The Lower Churchill hydroelectric project (the first part of it, at least) has now received official sanction from the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador.
Some criticize Premier Kathy Dunderdale’s rush, but she has good reasons for being in such a hurry.
Here’s the Top 10 countdown:
10. Prose like that doesn’t refrigerate well. The purpler it is, the quicker it rots, leaving a hollow argument inside a shiny, but fragile shell. Once it cracks nothing can hide the bad odour. The premier has probably been saving the speech for months, if not years — taking it out once in a while to daydream about when she can finally say the sweet words to an adoring public. She’d have been the first to notice if it was starting to go sour.
9. Peter Penashue could soon be out of a job, so it’s best to use the tame MP while he can still prop up an announcement. While Prime Minister Stephen Harper usually has no trouble dismissing allegations concerning wrong-doing by members of his caucus, there’s a chance Penashue’s missteps could catch up to him. He could resign gracefully, or be toppled ignobly — in which case he would simply be out of the picture — but Penashue could also become a liability even if he remains in office. Harper could feel forced to side-track both the MP and his projects. After all, one day he’ll have to deal with Quebec’s opposition to the loan guarantee.
8. Despite a stilted assurance of compliance from the new leadership, the hydro project could still lose the support of the Innu Nation. Many people who voted in support of the enabling New Dawn agreement, which they’ve only ever seen as an incomplete outline, are becoming impatient with the continuing secrecy. They want to know just what they’ve given up and who gets what out of it. The new Innu Nation leaders stand behind Nalcor in public, but in the months since they were elected they’ve slowed down the previous administration’s rush to approve any development proposed on Innu land and they have even considered holding a second referendum on New Dawn.
7. The sanction pre-empts her own legislature by making any filibuster against two dam-related laws appear pointless.
6. The Nova Scotians can still cut loose at any time — so, like with Penashue, Dunderdale needs to use their premier while he’s still available.
5. Sooner or later, judges will rule on a couple of potentially important court cases and there’s always a chance they could decide against Nalcor. Dunderdale has already proclaimed that no court can stop construction, so perhaps she will simply ignore any adverse rulings. However, they still won’t look good. Proclaiming the sanction ahead of time could disarm an embarrassing outcome.
4. The longer people are allowed to think about how much the project will cost, about the immense size of the debt being forced upon them and about the vital public services sacrificed for a dam in Labrador, the more they might wonder if it’s worth the price. Announce it as a done deal after Christmas and they’ll be even less agreeable to covering the humongous cost because they’ll still be trying to swallow their own holiday debt. Plus, wait until they realize that the $10-billion for Muskrat is only the start — once it was the estimate for the whole Lower Churchill project, but now Gull Island will be extra. Announce it beforehand and people will quickly get distracted by the festivities.
3. A Québec company that happens to be one of the main conduits of those billions of dollars is being thoroughly investigated from top to bottom over numerous allegations of illegal pay-offs. No one knows what new information will emerge, or when.
2. Less than 40 per cent of citizens polled support the project “strongly” and opposition is growing, mostly coming from the segment counted as “mostly” in support. It’s a deteriorating situation that clearly called for a fait accompli.
Finally, the No. 1 reason why Newfoundland’s government had to suddenly sanction the Lower Churchill: if the big stone calendar proved right, the world would end before Christmas and then Dunderdale would lose her last chance to deliver the triumphant speech.
Michael Johansen is a writer living in Labrador.