Muskrat Falls gets brief, symbolic debate

Vote on project split down party lines

James McLeod jmcleod@thetelegram.com
Published on December 6, 2012
Premier Kathy Dunderdale speaks to reporters about the Muskrat Falls debate in the House of Assembly Wednesday. — Photo by Keith Gosse/The Telegram

In the end, basically everyone acknowledged the Muskrat Falls debate was a disappointment — and blamed someone else for the failure.

The debate in the House of Assembly lasted a total of two hours. Only six of the 48 MHAs got a chance to speak, and NDP Leader Lorraine Michael got less than eight minutes to state her position on the $7.5-billion megaproject.

Plans for a weeklong debate on the project broke down over a demand by the Liberals to be able to question expert witnesses on the floor of the legislature.

Question period in the House of Assembly Wednesday started off with Premier Kathy Dunderdale and Liberal Leader Dwight Ball blaming each other for the fact that Muskrat Falls wouldn’t get a more lengthy discussion.

“I will always ask for a debate that means something, that is not a charade,” Ball said. “We asked for witnesses. You were afraid to give us access to the witnesses. That is exactly what happened.”

Dunderdale fired back, “We have looked for every creative way that we could find to actually get the members opposite to come to the House of Assembly prepared to debate this important issue, Mr. Speaker. They have weaseled their way out of it, Mr. Speaker, at every, every opportunity. They do not want to talk policy with regard to Muskrat Falls.”

When the final vote came at

5 p.m., MHAs stood along party lines, with the Liberals and the NDP opposing the current plan to develop Muskrat Falls, and the Tory caucus voting en masse in favour.

 

“We’re opposed to the current plan because we still have not received the kind of information we need to have with regard to the economics,” Michael said. “This government and Nalcor have not been forthcoming with the detailed information that people need to have around the economics of the project.”

While the provincial cabinet still needs to take the formal step of sanctioning the project, Dunderdale told reporters Wednesday that’s effectively a foregone conclusion.

“There is not one reason in the world why we wouldn’t sanction,” she said.

 

More scrutiny

A small cluster of protesters outside Confederation Building be­moaned the “death of democracy” ahead of the public debate in the legislature, saying Muskrat Falls should have been given more scrutiny, and should have been given full regulatory approval by the Public Utilities Board before going ahead.

The one small surprise Wednesday was independent MHA Tom Osborne, who voted with the government in favour of the current plan to develop Muskrat Falls.

Osborne said he did so because it seems like the best option available, but he still has serious misgivings.

 

Burden for ratepayers

He said the current cost estimates represent a massive burden for ratepayers in the province — a burden that will only increase if there are future cost overruns.

“(It’s) $14,000 for every man, woman and child in this province. A family of four — $56,000 that they’ve got to pay back on their utility bills. So I’ve got a very real concern about the cost overruns,” he said. “What I’d like to see government do is guarantee … the rate projections that Nalcor is making.”

 

jmcleod@thetelegram.com

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