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NEWS: Muskrat Falls dam could be by-election issue after Harper cabinet minister resigns

Conservative cabinet minister Peter Penashue has resigned his seat after admitting his 2011 election campaign accepted ‘ineligible’ donations. The Toronto Star reports, “The Conservative Party of Canada has reimbursed the federal government the value of the ineligible contributions, about $30,000… Penashue blamed an ‘inexperienced’ volunteer — former agent Reg Bowers — for accepting illegal donations.”

The newspaper adds, “Last fall, Bowers denied any knowledge of, or responsibility for excessive spending or illegal donations. …Late Thursday, Bowers quit as a board member of the Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board (which regulates the oil sector), a patronage post he got several months after the 2011 election.”

Jean-Pierre Kingsley, Canada’s former chief electoral officer, has commented, “If they were small (breaches of the law), I don’t think that the minister would have resigned. He’s resigning because there is obviously a substance to this issue here and I think he’s doing the honourable thing by doing that. …The official agent files the report, but the candidate has to sign a statement to the effect that this is a true statement. And therefore the obligation is on both in that instance. And if you’re able to demonstrate that the candidate knew that something was amiss, then you’ve got the candidate responsible.”

Muskrat Falls controversy
In his letter of resignation, Penashue says that he is “very proud” of his record as a minister in Stephen Harper’s cabinet. Among his accomplishments, Penashue highlights, “I have worked to secure federal support for the development of Muskrat Falls…”

It’s odd that he should highlight this because, as APTN notes, “Penashue has also been dogged by criticism over personal and business ties to the $7.4 billion Muskrat Falls project in his home riding which recently received a loan guarantee from Ottawa. …There is no straight line between Penashue and the Muskrat Falls project, but the winding path begins with his (financial) filings (updated in December 2012) and flows through a company headed by his wife and a separate firm headed by two senior executives with (the) firm Pennacon. Pennacon is in a business partnership with Penashue’s brother Max Penashue and their firm, Liannu LLP, is actively pursuing and landing contracts from the Muskrat Falls project.”

Penashue’s mother, respected Innu elder Elizabeth Penashue, is an opponent of the Muskrat Falls dam. She has said, “I’m very, very concerned (about) what’s going to happen. It’s not only the fish that are going to die. I don’t know how many animals are going to die.”

Todd Russell, the president of the NunatuKavut Community Council which represents the Inuit-Métis of southern Labrador, is also an opponent of the dam. He says, “(A lot of people) don’t feel it’s right for the land, for the water, for the animals and certainly not for Labrador. …Muskrat Falls is one part of (but we’re also concerned about) the transmission lines which wind down through the heart of our territory…”

Penashue beat Russell by 79 votes in the May 2011 election, an outcome now tained by this spending scandal. Penashue says he will seek re-election. Russell has told the media he will take a few days to consider whether he’ll run again. No date has been set yet for this federal by-election.

In the recently released Blue Planet Project report ‘Dam Truths: A compilation of case studies about popular struggles against dams’, water campaigner Meera Karunananthan writes, “Nalcor, the power utility of Newfoundland and Labrador, is forging ahead with a project that would comprise of two hydroelectric generating stations on the lower Churchill River despite tremendous opposition by the Nunatsiavut Inuit people, the NunatuKavut and Quebec Indigenous groups, as well as environmental organizations like the Sierra Club.” More on that at http://canadians.org/media/water/2013/14-Mar-13.html.

More commentary can also be found in the campaign blog ‘NEWS: Harper backs Muskrat Falls dam for cheap power for mining companies’ at http://canadians.org/blog/?p=18204.