29 August 2012

James McLeod’s Three Questions #nlpoli

On his Telegram blog post on Monday, James McLeod posed three questions about the Muskrat Falls debate.

Let’s answer them.

Do you sincerely expect anything that gets said in the next three months will change anybody's mind about Muskrat Falls?

Let’s split the population of the province into three groups.

In the first group, let’s put the provincial Conservatives and their supporters. 

They know this project has already been approved.  They will build Muskrat Falls unless there is a truly massive political or economic meltdown.

What we are currently going through is a show, as much as anything else.  Decision Gate 3 is just a formality stage on the way to the ribbon cutting, sod-turning, first power and whatever other orgy of political love that will flow out of this project. 

Just remember how we got to the point of a “debate” in the House of Assembly in the first place.  Nalcor filed for an environmental review in 2007 because they had to.  Nothing the joint panel found affected the project in any way.  Nalcor’s response to the CEAA’s damning report was:  “Thanks.  We’ll factor it in as we continue with the project.”

The provincial environmental review on the transmission line to the island is also a formality.  The proponent and the reviewer are the same person.  Done deal.

The public utilities board has no jurisdiction over the Muskrat Falls project.  The provincial government and Nalcor went to the PUB for political reasons.  They didn’t expect that the board would balk at delivering a pro forma answer to a set-up question.

With a series of weak reviews – as meaningless as they were – the provincial cabinet decided to have a debate.  Just think back:  the official position on a debate changed back in the spring faster than you can snap your fingers.  When the PUB refused to answer , the premier switched positions and said she would hold a debate.

But who in the Conservative caucus since then has not made it clear they are irrevocably and unflinchingly committed to Muskrat Falls?

Second group:  tens of thousands of people who haven’t made up their mind.  Unfortunately, their views don’t matter to the people currently running the province.  As finance minister Tom Marshall said:  the opposition will have its say and then government will get its way. 

Lots of what has already been said has changed lots of minds among the people who are in this second group…usually against the project.

Third Group:  the people who have looked at the project and decided for a variety of reasons that it is a bad idea. 

The most significant cluster of people in this group would be those who have had a significant involvement in energy politics either as bureaucrats or politicians since the 1970s.  You’ll have a hard time finding any of them who have anything neutral to say about Muskrat Falls, let alone anything positive.

These are also the people who have been having the most significant impact on opinion.  They are doing it much more quietly than the gaggle screaming on Twitter or the politicians fighting in the legislature..

Speaking of the politicians, the two opposition parties aren’t the people leading the anti-Muskrat falls fight, even in any sort of official capacity.  They are generally among the most ineffective participants in the discussion largely because they haven’t seized it as an issue to use against the government.

If anybody raises valid criticisms of the project, will anybody in the government listen to them?

No, unless it is to find another target to attack.

They signed off on this in 2010, cost over-runs and all. Everything else has been for show.

Alternatively, is there anything the government could do or say at this point that would convince their opponents?


As a critic of the project, your humble e-scribbler would love to see some of the evidence to back government claims on things like studies of the alternatives – dated before November 2010 – that show they did their homework before they approved the project.

That’s a bit of an inside joke, though, because anyone following the history of the project will know those things don’t exist.  Muskrat Falls is above all else a political project, not an energy project.  They didn’t seriously look at alternatives at all.

The fact they can’t produce logical, basic arguments supported by evidence is why they are having a huge political problem with this project.

It’s also why they have had to try four different strategic arguments since November 2010 about the project.

And they can’t provide simple things,  like the cost comparisons that show, as they keep claiming, that Muskrat Falls is the least cost option .  You can’t provide what doesn’t exist.  The fact they can’t provide basic stuff like that is why they have tried four different strategic rationales for spending billions upon billions of public dollars.

None of that matters, of course, because this project has been virtually unstoppable since at least the summer of 2010.