The reaction, last week, to Nalcor CEO Ed Martin’s announcement that another $800 million had been lathered on to the Muskrat Falls project attracted some interesting reactions from provincial politicians; in another case there was no response at all.
Newfoundlanders and Labradorians seemed to take the news with typical equanimity.
There were no street protests, no calls for Martin’s resignation (though there ought to have been), no demands for the Government to resign.
Public quiescence was maintained possibly because Nalcor still has cash flow; Newfoundland Power will send the bills later.
Still, an additional $800 million is a staggering sum. The new total is $8.33 billion when interest during construction on the new overage is included; that is slightly higher than the $8.19 billion I had reported in my last missive (having been corrected by a ‘qualified’ economist).
Speaking of which…we haven’t hear from Dr. Wade Locke. Locke is the MUN Economist, who proclaimed to a capacity crowd filling the Inco Centre, he approved of the Project.
But, it was the warning he left with an audience in Norman’s Cove, a few days later, that some remember. Locke is reported to have stated, if the Muskrat Falls Project exceeds $8 billion it will cease to be the lowest cost option.
It is unlikely the folks in that small community found the dismal science enlivened by the perennial fog that hangs over the isthmus; away from the din and roar of oil sated St. John’s, and the profundities of the Board of Trade, he may have found that rural folk can be counted on to give discerning clarity to arrant nonsense.
At $8.33 billion, I thought the Professor might take the opportunity and recant early, in advance of the more ghastly numbers to come. Not a chance. Locke is quieter than a Nalcor Consultant with the summer off.
Other politicians were at the ready to fill any void of Dr. Locke’s making.
Liberal critic Andrew Parsons suggested he is worried about the Project’s mounting construction costs.
“We’ve always known this was an expensive project,” he told reporters. “And what we have here now is an extremely expensive project.”
The Liberal Opposition has always approached opposition to the Muskrat Falls project with the ambivalence of a tire kicker. It has always preferred to attack fringe issues, like transparency and ‘oversight’, without ever condemning the project. The Liberals never could muster the leadership to counsel against Muskrat’s risks or its dodgy economics when there was still an opportunity to kill it.
Insiders in the Liberal Party like former Nalcor Director, now MHA, Cathy Bennett and policy peon, Dean MacDonald, lent no backbone to Dwight Ball; not that he was inclined to warn Danny’s boys of public risk for private benefit. Many of the people who attended the recent Liberal Fundraising Dinner would not be happy with more than feint criticism of the project.
If Ball were able to say: ‘I told you not to do this’, he might now be enjoying the status of one with real moral authority heading into the next election. But he can claim only the same boast as the NDP. That’s not much.
MHA George Murphy described the announcement as "unsettling". The PUB should have been able to do its work, he declared. The NDP, too, would now like to sermonize, but like the Liberals, it was not prepared to go to the wall against Muskrat or for the PUB. It is tough to go against the tide of Union interests or when there exists strong public support of a bad idea. Leaders choose to lead or to follow.
The public is never wrong and it does not reward followers; which brings me to Premier Tom Marshall. He had a comment on Ed Martin’s Muskrat Eulogy, too. Having been warned long ago of the cost overruns by Vale and by other megaprojects, the Premier decided they could now be used as ‘benchmarks’.
“I look at some of the other projects,” Marshall said. “I’m very comfortable. I look at what’s happening with Vale and their project, and with Hebron.”
Like falling objects, look out for a changing narrative on Muskrat Falls.
Pretty soon most people, including the Liberals (after the next election) and the NDP, will be totally against it. Take note: they always were!