09 October 2012

Muskrat, Martin, and Meaning #nlpoli

Note the number of times Ed Martin says “open”  or “transparent” within the first five minutes of his weekend interview for On Point with David Cochrane.

Odds are very high that these words relate to a very sensitive issue for Nalcor, revealed by their extensive polling.

Put the On Point interview together with Martin’s article in the weekend Telegram  - not online - and you can see why these ideas are causing Nalcor such problems.

The problem is a basic one.  Words have meaning that most people understand.  Ed Martin insists that they mean something else.

Take the word “independent”, for example.  Independent, as in not controlled by others or bound by them in some fashion,

In the Telegram article,  Martin chastises editor Russell Wangersky for not counting the “independent and impartial professionals at Nalcor” who have looked at Muskrat Falls and pronounced it the right answer.

There’s simply no reasonable interpretation of the word “independent” that could encompass the people who are pushing a particular project or idea.  Martin can’t offer an independent opinion on Muskrat Falls, nor can any of the officials working for Nalcor.

Martin includes in that group of independent analysts all the contractors who have worked for Nalcor on the project.  Again, they can’t be considered “independent” by any reasonable meaning of the word.  They can’t.  Their contractual relationship binds them to deliver comments and opinions the scope of which are determined by Nalcor.

Yet, Martin insists they are all independent.

The only fully independent analysis of Muskrat Falls was conducted by the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency.  Nalcor failed the assessment.  Case not proven. 

But since the CEAA had no regulatory control over Nalcor, they couldn’t halt the project in its tracks.

The only other assessment that could be considered separate from Nalcor was the public utilities board review.  Unfortunately, Nalcor’s major partner in the project – the provincial government – dictated the scope of the PUB review.  The PUB balked at delivering a report within the limited terms of reference the provincial government imposed.

But since a previous provincial government exempted the Labrador hydro project from PUB regulation and the current administration left things that way, the PUB couldn’t stop the project either.

Martin’s creative approach to language fundamentally undermines his credibility.  People just don’t believe that sort of verbal gymnastics.

Martin makes his own problem worse when he makes statements that are physically impossible.  He told David Cochrane that  Nalcor has an agreement with Churchill Falls (Labrador) Corporation “where we have the ability to store electricity and power that we don’t use.”

Nothing could be further from the truth, as a famous politician used to say.  it is physically impossible to make electricity using water power and then turn it back into electricity.

What Martin is talking about is using Muskrat Falls to replace generation at Churchill Falls.  Muskrat falls electricity will flow back to Quebec. The water that CFLCO would have used at Churchill Falls will stay in the Smallwood reservoir.  Martin told reporters about the plan back in August but what he said to Cochrane went back to the rather disingenuous way martin talked about the water management agreement back in January and February 2012.

This isn’t the only sort of problem Martin and other Muskrat backers have with disclosing accurately what they are doing.

Take the Emera deal as another example.  Cochrane asked Martin about the recent agreement that allows Emera to walk away from the deal in 2014 after Nalcor has already started building Muskrat Falls and the Labrador-Island Link.

Martin just doesn’t answer the question.  He talks about Newfoundland and Labrador making decisions for itself and paints the 2014 date for Emera to opt into the project as an escape hatch for Newfoundland and Labrador. Martin then blithely carries on with a discussion of how Nalcor will export electricity to the United States down a line that – as Martin seemed to acknowledge – might not exist.

One interesting thing about Emera Martin didn’t talk about?  The Maritime Link is only part of the deal.  Emera gets an ownership stake in the Labrador-Island Link. That stake survives any decision on the Maritime link in 2014. 

Another thing about Emera? Martin made an off-hand comment about the problems of locking in for 50 years.  The Emera stake in the Labrador link will last until 2081.  That’s more than 50 years.

Ed Martin proves you can say lots of words and still have trouble persuading people. It’s all in the meaning.