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Muskrat Falls Inquiry Week 3 highlights

The Muskrat Falls Inquiry is about to hold its first hearing. — Telegram file photo
The Muskrat Falls Inquiry will resume Tuesday. — Telegram file photo

Monday, Oct. 1

Former premier Danny Williams, who led the province from 2003 to 2010, takes the stand.

He recalls his objections to past proposals for a Lower Churchill Project (now the Muskrat Falls project), before being asked a range of questions, including on alternative options considered by his government before the decision to sign early agreements, leading to Muskrat Falls hydro.

Danny Williams
Danny Williams

Williams speaks to the relationship between Quebec and Newfoundland and Labrador, and their power utilities.

He said he tried to address imbalance in the profits paid from the contract governing the Churchill Falls power plant, and to get access to transmission lines in Quebec, to look at moving power to and from Labrador.

“They’ve basically tried to cut us out every step of the way,” he said of Hydro-Québec, in describing an attempt to establish access to Quebec transmission lines, and potentially move more power through the province to and from Labrador.

Williams endorses the work of Nalcor Energy on the Muskrat Falls project, specifically giving kudos to former president and CEO Ed Martin, who led the Crown corporation through the sanction and majority of construction to date.

Read the full stories:

N.L. not ‘going it alone’: Williams

Muskrat Falls Inquiry: From ‘unacceptable’ PUB to methylmercury

Tuesday, Oct. 2

Williams continues on the stand, appealing to the public to keep an eye on the big picture when it comes to Muskrat Falls — how it extends from the 2007 energy plan and ties in to the power grid regionally, internationally.

Under cross-examination from Geoff Budden, lawyer for the Concerned Citizens Coalition, asks about Williams’ understanding of the risks associated with the Churchill River project. He’s asked how high he thought costs on Muskrat Falls could go, before the project needed to be re-considered.

The former premier had no number to give.

Barry Learmonth questions Danny Williams. — Telegram file
Barry Learmonth questions Danny Williams. — Telegram file

Williams is asked about the government’s consideration of Nalcor Energy’s Muskrat Falls figures. “I know you’re giving your evidence based on everything you know, but based on what we have found in our investigation, it appears that government simply accepted the review and work and cost estimates provided by Nalcor up to Decision Gate 2 … without any analysis or review,” said inquiry co-counsel Barry Learmonth.

He said he trusted significant changes in the business case would be disclosed, and that the Crown corporation was reporting to government daily at the time just prior to his departure from the House of Assembly.

He testified he has not been involved with project decisions, or advice from detailed project information, since leaving office.

Read the full story:

Don’t panic over power costs, Danny Williams says at Muskrat Falls Inquiry

Wednesday, Oct. 3

Aubrey Gover, Newfoundland and Labrador’s deputy minister responsible for Indigenous Affairs takes the witness stand.

Gover says the province worked to hear all concerns, insisting nothing was dismissed out of hand as the project was considered and brought to development.

He said there were no free rides for Nalcor Energy because it was a Crown corporation.

Prote Poker
Prote Poker

“For Nalcor, in our expectations, our expectations would be the same as Tata Steel and New Millennium, Alderon corporation, Iron Ore Company of Canada,” he said at one point.

Cross-examination of Gover is repeatedly interrupted by Commissioner Richard LeBlanc, who struggles to keep questions and responses on point and out of ongoing disputes between the parties with standing.

The day closes out with former grand chief of the Innu Nation, Prote Poker, speaking to the New Dawn agreements.

Read the full story:

Muskrat Falls Inquiry hearings stray off topic

Thursday, Oct. 4

NunatuKavut Community Council president Todd Russell was recalled to the stand, this time to speak to consultations for the Muskrat Falls project.

Russell was critical of statements made the day before, that they were full, fair and equal.

His challenge was met by Nalcor Energy, through lawyer Dan Simmons, who highlighted legal challenges by NunatuKavut to the development as it proceeded, and one in particular where the judge commented there had been fair consultation.

Carl Maclean
Carl Maclean
Chief Jean-Charles Piétacho
Chief Jean-Charles Piétacho

Testimony on the same topic, from Conseil des Innus d’Ekuanitshit Chief Jean-Charles Piétacho is postponed to a later date, after Piétacho makes it clear he does not want to proceed if unable to speak his Indigenous language (a translator was not on site). 

Carl McLean and Rodd Laing make it clear concerns over the potential for increased methylmercury in wild food sources on the river system, ending in potential consumption advisories, could impact traditional activities of the Labrador Inuit of Nunatsiavut and means of healthy living in Central Labrador.

The pair recalled the Indigenous consultation process and environmental review process for the Muskrat Falls project as it related to Nunatsiavut, emphasizing unresolved concerns and calling for more work at the hydro project reservoir before it is fully flooded in 2019.

They described frustration with a lack of information in the eyes of local people, leading to efforts to gather more and eventually the Make Muskrat Right campaign.

Read the full stories:

Muskrat Falls inquiry reschedules Indigenous leader’s testimony

No firm response on reservoir clearing

Friday, Oct. 5

The alternative of using natural gas to power Newfoundland, instead of undertaking the Muskrat Falls hydro project, is explained by engineer Stephen Bruneau.

Stephen Bruneau
Stephen Bruneau

Bruneau is not brought in as an expert in natural gas, but as a witness who was speaking publicly about the alternative, and how it was being discussed before the decision to go ahead with Muskrat Falls.

He testifies to the fact he invested his personal time into research and was concerned, given the tenor of the public debate, with speaking in favour of a power option that was not a new hydro project on the Churchill River.

He offers detailed testimony challenging the reports on natural gas the government referred to, when asked why natural gas was not the right choice.

Given the detail involved and certain statements made, his cross-examination is set over to a later date.

Read the full story:

Natural gas not properly considered for N.L. power: engineer

Coming up:

The Inquiry will not sit on Monday, given the Thanksgiving Day holiday.

On Tuesday, Oct. 9, economists Wade Locke and James Feehan, both with Memorial University of Newfoundland, are scheduled.

Wednesday brings a panel of Muskrat Falls Concerned Citizens Coalition members Ron Penney and David Vardy.

Roberta Benefiel is shown in a file photo. — The Labradorian
Roberta Benefiel is shown in a file photo. — The Labradorian

Roberta Benefiel of Grand Riverkeeper Labrador and Philip Raphals with the Helios Centre are scheduled.

The inquiry is also working on the rescheduling of Chief Jean-Charles Piétacho, with the Conseil des Innus d’Ekuanitshit, as well as rescheduling cross-examination of Bruneau.

The schedule is subject to change.

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