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Brian Jones: Public inquiry is just more political manipulation

The construction site of the hydroelectric facility at Muskrat Falls is seen on July 14, 2015.
The construction site of the hydroelectric facility at Muskrat Falls is seen on July 14, 2015.

The recently elected NDP government in British Columbia is examining whether to stop construction of the Site C hydroelectric dam. The previous Liberal administration approved the project after disallowing examination of the proposed $8.8-billion dam by the B.C. Utilities Commission.

Brian Jones

Newfoundland’s Progressive Conservatives used exactly that strategy when they prevented the Public Utilities Board from examining their then-$6.2-billion Muskrat Falls proposal.

The cost of Danny’s Doomboggle — impending doom that boggles rational minds — has more than doubled, to $12.7 billion.

It has taken Liberal Premier Dwight Ball almost two years to develop enough dander to do something about the deplorable doomboggle, but last week he finally straightened his spine, reached into the big bottomless bag of Tory/Liberal tricks and pulled out a fistful of political manipulation. A public inquiry!

The populace breathed a collective sigh of relief, comforted by the premier’s resolve and reassurance that the truth will come out about the Dannyboggle, about how such a massive mistake could have been contemplated and approved, about why obvious warning signs were ignored, about who knew what, and when, about Muskratgate.

And yet … all this is already on the public record.

There is no need to spend millions of dollars to produce a 500-page report outlining the folly of Danny’s Doomboggle. Anyone who is interested can look up past issues of The Telegram, whose pages chronicled in detail the developing disaster, beginning in about 2010. (From The Telegram, Dec. 10, 2010: “First power is projected for 2016 — place your bets, and ask for good odds.”)

The news pages and opinion pages, for seven years, have been brimming with information, analysis and criticism that precisely predicted where the Dannyboggle was heading and where it would end up, and why.

We don’t need a judge and months of hearings to proclaim that cutting the Public Utilities Board out of the process was political manipulation of the worst kind.

We don’t need to spend millions of dollars to have expert witnesses testify that limiting the initial discussion to a “least-cost option” between two fabricated choices was political manipulation of an even worse kind.

What we do need is an audit — forensic or otherwise — that will list every cent Nalcor Energy has spent, and every dollar it has paid, to whom and for what.

Whoever is tasked with conducting such an audit should have the authority to tell Nalcor executives exactly what they can do with their protestations of “proprietary information.”

How did the Dannyboggle happen? Two phrases explain it, for millions cheaper than a public inquiry will cost: political manipulation, and an inattentive public.

Ball’s proposed public inquiry won’t reveal anything important that isn’t already known. Anyone who watches and then exclaims, “Gosh! I didn’t know that!” will merely admit they hadn’t been paying attention these past seven years.

What Ball’s public inquiry will provide is more political manipulation.

The finger will be pointed at the Tories, who from 2010 to 2012 used their immense popularity and their walk-on-water leader to manipulate the public into believing that the proposed Muskrat Falls project was needed, rational and economically viable. Fair enough. But we already know the Tories are guilty as charged.

What Ball’s public inquiry won’t do is examine the years 2015 to 2017. What it won’t do, specifically, is ponder the date Nov. 30, 2015. It won’t call Ball to the stand and have an inquiry counsel ask, quite reasonably, “Mr. Premier, after you were elected, why didn’t you immediately stop the Muskrat Falls project?”

This fundamental question will not be asked because the “terms of reference” of the public inquiry will not allow it. The inquiry will consider only the project’s irrational approval, not its irrational continuance.

The inquiry will be more political manipulation — exactly what the public doesn’t need.

 

Brian Jones is a desk editor at The Telegram. He can be reached at bjones@thetelegram.com.

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