A new business group introduced itself Thursday to support the Newfoundland and Labrador's controversial Muskrat Falls energy megaproject, while the province's largest business lobby said it is behind the Lower Churchill project, with conditions.
Labrador businessman Peter Woodward, who has been active in Liberal circles, and veteran Tory organizer Leo Power said in a statement they were helping to put together the new, as-yet unnamed group.
Woodward told CBC News Thursday he has been waiting for four decades for long-promised development of the Churchill River to become a reality.
"It's this huge energy resource that we can't seem to be able to tap for some reason," he said, adding he would like to see the coalition — which he says is attracting the support of hundreds of business, municipal and community leaders — help foster a well-grounded debate on the project.
"It's important that everyone in the province become as well as informed as they possibly can, and get all of the facts and issues out on the table, and I believe — or I hope anyway — that when that's done, we'll be moving ahead with it," he said.
Woodward said the coalition is not interested in partisan affiliations.
"I don't even look at it from a political point of view," he said. "When I look at the group, I'd say that they're all passionate Newfoundlanders and Labradorians."
Meanwhile, although there have been steady protests in Labrador against the project, Woodward said that is a minority view.
"The vast majority of Labradorians are very much in support of this project. They have been waiting for it for so long," he said.
The coalition is expected to reveal more information about itself, and its supporters, in the days to come.
"This is an exciting time, and also an important time for us all to be fully engaged. That’s our responsibility," Power said in the coalition's statement. "This is about having the courage to do the right thing for our future and for our children’s future."
Meanwhile, Woodward acknowledged that the Woodward Group, the family group of companies that has long been involved in construction and other industries, could stand to benefit from the development of Muskrat Falls.
"The project itself will have a tremendous impact in the construction industry for eight years, but then it will be over," he said.
"We obviously will chase business opportunities anywhere in the province. I suspect that during the construction period we would gain some things, but when I look at this project, I look at it more from the perspective of the long term, of how it's going to provide long-term, stable electricity rates to all the province," Woodward said.
Newfoundland and Labrador and its Crown energy corporation Nalcor plan to tap Muskrat Falls on Labrador's Churchill River for a hydroelectric project that will export power to the island and then Nova Scotia by subsea cables. Their partner in the megaproject is Halifax-based Emera Inc.
But criticism of Muskrat Falls has been swirling since the 824-megawatt project was unveiled in November 2010, with a growing number of high-profile individuals raising questions about the project's costs and viability.
Sharon Horan, the vice-chair of the St. John's Board of Trade, said the organization has supported how Nalcor has managed the process of Muskrat Falls.
However, Horan said the board's support hinges on the price tag. She said as long as the expected update on costs stays within the range of $6 billion and $7 billion, Muskrat Falls will be endorsed.
"If the [forthcoming] Decision Gate 3 numbers show that we have an opportunity, from a cost-benefit perspective, to look at this as a viable investment that in the end will reap benefits and pay for itself, we are absolutely in favour of the project moving forward," she said.
The government has what it calls the Decision Gate 3 numbers in hand, but is waiting for external consultant Manitoba Hydro International to review the figures before releasing them to the public.
Muskrat Falls had an estimated cost of $6.2 billion when it was first unveiled, although some critics fear the final cost will mushroom by several billion dollars.
Premier Kathy Dunderdale spoke Wednesday to Board of Trade members, with a message that signalled a more aggressive defence of Muskrat Falls.
A special debate on Muskrat Falls will be held later this fall in the house of assembly.