There is hope yet. Newfoundlanders (and Labradorians), not having enough sense to save ourselves from ruination by the dead elephant that is the Muskrat Falls hydroelectric project, might have it done for us by Quebec or Nova Scotia.
Saved by Quebec? Oh, the irony. Imagine Danny Williams’ wrath.
By now, it should be apparent to anyone who hasn’t moved to Alberta that Muskrat Falls will place a $10-billion burden on the next two generations of Newfoundlanders (and Labradorians, if they are still with us).
The Tory government is OK with this. Premier Kathy Dunderdale is OK with this. So is Nalcor. So are a majority — according to the most recent public opinion poll — of the very people who will be forced to pay for it, likely for the rest of their lives, and will then pass the debt on to their children and grandchildren.
People in the minority — those who realize Muskrat Falls is another Churchillian quagmire — have a single hope for salvation from the developing debacle: outside intervention.
This week, two possible saviours appeared, on the same day — miraculous, or what?
Fight over flow
Hydro-Quebec announced it is taking legal action to defend its rights under the 1969 Churchill Falls contract.
The legalese, translated into comprehensible language, comes down to this: Hydro-Quebec has the right to buy all of Churchill Falls’ power, and to oversee water flow that produces that power; ergo, Muskrat Falls, being downriver, is a dead elephant that died of thirst.
This is actually good news. Never mind the wailing — that’s just Williams wallowing in grief as his legacy evaporates.
Dunderdale, in desperation and with typical arrogance, declared Hydro-Quebec’s actions “desperate” and “arrogant.”
A quick question for the premier and her supporters (to make it easier, I’ll phrase it as a multiple choice): in past court tussles, who has emerged the winner most often — a) Hydro-Quebec or b) Newfoundland?
If the record is anything to go by, it is foolhardy to assume Hydro-Quebec is merely playing politics, and hasn’t actually examined the situation and calculated its chance of success in a legal fight.
Anyone who wants to put their money on Dunderdale’s team, go ahead. The amount you lose will be nickels and dimes compared to the amount Muskrat Falls will clean you out of.
But bear in mind that the PCs are the sharpies who “accidently” expropriated the Grand Falls paper mill and cost Canadian taxpayers $130 million. They’re generally one file short of a full folder.
Over in Nova Scotia, that province’s Utility and Review Board approved spending $1.5 billion on the Maritime Link to deliver power from Muskrat Falls — but with an important proviso, and one which may stop NLers from voluntarily hurling themselves off a fiscal cliff.
The Nova Scotians apparently want Muskrat Falls power at a fair price, determined by the market.
The gall. Few Newfoundlanders (and Labradorians, etc.) have had the gumption to make that demand. We’ve been too busy arguing about how to get back at Quebec, being patriotic Newfoundlanders and so on.
If Hydro-Quebec’s legal manoeuvrings don’t scuttle the ship and skin the dead elephant, perhaps Nova Scotia’s insistence on adhering to market prices will.
One of the strongest arguments against the Muskrat Falls endeavour is that its proponents have consistently ignored the market.
The laws of supply and demand will not determine the amount Newfoundlanders pay for their allotment of monthly power from Muskrat Falls.
Rather, we will pay whatever it takes to cover the costs of building the dam and transmitting the power. (See above: $10-billion multigenerational debt, etc.)
We can only hope Nova Scotia’s proviso, logical as it is, kills the elephant dead, dead, dead.
Brian Jones is a desk editor at The Telegram. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org