24 October 2016

The political dynamics of Muskrat Falls #nlpoli #dip-o-crites #cdnpoli

The people of Labrador who have now occupied the work camp at the construction site are exercising the only political influence they have in the only way they have been able to influence events thus far on this project.

There'll be a post later in the week to run through how we got to this place.  For now, let's just understand the political dynamics right now. People ignored by everyone else in discussions about this project have taken the only action they knew how to take. This is one of those disjointed protests that happens every once in a while.  It has a life of its own.

Outsiders see it from their own perspective.  Remember that as you see New Democratic Party politicians federally and provincially or local townie celebrities or mainlanders professing their undying solidarity with the indigenous people of Labrador in their fight against blah blah blah. Yeah. Whatever.

In 2010 and in every year since then,  these same people sided with the people building this project in Labrador. They backed the project despite the fairly obvious lies the proponents told, despite the many financial problems with the project, and despite the environmental problems including the problem with methylmercury. These folks had other interests then and their actions now are driven by interests other than the cause of the protesters.

"New Democrats applauded the announcement last fall of the inter-provincial agreement between your government and the Government of Nova Scotia," NDP leader Jack Layton wrote to Premier Kathy Dunderdale in 2011, "and your respective energy corporations, regarding the development of the Muskrat Falls phase of the Lower Churchill River Development."

Layton and the New Democrats lauded Muskrat Falls as green energy even though large-scale hydroelectric dams like it are widely recognised as causing environmental problems.  They aren't green.  All the same,  Layton was effusive in his praise for a project pushed by, among others, a New Democratic government in Nova Scotia.

"We recognize the great contribution this project will make in helping meet climate change abatement goals,"  Layton added.  "The project will significantly reduce greenhouse gases, lower the use and dependency on fossil fuels, such as oil and coal, and open the door to greater use of alternative energies such as wind and solar. It is impressive that one result of this project will be the renewable sources for 98% of electricity energy in Newfoundland and Labrador.

The New Democrats didn't just sign-on because of Darryl Dexter in Halifax.  Layton reminded Dunderdale that, as "previously committed to [sic] in letters written in 2006 and 2008 to then-premier Danny Williams, we once again re-affirm our support for the Government of Canada providing an investment guarantee for this development. An NDP government will provide a loan guarantee In order to enhance the viability of the Muskrat Falls Project and, in addition, would commit to invest $375 million in the Maritime Transmission Link from the 3P Canada Fund and our Green Infrastructure Program as a foundation for a green energy grid In Atlantic Canada."

"The cooperation between Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador, as well as the involvement of New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island, serves as an encouraging model for other provinces and the federal government in a longer term plan to build a national power grid while recognising and respecting provincial jurisdiction."

For his part,  Dwight Ball's political management of the crisis is now quite clearly part of an unbroken and unprecedented series of blunders in political management ghat have become his trademark.  Ball has been silent since the beginning of the crisis.  His staff have refused to disclose where he is and on Sunday night,  local media ambushed Ball at the airport.  His responses to reporters' questions sounded weak and incredible.

Clearly the problems in Ball's office have carried on despite last summer's house-cleaning exercise.  His administration remains on the same troubled trajectory.  It's pretty clear Premier Dwight Ball is disconnected from reality.  Ball seems to be taking his advice from Nalcor officials and other bureaucrats.  Their sole concern is finishing the project according to the current schedule. That is what is driving Dwight Ball and, as a result, there is little chance that Ball and his colleagues will be able to resolve this crisis on their own.

The only thing that has affected Ball thus far has been the physical disruption of the project.  That produced the first half-assed attempt to end the crisis.  It actually served to ramp up the intensity. Occupation of the construction site on Saturday produced another concession in the form of a meeting on Tuesday.  The provincial government is badly jammed up by the protesters on the ground and their inherent credibility in the eyes of most observers.  

Now it gets interesting.  The physical centre of action in this crisis is in Labrador but the political centre of gravity for the provincial Liberals is where the money sits. That would be with the federal government. That's why the protests are moving to Ottawa on Monday.

Dwight Ball cannot finish this project without a doubling of the federal loan guarantee. The federal Liberals are having a hard enough time rationalising an expanded loan guarantee for a project that is badly managed and that will never meet any of the promises made for it in 2010.  The environmental and aboriginal problems with Muskrat Falls now jeopardize the heart of the federal Liberals' national agenda. And that will make it that much harder for the federal Liberals to help their provincial cousins.

The provincial Liberals need their federal cousins for more than money for their troubled hydro project. The Liberals will need federal cash to help with the everyday bills. Threatening the provincial Liberals' standing in Ottawa could well be the political force that will convince Dwight Ball that spending a short while and a relatively small amount of money getting rid of some topsail is a cheap price to pay for political peace.