Muskrat Falls biggest economic mistake in N.L. history, premier tells fundraiser

Premier Dwight Ball says the province is considering restructuring loans and switching public buildings to electric heat to ease the burden on taxpayers and ratepayers.

Province considering restructuring loans, changing buildings to electric heat

Dwight Ball takes the podium at An Evening With the Premier, a $500-per-plate fundraising dinner. (Ryan Cooke/CBC)

Premier Dwight Ball used the spotlight at a $500-per-plate dinner to up his rhetoric against Tory leader Ches Crosbie, condemn Muskrat Falls and propose some ideas of his own.

Ball told a room of 500 party donors that Crosbie is a man "bankrupt of ideas" to steer the province in the right direction.

In a speech many viewed as kicking off the road to the 2019 election, Ball doubled down on his disdain for the hydroelectric project that threatens to hamper the province with debt and soaring electricity rates.

"I believe Muskrat Falls was the biggest economic mistake in Newfoundland and Labrador's history," he said. "Liberals have always been in the business of fixing PC mistakes."

PC leader Ches Crosbie addresses the crowd at his campaign headquarters after winning the Windsor Lake byelection Sept. 20. (Ted Dillon/CBC)

Ball said Crosbie had a "free ride" throughout the Windsor Lake byelection, which Crosbie won over Liberal candidate Paul Antle last week, and said he made promises without offering real solutions. 

"When I listen to Ches Crosbie I still hear that unwillingness to bring forward ideas."

Multi-pronged approach to steady rates

Ball said the recent decision to reinstate the Public Utilities Board to its full regulatory capacity was just the beginning of his party's plan to correct the course of the province's fiscal future. 

"There is no single solution," he said. "The solution will be a combination of many things, and we will leave no stone unturned."

Ball repeatedly said the Liberals will look at increasing electricity demands in the province to increase revenue and lessen the burden on citizen ratepayers. That could include changing oil-heated government buildings to electric heat. 

In a scrum with reporters after, Ball acknowledged there could be major costs associated with that decision, but said it is something his government is exploring.

When asked how many buildings could be converted, and how big a difference it would make on electricity demands, Ball said it could be hospitals or schools and could make a substantial difference.

Rest assured, it is not on the backs of ratepayers.- Dwight Ball

He also said the government would consider "restructuring financial agreements," which Ball later said could include increasing the amortization period on the Muskrat Falls loans.

"We need to look at all those options but we may not even need that option by 2021," he said. "We may have enough electricity use within our province and with other customers that we may not even have to do that."

Ball said they will "leave no stone unturned" when it comes to finding ways to lessen the blow when the hydroelectric megaproject comes online and the first loan payments are due.

"When we have more details on this, we want to share it with the public. But I can tell you and rest assured, it is not on the backs of ratepayers."

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