House still going strong after more than 45 hours

James
James McLeod
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House of Assembly

They’re looking a little bit worse for the wear, but MHAs are still at it in the House of Assembly, continuing a marathon session debating key Muskrat Falls legislation.

Debate has been going virtually uninterrupted since Tuesday afternoon, and it looks like they’ll keep going through the weekend. It will be virtually impossible for politicians to finish their debate before Christmas Eve, and there’s a solid chance that things could last quite a bit longer than that.

Liberal MHA Andrew Parsons hasn’t shaved since the filibuster began.

“I figure I’m going to start the filibuster beard, just to do something interesting. The other thing is you don’t really have a lot of time when you go home,” he said. “When you skip out you try to sleep and eat and, in my case, I try to call home once in a while just to check in on my family.”

All three political parties are rotating their MHAs on shifts. PC politician Paul Lane said that he’s currently spending 16 hours in the House, and taking eight-hour breaks for sleep.

“Obviously as time goes by people are getting tired, but we have a lot of numbers so we’re able to sort of transition in and out,” he said. “Everyone thus far has been very positive, upbeat. There’s good camaraderie; it’s a really great team-building exercise, actually.”

New Democrat MHA Dale Kirby agreed that things have been pretty friendly.

“Most of the time it’s been fairly collegial, even more so than it is during question period, or other points in debate,” he said. “There’s a lot of banter, a lot of heckling, but it seems to be all in fairly good sport, and that’s helpful because people tired and their nerves are a bit frayed.”

Technically, because the House of Assembly didn’t take a formal break, Tuesday lasted for more than 47 hours in the legislature. Politicians are now looking at the prospect of an abnormally long Thursday too.

The government has now set things up so that if necessary they will sit all the way through the weekend, but if opposition politicians choose to bow out, they can end debate at any time and go home for Christmas. However, government has not taken the necessary steps to invoke “closure” and shut down debate.

The move puts the ball in the Liberal and NDP court, and forces them to decide how long the filibuster lasts. Unless the opposition parties give up, or the government moves to shut down debate, there is no real limit for how long the filibuster could last.

Kirby said he’s in for the long haul.

“I knew what I signed up for when I asked for this job, and I’m willing to do whatever it takes to ensure that all the views are heard and if that means I have to sit here through Christmas Day or through New Year’s Day or through Valentine’s Day, I’m willing to stay as long as it takes,” he said.

“It’s a bit unfortunate — perhaps very unfortunate — for staff who didn’t run for election like I did, but I blame government for that.”

Lane said the government won’t stop as long as the opposition wants to keep going, but he said he’s finding the debate very repetitive.

“You’re hearing the same questions over and over and over,” he said. “Both opposition parties are asking the same questions. You’re getting people of the same party asking the same questions, we’re even getting the same person asking the same question.”

Right now MHAs are theoretically debating Bill 61, a piece of legislation which concerns exempting Muskrat Falls from consideration by the Public Utilities Board when it comes to setting provincial electricity rates.

Before the House wraps up for the year, MHAs will eventually have to get to Bill 60, a separate piece of Muskrat Falls legislation which concerns land expropriation and an easement for the electrical transmission lines which will be run from the Churchill River in Labrador across Newfoundland to Soldier’s Pond outside St. John’s.

But thus far, the debate has been fairly wide ranging, touching on all aspects of the Muskrat Falls project.

On Thursday morning, New Democrat MHA George Murphy and Natural Resources Minister Jerome Kennedy spent more than an hour going back and forth discussing natural gas as an alternative to Muskrat Falls.

Lane said that in many ways, this is the big House of Assembly debate on Muskrat Falls that didn’t happen in late November because MHAs couldn’t agree on a format.

Kirby agreed with that assessment.

“Because we didn’t have a special debate on Muskrat Falls, our caucus members are able to get another of points on the table that we were not permitted to previously,” he said. “That’s been a positive development.”

Parsons lamented the fact that there was no formal special debate on Muskrat Falls under the Liberals’ preferred format — they wanted to see expert witnesses in the House of Assembly fielding questions from politicians — but he said this is probably as close as they’ll get to a real Muskrat Falls debate.

“It’s not going to be what we wanted, because even though we get to stand up and say stuff, it’s still a lot of the same old talking points coming,” he said. “This is as close to it as there will be, given that there was no special debate.”

Organizations: Public Utilities Board

Geographic location: Muskrat Falls, Newfoundland, Churchill River

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  • Winston Adams
    December 20, 2012 - 21:52

    Kennedy admits that it is possible that cheap Usa gas generated electricity may have to be admitted to enter the province if an application is made to do this. He says this is not likely to happen since the Maritime Link is only good for 500 Mw. Kennedy's rationale is not very good. 500 Mw is about the full average capacity of MF power that can get delivered to Nfld. This would mean that virtually no power might flow from labrador MF to Nfld if cheap import power becomes available. And yet their plan is that residents will have to continue to pay for that MF power, for 50 years, even if it is not used. This is the same result if the forecast demand declines. Another potential nail in the coffin. Kennedy says he can't see this cheap import power becoming available before 10 years. But already SNC engineers are proceeding with a large gas generation plant in the new Jersey area to be complete within 3 years. Kennedy's body language lacks assurance . A crack in their armour? They cannot legislate against this, he admits. They seem a little weary from the continued reasoned arguments by the oppositiion. The wise cracks and heckling by the govn MHAs has declined.But French still likes to make faces. Buffoons like this somehow think they are good orators, or feel good if there buddies laugh at the appropriate time. Robert Bond, I understand, was a statesman. We have no one of that quality.We have lots of clowns. The Ndp Leader keeps here cool, and raises good points. She stands out.

  • Winston Adams
    December 20, 2012 - 20:52

    In the House Ball says if the plan is to close the Holyrood plant , why can't we say firmly when that will happen. Two reasons: 1. At times MF will not produce enough power to both serve the Nova Scotia committiment and to fully offset Holyrood maximum capacity. 2. MHI pointed out that at times we may loose the power from Labrador , we could be without that power for a month or more. They advise additiional thermal power will be needed as backup. For these reasons there will be no date set for decommissioning Holyrood. It will be used less, but still used.

  • Tim Jamison
    December 20, 2012 - 20:05

    So this filibuster is costing, oh I dunno, probably half a million or a million dollars and it's entire point is to delay something that is going to be happening anyway because the people want it to happen, according to the seat count in the House as of the last election, you know, that election which this province's liberals and dippers made entirely about Muskrat Falls. And you guys wonder why you keep losing. Keep lying though. I love the hole you're digging for yourselves. Make it deep, boys

  • Winston Adams
    December 20, 2012 - 17:18

    In the House Joyce asks Marshall to explain his claim-- how much per kwh will the consumers to be charged to produce 115 million profit as soon as the power flows. Marshall gives no answer, but says the plant produces 824 MW , and 40 percent goes to Nfld to offset Holyrood, 20 percent to Nova Scotia and 40 percent for export to the US spot market of for Labrador mines, so some extra for Nfld. Now 40 percent for Nfld is 330 MW. 20 percent for Noba Scotia is 164 MW . 40 percent for export is 330 MW. This totals 824 MW . So what 's wrong with this? Here are some electrical facts. 824 is the maximum generating capacity of MF. While it can deliver this for a few days, the water flow there only allows for average power of about 570 MW. And because this is going long distances, it will lose 10 percent of its power in getting to Holyrood, that's 57 MW loss. That leaves only 513 MW of useful power on average-- that is 39 percent less that the promoted 824 MW. Now Kennedy often points out that Holyrood uses 18,000 barrels of oil per day. That's at full output during cold winter conditions. At that consumption Holyrood produces 490 MW. Under such conditions, when average steady water flow conditions at MF offsets this at Holyrood, there is only 23 MW left over for Nova scotia. Under short term conditions of peak supply of 824 MW, there is 741 MW available after the 10 percent transmission losses. For a short while this would allow 251 MW left over. This would allow Nova Scotia to get 164 MW with 87 MW left over. Or so it might appear. But getting to Nova Scotia and the US the 251MW can expect to lose another 10 percent in transmission. The result is just 62 MW left for export to the USA. So there it is : to fully offset Holyrood we cannot meet even the obligation to Nova Scotia under average water flow conditions. Under short term peak flow conditions Nova Scotia can get it's power share , but only 62 MW left for export, not 330 MW. Any wonder why Marshall can't answer where the profits will come from? And what happens during average flow when we need 490 MW to offset the 18,000 barrels of oil Holyrood would use? WIth only 513 MW available, Nalcor has a contract to supply Nova scotia 164 Mw .That gets priority. That leaves only 349 MW to offset Holyrood's 490 MW. That meets only 71 percent of Holyrood's needs. So 29 percent, or 5220 barrels of oil will be needed per day at Holyrood to meet this condition. so after spending 10 billion we will at times still have to burn oil, at 20 to 30 cents per kwh extra cost to meet the shortfall, since Nova scotia's contract will take priority. Or other expensive solutions willl be needed. Now this is what we can expect for 10 billion dollars. Meanwhile , as MHA Rogers points out , in the USA they are now building a 665 MW plant using gas. This cost just about 750 million. As this is built near the electrical loads the transmission losses is likely no more than just 2 percent . This allows about 652 MW of useful power. In comparison for average power delivered, Muskrat is about 17 times more expensive. Least cost for us? These are indeed Dark Ages for knowledge and proper information. Any wonder the government didn't want oppposing expert witnesses? They prefer fussy math. They keep talking about 824 MW and 330 mw export.

  • stephen
    December 20, 2012 - 17:06

    If they start talking WIND AND SOLAR,run for the hills. It is bankrupting Ontario under Dalton dingbat Mcguinty,it bankrupted California,and the Euopean union can,t get away from it fast enough.Ontario power rates are doubling in less than 5 years and now we pay for TOU or time of use its 11.cents per kilowatt during peak times,and off peak times have increased as well. For 7 billion dollars, yes 7 billion we will get windmills that won,t even produce 1 percent of Ontarios power. NEWFOUNDLANDERS DO YOUR RESEARCH ON WIND ENERGY. I KNOW I LIVE HERE ON ONTARIO. We could be buying power from Quebec for 3-5 cents a kilo of good clean energy but the liberal crooks in Ontario have found yet another scam to perpetrate on the gulliable Ontario voters,so their crony friends can get rich. Wind power is a scam.

  • Republic-of-Newfoundland
    December 20, 2012 - 15:55

    If this Mayan thing is true, seems like waste of time to spend your last two and a half days.

  • Darrell
    December 20, 2012 - 14:36

    Keep 'em in there until the cows come home. Actually, it is refreshing to see our overpaid politicians really working.

  • Winston Adams
    December 20, 2012 - 13:33

    Kennedy in the House argues that wind is no solution as the latest reports shows. But the question was posed in a way to give this result. The latest question was: Can wind offset the full capacity of holyrood?. The study then showed the need for about 1200 MW of wind ( twice the capacity of Holyrood) and a expensive back up battery system. This was uneconomic and very expensive. This result was a no brainer and a waste of money to analysize. It was a stupid question. An appropriate question should have been : What is the optimum amount of wind combined with local hydro addition and energy efficiency for the least cost isolated island option. This would be more like what Hawaii is doing. They came up with 500 MW of wind. With efficiency and small hydro we would need less than 500 MW of wind to fully offset holyrood. The question was obviously designed to get a result to favour Muskrat falls.

    • Tim Jamison
      December 20, 2012 - 20:01

      When dealing with human beings, Winston, there is no such thing as efficiency. Additionally, using wind for anything more than ten percent of a power grid's total load results in frequent brownouts and blackouts. If you wish to confirm this, just refer to Dalton McGuinty's green initiatives and the massive wind farms he created and then had to abandon because wind is unreliable and did not carry it's own weight in testing. Wind ruins provincial coffers and takes down governments, which is why I think you're pushing for it, because you want the cons out and this is what you're all about