18 April 2011

The view from Flower Hill #elxn41

With New Democrat Jack Layton’s pronouncement in St. John’s over the weekend, all three major federal party leaders have pledged federal financial support for a plan to export cheap hydro power from Labrador into Nova Scotia while having the people of Newfoundland and Labrador pay for it through greatly increased electricity rates.

Layton actually went a bit farther than the others.  If New Democrats form the next federal government, he’ll also drop $375 million into building the link to Nova Scotia so the link that let’s them get their free power will be even cheaper for Nova Scotians.

Now if you look at the actual words of what they said, they never talk about Muskrat Falls, specifically.

They talk about the Lower Churchill, generally and what Jack, Stephen and Michael endorsed now is really nothing more than their predecessors did at any point over the past 40 years.

Well, with one crucial difference.

For the current Conservative administration in this province, there is no longer a Lower Churchill project that sold most of its power outside the province and made money doing so. 

There is now only a plan to build a small dam on the bottom end of the river and build expensive transmission lines to run the juice along to people in St. John’s and another bunch in Nova Scotia. 

Only the people in Newfoundland and Labrador will pay for the power, as Premier Kathy Dunderdale told the provincial legislature during the current sitting.  The others need only pay whatever their markets will allow. 

And that, as Premier Dunderdale well knows, is far below the price she plans to put to Nan and Pop on Flower Hill in the heart of the working class districts of St. John’s. 

The numbers for that don’t work – Michael Ignatieff’s remarks notwithstanding – unless one is quite happy to saddle the growing number of retired people in Newfoundland and Labrador with the burden of a Labrador hydroelectric nightmare…again.

Newfoundland and Labrador’s demographics are such that by the time Muskrat Falls comes on stream in the latter part of this decade, pretty close to a majority of the adults in this province will be either retired already or on their way to retirement in short order. 

Regardless of what happens to the price of oil, the provincial government wants to double their electricity costs.  Fixed income and low income Newfoundlanders and Labradorians will definitely pay more for electricity if Kathy Dunderdale gets her wish.  Now she and her colleagues have all sorts of rationalisations to explain away objections to their scheme.  Undoubtedly, those rationalisations let them sleep soundly at night even if, in the funnier versions, they sound like Pakleds from the latest episode of PC: TNG. 

Those sorts of considerations don’t really matter for the federal party leaders.  Such details are really the whys and wherefores that would only come from silly parsing of the whole scheme, to borrow a phrase.   For the federal party leaders, their stump speeches in Newfoundland and Labrador are designed to do one thing:  win a couple of votes. 

There’s not much thought in it than that, nor is there a detailed analysis of anything,  Each party leader knows nothing more than that this Lower Churchill thing is supposedly very popular and saying nice things about it will win them votes.

Jack Layton has the most ambitious version.  That’s not just because he is way behind nationally and say riskier things. It’s also a function of the fact that he has to win seats in Nova Scotia and he and his local team in Newfoundland think they have a shot at a second seat in St. John’s South – Mount Pearl.  There is no better way than to stand firmly behind something that looks hot right at the moment.

But to be frank, if someone had wanted a loan guarantee for a new reality show called Dancing the Lancers with the Stars, the boys would be lined up four-square behind that as well. Jack would up the ante by offering to play accordion for his guest appearance on the show.

As for public interest in the Lower Churchill – the thing that drives the federal interest in winning votes - let’s just you shouldn’t be surprised if someone told you that the most recent public opinion poll showed that far less than 10 percent of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians identified the Lower Churchill as the most important issue facing the province today.

We are talking single digits here.

But the whys and wherefores of it all don’t matter…

Unless you happen to live on Flower Hill.

- srbp -