Twelve months ago, I wrote that we were in for a pivotal year. My column on Jan. 6, 2012, said: “Sometime in the second or third quarter of 2012, decisions will be made regarding the Lower Churchill project. The Public Utilities Board review of the Muskrat Falls development is expected by the end of March. Even before that, Jan. 31 is the deadline for Nalcor and Nova Scotia’s Emera to finalize the deal.”
Well, look at everything that’s happened since.
The PUB has been thrown to the wind, dissed by the government to the extent legislation to change or end its mandate might not be too far off.
The provincial government has given Muskrat Falls the green light, and given the results of three public opinion polls, who could blame them?
Yes, we can interpret those surveys many ways, but for the most part voters have given the development the thumbs-up.
Here’s more of what I wrote last January: “These are not decisions for the faint of heart, and don’t let anyone pretend otherwise. The
$6-billion-plus project has the potential to jettison us into the better-prepared-than-others, electricity-wise, category, or leave our children and grandchildren with a debt that, well, let’s just say they won’t be kind or happy if we are wrong.”
The only thing that has changed is the cost. It is now more than
$7 billion and rising.
Surely if the price of a hospital for Corner Brook or renovations to Confederation Building or any other big project can be expected to increase due to unforeseen developments, or labour, materials and borrowing costs, well let’s accept this $9-billion or $10-billion project for what it is.
I also wrote in January 2012, “I do not have enough information to make an informed decision. I doubt most of the politicians do. I have read what I can, and I am not convinced it is the way to go. … The months ahead will bring lots of questions from the opposition and groups that will spring up to oppose the development. Every question deserves an answer. We trust the government will do the right thing, even if it means saying, ‘No, things have changed, and this is no longer a good investment.’”
Well, that didn’t happen. Indeed, the roller-coaster continued.
Some questions were answered, but dozens more were swept aside with the standard line that Muskrat Falls has had “more scrutiny than any other project in our province’s history.”
Those words are etched in my memory. I’m not sure who developed that often repeated quote, but it is an unfortunate phrase that immediately elicits the response, “really?”
We had a few hours of specific debate and, yes, plenty of talk on subsequent pieces of legislation, but I still can’t fathom why the government has been so hell-bent on forging ahead, appearing at times to throw caution to the wind.
The fiscal update alone — delivered to the province before Christmas — is good reason to push the pause button.
I’m not saying kill the project, but I wish I felt more comfortable about it.
Perhaps if it had been handled a different way and if there were improved financial circumstances I’d be on the Muskrat Falls train willingly, rather than still raising questions about the plan.
Again, here’s what I wrote last January: “The legacy will not belong to Danny Williams. This is how Kathy Dunderdale will be remembered. Three-hundred-and-sixty-five days from now, we want to remember 2012 as something spectacular, something great, not the apocalyptic period some think we are about to endure.”
It wasn’t apocalyptic, but it hasn’t been pretty. History books will tell the tale of Kathy Dunderdale, who has spent the first year and more of her first elected term in office ensuring Muskrat Falls gets done.
I pray that kids decades from now will be told of a visionary leader who made a difference environmentally, financially and politically to this province.
We sure haven’t been as kind to Joey Smallwood and his Churchill Falls decisions.
Gerry Phelan is a journalist
and former broadcaster.
He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org