11 March 2020

Cleaning up the mess of Muskrat Falls #nlpoli

There are a couple of points in his 1,000 page report where commissioner Richard LeBlanc refers to politicians and other officials of the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador as being naive in their dealings with Nalcor officials about Muskrat Falls. He says Ed Martin took advantage of the politicians and bureaucrats.

It is arguably one place and perhaps the only place where LeBlanc is wrong in his description of Muskrat Falls and how it came to be.

Muskrat Falls was, from the outset a political project, initiated and then relentlessly pursued by a group of politicians for their own reasons.  Their leader, Danny Williams, selected Ed Martin to work with him on the Nalcor project, chiefly to build something on the Lower Churchill as Williams’ legacy.

Martin told LeBlanc that he had one job – to build the project – and that was all of it. But Martin did the job for Williams.  Along the way Williams recruited to his circle senior bureaucrats who also actively collaborated in the project for their own reasons.  It was this circle that met in April 2010 at The Rooms and decided to plunge ahead with the redefined project now known as Muskrat Falls.

They were not naïve.  They were not duped.  They did not care.  They had one goal. They worked together to achieve it from the time Williams launched the venture in 2006 until thd last of them resigned in 2016.

Muskrat Falls was the bastard child of ego and ambition, nothing more.  All the other ideas associated with it, such as retribution for the 1969 power contract, were never anything more than lies – rationalisations to gain support for the project.  The cabal from The Rooms deceived the public and they deceived themselves.

They wanted it built and nothing would stop them.

Regular readers of these e-scribbles over the past 15 years are familiar with the notion.  There is something like 250,000 words about the Lower Churchill project in these electronic pages. Now those regular readers and many more have the benefit of a $15 million investigation that included scores of witnesses and tens of thousands of pages of documents.  Those loyal readers know that every single thing said about the project by the Known Critics was true.  We were right.  

And where we did not have direct knowledge, we correctly deduced through a variety of indicators what was going on.  One of the most startling for your humble e-scribbler was a point during Kathy Dunderdale's testimony where she talked about the tense negotiations in September 2012 that could have scuttled the project.  

By that time, provincial government finances had deteriorated to the point where it had to borrow the entire cost of the project.  Nalcor would borrow some and the government would borrow more and give it to Nalcor as "equity".  A Kremlinology post at the time noted the changed language Dunderdale used to describe the loan guarantee.  No longer nice to have but "important" as if to say essential. 

"So it is,"  your humble e-scribbler wrote at the time, "that a provincial government once dependent on the federal government for half its annual revenue is now entirely dependent on the federal government once again for a project that was supposed to be done with the people of Newfoundland and Labrador in undisputed control.

"A provincial government that supposedly had the fiscal capacity to build the Lower Churchill on its own cannot go anywhere without Ottawa’s money."

By the time Dunderdale was locked in those tense negotiations with the federal government, common sense would have told any government genuinely interested in protecting the public to stop and rethink what they were doing.  But Dunderdale was in on it from the beginning.  Nothing would stop her.

And now here we are almost a decade after that and we must go cap-in-hand to Ottawa again to get help paying for the project in its entirety.

Such is the magnitude of the mistakes made by Danny Williams,  his associates, and his successors, Dwight Ball included, not just with Muskrat Falls but with the fundamental direction of the province.
With LeBlanc’s report in hand and with the knowledge of how much of this was in public at the time people wildly cheered on Williams and his successors,  the question now is what, if anything, will come of the knowledge.