Former premier Danny Williams defended his role in the debt-ridden Muskrat Falls project during a speech at a conference about Newfoundland and Labrador's economic trajectory on Wednesday.
In his speech, Williams explained the rationale behind his government's major economic decisions, including Muskrat Falls. Williams acknowledged that the project is "polarizing," but said criticisms of the project are made easier with hindsight.
"Critics have been so unrelenting in their determination to see the project fail that we have allowed ourselves to lose sight of what good might actually come of it for Newfoundland and Labrador," he said.
Williams kick-started Muskrat Falls in 2010 near the end of his time as premier. He touted the project as a green energy option to replace the province's largest oil-burning power facility.
The project was sanctioned at a cost of $6.2 billion, but the final price tag ballooned to more than $13 billion.
Limiting the economic damage of Muskrat Falls has been a political focus for years, including in the report by Premier Andrew Furey's economic recovery team released last May and the most recent political budget.
Williams has mostly defended Muskrat Falls, and his speech at the conference, which was hosted by the Collaborative Applied Research in Economics initiative, continued this theme.
He said critics of the project "actively" wished for its failure and have "taken advantage" of the narrative to "completely erase" the benefits of the project.
Williams took issue with Nalcor CEO Stan Marshall's description of the project as a boondoggle.
"It is a word that not only belittles our province internationally, it does a disservice to the project and to the thousands of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians who worked their butts off — and continue to this day — to bring this project online," he said.
He acknowledged problems with the project, but argued that setbacks and ballooning budgets often go hand in hand with megaprojects.
"I can give you a list a mile long of projects from around the world that doubled their budgets and then some, yet were ultimately hugely successful," he said.
An old rivalry
Williams's predecessor, former premier Roger Grimes, was also at the conference, and disagreed with Williams's argument that Newfoundland and Labrador will still benefit economically from Muskrat Falls.
"It's scandalous, really, is what it is, and it gets worse by the day," he said.
Although Grimes disagreed with Williams on the economic benefits of the project, he did agree that the renewable energy from the project will have environmental benefits.
"The environment is changing. Climate change is real. We have to do something about it," he said.
Grimes also said Williams used "anti-Quebec sentiment" to justify some actions during his time as premier.
In his speech, Williams challenged that characterization, saying his government was willing to work with "anyone" but Hydro-Québec would not give a fair deal.
When asked why he chose to appear at the conference, Williams said he thought about staying out of the fray, but wanted to offer his perspective and explain the reasoning behind his government's actions.
"You're damned if you do and you're damned if you don't."