the Witness Stand at the Muskrat Falls Inquiry, former Premier Paul Davis displayed
the confidence of one who believed he knew what he was talking about. A
confident Derrick Dalley, the former Tory Minister of Natural Resources,
succeeded him. Trouble is, confidence is no substitute for the good judgment
they ought to have brought to their senior positions.
was leadership worldly-wise enough to understand the need for a process that
assured “oversight” of the project at the highest level. The decision required
personnel of international stature that was “earned” — not “awarded” by Kathy Dunderdale.
wonder that Davis was once dubbed the “Corporal Premier” on this Blog, having admitted
to the Inquiry that his chief source of information on Muskrat was Dalley.
about the blind leading the blind. The Telegram reported Dalley admitting, in
2014, that he didn’t need “to see the report of the Independent Engineer… because
he was already confident with what Nalcor officials were telling him.”
and large, the public don’t expect politicians to understand technical matters.
They do expect, however, that an initiative is done for the right reasons (good
policy) and that the public interest is protected.
any practical level, lay people who find themselves installed in high office would
know that that an expenditure of $7.4 billion holds high risk for the public
treasury. Lay people are also capable of distinguishing “qualified” and “independent”.
They would not consider Nalcor CEO, Ed
Martin, as the best person to appraise his own skills or those of his
too, lay people can deduce that a committee of public servants — advised not by
an engineering firm but by accountants — is not the best way to install oversight
on a complex megaproject. Beginning with the Cabinet Clerks, they were
careerists who would not risk telling truth to power. The politicians liked it
this shallow process was not established until March 2014, long after Sanction,
five months after “Financial Close”. Hence, the Government missed the critical
period when, according to Grant Thornton, Nalcor still had time to reconsider
the cost and schedule and turn back.
Davis took no initiative to improve on what this Blog then referred to as “fake”
oversight installed by Premier Tom Marshall who acted not because the project
was in disarray but due to public pressure for a check on Nalcor.
could each Premier not perform the best due diligence possible on Muskrat, having
been warned of cost overruns via Ed Martin’s nebulous phrase “cost pressures”? Were
they wilfully deaf as well as wilfully blind?
weak and flat-footed Premier Dwight Ball undertook at least some project review,
having arrived on the eighth floor.
truth is that on the very day that Premier Danny Williams instructed Ed Martin
to build the project, Muskrat was orphaned by the Government. Not one Tory Premier
or Natural Resources Minister had a clue what to do, except to defer to him.
Dunderdale taken oversight seriously, doffing the blinders that shielded her
from the selected information that constituted Martin’s briefings, she might have
been able to perform push-back on his request for premature sanction. She could
have benefitted from the certainty that comes from detailed engineering,
advanced procurement data and bid prices — not to mention clarity from the Nova
Scotia PUB or with respect to Water Management.
occasions during Davis’ and Dalley’s evidence are especially instructive in
their ignorance of oversight requirements and practices.
first was in reference to Commission Counsel’s questions to Davis about
Schedule delay, during the discussion of Astaldi’s slow ramp-up. Davis stated that
Ed Martin had always exhibited “confidence” that the time could be made up. He
made no reference any “proof” or of a “process” that influenced this conclusion.
second relates to this comment by Derrick Dalley: “We made decisions on the
best information that we had. We felt that information was right.” “Best
information?” Without an experienced advisor — or several? Without a consistent,
skilled and independent process of verification? When does “felt [it] was right”
substitute for good data and analysis?
third occasion was a statement by Paul Davis telling Commission Counsel about all
the “oversight” that the project had received. Inexplicably, Davis included in
his enumeration the “project management team,” when they were the ones who
needed constant watch.
added the Board of Directors of Nalcor (except that they were begging the
Government — in writing — to supply Board Members having megaproject expertise, to which request
successive Premiers, including Davis, failed to respond).
continued that the oversight included “internal auditors” and “external
auditors”. He seemed unaware that the oversight function needed by the Premier was
not related to accounting, except for cost.
added the Auditor General to the group, too — except that the AG publicly
stated that his review was administrative and not related to Muskrat.
Davis invoked the oversight provided by the Independent Engineer — except that the
IE was looking after the Federal Government’s interests and was reporting to
Nalcor (who were editing and changing the IE’s Reports for the most favourable “spin”;
a fact reported on this Blog and confirmed by Grant Thornton).
as if Commission Counsel was supposed to fold his tent in deference to one so
wise, Davis invoked the Oversight Committee — which, as we have noted, was comprised
only of compliant public servants, none being a Professional Engineer.
to the silliness back in August 2014, Premier Tom Marshall went so far as to
include Emera and SNC Lavalin as “form[s] of oversight”.
even Premiers neither understand (nor want) oversight of a killer project for
the Treasury, the public might want to begin considering limits to the level of
“risk” they should be allowed to engage our behalf.
would be wise to keep the threshold low. Of course, there is no antidote for
those who don’t know what they don’t know.