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BRIAN JONES: Canadians shouldn’t give one cent for Muskrat Falls

Premier Dwight Ball speaks at an announcement about the government’s plan to deal with mitigation of electricity rates at Confederation Building Monday morning.
Premier Dwight Ball speaks at an announcement about the government’s plan to deal with mitigation of electricity rates at Confederation Building Monday morning. - Joe Gibbons
ST. JOHN'S, N.L. —

Premier Dwight Ball wants to bring the boondoggle to other Canadians.

He wants the federal government to give the provincial government $200 million every year to help subsidize ratepayers’ electricity bills after Muskrat Falls power starts flowing in 2021.

Ball announced details Monday about his “rate mitigation” plan — a two-pronged scheme to (1) help the Liberals win this year’s provincial election, and (2) shuffle hundreds of millions in public money around to subsidize electricity so people’s power bills won’t double and bring even more ruination to the province’s economy.

When Muskrat Falls juice arrives in Newfoundlanders’ homes, the poor saps will start paying an average of 22.9 cents per kilowatt hour, rather than the current average of 12.3 cents per kilowatt hour.

The extra 10.6 cents is essentially what defines the “boondoggle.” It will suck hundreds of millions of dollars out of the citizenry, and thus out of the economy, every year for half a century.

When the “rate mitigation” bandwagon drove into town, almost everyone jumped on.

Somehow, magically, the people who were stuck with paying the bill for the boondoggle would no longer be stuck with the bills for paying for the boondoggle.

Ball told reporters and Newfoundlanders Monday his “rate mitigation” plan will keep average residential power rates at 13.5 cents per kilowatt hour … an increase of only 1.2 cents instead of 10.6 cents and holy cow doesn’t that just make you want to vote Liberal.

But here comes Boondoggle 2. Ball’s “rate mitigation” plan will require $725.9 million in new government revenue and/or cost cuts. Every year.

Ball could have said the figure is $726 million, a nice round number, but the .9 is apparently intended to let people know his bureaucrats are really good at math.

Ball’s plan calls for the federal government to give $200 million per year to the provincial government. This is, in a word, despicable — although it will be couched in cozy buzzwords such as assistance, aid, agreements or, as Liberal MP Seamus O’Regan described it, “a moral commitment.”

No, it is none of that. It is just more of the same type of political manipulation that brought us Muskrat Falls in the first place.

The boondoggle was made right here. Newfoundlanders wanted it, and Newfoundlanders got it. Canadians had nothing to do with it. And yet, Ball wants Canadians to fork over about $10 billion — $200 million annually for about 50 years, presumably until the thing is paid for — so Newfoundlanders won’t be burdened by something they supported and approved of.

Newfoundlanders cannot pass the buck — or 200 million of them — to the federal government and, by extension, their fellow Canadians.

It is an outrageous proposal, and any Canadian who is paying attention would be justifiably outraged.

They could point out that former premier Danny Williams, who gifted his people with Muskrat Falls, once enjoyed an approval rating of an astounding 79 per cent.

They could point out that, with the Muskrat Falls proposal in place, the Newfoundland electorate gave the Tories another majority government in the 2011 election.

They could point out that mere months before Nalcor Energy’s new president and CEO agreed that Muskrat Falls was a “boondoggle,” an opinion poll revealed two-thirds of Newfoundlanders still thought it was a good project.

So, no, Newfoundlanders cannot pass the buck — or 200 million of them — to the federal government and, by extension, their fellow Canadians.

Social media — a platform that promotes illogic — occasionally carries messages from various nationalistic Newfoundlanders declaring Ottawa is partially or even fully to blame for the Muskrat Falls debacle, because the federal government gave a loan guarantee.

Let’s be clear. The provincial government, with the support of its citizenry, borrowed money to pay for Muskrat Falls. All the federal government did was tell the lenders that, if the provincial government defaulted on the loan, Ottawa and Canadians would be good for it.

This does not equate to federal government culpability for the disastrous project.

If you get a loan to buy a car and it turns out to be a lemon, you can’t reasonably blame the bank.

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


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