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Critics not convinced after Williams’ testimony

Former premier Danny Williams arrives to testify at the Commission of Inquiry Respecting the Muskrat Falls Project Monday morning in St. John’s.
Former premier Danny Williams arrives to testify at the Commission of Inquiry Respecting the Muskrat Falls Project Monday morning in St. John’s. - Joe Gibbons

Concerns pervade hearings over whether hydroelectric project was indeed the least-cost option

As he walked into the Beothuk Building on Monday morning to begin his testimony at the Commission of Inquiry Respecting the Muskrat Falls Project, former premier Danny Williams said he was excited to set the record straight on Muskrat Falls.

“It’s a moment I’ve been waiting for, for a long time, just to tell the story. To give some answer to all the critics and naysayers, the armchair critics who are unaccountable to anybody,” Williams said.

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Newfoundland and Labrador not ‘going it alone,’ Williams tells Muskrat Falls Inquiry

After his almost six hours of testimony, some of those critics say they learned a lot from Williams’ words — though they don’t feel any better about the now $12.7-billion project he established in 2010.

The early portion of Williams’ testimony focused on the difficulty the government of the day found in dealing with the government of Quebec. Williams repeatedly pointed to the lop-sided Upper Churchill deal signed by then-premier Joey Smallwood. Williams outlined issues in negotiations with Hydro-Québec in trying to get Lower Churchill power sent through Quebec. He even praised Quebec’s politicians in their defence of their province’s interests, while taking a veiled shot at some of the leaders that have followed Williams to the Premier’s office.

“I wish some people in our province would protect us like they protect themselves,” Williams told inquiry co-counsel Barry Learmonth on Monday.

Memorial University political science professor Stephen Tomblin is one of the longtime critics Williams referred to throughout his testimony.

Tomblin says Williams’ cold war with Quebec helped push along development of the Lower Churchill project and shows how political fighting between provinces can be a detriment to all involved.

“You have premiers operating within the country who are so competitive, who don’t have reasonable conversations and that’s reflected in a lot of bad decisions and bad behaviour, whether we’re talking about Alberta, British Columbia or in this province,” said Tomblin.

“We have a real problem in Canada … because we are so competitive and we don’t pull together, we don’t bring the different efforts together, we don’t have reasonable conversations. That results in bad projects, bad decisions.”

Tomblin says he’ll feel comforted by Williams’ testimony if it leads to better co-operation between provinces, but he’s not confident of that outcome.

Des Sullivan, former executive assistant to premiers Frank Moores and Brian Peckford, and writer of the Uncle Gnarley blog, says Williams’ testimony didn’t convince him that Williams’ government did its full homework in assuring the Muskrat Falls project was indeed the least-cost option.

“Let’s not mince words here. This was clearly a legacy project. The other element of it, for Mr. Williams so far – and perhaps the testimony will show it differently – but all the testimony today shows everything was on track with regard to Muskrat,” Sullivan said.

“You didn’t hear too much discussion today of other options being deeply considered. I think there’s considerable evidence – we’ll hear more, we can keep an open mind – but I don’t think there’s any doubt that government had a one-track mind.”

Williams’ cross-examination continues Tuesday.

david.maher@thetelegram.com
Twitter: DavidMaherNL

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