A deal has been reached between the government of Newfoundland and Labrador and the governments of Labrador’s three Indigenous groups over the contentious Muskrat Falls hydroelectric project. The deal follows all day negotiations with premier Dwight Ball at the provincial legislature in St. John’s.
Described by all parties as “progress” in a press conference held after midnight at the provincial legislature, and as “new and significant commitments” in a statement, the deal commits the government to change elements of the planned project to mitigate risks to human health.
- Muskrat Falls hydro project sparks protests, arrests in Newfoundland and Labrador
- Editorial: Court order to arrest reporter covering Muskrat Falls is unacceptable
Most significantly, an “Independent Expert Advisory Committee” will be established, composed of representatives of the Innu Nation, Nunatsiavut Government, the NunatuKavut Community Council, and federal, provincial, and municipal governments.
According to a joint statement issued by the premier’s office:
The IEAC will be mandated to seek an independent, evidence-based approach that will determine and recommend options for mitigating human health concerns related to methylmercury throughout the reservoir as well as in the Lake Melville ecosystem. Mitigation measures will be realized through utilizing best available science that incorporates Indigenous Traditional Knowledge. The full mandate of the IEAC continues to be refined.
“It is a good day,” exclaimed Todd Russell, president of NunatuKavut Community Council. “It is a good morning, and this done right will certainly make Muskrat right.”
“The decisions that will be made going forward, will not be at the whim of government. They will be made by science, and will incorporate the traditional knowledge of our people. This is a huge step forward.”
All three Indigenous leaders urged those still occupying the worksite, or on hunger strikes, to go home to their families.
“I want to say to all those who have walked, who have advocated, the land protectors, that you have made progress, that you have achieved much of what you set out to achieve,” said Russell.
While the Indigenous leaders credited the occupiers and hunger strikers with the progress made today, the premier denied that the meeting was a direct consequence of the protests, describing the deal as the culmination of the government’s ongoing work on the file.
The premier stopped short of committing his government to following the recommendations of the advisory committee, but stressed that the science would now be paramount.
“I feel strongly that those recommendations, based on the science, research and evidence, that these decisions would be accepted by government.”
The premier declined to put a price tag on the changes agreed to, arguing that the decision was a question of health and that the price tag would depend on what the scientific advice was.
Ball laid the blame for flaws in the project on the previous government, arguing that the turbulence of recent weeks could have been avoided if his predecessor had done a better job of planning and preparation for the project in previous years.
In a testy exchange at the end of the press conference, a reporter grilled Ball on how the planned flooding could ever be justified, if the studies conducted thus far are correct about the poisoning risk. He shot back, “you’re asking the wrong premier. I did not sanction this project.”
In Ottawa, Billy Gauthier and other hunger strikers spent the day in MP Yvonne Jones' office, awaiting news from the negotiations. They met the announcement with jubilation and tears of joy in a live video stream on Facebook, declaring that the four conditions they had set to end their hunger strike had been met, and they could now resume eating.
Updated Oct. 26 at 2:59 a.m. to add Ottawa details.