Richard LeBlanc has started the task of getting the Commission of Inquiry into
the Muskrat Falls Project underway by allowing for the engagement of the public.
Essentially, the Judge is asking for opinions with respect to the interpretation of the Terms of Reference (TOR). That outcome will govern the
scope of the Inquiry.
is an important phase. The Judge is doing what the Premier ought to have done. But, unlike the Premier, Justice LeBlanc cannot
alter or amend the TOR. He is, however, entitled to give them broad
interpretation — as long as he does not overstep their parameters (over which
he will exercise a Judge’s discretion).
who has followed the Muskrat Falls saga will understand that the project’s
origins, evolution and catastrophic failure required a complex web of political
machinations, deals, contracts and relationships. Those who were poorly suited
to the task, who were arrogant, who let ego or greed get the better of them,
who were elected and were unwise or assumed a knowledge or a skill they didn’t
possess, or who forgot to whom they owed fealty, will now be confronted with a
Judge who will independently assess those decisions, their authors (some of
them anyway), and the institutions that enabled them.
4 (a) of the TOR allows the Commission to give “consideration… of the options… that
informed Nalcor’s decision to recommend… the Muskrat Falls project.” It is a
clause that offers wide scope for a great variety of questions to be investigated.
time, people will be shocked to the core of their humanity over the project’s
financial implications. Regardless of their ability, they will be responsible
for re-paying all the money borrowed. The public will want to know if Muskrat’s
official designation as the “least cost option” constituted a reasonable
assessment, or if it was just the favoured legacy that won over less “sexy”
options. They will also want to know what the other viable options would have
cost them in comparison. Section 4 (a) (ii) of the TOR will permit the Judge to
consider those issues.
LeBlanc understands the level of expectation that awaits him two years from now,
as Muskrat nears completion and the public comes face to face with the
inevitable frightful economic reality.
important part of his mission will be to arrive at assessments that are
comprehensible, complete and unambiguous — showing the train of decision-making
and who made those decisions. He will have to be thorough.
4 (b) (v) of the TOR allows for an examination of “any risk assessments, financial
or otherwise” which were conducted in respect of the project. This clause will enable the Judge to assess,
for example, whether the fiscal risk to the people of province was ever
are just a few examples of issues worthy of investigation. There are many
others and the TOR needs to be viewed as comprehensive enough to include all of them. Muskrat is a big, complex project; many aspects were never given a
public airing. Some received analysis only on a few Blogs. For all those
reasons, Judge LeBlanc needs the fullest public participation in this crucial
addition to members of the general public, those who worked on the Muskrat Falls
project (in whatever capacity) might consider telling their specific stories to
5 of the TOR — appropriately — provides for participation by Aboriginal groups. They must be permitted to raise a host of environmental issues which the Joint Environmental Panel raised but Nalcor ignored from the start – including the North Spur and methylmercury. It is by no means obvious how the TOR accommodates consideration of them but Aboriginal groups and the rest of us must put our minds to the task.
The TOR empowers the Inquiry to consider “the need to provide consumers… with
electricity at the lowest possible cost…” which will open up the Inquiry to
issues of how high power rates will ultimately rise in order to finance the
project upon completion, and the extent to which the rates have been “back-end-loaded”.
(Don’t forget that even at $6.2 billion, Nalcor’s solution to “rate shock” was to
delay employing the full cost even as it gave assurances of “rate stability”.) I happen to think that people will want to know the cost of “rate mitigation” and how that subsidy
will affect public services for all taxpayers. The public should make sure issues of this kind are on the Commission’s agenda.
election of democratic government in 2015, and whether Nalcor funded a deliberate
program of misinformation to the public over several years.
will need to inform us if project estimates were falsified, as some contend.
need to know if Nalcor “sold the shop” to EMERA, which seems to be the case, if the
Federal Government gave an unwarranted level of control over the project to
Nova Scotia by giving that province an effective veto over the Federal Loan
Guarantee and project sanction, and why Nalcor and the provincial government
ignored the joint federal/provincial environment panel’s refusal to endorse the
project. There are many, many other such questions.
Richard LeBlanc has truly accepted a monumental task.
welcomed opportunity to “assist” the Commission’s work is now on offer. The Commissioner
seeks public input into the interpretation of the TOR. I don’t think he expects everyone to be a Queen’s Counsel lawyer for this purpose, though it
would be unfortunate if some of them didn’t lend their skills to the task, too.
guidelines for submissions suggest that they must be in writing, not exceed 20
double-spaced pages, and use an 11-point font at a minimum. They can be emailed
to (email@example.com) or delivered to the Commission’s offices in
St. John’s. The deadline is 5 p.m. on February 15. The Link to the Terms of
Reference can be found here.
people may want to mention just one or two issues which they consider to be the
most important. They might also prefer authorship to be “anonymous”.
it stands, a submission to the Inquiry is being prepared with input from a small group of ‘veteran’ Muskrat watchers – a very small group.
you prefer to remain anonymous with your Submission, I am inviting you to send
your suggestions to this Blog at firstname.lastname@example.org
with the assurance that the authors’ names will be kept in the strictest
confidence. I will ensure that they are
sent to the Commissioner as part of a “group” submission or as a separate submission,
in keeping with the size constraints imposed by the Commission.
LeBlanc has advised that he will issue a decision on his interpretation of the TOR subsequent to the February 15 deadline for submissions.
guidelines which he announces and the scope of investigation that they afford will
serve as the first test of whether the key issues will be held up to the light.
will also learn if the drafting of the TOR was too limited — that is to say, if
the Judge’s hands were tied by the government.
one step at a time!