November 27, 2017
Two years behind schedule, and more than $6 billion over budget, the Premier has officially announced a full judicial inquiry into the Muskrat Falls hydroelectric project.
The project, which broke ground back in 2013, has been the target of much criticism over the years. Originally suggested to cost the province $6.2 billion, costs have ballooned to $12.7 billion, and the provincial government has decided it is time to take a closer look at the hydroelectric project.
On Monday, November 20, Premier Dwight Ball announced the terms of the inquiry. Justice Richard Leblanc is in charge of the inquiry, and Katie O’Brien of the firm O’Brien White has been retained as co-counsel. The inquiry is set to be completed and submitted to the Provincial Government by December 31, 2019. The operating budget has not been released at this point.
The main points of interest in the inquiry, as stated by Ball in a press conference with Justice Minister Andrew Parsons and Natural Resources Minister Siobhan Coady are many. They include questions about the process of sanctioning the project, specifically asking if reasonable assumptions about budgeting and time allotment were made. There will also be questions about their dealings with contractors. The inquiry seeks to find out if the contracts led to delays in building and cost overages.
Perhaps the most vital question is whether or not the Government was kept fully informed. Many will recall that the Public Utilities Board was excluded from the oversight committee, which has been a point of criticism throughout the project’s existence.
Premier Ball stressed that this is not about the workers on sight. “This is not about the work of men and women on this project,” Ball told reporters at the November 20 press conference. “They have done what they have been asked to do.” That will come as little consolation to the workers that have been subject to layoffs recently, and the inquiry may inspire some fear about the future of Muskrat as a source of employment.
Unemployment in Newfoundland and Labrador is reaching dangerous levels. Currently, unemployment rests at 14.5%, which is more than twice the national average of 6.3%. In the natural resources sector, which includes those working in Muskrat, employment rates have fallen by more than 14 percent from last year’s numbers.
The report will not be publicly available until after the next provincial election, which has led to some criticism from opposition parties. NDP leader Lorraine Michael said, “To have a report that’s not going to be released until after the next election is bad.” To some, this could be viewed as opportunism on the part of Ball and the Liberals. Having the inquiry due after the election could be seen as a way to garner support for him and his party, but Ball has said that this is about responsibility, not politics.