For all the bickering between the parties, there’s one thing they agree on: the federal government must step in to protect residents of Newfoundland and Labrador from the financial burden of Muskrat Falls.
At Wednesday’s campaign announcement for Liberal candidate Paul Antle’s run at Windsor Lake, Premier Dwight Ball said the burden of Muskrat Falls should not translate into higher electricity bills.
“There’s no way that ratepayers in our province could pay for or should pay for the burden of Muskrat Falls,” said Ball.
Ball says the Muskrat Falls debt should be treated like any other public debt, shifting the cost away from electricity bills.
But, Ball also said such a move should not increase taxes in Newfoundland and Labrador.
“We are not looking at increases taxes for people in Newfoundland and Labrador,” said Ball.
The Public Utilities Board (PUB) will continue to be used to determine electricity rates, according to Ball.
If not ratepayers and if not tax payers, then who? Ball says he doesn’t have the answer yet, but the federal government will need to be at the negotiating table.
“There are a number of options. We will include people like the federal government. It will include a number of different things,” said Ball.
“We will make sure that we leave no stone unturned to deal with all the issues that we’ve been able to fix that we’ve been left with as a result of the Tory government.”
The current public debt burden cost the province $1.4 billion in 2018, close to triple what the province spends on post-secondary education.
Tory Leader Ches Crosbie, Antle’s opponent in the Sept. 20 Windsor Lake byelection, says the premier is trying to wave a “magic wand” at the problem of Muskrat Falls.
“It disappears on one side of the leger, then it seems it appears on another side of the leger, where it’s not going to cause any damage and in particular won’t cause our taxes to go up,” said Crosbie.
“The issue is Mr. Ball is being very unspecific about just how this is going to work and what the repercussions of it would be.”
Crosbie’s starting point for his plan for rate mitigation starts with the PUB, which needs to determine an affordable rate for ratepayers in the province, something he says is around the current price.
“Step 1: use the board to find that rate. The next step is, once you have that rate, you know what you can pay for,” said Crosbie.
“If people agree with me that we can’t afford as tax payers any more taxes, or any more debt, there’s only one other place to go. That’s the federal government. They are our partners in finding a solution to this mess.”
NDP Leader Gerry Rogers, whose party has yet to announce a candidate in the Windsor Lake byelection, agrees the federal government will have to step in.
“It’s clear the premier, right now, is scrambling. They’ve been at the helm now for two and a half years and they’ve given this vague promise without any real substantial information about how this will be accomplished,” said Rogers.
The federal government has to come to the table the same way they’ve come to the table with Alberta, the same way they’ve come to the table with Ontario and Quebec. They have to come to the table and be part of this solution.”
The question that no one is able to answer at this point is what the implications of reopening negotiations with the federal government surrounding the financing of the Muskrat Falls project would be.
Crosbie says the question of rate mitigation is the largest one facing the province at this time.
“The ballot box question for the byelection that I’m now fighting and for the general election next year is going to be who do you trust to negotiate our way through this crisis: Dwight Ball or Ches Crosbie?”
Rogers says Crosbie forgets the third option.
“When you take a look at who you should most trust at this point, look at what the Conservatives have brought us. They labeled anybody with any questions at all as traitors or unpatriotic,” said Rogers.
“The Liberals had the opportunity when they were first elected to stop the project, to make an assessment before pushing forward. They did not do that. This byelection is the opportunity for the people of Newfoundland and Labrador to send a clear message to government and to the conservatives, that they will not be fooled again.”