Former senior bureaucrat Todd Stanley was on the witness stand at the Muskrat Falls Inquiry last Monday, October 22. All witnesses at the Inquiry are
interviewed by Commission Counsel, but his interview is noteworthy for several reasons.
relationship that existed between public servants and Nalcor senior
executives when approval of the Muskrat Falls development was being whisked
through the Government’s approval process.
rose to the position of Deputy Minister of Justice. He also served as Counsel
to the Department of Natural Resources in the early days of the Muskrat Falls
analyse public policy initiatives of all kinds, and to give advice to the
Government. When an entity like Nalcor is permitted to by-pass normal bureaucratic
processes — having been given free access to the Premier’s Office — not only is
the process of public policy review undermined, but tensions are sure to emerge, and not just because the traditional power structure is threatened.
however. On the witness stand, under examination, he was challenged by Co-Counsel, Barry Learmonth, for ostensibly having “backtracked” from some of the comments made by him during the same interview. Stanley had offered characterizations of
Nalcor that included “fiefdom,” “runaway train” and a
“classic example of the tail wagging the dog.”
|Former Deputy Minister of Justice, Todd Stanley|
Whether Stanley actually succeeded in backtracking on his
comments is moot. Responding to a visibly upset Learmonth, Stanley ventured
that his comments had been too “flowery,” that he “would have
used less conventional language” had he considered that his remarks
would become so public.
public servant at the time Muskrat was pursued. He had first-hand knowledge of
the issues and the people involved, and interacted with them. Second, Stanley was, during that time, a lawyer and senior public servant — not some middle- or lower-level policy
analyst who is often not privy to high-level discussions or the most
politically sensitive issues.
Third, because of his qualifications
and experience, Stanley knew (or ought to have known) that an interview given under
Oath or Affirmation — to a duly constituted tribunal — is not a place for bar
Commissioner may apply to the interview — we have to treat Mr. Stanley’s reflections as having
been both an accurate and forthright appraisal of his observations.
Most certainly, they are an insightful commentary
on a time when the public service became not just dysfunctional but corrupted,
at least insofar as normal review, administrative and oversight processes are
concerned. In that respect, alone, the public is given a portal into a process
in which basic public policy processes were crushed in the rush to project sanction.
Even more, Stanley’s assertions cast a long shadow over whether the Commission of Inquiry will come into possession of the review and analysis which former Premier Williams claimed — under Oath — actually exist.
interview, the full text of which is found HERE. The
webcast of his examination before the Inquiry is found HERE for the AM; the afternoon Session is found HERE.
Now, let’s peer into Mr. Stanley’s most revealing interview with Commission Co-Counsel. Here are a few of his verbatim remarks:
circumstances where Na1cor do – come into government and make a presentation on
the eighth floor, go get the instructions and approvals, go back and then they’d
call the government departments and tell them what they were doing. And the government
departments would find out through Na1cor what had been approved on the eighth floor,
and may not necessarily think the eighth floor had all the information in front
of them that they should have when they made that decision and not agree with
the decision. So the whole issue of how Nalcor’s operating versus how government
was operating, and the level of control or insight or – that was a constant issue
at lower levels of government than I – than like, sort of,the Premier’s office.
I’m not sure I’m putting that well.
exists, whereby Nalcor could go straight to the Premier’s office-
made without the Department of Natural Resources or another department. In that
– is that an unusual type of situation, in your experience?
usually any client department coming through – any
would receive the benefit of analysis of the people in the departments involved.
instances where we went over to Hydro, or Nalcor, for a briefing on something as
to how the Muskrat project would be structured – this was fairly early days – and
they would tell us it’s gonna be A, B or
– and I can’t remember what the briefing was, the topic of it – but the
instructions were, like, you know: And it’s gonna work like this. And the government
people were sitting there and were like: Well, who said it’s going to work like
that? That’s, you know, the perceived, at least, concerns about how that would
be. And Nalcor’s response was, this was approved by the premier. And one of the
Natural Resources people who was there said: Oh, that’s interesting, I don’t
remember writing the policy analysis on that.
no policy analysis on it. Right? It never came through the experts at Natural
Resources to say: Okay, here’s the wrinkles, here’s the hairs on that, here’s
the problems with it. Nalcor came and got approval from the Premier’s office.
We’re gonna do this; marched off and had their instructions and their approvals.
So that was unusual.
a good relationship with Nalcor, can you give me examples of that –
reasons for it?
Kennedy’s thinking that I’m not sure I’m gonna put on the record.
number of people in government did as you’re getting into 2000 – I can’t
remember when he was there 2011, ’12, I think. You know, they were sort of viewed
as being a little bit of a runaway train that we didn’t have any control over. You
know, so they’d and I need it all done by Tuesday.
it going this is, you know, three months work and massive policy issues, blah,
blah, blah. But Nalcor’s like I don’t – we just need it done. So that personality
differences, that kind of stuff, he gave them a hard time or purported to give
them a hard time on matters. I don’t think he had much of a personal fondness
for them or the project and the like.
Muskrat. So the assumption that you would have had – that government had a
handle on what was going on – would have required government, internally, to
have people in place who could question what was being told to them by Nalcor
and have access to resources to stress test or analyze or critique.
existed in government, government was actually decreasing resources across the
board by doing budget cuts, and that there wasn’t much of a political will to
do that anyways.
you’re talking two or three rungs down the ladder in both organizations – there
was significant resistance to sending any information over to government about
the financial information to how things were going. In part, because of the
concern that – I think from Nalcor used to say: Once we give it to government
we don’t know where it goes. Losing control of their financial information:
subject to ATIPP, disclosure, leaks, they – all kinds of stuff.
understand it at the time, between government and Nalcor in terms of trying to
establish insight into what Nalcor was doing, at a very granular level, you
know, monthly reporting. The – so the information – if, you know, if you were
to talk to someone who’s involved in the Oversight Committee, the information
the Oversight Committee gets now evolved over time. It was not being provided
willingly by Nalcor at first instance when they established the committee, as I
election was on – and talking well outside my brief as lawyer here, but just
frankly – that election was gonna be on the Lower Churchill Project. So they
were basically locked into the Lower Churchill Project and what the guys at
Nalcor were telling them was gonna be the cost estimates and the like.
corporation and a structure where everybody was told all the time that they
were the best people in the world that had ever been tasked to do this stuff,
and they all the time that they were the best people in the world that had ever
been tasked to do this stuff, and they were world experts and they were gonna
do it right and we had every contingency covered, and if you talked to Nalcor,
it was nothing but confidence expressed
STANLEY: Yeah. The political- you know, there was no desire there for – to walk
office to say we need a I5-person team here, put over there, to do nothing but
question everything that comes from Na1cor, vet it, and the resources, there
was no appetite to hear that, let alone, you know, to be the person walking in
the office to propose it. And there was no funding. We had no money to do any
of that –
I said before, what Nalcor was doing to generate those numbers, for the cost
estimates for construction and the like, were largely – as, like I said, it’s a
black box. Government had no insight – you know, I didn’t see any insight by
government into what Nalcor was doing. And I don’t think government had the
expertise to say to Nalcor, send me over everything, I’m going to do an
independent cost review. There’s nobody in government to dictate that email,
right? Nalcor was producing – they were engaging in various processes
internally to stress test all this stuff.
they had outside people – and they were coming up with these cost estimates.
And once they came out ofNa1cor, I don’t remember there being much questioning
of what the cost estimates were.
Falls project from the time of Danny Williams’ announcement at the Fairmont
Hotel through to the sanction process and afterwards — and as the wheels came
off the bus, so to speak — have long wondered how an ill-equipped public service
could have helped pilot the project through the normal channels of review and
public policy analysis into Cabinet. They need wonder no more. Based upon Mr. Stanley’s dissertation, if
anything it was a sham process.
advance the project, the Nalcor CEO had open access and made a bee-line to the
Premier’s Office. Public servants, by and large, were mere functionaries. They prepared Cabinet Papers and obtained
largely predetermined Cabinet Orders. Of course, it is important to note that certain
senior officials facilitated this process. Some of them will be heard at the
Inquiry in the coming days.
I have not heard a narrative which suggests that any public
servant attempted to apply the brakes to the folly, or spoke truth to
Danny Williams states — with certainty — were carried out at the senior level
of the public service.