In my experience it is unprecedented — three former cabinet ministers of the party in power, two of them ex-ministers of finance, coming out publicly against the government’s central policy of the day.
Their concern, at its root, is the massive borrowing to finance Muskrat Falls — possibly doubling the public debt. There are other issues, but that is the main one.
Former premier Danny Williams claims now is the best time to do it, with interest rates low and a federal guarantee.
But this begs the question of whether it should be done at all, plus the fact there is no assurance rates will not rise to match or exceed former levels, and guarantee or not, the borrowing must be repaid.
(How current Finance Minister Tom Marshall manages to support it, while in the same breath proclaiming an end to excessive spending, passes understanding.)
To be strictly correct, Loyola Sullivan did not, in the voice clip I heard on the radio, mention Muskrat Falls, but given the timing of his warning — right in the middle of the PUB hearings — his intention is obvious. On the other hand, Dr. John Collins, in his repeated concerns, has been absolutely clear, as has Jim Morgan.
These men can hardly be accused of partisanship, or mischief, or ignorance of the subject matter or the implications of the proposed deal, whether it goes ahead or not. For either way, there will be consequences.
When I met for more than an hour with Ed Martin, the head of Nalcor, at his invitation, I pressed him on the matter of financing — the final cost, the burden on the public debt, the cost of overruns, etc., but to little effect. That was several months ago, and today we are hardly wiser — in fact, the cost, reported this week, could be 30 per cent below or 50 per cent above the
$6.2 billion quoted.
One thing that is absolutely certain is that the burden will fall — I believe unnecessarily — on the people of Newfoundland and Labrador, both as debtors and as ratepayers.
With over 60 per cent of them opposed to the project, according to one reported poll, the Dunderdale government should take the advice of those former ministers and shut it down, now.
William R. Callahan