What is “Mostly Support” anyway?

Stephen Harper is in the province today to announce the loan guarantee for Muskrat Falls. Interesting move since the approval rating on this project is waning.  So now we have the provincial government pushing the project through, the federal government pushing the project through and all on the backs of precarious support from the population as a whole.

In two recent polls the numbers have shown discontent, at very least.  Both polls surveyed 400 people (less than 0.1% of the population).  In the original poll, commissioned by the coalition I Believe in the Power of N.L. and conducted by Corporate Research Associates, reads that two thirds of the population either strongly supported or mostly supported the development of Muskrat Falls to meet the future power need of Newfoundland and Labrador.  A second poll commissioned by CBC showed slightly more opposition and asked more questions to get a greater sense of what the numbers are telling up.

The reality is, that interpreting that poll as if it was a simple yes or no question is as short sighted as assuming that voting for the PCs in our last election was equivalent to saying yes to Muskrat Falls development.

So let’s consider the numbers, and since the original poll is so wrought with ambiguity, let’s pick on that a little.  (The poll is here.)

If I were to tell you “I mostly support your project”, what direction would you proceed in?  Let’s assume I am your boss, I write your pay cheques, and I am only “mostly” supportive of your project.  Wouldn’t you want to then try to get me on board?  Wouldn’t the next step be to help me better understand what you are telling me and maybe work with me so that we are both on the same page?  I would think so.

Yet, the coalition is being so bold as to say that they have the support of two thirds of the population.  Further interpretation suggests that if they remove those who were unaware or on the fence about the project, they have 80% of the decided public on side.

I think there is a different interpretation of this poll.  Considering the above scenario, as I look at the numbers I am reading that Muskrat Falls has the support of less than one third of the population (28%) another third (38%) is asking to be convinced, and the final third (34%) you really need to talk to if you think this should go ahead!  And then we get to the next problem with the assumptions being made.  When I suggest “talk to,” I mean TALK TO … I do not mean push their opinions aside as if they don’t matter, I do not mean belittle them in front of their fellow citizens, I do not mean have them call you and assume that if they do not they support you!

If our elected members will not get out into the public to ask their constituents their opinion and rational about such an important matter, how is their vote going to reflect their riding?

Of course one other major issue comes up, whose opinion matters most?  Assuming this poll was fully randomized, around 24 of those 400 would have been from Labrador.  How is it even ethical to get “permission” from people all over the province on a project in Labrador?  It is a financial risk for people in St. John’s, however those living close to Grand River will bear the financial risk, experience the environmental devastation, be exposed to physical risk (such as dam failure and mercury poisoning), loose eco-tourism opportunities and perhaps most importantly, they will have a culturally meaningful significant location completely removed.  Yet as part of less than 6% of our population, their opinion carries inconsequential weight.

Stephen Harper is ready to commit the rest of Canada to this project; certainly, it is not in their backyards either.  However there is still a vote to be had.  I cannot tell you one way or the other how this might go.  There is a lot of people assuming this is a done deal!  But how many calls does it take for your MHA to at least reconsider their vote?

I have been filling this blog is information from everywhere.  I have been trying to stay on top of the developments, but like most of us, I have a job, and volunteer projects, a family and a home.  I am not a politician and rarely so political.  Yet this project boils my blood and I am incensed that our MHAs are not searching for the opposition in their riding’s and trying to understand all sides.

I do not hide that I am wholly against this project.  But there is something bigger wrong here and it is in the group of individuals who “mostly support” the project. Contact your MHA, copy your premier, share your thoughts and let’s tell them what we think! How many people do they need to hear from to realize that this is not a yes or no question?  We need more answers, we need to let our government know – and they need to know by Tuesday!

Denise Hennebury

Environmental Educator living in Mount Pearl

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