Skip to main content

Governments, most people would agree, shouldn't poison their citizens. And yet somehow, in their deference to an over-budget, woefully behind-schedule hydroelectric megaproject on the Churchill River, the leaders of Newfoundland and Labrador were prepared to do just that.

Fortunately – but only thanks to disruptive last-minute protests by indigenous communities at the Muskrat Falls site in Labrador – Premier Dwight Ball has begun to see reason on the toxic threat posed by an out-of-control project meant to supply "clean" power to Newfoundland and Nova Scotia.

Opponents of the dam have contended for years that it could pose a serious risk to traditional food supplies for down-river communities, because of heavy methylmercury contamination in the soil of the land that is about to be flooded. Public officials have acknowledged that mercury levels in fish would increase, but they have been reluctant to face the problem head-on and do the right thing by first removing the toxic topsoil.

Story continues below advertisement

Methylmercury poisoning causes irreversible neurological damage and heart problems. Newfoundland's solution was to monitor mercury levels downstream post-flooding, and presumably advise traditional communities to switch to non-toxic menu options when their fish and seal harvests were compromised. The sheer arrogance of this paternalistic non-solution became laughably obvious when a St. John's Liberal MP, Nick Whalen, blithely instructed indigenous people to "eat less fish."

It would be funny if it weren't so pathetic. Grandiose megaprojects like Muskrat Falls have a way of making politicians lose touch with reality, to the point where an unacceptable level of poisoning can be justified when only a small number of people in remote communities might be affected. The protests at the Muskrat Falls site have been a necessary corrective to this myopic understanding of government and its role in securing the lives of all citizens.

Premier Ball has now agreed to address the concerns of the protesters and establish an independent committee to monitor the hydroelectric project and reduce methylmercury contamination. It shouldn't have taken a protest to force the hand of the Newfoundland government – not when sound science and basic humanity could have led to the same conclusion much sooner.

Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Comments

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • All comments will be reviewed by one or more moderators before being posted to the site. This should only take a few moments.
  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

Comments that violate our community guidelines will be removed. Commenters who repeatedly violate community guidelines may be suspended, causing them to temporarily lose their ability to engage with comments.

Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.
Cannabis pro newsletter