Leave it to the AG

The Southern Gazette - - EDITORIAL -

What if it gets to the point of throw­ing good money af­ter bad?

Re­cently, a for­mer Muskrat Falls en­gi­neer sug­gested to CBC News that the project should un­dergo a foren­sic au­dit. His ar­gu­ment was that the num­bers used to jus­tify the project were un­re­al­is­tic from the start, and that there should be a reck­on­ing for how we got from project launch to huge cost over­runs and sched­ul­ing de­lays.

The ar­gu­ment’s clear: the peo­ple who will wind up pay­ing for over­runs — power users in this prov­ince — de­serve an­swers for the mess that is Muskrat.

Other op­po­nents of the project have since made the same ar­gu­ments, and the pro­vin­cial NDP has en­dorsed the sug­ges­tion.

We’ve ques­tioned the Muskrat Falls project for years. Tele­gram colum­nists pointed out when the project was first pro­posed that it was of a size and type that no ex­ist­ing Nal­cor staff had ever un­der­taken, and that while a series of in­formed as­sump­tions had been made to ar­gue for the project, some, if not all, of those pro­jec­tions might turn out to be wrong.

Many were cat­a­clysmi­cally wrong: oil prices fell sig­nif­i­cantly, the project’s costs bal­looned, the price of ex­port energy dropped pre­cip­i­tously; the list goes on.

Those back­ing a foren­sic au­dit ar­gue the work would en­sure we never make a sim­i­lar mis­take; on an an­cil­lary ba­sis, it would show us who made de­ci­sions and let us know who knew about the true state of the project, and when. It’s valu­able in­for­ma­tion, but at what price? It’s hard to imag­ine that any pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ment would be in a hurry to fall into the same kind of catas­tro­phe. Pride goeth be­fore a fall, and the fall here has been so sig­nif­i­cant, it’s hard to imag­ine there’s enough pride left to up­hol­ster a foot­stool.

A foren­sic au­dit will be an­other bill added to ratepay­ers’ ex­penses, and will not re­cover any of the money spent.

If there was clear ev­i­dence that any­one was un­justly or im­prop­erly re­warded — think theft, graft or cor­rup­tion — then a foren­sic au­dit would be an in­te­gral part of what would be needed to lay charges.

At the mo­ment, though, over­ween­ing po­lit­i­cal pride is not a crime.

The prov­ince’s au­di­tor gen­eral is well able to ex­am­ine the project to see if there was, in fact, crim­i­nal be­hav­iour. His of­fice has the tools, and should be al­lowed the ac­cess. Full ac­cess. If some­one has been made rich, or if crimes have been com­mit­ted, then full speed ahead. Au­dit it to shreds.

Right now, that seems to be the ap­proach the Lib­eral gov­ern­ment is tak­ing.

It is not one that will give us all the an­swers. It’s not one, likely, that will en­sure that blame ends up where it de­serves to be directed.

But how much more blame can we af­ford?

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