The Liberal Ball minority government nor the loyal opposition Progressive Conservatives do not look good at the public inquiry looking at their handling of the Muskrat Falls debacle that has left Newfoundlanders facing a future of skyrocketing electricity rates and enormous environmental damage. That's probably one of the major reasons Ball called the 2019 election early in order to avoid his own public inquiry testimony creating large political re-election problems for him. Despite his attempts to avoid scrutiny before the election, all he could do was win a minority government. Ball admitted that Muskrat Falls was “the greatest fiscal mistake in Newfoundland and Labrador’s history” in the public inquiry today.
Liberal Premier Dwight Ball took the stand Thursday at the public inquiry into cost and schedule overruns that have plagued the controversial dam on Labrador’s lower Churchill River.
The 824-megawatt dam has essentially doubled in costs to more than $12.7 billion since it was sanctioned by a former Progressive Conservative government in 2012.
Ball, who called the inquiry under intense public pressure, has called Muskrat Falls “the greatest fiscal mistake in Newfoundland and Labrador’s history.”
Though the project is nearly complete, the looming threat of skyrocketing electricity rates to pay for cost overruns has become a pressing issue for Ball’s government.
Ball said Muskrat Falls should never have been sanctioned, but defended his 2016 decision to carry on despite its ballooning costs, saying abandoning the project would still have been very costly and would not have solved the problems already in motion. ...
The inquiry has already heard from a parade of past and present government officials, bureaucrats and energy executives, some of whom have suggested project risks had been intentionally downplayed.
Direct questioning of the premier by inquiry counsel wrapped within two hours, significantly more quickly than other high-profile witnesses, before other lawyers questioned him....
He said he was growing concerned at former Nalcor CEO Ed Martin’s insistence that the province should pay more money to Astaldi, which was struggling to meet its targets, to prevent possible insolvency, pushing the project timeline back further and driving up costs.
Ball said he doubted any number would solve “the Astaldi problem” and did not want Martin negotiating a settlement alone.
Ball said the importance of Astaldi’s contract to Italy was made clear by then-ambassador Gian Lorenzo Cornado’s persistent requests for a meeting, including an unexpected encounter with him at a hotel lobby in Toronto that Ball described as “probably not coincidental.” ...
The premier was also asked to address testimony from last month, when senior government officials revealed that time had run out to mitigate risks from methylmercury contamination downstream from the dam when the reservoir is fully impounded later this summer.
Research has indicated that flooding the uncleared reservoir near the dam could cause a spike in methylmercury contamination in wild food sources used by local Indigenous communities. Methylmercury is formed as vegetation rots under water and can contaminate fish and other crucial wild foods.