Here's to the crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers, the
round pegs in the square holes... the ones who see things differently -- they're
not fond of rules... You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify
them, but the only thing you can't do is ignore them because they change
things... they push the human race forward, and while some may see them as the
crazy ones, we see genius, because the ones who are crazy enough to think that
they can change the world, are the ones who do.

Steve Jobs
US computer engineer & industrialist (1955 - 2011)

Saturday, January 21, 2012

The Real Muskrat Falls I

"If ye love wealth greater than liberty, the tranquility of servitude greater than the animating contest for freedom, go home from us in peace. We seek not your counsel, nor your arms. Crouch down and lick the hand that feeds you; and may posterity forget that ye were our countrymen."
Samuel Adams

The real story of Muskrat Falls is not the romantic, nationalistic ballad that the government of Newfoundland and Labrador portays it as. It is not a noble effort to enhance the environment. It is not an attempt to join Newfoundland and Labrador to the North American electrical grid. It is not a project to replace the foul airs of Holyrood. It most definately is not a project to rid us of the territorial stranglehold Quebec imposes. Indeed, it is not even a project to make us "masters of our own house".

It is a project to facilitate the creation of wealth in Labrador, and to profit those ambitious enough to be in the right place for the opportunity. It is a story of far flung claims stretched around Labrador, and in some cases the island of Newfoundland. It is a story of boardrooms large and small. It is a story of corporate battles, and international markets. It is a story of wealthy families and favoured friends. It is all of these things, yet it is sold as none of them.

Although ambitions for the Lower Churchill date back decades it started taking a decidedly interesting turn in 2002 when then Premier Grimes proposed to develop the Gull Island and Muskrat Falls hydro dams in partnership with Hydro Quebec. Then President of Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro Dean MacDonald, a Liberal, resigned in protest days before the agreement was announced. MacDonald, a former bagman for Brian Tobin, believed the deal was not in the province's interest - or so he said. MacDonald's history to that point in time included responsibilities at Roger's Communications, and a business partnership with Danny Williams in Cable Atlantic with an ownership of 4.5%. With Danny Williams, then leader of the PC Party and Leader of the Official Opposition in the House of Assembly, cheering on the sidelines Dean MacDonald effictively killed the Hydro Quebec deal - despite the fact that it had the backing of the majority of the Board of Directors.

During this time a small exploration company named Altius was busy securing a 3% net smelter return royalty, as part of a limited partnership, over the Voisey's Bay nickel-copper-cobalt project in Labrador that is owned and operated by Vale INCO NL. Altius was also involved in the Central Mineral Belt project in 2003 which later would result in Aurora Energy. More on that later.

Significantly, 2003 saw the election of Danny Williams as Premier of the province. A monumental event in more ways than one. It was also in that year that Dean MacDonald was approached by institutional investors to join them in the purchase of Persona Communications. In September, 2004 Danny Williams announced the birth of the Nalcor concept and appointed Dean MacDonald as Chair of  Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro. Significantly, he also replaced two other directors with Ken Marshall and Craig Tucker. Significant because Ken Marshall worked with Williams at Atlantic Cable, and had a minority interest in that company. Also, Craig Tucker who was a vice-president at M5 Marketing Communications and its group of companies - the parent company of the polling firm that conducted weekly unsolicited polling during the 2011 provincial election. Interestingly, both Dean MacDonald and Ken Marshall were listed as directors of companies held in blind trust created when Williams took office as Premier.

2003 also saw several other key appointments. First up was Ed Byrne. Byrne, the son-in-law of the late Senator Gerry Ottenhiemer, stepped aside as PC Party leader in 2001 to allow Danny Williams to assume the leadership. He was appointed as Williams first Minister of Natural Resources and placed in charge of overseeing the development of Muskrat Falls. Another member of the Ottenhiemer family, Senator Gerry Ottenhiemer's half brother John Ottenhiemer, was appointed as Minister of Education. His role as Chair of Nalcor doesn't evolve until 2007 - although he does become Minister of Natural resources for a period in between.

In the same press release of 2004 , in which Williams announced his appointments to NL Hydro's Board of Directors, he let his intentions on the Lower Churchill project be known:

"Premier Williams stated his government’s priority for the immediate future is to advance the development of the Lower Churchill and he has full confidence in Mr. MacDonald’s ability to assist government in reaching its objectives on this major development."

Shortly afterward Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro issued a public call for Expressions of Interest (EOI) in developing the Lower Churchill.

“We are open to considering all proposal concepts, including the use of power in Labrador, on the Island, for export or some combination of these options in terms of achieving maximum economic and employment benefits for this province,” Williams said.

The subsequent submissions were narrowed to three, with only one being a Newfoundland based plan - that of Altius


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