After meeting with PM, Dwight Ball says he expects federal Muskrat Falls solution by January
N.L. premier reiterated his confidence that the federal government will help with rate mitigation
After meeting with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Dwight Ball says he's confident something will be in place for Muskrat Falls rate mitigation by the end of January.
But what that something is remains to be seen.
Rate mitigation for the hydroelectric development was the primary topic of conversation in Trudeau's West Block office Tuesday morning, but national unity, the proposed fixed link between Newfoundland and Labrador, and the overall strength of the country's natural resources sector were also on the agenda, Ball told reporters after the meeting.
Trudeau reiterated the federal government's commitment to rate mitigation for the project, which is billions over budget and is expected to lead to significant increases in power costs for people in the province due to an annual bill of $725 million beginning in two years.
The two also planned to discuss other issues including moving forward on pharmacare and working with other members of the federation.
"There's a nice momentum in how we're working together and it's just always a real pleasure to sit down with Dwight," Trudeau said.
After the meeting, Ball didn't offer specifics on how the problem of the Muskrat Falls debt load would be solved but he reiterated his confidence that a solution would be forthcoming with the help of Trudeau and the federal government.
"He is willing to work with us," Ball said, adding that work is ongoing on the various options available to the province to keep electricity rates from becoming unsustainably high.
The chair of the province's Public Utilities Board said in October that without action, power rates will spike by between nine and 10 cents per kilowatt-hour once the hydroelectric project is commissioned in 2021.
'Too good of a country to give up on'
Natural resources and national unity also came up during the meeting and afterward.
After the meeting, Ball spoke to reporters about his desire to see the country focus on strengthening itself instead of focusing on Trudeau specifically.
"We do not want to see a divided Canada," said Ball, who spoke not only of his own province's strong connection to the Prairie provinces, especially Alberta, but also to his desire to see the natural resource sector succeed on the global stage given its importance to his own province.
Much of the criticism from people in western Canada toward Newfoundland and Labrador, where Liberals won all but one of the province's federal seats in the October election, was not based in fact, Ball said.
"The fact is we get the very same dollar per capita as Alberta and Saskatchewan gets," he said.
Ball will get the opportunity to discuss equalization with the other premiers at next week's Council of Federations meeting in Toronto, but he said changing equalization isn't the discussion that should be had at all.
This is too good of a country to give up on.- Dwight Ball
"What we need is a bigger, broader discussion," said Ball, who advocated for a program that is outside of equalization but could meet the financial needs of provinces that produce natural resources — for example, the federal fiscal stabilization program.
Ball said he couldn't speak for Alberta's Jason Kenney or any other premier, but that he believed changing that program or another like it is a better path forward than to "pick a fight with every other province."
The Newfoundland and Labrador premier said that while he will always fight for his province's interests, he wants to see a united country working for the benefits of all Canadians.
"This is too good of a country to give up on," Ball said.
On a lighter note, Ball — now one of just three Liberal premiers in the country — laughed when asked if he had given Trudeau any advice about running a minority government.
"They tell me now I'm the second longest-serving premier in the country. I find that a little surreal some days," Ball said.
"I jokingly told someone the other day there's yogurt in our fridge that's been there longer than some premiers have been in the job."