Where the Liberal leadership hopefuls stand on Muskrat Falls

James
James McLeod
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Liberal leader hopeful, Dwight Ball

In the spring of 2011, the Newfoundland and Labrador Liberal Party created “Muskrat Fails” a website with an adorable Churchill River water droplet who has some serious misgivings about the Muskrat Falls hydroelectric development.

The cartoony website tells visitors that power currently costs approximately 9 1/2 piggy banks, but with Muskrat Falls, consumers will pay 20 1/2 piggy banks for their electricity.

“Muskrat Falls? More like Muskrat Fails! It’s enough to bring a tear to your eye,” Winston says, sobbing.

Since then, the Liberals have been the clearest, loudest voice of opposition to the current plan for developing Muskrat Falls.

The Liberal party is firmly against Muskrat Falls — except for all the members who are firmly in favour of it.

As party members consider the crop of leadership candidates in the coming months, they’ll have to weigh strident Muskrat Falls opponents like Danny Dumaresque against Cathy Bennett, who was a board member at Nalcor for the entire time that the Muskrat Falls plan was being developed.

This week, The Telegram talked to all five Liberal leadership can-didates, trying to pin down

exactly where the party stands on the largest megaproject in the province’s history.

Subsidizing electricity; party policy

… or not

At the party’s annual convention last fall, members passed only one policy resolution related to Muskrat Falls, calling on the government to use any excess revenue from selling surplus electricity to subsidize rates in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Candidates present mixed bag of opinions

Cathy Bennett said that’s not something she necessarily supports.

“My position is going to be the position of the Liberal Party of Newfoundland and Labrador, but having said that, the work I’ve done in the last nine days would lead me to believe that there is a lot of opportunity for us as a party to work on our policy,” she said. “I think for any candidate to say that the revenue generated from Muskrat Falls is going to go directly into power is maybe not necessarily looking at what the overall priorities are. I think we’ve got lots of things that we need to invest our money in, and you know what? Stabilizing rates certainly may be one of them, but it’s not the only thing we have to focus on.”

But MHA Dwight Ball said that surplus electricity sales absolutely should be used to reduce power rates in Newfoundland and Labrador.

“We should be using that excess power to develop industrial industry here on the island or in Labrador. Also, I’ve always said and maintained that the ratepayers of the province have been asked to finance this,” he said. “If this project generates excess revenue, well, that should be used to offset the cost of energy to ratepayers in the project.”

Every candidate except Cathy Bennett said excess revenue should be used to reduce domestic rates, although Jim Bennett went a step further, saying the government should subsidize power rates even if they don’t find anywhere to sell surplus Muskrat Falls electricity.

“I don’t think we can wait around and hope that we generate some revenue and if we generate some revenue we help people with their electricity rates,” Bennett said. “I think that we, as a Liberal party, will have an obligation to protect people from the mistakes of the government.”

The eggs are scrambled now

Speaking to all five candidates, the rhetoric was vastly different; Dumaresque said the current plan involves “gouging the ratepayer” whereas Paul Antle said in principle he supports “clean energy” but he’s got some concerns about the structure of the deal.

Cathy Bennett is gung-ho about the decision to sanction, although she thinks that a Liberal government led by her would be better at managing the project while it’s under construction.

But as for the rest, whether they’re mildly skeptical or loudly dismayed with the government’s choice to sanction Muskrat Falls, all the candidates agree there’s no going back now.

“No one is going to stop a hydro development that’s half-constructed. No one would do that in their right mind, but we can revisit how this thing is financially engineered. We can certainly do that,” Antle said.

“To me, that debate is over,” Jim Bennett said. “We’re far enough in we can’t get out. We have to finish the deal now, and my view is the most responsible thing is for the Liberal party — the Liberal government, hopefully — to manage the fallout from the bad deal that’s Muskrat Falls.”

jmcleod@thetelegram.com

Twitter: TelegramJames

Organizations: Liberal Party of Newfoundland and Labrador

Geographic location: Muskrat Falls, Churchill River, Newfoundland and Labrador

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  • Greg
    July 16, 2013 - 15:01

    Mrs Carter...Sorry but i have to agree with sherry on this one...First of all i don't have anything again Mr Ball...How can this man JUSTIFY standing in Marystown...Telling the people of that community he see a future there...Then telling the people of Jackson Arm...The only thing he can see there is MAKE WORK PROJECT...I guess you can call that MR Ball 50/50 shot..LOL

  • Sherry
    July 16, 2013 - 14:37

    Maggy Carter...Are you saying...The people of NL...Should get behind Mr Ball...Concerning important TOPIC...If he was the right man for the job...He wouldn't jump so quick...To join the pcs TEAM...Concerning the mill in Grand Falls...MR BALL WAS ONLY LOOKING TO GAINE A FEW VOTES...He had plenty of time to check everything out for HIMSELF...WE don't need another Government like the one we got>>

  • Maggy Carter
    July 16, 2013 - 10:32

    @Betty - For the record, Yvonne Jones was initially opposed to Muskrat but changed her mind in November last year - publicly offering her support in exchange for some spinoff for her district. The provincial liberals as a whole under Ball, and Ball personally, have consistently refused to support Muskrat - citing in part a review process that was secretive, unreliable and flawed. ..........@Sherry - For the record, Ball had no way of knowing that the expropriation bill being rushed through the House by Williams had accidentally included the mill site. If Williams, his cabinet and their highly paid bureaucrats and legal experts couldn't pick up on that mistake, how is it you expect Ball to do so with the paltry resources available to him. Like Muskrat, the Abitibi bill was a Williams/Dunderdale steamroller. You either got behind it or it rolled right over you. ......Despite Ball's pro-tem leadership, he is twice as popular as a sitting premier with all her party and government hacks - like yourself - working overtime to keep her treading water. Dunderdale is drowning politically no matter what happens in the leadership race. And the 'big bill coming at you' that you should be worried about is Muskrat. The 'green' it will burn for the next fifty years will be coming right out of the ratepayers' and taxpayers' pockets.

  • Scott
    July 16, 2013 - 10:11

    LOL...REALLY...LIBERAL AND THE NDP...ACCUSING THE PCS OF NOT LISTENING TO THE PEOPLE... LOL..NOW LIBERAL WHAT DO YOU HAVE TO SAY...THE PEOPLE ARE ASKING FOR MR MURPHY NAME TO BE ON THE BALLOT... LIBERAL NOW IT'S TIME TO SIGN UP FOR GAGS...

  • sherry
    July 15, 2013 - 18:23

    As a former resident of Newfoundland, I like to keep my eye on the political atmosphere at home. Right now, there is a liberal leadership race on the go. What I am about to say there is no benefits in it for me. But I would like to get an understanding WHY is there more and more Newfoundlanders leaving for the mainland? Lets take a look at the five candidates...To see what they have to offer...To keep the young people at home.. Mr. Ball and Mr. Bennett agreed with Mr. Danny Williams the approbation of the Grand Falls papermill was one of the best things that Mr. Williams did on behalf of the people... leaving us with a hundred million dollars cleanup..Now Mr. Ball and Mr. Bennett would like for the people of Newfoundland and Labrador to believe that the Muskrat Falls project is a bad thing for the province...WE NEED GREEN POWER... As for Cathy Bennett, she believes in supporting foreign workers not local Newfoundlanders where she makes her living from. ( JUST ASKING ) As for Mr. Paul Antle, he should get his tax affairs in place before he decided to run for the leadership of the liberal party. As for Mr.Danny D, a fine fellow but he is not leadership material. If Mr. Ball is the right man to lead the liberals in 2015 upcoming election, why is the polls showing only 40% support for him? WHILE AT THE SAME TIME, I was reading the poll status in The Western Star concerning Charles Murphy which is showing 54% support by the people to have him reinstated into the LEADERSHIP race. NOW I UNDERSTAND WHY. MORE ARE LEAVING.. FACING BIG BILL LIKE THAT COMING AT YOU...THOUGH NO FAULT OF THERE OWN...JUST POOR LEADERSHIP.

  • Betty
    July 15, 2013 - 10:36

    Maggy Carter...Sorry but it was Yvonne Jones the Loudest on the MUSKRAT FALLS...Not Dwight Ball

  • John Smith
    July 14, 2013 - 08:43

    The only reason the Liberals opposed the deal was to pander for a few votes. This is not a political decision. It would not have mattered who was in power, the best option would always have been Muskrat Falls. NALCOR, came to the government, with documented proof of two things 1) we will need a new source of electricity 2) rates will continue to creep upward if we stay tied to oil So, it's a no-brainer, we develop the smaller dam at muskrat. The problem is that we will only have a need for about 400 megawatts, of the potential 800 megawatts that this project will produce...hmmm what to do with the excess power? Let it spill over the dam? nah Negotiate with Quebec to allow us to Wheel the power through their Province? Tried that...and they asked for the moon...How about a cable across the gulf? We would bypass Quebec, use excess power to pay for the cable, and we would have free access to it for the next 35 years, and then we will own it. Sounds good to me. With a connection to the mainland we can finally ditch the current antiquated system, and it will allow us to persue all the other alternatives, that we couldn't under an isolated set up. Our rates have increased by over 70% since 1998...we are dependant on dirty oil to provide our power, we need 400 megawatts of new power. Muskrat Falls is a well thought out intelligent answer to our coming energy needs...and it is well on its way to completion...

  • James
    July 14, 2013 - 06:36

    What else could Cathy Bennett say? Danny Williams gave plum appointments only to his friends and good Conservatives. She is trying to lead the wrong party given her past and current opinions.

  • Charles Murphy
    July 14, 2013 - 04:21

    Mr Mcleod...I wish you were asking me that question...People what have receive a HONEST ANSWER...NOT A SONG AND DANCE...

  • Sherry
    July 13, 2013 - 18:50

    LOL...How funny are things...I left newfoundland about 20 years ago...For the mainland...Because there were no future back home...At that time the liberal was in POWER...me and lots more left...But i like to keep TRACK of whats taking place at HOME...I keep telling MYSELF maybe one day i can come HOME...When the PCS came into power...Look like I was on my way...But once more like a lots more of NEWFOUNDLANDERS WE WERE LET DOWN...And it's look like HISTORY is going to repeat itself...With the liberal party...NO LEADER...BECAUSE IF THEY CAN'T ANSWER THIS QUESTION CONCERNING MUSKRAT FALLS...HONESTLY...PEOPLE BACK HOME DON'T HAVE A CHANCE...DON'T UNDERSTAND THEY ARE PLAYING WITH PEOPLE LIFE... SAD THING WHAT TOOK PLACE ON JULY 5/2013...WILL BE A DARK DAY IN N & L HISTORY

  • Cyril Rogers
    July 13, 2013 - 17:36

    The Liberal Party leadership candidates may be accepting that this deal on Muskrat Falls is sanctioned, and done, but it will leave a permanent headache for all future administrations. 50 years from now, our descendents will be looking back and wondering why we took leave of our senses twice within a 100 year span.....all for the sake of dams. I would go so far as to say that there may yet be opportunities to back out of this deal, but time is admittedly against us, and the current sad excuse for an administration is too myopic to ever admit that they have made a "magnificent blunder" by sanctioning this project. My fervent hope is that someone, someday, will have the intestinal fortitude to go after the architects of this deal and hold them accountable for the damage it has done, and will do, to our economy.

  • Brad Cabana
    July 13, 2013 - 17:35

    The leadership cadidates are boxing themselves into a corner on Muskrat Falls. For instance:" No one in their right mind would do that..(now stop Muskrat Falls)". Really? If the project fails the constitutional legal certainty case before the courts at the moment only some one out of their mind woukd continue with it..even if they could. These leadership statements are verging on irresponsible.

  • KD
    July 13, 2013 - 17:33

    With the current crop of has beens and others the liberal party is in for a rough ride Dwight Ball has demostrated he is not leadership material Jim Bennett if I recall correctly once tried to be the leader he reminds me somewhat of Brad Cabanna, Dumersque seems to be full of hot air always talking but saying very little.Ms Bennett will be ousted by the old boys club and Antle is trying to take advantage of the current shortfalls of the pc government In my opinion none of the group are leadership material the one with the sharpest knife should win

  • Maggy Carter
    July 13, 2013 - 13:58

    As the story points out, 'the Liberals have been the clearest, loudest voice of opposition to ....Muskrat.' For that I think some credit must go to Dwight Ball. He did a respectable job of holding a rogue government to account all things considered. He was only interim leader. Some like Jones were closet supporters (offering to switch sides in exchange for a few more jobs for her district). Ball was also was up against a vicious campaign orchestrated by Dunderdale, NALCOR and a cabal of well-heeled businessmen. They weren't taking prisoners. And finally, of course, there was public opinion. With the truth of Muskrat buried under Bill 29, and armed with a longstanding distrust of Quebec, Dunderdale and company were able to sell the public a bill of goods. Then came a devastating budget and the harsh reality began to set in. Slowly Newfoundlanders woke to the realization that improvements in everyday life they might've expected from unprecedented resource royalties had been bartered away for a massive engineering project designed to benefit the rich and powerful. At this stage of course none of the leadership candidates have anything to lose in echoing the growing public alarm over Muskrat. None except Cathy Bennett. As Chairman of NALCOR when all this was going down, she can hardly now oppose it. Which is what makes her candidacy so absurd. As all the leadership hopefuls have sensibly acknowledged, it is now too late to put Muskrat back on the shelf. There can be no doubt that Ms. Dunderdale and her government will be gone in 2015 if not before. Unfortunately the bad news on Muskrat will be around much, much longer.

  • Maurice E. Adams
    July 13, 2013 - 11:02

    Again, inaccurate and misleading statements. The project is far from "half-constructed". Stop an unneeded, money losing, unaffordable project where $1 billion or less has been spent (and it is not even known if it is technically and economically feasible to design a fix for the North Spur), or continue to blindly and irrationally move ahead and waste $10-$15 billion?

  • Cathy
    July 13, 2013 - 10:42

    Mr James Mcleod...WHY DON'T YOU CALL CHARLES MURPHY...ASK HIM THE SAME QUESTION...WHERE DO HE STAND ON THIS PROJECT...YOU WOULD BE SURPRISE TO FINE OUT...WHAT HE HAD PLAN FOR ANY EXCESS POWER...AND THE BENEFITS IT WOULD BRING THE PROVINCE OF NL...IT WOULD ALSO EXPLAIN TO THE PEOPLE THE REASON WHY...HIS PAPER WAS TURN DOWN... I MEET THIS MAN ON JULY4/2013...ABOUT 2;30 IN THE EVENING LOOKING FOR SIGNATURE FOR HIS NOMINATION PAPER... AND I CAN TELL YOU ONE THING HE VERY SMART... .I'M FROM ST JOHN'S