Nfld. & Labrador

Muskrat Falls critics fire back after Danny Williams bashes inquiry report

Former Newfoundland and Labrador premier Danny Williams is still standing by the massive hydroelectric project he helped create, even after an inquiry report highlighted major problems.

Former premier says Commissioner LeBlanc ignored evidence in summary of report

Former premier Danny Williams spent two days on the stand during the Muskrat Falls inquiry. He led the province in the years before the project was announced. (Terry Roberts/CBC)

Former Newfoundland and Labrador premier Danny Williams is still standing by the massive hydroelectric project he helped create, even after an inquiry report highlighted major problems with how the project was sanctioned, planned and constructed.

In a statement released early Thursday, Williams said he hoped the report from inquiry Commissioner Richard LeBlanc would be "balanced and fair," but took exception with some of his findings.

His statement came a day after former Nalcor boss and Muskrat gatekeeper Ed Martin lashed out at the inquiry, saying LeBlanc was one-sided and the commission focused on negative hypotheses.

But some of those who feel vindicated by the report were quick to rebut Williams and Martin.

"They seem to be living in some sort of alternate universe," said Ron Penney, a former senior public servant and member of the Muskrat Falls Concerned Citizens Coalition. 

Ron Penney is a former senior public servant in Newfoundland and Labrador and outspoken critic of the controversial project. (Eddy Kennedy/CBC)

"They were delusional in 2010 and they're still delusional," added public policy specialist Ed Hollett, who has raised concerns about Muskrat through his online blog Sir Robert Bond Papers for years.

Chief among the findings of LeBlanc's report was that the hydroelectric dam in central Labrador was "predetermined" to proceed.

Williams said that's "categorically wrong."

"The commissioner puts forward the peculiar supposition that because the decision was ultimately made to proceed with the project, this is somehow proof that government was 'intent' on proceeding at any cost," Williams wrote in a statement. 

"The act of making a decision does not in any rational argument necessitate that the decision was always a foregone conclusion. This defies logic."

LeBlanc wrote in his executive summary of the 1,200-page report that the provincial government under Williams did not seriously investigate alternatives to the Muskrat Falls project, hence making the project a foregone conclusion even before it was officially sanctioned.

Justice Richard LeBlanc was the commissioner of the Muskrat Falls public inquiry. (Terry Roberts/CBC)

He outlined five alternatives to Muskrat Falls that were raised at the inquiry, saying some were unreasonably dismissed while others were outright ignored by Nalcor, the province's energy Crown corporation.

LeBlanc said the government "failed in its duty to ensure that the best interests of the province's residents were safeguarded."

Williams, in his letter, argues that wasn't the case.

"To insinuate elected officials or public servants ever wilfully jeopardized the well-being of our citizens is, from my perspective, deeply offensive," Williams wrote. 

"We made decisions based on the best advice, several years of planning and based on a mandate given to us by the people of the province."

Stop politicizing project, Williams says

In the second half of his three-page statement, Williams admits there were "challenges and flaws" with Muskrat Falls. The project was sanctioned at a cost of $6.2 billion before ballooning to $12.7 billion, which has pushed the province deeper into debt and threatened to double power bills to pay off the cost.

Williams also thanks LeBlanc for acknowledging the positives, including how the hydro dam is a significant asset to count against the province's $14-billion debt.

An aerial shot shows the Muskrat Falls generating facility and project site, on Labrador's Churchill River. (Submitted by Nalcor)

He backs up former Nalcor CEO Ed Martin, upon whom LeBlanc hung much of the blame.

While LeBlanc said Martin carried an unrealistic optimism into the project and willingly misrepresented the cost of the project, Williams said Martin "undertook his role professionally and with the best interests of the province at heart."

Williams insists Muskrat Falls will be a good project for Newfoundland and Labrador in the long run.

"The time has come for the politicization of this project to end. We need to come together as a people and be proud of our Churchill River developments, and not diminish them as we are the envy of the world."

Penney and Hollett say Williams's and Martin's refusals to accept LeBlanc's findings are head-shaking.

"We're saddled with this crazy project, which is going to be an albatross around our necks for the next hundred years," said Penney.

Ed Hollett is a public policy specialist and blogger who has been writing critical commentaries about Muskrat Falls for 15 years. (Gary Locke/CBC)

Williams describing Newfoundland and Labrador as the "envy of the world" is laughable, added Hollett.

"If he means by envy that people will use us as an example of how never to behave in dealing with a project, then yes, he's absolutely right," Hollett said.

In the years ahead, Penney and Hollet say attempts by Williams and Martin to defend the project won't mean anything. The findings of LeBlanc's report, they say, is all people will remember.

"They're not facing the facts of the situation that we have in Newfoundland. It's sad and it makes me very angry, and it should make the citizens of the province very angry," said Penney.

"This was a political project from the beginning. It was the bastard child of ego and ambition. And the two principal architects of the ego and the ambition still think their project was right," added Hollett.

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