Muskrat Falls and its crushing $12.7-billion cost looms large in all our lives these days, but for the people who live in the actual shadows of the massive hydroelectricity project in Labrador, it’s as personal as it gets.
Angus Andersen is many things — an Inuk man, an artist, a translator, a radio host, a drummer, a storyteller, an ambassador for his culture, language, history and customs. But perhaps above all these he is a staunch defender of his ancestral land and his people’s right to have a say.
He was born in Nain and his family often camped in the wild rugged splendour of Torngat, on land now subsumed by Torngat Mountains National Park.
He lives in St. John’s but still has family in Labrador, and it is them he thinks of when he protests against Muskrat Falls, worried that their drinking water and food sources will be poisoned with an accumulation of methylmercury or that a collapse of the North Spur could send a deadly landslide hurtling towards their homes.
“I was against it right from the start, even when Danny Williams was pitching the idea,” he told me in a phone interview on Monday. “I have family living downstream from the project. … There are things we are afraid of. … It’s affecting practically all of Labrador…
“The people need to get back in control — that’s part of the problem,” Andersen said. “Corporations have full control of our government. They’re in charge of everything. If they have control over solar power, wind power, we have no say. (And people are so) complacent, that all of this happening because of that.
“More drugs, more people going to the food banks — the effect of Muskrat Falls is enormous.”
While some people are contemplating moving out of the province, dreading the oppressive cost of Muskrat Falls electricity — with rates expected to double in a couple of years — the ominous clouds on the near horizon have strengthened Andersen’s resolve that his future is here.
“I want to say and fight,” he said. “Because people are leaving. You see that.”
“Bottom line is, one way or another the people of the province will pay for it. It is unavoidable. If there is rate relief, then it essentially means taking (Muskrat Falls) money out of two of my pockets as opposed to one — but the same amount will come out. …"
On the west coast of the province, a professional with multiple children attending university says it’s not just Muskrat Falls that has him seriously questioning his future here, but the province’s dismal fiscal situation generally.
“Any (electricity) rate relief from government to offset the impact of (Muskrat Falls) rates will be either from (1) increased taxes; (2) reduced programs; (3) or moving money from, say, Nalcor offshore to pay off that debt — which could have been used to counter (1) or (2),” he writes via email.
“Bottom line is, one way or another the people of the province will pay for it. It is unavoidable. If there is rate relief, then it essentially means taking (Muskrat Falls) money out of two of my pockets as opposed to one — but the same amount will come out. …
“I do debate every day why the hell I am still here. I could move to another province or state (my company would prefer if I did) and pay far, far less in the way of taxes as well as utilities that could help pay for the kids’ school — especially as I approach retirement. … Another challenge to packing up and moving, as housing prices are in the toilet…
“I would expect to leave the province in a year or two — nothing is certain but that is what I am thinking.
“Bottom line is that many who are mobile and living in N.L. will at least consider leaving. N.L. also becomes less attractive for people to move here, as well. As people move away, the (Muskrat Falls) bill and debt bill per person remaining goes up, too.
“I hate to be a pessimist, but without firming oil prices and additional projects offshore, N.L. is in a HEAP of trouble.”
Real people, real pressures.
In this column and the next, I’ll share more stories from people who say Muskrat Falls is playing a direct role in shaping their future.
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