It’s a little national attention that Premier Kathy Dunderdale and her government probably didn’t want. For months now, Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s commitment to provide a loan guarantee for the Muskrat Falls project — provided, among other things, that the project can be shown to make economic sense — has been flying under the national radar.
The federal government has been tightening purse strings, cutting back expenses and talking about growing deficits, but the provincial government has maintained that the loan commitment is inching ever- closer to completion.
Thursday, the Canadian Taxpayer’s Federation jumped into the fray, saying the loan guarantee
shouldn’t go ahead until the project passes some significant hurdles. And it’s not just the CTF: the independent citizen’s group Democracy Watch has also raised concerns.
The hurdle that the province probably liked hearing about the least? The argument that Muskrat Falls hasn’t yet withstood rigorous independent analysis.
“It has not been put to a full independent review that is separate from the (provincial) government,” Kevin Lacey with the CTF told The Canadian Press. “The taxpayer is the one that’s going to be shouldering most of the burden and, as a result, should be afforded the right to see all of the documentation before an independent review.”
That’s a sentiment Democracy Watch echoes.
The Dunderdale administration has argued for months that Muskrat Falls is the most-examined project to ever see the light of day in this province. But while studies of the project falls from the skies as ceaselessly as rain, Lacey has a point — many of the studies involve examinations by non-arm’s-length observers, examinations with tightly set terms of reference that essentially spell out the results in advance, or are simple recalculations of Nalcor-supplied numbers.
Studies that have fallen outside the government’s guidelines — like the examination by this province’s Public Utilities Board or by the joint federal-provincial environmental review panel — have been roundly vilified and then simply dismissed by the administration.
Premier Dunderdale clearly disagrees with the new critics. Wednesday, she repeated the government mantra that, “We’ve had every expert that we could put our hands on look at this project and review the expertise of Nalcor.”
But maybe it’s not hand’s-on review that’s needed. As the CTF is clearly pointing out, a view from some hand’s-off experts — working with terms of reference not framed by the province — might be in order.
It is late days in the project’s timeline, as contracts are awarded and the province is moving quickly past the point of no return. So there may be a clear temptation in the rarified air of the premier’s office to simply suggest that a bunch of mainlanders should mind their own business — a tried and true strategy for many premiers of this province.
But when that business requires considerable federal government support, you have to expect that mainland eyeballs would eventually focus here.
Let’s see how the project withstands a little extraprovincial scrutiny.