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It’s been testy since the start: as the government and opposition parties wrestled about the rules for a legislative debate on the Muskrat Falls project, it’s been clear that the sides have been far apart.

It’s not just the distance that separated the two — there’s the hectoring tone that has characterized even the discussion of a debate, a tone that has said from the start that neither side was that keen on giving ground.

“If you have evidence to contradict what Nalcor and others have said, it is incumbent on you, in the interest of public debate, to release that information,” Government House Leader Darin King wrote to the NDP, in a letter obtained by the CBC.

“To this point, all arguments against the project have been refuted by experts with their conclusions based on facts and empirical evidence.”

It’s not the kind of language that speaks to compromise. And Tuesday, there was no compromise, with the debate being called off.

You can easily understand why the government doesn’t want an out-of-bounds free-for-all in the House of Assembly.

Already having had to change their style of answering Muskrat questions — and already

having suffered significant damage to their own credibility — the last thing the government wants is a daily parade of witnesses (witnesses who might be more credible than ordinary MHAs or cabinet ministers) muddying the waters. More than anything else, allowing outside witnesses could allow the debate to take on a life of its own, outside the tightly controlled world of messaging that Canadian governments seem to love more and more.

The government clearly wants the debate to be short and sweet — a kind of “we’ll all read our talking points and then the public can decide who to believe” debate that would, in all likelihood, leave the Tories in a better light than the opposition parties. Obviously, that’s not the kind of debate the opposition parties want and, seeing as how there has to be unanimity on the procedural rules for the event, it’s in the opposition’s best interests to sink the debate. (It’s hard not to agree that a witnessless debate would be a waste of time. Having to watch a group of politicians with no specific large-project expertise trundle through the same arguments they’ve been making for the last year or so would make watching paint dry sound like an attractive and exciting diversion.)

The problem for the Tories?

Saying that you don’t want to hear expert witnesses testify makes it sound a lot like you have already made up your mind — or, more frighteningly, that there are things you simply don’t want discussed.

The Dunderdale government may well have valid reasons for not wanting a Muskrat dog-and-pony show.

But locking out witnesses can’t help but make the ordinary observer wonder what those witnesses might have to say — and to quote Darin King, “it is incumbent on you, in the interest of public debate” to make that information available.

Organizations: Government House, NDP, CBC

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Recent comments

  • Cyril Rogers
    November 08, 2012 - 12:15

    The government's reluctant decision to hold a debate in the HOA was always about optics. Simply look at the propaganda barrage over the past two weeks and you will realize that they are saying all the same things....but none of it gives any clearer picture because there is no rational way to promote this project. It stank from Day One and no amount of whitewashing and sanitizing of NALCOR's data can completely make up for the lack of a coherent energy plan. It is all subterfuge and twisted facts. They distort by making prophesies on the future price of oil and the future demand for electricity despite their inability to accurately predict oil prices correctly for one year, much less 50, and their wrong predictions foe electrical use over the last 2 decades. Any time a government dismisses its own PUB and a government-appointed panel, it is merely reaching for a foregone conclusion and when the facts don't fit...make up new ones. These were the only truly independent reports and..both were dismissed. The other two, from Navigant and MHI, were based primarily on data supplied by surprise then that they favoured the project. Even then they injected important caveats into their conclusions. A debate in the HOA would expose these unpleasant and inconvenient truths so, yes, any excuse to shut it down and, of course, blame the Opposition.

  • Maurice E. Adams
    November 08, 2012 - 11:02 Muskrat Falls referendum Poll Results Todate:......... Option 1 ... [12.5%] -------- Option 2 ... [7.5%] -------- Option 3 ... [25%] -------- Option 4 ... [55%]

  • Maurice E. Adams
    November 08, 2012 - 07:34

    Over the locked-in life of Nalcor's Muskrat Falls "take or pay" contract, Muskrat Falls will cost island ratepayer's about $26 BILLION (yes, that is correct) to "go around Quebec". About $26 billion more than if we bought the power from Quebec. See infographic at That works out to about $500 million per year more, or about $1,500 annually per household.

  • Cold Future
    November 08, 2012 - 06:49

    Its a tough stand to take a majority attitude and bully your way to a decision that essentially forces the domestic consumer to pay the premium cost of $ 4 billion to go around Quebec when the fallout and hardship the taxpayer will ensure includes: escalating rates which outpace the national average and rates which will sit well above the national average. We have enjoyed rates within the middle of the pack in Canada up to now. Unfortunately we will have to endure the highest in the country. How that can ever be spun into a least cost solution boggles the mind. To have the elected members who are required to protect the public interests selling this like door to door vacuum cleaner salesmen, ignoring all of the huge risks boggles the mind.A majority government may fool all of the people once but the real consequences will inevitably surface, lest we forget the Upper Churchill contract.