Politicians returned to the House of Assembly Monday amid what could be the most chaotic political landscape in recent memory.
Interim Opposition Leader Eddie Joyce was in fiery form during question period, but it appeared that caucus colleagues Dwight Ball and Jim Bennett were doing their best to outshine him.
House of Assembly file photo.
Both Ball and Bennett are running for the Liberal leadership, and party members cast their ballots in less than two weeks.
Beside the Liberals, the NDP caucus was struggling with reduced speaking time in the House, following a messy caucus revolt last month. Meanwhile, newly-Independent MHAs Dale Kirby and Christopher Mitchelmore were stuffed right into the back corner behind the NDP.
The Muskrat Falls project dominated question period Monday; Joyce wanted answers about the $7.7-billion megaproject, and a power purchase agreement struck between Nalcor and Nova Scotia partner Emera.
Joyce framed it as the government signing a deal to sell Muskrat Falls power in Nova Scotia for pennies on the dollar while Newfoundlanders and Labradorians pay the full cost.
“Premier has cooked up a deal with Emera of Nova Scotia to provide almost 60 per cent of Muskrat Falls’ power at market rates, which are currently just four cents a kilowatt. People in our province will have to pay at least 15 cents a kilowatt for the same power,” Joyce said. “I ask the premier: Why does everyone else get discounted power except the people of Newfoundland and Labrador?”
Premier Kathy Dunderdale said all of the power going to Nova Scotia is what Newfoundland and Labrador needs to sell and can't use anyway.
“This is another opportunity to commercialize the vast resources we have here in the province to earn money from it,” Dunderdale said. “Mr. Speaker, we may use that money to reduce power rates; we may use it to buy cancer drugs, build schools or roads.”
Monday was also a chance for the two other would-be leaders in the Liberal caucus. Both Jim Bennett and Dwight Ball took turns pressing the government — Ball asking more questions about Muskrat Falls and Bennett asking about the announced Canada-Europe free trade agreement.
Bennett, especially, was relentless heckling government MHAs during debate on fisheries issues. Both Liberal MHAs are trying to garner as much support among Liberals as possible ahead of the Liberal leadership convention on the weekend of Nov. 16.
For the New Democrats, Monday was the first day of a new situation; because of last month's caucus revolt and two MHAs leaving the fold, Leader Lorraine Michael is now leading a caucus of three, and has only seven minutes of time in question period — down from 12 minutes last spring.
Michael also led off by asking about Muskrat Falls, and she asked questions on why the government is delaying an increase to minimum wage.
The Liberals got an added boost Monday, from Cartwright-L'Anse au Clair MHA Lisa Dempster who took her seat in the House for the first time after winning a byelection handily last June.
Dempster asked her first question on Labrador ferry issues. She said the current schedule doesn't serve the people of Labrador, and more runs need to be added.
“When it comes to the Labrador ferry schedule, our department monitors this on a daily basis,” Transportation Minister Nick McGrath said. “And there are times when we feel it is necessary to put on extra runs, and we do that on a regular basis.”