How the Polar Vortex revealed the hubris in Newfoundland’s leadership – by Konrad Yakabuski (Globe and Mail – January 9, 2014)

The Globe and Mail is Canada’s national newspaper with the second largest broadsheet circulation in the country. It has enormous influence on Canada’s political and business elite.

Mother Nature just forced two of Canada’s premiers to show what they’re made of, after winter storms left thousands of their citizens without electricity.

Ontario’s Kathleen Wynne was sugar, spice and everything nice, delivering groceries and feeling everyone’s pain. Even when she bungled a gift-card distribution to the powerless, she showed that her heart was in the right place.

Newfoundland and Labrador’s Kathy Dunderdale, however, seemed to lead her province through the outages with neither heart nor head. With most of the Rock in the dark, she dismissed the situation as a non-crisis that underscored the wisdom of her government’s controversial Muskrat Falls hydroelectric project. “Would I have done things differently? Absolutely not,” she insisted after power was mostly restored.

Newfoundland premiers have rarely been known for humility, and Ms. Dunderdale seems to be keeping the tradition alive. But her self-assurance is misplaced. The rolling blackouts of recent days are the result of reliance on existing electricity infrastructure that has been starved of investment while Ms. Dunderdale’s government places all its bets on Muskrat Falls.

At $7.8-billion on paper – a figure that does not include likely cost overruns – the 824-megawatt Labrador development is the most expensive conventional power project in the country. Hydro-Québec is currently building a 1550MW hydro project on the Romaine River for less than Nalcor, Newfoundland’s provincial utility, is paying to generate barely half as much power at Muskrat Falls. And the Romaine project is considered uneconomical by many energy experts.

With such iffy economics, Muskrat Falls would have remained just an idea in the minds of Ms. Dunderdale and predecessor Danny Williams had Prime Minister Stephen Harper not promised to back the project with a federal loan guarantee. Mr. Harper’s gesture did him no political good – his party won only one seat in Newfoundland in 2011, a seat it promptly lost in last year’s by-election.

Ottawa’s unprecedented backing of a provincial power project generated plenty of ill will in Quebec, however, cementing Mr. Harper’s image as a leader inimical to Quebec’s interests.

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