Muskrat Falls is not going anywhere, so what’s the rush in developing it without independent review?
That seemed to a question on the minds of the more than 100 people who gathered on the steps of the Colonial Building in St. John’s Sunday. They were there at the urging of The People’s Assembly, a newly formed citizen’s group that is promoting what it calls grassroots democracy.
Sunday’s rally took aim at the proposed Muskrat Falls hydroelectric dam, and served as a way for people to voice their concerns, if not outright opposition, to the $7.4-billion project.
“It’s a forum for direct democracy,” said Jon Parsons, one of the founders of The People’s Assembly.
“So the idea is that if government processes show themselves to be not up to the standards of what we expect of a democratic society, people are responsible to take that upon themselves and enact democracy. Go and do things on their own. Organize in the streets ... and solve the problems that are in front of them.
“We’re demonstrating to the government that this (is) the sort of discourse we want. This is the way we want public affairs to be handled — in public where everybody can see it,” he said.
To that effect, much of the scorn dealt out by the people who spoke at the rally was actually not aimed at the idea of developing Muskrat Falls, but at the provincial government’s handling of the approval process.
Stephanie Sodero said she went to the rally because she’s concerned there has been a lack of transparency from the government relating to the project.
“It seems like the government is committed to the project no matter what,” Sodero said. “I’m concerned about the motivations behind that. What’s the rush on this project? It’s great to be exploring renewable energy, but why are they moving so steadfastly on this one project?”
Others were not so succinct in their opinions.
Richard Cashin, a former politician, union leader and co-founder of anti-Muskrat Falls project group, 2041 Energy Inc., referenced George Orwell’s dystopian novel “1984” right at the beginning of his speech.
In it, he accused the government of Premier Kathy Dunderdale of double-speak, re-writing history and stymieing the Public Utilities Board’s (PUB) efforts to review the project.
He also criticized a move the province made earlier this month, when it released a flood of reports relating to the project.
More information is a good thing, said Cashin, but he added the government’s plan was flawed from the beginning.
“All these pieces of information they throw at us, and then they scold us, ‘why do you want an independent (review) when we’ve spent all this money?’
“Well you know, If your IQ is above room temperature, you will know that if you hire a consultant and you pay a consultant — the first thing you have to do ... (is answer): where do you want the consultant to take the report? It’s not open ended. It’s no substitute for due process,” said Cashin.
Other speakers included NDP Leader Lorraine Michael, who talked about her intentions to continue to call on the government to allow the PUB to review the Muskrat Falls project, and Liberal MHA Andrew Parsons, who decried the government’s unwillingness to allow specialists to be questioned during a now-defunct special debate on the project.
Labrador resident Angus Anderson also addressed the crowd; he talked about the destruction of the Muskrat Falls river system and its effect on First Nations residents in the area.
All these points of view just go to show that there are still a lot of unanswered questions around Muskrat Falls, said Jon Parsons, which is why The People’s Assembly is trying to encourage public discussion.
“People are not only concerned about potential impacts the Muskrat Falls project might have for the people of the province, but also the way the process has unfolded. People are just not happy with government,” he said.
“Last year at this time, Kathy Dunderdale said, in an interview, that the House of Assembly is dysfunctional. What’s happened between now and then? We got a secrecy act and we got a glossy flyer in the mail. That doesn’t (seem) to be a very good way to address dysfunction in the House of Assembly.”
The People’s Assembly has more plans for public engagement on this issue. More information can be found online at www.pa-nl.ca.