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Pam Frampton: A sneak peek at Dunderdale’s cards

['Premier Kathy Dunderdale speaks to reporters outside the House of Assembly Wednesday afternoon. Dunderdale said that she’s going to take another shot at buying the federal government’s equity stake in the Hibernia project, but only at the right price. — Photo by James McLeod/The Telegram']
Then premier Kathy Dunderdale speaks to reporters outside the House of Assembly in this file photo. — Telegram file photo

Anyone paying attention to the Muskrat Falls inquiry in St. John’s Wednesday surely got a taste of what’s to come.

Erin Best, who — along with law partner Bruce Grant — is representing former premier Kathy Dunderdale, was sharply pointed in her questioning of David Vardy when he and Ron Penney gave testimony as members of the Muskrat Falls Concerned Citizens Coalition.

Vardy is former chair of the Public Utilities Board and Penney is a former city solicitor, so hardly bottom-feeders, either one of them.

They’ve been consistently leery of the Muskrat Falls project and have expressed their concerns publicly many times in media interviews and letters to editor.

It’s interesting that Dunderdale has her own legal representation, unlike former premiers Danny Williams and Tom Marshall and “former provincial government officials 2003-2015” as they are known, who are all being represented by lawyer Tommy Williams.

Does it signal she is taking another approach?

Vardy is former chair of the Public Utilities Board and Penney is a former city solicitor, so hardly bottom-feeders, either one of them.

She’s not scheduled to give testimony till Dec. 17-20, so we’ll have to wait and see. But if Best’s line of questioning Wednesday is any indication, Dunderdale’s tack seems to be the same as it was leading up to the sanctioning of the Muskrat Falls project: dismiss those who oppose the project as being ill-informed and out of touch.

When she was promoting Muskrat Falls as “the right way forward for Newfoundland and Labrador,” as an alternative to the rationing of electricity that would surely be required if we kept relying on Holyrood, and as the key to breaking “the stranglehold Quebec has over future economic development in Newfoundland and Labrador,” Dunderdale called on critics to prove that the project wasn’t the best alternative.

“As I said this week to that small, loud opposition to Muskrat Falls that we have out there, ‘Fish or cut bait,’” she said to a Municipalities Newfoundland and Labrador gathering in Gander in October 2012.

“It’s not good enough to say, ‘I don’t like it,’ ‘I think it’s too much debt,’ or ‘I don’t think your forecast is right.’ Tell us where our analysis is flawed. Tell us where the gaps are. Tell us where Nalcor is wrong. Tell us where (Manitoba Hydro International) is wrong. Tell us where Navigant is wrong. Tell us where the bond-rating agencies are wrong. Tell us where the banks are wrong. Tell us where the federal government of Canada is wrong. Tell us where Dr. Wade Locke is wrong. Tell us where the Liberal Party of Canada is wrong. Tell us where the NDP Party (sic) of Canada is wrong. Show us something. One shred. One piece of evidence. One expert’s analysis. One. Show us one.”

As Dunderdale failed to mention then — in a point made in today’s editorial — much of the analysis used to bolster the Muskrat Falls project was based on data provided by the proponent, Nalcor Energy.

On Wednesday, Dunderdale’s lawyer pressed Vardy to outline his expertise on natural gas — one alternative energy source that had been suggested in Muskrat Falls’ early days. Vardy acknowledged he wasn’t an expert in natural gas.

Nor had he personally cost out the price of keeping the oil-burning Holyrood generating plant going.

With her questions, Best seemed to suggest that, unlike the world-class experts at Nalcor — a descriptor Dunderdale was fond of using — Vardy has been outspokenly critical of the project without having the expertise to back that criticism up.

But let’s put that in perspective. Kathy Dunderdale was the premier of the province at the time the project was green-lighted.

Reverse onus won’t work here. This inquiry is not meant to place the burden of proof upon critics who were speaking up on behalf of their fellow citizens, but to determine whether those in authority did the proper due diligence needed to protect the province and the public from an undue financial burden.

As Dunderdale herself said during that speech in Gander, “Our commitment to the people of this province is that the decision that we make at the end of the day will be truly in their best interest.”

Let’s see how that pans out.

Pam Frampton is a columnist whose work is published in The Western Star and The Telegram. Email pamela.frampton@thetelegram.com. Twitter: pam_frampton

Recent columns by this author:

Pam Frampton: A letter to my 19-year-old self

Pam Frampton: Why governments and mega-projects should never mix

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