Paul Antle says that when he heard about a billion-dollar contract for Muskrat Falls, awarded last week, alarm bells started going off in his head.
Antle is running for the Liberal leaderhsip.
He isn’t one of the Liberals calling for the Muskrat Falls project to be cancelled or wildly retooled, but he’s not exactly an enthusiastic supporter, either.
It’s not that he’s against building a hydroelectric dam at Muskrat Falls, necessarily — or at Gull Island, for that matter — but Antle says the way Premier Kathy Dunderdale is going about things is incredibly risky.
For starters, he said, the provincial government just agreed to a billion-dollar deal to do work on Muskrat Falls, and it hasn’t yet nailed down financing for the project.
“What really set me off was this billion-dollar contract. I (couldn’t) care less whether it was an Italian company or a Canadian company or whatever. That’s not the point,” Antle said. “We don’t have the financing. We never went out and got the loan to support the project. Now we’re really stuck. Now we’re really over the barrel.”
During an interview with The Telegram, Antle explained his concerns, and a lot of it comes down to risk.
Antle isn’t convinced that electricity demand in Newfoundland and Labrador is rising, which means he doesn’t accept one of the foundational pieces of the Nalcor case for Muskrat Falls.
Also, he says the provincial government should still send the project back to the Public Utilities Board for a full review, even though the project has been sanctioned and construction has started.
But the No. 1 thing he says Dunderdale and Nalcor should do is nail down the financing to eliminate risk for taxpayers when it comes to borrowing costs.
Antle would also like things to be more solid regarding the Maritime Link and Emera as a partner. The Newfoundland government says everything is fine, but the partners haven’t publicly revealed how they’re going to satisfy the Nova Scotia utilities regulator to make the Muskrat Falls deal work.
“I think it’s reckless. I think it’s irresponsible. It’s unprofessional,” Antle said. “No businessperson in their right mind would go off and start spending a million dollars a day on a project when they still have all these assumptions floating around out there.”
Beyond the specific criticisms, there’s a broad divide between the way the Progressive Conservative party is running the government and Antle’s vision of things.
It all comes down to risk.
Dunderdale has trumpeted the government’s equity stakes in offshore oil projects.
And it was under former premier Danny Williams that Nalcor started selling recall power from Churchill Falls directly into the United States instead of selling it at a fixed price to Hydro-Québec.
Both of these moves potentially earn the government more money, but also expose taxpayers to more risk.
And when it comes to risky plays, Antle says Muskrat Falls is the big enchilada.
“Government should never be in business,” Antle said. “It’s a bureaucracy. It’s not there to generate profit. Government is not there for that purpose. You’re there to administer a tax base and provide services to people you govern.”