So, the biggest financial investment ever made in this province will be debated in the House of Assembly in a format — a private member’s motion — that traditionally has only allowed two hours for discussion.
And that means that the Muskrat Falls debate will be like every other examination of the $7.4-billion project, in that it can be reviewed, but only within the government’s prescribed terms.
The best face you can put on it?
That, backed into a corner by what it considered to be the unpalatable opposition demands that a debate in the House requires the testimony of independent experts on hydroelectric projects, the government instead instituted a process that will deliver exactly what the government wanted in the first place.
You can have some sympathy for Kathy Dunderdale’s government — there is no way on the planet they would agree to an open-ended debate that would allow the opposition more time under the stage lights and offer potentially damaging testimony from witnesses as well. Who wants to be the reluctant stage-manager for an opponent’s theatre?
The problem with the approach they’ve chosen?
It generates an extremely time-limited debate restricted to the regurgitation of already-established talking points.
And, in the process, it reinforces exactly the point being made by many of the project’s critics — not whether or not the project can withstand scrutiny, but whether or not it is actually getting the kind of unfettered examination that a multi-billion-dollar project deserves.
Perhaps it’s a blind spot of the current administration.
The government repeatedly protests that Muskrat Falls is the most examined project ever, but steadfastly refuses to admit that virtually all the examination has been undertaken on the government’s terms, framed by the government’s restricted rules of engagement.
In the end, the government was left with a poor set of choices: either have no debate at all, or do what it has done — do a debate-lite private member’s motion on a Wednesday in December and hope that will fit the bill as an overall review.
It is a half-measure.
How much of one?
So much so, that on Monday, the Speaker of the House had to point out that one of the ways the government wanted to free up extra time to briefly extend the debate — perhaps with the best of intentions — was actually a violation of the House’s standing orders. Someone didn’t do all their homework.
This debate will unfold as expected, without expert testimony and with an already-guaranteed majority voting in favour.
We just shouldn’t confuse it with what it clearly is not.
Any suggestion in the future that the project will have undergone a full House of Assembly debate will be revisionist history at its worst.
It’s, at best, an ad-hoc solution for an admittedly tangly problem.
And because of that, it’s pretty much a waste of the motion’s already-limited time.