Nfld. & Labrador

Danny Williams lashes out at Muskrat Falls critics during inquiry testimony

Opposition from critics of the project is “reckless, irresponsible and shameful,” he said Monday.

Those who allege ‘damn the torpedoes’ approach, reckless and irresponsible, he says

Former premier Danny Williams had sharp words for critics of Muskrats Falls on Monday during his testimony at the public inquiry. (Terry Roberts/CBC)

Former Newfoundland and Labrador premier Danny Williams not only defended the decision to pursue the Muskrat Falls hydroelectric project Monday morning, he fired back at those who criticized it — calling their opposition "reckless, irresponsible and shameful."

Williams is testifying at the commission of inquiry into Muskrat Falls, which is billions over budget and years behind schedule.

Williams was premier from 2003 to late 2010, and developing hydro potential on the lower Churchill River was a priority for his government.

Sanctioning took place two years after Williams left office, but much of the groundwork was laid under Williams' watch, including the 2007 creation of a provincial energy plan.

Critics have accused Williams of having a "damn the torpedoes" approach to the project, but "nothing could be further from the truth," Williams said.

"We turned over every stone. Explored every option," Williams told the inquiry during cross-examination by commission co-counsel Barry Learmonth.

Williams said efforts to reach an agreement with Hydro-Quebec in order to transmit power through the neighbouring province were repeatedly "thwarted and hindered."

"They did everything they could to make sure we did not get access," said Williams.

He said that resulted in the decision to bypass Quebec altogether by transmitting the power to Newfoundland, and then onwards to Nova Scotia via the Maritime Link, which was built by Emera.

Williams acknowledged there was some comfort in not being "subservient to Quebec" and "I did like the idea of getting it independent of Quebec."

But he denied his goal of making the province "masters of our own destiny" clouded anyone's judgment related to the project, which includes an 824-megawatt capacity generating station at Muskrat Falls, an 1,100-kilometre transmission line to the Avalon Peninsula, and another power line from Muskrat Falls to the Upper Churchill generating station in Labrador.

Williams said he fought to initiate a pan-Canadian power grid during his time as premier, but noted that Quebec's attitude was "absolutely not to that."

Ball: 'biggest economic mistake'

On Friday at a Liberal fundraiser, Premier Dwight Ball called Muskrat Falls the "biggest economic mistake in Newfoundland and Labrador's history."

This current phase of the inquiry is focusing on the decision to sanction Muskrat Falls, or the period from late 2010 until official approval by then-premier Kathy Dunderdale on Dec. 17, 2012.

Williams announced his retirement from politics in November 2010, just a week after announcing that the government and Crown-owned Nalcor Energy would develop the Muskrat Falls hydroelectric project on the Churchill River with Halifax-based Emera Inc. 

It was at the event An Evening With the Premier that Dwight Ball called Muskrat Falls the 'biggest economic mistake in Newfoundland and Labrador's history.' (Ryan Cooke/CBC)

Williams has previously said he welcomed the inquiry, which began Sept. 18 in Happy Valley-Goose Bay, with "open arms."

Williams is scheduled to testify Monday and Tuesday.

With files from Katie Breen

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