Harper backs Lower Churchill project
Stephen Harper speaks during a campaign stop at a shipping dock in Halifax, March 31, 2011. Canadians will head to the polls in a federal election May 2. REUTERS/Chris Wattie
ST. JOHN'S - A re-elected Conservative government would guarantee a loan of up to $4.2 billion for the massive Lower Churchill hydro-electric project, Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced here Thursday.
And the province's Progressive Conservative premier, Kathy Dunderdale -- a former foe -- praised the announcement afterwards and said it will "absolutely" translate into seats for the Tories in this election.
In 2008, Dunderdale waged war on Harper and the federal Tories as part of former premier Danny Williams' "Anything But Conservatives" campaign that helped shut the party out of the province.
"I was quick to point out when we weren't being heard, when the legitimate aspirations of the people weren't being acknowledged," she said following a rally attended by about 350 people. "I want to be just as responsive when, you know, the reverse of that is happening, and I believe that is true now."
The Lower Churchill project, which would run electricity from a massive hydro dam in Labrador to the rest of Newfoundland via a power cable under the Atlantic, is expected to cost $6.2 billion. So far, the private sector and the Newfoundland and Labrador government have secured only about $2 billion in funding, and the province has been demanding the feds come to the table with support.
Fearing backlash from Quebec, which is opposed to federal intervention in the Lower Churchill project because it would compete with Hydro-Quebec and create what the province claims would be an unfair advantage in energy prices, Harper also announced that any region of the country -- including Quebec -- that has a similarly large project that will "significantly" reduce greenhouse gas emissions will qualify for a similar financing arrangement.
The loan guarantee for Newfoundland and Labrador doesn't include any capital investment. Instead, the feds would effectively co-sign the loan with the province and energy companies currently on board in order to help them leverage a lower interest rate. The government would only have to pay if the province and energy companies defaulted on the loans.
"This is an unprecedented opportunity -- a real game changer -- for the entire region to move to clean energy," Harper told the energetic crowd. "We will be equitable to everyone in projects like this moving forward, all regions, including Quebec, will get treatment to keep us moving towards clean and greener energy."
As for campaigning for Harper, Dunderdale said she'll support candidates she knows will be good representatives for the province, but added: "I'm going to tell them (voters) that they have been heard and acknowledged," by Harper's Conservatives.
There are a total of seven ridings in the province, of which the Tories finished second in two.
Harper will be in Moncton, N.B., Friday morning for an announcement before heading to P.E.I. for a rally Friday afternoon to cap off his Atlantic Canada tour and the first week of the election campaign.