(Police remove demonstrators at the Muskrat Falls construction site Monday morning. Photo courtesy Justin Brake/The Independent)
APTN National News
Federal Fisheries Minister Dominic LeBlanc is considering a request for a review of a federal permit issued for the controversial Muskrat Falls hydroelectric project in Labrador, says Yvonne Jones, parliamentary secretary of Indigenous affairs.
Jones, who is also the Liberal MP for Labrador, said she recently asked LeBlanc to review the issuing of the federal permit by his department to Nalcor, the Newfoundland and Labrador Crown corporation behind the $11. 4 billion project.
“I have asked the minister to do a review of the environmental conditions that were supposed to be met when a permit was issued by the federal government,” said Jones, in a scrum following question period on Parliament Hill Monday. “If the conditions were not being met when the permit was issued, obviously then there will be a federal responsibility for that.”
Jones said she expects a response from LeBlanc in the next few days.
LeBlanc’s office did not return a request for comment as of this article’s posting.
See related stories here: Muskrat Falls
Earlier in the day, the RCMP raided a protest camp set up at the entrance to a Muskrat Falls construction site and arrested a total of nine people. The camp was set up about 30 kilometres west of Happy Valley Goose Bay, Nfld.
Jones said she wants to see Premier Dwight Ball step into the situation and start talking with all sides.
“My constituents feel that they have no other means right now only to stand up in protest and to protect the food supply that is there, not just for themselves but for the next generation,” said Jones. “They were standing up for what they believe is right and have legitimate concerns about the food supply and what could happen if the methylmercury levels rise in the river.”
The project is facing fierce resistance from Labrador Inuit who say the flooding of the Lower Churchill River without clearing out the vegetation will cause the toxin methylmercury to be released into the land.
Jones said it’s a legitimate concern and Nalcor had informed her previously that it would clear out the 41 square kilometre area that will be flooded by the dam.
“This project was approved based on the facts that these concerns would be addressed. They signed on saying these concerns will be addressed and I expect them to own up to that,” said Jones.
Nalcor plans to flood the area without first clearing it of trees and vegetation starting later this fall and continuing until 2019.
“The people of Labrador are good people. We are people of the land. We spend a lot of time on the land. The traditional way of life is very big for us,” said Jones. “Anything that jeopardizes that always causes us tremendous concerns. I have told the protesters that came to meet with that I do not support closing down the Muskrat Falls project. However, I really believe more needs to be done to mitigate any potential harm that could come to the food supply in Labrador.”
Nalcor obtained a court injunction against the protest camp on Sunday and the RCMP moved in the next day.
The speed of the RCMP’s raid does not follow the Mounties’ usual tactics when dealing with Indigenous protests.
Monday’s raid comes exactly three years to the day since the RCMP raided the Elsipogtog Mi’kmaq led, anti-fracking camp in Rexton, NB. Back then, the Mounties tried to negotiate an end to the camp for about two weeks before moving in with a heavily armed raid on Oct. 17, 2013.
Jones questioned Nalcor’s move to obtain the injunction.
“I don’t know what the time pressures are with regard to the project. I know the province and Nalcor should be realizing at this point that this a very serious issue and that people want it addressed,” said Jones.
And if it costs a few million extra or if it takes a few more weeks to clear out the vegetation to protect the natural environment, then Nalcor should be willing to foot the bill, said Jones.
“It is really a gamble when you are going out there and flooding an area this size and not understanding if the food sources is going to be absolutely 100 per cent protected,” she said. “I go to bed at night with a knot in my stomach because I don’t want things to happen and find out people will have to wait two years three years before they consume in the food in the area.”
The previous government of Stephen Harper approved a $6.4 billion loan guarantee for the hydro-electric project in 2012. Jones said the province has since asked Ottawa to increase the loan guarantee.