A referendum may be the only answer

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My initial support for the Lower Churchill development's most recent incarnation was based on my personal belief that it makes sense to put money made from dwindling non-renewable resources into long term investments that will produce revenue and opportunity for generations to come.

Muskrat Falls' significant costs and potential for cost overruns, and its momentous fiscal, political and policy implications, mean the government would be wise to consider using a democratic tool which has only been employed on four occasions in our history

I believe that a direct vote by the electorate is needed before the project is sanctioned.

Only a referendum, following the so-called Decision Gate 3 analysis, would give proponents the moral and political authority to proceed on this issue of major fiscal and political significance.

Long history

Newfoundland and Labrador has a history of using direct democracy to settle weighty political issues.

Two referenda were held in 1948 to settle the Confederation question. In 1995 and 1997, a direct vote by the people provided government with a clear mandate to amend the terms of union to disband the denominational education system.

At this point, fair or not, the decks are stacked.

The huge PC majority will exercise its constitutional power in the legislature to proceed.

The gateways, the ring-fenced public hearings and the Manitoba Hydro International review are all window dressing for a political agenda.

A debate in the House of Assembly will be a dog and pony show, with little sideshows playing out on “Open Line.”

Cautious support

At this point, I honestly believe that a majority of citizens lean toward supporting the proposed deal.

Reasons vary from transferring  non-renewable windfalls to a renewable generator of revenue for generations to come, to unlocking the physical barrier to markets dominated by Quebec.

I also think, however, that the vast majority of people want to be better informed, to be more confident that this is the right way to go.

Folks just do not feel that they have all the information they need. Of course, opponents may never feel comfortable.

Premier Kathy Dunderdale does not command nearly the same level of confidence put in former premier Danny Williams.

Showing leadership

The leadership on this file has not been inspiring. If anything, lack of leadership and mangled communication has made selling this deal on its merits very, very difficult.

The premier should consider showing bold leadership by allowing each and every one of us the opportunity for a direct say in the redistribution of our province’s wealth.

She could borrow a page from former premiers Clyde Wells and Brian Tobin and hold a referendum to settle the issue.

A final vote after an informed debate would clear the air once and for all on the single most important public investment since the construction of the Newfoundland Railway.

Sure it might be expensive. Democracy costs money. We have the ability, the need and the infrastructure to ensure that everyone in this province is not only consulted but registers their vote.

All that is needed is a commitment to direct democracy and leadership.

Peter L. Whittle writes from St. John’s.

Organizations: Manitoba Hydro International

Geographic location: Decision Gate

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Recent comments

  • Winston Adams
    September 28, 2012 - 16:37

    Hi Stewie, actually a few have said efficiency is a great idea. No, I don.t beleive I am needy, but I am amazed that efficiency has been ruled out for no good reason. And many professional engineers know of it's benefits but are silent. And that it offers reductions, not a increase on household electric bills. And that there is a obligation on others, especially the power companies to make these facts known.So it is a bit frustrating.And I am starting to get bored making these comments. Now it is in large part a technical issue. And i don't expect everyone to be informed on this. And it's not a small issue. At first I thought I might get serious criticism that I may have made some gross technical mistake. So, I now try to provoke some criticism, as it appears I have not made any gross mistake. So it appears to me that Nalcor has made a gross mistake by ignoring this in their forecast. Now I am by nature a guy who sits it the back of the classroom, reluctant to speak out. But this project is so huge, so costly, and so important to our financial standing of our province, that I do feel the obligation to express my view is necessary, despite my reluctance. If my view ruffle some feathers,like you, how can I help that? Why avoid me, my view is either valid or not. But it is the real needy in this province who will suffer the high power costs which we are told is coming. Can you suggest a better way for me to get the efficiency issue assessed?

  • Pierre Neary
    September 28, 2012 - 16:10

    To quote Paddy Daly. "Come on wit it".

  • Winston Adams
    September 28, 2012 - 14:15

    John, Wade Locke is not COMPLETELY in favour of MF. First he said the power demand would have to hold up as forecast, and second , he has concerns for the economics if the price goes over 8 billion. So he is hedging his bets. Now I contacted Wade Locke, to see what he thought of my efficient heating argument as presented to the PUB, about 10 pages, as this can bring down demand big time. Seems Wade could never get around to reading it! I can't get a damm person to critize my arithemic or the suitability of this technology for our climate here. Except of course for your silly comments, which has as no merit for the math or science. And a recent study ranked Canada even behind China in energy efficiency, and near the bottom of 12 major countries. Keep at it John, you can help us hit the bottom, we're just ahead of Russia right now.

    • Stewie
      September 28, 2012 - 14:49

      You're sounding kind of needy. Everyday, on here, whining that nobody wants to look at your idea. Perhaps it's not the idea but the author that they're avoiding.

  • Memorial University, your voice needs to be added to the mix.
    September 28, 2012 - 13:35

    To: MUN POLI SCI... I am assuming you could be a MUN Political Science professor or student, so I will ask a question of you. Do you think Memorial University should have its voice 'distinctively' heard loud and clear on the proposed Muskrat Falls Contract that is beginning to look more sinister by the day and is likely to plunge our province into a state of severe indebtedness; and our province's above-average population of seniors who are surviving on un-indexed pensions will be plunged into a severe state of poverty? It is time, in my mind, for our highest institution of learning in the province, Memorial University, to stand up and have its voice heard. For far too long democracy has been denied the people of Newfoundland and Labrador and our natural resources have been pilfered and utilized for the benefit of creating vibrant economies for other places because of the murky democracy that was practiced here. Because of that our beautiful and strategically located province did not prosper economically the way that it should have. By the way Muskrat Falls, in my opinion, is another example of a contract that will shackle our province with debt for 57 years and it will take every cent from our people and the provincial treasury to service that debt. I wish we could grow some honest and caring politicians who care about our province and its people's well-being. To date we have had no such luck!

    • MUN Poli Sci
      September 28, 2012 - 14:51

      I am a graduate student. To your question on the University having a distinct voice at any further official discussion, I would not see that for a variety of reasons. First, it would be difficult to construct a single representative view from the University given the diversity of academic disciplines. Within disciplines there is disagreement (Economists Locke and Feehan have opposing views). Business students and faculty may hold a view while environmental sciences hold a contrary view. So, one consensus from an institution like Memorial University is unattainable in my opinion. Second, the university viewpoint may not be representative of the majority view of the citizenry of the province. It is an academic view only. Finally, the university id a public institution whose funding is largely taxpayer provided. While independent of government, it is subject to government regulation and financing. This could cause any position put forward by the university to be suspect in the minds of members of the public. From my personal point of view, what is at issue here is the financial commitment the citizenry may be responsible for in the financing of the project. Until that is answered (if at all) then then neither the politicians or public cannot debate or decide if the cost is worth the results.

    • John Smith
      September 28, 2012 - 15:34

      I will say it again, although I don't know why anymore, that this project will not add to our debt. If we borrow to pay down on an unfunded pension, then yes, that goes onto the debt, but this will be reflected on the asset side of the column, not the debt side. If this was going to be added to the debt side then our rates would go down...not up. Our rates will go up by an avaerage of 20.00 dollars a month, then stableize, as opposed to the current situation. If the world invades Iran, then we will be looking at 200 dollar a barrel oil overnight, how will seniors afford that. It's comments like yours, so uneducated, so non-sensical that prove to me that a referendum is just a very, very stupid idea.

  • Mun Poli sci
    September 28, 2012 - 12:05

    The PC government has publicly stated that it will not allow expert testimony at the special debate on Muskrat Falls. Therefore, it is reasonable to assume that it is unlikely it would allow any public plebiscite on the subject.

  • Cyril Rogers
    September 28, 2012 - 11:13

    A referendum is Critical for any number of reasons: (1) The government has taken on the lead role as proponent of this scheme but have controlled the agenda and the information flow from Day One. (2) They have ignored all warnings of incomplete and poorly-researched analyses by NALCOR, who were unable to provide a solid enough rationale for the Environmental Review Panel(appointed by the government) to approve it. (3) The government handcuffed the PUB's attempt to review the project and then rejected their finding that not enough information was provided for them to make a firm decision. (4) The government hired NAVIGANT AND MHI to counteract the reports of their own appointed boards and even these two bodies supported the project with important caveats. (5) The fact that the government cannot find strong support anywhere, have had to make unrealistic assumptions about long term power needs, and rely totally on a continuing spike in oil prices to justify the project.....all points to a whole lot of wishful thinking on their part. (6) The project costs have already escalated well beyond the original $6.2 billion that MF was supposed to cost and are now over $8 billion and rising. One of their main supporters, Economist Wade Locke, warned that when the numbers get that high, it might be prudent to reexamine their key projections. (7) The government has signed a Term Sheet with EMERA that allows that company to walk away from the project up to the end of 2014, so how can we have any confidence that EMERA is actually a partner? (8) The government is about to embark upon the most expensive project ever undertaken in this province and we, the ratepayers, will be forced to pay the bill....therefore, why should we not have the right to say YEA or NAY. (9) The government has hijacked its own regulatory process by denying the PUB the necessary resources to do its job and are, by extension, breaking the law. (10) My final point: THIS RESOURCE BELONGS TO ALL OF THE PEOPLE OF NL AND EVERYONE OF US HAS THE RIGHT TO CAST OUR VOTE ON A PROJECT OF THIS MAGNITUDE.

    • John Smith
      September 28, 2012 - 12:33

      As usual Cyrill you are wrong about every point you make...but hey, why let the truth creep into your hate filled rants...right? First of all it was the PUB who hired MHI, not governmemt. The government granted the PUB one extension, 9 months and 2 million dollars of taxpayer money. Nalcor supplied them with 15,000 pages of information and Hundreds of exhibits, yet at the end the PUB(which has two fired Nalcor employees on the board), said that wasn't good enough, they wanted the final DG3 numbers, which as we all know are still not ready, a year later. The DG3 numbers were never supposed to be a part of the scope of the PUB decision. Wdae Locke is on record as being completely in favor of the project.Anyway...it's just a waste of time to debate with people like you because you don't care about this project...you just want to see it fail because you don't like the PC party. The funny thing is that the NDP and the Liberal also suppot the project.So I guess you are $hit out of luck...LOL

    • Today he is a fan
      September 28, 2012 - 14:41

      Poor John, inconsistent as always. Seems John is fan of Wade Locke. It was just a year ago when he was dismissing Locke. "Mr Locke must have a book comming out. last week he was on telling us we don't have enough money to pay our bills, this week he is saying we should take some of the money we don't have and start a savings account. LOL All this while half the infrastructure in the province is falling apart." (John Smith, June 30, 2011). I guess John likes this book.

    • John Smith
      September 28, 2012 - 15:26

      I never said that. There are a lot of John Smiths out there. That's one of the problems with this cheap, crappy forum that the Tely employs...you can't have a dedicated name. Anyway, I certainly do not agree with everything Mr. Locke says, but I think his number Re. muskrat are about right. He is a leading nationally known economist, and has come out on side of Muskrat. That's what I do know.

  • Matthews
    September 28, 2012 - 10:46

    I'll take issue with Mr. Whittle's statement on the cost of a referendum: "Sure it might be expensive". The cost to the taxpayer for the chief electoral office to administer a General Election is $3 million. Let's take that number in the context of this Muskrat Falls issue: If we low ball the project cost to $8Billion, the cost of a referendum at $3million, the referendum cost would be 0.0375% (zero point zero three 75 percent) of the project cost. Less than 4 One Hundredths of 1 percent. Let us examine the funding the Dunderdale government provided to Nalcor in Budget 2012-2013: $665 million to Nalcor for Muskrat falls development work vs the cost $300 million cost of a referendum would be 0.4511 percent (zero point four one one). Less than half of 1 percent of the Taxpayer monies allocated to Nalcor for this year alone for the as yet unsanctioned project. The cost of a Referendum is miniscule compared to the monies provided to Nalcor to date or the obligation we may be bound to in the future. In this context, the cost of a referendum is not expensive. it is miniscule financially but may be explosive politically. That is at the heart of the issue.

  • Winston Adams
    September 28, 2012 - 09:49

    John Smith, you defer to the experts, but not just any expert. What is an expert JOHN? You will not dispute this description. EXPERT ; a person having a special skill or knowledge. Now consider this. MHI who are experts says of Nalcor, who are experts, that your formula to calculate future demand is flawed, that it does not use best methods in that you do not use an 'end-use model with analysis'. Such a method allows a power company to prove if a certain devise really saves the energy claimed, instead of just assuming it will or will not. Why is this important JOHN? Because many devises are climate dependant. Example, a compact light will save a lot of energy in Florida, but little in Nfld. And a efficient heating system can save a lot of energy in Nfld, but little in Manitoba. Are you still with me here JOHN. Now JOHN, I have special training in both power systems and heating systems. But I am not paid by Nalcor or the government, nor do I seek to be. So my opinion is of no value in your mind, right JOHN. Now you say that more power is needed , that it's an 'absolute fact'. But by the experts you quote, Nalcor is deliberately avoiding "best methods" to assess 'that question'. MHI said so. It seems in all your reading JOHN, you skip over what don't suit your preconceived notions. Doesn't sound like you are an open minded person JOHN. Now Ron says he will trust the engineers. Certainly, there is a lot of expertise out there. But engineers are like doctors. Would you go to a eye doctor for heart trouble? My point, don't expect end-use analysis for efficiency issues from Nalcor's in house engineers. Engineers designing heating for buildings use their expertise for this every day. It's a standard for our commercial large buildings. It's time the benefits go to the homeowner, to save them a lot on heating costs.And this negatively effects forecasts for demand, big time. If lowest cost for the average customer is an issue, then the government or hired engineering consultants should not be told to EXCLUDE this knowledge. So we are really not past the first principle- to reasonably prove that we need more power. When you avoid best methods to prove this, it's beyond reason. Yes JOHN. Your rant is BEYOND REASON. More power absolutely needed? Prove it. Nalcor must prove it. For 6,8, or 10 billion dollars of risky expentiture. PROVE WE NEED IT. For the future of our province. Prove it. How do you prove it? Not an absolute proof. But a reasonable proof. Show us the arithemic. That's all. Even the average citizen can be informed and vote with confidence if the arithemic holds up. Let the experts inform the debate, but not deside the debate. I'll trust a referendum, but first inform them with true arithemic.

    • John Smith
      September 28, 2012 - 12:23

      ...but Winston...botht he Navigant review, and the MHI review both stated that Nalcor was UNDER-estimating our future power needs. Ed Martin said they looked at best case scenarios for future power forcasting, not worst case. Are you telling me that every single jurisdiction in North America will need more electricity in the future except us? Really? Are you telling me that we can solve our future power needs by installing better baseboard heaters? Really? The experts I am referring to are the people who get up, and go to work each day to provide us with electricity. From Ed Martin, to the person who fills up a diesel generator on the coast of Labrador, they all have their level of expertise.When the people with PHD levels of education come forward and publicly state that in five years we will need additional power, I believe what they say...why wouldn't I?When the people who manage our power supply go outside of our Province and hire a compnay, Navigant, and they come back and say...you will need more power than you have indicated...I beleive them, when the PUB hires a company, MHI, and they come back and say, yep, Navigant is right, you will need even more power than you thought, I believe them...they are experts in the field.I say to you Winston, and to the other naysayers prove to me that we will not need any more power. Prove to me that the 100 megawatts Vale needs, the tens og megawatts the construction of two GBS, the oil industry, the mining industry, the new housing developments going up every second day, the 4 12 storybuildings under construction in downtown St. John's today. The house that was built 50 years ago with a wood stove and a 60 amp panel compared to the 4 thousand sq. ft. houses with 200 amp panels just for the kitchen alone. You are living in a dream world winston, you and the rest of the boob naysayers. Time to wake up and get your head out of your a$$.

  • Ron Tizzard
    September 28, 2012 - 08:42

    I disagree with you on this one Maurice, while I support you fully in your confidence in Democratic processes. Living in a democracy does not, cannot always accept the abilities of 'commoners' to be able to appreciate, rationally enough, the content of a document or documents which our elected officials in toto are scratching their heads about, even with 'industry' professional input. The average Tom, Dick and Mary cannot be expected to vote intelligilably the minutia of that contract, or even get their heads around the dollars involved. The average livyer would only be able to take a 'shot' in the dark'! Is that how we wish these multi-millioms of dollars, 'engineer' level variety piece of work decided. It would be tantamount to flipping a coin. Personally, I put my trust in the Engineers and the elected we voted for to make these decisions...albeit following discussions of what the project is all about...IN LAYMAN TERMS. I think myself pretty well educated, that said, I am prepared to leave the final decision in the hands of those 'who know best', that they will consider our i.e. the people of this Province, best interests. Otherwise, any other process would just be a 'flip of a coin'...What's your call Maurice...'heads or tails'?

    • Gerry Goodman
      September 28, 2012 - 10:54

      How is it that the ratepayer/taxpayer is smart enough to elect a PC government but are to stunned to decide whether Muskrat Falls is the best option? I am an average Joe that thinks paying 100% of the cost while needing, at the most, 40% is not in my best interests.

  • Winston Adams
    September 28, 2012 - 08:29

    I disagree that the MHI report will give all the information to inform the people. This report could assist the PUB to consider if there is a least cost option being considered. But gas and wind are not the only additional sources to consider. Energy efficiency is as of yet off the table for our province. It offers reduced costs for heating our houses without any or little new generation needs for some decades. MHI has not been asked to assess this. Only the PUB, through consultants, could assess submissions on this, or the government could create a Efficicncy corporation with real targets and funding as done in many other jurisdictions. Only if the public is informed on the benefits of energy efficiency and the saving on their heating bills from this, could they vote in a referendum knowing all the appropriate choices were considered. For now, the fix is in, like the Confereration debate. Joining the USA was not an option. For now, ENERGY EFFICIENCY is not an option. And its proving so beneficial for much of the USA and now several provinces. The recent TURN BACK THE TIDE , as well as TAKE CHARGE programs are completely silent on these residential heating systems that reduce electricity use by over 50 percent. Go figure.

  • Ron Tizzard
    September 28, 2012 - 08:21

    I disagree with you on this one Maurice, while I support you fully in your confidence in Democratic processes. Living in a democracy does not, cannot always accept the abilities of 'commoners' to be able to appreciate, rationally enough, the content of a document or documents which our elected officials in toto are scratching their heads about, even with 'industry' professional input. The average Tom, Dick and Mary cannot be expected to vote intelligilably the minutia of that contract, or even get their heads around the dollars involved. The average livyer would only be able to take a 'shot' in the dark'! Is that how we wish these multi-millioms of dollars, 'engineer' level variety piece of work decided. It would be tantamount to flipping a coin. Personally, I put my trust in the Engineers and the elected we voted for to make these decisions...albeit following discussions of what the project is all about...IN LAYMAN TERMS. I think myself pretty well educated, that said, I am prepared to leave the final decision in the hands of those 'who know best', that they will consider our i.e. the people of this Province, best interests. Otherwise, any other process would just be a 'flip of a coin'...What's your call Maurice...'heads or tails'?

  • John Smith
    September 28, 2012 - 08:20

    So...at the same time the naysayers are telling us they don't have enough information, they are also saying they want a referendum? Does that make sense? Should we completely dismiss the election we had a few short months ago? The people of the province knew that we had a six and a half billion dollar project ready to proceed at Muskrat. They knew that they would see increased rates to pay for it. They knew we would sell power on the spot market for less than what we would pay for it here. We knew all that...yet we voted in the PCs by a landslide.So let's just throw that piece of democracy out, and hand the choice of developing our resources to those who know little, or nothing about it. Not to mention the historiclly low voter turnout in the province.The bottom line is that we will need additional power..no matter what those in opposition to this project say...that is an absolute, undeniable fact.So inorder to have a referendum the question would have to be if not muskrat then what?I also feel that anyone who would vote would have to read the 15,000 pages, and hundreds of exhibits available on the PUB site. That's just for a start. Does anyone out there feel qualified to vote on this project? To make a qualified decision? I know I certainly do not have those qualifications. I have read all I can on the topic, I think it's the best answer to our coming needs, I have seen no alternatives that would be better. But I don't think I am qualified to make a decision on the deal. I don't think Richard Cashin, or Bern Coffee are either. I think we should listen to what those we hired to make these decisions...the experts who have dedicated their lives to this business...not someone from arm pit cove with a grade six education....

  • Christopher Chafe
    September 28, 2012 - 07:54

    If Premier Dunderdale was smart, she would without a doubt put the Muskrat Falls development to a referendum and allow the tax payers of the province to either say Yay or Nay when it comes to development of the Falls. This political one-upmanship by ALL PARTIES, is getting very tiring and is serving this project no good.

    • Eli
      September 28, 2012 - 10:22

      If Premier Dunderdale was smart? She's shown nothing but arrogance and stupidity on this issue. Throw in stubborness and we're in big trouble.

  • Maurice E. Adams
    September 28, 2012 - 06:38

    Premier Dunderdale could do nothing better than to put the Muskrat Falls issue to the people. Once the MHI report is in, government will have all the information needed to inform the people. Let them have their say..... after all, it is their money.