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Letter: Who can make a silk purse out of a muskrat?

Members of the local media along with various Nalcor officials and employees were given a tour of the Muskrat Falls energy facility at Soldier’s Pond located just east of Butterpot Park on the Trans Canada Highway (TCH) just outside St. John’s Wednesday.
Nalcor’s energy facility at Soldiers Pond. — Telegram file photo

So, the new political buzz-word is “mitigate.”

Premier Dwight Ball and his administration, and also Progressive Conservative Leader Ches Crosbie and his colleagues, are all working hard to find ways to suitably mitigate the economic horror of the Muskrat boondoggle. And so they must; as the prayer books say, “it is meet and right so to do.”

An election looms, and the N.L. electorate is waiting impatiently to see who may be able to make a silk purse out of a muskrat. Or at least the 300,000
householders, tenants, institutions, industries and businesses who have to pay their power bills are on edge; the rest of the population will only feel the pinch when said business firms or institutions raise their own prices to pay for the extra power costs.

But let us not be distracted by the political competition to mitigate. “Mitigate” is a nice word; it means to “make (wrath, harshness, severity, etc.) less in force or degree” (Thorndyke Barnhart), or to “make something bad less severe or serious” (Oxford). If a village is swept away by a raging flood and the government helps the citizens to rebuild, that would be a welcome mitigation.

But Muskrat Falls is no act of God. So in our gratitude for being relieved of the threat (and legislated obligation!) of having our power bills doubled, let us not forget that the current calamity shouldn’t  have occurred in the first place. To steal (and corrupt) a phrase from Lewis Carroll’s “Jabberwocky”: Beware the Mitigate, my son! The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!’     

Of course we hear that there’s no sense focusing on blame and revenge and all that reactionary stuff. The thing is built, the lines are up and we’re stuck with it. Hitler is dead, so no sense remembering the Holocaust. (Except, of course, to strive unceasingly to ensure that we never relive tragic history.) And the work of the Commission of Inquiry will deal with all the Muskrat rights and wrongs. (Ditto.)

I am a simple man, with a simple mind. But it seems to me that those who will use the power should pay for it.

Meanwhile, apart from legal arguments and questions about the draconian legislation rammed through the House of Assembly (without a referendum) by a handful of non-experts in mega-project building which prevented the Public Utilities Board from carrying out its own watchdog obligations, and assured prospective lenders that a portion of the N.L. population — only those who pay light bills — would guarantee paying off the debt over a period of some 50 years (which economist David Vardy estimates at $78 billion principal and interest), the moral question remains. Is it fair?

Nobody likes increases in living costs, especially those on fixed incomes. But if the hydro-power structure of Newfoundland needs new lines or poles or generating equipment after decades of use, then we know that we have to pay a little more in our power bills to stave off continuing #Dark NLs. But the awesome towers marching down over the Long Range Mountains to Soldiers Pond and thence across the island to the gulf are not going to replace the adequate power grid that we have. The bulk of the power will be going to Nova Scotia for their use, or to be sold as they see fit, with no revenue to N.L. for 35 years.

I am a simple man, with a simple mind. But it seems to me that those who will use the power should pay for it. If the Muskrat Falls power is to be integrated into the mainland Canadian power pool, then let the users pay for it. And if the government of Canada wanted to see that power integration so badly that they guaranteed the original loan (ironically, without which the boondoggle wouldn’t have occurred!), then let the federal government contribute mightily in reparation  for their sins. The only ones who should not be paying the piper are the ones who didn’t call the tune — the beleaguered ratepayers of N.L. who didn’t need it in the first place, and don’t want it now. It is such a bizarre plight, that I can only turn to poet Carroll again: “All mimsy were the borogroves, and the mome raths outgrabe”!

Perhaps Ball or Crosbie will undertake to create legislation to “mitigate” such misuse of political power so that we never again have to relive tragic economic history.

Or perhaps not.

Edsel Bonnell

Mount Pearl   

                       

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