Friday, there was a brand new item thrown into the Muskrat Falls blender. It was the “good news” announcement of a federal loan guarantee for the project — or, to those who question the project, a conditional sort of guarantee that could hardly serve to guarantee much of anything.
The federal government has agreed to guarantee financing for the project if Nova Scotia stays involved (a full decision on that involvement doesn’t have to come before 2014), if the Newfoundland government spends its equity money up front with any loans coming later, if the deal stays as one that’s beneficial to Canadian taxpayers, and if and when the actually legally biding documents that embody the terms everyone agreed to are drawn up in a way that meets everyone’s satisfaction.
In other words, it is an agreement to agree, with more than a few “out” clauses.
Just the kind of backing your banker would like to see before giving you preferential terms on your next $7.4-billion mortgage.
Provincial Natural Resources Minister Jerome Kennedy triumphantly described the term sheet like this in the House of Assembly: “Mr. Speaker, without the premier’s leadership to advocate on behalf of the people of Newfoundland and Labrador and her vision on the Muskrat Falls project to achieve energy self-
sufficiency for our province, there would be no loan guarantee. Our premier stood steadfast during these negotiations and her commitment to ensure that the principles of the loan guarantee be done in the best interest of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians never wavered.”
But leave all that aside for a moment, and think about some other numbers.
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Polling done for The Telegram by MQO Research and released on Saturday shows that 59 per cent of residents of the province strongly or somewhat support moving ahead with the Muskrat Falls project, but a staggering 77 per cent say their knowledge of the project is fair or poor. That’s a remarkable knowledge gap, especially for a project that Premier Kathy Dunderdale described to the Halifax Chronicle-Herald as being the most scrutinized project in the nation.
“There’s no project in the history of this country that’s undergone the scrutiny that this one has gone under,” she said,
With numbers like that, the subset that is solidly supporting the project has to cross over to some degree with the subset that admits limited knowledge of the project — in other words, there has to be a substantial number of people who both support the project and, at the same time, know very little about it.
That’s a troubling situation to be in, especially when you consider another number from the poll: 56 per cent of respondents felt there should be a referendum on whether or not the project should go ahead.
That means there are a fair number of people who want the opportunity to vote on something they admit they don’t know much about — hardly a recipe for good decision-making.
Here’s a hard truth: until you’ve taken the time to know what you’re talking about, you probably shouldn’t be trumpeting — or voting on — either its perceived benefits or its perceived flaws.