My initial support for the Lower Churchill development's most recent incarnation was based on my personal belief that it makes sense to put money made from dwindling non-renewable resources into long term investments that will produce revenue and opportunity for generations to come.
Muskrat Falls' significant costs and potential for cost overruns, and its momentous fiscal/political/policy implications, mean the government would be wise to consider using a democratic tool which has only been employed on four occasions in our history.
I believe that a direct vote by the electorate is needed before the project is sanctioned. Only a referendum, following the so-called Gateway Three analysis, would give proponents the moral and political authority to proceed on this issue of major fiscal and political significance.
Newfoundland and Labrador has a history of using direct democracy to settle weighty political issues. Two referenda were held in 1948 to settle the Confederation question. In 1995 and 1997, a direct vote by the people provided government with a clear mandate to amend the Terms of Union to disband the denominational education system.
At this point, fair or not, the decks are stacked. The huge PC majority will exercise its constitutional power in the legislature to proceed. The gateways, the ring-fenced public hearings and the MHI review are all window dressing for a political agenda. A debate in the House of Assembly will be a dog and pony show, with little sideshows playing out on open line.
At this point, I honestly believe that a majority of citizens lean toward supporting the proposed deal. Reasons vary from transferring non-renewable windfalls to a renewable generator of revenue for generations to come, to unlocking the physical barrier to markets personified by Quebec.
I also think, however, that the vast majority of people want to be better informed, to be more confident that this is the right way to go. Folks just do not feel that they have all the information they need. Of course, opponents may never feel comfortable.
The Premier should consider showing bold leadership by allowing each and every one of us the opportunity for a direct say in the redistribution of our province’s wealth. She could borrow a page from Premiers Wells and Tobin and hold a national referendum to settle the issue.
A final vote after an informed debate would clear the air once and for all on the single most important public investment since the construction of the Newfoundland Railway.
Sure it might be expensive. Democracy costs money. We have the ability, the need and the infrastructure to ensure that everyone in this province is not only consulted but registers their vote.
All that is needed is a commitment to direct democracy and leadership.