Merry Muskrat to you: House may stay open until Christmas
2041 Group launches latest salvo, questions government competence
Premier Kathy Dunderdale says she's willing to keep the house of assembly sitting until Christmas Eve, if necessary, to handle bills connected to the Muskrat Falls hydroelectric project.
Enabling legislation to support the Lower Churchill megaproject has yet to be tabled in the house of assembly, and the cabinet cannot sanction Muskrat Falls without it being passed.
Natural Resources Minister Jerome Kennedy has said that government would like to sanction Muskrat Falls before Christmas, which has triggered speculation that the house of assembly could sit for much of the next two weeks.
"I'm not averse to spending Christmas Eve in the house if that's what we need to," Dunderdale said.
"You know we're here as stewards of the people of the province and that's always where our focus is."
Both the Liberals and NDP have said they are prepared to launch filibusters against the government over the enabling bills that the government is preparing in relation to the Muskrat Falls project.
Dunderdale said there are still details to work out, and that she cannot say when they will be finished. Until then, she said, the Opposition should not jump to any conclusions.
"Without understanding where we are in the sanction process, where Emera is in the sanction process and so on, the Opposition parties are already laying down threats, and that's fine," she said.
Dunderdale said she's prepared to continue sitting in the legislature past Christmas.
The legislature typically concludes its fall sitting a week or two before Christmas, although it did not sit last year in the wake of the provincial election.
'Financial blunder that really is unparalleled'
Meanwhile, the 2041 Group — a group of five lawyers who have been sharply critical of the Muskrat Falls process — said Wednesday that the term sheet signed in late November is full of holes and sets the province up for a disaster.
"No competent negotiator would agree to this," said member Cabot Martin, who had been a policy advisor to former Tory premier Brian Peckford in the 1980s.
"[This is] a potential fatal step in the creation of a financial blunder that really is unparalleled in our history."
Dunderdale joined Prime Minister Stephen Harper and others in Happy Valley-Goose Bay to sign a term sheet for a federal loan guarantee that the government says translates into a value of about $1 billion in reduced interest payments.
The 2041 Group's analysis of the term sheet is that it has numerous conditions that, among other things, could trigger a default and even a loss of ownership of Muskrat Falls.
The group says the term sheet surrenders too much control to the federal government in terms of financing, legislation and — eventually — project oversight.
"That's the price we will pay," said lawyer Bern Coffey. "We give up control."
'They're not right about this either'
Speaking with reporters later, Dunderdale said she was not worried by the criticism.
"It's hard for me to respond to 2041," she said. "They haven't been right about anything they've said so far, and they're not right about this either."
Dunderdale said other lawyers have studied Muskrat Falls, and found it worthy.
"Our legal teams here in the province — the province's, Nalcor's — we've had Emera's, we've had the province of Nova Scotia, we've had the federal government," she said.
"We have a great deal of expertise amassed that'll stand up to anyone that is on the 2041 team, let me tell you."