25 August 2011

NDP avoids straight answer on Muskrat Falls #nlpoli

You can tell if a provincial opposition party politician supports Kathy Dunderdale’s Muskrat Falls plan by how many words it takes to explain his or her position.

New Democratic Party leader Lorraine Michael proved the point on Wednesday with a news release posted to NDP website and a statement issued to the media but not posted on the website that repeats the release’s content in slightly different words.

The total word count?  More than 550.

Read it all, though, and you still won’t have a clear answer whether or not her party supports Kathy Dunderdale’s plan to hike electricity rates in the province, double the public debt and ship discount electricity to Nova Scotia at the expense of taxpayers in this province.

The news release claims it is going to give Michael’s position on Muskrat Falls. 

But it doesn’t.

Instead, Michael launches into a claim that the provincial government and Nalcor haven’t told the public how the company has spent $348 million the provincial government transferred to the company in the current fiscal year.

Then-Opposition Leader Yvonne Jones questioned the same transfer, incidentally back when provincial finance minister Tom Marshall introduced the budget in April.

But unlike Lorraine Michael, Yvonne Jones wasn’t concerned at the time whether or not the money was spent properly on Muskrat Falls.  Jones thought the money could be better spent on other things.

Still, even if Nalcor did tells Michael exactly how it spent the $348 million, the people of the province won’t be any closer to knowing whether or not Michael really supports Kathy Dunderdale’s Muskrat Falls plan but is afraid to admit it publicly.

What’s really cute about Michael’s claims about transparency and accountability is that she worked with the provincial government in 2008 to pass amendments to the energy corporation’s governing statute that frustrated genuine public accountability. The Liberals did the same thing.

At the time, Michael was generally satisfied if Nalcor filed reports in the House of Assembly. Michael’s comments on one amendment are typical:

This amendment, I think, does assure the thing that is at the basis of our responsibility, that the public of this Province will be informed of what is going on through the usual process which is the tabling of the information here in the House of Assembly. That is how the public learns anything that has to do with the Crown, through tabling here in the House of Assembly. We now assure that our accountability to the public is assured. We, I think, are showing that we believe in the transparency, openness and accountability that we say we stand for by now having this amendment.

There’s no indication Nalcor failed to abide by the legislation Michael endorsed in 2008, incidentally so it is more than a wee bit hypocritical for Michael to be taking pot shots at an “accountability” regime she helped create..

Throughout the whole release and statement, Michael never does give her position on Muskrat Falls.  Instead, she repeats the general party policy that supports “any development that is economically viable, environmentally sustainable and beneficial for the people of the province…”.

Kathy Dunderdale will tell you that Muskrat Falls meets every one of those criteria.

So far Lorraine Michael hasn’t shown any sign she’d disagree.

Just to give you a sense of the NDP position, take this Twitter exchange about the NDP position. 

St. John’s East NDP candidate George Murphy followed his leader and avoided a simple answer to the simple question:

Question: @GeorgeMurphyNDP @dalegkirby So you support it, George?

edhollett

Answer:  @edhollett @dalegkirby If it's economically viable...wouldn't you?

GeorgeMurphyNDP

Q:  @GeorgeMurphyNDP @dalegkirby Do you support the deal, yes or no?

edhollett

A:  @edhollett @dalegkirby Ed..I can't make it any simpler than that...I just said 'if it's economically viable"...

GeorgeMurphyNDP

Q:  @GeorgeMurphyNDP @dalegkirby You say yes you support the deal or no you don't. Simple answer.

edhollett

A:  @edhollett @dalegkirby Jees Ed...I can't be any clearer than what I said. If it's economically viable. Wouldn't you?

GeorgeMurphyNDP

Followed almost immediately after by:

C'mon Ed..If it was an economically viable project, would you support it? Yes or no. Simple answer...

Q:  @GeorgeMurphyNDP @dalegkirby The more you dodge, the worse it looks, George. Is the problem that you don't have enough info to assess viability?

edhollett

George didn’t reply.

The problem for the NDP is that Muskrat Falls is a serious wedge issue that could cause major problems within the party itself.

On the one hand, Michael is already on record supporting the loan guarantee through her appearance at Jack Layton’s last national campaign appearance in St. John’s. 

Michael also knows that the NDP government of Nova Scotia backs the deal as does the national NDP.  Ultimately, Nova Scotia Premier Darrell Dexter carries a lot more weight in Ottawa with the national NDP than Lorraine does.

On the other hand, many of the NDP’s current and potential supporters in Newfoundland and Labrador are leery of Kathy Dunderdale’s plan for the public debt and their electricity rates. They are also pissed at the idea Nova Scotians will get cheap electricity paid for by taxpayers in this province.

Openly endorsing the deal could cost Michael and the NDP a great many votes especially among disaffected Tory voters in metro St. John’s who could be looking for a safe place to vote against the Muskrat deal.

They won’t find a safe anti-Muskrat haven in the NDP.

Put it all together and you have a news release that – like candidate George Murphy – doesn’t give a simple answer to a simple question.

Lorraine Michael tries to sound critical of the provincial government but, behind closed doors and the backs of hands in whispered conversations, the NDP is backing Dunderdale to the hilt.

- srbp -