Friday, October 18, 2019
October 18, 2019 – Almost two months after Indigenous land protectors sent an open letter to NDP leader Jagmeet Singh seeking a statement of opposition to the Muskrat Falls megadam in Labrador and the poisoning of the Indigenous food supply that has been ongoing since August 7, Singh and the NDP have finally issued some comments, but only in a back-handed, casual, after-thought kind of way, and only in response to a letter from white Premier Dwight Ball.
Indeed, rather than responding to the Indigenous Labrador Land Protectors who have been criminalized for standing up for their lives (and who, in addition to requesting a meeting to discuss these issues with the NDP, had three very specific demands that would help prevent the further destruction of their food web), Singh has finally mentioned Muskrat Falls in this campaign for the very first time after the white Newfoundland and Labrador premier, Dwight Ball, wrote asking how the NDP would respond to the many challenges facing that province.
While much of the lengthy response letter is boilerplate NDP rhetoric and detailed explanation of some of its decent policies around poverty reduction, affordable housing, and Indigenous child welfare, the party prioritizes concerns about the doubling of hydro rates with respect to the Muskrat Falls megadam. While this is of course an important issue for many of the province’s low-income residents, it seems that of lesser importance to the NDP, based on where it appears in the letter after discussion of rate mitigation, is this statement: “We are also committed to moving forward on reconciliation, including by working with the province and the Nunatsiavut government to ensure that any possible efforts are pursued that may prevent or mitigate methyl mercury contamination.”
While this acknowledgement is indeed a step forward, it fails to meaningfully address the real concerns raised last August by the Labrador Land Protectors, Grand Riverkeeper Inc., and the Ontario-Muskrat Solidarity Coalition, both with respect to the fact that the only way to prevent that poisoning from further bioaccumulating is to reverse the impoundment of the dam and to clear the now submerged trees, brush, vegetation and topsoil as soon as possible, or decommissioning the project completely. The open letter to Singh had asked that he and/or party officials sit down with those who have been on the front lines of the Muskrat Falls struggle for over a decade to find out what is really going on, but they clearly were not interested.
Singh and the NDP also fail to address the fact that any path towards reconciliation must recognize what the United Nations commented upon in June, when they noted the Muskrat Falls megadam had NOT received the free, prior and informed consent of all Indigenous people affected. In addition, Singh does not address concerns about the potential collapse of the North Spur, a natural formation composed of quick clay that is vulnerable to liquefaction under pressure, exposing hundreds to the risk of catastrophic dam break and mass casualty flash flooding.
Clearly, the public pressure campaign launched by the Ontario-Muskrat Solidarity Coalition has had some effect: hundreds of calls and emails have gone to the NDP, and a representative of the group personally hand-delivered the open letter from the land protectors to NDP national headquarters in September. This caused a great discomfort in the NDP office and the messenger was subsequently shown the door. But while this acknowledgement is of importance, there has been no public statement giving national profile to the Muskrat Falls issue, even though it is the largest single federal investment in an energy project at $9.2 billion. It is that silence which continues, and which is frustrating for those who have been ignored for so long.
Problematically, while the NDP quite properly declares that it would be “committed to working with the free, prior, and informed consent of Indigenous people in Labrador on policies that benefit the people living in these areas and would include Labrador within the scope of Canada’s existing Arctic policies,” nowhere does it mention free, prior and informed consent in the section devoted to “Sustainable Development of Our Resources.” Indeed, the NDP appears here to buy into the false notion that methane-belching megadams are green energy (perhaps one of the reasons they have maintained silence on Site C, Keeyask, and the many Manitoba Hydro installations that have devastated northern Indigenous communities as well).
There are other problems with the NDP letter as well: for example, it is committed to building a new penitentiary (to replace an aging institution where numerous land defenders have been previously incarcerated for asserting their rights) at a time when it is crystal clear that building jails has no positive social purpose. It also recommends increasing the military’s footprint at CFB Goose Bay for economic reasons (even though the military has traditionally played the role of colonizer in Labrador and is the single biggest governmental emitter of greenhouse gas emissions).
Nonetheless, the letter’s mention of Muskrat Falls is the first in what will need to be further steps to push the only party likely to have any clout in Ottawa as an opposition voice to help raise the profile of and opposition to Muskrat Falls.
While cynics say there is no point continuing to protest Muskrat Falls – even as each day that the dam exists is another day of bioaccumlating poison in the traditional country food web and growing risk of flash flood disaster – such a position fails to recognize that this megadam is part of a much larger story about the ongoing history of colonization and land and water theft in Labrador. That story includes plans to start construction on yet another megadam, this time at Gull Island, that would further destroy the natural environment and cause additional harm to Indigenous people and settlers who live in the area.
The fact that the NDP has not clearly taken a stand with respect to free, prior and informed consent on Muskrat Falls – placing the party in the loathsome company of Colonial Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett – is not a good sign. However, the fact that public pressure appears to have gotten them to this point of acknowledging the methylmercury concern is a sign that, unlike the Liberals and Conservatives (who both wholeheartedly support the megadam), we can move the NDP to be a much stronger voice in dialing down Muskrat Falls and closing out any consideration of Gull Island.
In the meantime, a 10-week chain fast of solidarity with those living downstream of Muskrat Falls continues until October 21, and a group of Labrador Land Protectors who have been in the courts for three years will finally receive judgment and sentencing later this month as well in Happy Valley Goose Bay.