22 November 2012

The Secret of Their Distress #nlpoli

Not content with just one round of fascinating public opinion information, NTV decided to unleash a second evening of news about how the public feels about Muskrat Falls.

The responses are based on the same panel conducted for NTV by MQO and first reported on Tuesday.

Let’s take a look at the results, as reported, and then make some observations.

A Very Important Issue

Asked about the importance of the issue, 95% of respondents thought that Muskrat Falls was an important public issue.  That includes 57% who thought it was a very important issue.  Three percent thought it was unimportant and two percent thought it was neither important nor unimportant.

Now while you can’t compare it directly, that’s a pretty long way from 2010 and 2011.  When first announced in November 2010, government’s internal quarterly polling typically showed Muskrat Falls was an important issue for three or four percent of the population.

A year later – around the time of the general election  - that had climbed to 13%.  The reason we can’t compare directly is that in the earlier polls, respondents were asked to identify their major issue.  This NTV.MQO question appears to have been solely about the important of Muskrat Falls.

Why Muskrat Falls is Hurting the Tories

Asked about their satisfaction government’s handling of the issue, 46% were dissatisfied with the way government had handled the issue.  Thirty-seven percent were satisfied and 17% were neither satisfied nor dissatisfied.

It would be nice if NTV had broken this down to show the full range of replies.  Normally these questions are done on a five point scale comprising high like or dislike, intermediate like/dislike, and neutral options. 
MQO seems to use a standard scale  of "very” and “somewhat”.   CRA uses the likely distorting descriptions of “mostly” and “completely” for intensity.  The CRA choices seem to be skewed toward the extreme end of the scale.

Anyway, this questions explains why people want a PUB review:  they aren’t willing to let the provincial government make the decision.  Half the respondents don’t like the way government has handled things.

The Good, The Bad, and the Yucky

NTV asked supporters what they liked about Muskrat Falls.  36% said they liked the jobs, 27% liked more electricity, 16% liked lower power bills and eight percent liked the environmental benefits.
Any construction jobs from the project are entirely short-term. 

What’s more curious are the next two most popular reasons for supporting Muskrat Falls:  more power and lower electricity bills.  They are curious because they aren’t really true.  Muskrat Falls basically offers about the same electricity as we currently get from Holyrood, give or take a few megawatts. 

And lower power bills?  Supporters claim that the future increases will be lower than they would be if we burned a lot of very expensive oil.    They won’t be lower than they are currently and if oil prices went down in the future, Muskrat Falls could actually guarantee higher oil prices.

The supporters would be 57% of those surveyed, if you recall the responses from Tuesday.
NTV also asked those opposed to the project what they thought were the big issues.

37% didn’t like the higher power bills.  28% didn’t like the higher debt.  Nine percent didn’t like the environmental consequences and seven percent didn’t like the lack of information.

The opponents are keying on the financial issues.  Their top two issues – electricity prices and debt – are all about money. 

Now think about the kerfuffle over the future electricity price “calculator” Nalcor released in its most recent marketing campaign.  Note especially what Ed Martin said to the Telegram:
Martin said all of those numbers only serve to obscure the debate.
“When you look at the cost of power, every time we get into this discussion in public, all it does is confuse the most important people that are impacted by this decision, and that’s the ratepayers,” he said. “We are answering the question in the simplest possible terms.”
Every time people take about rates “in public”, Martin said,  the discussion on serves to “confuse” people.  That’s code for martin doesn’t want to talk about it because he knows that the ratepayers will rebel if they ever figure out what his scheme will do to their bank balances.

The sensitivity of price information is also why the provincial government types attack the comments about doubling electricity rates.  They know it is a vote-determining issue.

Any political party with designs on taking power in Newfoundland and Labrador – that would mean the provincial New Democrats – would be well advise to talk a lot about financials. 

A lot. 

Pound at it.

The provincial government crowd have a very hard time keeping it straight and when they do talk about it, they quickly piss people off.  The 16% of their supporters who like the lower electricity prices might be distressed to find out that Nova Scotians are getting a better bargain, for example.  They are getting free electricity.

Money is the one issue on this project that promises to dog the provincial government for years to come on this project.

if you want to know what is so yucky about this for the Tories, just cross-reference these poll results with the CRA quarterly polls and the couple of Environics ones lately. The two are intimately connected.
As the importance of the Muskrat Falls project has risen, support for the Tories has dropped.

Aside from anything else,  you could make a pretty good case that says government’s handling of the project is tied to their poor polling numbers.  Half the responses in a poll are dissatisfied with the way government has handled the project thus far. 70% want to send the project to the PUB for a judgement, apparently not willing to take Keith Russell’s word that this is every bit as wonderful as Paul Lane has told them it is.

Your humble e-scribbler would suggest that Muskrat Falls has caused the fall.  There a bunch of things that SRBP has already put out there that are adding to the Tories’ political problems. Those things won’t be going away, especially since some of them are related to money (Corner Brook hospital, union negotiations etc) , which is the problem with Muskrat Falls.  Add in some more Felix Collins or Darin King performances.  Sit back and enjoy the show.

Meanwhile, Muskrat Falls won’t be over by Christmas.  Even if the provincial cabinet sanctions the project by the New Year,  we still have to go through the Nova Scotia regulatory hearing, and then in 2014 wait to find out if Emera will actually build the Maritime Link.

And then there’s the loan guarantee.  It has been millimetres away for a century now.  There’s obviously a major hang-up.  If the federal government never expected to pay it, they would have signed off months ago.  The longer things go without a signed document, the more likely it is that the federal government is having some problems with signing.

Don’t forget that the loan guarantee has gone from being something Danny Williams said he really didn’t need to go ahead and start building to something Kathy Dunderdale must have. Maybe the potential money bags on the project aren’t so confident that the province can afford the deal.  Remember what Dominion Bond Rating Service really said, not what Tom Marshall claimed they did.

And maybe, therefore, the crowd in Ottawa are a wee bit leery that they might become the proud owners of one slightly used but heavily indebted province.

No wonder the Tories are looking so stressed these days.