11 December 2013

Moments #nlpoli

There’s something perverse about the way politicians these days use a memorial to the dead of two world wars in the last century as a backdrop for their own political spectacles.

That’s what Kathy Dunderdale did – yet again – on Tuesday night to tell Newfoundlanders and Labradorians about something she regards as truly wonderful.

“This is one of those occasions we should tell our children about,” said Premier Kathy Dunderdale on province-wide television Tuesday night, “and help them understand how important this moment is for them and their future.”

She’s right.

It will be important to mark this moment in time.  We’ll have to help generations of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians not yet even born understand the magnitude of what Dunderdale and her associates have done.

We will have to help them understand why any politician could hold such an event to mark the moment when public debt reached unprecedented levels.  Now Kathy did not say that.  She talked about how they’d have a billion dollars less to repay as a result of a loan guarantee.

But the truth is that on top of the gross public debt of about $13 billion,  Kathy Dunderdale and a group of federal and provincial politicians  joyfully announced on Tuesday that they had added another $5.0 billion to it. 

That’s not counting the $3.0 billion or so in cash that Dunderdale and her colleagues have handed over to Nalcor with no strings attached.  Apparently, they’ll never have to repay any of it.

The blended interest rate on the money is 3.8%.  Some people were busily applauding that on Tuesday night on social media, without actually knowing most of the key details about the financing.  They don’t know because the provincial government didn’t release that information and likely won’t.

The people applauding the interest rate also don’t know how much the final tally for the borrowing will be.  You see the current estimates for the whole project are just that:  estimates.  The project could still go beyond the $8.0 billion the government and Nalcor have allowed. 

The one thing that has not changed and that will not change is who will wind up paying for it.  The people of Newfoundland and Labrador may save a billion dollars in interest cost, as Dunderdale said.  But over the next 40 years and more they will pay ever penny of the rest of the interest.  That interest will be many times that billion.  Spread out over 40 or 50 years, taxpayers won’t notice the savings.

What they will notice is the 20 times that one billion finance minister Tom Marshall estimated last December they’d be forking out for the half century after 2017 when Muskrat Falls is done.

$20 billion.

An average of $450 million a year and every penny, every copper coming from Newfoundlanders and Labradorians.

There are no savings for Newfoundlanders and Labradorians and no saving grace for Muskrat Falls.

By contrast, the Nova Scotians can say that the pile of free electricity they are getting under this deal will save them at least $250 million annually.  On top of that they get dibs on a whack more for less than 20% of what Muskrat Falls will cost Newfoundlanders and Labradorians.

So, you can see both why the kids and the grandkids are going to remember this moment in time.

And you can also see why Dunderdale’s speech was full of puffy language and few details.  She celebrated the interest rate.  She praised the huge amount of money people would have to pay back.

Game-changer, she called it, not once but twice in the space of two sentences.

For good measure, Dunderdale repeated the same old lies about how much Muskrat Falls has supposedly been studied and analysed. 

And what wasn’t puffy and cliche was simply ludicrous.  The province will have so much renewable electricity one day soon, said Dunderdale,  that we wouldn’t know what to do with it:

Even if we were to let this excess energy continue to spill, unharnessed, into the sea, Muskrat Falls would be by far the best and most affordable way to meet our province’s power demands.

Muskrat Falls remains the most expensive option, but since facts have never bothered the people behind this monstrosity, it’s only fitting Kathy Dunderdale’s last great announcement about it kept up the tradition.

What’s truly curious about the latest great Muskrat Falls announcement is that it really wasn’t much of an announcement at all. 

It was all old news.  There’s no pollster in the field. Everyone knows the project is going. 

Dunderdale and her crowd had a big announcement just like this one last year.  And two years before that, they had another big announcement.

In 2010.

You remember it.

Right before the Premier of the day decided he didn’t want the job any more.