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We can be ‘really proud’ of Muskrat Falls megaproject, former NL premier

Danny Williams championed Muskrat Falls as a form of energy independence from Quebec, before retiring from politics shortly after announcing the plan in 2010.


ST. JOHN’S, N.L.—Former premier Danny Williams took the stand at the Muskrat Falls inquiry on Monday, adamant that the wildly overbudget megaproject was in Newfoundland and Labrador’s best interest.

Williams maintained “good intentions and good faith” were behind the planning of the hydroelectric dam that has doubled its estimated cost, leaving the province’s ratepayers worried the endeavour might be paid out of their pockets.

“This is something we can be really proud of,” Williams said of the Labrador project Monday.

“The fact that the project is getting disparaged reflects on all the people who worked so hard in order to put this together.”

The boisterous former Tory politician is one of many high-profile witnesses testifying at the independent inquiry looking into cost and schedule overruns of the $12.7-billion dam on the lower Churchill River, led by provincial Supreme Court Justice Richard LeBlanc.

The 824-megawatt hydroelectric dam, being developed by the Crown-owned Nalcor Energy, will send power to Newfoundland and later Nova Scotia through subsea cables.

During his term, Williams championed Muskrat Falls as a form of energy independence from Quebec, before retiring from politics shortly after announcing the plan in 2010.

The dam near Happy Valley-Goose Bay has since been described as “the greatest fiscal mistake in Newfoundland and Labrador’s history” by current Liberal Premier Dwight Ball.

Williams, a businessman and lawyer, was comfortable and confident on the stand on Monday – but he didn’t mince words when addressing criticisms from his detractors.

Commission co-counsel Barry Learmonth asked Williams to respond to criticisms that he pushed the megaproject through for the sake of his own ego and legacy.

Williams called such criticisms “reckless, irresponsible and shameful.”

“Nothing, I’m under oath, could be further from the truth,” said Williams.

Williams maintained that his government “turned over every stone” by researching financial and legal options before his successor as Tory leader and premier, Kathy Dunderdale, sanctioned Muskrat Falls in December 2012.

Williams also praised a paper that historian Jason Churchill presented to the inquiry last month.

Churchill’s paper found that the history of Quebec’s stronghold on the Churchill River’s resources has long blocked Newfoundland and Labrador from accessing elusive energy markets.

He said Quebec has a disproportionate amount of control over the Churchill Falls Generating Station.

Williams detailed his own frustrations with Quebec, including the long-standing debate over Labrador’s borders—which, according to commission exhibits, are not reflected in some Quebec maps.

Williams also referred to former premier Jean Lesage’s 1965 comments that any electricity passing through Quebec territory would “become property of Hydro-Quebec.”

“They will do whatever they can to cut us off, it’s shocking,” Williams said.

“But I need to point out that we still tried.”

Learmonth noted that while the project is now more than 90 per cent complete, one significant issue with the Nunatsiavut government remains unresolved—the potential methylmercury poisoning that may affect Inuit communities downstream from the dam.


Related: Indigenous leaders speak at Muskrat Falls inquiry [Cleantech Canada]


Williams said he hasn’t been involved in the process since 2010, but Learmonth asked whether Williams thought it was better to resolve such issues early on.

“It’s better and it’s preferable, but it’s impossible,” said Williams.

“You can’t get them all cleared up but that doesn’t mean you don’t have to deal with the important ones early on.”

Williams was to continue his testimony on Monday afternoon and Tuesday.

Representatives from Indigenous groups and engineering and economic experts will take the stand later this month.

News from © Canadian Press Enterprises Inc. 2016

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