This is an open letter to John Steele, Geoff Stirling, the local managers of CBC and anyone else in control of the broadcast media in this province.
Sometime in the next three to six months our House of Assembly will be called into session to debate the Muskrat Falls project. It has the potential to be one of the most important discussions in this province’s history, and we must be able to see, hear and — most importantly — comprehend all the dimensions of the plan.
I know House of Assembly sessions are webcast, but that doesn’t work as well for those stuck with only dial-up Internet. It is also of no use for those without computers. The legislature is televised on the House of Assembly channel on cable but those with Bell Aliant television are out of luck. We need this debate made available to everyone, on local broadcast outlets.
Premier Kathy Dunderdale has said Muskrat Falls has come under more scrutiny than any other project in our history. Given its magnitude, that’s the way it should be.
Natural Resources Minister Jerome Kennedy is fond of saying it boils down to some basic questions. Do we need the power? If so, what is the best way to deal with the need for power? What is the lowest cost option?
If only the explanation was that simple. We know the minimum cost will be $6.2 billion, but everyone expects that estimate to increase. Some of us are confused by terms such as “decision gate,” “cumulative present worth,” “PPAs” and “PIRA.” We deserve to understand this project in the simplest terms possible.
The official Opposition has already written the premier seeking details of the upcoming debate. They want to know specifics, such as how many times each MHA can speak.
They also raised the question of whether expert witnesses will be permitted to address the legislature. We know all three parties have substantial work to do this summer, as various reports are hopefully released on natural gas, wind energy and, of course, the latest financial projections.
Premier Dunderdale made the point during the final sitting day of the House: “We have opportunities to educate ourselves around the issues that are before us. It is extremely important that we take advantage of the resources available to us so that we can explain clearly to the people of the province our position and our perspective on a particular piece of legislation.
“There is nothing wrong with putting a different lens on legislation that is on the House of Assembly. There is something wrong, Mr. Speaker, when you put spin on it. If your feedback to legislation here in the House of Assembly is going to be relevant, Mr. Speaker, then it needs to be informed.
“That is a responsibility that we all share in this House on both sides.”
Well said, and those of us following Muskrat Falls look forward to intense debate. As NDP Leader Lorraine Michael told the CBC last month, “Sometimes it’s not the quality of the questions that’s the issue. It’s the quality of the answers.”
I know the mammoth task involved in carrying the Muskrat Falls debate on local television and radio stations. We’re talking the potential for missed revenue and the debate may not be a ratings blockbuster. Still, every effort must be made to make this historic discussion available to every Newfoundlander and Labradorian who will forever wear the legacy of success or failure from the most expensive project this province has ever undertaken.
The National Convention on Newfoundland’s future received as much attention in 1946. I recall reading a note from someone who followed that debate: “I do not need to read the speeches. I remember most of them.”
The bottom line is making sure we are as informed as possible about the options before us. We need to see it, hear it, and yes, through the magic of Twitter and Facebook, participate in it.
Gerry Phelan is a journalist and former broadcaster. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org