunderdale argued there is already more than enough information available, and the last thing that’s needed is more study.
“It is time for members opposite to fish or cut bait,” Dunderdale said. “If you do not agree with this project with all of the information you have at your disposal, you stand and critique the project and have some expertise to back up what you are saying.”
Because of the nature of the parliamentary schedule, there’s a decent chance that the government will sanction the project before the Dec. 5 debate.
Dunderdale has said in the past that she wants to see the project sanctioned by the end of the month, and on Monday she said that if the final piece of the puzzle falls in place — the federal loan guarantee promised by Prime Minister Stephen Harper — then she won’t wait.
“When all of the information is in place and signed off properly and we’re in the position to make the sanction decision, then we’re going to go ahead and make the sanction decision,” she said. “We can’t continue to be delayed and delayed and delayed by tactics from the opposition.”