In October 2014, Ed Martin came to The Telegram for an editorial board meeting. By then, detractors were regularly denouncing anything coming out of the Nalcor CEO’s mouth. As the founding head of the Crown energy company created by former premier Danny Williams, Martin has had his hand in a number of things. But his greatest legacy is the Muskrat Falls hydroelectric project.
To say it hasn’t been controversial is to liken the Churchill River to a wading pool.
Nalcor argued that stringing power from a dam on the Lower Churchill across the strait to Newfoundland was the cheapest option to fulfil the province’s electrical needs.
From the start, the numbers were questioned. Why was domestic power consumption expected to rise so much? Why would anyone predict a huge climb in oil prices, eventually approaching $200 a barrel?
Once construction costs started to rise — and oil prices changed drastically — there was talk the project might be a huge white elephant.
People questioned the logic of selling power at competitive low prices to the mainland while gouging consumers back home. Other speed bumps appeared. One bank of the river — the North Spur — needed serious mitigation to ensure the silty clay didn’t give way.
Quebec went to court about its exclusive rights to Upper Churchill power. The project was soon fraught with problems.
Now the price has pretty well doubled and the end date keeps moving. The writing was on the wall when Finance Minister Cathy Bennett took thinly veiled swipes at Nalcor’s management in this month’s budget. And last Wednesday, Ed Martin stepped down.
It probably wasn’t his intention, given what he said to The Telegram back in 2014 when asked about his future.
“I believe I have a responsibility to see some of these things through,” he said.
Martin said something else that day that was interesting.
“Personally, I’m indifferent as to what we’re building here...,” he said, in justifying Muskrat Falls.
“It comes down to a number ... and a decision has to be made. And we made a decision based on those parameters.”
Martin is a businessman. Nalcor is a business. The company presented its case and it was the government’s responsibility to poke and prod that case.
Instead, it relied on cursory assessments by outside consultants and froze out the province’s Public Utility Board. The governments of Danny Williams and Kathy Dunderdale should have represented the people’s best interests.
Instead, they were cheerleaders for a project with a growing price tag.
They, and cabinet ministers like Jerome Kennedy, thundered against queries raised by the opposition and numerous non-partisan critics.
This is pessimism and partisanship, they cried. We have the best experts right here at home Don’t listen to the negative Nellies. Trust us.
That’s no way to scrutinize a multibilliondollar project. It is governance with blinders on. We hope the current administration, and those that follow, learn from this example.