MUN professor says Liberty report on Muskrat Falls is too late

A Memorial University professor says a recent report on the reliability of Newfoundland and Labrador's power supply should have been done before Muskrat Falls was commissioned.

Public needs more information, more debate ahead of major policy decisions, says prof

Stephen Tomblin, a political scientist at Memorial University, says major policy decisions are made by the provincial government with not enough information available to the public. (CBC)

A Memorial University professor says a recent report on the reliability of Newfoundland and Labrador's power supply should have been done before Muskrat Falls was commissioned.

"After-the-fact is the wrong approach," Stephen Tomblin, a political science professor at MUN, told CBC on Monday, adding more information about what the province's needs are should be available ahead of major projects like Muskrat Falls, so there can be better public debate about their feasibility.

Tomblin is writing a book for Queen's University Press that examines the different rules and regulations that apply to the delivery of oil, gas and other systems of energy in the eastern provinces and northeast U.S.

Decision process must change: prof

"We need to change the processes, the mechanisms that are relied upon in order to organize knowledge, to share knowledge, to work together to define problems," he said, "and come up with common resolutions, as opposed to pitting fracking, oil, gas against hydro, against wind and so on, which we have done in the past, and I think we're all losing as a result of that."

The Liberty report notes that the province will need still more power supply, even after Muskrat Falls is complete, to secure reliable power, and Tomblin says there are "incredible knowledge gaps," not only in Newfoundland and Labrador, but in other regions, about what a region's electricity needs actually are, among other issues.

"We should know those things. What are the actual costs? Do we actually have the technological capacity? What are the problems? Does this actually solve the problem?" he said.

"We haven't had those conversations. So that report is kind of looking back and saying, well, of course, this was never even addressed. This was never taken into account. It should have been. It wasn't, but the reason it wasn't is because we, politically, decided that we're not going to create those processes or mechanisms, because that's going to contest the power of the premier."

Problem not only with infrastructure decisions

Making major decisions without sufficient public debate is seen in other areas of governance too, said Tomblin.

"Cutting of deputy ministers, is that the right approach? Cutting the legislature, is that the right approach?" he said.

"Maybe it is, maybe these are the things that are necessary, but not knowing the knowledge, and not creating the processes in order to allow that knowledge to actually be in the public, to have public engagement, is a lot more costly than cutting a couple jobs within the civil service."

With files from Cecil Haire