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Brian Jones: Smart to cancel billion-dollar boondoggles

A downstream view of the spillway at Muskrat Falls, February 2017.
A downstream view of the spillway at Muskrat Falls, February 2017.

Wealthy people in politics are often clueless. Poor, hapless — but prosperous — Dwight Ball doesn’t seem to realize when he doesn’t have a clue. The premier, after again blaming his predecessors for the Muskrat Falls fiasco and expressing concern about astronomical increases that will clobber ratepayers, recently boasted about his government’s grand solution: power prices will be held to about 17 cents per kilowatt hour.

Brian Jones

The joy among the peasantry was palpable. Dancing in the streets created extra potholes. Fixed-income seniors budgeting for cat food and Googling casserole recipes joyously planned to spend a few dollars on human food.

This is the problem with rich people who go into politics. Generally, they don’t understand the economic lives of the citizenry. Ball might think it’s great to hold post-Muskrat Falls power bills to a 70 per cent increase rather than a 100 per cent increase, but people paying $400 per month now will hardly rejoice when their electricity bills come in at about $700 instead of $800.

The increase will still be about $3,600 per year — enough to send a kid to Memorial University for a year, or to fly to New York to see “Come From Away” and have a fine afternoon betting on the ponies at Belmont Park.

Speaking of bets, the great leaders of Newfoundland — both Progressive Conservative and Liberal — have boldly laid multiple wagers on Muskrat Falls and lost every time.

Upon their election in November 2015, the Liberals’ first act should have been to rescind the Muskrat Falls gamble. They should still cancel it.

Too late, Ball says, passing blame to the Tories.

This is Newfoundland rationality at work: having identified a massive mistake, keep pouring money into it.

It’s like putting $10 on a horse to win and finding out it has only three legs … and then increasing your wager to $20.

Meanwhile, in South Carolina, they just cancelled a “multibillion-dollar debacle,” according to The Associated Press.

A partnership of a private utility company and a state-owned utility company had already spent about US$10 billion on the ongoing construction of two new nuclear reactors. The original estimated cost had been US$11 billion. It had grown to more than US$20 billion. Originally planned for completion by 2019, the project was running late and wouldn’t be finished until 2024.

“We unfortunately have given more of a blank check to the utilities than we ever should have,” The Associated Press quoted one state politician as saying after the economically disastrous project was cancelled.

In South Carolina, at least, they’re smart enough to realize that when something goes from bad to worse to debacle to boondoggle, you stop.

“It’s too late to stop it,” is probably the dumbest thing said in Newfoundland since, “The Upper Churchill is a terrific deal.”

South Carolinians aren’t the only people smarter than Newfoundlanders these days. In British Columbia, the newly minted NDP government this week ordered an independent review of the Site C hydroelectric dam, which is two years into construction.

“The government has asked the B.C Utilities Commission to determine the economic viability of the massive hydroelectric dam on the Peace River,” The Canadian Press reported.

B.C.’s previous government had approved the project without allowing it to first be considered by the province’s public utilities agency.

“The previous government refused to allow our independent energy watchdog to examine the project to determine if it was in the public interest,” B.C.’s energy minister told the media.

This might sound familiar to Newfoundlanders. It’s as if an echo bounced off the Pacific and returned to the Atlantic.

The Site C dam is an $8.8-billion project. It is 20 per cent complete. B.C.’s NDP government says the project will be shut down if that proves to be the best option.


Brian Jones is a desk editor at The Telegram. He can be reached at

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