A record-breaking debate in the House of Assembly finally came to a close early Saturday morning, ending with a vote to pass two pieces of legislation relevant to the Muskrat Falls hydroelectricity development.
The 86-hour filibuster began on Monday and continued until 3:37 a.m. Saturday. A vote was finally held to pass Bill 60 and Bill 61.
“There was a fair amount of what I think was dead time ... in the filibuster where there was not a lot being said, but towards the end I think there was some very constructive issues raised when (the opposition) brought their ammendments forward,” said Darin King, house leader and minister of justice.
“The enabling legislation is done, and we’re ready to move forward.”
Both opposition parties feel that the filibuster served its purpose.
“I think that we went into the filibuster with a number of points that we wanted to raise and that we wanted to make sure were on the public record,” said Liberal leader Dwight Ball, speaking with The Telegram Saturday afternoon before making his way back to western Newfoundland for the holidays.
“It took a long time, but what we set out to do — raising the issues and questions about Muskrat Falls — we were able to do. From that aspect of it, for us, we’d look back at the filibuster as a success.”
NDP leader Lorraine Michael wanted to make sure she was there for the final vote on the bills in order to have her party’s voice heard on the record.
“I think the filibuster was successful in that we took the time to really raise the issues that were of a concern not just to us but also to people in the province,” she said.
Ultimately, Michael wishes such a debate could have occurred without a filibuster but instead through an all-party committee that could have held public meetings, but she said government decided not to facilitate that process.
King characterized much of the debate as an effort on the part of both opposition parties to prolong the debate and “fill time” with repetitious comments. He felt Natural Resources Minister Jerome Kennedy, Finance Minister Tom Marshall and Premier Kathy Dunderdale performed well in addressing the issues brought up.
The filibuster was a lengthy exercise for all involved, requiring substantial stamina. Ball would stay involved in the filibuster for 15 hours, then take a three-to-four hour nap before getting back into the debate. The NDP made sure at least two members were present throughout the event.
Bill 60 concerns expropriation rights and development of the transmission line running from southern Labrador to Soldier’s Pond outside of St. John’s. Bill 61 gives Nalcor Energy a monopoly for wholesale power generation in Newfoundland and Labrador. It also prohibits the Public Utilities Board from taking into consideration Muskrat Falls when setting electricity rates for consumers.
With the project now moving past the legislative stage, King says the public can expect to see more tenders issued and work to ramp up quickly for the construction phase.
Ball said his party wanted to get an ammendment in to set a date for the decommissioning of the Holyrood power plant, but that could not be accommodated, as the Holyrood plant is by definition not a part of the Muskrat Falls project.
“On the other hand, it was a big part of actually selling Muskrat Falls to the people of the province, and certainly to the people around Holyrood,” he said.
Ball said the project will remain a matter of concern for the House of Assembly. Monitoring the expenditures as Muskrat Falls proceeds will be of particular importance, he said, especially if cost overruns become a problem.
“Muskrat Falls will still be on everyone’s radar for a good few years yet,” said Ball.
“I think it’s extremely important that we continue to monitor as an opposition party the progress of this project as this government forges ahead,” she said. “We need to make sure that commitments they made in response to the environmental assessment panel, that those commitments are honoured, because there were many recommendations, and they’ve indicated the ones that they’ll take into consideration.”
Michael also intends to keep an eye on employment levels in relation to the project. “This project is going to be with us for many years, and it’s going to be a political issue for many years,” she said.