Get the T-shirt now, while you still can

Brian Jones
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Those who are inclined to wail that Newfoundlanders (and Labradorians) have been used, abused and downtrodden by mainlanders, foreigners and feds should rush out and buy a “Free Nfld” T-shirt and other patriotic paraphernalia, because the Muskrat Falls project is going to kill that myth faster than a nationalist can say, “Oops.”

The Newfoundland Liberation Army, if it exists anywhere other than on artful cotton creations, will have to re-examine whom its enemy really is, and adjust its strategy accordingly.

As the boy famously quipped, “We have met the enemy, and he is us.”

The oft-cited excuses for the disastrous Upper Churchill deal of 1969 won’t hold for the equally disastrous Lower Churchill deal of 2012.

For the former, you can blame the feds or blame Quebec until your tongue hurts, but it doesn’t change the fact that Newfoundland’s own leaders agreed to that deal, ignorantly and foolishly.

For the latter, the back-patting and self-congratulation will eventually die down, and the clock will start ticking toward a time, probably not too distant, when someone in a position of influence will recognize their folly and say, “Wait a minute …”

Then the excuses will begin anew. Inevitably, there will be resurgent T-shirt sales. What they will depict will depend on the talented wits who create such things, but it’s safe to assume they will not say, “Free power.”


Casting blame

The main difference between 1969 and 2012 is going to be that, in the latter case, there won’t be any way to cast blame upon Quebec or the federal government. Some will try, of course, stuck in the habit of pointing fingers outward. But with Muskrat Falls, Newfoundlanders (and Labradorians) will know, and will have to admit, that the disastrous deal was Manufactured Right Here.

Unlike the 1969 project, the 2012 project has plenty of obvious warning signs that it is going to be a decades-long financial burden, a mistake measured in megawatts.

Here’s one clue: when was the last time you heard anyone boasting that Labrador power is going to light up New York City?

If you recall — and too many people apparently don’t — when public discussion began some years ago about developing Muskrat Falls, the main rationale was that excess power could be sold for impressive profits to New England and New York, which were hungry for electricity and would buy it as soon as it could be delivered.

Spending $7.4 billion of taxpayers’ money to develop Muskrat Falls might make sense if the provincial government had signed contracts — or, in politician-speak, memorandums of understanding — with a few of those states, outlining how much power they wanted to buy, and at what price.

If such agreements existed, Premier Kathy Dunderdale would surely have mentioned it.


Changing circumstances

But the northeastern U.S. now has access to plentiful new reserves of cheap natural gas and, ironically and aggravatingly, inexpensive hydroelectric power from Quebec.

Thus arises another clue that Muskrat Falls will prove to be a disaster: the shifting rationale.

When it became clear the American market no longer needed power from Muskrat Falls, the provincial government changed its propaganda pitch. Rather than sales

to the U.S., the rationale became domestic demand. When too many people remained unconvinced, the government started talking about the needs of Labrador mining companies. Lately, it’s been trendy to talk about going “green” with hydro, as if a half-century of indebtedness is our obligation to the planet.

Dunderdale says Muskrat Falls has been the most debated policy in the history of the province. Wrong.

Officially, the debate lasted two hours. Someday, that fact will be the punch line to an awfully painful joke.


Brian Jones is a desk editor at The Telegram. He can be reached at

Organizations: Newfoundland Liberation Army, The Telegram

Geographic location: Newfoundland, Quebec, New York City U.S. New England

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Recent comments

  • Ed Power
    December 07, 2012 - 22:12

    On the plus side, entire forests will be leveled to provide the newsprint for all the post-Muskrat analysis when the bill passes the $10 billion dollar mark and continues to rise, providing much needed jobs in forestry, and the Quebec Pulp and Paper mills.Two hours debate on a $7 biilon dollar (before any actual work commences) project works out to - let me get my calculator out here...- $3.5 billion dollars per hour of debate. Not too shabby. I think that's about what Danny 's hourly charge for legal work is, isn't it?

  • Doug Smith
    December 07, 2012 - 10:51

    Mr. John Smith, your remarks about Mr. Jones column seem to me to be full of errors and contradictions. First, I don’t remember the government from day one, ever mentioning that Muskrat Falls was meant to supply Labrador with electricity. As a matter of fact, Mr. Kennedy, a few days ago stated that the 21 isolated and coastal communities of Labrador will not get any Muskrat Falls power as it would not be economically feasible. He further said that Voisey’s Bay mining would not get any MF power either for similar reasons. The new mining companies like the one Danny Williams is associated with were never mentioned early on and only appeared recently. So Mr. John Smith where was the Muskrat Falls power going to go in Labrador? You further contend that the whole point of Muskrat Falls was only for provincial power needs. Why then have Nova Scotia finance the underwater link? Since the Federal loan guarantee is dependent on the link going to Nova Scotia, wouldn’t it be correct to say that the rationale for Muskrat Falls was from the beginning a double purpose project, electricity for the island and electricity to sell at a profit on the open market? As regards you claiming Mr. Jones wrong about the eastern seaboard of NA, isn’t it a fact that power from Muskrat Falls can’t be produced for less than current and projected cost of electricity along the eastern seaboard? Isn’t it also true that Quebec with its Romaine River power project, can produce much cheaper electricity than Muskrat Falls and therefore will push Muskrat Falls out of any projected markets? Doug Smith, GFW

  • Winston Adams
    December 07, 2012 - 09:42

    I recently debated with a teacher who thought MF was a good project. He was aware of my efficient heating system which took only 243.00 in electricity cost for a full year for my 1000 sq ft cottage. He understood that with MF coming on stream the power rates will be up at least another 30 percent and likely more. I then asked when this happens, will he then install efficient heating. Of course he replied. I laughed, explaining that when everyone jumps on board that waggon, it will drive down the demand, thereby killing the fiancial rationale for MF, where island demand increase is essential. He had not made this connection before. Basically he wasn't aware of the take or pay arrangement, as Maurice has long pointed out. How many realize this? I mean, if less oil is burned at Holyrood, you don,t pay for oil not burned. If you turn down the heat in the basement, you save on your bill. But going to efficient heating, normally a very big cost saver, reduces MF demand--- and the rates will then increase even more. Now if teachers are in the dark of the risks, why wonder why 8o percent of our population is confused by all the misleading information being put out by government , Nalcor and John Smith. MF a joke? Certainly. Nflders too green to burn? Not really. Some simple truths are not being told, intentionally to mislead the people, on a complex issue. WE have gone from 95 percent public support to 59 percent but 80 percent admitting not well informed. The media needs to continue promoting the simple truths, as Jones is doing here. Yes green for the environment is the latest fashion -- 8 billion or more to address 8 percent of our CO2. We can do much better and at less cost.

  • Muskrat Mullahs
    December 07, 2012 - 08:54

    ''...when was the last time you heard anyone boasting that Labrador power is going to light up New York City?'' Some fool told me it already was:

  • John Smith
    December 07, 2012 - 08:47

    Mr. Jones you are wrong about the needs for electricity on the eastern seaboard of NA. But I think you know that. The thing is that muskrat is for this province, not for NS, or NYC. We will have some additional power available, perhaps for a very short time, and that time is getting smaller and and smaller, and we will make 200-400 million a year from the sale of power on the spot market. When you sell into the spot market the power does not know where it is going, but you still make money. Anyway, typical of your non-sensical ravings...The government from day one has been saying that this deal was for power needs in the province, and in case you don't know, that includes Labrador. The province has not changed it's message once since the project was first put has always been about domestic power then sales to Emera on the spot market and development of was all there in the beginning if you cared to read it...but I think you know that...don't you Mr. Jones?

    • W McLean
      December 08, 2012 - 23:28

      Spot markets, huh? In 2008, Danny Dunderdale were talking about the long-term power-purchase agreements that they all but had signed, sealed, and delivered.

  • Ken Collis
    December 07, 2012 - 08:13

    I think that the pain to the ratepayers would lessen enough that I could agree that the project should go ahead if the government would do one little thing. If only they would announce that both the government and Nalcor would use every penny they earn on the project to help pay off the cost. Instead it seems that only the ratepayers will have to tighten belts and that is not fair. Me thinks that ratepayer (regular working class) strikes are looming. That is the only way government owners (business and banks) will force policy change. No one works on Mondays and Fridays until electricty rates are lowered. That is coming my friends.

  • Maurice E. Adams
    December 07, 2012 - 07:09