NDP leader discusses Bill 29 and Muskrat Falls
NDP Leader Lorraine Michael. — Photo by Joe Gibbons/The Telegram
For New Democratic Party Leader Lorraine Michael, 2012 was a good year.
For the first time in her political career, Michael went into the House of Assembly as
the leader of a political party with a few other members of her political party there to back her up.
“It was a positive adjustment because it meant that I didn’t have to be the only voice. It was wonderful not having to speak, myself, to every single bill,” she said. “We had to learn the rules of the House more closely, because we had an opportunity to operate as a caucus, therefore I now was using rules of the House in a way that I didn’t have to before.”
Essentially everyone in Newfoundland and Labrador politics agrees the defining issues of the past year were Muskrat Falls and Bill 29.
Until the mar-athon Muskrat Falls debate during the week before Christmas, the Bill 29
filibuster was the longest legislative action of its kind in Newfoundland and Labrador history.
The legislation, which passed following a weeklong debate in the House, drastically restricted public access to information, and expanded the types of documents the government could keep secret.
Michael said Bill 29 was a big issue in its own right, but as with just about everything else in Newfoundland and Labrador politics these days, she tied it back to Muskrat Falls.
“It was important, not just in and of itself as a piece of legislation, but the implications for something like Muskrat Falls,” she said. “I really believe they brought it in to make it more difficult for us down the road to get inside information on Muskrat Falls.”
In her year end interview with The Telegram, Michael’s tone while talking about Muskrat Falls was exasperated.
She said the NDP has held a consistent position on the project all along.
“We never made a statement on the project itself. It was on process and it was on getting enough information to know if it could work economically,” Michael said. “That’s still where we are on Muskrat Falls.”
Michael has generally refused to come out and say she’s “against” the project in the same way as the Liberal Party has; instead, she’s insisted that the government hasn’t provided enough information to prove that the project is solid, especially when it comes to the economic viability.
“Put everything aside and ask the question: What are the energy needs of the island of Newfoundland? And what are the ways in which that can be put together? The government didn’t do that so we’ve never had enough study done to say that Muskrat Falls is the cheapest way to go,” she said. At this moment in time, I do not believe that we can afford this project. Does that mean I’m against dams? No. That’s not the bottom line. The bottom line is, can we afford the project?”
Michael said she doesn’t think politicians have spent too much time talking about Muskrat Falls in 2012, but she said they’ve been retreading over the same talking points again and again.
“We haven’t gotten open answers from the government in the House of Assembly, so finally being able to discuss it in the House of Assembly hasn’t brought any more information, not because we’re not asking the right questions, but because government won’t give the answers,” she said. “The level of the discussion, the quality of the discussion is all shaped by government’s refusal to be open with information.”
Michael said that as a party, they’re constantly mindful that no matter what the big problems of the moment are, they have to remember their bread-and-butter issues.
“For example, we still do not have a home-care program, and we still do not have a plan from government with regard to a home-care program. We don’t have a plan with regard to early childhood education. We have bits and pieces, but they still really haven’t put a plan in place,” she said. “We still have major, important social issues that are still there, and one of our efforts as a party is to make sure in dealing with something like Bill 29 or Muskrat Falls, that we don’t let those other issues fall to the wayside.”