29 October 2012

The Self-Inflicted Wound #nlpoli

When did the companies involved in the Hebron project sanction it?


Don’t google it.

When did ExxonMobil and all those companies give the project team the green-light to start building the gravity base and all the others bits that will lead to oil production on the fourth field offshore Newfoundland and Labrador?


The green light.


Here’s a clue:  the provincial government signed a memorandum of understanding with the companies in August 2007 in time for the general election that year.

Huge announcement.  News conference.  Speeches.  the whole nine yards.

Still drawing a blank?

Okay.  Another clue.

In August 2008, the same people got together and did another big show every bit as big as the one the year before.

This time they announced the final agreements.

In case you don’t recall how big a deal the agreement and the announcement was, just remember that CBC covered it just like they covered the equally big announcement the year before.

Speeches by natural resources minister Kathy Dunderdale and Danny Williams.

Was that the announcement of project sanction?

Well, the smart-arses among you know that the project wasn’t sanctioned at that point.

So when was it sanctioned?

No.  It wasn’t.

In fact as late as May 2012, CBC reported that while the Hebron development application cleared the offshore regulatory board, the “project could receive sanction this year, with construction of the gravity-based structure moving forward by the end of 2012.”

In July, one of the partners reported that the they might not sanction the project until 2013.

Suncor expects that project sanction decisions from the joint venture owners of the Hebron project should be finalized late in 2012 or early 2013.

So the answer is that the project still isn’t a go.


Five years after the memorandum of understanding and four years after the final agreement, no sanction.

Ask around and you will not find a single person who doubts that Hebron is going ahead. Not a one.

Now look at the Muskrat Falls project.

In July, Jerome Kennedy, his Nova Scotia counterpart and a couple of other officials got together and put their signatures at the end of 1500 pages of documents for the Muskrat Falls project.

Very low key  - surprisingly low key – even unusually low key  - announcement given that these documents represent the partnership that will build the project in its entirety including the link to Nova Scotia that will finally break Quebec’s supposed stranglehold on Labrador hydro development.

Sure it took them almost two years but it is a pretty big deal, this big deal.

And yet the provincial government also insists that this deal isn’t a deal until they sanction it later this year.  Look at the number of times that politicians like Jerome Kennedy have been asked about Muskrat Falls and whether it is a fait accompli.

No way, sez they.  Gotta sanction it first.

In some respects, the Conservatives are having political problems with Muskrat Falls because of the way they have been handling it.  Look at Hebron, for example, where the provincial government’s direct stake was much smaller than in Muskrat Falls.  Marvel at the differences.

With a small equity stake, one was done and in the bag at the beginning.  With complete ownership, there have been all sorts of hurdles to cross.  Some of the hurdles have been entirely made up ones. 

At one point, there was no way the provincial government was going to send the thing to the public utilities board.  They didn’t need to.  An exemption granted to Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro for the entire Churchill River meant the board had no legal jurisdiction.

And then as suddenly as the project wasn’t going to the board, the Premier and her colleagues decided the board would get a look at it after all.  They rigged a process.  They didn’t rig it well enough, as it turned out and the board balked at delivering a blessing on Muskrat Falls.

Then it was a debate in the House of Assembly.  Not a chance was the answer one day.  No special debate.  We’ll all just talk about Muskrat Falls during the regular debates.

Then absolutely yes, a special debate, came the answer the next day.  A debate by June.  Might even have to call the House back.

Then June became later on, became October, and then became sometime before Christmas.

Whatever process Muskrat Falls has gone through is one entirely designed by the people who want to build it:  the provincial government and Nalcor.  They don’t have to answer to anyone except themselves and they don’t have to do anything they don’t want to do.

Yes, friends, Kathy Dunderdale and her colleagues have set the rules and, as the last twist with the special debate goes, they just cannot deliver.  Darin King’s clumsy ultimatum on the special debate will end badly no matter what the final result is. 

Should they cave in and allow witnesses, they will have caved in and allowed a situation they clearly don’t want.  If they stick to their guns and deliver something other than a special debate, they lose yet more credibility for having proposed something and then failing to deliver.  They also run the very serious risk that they will wind up looking much as they did during the Bill 29 fiasco:  undemocratic, at best and anti-democratic at worst.

They’ll also be consider capable of shagging up a church as the old saying goes. The less polite will suggest an inability on the Tories’ part of obtaining sexual gratification in a bawdy house despite having hundreds of dollars in cash at hand.

Looking quite that incompetent is not a position anyone would want to be in considering the Tories plan to borrow billions and want to jack up electricity rates in the province to pay for their risky venture to produce some of the most expensive electricity in North America.

Looking at the whole picture you have to marvel at how the Conservatives got themselves into this sort of a jam in the first place and how they continue to make the same sorts of mistakes over and over again despite having total control over the process.

Make no mistake, though:  every wound they have is entirely self-inflicted.  It’s truly amazing.