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Russell Wangersky: In reply to Minister Coady

Natural Resources Minister Siobhan Coady told the House of Assembly and reporters on Thursday that the planned underground mining expansion at Voisey’s Bay will be delayed, while the company does more detailed engineering work.
Natural Resources Minister Siobhan Coady told the House of Assembly and reporters on Thursday that the planned underground mining expansion at Voisey’s Bay will be delayed, while the company does more detailed engineering work.

Hon. Siobhan Coady Minister of Natural Resources Dear Minister Coady: Thank you very much for your letter of July 22nd, concerning my recent column about the costs of Muskrat Falls, and how much we’ll all pay for it. (I appreciate that your letter was written as a letter to the editor, but it does mention me in the first two sentences, where you say, “I am responding to Russell Wangersky’s Saturday, July 15th column, ‘Muskrat Falls — we’ll pay and pay and pay.’ The article raises the important point that people in this province will pay for increased rates of power because of the Muskrat Falls project.”)

Russell Wangersky

I must say I am intrigued, and a little bit frustrated, by part of your letter. Originally, my column spelled out some concerns about how the government would mitigate electricity prices. It said, “This is from the provincial budget: ‘Future electricity rate management is a priority of our government. Nalcor has been directed to source $210 million to lower electricity rates starting in 2020-21, with this preliminary rate reserve growing to $245 million in the following fiscal years. We are committed to ensuring electricity rates are competitive and will undertake work to further define mitigation actions and dollars required.’ What does mitigation even mean? How do you ‘source $210 million’? How to you ‘grow’ it to $245 million?”

Your response was, “We have directed Nalcor to find ways to manage rates. The fiscal forecast in Budget 2017 indicates $210 million to lower electricity rates starting in 2020-21, with this preliminary rate reserve growing to $245 million in the following fiscal years. In addition, an internal committee within government is tasked with ensuring rates are managed as best as possible.”

While you are responding to my column, you seemed to have missed that I was posing a question: where does Nalcor come up with close to a quarter of a billion dollars, especially when it currently needs regular injections of equity cash from the government just to keep going with Muskrat Falls? Any clarification of that source of funds would be welcome.

One other thought on your letter: roughly eight times in it, you refer to the mistakes of the previous government for the pit we find ourselves in now, using words like “inherited,” “gambled” and “rejected.”

While there is surely plenty of blame to be borne by the past government, there’s blame for everyone involved in allowing this project to move forward.

Let me leave you with a simple analogy: you hire carpenters to build your deck. When you look at their work and see that they are doing a horrible job, you fire them, and replace them with new carpenters.

For a few weeks after the new carpenters are on the job, you can expect to hear tales about how the other guys messed up and what awful work they did. But there comes a point when you expect the new team to just buckle down and start doing the job right, instead of having the deck still falling off the house, and the new carpenters still complaining about the handiwork of the team that was ditched weeks before.

We hired new carpenters in 2015, because we didn’t like the government the last crowd had built.

From now on, how about a little bit more about what your solutions are, and a little less about what a crappy job the last guys did? We know about that — remember? That’s why we fired them.

Oh, and if you do have an idea about where Nalcor is to find the money your government “directed” them to “source,” please feel free to share.

You clearly have my address.

 

With every best wish,

Russell Wangersky

 

Russell Wangersky’s column appears in 30 SaltWire newspapers and websites in Atlantic Canada. He can be reached at rwanger@thetelegram.com — Twitter: @wangersky.

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