26 July 2013

Like water for muskrats #nlpoli

Wednesday it was Kathy Dunderdale.

Thursday, they sent Tom Marshall to chat with Bill Rowe on Open Line to do damage control in the wake of two huge setbacks for the Muskrat Falls project.

Some people think Tom is a good spokesperson because he talks in soft tones.  But truth be told, Tom’s really a bit of a train wreck.

Tom Marshall is the guy – you may recall – who first told us that Muskrat Falls was modeled on the disastrous Smallwood-era development at Bay d’Espoir.  Spend massive amounts of public money in order to deliver super cheap electricity (less than the 1969 Power contract) so eight major new industries could flourish.

They got one industry - a phosphorus plant - and the only thing that bloomed from it was a wave of pollution into the bay one year that shagged the fishery.

The taxpayers got the bill.

With Muskrat is looking to be headed the same way as both Bay d’Espoir and Churchill Falls combined, Tom’s comments were accurate.  It’s just that he was actually trying to tell us what a great idea he had.

Bit like saying he had this brilliant idea to build this massive ocean liner in Ireland out of a brittle kind of steel.  Then he wanted to race it across the Atlantic, without enough lifeboats for everyone,  in the middle of iceberg season – at top speed - and without any idea where the icebergs might be.  No sweat though because even if they slammed headlong into a berg, the ship was  - nudge, nudge, wink, wink – unsinkable.

Tom led off with the Nova Scotia thing.  Muskrat Falls will give us all the lowest cost power, as we all know, according to Tom.  That’s true, Muskrat Falls is the lowest cost option of the one option they looked at.  We don’t need all the power up front, so there will be a surplus.

As Tom described it, Nalcor’s brilliant plan was to try and find a way to make some money off all that surplus power from Muskrat Falls.  Otherwise, you see,  the water would just spill.  Tom apparently forgot that in one of his other talking points all that surplus and spillage didn’t matter. You see the taxpayers of this province are paying the entire cost, plus profit for everyone but themselves.

Then Tom rambled through a whole bunch of stuff, including a highly creative version of recent history that had as much relationship to reality as Miley Cyrus does to demurity or Amanda Bynes to sanity.  The Nova Scotia line would let us avoid Quebec and take the surplus power the waiting markets of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and New England where “otherwise we’d get nothing for it.” 

Already paid in full but supposedly we wouldn’t get a copper for it if we didn’t sell to markets that actually don’t exist. You can see the problem Tom has with veracity. 

It’s like his math problem.  As finance minister, Tom used to claim the provincial debt was less than when he started.  It’s actually more.  Again, a familiar Marshall problem.

Tom went so far as to say that the Nova Scotians need to find more power.  Wonderful stuff.  We make power.  But, sez Tom, the Nova Scotians don’t have to get this extra – and cheap – electricity from us. 

They can buy it from Quebec or New Brunswick. Tom seemed genuinely happy about that idea.  Weird, eh, given that he was talking about all that surplus power we had.  And then he started talking about all the super expensive projects we could build to send the Nova Scotians at prices that are – wait for it – less than 25% of the cost of power from one of those gigantic projects Tom talks about building from scratch.

After he’d been through that, Tom turned his insights on this Quebec thing.  Marshall expressed amazement someone could be on the radio the day after Hydro-Quebec filed its suit giving an opinion on the matter.  Geez, goes Tom all amazed, it took the crowd in Tom’s office two days to get a translation of the Hydro-Quebec claim.  Maybe he speaks French, Tom.  Ever think of that?

Don;t rush to judgment,  urged Tom.  Wait until you hear from  Nalcor. They have legal opinions that the government hasn’t seen, according to Tom.  Just wanted to give a call and talk about all this stuff he had to read, said Tom to Bill,  like moose falling in the harbour, so we’ll see ya later.

And with that Tom was gone.

If you dropped in the conversation in the middle, and Bill forgot to call Tom by name and title, you’d be forgiven if you thought he was some nice old retired fellow with lots of time on his hands.  Tomorrow, Tom will be back to complain about people parking in handicap spaces or about the price of the Red Rose at Coleman’s or something equally weighty. 

But the province’s chief legal advisor,  former finance minister and the guy in charge of the oil and the electricity?  Not friggin’ likely.

In all the talk about Muskrat Falls, Nova Scotia, and the Hydro-Quebec legal case, Tom forgot to mention a few really important points.

First, Hydro-Quebec’s right to control water flows at Churchill Falls in order to meet its needs is well established in the 1969 contract.  That part of Hydro-Quebec’s claim isn’t going to be too hard to establish.

Second, water management is the key to the whole thing down river from Churchill Falls.  Hydro-Quebec doesn’t have to shut off the taps entirely to screw Muskrat Falls.  They just have to do something like run it full bore and then off.  Nalcor’s own analysis showed that if HQ ran Churchill Falls flat out for 20 days in the month and only enough to meet the recall and TwinCo needs the rest of the month,  you’d only generate about 17% of capacity at the Lower Churchill.  They have actually run it on that basis already so the scenario is not some kind of unlikely occurrence.

Third – and this is the biggie – Tom never mentioned that he and his colleagues are currently midway up shit creek because of a decision they made back in 2007.  That’s when they changed the Electrical Power Control Act, 1994 to exempt all of Hydro-Quebec’s contracts with Nalcor from the sections that deal with a water management agreement.  Just for good measure, Tom and his associates included the exemption in the Water Management Agreement they asked the public utilities board to impose on Churchill Falls (Labrador) Corporation. 

Why they did that, no one outside government knows.

Certainly Tom and his friends aren’t telling, just like they haven't told lots of things.

Maybe we’ll find out in a Quebec courtroom, just as we learned about how Tom and his friends had accidentally expropriated an environmental cesspool of a paper mill.

If all of this was not so serious,  you would laugh your head off.