(Denise Cole, centre, at Nalcor’s offices in St. John’s. Photo: Trina Roache/APTN)
A spokesperson for the land protectors in Labrador says the inquiry called Monday into the financial deal that shaped the Muskrat Falls hydroelectric project, it will not protect the people who live downstream from the project.
“They’re ignoring the fears and the concerns of the people most directly impacted by this project, who live downstream,” said Denise Cole, spokesperson for Labrador Land Protectors.
When it was announced five years ago, then-premier Kathy Dunderdale said the $6-billion dollar proposal was the most scrutinized project in the province’s history.
But fast forward to today, the Muskrat Falls project is two years behind schedule and has ballooned from $6-billion dollars to $12-billion.
“We will learn if the project today, is the project the people of the province were sold in 2012,” said Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Dwight Ball at the announcement Monday morning.
“While we cannot undo the past, we can learn from it and make more informed decisions as we take actions to minimize the impact of this project on ratepayers.”
APTN’s Trina Roache has covered the story in depth and gives us the latest from Halifax.
According to the province, the terms of reference will include:
Whether all options were considered at the time of sanctioning the project;
Why there are significant differences between the actual cost of the project and the estimated cost at the time of sanction; and
Whether it was justified and reasonable for the project to be excluded from oversight by the Public Utilities Board.
But while Cole likes that Inquiry Justice Richard Leblanc will have the power to compel witnesses to appear, she has two problems with Ball’s announcement.
One that the project will not be stopped while the inquiry does its work, and that the terms of reference do not go far enough.
“The fact that the government hasn’t mandated those things [forensic audit and inquiry into North Spur] is very telling,” she said.
“It’s the government being able to have a loophole at the end of the day.”
The North Spur is a contentious issue because land protectors say that part of the dam is built on unstable clay.
If it gives way they said, it will flood everything down stream including their communities.
Many of the land protectors’ protests have centred on a repeated call for an inquiry into Muskrat Falls, and specifically, a forensic audit of Nalcor and an independent inquiry of the North Spur.
“The public inquiry also ought to include the fact that we do not believe [government’s] duty to consult was achieved throughout the life of this project, as expressed in UNDRIP or the Truth and Reconciliation [Commission’s] calls to action. And they certainly, in our opinion, have not received the free, prior and informed consent of the downstream population. “And we don’t just mean making deals with the Indigenous leaders — we mean with the people who are actually impacted by the dam.”
“This is supposed to be a democratic nation and we’re supposed to be well advanced beyond this. But yet here we are facing our own cultural genocide being brought on by corporations by provincial and federal governments.”
Another major concern of people living downriver, in the shadow of the dam, is the prospect of poisoning from a toxin called methylmercury.
It is a naturally occurring toxin that occurs when foliage is mixed with water.
Nalcor admitted that methylmercury levels downstream from the dam will be higher than first reported – but people will be warned if their consumption of fish should be scaled back.
That methylmercury scare prompted months of protests where dozens of have been arrested and still face charges.
Cole said the government’s omission of any mention of the civil and criminal charges against Elders, land protectors and others who defended their food and way of life when political and judicial institutions failed to protect them from imminent harm is in line with how government has approached the project.
“Since day one it’s all about dollars and cents,” said Cole. “It has nothing to do with the impacts on peoples’ lives.
And this idea that they have to stay hands off from criminal and civil charges that land protectors are facing here in Labrador is [contrary] to UNDRIP.”
Cole said she hoped Leblanc “has a thorough understanding of truth and reconciliation.”
“I hope they look at how all matters have been handled with this project,” she said.
“Including how the downstream populations have been treated because we’ve been disrespected and disregarded and treated as a disposable part of this project since the environmental assessment days.”
The inquiry will start in January.
It is not clear whether the hearings will take place in St. John’s, or in Labrador or both.
Leblanc is scheduled to report back to the government Dec. 31, 2019.