Call­ing for a full pub­lic in­quiry re­lated to Muskrat Falls project

The Pilot - - Editorial -

Why are the is­land’s ratepay­ers cur­rently re­quired to pay for the Muskrat Falls project? The fed­eral loan guar­an­tee of 2013 re­quired the provin­cial gov­ern­ment to re­veal how the costs as­so­ci­ated with the Muskrat Falls project would be paid. To ful­fill this obli­ga­tion, in Novem­ber 2013 gov­ern­ment passed an Or­der-in-Coun­cil which in­structed the Pub­lic Util­i­ties Board to ex­tract the costs as­so­ci­ated with the Muskrat Falls’ project from is­land in­ter­con­nected con­sumers. Thereby, is­land ratepay­ers were used as pawns in the scheme to fi­nance the project.

The prob­lem arises to­day be­cause the roughly 300,000 ratepay­ers on the is­land can­not af­ford to pay for the Muskrat Falls project. Muskrat Falls electricity is sim­ply un­af­ford­able. What can be done?

Firstly, re­fer the en­tire mat­ter with gen­eral terms of ref­er­ence to the Pub­lic Util­i­ties Board to con­vene a spe­cial ses­sion. The two util­i­ties, in­dus­trial cus­tomers, com­mer­cial cus­tomers, con­sumers, mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties, and oth­ers with a vested in­ter­est, can work with econ­o­mists, ex­perts in rate de­sign and oth­ers, to find the ways and means to en­sure af­ford­able electricity. These hear­ings would be pub­lic so that any­one who has some­thing to of­fer can par­tic­i­pate. A new per­for­mance rate-based sys­tem needs to be de­vised. The PUB may rec­om­mend that the ma­jor­ity of cost re­lated to Muskrat Falls should be borne by tax­pay­ers and that the Or­der-in-Coun­cil, as es­tab­lished by the gov­ern­ment of the day, sim­ply can­not work.

Se­condly, long-term so­lu­tions need to be ad­dressed. There is a way for­ward in work­ing with the Prov­ince of Que­bec in a true part­ner­ship as we are now within a time­frame when the 2041 Up­per Churchill Con­tract will be sub­ject to re­newal. Such ne­go­ti­a­tions will take years. A best-ef­forts panel of knowl­edge­able cit­i­zens can be con­vened and given a man­date to meet with Hy­dro Que­bec and to in­form the gov­ern­ment as to what is ob­tain­able. We can­not rest on past po­lit­i­cal fail­ures. We have to move for­ward.

Fi­nally, there must be a pub­lic in­quiry held un­der the pro­vi­sions of the Pub­lic In­quiries Act and presided over by a com­mis­sioner who would be a se­nior jus­tice of our Supreme Court. This is no time for half mea­sures. A full pub­lic in­quiry is needed, when all the ev­i­dence can be pro­duced. The com­mis­sioner would have the author­ity un­der the Act to re­quire wit­nesses to at­tend and give ev­i­dence, and re­quire the pro­duc­tion of doc­u­ments and records, in­clud­ing those in elec­tronic form. The com­mis­sioner would have the author­ity un­der the In­ter-Provin­cial Subpoena Act to is­sue a subpoena to those out­side the prov­ince, in­clud­ing SNCLavalin. It would be an open and trans­par­ent process where wit­nesses are sub­ject to ex­am­i­na­tion and cross-ex­am­i­na­tion.

No other form of in­quiry com­pares with what a pub­lic in­quiry is em­pow­ered to do un­der the Act. No form of in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the Muskrat Falls project could equal the scope and in­tegrity of a full pub­lic in­quiry. Any­thing less than a full pub­lic in­quiry would be a dis­ser­vice to the peo­ple of the prov­ince.

Den­nis Browne, Q.C. Con­sumer Ad­vo­cate

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