December 29, 2017

Labrador To Become Nuclear Waste Repository To The World?

One of the major planks of my campaign to become leader of the PC Party of Newfoundland and Labrador is the restoration of confidence in our institutions of democratic government. Evidence for existence of a crisis of confidence can be found in, among other places, the Democracy Cookbook and its serialization by the Telegram, and in the calling of a Commission of Inquiry into Muskrat Falls. 

To the end of promoting confidence in government, I have raised questions about apparent violations of the Lobbyist Registration Act by Greg Mercer, the Premier’s chief of staff. This issue dominated question period on December 7th when I was in the public gallery, and Premier Ball stated Mr. Mercer’s apology to the House, and undertook to place the matter before the conflict of interest committee of the Public Services Commission. 

There is a notable aspect of Mr. Mercer’s late disclosure of his lobbying undertakings which is worthy of public debate and which until now has escaped notice. Mr. Mercer was late filing a written declaration about the end of his lobbying undertaking for a client named Terra Vault, whose address is c/o Denton’s, an international law firm. Mr. Mercer failed to file within the required 30 days from the claimed end of the undertaking on January 1, 2015, instead filing an amendment to his undertaking on March 22, 2016. This late filing represents a 15-month lag since the claimed end of the undertaking for Terra Vault. 

Terra Vault may be Mr. Mercer’s most controversial recent undertaking. Terra Vault wants to build a “deep geological repository” in Labrador granite for world-wide used nuclear fuel, of which Terra Vault states there are over 250,000 metric tons at active and closed nuclear power generation sites, with another 10,000 tons produced and in need of storage every year. 

Premier Ball, be it noted, is also Minister for Labrador and Indigenous Affairs. 

Terra Vault has taken steps to make its internet presence inaccessible, but some determined sleuthing can still get the background facts. Terra Vault’s now password protected website states that the nuclear waste repository would be located very deep in a massive and stable geological formation which has direct access to ocean transport and low population, with no population down wind. Obviously, there are many such locations along the Labrador coast. 

It may be that the world needs safer storage of nuclear waste at a remote deep repository accessible to ship-borne waste, but in a democracy it is an issue for public policy debate whether “world’s biggest nuclear waste dump” is the type of economic development Labrador residents wish to pursue, and the image of Labrador they wish to project to the world. There will be those who prefer the recent designation of Labrador by National Geographic as an unspoiled natural wonder and one of their Best in World travel destinations. 

As chief of staff to Premier Ball, Mr. Mercer has enormous influence. Did he really stop advocating a nuclear waste dump for Labrador on January 1, 2015? Why did he wait 15 months to say so, and why did the filing occur two months before he assumed control of the Office of the Premier in June 2016? 

One of the stated purposes of the Lobbyist Registration Act, is that “the public be able to know who is attempting to influence government”. On the inevitably controversial issue of a nuclear waste repository for Labrador, public confidence in knowledge as to who is attempting to influence government and to what purpose has been undermined by Mr. Mercer’s breach of the Act. It is not clear how it will be repaired.