15 August 2009

A mid-summer night’s gambol

“Love”, as Shakespeare put it, “looks not with the eyes, but with the mind and therefore is winged Cupid painted blind.”

Of all the political pixie dust in the province, none has clouded the eyes more than the Lower Churchill.  And while many have played the part,  no Lysanders have been more besotted of this megaproject  than our current one.  

T the course of true love also never runs true and in this case, the course has run nowhere near as true as claimed. While Danny Williams had hoped to be rid of his current job and on to other things by now, he is now saying he will be around until the project is done.   But not a fourth term.

Williams said the project will likely be completed before the 2015 election, and he will be done with politics by that time.

"I can guarantee I won't be around for four terms," the premier said.

The new target date is before 2015, much as the old date, except that now the Premier  is proposing to finish two dams and a power line through the UNESCO World Heritage site and on to St. John’s in less than four years.

The power line, though doth wander everywhere.   According to the latest version it will go over hill, over dale, thorough bush, thorough brier, over park, over pale,  thorough flood, thorough fire, and through some other unnamed provinces to get to market.  Where those markets are remains a mystery.

One major problem with this power line tale is that the project – as laid down in the environmental review documents – is exactly the same one described by an earlier Lysander, namely Brian Tobin.   One line to get the power to Quebec and another down through Gros Morne park – the government’s clearly preferred option – and thence to the townies.

That’s it.

There is no line proposed to run from Newfoundland off to Nova Scotia or anywhere else.

But gentle readers, enough of these jests.

Let us walk through the Premier’s latest musings on the Lower Churchill, as contained in a Telegram story this August Saturday, and wash the pixie dust from your eyes.  One megaproject-love-struck player is enough.

1.  Show me the money or Follow the money:  The fact Williams didn’t talk about money should be a clue this whole thing is a crock.  Of course, the Telly reporter also didn’t ask about it, so Williams managed to skate around what likely could have been a very testy and difficult part of the interview.

Basically, there’s no talk at any point in the entire interview about power purchase agreements and those puppies are the key to raising the $10 billion to build both dams and the transmission lines.

It’s that simple:

No money?

No project.

2.  Timelines.  Done by 2015, which was the plan back when the project would have been sanctioned in 2009.  The timeline before that was first power in 2011 based on project sanction in 2007.

Early last year the whole thing was a dodgy proposition according to Williams.  At this point, the environmental reviews won’t be complete until 2010 or 2011, leaving, supposedly, a mere four years years to get all the work done.

Horse feathers.

The project cannot be sanctioned – that is approved for construction – until it clears the environmental process.  As such, the project that was supposed to be sanctioned in 2009 is effectively two to three years behind schedule.  Even if everything goes according to the current timeline – and there’s no guarantee that won’t change too – the whole thing will not be up and running until some time around 2019 at the very earliest.

Anyone who has followed this project consistently will recognise the timelines in this interview are simply a crock.

3.  And the departure date’s a crock too.  Danny Williams may run in the next election.  Then again he may not.  If Williams stuck to the original timeline, the project would be sanctioned this year and hence he could leave knowing it is on the way. 

The Lower Churchill isn’t the determinant of Danny Williams political career.  Something else is.  Figure that out and you can figure out whether he will go soon or run again in 2011.  You see, Williams has changed his commitment on departure so many times, it’s hard to take seriously his current version:  that he will leave, definitely, in 2015.

4.  NALCO – run from the Premier’s office.

Williams said he meets regularly with officials at Nalcor Energy - the provincial Crown corporation which is overseeing the project - to get updates on the outstanding issues which need to be addressed before the project is sanctioned.

Anyone who thinks Williams isn’t the de facto head of NALCO can take that quote as a slap upside the head.  There are a raft of implications that go with that but they should be fairly obvious for anyone with a clue.

5.  The sanctioning issues:

Some of those outstanding issues for the Lower Churchill include ratification of the New Dawn agreement with the Labrador Innu, an environmental assessment - expected to be complete next year - choosing a transmission route for the power, finding customers for the power and obtaining financing for the project, which could cost $10 billion.

But Williams is confident that all these matters can be resolved and said steady progress is being made towards the project.

"None of these are insurmountable, they all just take time," Williams said.

Well, let’s see.  There’s  money, something Williams didn’t talk about that much at all and that one isn’t insurmountable unless someone plans to stick taxpayers with the full bill.

As well, there’s:

6.   New Dawn or, as it is known around these parts, the Fart Man Accord.   The land claims deal with the Innu was supposed to be over and done with last January.  Right now the vote on the agreement is postponed until…well…never.  There is no date for a ratification vote.

There’s also no sign the federal government has accepted it and they have to be party to any land claims deal with the Innu

7. The environmental process.  Should be pretty much a mechanical exercise except for the Gros Morne bit.  That one is going to be sticky but only because the feds hold the trump card.  If the thing had included a line to the mainland outside the province, it would be subject to a federal environmental review.  As it is the provincial government will sanction its own power line project – what else would they do? -  but they’ll have to come up with something clever to deal with a backlash over Gros Morne.

Could that “something” be the jobs created by poking a few holes in the ground at Parson’s Pond which is just outside the park?

8.  The feds.  Danny Williams has a bunch of federal things that need fixing if his pet project goes anywhere.  At this point, all that is dead in the water, largely due to his own actions over the past couple of years.

He’s linked the project to federal funding but even as recently as this summer Williams ducked a chance to pitch the project directly to federal cabinet ministers.  Was it because Harper showed up?

The feds won’t just pony up cash for this.  Odds are good it would come – if it came at all – in the form of an equity stake.  That’s means the federal government would own shares in the Lower Churchill just as they do in Hibernia.  Is that something Danny Williams is prepared to accept since he is already so peeved that the Hibernia shares exist?

The feds are also not likely to be persuaded by a cheesy blackmail attempt: 

Williams said the Gros Morne route would probably be the cheaper and shorter route, but he said it could be taken off the table if Ottawa would commit to help fund the project.

9.  Not the preferred route…  Through Gros Morne and the park’s UNESCO World Heritage site designation, that is.  Not the “preferred route”.  Nope.  It’s the only route.

NALCO is pushing the line through Gros Morne it’s the only route they have looked at since all they’ve done is just updated plans that have been around since before the park existed.

Notice, of course, that in polling season Danny Williams is suddenly talking all sweet and purty.  The last time the park route came up he insisted he’d drive the line through the park based on numbers he pulled out of his ass on the spot and a totally shameless bit of nonsense about grandma and her heart surgery.

The time before that Williams was all for the route saying those who doubted the route would be persuaded once they saw the “trade-offs”.

10.  The only thing in the interview you can take to the bank. (Don’t buy the “green project” bullshit)

"This is going to happen, it's just a question of when."

The Lower Churchill has been a project in the works since the 1950s or 1960s.  It’s been going to happen for 50 years.  it’s always been a question of when. 

The only thing we can say for certain now besides saying the project will happen at some point is that the “some point’ will not be by 2015.