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Pam Frampton: Muskrat Falls is dead ahead and we’re headed for the brink

Muskrat Falls. — Telegram file photo
Muskrat Falls. — Telegram file photo

It’s not often in provincial politics you see all three parties work towards a common goal.

Pam Frampton
Pam Frampton

Mental health is a recent exception, where the Progressive Conservatives, Liberals and New Democrats collaborated through an all-party committee to strengthen programs and services. It’s the kind of motherhood issue that affects every family in the province, so it’s a “no-brainer,” in Danny Williams’ parlance.

Jobs — or the lack thereof — is the same, so I hope the NDP’s suggestion this week to create an all-party committee to address “the growing unemployment crisis in the province” finds its feet. No one expects the government to create a job for every working-age citizen, but anything it can responsibly do to attract industry from outside, encourage enterprise from within, and make sure people are offered training for jobs that actually exist is a help.

And if non-partisan efforts would work for jobs, why not create an all-party committee to tackle rate mitigation before Muskrat Falls sends electricity prices through the roof?

There are committees at work within Nalcor and government, but we’ve heard nothing concrete from that work to date, and the sand is trickling quickly through the hourglass.

As Ashley Fitzpatrick reported in The Telegram May 5, “a committee within the government has been looking at long-term rate mitigation. That committee includes government staff from Finance and Natural Resources, and Nalcor Energy representatives. … There has been no formal report from that committee…”

Without some sort of cushion, electricity rates will roughly double by the time Muskrat Falls comes online in two years or so, and keep rising. The silence so far is troubling. Will you be able to find an extra $300 or $400 a month during our long cold winters to keep your house warm?

Many people won’t, and the bills will be even higher for houses that aren’t up to modern energy efficiency standards. The government’s offer of low-interest loans so you can borrow money to buy a heat pump or a few more batts of insulation is, frankly, cold comfort — pardon the pun. The last thing anyone needs as electricity rates continue to rise is more household debt.

Muskrat Falls, the province’s straitened finances, our diminishing population and the lack of jobs is an unpropitious convergence. The burden on those who will have to pay for Muskrat Falls is the most pressing crisis facing the province.

There’s no going backward. We all know which party conceived of and sanctioned what has become a $12.7-billion behemoth, but this is no time for anyone to have their partisan blinders on.

Without some sort of cushion, electricity rates will roughly double by the time Muskrat Falls comes online in two years or so, and keep rising. The silence so far is troubling.

Instead of the Liberals blaming the Tories, while the Tories try to keep straight-faced as they accuse the Liberals of not doing enough to mitigate cost overruns, and the NDP demanding the Liberals roll out a solution, why don’t all three parties come together to tackle this problem for the common good?

An all-party committee on rate mitigation could tap into the best, most innovative thinking in the province through public consultation, and ensure consumers’ interests are front and centre.

Let’s face it, not being open to other ideas is what got us into this mess in the first place.

There’s an old political joke in this province that says you know where an opposition member’s district ends and a government member’s begins when you hit the new pavement.

It’s too close to true to be funny.

There’s never been a time in my lifetime when political fiefdoms made sense. Turf wars and silo thinking and every MHA for themselves (and their voters) can’t work in a province with a small population flung over huge terrain whose resources are stretched to breaking.

In a Halifax Chronicle Herald interview in 2012, Kathy Dunderdale said she didn’t want to be “the second premier in our history to be saddled with a project that is a disaster.”

Well, we’re all saddled with it. We need every single MHA working to protect the people they represent — and the province — from financial ruin.

Recent columns by this author:

Pam Frampton: Why this N.L. woman has good reason to smile

Pam Frampton: Pets are not property

Pam Frampton is a columnist whose work is published in The Western Star and The Telegram. Email Twitter: pam_frampton

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