Pillar to Post | Craig Westcott
Voters in Topsail - Paradise are in a queer predicament this by-election: They have three good candidates on the ballot, but they represent three lousy parties.
PC candidate Paul Dinn has made a reputation as a fighter for openness and transparecy during his time on Paradise council. Patricia Hynes-Coates has been an eloquent spoksperson on an important public issue during her tenure as head of Mothers Against Drunk Driving. And Kathleen Burt deserves credit and respect for taking on the thankless job of representing the NDP after it, apparently, couldn’t find a local candidate to carry its colours. It takes courage to take one for the team, whatever the team.
The parties are a different matter. Neither one of them has offered a realistic plan to solve the biggest challenge on our doorstep, Muskrat Falls. If nobody finds a way to stop our power rates from doubling in 2020, the blow to consumers, and the economy, could be crushing. All this at the same time that the structural deficit of the provincial government, thanks to the reckless management of Danny Williams, Kathy Dunderdale, Tom Marshall, Paul Davis and now Dwight Ball, stands at nearly a billion dollars a year.
Premier Dwight Ball has made the far-fetched claim that neither rate payers, nor taxpayers will be on the hook for the extra $800 million or so that power bills will have to increase to meet the interest charges on the Muskrat Falls loans.
PC Leader Ches Crosbie bitterly disappointed many people recently when he made the stupid boast that he intends to don the Fighting Newfoundlander cape of Danny Williams and demand that Ottawa bail us out. I thought we were past posturing and silly games.
NDP Leader Gerry Rogers admits we’re in a pickle, but has more or less admitted she doesn’t have a clue as to how we are going to get out of it.
The truth is stark and simple. Unless oil prices triple and infuse our treasury with unanticipated royalties, we have to either pay about $1.5 billion a year more in power bills and taxes than we’re paying now, or slash that much from government spending so that enough money can be diverted to pay for Muskrat Falls without crippling Newfoundland’s families and seniors. And we have to make those tough choices while our population, especially our working age population, is in decline.
There are some things we can do to mitigate the impact. We can try selling power from Muskrat through Quebec to customers in Ontario and the U.S. We won’t get much for it, but whatever it is, we can apply it to the Muskrat bill. We can also conserve energy on the island and supply Nova Scotia with its free power (yes, Danny signed a deal to give NS free power for 35 years) from Bay D’Espoir, which is mostly paid off. Nalcor’s plan actually entailed us giving away our cheap Bay D’Espoir power and replacing it with expensive Muskrat electricity. If we conserve enough, we can sell any excess island power to NS for pennies a kilowatt hour and apply that money against Muskrat.
We can also sell those 4.9 per cent equity stakes in the oil projects that Danny made a big deal of, but which bought us no representation on the boards of the oil field operators while cuffing our hands from properly regulating them. The money from those sales could be applied against the Muskrat loans. If we’re paid fairly for them, it would make a significant dent in the amount we owe.
In the end, though, there’s no avoiding large cuts to government and a big hit in power bills. Any politician who says otherwise is ignorant of the facts, or is lying.
On Thursday, the best man or woman will win in Topsail - Paradise. But what of the general election this spring? Who do you pick for government when neither party has either the integrity to tell citizens the truth, or the brains to figure it out?