No need for Muskrat Falls debate: PCs
Progressive Conservative Leader Kathy Dunderdale has brushed aside a call for a public debate on the Muskrat Falls hydroelectric megaproject, on grounds that the public isn't that interested in it.
"We're not hearing it and our candidates are not hearing it door to door. It is not an issue," Dunderdale told CBC News. She was responding to a news conference in St. John's called Tuesday by three high-profile citizens who feel the Lower Churchill development, as proposed, could be an enormous boondoggle.
Dunderdale does not see it that way.
"We've talked about Muskrat Falls for a very long time and we've provided a lot of detail," she said.
The news conference involved former fisheries union leader Richard Cashin, Labrador-based lawyer Ed Hearn and Dennis Browne, a St. John's lawyer who served as consumer advocate when the Liberals were in power.
Cashin said the plan to generate 824 megawatts of power on Labrador's Churchill River and then ship it to Newfoundland and Nova Scotia is too expensive and too risky.
"If you believe that this project — if it were to go ahead — will come in on budget, then I'm more likely to give birth than that is to happen," Cashin told reporters.
Newfoundland and Labrador, its Crown energy agency Nalcor and Halifax-based Emera Inc. are the partners behind the Muskrat Falls project, which recently received federal approval for a loan guarantee.
Nalcor projected the development cost at $6.2 billion when the deal was announced last November.
Hearn said that budget will be hard to maintain as development proceeds.
"On these types of projects, it's not unusual to have 50, 60 even 100 per cent overruns," Hearn said.
Browne said the project's potential overruns could make electricity unaffordable.
"If Muskrat Falls proceeds, our rates will exceed New York City rates," he said.
While Dunderdale has closed the door on a debate that focuses solely on Muskrat Falls, Liberal Leader Kevin Aylward said the debate would be useful for voters.
"I am open to it, but the leaders of the parties should be debating this issue," he said.
"It is a gigantic issue when it comes to the possible debt load that people would face, plus the light bills that everybody would have to pay."
NDP Leader Lorraine Michael said she would have to consult with the party executive about taking part in a debate on Muskrat Falls.
According to a public opinion poll released last week by MQO Research of St. John's, 13 per cent of respondents identified Muskrat Falls/Lower Churchill as the top issue of the campaign. The issue ranked behind health care, the choice of 26 per cent, but ahead of the third choice, the economy (12 per cent).