03 April 2012

The PUB and the MFers #nlpoli

Right off the start, the title goes back to a humorous tweet a few months ago.  It went something like this:

If Muskrat Falls is MF, then does that make its supporters MFers?

You gotta laugh at this stuff, folks, because if you didn’t you’d either cry or turn into Dexter. Based on her performance in the House of Assembly on Monday, if Premier Kathy Dunderdale doesn’t lighten up, she is gonna stroke out.  No amount of publicity in a running magazine that heralds her as a “celebrity” can change that.

Frankly, Kathy should laugh at the predicament she and her colleagues put themselves in.

It is pretty funny, after all.  First  Danny and the boys at Nalcor made up this “Build Muskrat First” project over the course of a few months in 2010 so the Old Man could get out of his political career with a flourish.   They had nothing to go on except a 30 year old study, so they cobbled together enough justifications to make it look good.

And off they went.

The joint federal-provincial review was about something else, so they could  - and did, as it turned out – breeze by whatever it found.  Since the Liberals exempted all Churchill River hydro projects from the public utilities board back in 2000, the project wouldn’t have to pass through any real scrutiny.  What Danny’s successor and her crowd wound up doing instead is hand the board a reference question carefully structured to deliver the answer the government and Nalcor wanted. 

In the event, the public utilities board asked for more time to do its work.  Kathy Dunderdale and Jerome Kennedy shut them down. End of March, they said. The opposition parties started talking about a debate in the House. Jerome and Kathy said no way.

That got to be a fairly consistent Tory talking point after a while:  Piss off.  There’s been enough talk.  Let’s get on with it.  This thing has been studied to death.  More problems turned up with the project.  More viable alternatives appeared.  More credible critics and opponents turned up.  The worse things looked for Muskrat Falls,  the more Kathy and Jerome and the gang wanted to stop talking and start spending.

“We need to get to sanction,” Dunderdale told NTV’s issues and Answers a few weeks ago.

Basically up to Monday, things were moving along the government’s chosen path. Then the public utilities board decided they wouldn’t play any more

The Board concludes that the information provided by Nalcor in the review is not detailed, complete or current enough to determine whether the Interconnected Option represents the least-cost option for the supply of power to Island Interconnected customers over the period of 2011-2067, as compared to the Isolated Island Option.

In the House of Assembly, the best Premier Kathy Dunderdale could work up was a load of nothing.  She and her staff had the PUB report for days.  On Monday, no one stood to announce the government response as a ministerial statement.  No one stood to talk about a debate, more studies and research or anything of the sort.  Had the Tories done that, they would have neutered the opposition questions immediately and regained control of the story.

Instead, they reacted and Kathy Dunderdale reacted with stuff that doesn’t matter:

Mr. Speaker, when you are looking for a full, independent analysis which is what we were trying to do with the PUB review …  the PUB walked away from its responsibility, the terms of its mandate, to give us a recommendation. A recommendation that had already been endorsed by Navigant, by Manitoba Hydro, by the Consumer Advocate Mr. Johnson and his expert Knight Piésold, and Dr. Wade Locke. They all concur that it is the least-cost and we need the power. The PUB was not able to arrive there.

Everyone knows the government cut off the PUB from its set-up, so there’s no way it was ever an independent review.  Navigant is a long-standing consultant for Nalcor. Independent?  Pfft, as the Old Man would say.  Political appointee Johnson an independent reviewer?  Double pfft.

And Locke?  He didn’t even do the calculations and everyone knows it.

All that’s left is Manitoba Hydro.  They did some work for the PUB and turned up more problems with the Muskrat Falls project than ever. One of the biggest failings MHI found was that Nalcor just didn’t do a major study they should have done – according to best industry practices – before they let the project through Decision Gate 2.

Then Dunderdale tossed out the gem:  she will now have a debate, a special debate in the House by the end of June.  Only a couple of days earlier, her natural resources minister flatly rejected the idea.  They really are the gang that couldn’t shoot straight.

After all that, if you aren’t chuckling at least, then you have no sense of humour whatsoever.

So Muskrat Falls will drag on for another few months.  The criticisms will mount.  The government will look ridiculous and incompetent and all as a result of its own bungling, its own miscalculations. In the end, it may die an ugly death, perhaps stabbed by the very people who helped create it.

O judgment! thou art fled to brutish beasts, and men have lost their reason.

- srbp -