Labrador is actually playing an important role in the rapidly closing federal election, but not for the right reasons.
In their scramble for Newfoundland and Labrador’s seven House of Commons seats, the three biggest national party leaders have seized upon the one issue they believe will sway all the voters in the province. In the process, they’ve misunderstood it completely.
“Premier (Kathy) Dunderdale has made clear that (the Muskrat Falls) project will reduce carbon emissions by 4.5 million tonnes each year — the equivalent of taking 3.2 million cars off the road,” Prime Minister Stephen Harper has been quoted as saying. “And it will result in clean energy benefits for the entire Atlantic region.”
One would expect such abysmal ignorance on the part of the leader of the Reformed Conservatives. After all, he has displayed (adopted? feigned? admitted?) an equally appalling degree of ignorance on so many important subjects, including on how the Constitution of Canada really works. But to see all three top party leaders succumb to such idiocy would be hilariously funny (picture them batting at each other as they try to jump onto a rickety bandwagon), if it wasn’t so downright depressing.
The truth (clear to anyone not wilfully blind to the facts, to anyone not entirely seduced by the destructive lure of big dams and big bucks) is that hydroelectric megaprojects are as far from being environmentally friendly as a gasoline-powered engine is capable of producing breathable air.
Not only are hydro dams and reservoirs emitters of considerable amounts of methane and other greenhouse gasses, but they
also irrevocably destroy countless square kilometres of precious terrestrial and riverine habitat — as well, famously, as introduce decades and perhaps centuries of toxic mercury into wilderness food chains. Fresh fish for supper anyone? Not more than once a month, thank you very much.
For Harper to be ignorant of all this — wilfully or not — is hardly surprising, given his personal opposition to any measure or idea that even hints at promoting truly green technology, or at curbing the excesses of the horribly dirty energy developments he seems to favour so strongly, like the dredging of the Alberta tarsands.
Harper has no more shown an ability to support a “green” project than he has proven himself capable of co-operating with duly elected, but non-Conservative MPs for the good of Canada and Canadian democracy.
So, it’s no surprise Harper mistakenly thinks a dam at Muskrat Falls would produce clean energy. But it’s sad to see that, despite all their intelligence and experience, the leaders of the Liberals and the New Democrats are just as eager to dive into the same pit of ignorance in their rush to parrot the Conservative leader on his dubious pledge to support the as-yet unapproved Lower Churchill project with some kind of loan guarantee.
Well, perhaps Michael Ignatieff can be forgiven his ignorance, considering he has so little first-hand knowledge of environmental matters. But Jack Layton has no such excuse.
As leader of the NDP, you’d think Layton would know the difference between clean and dirty. Unfortunately, as he has revealed in past elections, he supports damming the Churchill River because he sees Labrador as a possible source of cheap electricity for Toronto — a pipe dream, since most, if not all, of the power is intended for sale to the United States.
Sadly for his party, Layton’s position has always undercut any support he may have won from people in Labrador — those opposed to the Lower Churchill proposal who may have wanted to vote for the NDP.
Of course, the three-party pledge to financially bolster a Muskrat Falls hydro project has never had anything to do with either the environment or with Labrador. All it’s about is appealing to voters on the island of Newfoundland who have no real stakes in the project beyond the chance of making a few dollars off it.
That’s what should come as absolutely no surprise to anyone: that Labrador and Labradorians are once again just supposed to be silent, subservient pawns in a larger political game.
Michael Johansen is a writer
living in Labrador.