Thursday, 15 November 2012

The Power is in Whose Hands?

By now you have received your Muskrat Falls Brochure.  It was aptly titled “the power is in our hands”.  I have to assume that the “our” referred to, is Nalcor.

The Brochure deals less with the justification for the Muskrat Falls Project than with making sure Nalcor is credited with the Project, that Nalcor has the professionalism, Nalcor has the experience, Nalcor has the strategic vision to carry out a $7.4 billion megaproject. 
The public has been told that the marketing campaign to ‘sell’ the Project, of which the glossy Brochure is but one piece, will provide transparency and factual information to the people of the province.

It does not achieve that purpose.   
The Brochure barely notes the role of the Government. Even Muskrat Falls is secondary here. Nalcor is on display.  The Brochure boasts:  “MHI has found Nalcor’s work to be skilled, well-founded, and in accordance with industry practices…..”.  “MHI supports Nalcor’s finding….”.  “In MHI’s opinion, Nalcor has undertaken a diligent and appropriate approach…”.  Like the child that is the perennial underperformer, whose need for reassurance cannot be sated,  Nalcor needs to be the center of attention. 

That is unfortunate.    
In a democratic society, there is a time when the unelected ones step back and defer to the elected. Either Nalcor does not know its place or certain Ministers do not know theirs.

The Government has received Nalcor’s recommendation.  Now, the Government should report to the people of the province.  
Whether you agree with their conclusion or not, the Government - having balanced all of the options, weighed the risks and the costs and having come to a conclusion – must defend its decision against all comers. 

Muskrat Falls is a project, not a principle; it is an investment, not an ideology.  Its approval, especially given its cost and risk, demands that the process of governance is undertaken transparently, honestly and with a completeness that is unassailable.  That is what comes with the territory of elected government.
There are other problems with the Brochure. For example,  it fails to note that Muskrat Falls did not receive approval from the Federal-Provincial Joint Panel which spent two years studying the socio-economic and environmental impacts of the Project.

It does not state that the Public Utilities Board, the province’s independent review agency  failed to come to a conclusion on the Project because the information, on which it was asked to base a decision, was inadequate (remember, it was given only DG-2 numbers).

The Brochure did not state the true cost of the power from Muskrat Falls.  Nor did it say that Muskrat power will be the most expensive hydro power under development in North America. 
The Brochure failed to inform the public that construction estimates did not include interest costs contrary to basic accounting rules.  It was silent on the risks to the tax payer of cost overruns. 

This was not a Brochure to inform.  It was an advertisement to introduce the folks at Nalcor as professional and experienced.  Cleverly, it avoided the issue of Nalcor’s achievements.  Likely, because, for many years, there have been little to report. Bay D’espoir was constructed 50 years ago, Cat Arm 30 years ago.  The “professionals” engaged in these projects have all retired.

The fact that the senior officers of Nalcor are performing the public relations of politicians, permits only one conclusion.

The Government has been captured by its own utility.  It is not in control.  It is being controlled.   It is acceding to Nalcor’s ambitions. 
The Project, having progressed as far as it has, the Government is now cornered; it feels it cannot turn back no matter what the consequences.

That is the sad reality.
Nalcor's hubris is embedded even in the glossy brochures.  They feel omnipotent, immune to risk and above the electorate.  Certainly, they need not worry about the trivialities of democracy. 

Weak politicians, even if they notice that they have been supplanted, can't acknowledge that due process has less to do now with democratic government than with the need for an affirmation of what the unelected have already decided.

Hark! I hear the mailman coming.  A second Brochure, from Nalcor, lands in my mailbox.  Perhaps, it contains some of the answers the first one ommitted. But, I'm not betting on it.