Political flashback

Russell Wangersky
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Get a bunch of youngsters together to watch a 1970s sitcom, and usually, much hilarity ensues. But it’s not always the jokes that tend to be funny — it’s the hair, the glasses, the clothing.

It’s different for those who lived through the ’70s: we wore those clothes. We had that hair. And sometimes, there’s a sort of wistfulness about hearing familiar punch lines.

So here, in the spirit of wistfulness and maybe of unintentional comedy, are a few lines from the 1978 provincial budget. It was delivered by then-finance minister T. Alex Hickman, and reading them now, you might be struck by that old Santayana (or maybe Edmund Burke) saying, “Those who cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat it.”

As we cruise, or limp, towards fully launching the Muskrat Falls project, we do so in the full awareness that international markets are likely to pay far less for Muskrat Falls power than we will: the blended rate for power in this province will be something like 16.4 cents a kilowatt hour. Even our Nova Scotia partners have said they’re not going to be paying anything close to that.

From 1978?

The budget will “renew the pledge which has been articulated so clearly by the premier of our province that, no matter how anxious we are for additional development, no matter what the political pressures might be, and no matter what the short-term benefits appear to be, we will not barter

the future of Newfoundlanders yet unborn by giving away our resources at bargain prices. The inequity of Churchill Falls will never again be repeated in this province.”

No bargain prices for other jurisdictions. OK.

Back to the present: after the province’s Public Utilities Board refused to give an opinion on the Muskrat Falls project because the PUB said it needed more information, the government said it would not take the project back before the board. 

As well, with the way the regulated Newfoundland Hydro will buy power from the non-regulated Nalcor through a take-or-pay power purchase agreement, the PUB will not be able to examine the deal fully.

From 1978?

“As all taxpayers of the province are aware, government decided last year to require Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro to justify its need for rate increases before the Public Utilities Board. It was our belief that this was a wise decision which would allow the general public to have a greater awareness and understanding of the factors which influence the cost of producing electricity. During the hearings on the requested rate increase, the PUB allowed a full discussion on all aspects of power rates and showed a determination to give no grounds for claims that Hydro was not required to make full and complete disclosure of its cost of service. In light of these hearings, government is more convinced than ever of the prudence of its decision to compel Hydro to submit its rates to the PUB.”

(As an aside, while in 1978 it might have been “a full discussion on all aspects of power rates,” the PUB’s more recent examination of Muskrat Falls was a tightly delineated and restricted examination of just two options.)

Speaking of repeating history, (and for those who like an echo) there’s even a remarkably familiar note from 1978 that echoed all the way up to 2007, when the throne speech described the government of Danny Williams as wanting to take control of the province’s future:

“Our people are ready to take charge of our future and, under my first minister’s leadership, our province will achieve self-reliance by becoming masters of our own house.”

At the time, reporters thought Williams was echoing the words of Jean Lesage’s 1960s “Quiet Revolution” in Quebec.

In fact, Williams might well have been echoing Hickman echoing Lesage.

Here’s Hickman, in 1978: “I say this as someone who is determined to see Newfoundland as a vibrant partner in the Canadian Confederation and as a continuing contributor to the development of Canada whilst, at the same time, ensuring that within the confines of the constitution we are masters in our own house. Vive Terra Neuve libre!”


All that’s old is new again.

Or is it all that’s new is old again?

Russell Wangersky is The Telegram’s

editorial page editor. He can be reached by email at rwanger@thetelegram.com.

Organizations: Public Utilities Board, Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro, Canadian Confederation

Geographic location: Nova Scotia, Newfoundland, Canada

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Recent comments

  • Winston Adams
    July 03, 2012 - 17:54

    Remember Ed Martin's phrase that exports to the USA spot markets will be gravy. And Kennedy explained in the House that these USA markets sometimes pay a dollar per kilowatt hour. Well, those prices are true. Last year the prices went high like that for almost 3 weeks total during the heat waves. But just for a few hours per day. Now I see that in Texas over the next few years they expect a shortfall (in Summer) of some 20,000 megawatts, like 25 Muskrat Falls. They want to attract power companies to build new generation . But the power companies, knowing the short duration of these spikes at high prices, show little interest, as it is not profitable. So the authorities there plan to raise the price limit for these spikes to 9 dolllars a kwh. Even then power companies are not anxious to invest. So here's an idea. Transmit MF power to Texas - it's only twice as far, and yes, there are transmissiion losses, but man- 9 times the price! Look at the gravy there. Now of course, most power companies reason that the high capital cost of new generation makes it unwise to build large plants that have customers for short durations. Perhaps we should tell the Texans that there are some Newfies who are anxious to supply this market, and will do so much cheaper than Texas companies will. Any wonder a local economist said Nalcor uses voodoo economics. Hydro Quebec seemed to give a better return on the bit of surplus power we sold through them. Surely our PUB must be allowed to review and decide the economics of this scheme.

  • Pierre Neary
    July 03, 2012 - 16:56

    In my own opinion, the history books will not be kind to Mr. Williams.

  • Maurice E. Adams
    July 03, 2012 - 08:24

    "we will not barter the future of Newfoundlanders yet unborn..."?.... See how this phrase echo's the criteria for "sustainable development" (which Muskrat Falls fails for meet) , and how Muskrat Falls fails to 'stabilize' electricity rates..... Go to www.vision2041.com