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BRIAN JONES: Muskrat Falls: good for N.S., good for Italy

The Muskrat Falls generation dam's spillway and powerhouse are shown in this in this October 2017 photo supplied by Nalcor Energy. Auditors testified Friday that Nalcor Energy didn’t adequately investigate energy alternatives before going ahead with the Muskrat Falls option.
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Nova Scotia will soon be the new Quebec. When the full juice flows from Muskrat Falls in 2021, Newfoundlanders will commence subsidizing power rates in Nova Scotia.

We know this to be true because former premier Kathy Dunderdale insisted it was not true.

Nova Scotians will pay less for Muskrat Falls power than it costs to produce. Ergo: subsidy.

Will the half-century hate-on for Quebec dissipate? Of course not. Newfoundlanders will just have a whole other province to resent because of a disastrous hydroelectric project.

Examples abound of people in charge — Tory or Liberal — saying one thing but being contradicted by the facts, sometimes within the same sentence.

Natural Resources Minister Siobhan Coady’s testimony at the Muskrat Falls Inquiry last week was standard Newfoundland governmental fare — bland and arrogant, but shocking in its implications.

Italy’s ambassador to Canada asked to meet with her, Coady testified, but she made it clear she would not discuss the dispute between Astaldi Canada and Nalcor Energy.

They met. They discussed the dispute between Astaldi Canada and Nalcor Energy.

Add Italians to the list. Along with Quebeckers and Nova Scotians, they have ripped off Newfoundlanders, stolen our natural resources, etc. You know the song. Every Newfoundlander can hum it at birth.

Astaldi Canada’s parent company, Astaldi SpA, is based in Rome. For Newfoundlanders, this provides a whole new meaning for “Roman ruins.”

As is well known and has been public knowledge for about three years, Astaldi Canada broke its contract with Nalcor Energy by being far behind schedule and way over budget.

Why would the Italian ambassador to Canada, a fellow with the charming name Gian Lorenzo Cornado, want to meet with Newfoundland’s natural resources minister? Did he want to take Coady out for cappuccino?

The mystery did not elude Coady.

“For an ambassador to come to speak to a minister about a contract certainly is unusual, and it certainly caused me to reflect on the holder of that contract — Nalcor is — and why would the ambassador be coming to see me on that particular point, especially at what I’m going to call a sensitive time.”

“A sensitive time.” Mark that down as a top-ranked Liberal euphemism, meaning, “when the provincial government should have cancelled the Muskrat Falls project.”

The Liberal government had valid grounds to fire Astaldi and cancel the Muskrat Falls project, saving Newfoundland ratepayers and taxpayers billions of dollars over the next three generations.

Lorenzo and Coady went for cappuccino, figuratively speaking, in March 2016.

The Liberals had been elected three months previously. By March 2016, everyone in the province who followed the news knew the Muskrat Falls project was an impending financial disaster. A mere three months hence, newly installed Nalcor CEO Stan Marshall would publicly admit the project was a “boondoggle.”

Astaldi Canada’s ineptness prevented it from staying on schedule, adding hundreds of millions of dollars to the project’s cost. Its blundering was so serious that it would have financial repercussions for its parent company in Rome, which was teetering on bankruptcy, if it were fired from the Muskrat Falls job.

“The ambassador did raise how important the Astaldi contract and Canada was to the government of Italy, how important it was we resolve the matter,” Coady testified at the inquiry.

It might be a slight exaggeration, but not by much, to suggest that here we have a critical moment in Newfoundland history. The Liberal government had valid grounds to fire Astaldi and cancel the Muskrat Falls project, saving Newfoundland ratepayers and taxpayers billions of dollars over the next three generations.

Or, the Liberal government could agree with the Italian ambassador that the Astaldi contract was indeed important to the Italian government, and let it be renegotiated by Nalcor Energy, against the obvious interests of Newfoundlanders.

Was the cappuccino so good that Italy’s needs came before Newfoundlanders’ needs?

According to Coady, as stated at the inquiry, the concerns of Italy came second to the concerns of Newfoundland.

It echoes, “This is not a subsidy,” when a subsidy is exactly what it is.

Astaldi and Italy got what they wanted. Newfoundland did not get what it needed.

Why, and why not? Keep an eye on the inquiry to see if answers are sought.

If anyone brings cappuccino, be suspicious.

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


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