30 September 2015

Pride and Failure #nlpoli

‘”Pride is a big factor”  a manager at Muskrat Falls told the Telegram’s James McLeod on Monday during the latest media junket to the Big Dig North. People come to work every day and say “I built this.”

Pride is the essence of Muskrat Falls. 

Go back to 2012.

All the business people who looked forward to making a fortune off the project never talked about risk, profits, cash flows, return on their investment, and other stuff you’d expect business people to talk about.

They say stuff like “We believe in good things for our province.”  Or “… we believe we have the courage to harness the opportunity before us and make these things happen.”

On Tuesday,  the people of Newfoundland and Labrador got official confirmation of what many have known for a long time.  The Muskrat Falls project is behind schedule and way over budget.  If you count the estimated cost from the day Danny Williams announced it, the new cost is 153% more than it was in November 2010.

Liberal leader Dwight Ball turned up on CBC Radio to talk about the project that he reckons is going to cost taxpayers about $9.0 billion.  Ball did what he has always done about this project.  Well, besides support it, that is.  Ball criticised the Conservatives for their oversight.  Obviously not good enough, he said.

Then Ball said that we – meaning the people of the province – cannot let Muskrat Falls fail.  That would be a disaster.

With those words, Ball immediately erased any sign of hope that might still be found in the idea that new managers could somehow oversee the project back to sense.  You see when Ball says we cannot let it fail, what he was really saying is that we will not let it fail.  The dam will be built regardless of cost.

That is exactly the same position the Conservatives are in.  The only difference is that Ball has an inkling this thing is a mess.  But fundamentally, Ball has given Nalcor confirmation that they can spend as much as they need to spend to get this thing finished. 

Ball apparently sees not finishing it as failure.  The thing is that Muskrat Falls is already a failure.  It was a failure before it started.  It was a failure because it was insane.

Back then, back before Danny Williams announced it, the thing was insane.  We were talking about forcing local taxpayers to cover the entire cost.  SRBP said that long before Nalcor said it.  They had no markets for the power.  They still have none.  So the ordinary folks would pay for it all.

Once Danny announced it,  all flush with pride,  the thing was more obviously insane.  Five billion dollars for the line to St. John’s and the dam and powerhouse.  Even at that price, the thing added $10,000 of brand new public debt for every man, woman and child in the province.

No markets.

$10,000 per person in debt on top of the $16,000 per person public debt was in 2010.

Forcing local ratepayers to buy all the electricity even though they didn’t need it, wouldn’t need it for decades.

And then there was the free electricity for Nova Scotians.

A complete failure.

Things didn’t get better in 2012.  The price jumped to $6.2 billion at that point, even though the folks at Nalcor insisted the first price had been copper fastened. Yet Ball, the rest of the Liberals, all the New Democrats, and the Conservatives supported Muskrat Falls. 

Ball came to the conclusion some time ago,  as it seems, that no one could stop Muskrat Falls but that we could limit the problems by managing it better.  This is an eminently sensible conclusion.  The only problem with it is that Ball’s conclusion is wrong.

He could have stopped it had he just noted the three basic problems with the project that have been there from the beginning.  The independent project review would have been  all the justification he needed. [They said Nalcor had failed to make the case for the project.]   Unfortunately, everyone else was already sucked in by the thing. 

Politicians, media, ordinary citizens all accepted the proposition that this was an excellent idea because people in authority had told them it was brilliant.  And for the ones who weren’t suckered by that foolishness, they fell for the bullshit that this would somehow frig that crowd in Quebec.

All of that blinded them to the simple truths, evident from the outset, that have been borne out by bitter experience. None of what the folks at Nalcor said about Muskrat Falls has proven to be true.  They did not lie.  They just got it wrong.

Dwight Ball would be better off shedding this idea that we can somehow manage Muskrat Falls into submission.  We cannot. The thing is probably too far gone even if Ed Martin and Gil Bennett hadn’t worked out a set of contracts that, in all likelihood, jammed the throttle wide open and welded the engine room door shut on the Muskrat Falls Express.

Ball should just tell folks that the thing is going to happen no matter what and we had just better get set for the final numbers. He should pin the blame for the mess where it belongs,  on Ed Martin and the rest of the ego-addled incompetents at the top end of Nalcor and on the ego-drunk politicians, starting with Danny Williams who pursued this ridiculous project against all common sense.

As it is, that will almost certainly hit $10 billion or roughly $20,000 in new public debt for every man woman and child there is in these parts.  That is on top of the roughly $17,000 per person in net public debt they owe right now.  That figure underestimates the total, by the way because it uses net debt, not total debt. The total public debt when the current crowd took over was $23,000 per person, all in. 

If Ball does not disown this mess soon, he runs the risk of being blamed for all of it later on.  The provincial Conservatives have already been leaving him a raft of poison pills – Pam Goulding, John Ottenheimer, an offshore royalty regime – and they will likely salt away as many more as they can before they leave in December.  They will not hesitate to blame Ball for the Muskrat Falls debacle even though he had nothing to do with it. 

Their pride produced Muskrat Falls.

Let them wear responsibility for the failure it has always been, as well.