Hardly at arm’s length

The Southern Gazette - - Front Page -

He may not have meant it to sound the way it did, but Robert Thomp­son gave an an­swer on the stand at the Muskrat Falls in­quiry last Wed­nes­day that de­fines the over­rid­ing theme of the in­quiry so far.

Asked about whether cer­tain projects risks were prop­erly out­lined to the pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ment by Nal­cor, the for­mer clerk of the Ex­ec­u­tive Coun­cil replied, “I don’t know and I can’t re­call.”

Those seven words, in some ways, rep­re­sent a com­mon re­frain at the in­quiry.

Not to say that what Thomp­son did re­call wasn’t in­ter­est­ing.

For ex­am­ple, up un­til 2011, he kept his own notes on the is­sues he dealt with in gov­ern­ment, notes he still has and that were pro­vided to the com­mis­sion of in­quiry. Af­ter 2011, for the re­main­ing years un­til he left the civil ser­vice in 2013, those same notes were held by the pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ment, and no longer seem to be avail­able. That’s cer­tainly in­ter­est­ing.

That the pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ment didn’t dou­blecheck Nal­cor’s num­bers for the cost of the project, or even read in­de­pen­dent re­ports that the en­ergy gi­ant told the prov­ince that it had had done? That’s in­ter­est­ing as well.

But the big­gest thing that be­came clear from Thomp­son’s tes­ti­mony?

Per­haps it’s that Nal­cor and the pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ment saw them­selves as work­ing hand-in-glove to move Muskrat Falls for­wards - con­sult­ing back and forth on the con­tents of news re­leases, on the con­tents of let­ters re­quired by gov­ern­ment, even on the terms of ref­er­ence for a re­view of the project and that no one was cast­ing a crit­i­cal eye over the project as a whole.

When it came to getting an in­de­pen­dent re­view done of the project, the pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ment not only asked Nal­cor what its views were on the terms of ref­er­ence for the re­view, but even who should be do­ing it. The gov­ern­ment also clearly kept in mind that any in­de­pen­dent re­view shouldn’t be al­lowed to in­ter­fere with Nal­cor’s al­ready es­tab­lished sched­ule and time line for the project.

In other words, re­view or not, the project was go­ing ahead.

The in­ter­con­nect­ed­ness be­tween gov­ern­ment and Nal­cor - and how ob­vi­ously ac­cepted that sym­bi­otic (or per­haps par­a­sitic) re­la­tion­ship was is truly alarm­ing.

So where does that leave us, the peo­ple who will end up pick­ing up the tab for this project?

Well, if the pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ment truly saw it­self first as a part­ner in Nal­cor’s Muskrat Falls project, as part of a team aligned with the project’s goals, then you have to ask who was look­ing out for the in­ter­ests of the prov­ince’s tax­pay­ers and ratepay­ers.

Surely the suc­ces­sive ad­min­is­tra­tions that launched the project un­der­stood that their first re­spon­si­bil­ity was as rep­re­sen­ta­tives of the peo­ple, not as part­ners in a megapro­ject.

If they didn’t, they clearly ab­di­cated their fidu­ciary and gov­ern­men­tal re­spon­si­bil­i­ties.

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