Nfld. & Labrador

Jerome Kennedy, meet Jerome Kennedy: A Muskrat Falls retrospective

Let's look back to 2012, when the then-Natural Resources minister sang a very different tune about the Muskrat Falls project.

Former PC minister was among the project's staunchest promoters in 2012

Jerome Kennedy of 2012, left, meet Jerome Kennedy of 2018, right: more has changed than just a beard. (CBC)

To any political watcher with a memory that extends back six years, this week's testimony at the public inquiry into Muskrat Falls revealed one of the biggest surprises in the process thus far — an about-face courtesy of Jerome Kennedy.

Kennedy took the stand Monday, outlining his anger and disappointment that only this past summer did he discover he was not provided key information about the hydroelectric project's finances and timelines while it was still in its pre-sanctioning stage.

Those admissions stand in stark contrast to the Jerome Kennedy of 2012, a time when he was the Natural Resources minister and one of Muskrat Falls' most vocal and vehement supporters.

And if you happened to be tuned out of the political brouhaha six years ago, CBC wasn't. And the recorders were on.

Jerome Kennedy defends and promotes the Muskrat Falls project in 2012. 1:04

Reviews and revenues

"Government has engaged in a rigorous review of the economics of this project," Kennedy told the House of Assembly on Nov. 21, 2012.

"The revenues that we show right now, there will be approximately $130 million available to the province in 2020. That will be over and above the payment of all expenses, and that's based on 40 per cent of the power.… Muskrat Falls is a project that will pay for itself."

As 2018 draws to a close, first power from the project has been delayed to sometime next year. And with an all-in price tag that has ballooned from $6.2 billion to $12.7 billion, "revenue" isn't a word tossed around much anymore.

Muskrat Falls is a project that will pay for itself.- Jerome Kennedy in 2012

To Kennedy's credit, in 2012 he did state overruns were possible. Although it's doubtful he expected those to be in the $6-billion ballpark.

"I can't say to you that there won't be overruns. But what I can say to you, that we have confidence that the work has been done at this stage, at Decision Gate 3, to ensure the overruns are kept to a minimum," he told reporters Dec.18, 2012, the day after Muskrat Falls was sanctioned.

Jerome Kennedy speaks of his support for Muskrat Falls on CBC Television in April 2012. (CBC)

Quashing criticism

In the lead-up to that megaproject milestone, Kennedy repeatedly endorsed the project publicly and dismissed criticisms, such as plans for a debate about the subject in the House of Assembly slated for June 2012.

"I'm not sure these opposition parties are going to provide quality debate," Kennedy told CBC's David Cochrane on an April 2012 episode of On Point.

Government has engaged in a rigorous review of the economics of this project.- Jerome Kennedy in 2012

Even post-sanctioning, Kennedy appeared determined to keep House of Assembly scrutiny of the project to a minimum. Here's his words when the PC-majority government extended the House sitting to push through Muskrat Falls legislation:

"We will not break over Christmas. We will continue through Christmas until this legislation passes, so it's entirely up to the Opposition how long they want to be here," he said.

The certainty Kennedy displayed in December 2012 can be hard to square in December 2018, as popular support for the project has become as scarce as St. John's sunshine.

Kennedy himself on Thursday told the public inquiry he was "insufferable" six years ago because of his behind-the-scenes criticisms of the project within cabinet.

But as the inquiry continues to shift the facts around Muskrat Falls, and recast its biggest boosters into shades of ambivalence, perhaps one piece of Kennedy's old wisdom remains evergreen:

"Politics is an ever-changing circumstance," said Kennedy on April 5, 2012.

"You have to react to circumstances. You have to show, as a politician, that you're flexible and open to listening to what the people are saying."

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador