Airing of the grievances
No one should be surprised that former premier Danny Williams came to the Muskrat Falls inquiry last Monday, Oct. 1, ready and willing to defend the project his government launched.
But what may be a surprise is to hear just how much of a role Hydro-Québec and Quebec government institutions seem to have played with Williams, his government and the timeframe leading up to the sanction of the hydroelectric project.
Just a few hours into his testimony at the inquiry, it became clear that Williams deeply disliked and distrusted Quebec politicians and their methods.
Even years after leaving office, his reaction to Nalcor being able to move Upper Churchill recall power through Quebec? A pleased “We got ‘em.”
On a decision by a Quebec regulatory agency not to allow Lower Churchill power to move through the Quebec grid? “I was really angry over this. This was the worst legal decision I had ever witnessed in law . ... I was really angry and disappointed,” Williams said Monday.
And, he said, “That was the last straw” in terms of working with Quebec.
Williams said he was tired of “what they were up to.”
He told the inquiry his angry words in provincial news releases weren’t entirely accurate - that, in fact, he was far angrier than the releases showed, and that, in private, he was even more outspoken. Williams still almost spits the words out. About Quebec being eligible for subsidies, billions in equalization, and still trying to stop infrastructure funding for the Atlantic provinces? “Enough is enough”
“The attitude... is shocking,” Williams testified. “They already had their massive pound of flesh, and they couldn’t give us a break.”
Williams bluntly denied that the Muskrat Falls project went ahead because he sought a legacy, saying that, with things like a 93 per cent approval rating at one point during his administration, he already had all the legacy he needed. But most of the morning, at least, was spent blaming Quebec for not playing fair.
Now, it’s probably a truism that no premier of this province has ever lost points by bashing Quebec - long-running, constantly simmering discontent over the Upper Churchill contract makes attacking our neighbour a safe option. Williams dredged up old grievances, like the way Labrador is represented on Quebec maps, and referred all the way back to the Quebec administration of Jean Lesage in the 1960s.
But that sort of political bashing and rhetoric has also taken a toll, sometimes in court decisions that have ruled against this province.
And it may mean that inquiry Commissioner Richard LeBlanc will have to weigh another factor in tracking back over the troubled steps that led to Muskrat Falls.
How much did that clear dislike of Quebec colour the decisions made by Williams and the Tory governments that followed him?