DUE DILIGENCE UNIQUE IN ITS ABSENCE…AGAIN?

Guest Post by Maurice E. Adams

In his recent Telegram article (Province still partial to get-rich-quick schemes), retired ambassador Gar Pardy wrote in part that “…old files should be dusted off at times like this when large promises are again being made, with due diligence unique in its absence”.

With respect to the proposed World Energy GH2 west coast wind/hydrogen/ammonia project and the province’s role in it, will the province’s due diligence (as with the Muskrat Falls fiasco) again be ‘unique in its absence’?

Just a couple of years ago public inquiry Commissioner Leblanc concluded that Muskrat Falls was a “misguided” project. The inquiry report makes it reasonably clear that the province’s ‘top-down’ approach/push to get it done was not able to ensure the successful completion of a project that was from the very beginning — ill-conceived, misguided and poorly executed.

Notwithstanding such recent experience, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and the Atlantic premiers have signed a ‘top-down’ agreement that will help grease the wheels for the approval of another multi-billion dollar project that again shows signs of “due diligence (being) unique in its absence”.

As a tip of the hat to retired ambassador Gar Pardy, outlined below is another “old file” that started out as a federal/national ‘top-down’ project and at least initially was one where “due diligence (was also) unique in its absence”.

Some 40 years ago, driven by the need for federal departments to reduce their budgets, Ottawa directed the Canadian Coast Guard (CCG), NL Region to provide within a month (Treasury Board accuracy level) cost estimates for the de-staffing of 26 of the province’s 56 major staffed lighthouses.

The CCG NL Region soon advised Ottawa that its in-house resources were insufficient to develop such high level, detailed cost estimates and also that Ottawa’s ‘top-down’ national Lighthouse Monitoring (LMP) Project management structure was prone to error.

However, changing Ottawa’s narrow (budget and time driven) project management structure from what some describe as an implement, implement, implement approach to one more rational (horizontal, bottom-up, integrated/collaborative, analytical and project planning/development) was difficult and lengthy. Nevertheless, over the next 2-3 years reason and evidence-based decision making largely prevailed.

A NL Regional bottom-up, data collection and consultation process was begun and helped demonstrate to senior federal public servants that the CCG NL Region needed to obtain special funding to proceed with a request for proposals and to acquire outside professional consultant services for project plan development.

In effect, Coast Guard’s NL Region knew that it needed to develop what one prospective consultant described as a ‘master plan’; one that could guide the Region as it proceeded with its transformation, modernization, standardization and the continued safe and reliable operation of its major marine aids to navigation systems.

Only after a NL Regional visit to Quebec and a return visit by Ottawa based senior management and engineering staff to a number of Newfoundland’s major staffed lighthouses did HQ come to understand the magnitude and the need to upgrade/modernize, standardize and improve the NL Region’s aids to navigation systems and for HQ to independently come to the view that NL was 20 years behind the de-staffing potential of other regions.

Shortly thereafter a special ministerial funding document was drafted and eventually approved by both senior regional and headquarters public servants and approved by the then federal minister (John Crosbie).

A NL Regional Lightstation Standardization Project (and matrix management regional/federal/inter-branch team structure) was developed (of which the national Lightstation Monitoring Project became merely a component part). Over time, due diligence made a difference and approximately 26 lightstations were de-staffed.

How does this experience relate to the proposed World Energy GH2 project and its transformative potential? The Government of Newfoundland and Labrador must begin to recognize that the project is possibly only a component part of a potentially integrated and province-wide energy master plan.

Who will ensure that there is an appropriately independent team put in place (with the broad approval and the required funding) to do the kind of horizontal/cohesive planning that can guide a potentially beneficial industry and ensure that such a transformative project fits cohesively within, and compatible with (but no more than a component part) of the province’s Master Plan? And most importantly, who will ensure that any transformation will be environmentally, economically and appropriately beneficial — first and foremost to people of the province? 

That responsibility and duty lies primarily with the Premier, his Cabinet and provincial public servants.

Will they step up? Or will citizens, once again, find that we have learned nothing?

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