The master
of spin, Nalcor CEO Ed Martin, should be weary of his own storytelling. But, when
even reporters offer no interruption, I guess he just can’t help himself.

It’s the
kind of stuff that makes your teeth grind because, intuitively, you know that Muskrat
Falls, at $10-12 billion, will be reported as just an innocuous
detail; reporters will never note their failure to challenge the blather (or the decisions) of
officials like him.

(July 14th) Ed Martin toured the Muskrat Falls site with some of the
provincial Premiers.  The CEO told a media “scrum” he can’t guarantee the project will generate first power by 2017 as
scheduled, or if it will meet budget targets.

statement contained uncharacteristic bluntness for one who never wastes an
opportunity to ‘gild the lily’. But, alas, the slip was deliberate; the sad
state of the project is beyond plausible deniability, even for Ed Martin. 

The CEO had
come to Labrador to be praised, not pilloried; reporters had plenty of evidence
to upbraid Nalcor’s man but chose to leave his self-praise unedited. 

Omitting questions
about project delay and late power, The Labradorian quoted Martin ad nauseaum. It’s sister paper, The Telegram, was sufficiently pleased to re-print the extensive monologue. The story lead read, in part: Martin stressed that, as a
long-term project, the construction schedule is just one of several factors
that must be considered, including, cost, quality and safety.

This is
Martin’s direct quote: “we want to keep (the)…schedule to the extent possible …
and make no mistake, we are making
100-year decisions
here and I think our main focus is to get the balance
right and don’t give anything away in the long-term for any short-term gain to
be made….these are 100 to 200 year
; I liken it to Niagara
, which started in the early 1900s. There’s cost, there’s schedule,
there’s quality, and there’s safety, and each of those have to be in balance.”
(emphasis added) The diatribe ran paragraphs.

invocation of Niagara Falls was classic for the Nalcor CEO. Martin was
referring not to the tourist attraction but to the hydro power plants that have
reliably produced energy, for Ontario, since 1893. It’s mere mention is expected to defy time value of money and a plethora of other core principles
of economic thought. It was intended to paper over any concern that Nalcor management
incompetence has played a role in the various predicaments Muskrat is facing.

Interestingly, Martin didn’t liken Muskrat to New Brunswick’s Mactaquac Dam, commissioned in 1968 and already in a serious state of deterioration due to faulty concrete; replacement cost may be as high as $5 billion by 2030.

reporters are expected to be possessed of a modicum of cynicism and to ask
tough, insightful questions.  It is fine
to have Ed Martin preoccupations written into the public record, but most readers still
expect ample cross-examination, in case the smoke being blown should make them

Martin knows
the schedule slippage is serious as are burgeoning cost overruns. But he was
walking among the political giants of Canada. The Premiers had been invited to
visit the Tory legacy project; it was just too bad the Premier of La Belle
Province wasn’t on the tour so that Ed could show him how we’re screwing
ourselves in order to screw Quebec.

Of course,
it is tough to be a giant when you have no good news to report; that’s when hyperbole
goes a long way; any claim to 100 year decisions might come in handy.

Aren’t the
public in awe of a man who walks among First Ministers, anyway? 

Now, funnily
enough, Martin didn’t tell the media scrum, as one insider told this Blog, that he had to ink a deal with the manufacturer,
at some considerable cost, to store the Muskrat
Falls’ turbines in an airplane hangar in Goose Bay for a couple of years even though officially, the project is still on schedule and that first power will arrive in 2017.
 And, to be fair, reporters cannot be expected
to know these things.

But a lot of
questions remain about the huge quantity of scrap (brand new) structural steel that
is hidden in a junk pile, in the back woods of Happy Valley-Goose Bay, in
consequence of an unfinished “dome”. If delays, cost overruns, low morale, a
slow and litigious contractor, and a host of other problems did not seem real
enough for the indolent scribes, surely a $120 million embarrassment, Nalcor’s reported budget for the
structure, ought to have inspired good questions. And the
perfect photo op, too! 
Problem is, they might have had to forego hors d’oeuvres
with the Premiers.

still, the star struck veterans were in the grip of NL’s great white hope; seized by his enthrall.

being in the shadow of one making 100 year decisions!
Related to this story:


Now, Ed
Martin is not dumb about everything. He knows that Muskrat Falls is just a
construction project. It is larger than many; but it is still just a
construction project. And he knows that any 100 year decisions occurred at
project sanction.

Any left-overs
are of the operational kind; the “where do I lay down my screw driver” variety.
A decision
to put the turbines in mothballs is a huge embarrassment and, incidentally, for
sound technical reasons, horrifies some engineers who believe, if Nalcor knew what it was doing, would have re-scheduled the manufacture and arrival.  

But should a
bevy of reporters let Martin off the hook; permit him to elevate ordinary decisions
by an incompetent leadership to the 100 year class?

He could fire
Astaldi, ostensibly a major cause of project “slippage”, a decision demanded by
several Managers, one he refuses to make; but even that decision, rather than “100 year”, constitutes for most capable CEOs just another
day at the office!

Martin continues
his blather with reporters: “If we have to adjust (the schedule) for quality
purposes or for the right reason, for the sake of months when we’re talking
decades, we’ll make the right decision.”

He is
still in hyperbolic mode, leaving no doubt that he makes only big decisions,
historic ones; the 100 year type.

But, he was only referring to a process even the
builder of a man-shed insists on: the simple but essential matter of
construction quality…as in quality assurance. It is far from certain he has been able to get even that right!

National reporters
were down to hear the First Ministers’ Energy Policy for Canada, and a host of
other pronouncements. Globe and Mail Columnist Konrad Yakabuski wasn’t taken in
by the Davis/Wynne photo-op, even though his paper still only counts nine provinces.  But, in the face of a multi-billion dollar project,
clearly off the rails, local reporters (the ones who live here) were content
with a treatise from Ed Martin on Q&A…elevated to the status of “100 year” verdicts!

It was pure bombast,
blather, bullshit; and every word of it was recorded in the newspaper for

Even if a
single journalist took offense to Martin’s babble, you might note none thought it worth

Des Sullivan
Des Sullivan
St. John's, Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada Uncle Gnarley is hosted by Des Sullivan, of St. John's. He is a businessman engaged over three decades in real estate management and development companies and in retail. He is currently a Director of Dorset Investments Limited and Donovan Holdings Limited. During his early career he served as Executive Assistant to Premier's Frank D. Moores (1975-1979) and Brian Peckford (1979-1985). He also served as a Part-Time Board Member on the Canada-Newfoundland Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board (C-NLOPB). Uncle Gnarley appears on the masthead representing serious and unambiguous positions on NL politics and public policy. Uncle Gnarley is a fiscal conservative possessing distinctly liberal values and a non-partisan persusasion. Those values and opinions underlie this writer's views on NL's politics, economy and society. Uncle Gnarley publishes Monday mornings and more often when events warrant.


Bill left public life shortly after the signing of the Atlantic Accord and became a member of the Court of Appeal until his retirement in 2003. During his time on the court he was involved in a number of successful appeals which overturned wrongful convictions, for which he was recognized by Innocence Canada. Bill had a special place in his heart for the underdog.

Churchill Falls Explainer (Coles Notes version)

If CFLCo is required to maximize its profit, then CFLCo should sell its electricity to the highest bidder(s) on the most advantageous terms available.


This is the most important set of negotiations we have engaged in since the Atlantic Accord and Hibernia. Despite being a small jurisdiction we proved to be smart and nimble enough to negotiate good deals on both. They have stood the test of time and have resulted in billions of dollars in royalties and created an industry which represents over a quarter of our economy. Will we prove to be smart and nimble enough to do the same with the Upper Churchill?


  1. By the end of 2015 Nalcor will be able to tune their schedule based on the project performance to date. The next premier of the province would be very wise to go in and ask for a third party schedule review of the project. I expect that full power by 2019 is still a stretch target.

    The second step of the premier would be to replace Ed Martin.

    By the time MF is complete there will be 4 Billion dollars of public money invested in Nalcor since 2006 when you consider the deferral of dividend payments.

    Last quarter they made a loss.

    Holy Fuck Batman… when will the public wake up.

  2. Finally a critique of your dormant–some say complicit– media, in this economic and ecologic disaster unfolding at Muskrat Falls.

    The Telegram sent a cub reporter, on Nalcor's dime, to tour the site. The resulting uncritical series was a homage to Nalcor, nauseating and fawning to Nalcor and "the Great White Hope" Martin.

    George Orwell said it best when he proclaimed journalism makes at least one person uncomfortable, anything else is public relations.

    I hope appropriate scorn is soon heaped by this scribe on the impotent, myopic political Opposition in NL on the Muskrat Falls unfolding disaster. Standing idly by while regulatory processes (JRP, UARB) were rendered unable to function and allowing the secrecy about contracts, they bear responsibility for the MF disaster and allowing democracy (transparency and accountability) to wither.

    Not a pretty picture when Nalcor had to extend payment from the industry standard 40 years to 57 years to make the economics look reasonable in a $120 barrel world. In a $40 bbl world the MF economics are truly bizzarro!