20 October 2016

The Reverse Midas Touch Rides Again #nlpoli

The crowd running this place these days has an unrivalled ability to look at a problem and find the worst possible response imaginable.

On Wednesday,  natural resource minister Siobhan Coady and environment minister Perry Trimper announced that the government would tell Nalcor to keep flooding the Muskrat Falls reservoir but at the same time, they will have to cut down more trees and clear more vegetation from the flooding area.

This solves nothing.

The basic problem with Muskrat Falls is that the dam will produce methylmercury no matter what you do.  It is a matter of degree and on some level,  the difference in methylmercury output you will get if you clear out vegetation before you flood the Muskrat Falls reservoir may not be noticeably different than what you will get without.  The joint environmental review panel advised clearing out the topsoil and vegetation but did so knowing the panel didn't have clear baseline work to know if it would matter. No one has clear information and even last year's Harvard study is a projection.

The thing is,  if people don't want to see extra methylmercury in Lake Melville, the only sensible position is to halt construction of the dam.  Period.  Everything else is guesswork, no matter how educated the guesser is.  People who want to build the dam and clear the land are basically folks who think it was possible to attack the top 10 military targets in Russia with nuclear weapons and expect the Russians would know your attack was limited.  You see,  we have known since the 1960s that the top 10 Russian military targets are in or near the top 10 Russian civilian population centres.  Hit one, you hit the other.

That's why it makes absolutely no sense for people to be screaming about imminent genocide in Labrador from the poison of methylmercury and then saying they want to finish the dam.  You build the dam, you get methylmercury.

What the provincial government did on Wednesday changes nothing.  They will still get methylmercury once the dam is finished.  They will pay more on an already insanely over-budget project that never made sense in the first place. And, in the short-term, they will not get rid of the protesters.  To the contrary,  the protesters want the government to slow down the project and clear the reservoir area of all vegetation.  The government has done nothing to meet their demands.  But it *has* shown the protesters that the government is afraid of them.  This will encourage them not only to keep protesting but to widen the scope and increase the intensity.  Bigger and noisier, in other words. The government crowd is on the ropes.

This is after days of cock-ups and blunders, suitably documented by the Telegram in its editorial on Wednesday.  it is also a continuation of a pattern of late responses and weak responses that has been the hallmark of Dwight Ball's office for some time. As the story unfolds,  as in the Ed Martin fiasco, the story often goes against Ball's version of events.  So it will be in this case:  the protesters will just keep going.  Maybe in the next version, the government will clear more land, flood the reservoir, then drain it and order a study.  All of it will be futile.

In this case,  the problem with government's weak action is fairly obvious.  They are just going to encourage more protesting.  Their briefings on methylmercury won't help. The momentum is already with the protesters.  But what is worse, the technical briefings will make plain that the government's action will do nothing but continue the methylmercury controversy from the joint environmental review. Nalcor has insisted the clearing would do nothing. Indeed up until Wednesday the current administration said the same thing. They just budgeted to pay compensation down the road rather than clear the reservoir up front.  What the government has done now is decide to spend some money up front and then pay compensation anyway since the dam will, inevitably, produce methylmercury and contamination downstream.*

Logically, the government decision on Wednesday contradicts that. The bigger result of such a contradiction is that the government looks weak, confused, and indecisive. That is nothing new but frankly, the government needs to do better if only to give the public some confidence it can cope with the problems the province is facing.  Nalcor can offer no help in improving public confidence in government.  The company has lied, fibbed, and otherwise not told the truth so often about this project that no one will believe anything it says anymore anyway.

What the methylmercury controversy also shows  - once again - is how Nalcor and the former Conservative administration cut corners wherever possible to meet the political imperatives for a project that never made any sense anyway. This project was always a political one, done to give Danny Williams ego a gigantic stroke as he ran from office and for the Conservatives and now the Liberals, to run the largest make-work project in history.

With unquestioning political support,  Nalcor was able to run amok. Make no mistake. Nalcor got that unquestioning support from all three political parties. And the three political parties got their licence to run wild because the public supported the project, without question. The handful of people, mostly in Labrador, who raised objections were either attacked or, more likely dismissed out of hand.  Everyone else backed the project just as the majority of protesters do right now.  They want the dam because it is a wonderful large make-work extravaganza. On top of that, they want more make-work clearing vegetation even though that will not - as everyone knows - solve the methylmercury problem.

Muskrat Falls is not a boondoggle.

It is a circus in an insane asylum.


*Sentence changed to clarify meaning.  Original was one sentence, when it should have been two.  New words added.