In the spring of 2011, the Newfoundland and Labrador Liberal Party created “Muskrat Fails” a website with an adorable Churchill River water droplet who has some serious misgivings about the Muskrat Falls hydroelectric development.
The cartoony website tells visitors that power currently costs approximately 9 1/2 piggy banks, but with Muskrat Falls, consumers will pay 20 1/2 piggy banks for their electricity.
“Muskrat Falls? More like Muskrat Fails! It’s enough to bring a tear to your eye,” Winston says, sobbing.
Since then, the Liberals have been the clearest, loudest voice of opposition to the current plan for developing Muskrat Falls.
The Liberal party is firmly against Muskrat Falls — except for all the members who are firmly in favour of it.
As party members consider the crop of leadership candidates in the coming months, they’ll have to weigh strident Muskrat Falls opponents like Danny Dumaresque against Cathy Bennett, who was a board member at Nalcor for the entire time that the Muskrat Falls plan was being developed.
This week, The Telegram talked to all five Liberal leadership can-didates, trying to pin down
exactly where the party stands on the largest megaproject in the province’s history.
Subsidizing electricity; party policy
… or not
At the party’s annual convention last fall, members passed only one policy resolution related to Muskrat Falls, calling on the government to use any excess revenue from selling surplus electricity to subsidize rates in Newfoundland and Labrador.
Candidates present mixed bag of opinions
Cathy Bennett said that’s not something she necessarily supports.
“My position is going to be the position of the Liberal Party of Newfoundland and Labrador, but having said that, the work I’ve done in the last nine days would lead me to believe that there is a lot of opportunity for us as a party to work on our policy,” she said. “I think for any candidate to say that the revenue generated from Muskrat Falls is going to go directly into power is maybe not necessarily looking at what the overall priorities are. I think we’ve got lots of things that we need to invest our money in, and you know what? Stabilizing rates certainly may be one of them, but it’s not the only thing we have to focus on.”
But MHA Dwight Ball said that surplus electricity sales absolutely should be used to reduce power rates in Newfoundland and Labrador.
“We should be using that excess power to develop industrial industry here on the island or in Labrador. Also, I’ve always said and maintained that the ratepayers of the province have been asked to finance this,” he said. “If this project generates excess revenue, well, that should be used to offset the cost of energy to ratepayers in the project.”
Every candidate except Cathy Bennett said excess revenue should be used to reduce domestic rates, although Jim Bennett went a step further, saying the government should subsidize power rates even if they don’t find anywhere to sell surplus Muskrat Falls electricity.
“I don’t think we can wait around and hope that we generate some revenue and if we generate some revenue we help people with their electricity rates,” Bennett said. “I think that we, as a Liberal party, will have an obligation to protect people from the mistakes of the government.”
The eggs are scrambled now
Speaking to all five candidates, the rhetoric was vastly different; Dumaresque said the current plan involves “gouging the ratepayer” whereas Paul Antle said in principle he supports “clean energy” but he’s got some concerns about the structure of the deal.
Cathy Bennett is gung-ho about the decision to sanction, although she thinks that a Liberal government led by her would be better at managing the project while it’s under construction.
But as for the rest, whether they’re mildly skeptical or loudly dismayed with the government’s choice to sanction Muskrat Falls, all the candidates agree there’s no going back now.
“No one is going to stop a hydro development that’s half-constructed. No one would do that in their right mind, but we can revisit how this thing is financially engineered. We can certainly do that,” Antle said.
“To me, that debate is over,” Jim Bennett said. “We’re far enough in we can’t get out. We have to finish the deal now, and my view is the most responsible thing is for the Liberal party — the Liberal government, hopefully — to manage the fallout from the bad deal that’s Muskrat Falls.”