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.”
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?
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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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.