Politicians were bracing for an all-night sitting of the House of Assembly Tuesday, as the government rolled out proposed Muskrat Falls enabling legislation.
As of press time, it looked like MHAs would sit through the night, and politicians were talking about the possibility of sitting through Christmas to pass critical changes to the law that will allow Crown corporation Nalcor to borrow billions of dollars to build the Muskrat Falls hydroelectric project.
The most contentious piece of legislation is Bill 61, which will effectively cut the Public Utilities Board (PUB) out of the electricity rate-setting process when it comes to Muskrat Falls.
The government has told the PUB that whatever costs are associated with building Muskrat Falls will have to be passed on directly to ratepayers.
Bill 61 also enshrines in legislation a rule that Nalcor is the only entity in the province that can generate electricity for sale in the province.
Natural Resources Minister Jerome Kennedy said cutting the PUB out of the process is necessary to reassure lenders and get “non-recourse” lending, which protects the provincial government in the event of project failure.
In order to get the best possible interest rates, the government needs to fulfil a list of requirements spelled out in the federal loan guarantee document signed earlier this month.
The benefits of the loan guarantee are estimated to be about $1 billion.
“If you want the PUB involved, you sacrifice a billion dollars, and we’re not doing that,” Kennedy said.
New Democratic Party Leader Lorraine Michael said she was “disgusted” with the legislation, which essentially puts Nalcor profits ahead of consumer protection for ratepayers.
“The only way that this project is being financed is basically through the ratepayers,” Michael said.
Liberal Leader Dwight Ball was similarly concerned, saying the legislation creates a “50-year monopoly” for Nalcor that will limit any possibility of consumers getting cheaper electricity from another provider.
Ball also had serious misgivings about Bill 60, a piece of legislation which creates the legal rules necessary for Nalcor, and Nova Scotia utility Emera, to build necessary transmission lines for the project.
Ball said his reading of the legislation clearly indicates the legislation will give Emera the right to expropriate land needed for the project.
Kennedy said in the House of Assembly that’s simply not correct.
It looks like MHAs will spend the next week or more untangling those issues in the House of Assembly.
Based on the legislative calendar, politicians will have to sit through to the end of the week, and potentially on Christmas Eve and beyond in order to get Bill 60 and Bill 61 passed.
Kennedy told reporters the government won’t do anything to shut down debate.
“We will not break over Christmas. We will continue through Christmas until this legislation passes, so it’s entirely up to the opposition how long they want to be here,” he said. “We’re here as long as it takes.”
Ball was similarly prepared to keep talking in the House for as long as necessary.
“We’re going to do whatever it takes,” he said. “We’re completely focused on our role as Opposition.”