people believe that the Muskrat Falls Project is out of reach of cancellation. That may be true; still, the public expects their
Government to keep a tight rein on Project costs and to report frequently.
Dunderdale Administration has shown no sign that it is either concerned, or that
it even cares, whether the public is kept informed.
Government has sanctioned Muskrat Falls based upon a series of dodgy and ever
changing arguments. But, having passed
over complete discretion on how billions of dollars of public money will be
spent, to a cabal of unelected bureaucrats at Nalcor, represents an
unparalleled dereliction of duty, by elected officials.
performance of Nalcor CEO Ed Martin, during its recent Annual General
Meeting (AGM), is significant. Russell
Wangersky raised the issue in the June 30th edition of the Telegram. He cited several specific examples of the
Corporation’s refusal to disclose essential information regarding major Project
contracts and expenditures. In a nutshell, Nalcor is making copious use of the “can’t
tell you” strategy: it responds to many enquiries, with either “no answer” or
“too commercially sensitive to answer.” As a backgrounder to this piece, Mr.
Wangersky’s Column, “Variations on a theme – questions and non-answers”, is
well worth reading.
Provincial Government has functioned, for forty years, under strictures imposed
by The Public Tendering Act. The Act was promulgated, under the first Tory
Government, following Smallwood’s defeat.
The Smallwood era was notorious for its ‘cost plus’ contracts, awards to
Liberal Party supporters and, especially, for the corruption that always
Tendering Act provides, more than a level playing field for contractors. It eliminates favouritism to friends and partisan
supporters; it is a system, when allowed to function, that finds essential integrity
through the fundamental act of public disclosure.
contractor, whether a successful bidder or not, disputes that its name and bid
price will become public knowledge. This same information Nalcor now deems ‘sensitive’. Obviously, Nalcor has
never weighed the value of transparency as a fundamental underpinning of good
deference to Nalcor began with former Premier Danny Williams and his relationship
with CEO Ed Martin. It has always been a
mystery, to me, how a person plucked out of Petro Canada’s middle management could
be made an instant hydro and megaproject Czar, given responsibility for
billions of dollars of public money. That is another storey.
thing is clear: Williams wanted an ‘energy powerhouse’ and he wasn’t about to
ask the public its permission or inform them of the pitfalls of such a venture,
financially or in terms of its impact on other public policies. Premier
Dunderdale has never objected to Nalcor’s ambitions. But, then she has never boasted
an original idea or questioned one of Williams’.
is not just about contracts and whether, by a fair bidding process, the public
has received ‘value for money’. It is
also about the amount of money committed and spent, and how the expenditures
relate to previously determined Budgets; it is about cost-overruns which, in
this case, threaten the finances of the whole Province, it is about a host of
technical issues, like the North Spur problem, markets for the surplus power
and a host of other issues, to which the public has a right to have answers.
may need reminding that when the idea of building Muskrat Falls was incubated,
the Government, on their behalf, held to an arrangement that allowed 100% of the
capital cost to be paid for, by rate payers, through a ‘take or pay’ contract, for
only 40% of Muskrat Falls power. Revenue generated, if any, for the other 40%, (20%
is given Emera for the Maritime Link) is destined for Nalcor’s coffers. It is not designated to offset the high power
costs of Nfld. rate payers.
Nalcor has also been given a wide role in the Province’s oil industry, which
has escaped much public discussion, too.
The upshot is that Government has permitted non-elected bureaucrats
authority, not just to spend without disclosure, but to aggregate public money outside
of Government’s budgetary process.
rightly ask: has the Dunderdale Administration given de facto permission to
Nalcor to act as “a state within a state”?
Whether by specific direction or passive acquiescence, has the Government
permitted this Agency to bypass a public contracts system not even available to
high-handed approach by CEO Ed Martin, to legitimate citizens’ questions and
concerns, it would have been a reasonable expectation, following Nalcor’s AGM, for
the Premier to have stepped forward and publicly issued instructions to Mr.
Martin. She ought to have told him that Nalcor “must” operate under the same rules which now apply to Government Departments, like Transportation and Public Works, that it “must” provide for complete public disclosure.
great tragedy of wilful and structured secrecy playing out in this
Province. It has the acquiescence not
just of the Government; many members of the media have neither noticed it, as a
fact, or its implications. It does not
get noted by even one civic leader, in an election year. The two Opposition Parties still pull their
punches in mortal fear that they will find themselves on the wrong side of
enlarged authority, access to public money and Government-sponsored secrecy, Nalcor
now represents ‘a clear and present danger’ to the economic and social
viability of Newfoundland and Labrador.