As Stan Marshall headed
for the exit at Nalcor Energy on June 10th – the Annual General Meeting
completed, and the media given something akin to an oratorio on his own tenure
– he might have been expecting public applause for a job well-done. After five
weeks there is no echo to be heard – there having been not a sound!
Marshall reminded us that
he arrived at Nalcor at a time of crisis – which is true.
He also suggested that after
five years of giving the Crown Corporation his guiding hand, everything about
the Muskrat Falls project is under control – which is not true.
Nor does his claim hold
water that Nalcor’s expertise is something the province can’t do without.
The Premier having been
advised of this view by Marshall, did not stop dismantling the Crown
Corporation. A sound decision to be sure.
How might we – on the periphery of Government and politics –
judge Stan Marshall’s time as the Nalcor CEO?
To begin with, we cannot
saddle Marshall with the Muskrat Falls catastrophe. That, as we know, is the
legacy of others.
But it is not disparaging
of the man to say that his performance since 2016 does not live up to the
thunder which only his voice echoes.
|Stan Marshall (photo credit: NTV)|
Mr. Marshall arrived at
Nalcor following Ed Martin’s abrupt and deservedly undignified firing – his partisan
Board and Premier Ball having stuffed his pockets with public money, though that
is another matter.
The expectation at the
time was that Marshall would set to work and “fix” Nalcor, bringing some order
to the Muskrat Falls Project. He was also expected to replace the senior
management who were dishonest and performed poorly. He
had “served notice that it won’t be business
as usual…” But the rhetoric remained unmatched by either decision or action. He
didn’t deliver; not then, nor later.
Marshall embraced bombast
at the start. The media made much of his “boondoggle” depiction of the project,
its underpinnings having been assessed correctly as purely political; that is
to say, it had no business case.
That was hardly a
revelation, unless you were among the willfully deaf. The public was looking
for prescription not description anyway. Chiefly, he was expected to inculcate
Nalcor with some of the business principles and skillsets on which Fortis Inc. was
Why he failed to even
begin this endeavour remains a matter of speculation.
His reorganization initiative
was built around a NL Hydro re-hire: Jim Haynes. On him rested “bifurcation” of
project management. V-P Gilbert Bennett earned a promotion rather than the
warranted ejection and Jim Haynes was given the role of performing one-half of
Gilbert Bennett’s job. The others at Nalcor, he said, were “good people”,
notwithstanding the trail of evidence to the contrary.
If his own first steps
were tentative, the Report of the Muskrat Falls Inquiry ought to have resolved
Richard LeBlanc concluded:
“Edmund Martin, Gilbert Bennett and the PMT frequently took unprincipled steps
to help secure Project sanction. They concealed information that would
undermine the business case reported to the public, to GNL and to Nalcor’s
board of directors.” (p. 18)
A dictionary definition of
“unprincipled” runs the gamut from unethical to corrupt; even the most benign interpretation
is not normally one that lets the misbehaved and unworthy keep their jobs or
warrant them promotions and bonuses.
Judge LeBlanc had been a
Supreme Court Justice since 2000. What could he possibly know about principles,
deceit and professional standards? Stan Marshall, having held his own court,
Marshall’s failure emboldened
Project Director, Paul Harrington, to write him on June 6, 2016 which ought to
have been entitled ‘Lament for the good old days when Ed Martin was still here’.
Harrington’s letter stated that, as a result of his public comments, the PMT “are
now starting to feel abandoned” having always had “the confidence of the Nalcor
leadership.” Evidently, they didn’t like
the truth about them being bandied about in the press.
In addition, Harrington
let him know that he didn’t like even Marshall’s minimal reorganization suggesting
that “he had not fully appreciated” the implications of the changes. After that barrage, Marshall
went quiet, though the outburst ought to have been seen by the tentative CEO as
just one more reason to clean house.
His flat footedness gives
us cause to wonder why Fortis Inc. was run so differently; in particular, why a
highly reputable, if aggressive and bombastic CEO, preferred to embrace the dubious
virtues of the “boondoggle” rather than employ his lengthy executive experience
to show the public sector how “real” business is conducted.
Was it that Marshall had
served Fortis Inc. as its legal counsel for many years and had settled into the
role of a “clean boots” executive?
Was he less connected to “infrastructure”,
to the complex operational demands of agenda-driven contractors, and the tough job
of building things than to the balance sheets that drive large corporate
Perhaps, it was that the skillset
of the singular CEO contrasted with that of the collective expertise of the Corporate
Executive, all of whom were highly regarded, too?
Or, was it simply, that
Mr. Marshall had miscalculated, forgetting that Nalcor and Muskrat Falls needed
a “crisis manager”, a seasoned lead able to identify not just incompetent
contractors, but the inept officials who hired them?
Stan Marshall need only to
have recognized the requirement for such a person; he did not possess the qualifications
himself. Besides, who at Nalcor was able to give him advice or save him from
misstep? The ones whom cronyism preferred?
Surely not Project Director Paul Harrington whom the
Commissioner repeatedly named for his role in the creation of the estimates,
interfering with consultants, and for keeping oversight at bay, including
It is a safe bet that the Board
of Fortis Inc. – and the Shareholders – would not have been as forgiving had those
Nalcor hires been on their payroll.
But, to the point, shorn
of the collective senior executives with whom he worked at Fortis Inc., the new
CEO likely discovered that, at Nalcor, he was a lost soul in an Orchestra of third