aboriginal people of Labrador will finally have their issues aired — as they should. Still, any deal will represent more
cost overruns. Someone needs to ask: how much more is too much? When is it time to say that enough is enough?
though it has provided no evidence for this position. Meanwhile, the public has
no idea how this nightmare will end. Nor have they been promised the kind of
disclosure expected after public officials have so badly screwed up.
the North Spur, needs to be taken seriously. Yet the cost of continuing should be evaluated, given that major additional costs will be laden onto an already far too expensive project.
Island ratepayers need to get their minds around that question. They need to address other key issues to the Premier, too — such as oversight. Perhaps the new Consumer Advocate, Dennis Browne, can help give formality to this process. The Premier should ask him to engage with “naysayers”, Browne having been one of them.
Right now, context is important. We should examine why we are in this awful position and whether we should be content to let the Government stumble its way into oblivion.
To set the stage for a later discussion about a wider “Manifesto”, I want to provide some context for that conversation.
Beneath the anger
directed at Nalcor and the Provincial Government over the Muskrat Falls project
lies the breakdown of an essential trust relationship with the public. In
addition, the current crisis seems dysfunctional because, up to the level of
the Premier, there is no public official able to step in and claim a moral high
ground that normally accompanies the resolution of such major disputes.
poisoned the well of public trust from an early date. Admittedly, the public was
on-side with its mandate to build the Muskrat Falls project. But, as in all
relations between citizen and state where an act of faith is demanded on an
issue which is technically and financially complex, the state rides entirely on that
trust. In so doing, the authorities leave
no room for forgiveness if their claims are a bust.
have earned some wiggle room. But doing so would have required open engagement
of the public and a demonstration that it was taking pains to justify key decisions
leading to project sanction and afterwards through transparent reporting and
rigorous independent oversight.
the ‘we know best’ approach, leaving any complainants isolated — amongst otherwise
Government earned no trust either. The Tories essentially handed Nalcor a
mandate to build the project, assuring the Crown Corporation “hands-off” and not
even conditional oversight. Before receiving a golden handshake, Ed Marin went
so far as to demand that the Government stop interfering — so vexed was he over a
few measly Budget Speech comments by the Finance Minister about excessive and overpaid management. The Government had set
up the perfect environment for arrogance and abuse of the public trust by its
own Crown Corporation.
the same pedestal that Nalcor felt impervious to the small “naysayer” community seeking
full transparency of Muskrat. The PUB was pilloried for its refusal to get
“on board”. The climb in projected costs to $11.4 billion and Nalcor’s confirmation
of 21.4 cent power to ratepayers were just bumps along the way, for which Nalcor
offered neither explanation, promise of
change, nor contrition. But, much earlier, deceit as to the cost structure of
major contracts, deep-seated management and quality assurance problems, the question of North
Spur stability, and concern about methylmercury could not elicit proof of sound practices from
a group convinced of its own superiority.
had no appetite to understand or even intelligently discuss a project which Nalcor
and SNC Lavalin had contrived to make as opaque as possible.
Oversight Committee, and a Natural Resources Department which (as frequently noted)
was a mere courier service to Cabinet for Nalcor, were Government’s connections
to a Corporation with its hands firmly in the public’s pocket.
Department of Environment, which had regulatory obligations and the
responsibility to ensure that Nalcor followed through on its own undertakings and
those proposed by the Lower Churchill Environmental Panel, found no appetite
for challenging the supreme authority of Ed Martin and Gilbert Bennett. A
compliant Nalcor Board of Directors was never a concern for them either.
the aboriginal peoples — why would an arrogant Nalcor think that 150 of them held
the capacity to bring the project to a halt?
Martin was finally ushered out with an unwarranted severance package, and Stan
Marshall replaced him amidst high expectations, nothing else of a transparent
nature occurred — except for Marshall’s confirmation, as if it were needed, that
Muskrat is a “boondoggle”.
Not even the election of the Liberals could break
the logjam of secrecy around the project. Indeed, under Ball’s Liberals, even
Reports of the Independent Engineer, established to report to the Federal
Government, became unavailable. The word “oversight” had never seriously entered
the Liberals’ lexicon.
Even the Liberty Group’s assessment that Muskrat power
will be so insecure that we will need the Holyrood Generating assets in
addition, prompted not a whimper from Nalcor. (Ready
for publication soon is a review of the Liberty Report Phase II by retired engineer Phil Helwig.)
this context, Nalcor VP Gilbert Bennett having already downplayed the
importance of the methylmercury issue (in spite of an otherwise irrefutable
Harvard Study giving it appropriate alarm), that the aboriginal peoples began
their protest — one that culminated with the Premier’s decision to curtail
operations at the Muskrat Falls site.
basis does Premier Ball now enter negotiations with them? Where is
the trust that enables him to extend a credible hand?
out Gil Bennett? Or Stan Marshall — not heard from except for a day or so
following his appointment, and having made no change to the way Nalcor does
business? Siobhan Coady or Perry Trimper — neophytes — each having proven that they
are unprepared for big responsibilities?
a lot of arrogance and incompetence to reach this point. The aboriginal peoples
have proven that activism is the only recourse against massive political
hand Islanders, for whom Muskrat is being constructed and who will be required
to pay almost all the cost, still have no mechanism to have their concerns
the project will be a millstone for generations.
our collective economic survival, we should not let the Ball Government make decisions piecemeal. We must not let the Premier spend any sum to get Muskrat done.
We need to expand on the aboriginal peoples’ “Manifesto” to be sure. But first, Stan Marshall should come out into the light and provide a full accounting of this project, so that the public — not he and not Dwight Ball — can decide if the investment is still worth it.