“Nalcor is the prime target. This is an experiment that has gone horribly wrong.” — Danny Dumaresque
Note to Newfoundland’s currently governing Progressive Conservatives: you need to improve Nalcor’s public relations. No one believes that all the devastating cuts you are making to vital public services has not been caused by all the money you’re pouring into your pet energy corporation.
Former Eagle River MHA Danny Dumaresque, for one, isn’t swallowing a word of it.
Last week he managed to push his way through a throng of Tory shills onto a well-known radio talk show to neatly describe the company’s gambling problem.
“If you look at Nalcor as it has performed since it was created, it has been nothing but a sinkhole for taxpayers’ money.”
Fruitless oilfield equity stakes and speculative drilling programs, he explains, have so far cost taxpayers more than $900 million — money that should have been invested in hospitals, ferries and other needful services, and still can be if the government moves fast.
“Get out of the oil business. Stop gambling our money in oil. We cannot afford the risk,” he says.
Oil, of course, is only the smaller part of the Nalcor problem, as Dumaresque points out: “The biggest bonanza of all, the biggest fiasco of all, is Muskrat Falls. Over the next three, four years, we are going to take $3-billion of taxpayers’ money and send it over to Nalcor and, of course, we’re not going to get a return on it. There’s no return from Muskrat Falls. The only thing we’re going to get is the light bills are going to be going up, up and up and the people of the province are just going to have to dig deeper and deeper into pockets that are already empty.” Dumaresque is not the only citizen who hears government ministers warn of a billion-dollar deficit and remembers that those same ministers already gave almost twice that to Nalcor for various speculative ventures.
A union negotiating a new contract with the provincial government (a union representing the hundreds of public servants who are losing their jobs) points out that the government’s deficit hole was largely dug by the $664 million Nalcor spent on unsanctioned work at Muskrat Falls.
Many agree, including Labrador activists like Jim Learning who have strong opinions about the energy company: “Here is a tax pit which will absorb all the average taxpayer can put into it. Worse, I’m sure the people who voted in this government did not vote for (Nalcor president) Ed Martin as premier, nor (vice-president) Gilbert Bennett as anything, yet he has the province’s purse strings firmly in his claws.”
However, what turns most Labradorians against Nalcor is how little the company seems to care about how it is making life difficult for ordinary citizens. The biggest problem of all the social ills Nalcor is visiting upon central Labrador is the long-ignored housing shortage that is quickly getting much, much worse — with no one, not the town of Happy Valley-Goose Bay with its Nalcor board of directors mayor, not the provincial government, not the company itself, proposing to do anything about it.
Nalcor continues to deny it is causing any real harm, even while it dismisses its once-firm commitment to make absolutely no demand on local housing. Despite denials, not only are longtime apartment tenants being evicted in favour of contractors willing to pay thousands of dollars more per month, but all of Happy Valley-Goose Bay’s hotels have been overbooked for years to come, leaving ordinary travellers, visiting Labrador politicians and numerous medical patients out in the cold.
“There’s a lack of accommodations here in Goose Bay for people from the north coast (who travel) for medical reasons,” writes one knowledgeable commentator whose job would be at risk if identified. “People who are working at the Muskrat project are taking over the hotels. … Patients are missing their appointments because of this.”
If Nalcor continues to waste money and trample on social needs, the government will have an increasingly hard time finding anyone to disagree with Dumaresque’s solution to the whole financial mess: shut Nalcor down. Don’t give any more tax money to out-of-control corporations, and spend it instead on what citizens actually need, like ferries, hospitals, the development of local businesses and support for local fisheries.
Michael Johansen is a writer
living in Labrador.