NALCOR NOT RE­LEAS­ING MUSKRAT CON­TRAC­TOR INFO

Leg­is­la­tion changed, but pub­lic no closer to Muskrat Falls num­bers

The Western Star - - FRONT PAGE - BY ASH­LEY FITZPATRIC­K

The pub­lic re­mains in the dark when it comes to how much has been paid to pro­fes­sional ser­vices con­trac­tors, so­called em­bed­ded con­trac­tors, on the Muskrat Falls pro­ject.

That’s de­spite a change in law to re­move an ex­emp­tion that had kept Nalcor En­ergy from re­leas­ing the in­for­ma­tion.

While the Lib­eral gov­ern­ment has been tout­ing a new level of trans­parency, spe­cific to con­trac­tor pay­ments and re­lated En­ergy Cor­po­ra­tion Act changes, the in­for­ma­tion has not been proac­tively re­leased. Jour­nal­ists have been left to seek it out, with their re­quests for in­for­ma­tion hit­ting new bar­ri­ers.

But in re­sponse to a sub­se­quent re­quest for in­for­ma­tion filed by The Tele­gram, a staff mem­ber at Nalcor En­ergy re­spon­si­ble for han­dling such re­quests said there’s just too much scat­tered in­for­ma­tion to com­pile and process at this point.

While no longer protected by the En­ergy Cor­po­ra­tion Act, the con­trac­tors are now each, in­di­vid­u­ally sub­jects un­der the stan­dard pro­vi­sions of the Ac­cess to In­for­ma­tion and Pro­tec­tion of Pri­vacy Act. Nalcor has de­ter­mined, “all of the af­fected in­di­vid­u­als would have to be no­ti­fied prior to the re­lease of the in­for­ma­tion. Given the num­ber of in­di­vid­u­als in­volved (sev­eral hun­dred), this task would be ex­tremely dif­fi­cult and time con­sum­ing,” read the writ­ten re­fusal.

“Sim­i­larly, the record you have re­quested in the above noted re­quest does not ex­ist and would re­quire the cre­ation of new records, again by gath­er­ing and com­pil­ing in­for­ma­tion from sev­eral dif­fer­ent sources. While Nalcor has in the past cre­ated records when time and cir­cum­stances per­mit, there is no obli­ga­tion in the ATIPPA for a pub­lic body to cre­ate records, and cre­ation of the record re­quested is not some­thing Nalcor can un­der­take due to on­go­ing obli­ga­tions and for the rea­son set out above.”

At the time the change in leg­is­la­tion was pro­posed, Nat­u­ral Re­sources Min­is­ter Siob­han Coady and other mem­bers ref­er­enced a series of ar­ti­cles by The Saltwire Net­work from 2017, high­light­ing the lack of pub­lic ac­cess to con­trac­tor in­for­ma­tion.

These con­trac­tors worked on ev­ery­thing from pro­ject ac­count­ing and hu­man re­sources to engi­neer­ing and health and safety. Through in­for­ma­tion re­quests, The Saltwire Net­work was able to de­ter­mine that, at that point, 178 in­di­vid­u­als had been work­ing as em­bed­ded con­trac­tors on the pub­lic megapro­ject for four years or more, and em­bed­ded con­trac­tors had col­lec­tively in­voiced for al­most 4.6 mil­lion hours of work. But es­sen­tial de­tails in­clud­ing rates of pay and to­tal amounts paid by the Crown cor­po­ra­tion to in­di­vid­ual con­trac­tors were de­nied.

An ap­peal to the Of­fice of the In­for­ma­tion and Pri­vacy Com­mis­sioner then con­trib­uted to a rul­ing from the com­mis­sioner, stat­ing there was no ev­i­dence the re­lease of the re­quested in­for­ma­tion could un­fairly harm con­trac­tors, or amount to an un­rea­son­able in­va­sion of pri­vacy, but also that the pro­tec­tions un­der the En­ergy Cor­po­ra­tion Act pre­vailed.

Premier Dwight Ball said the lack of dis­clo­sure didn’t “pass the smell test,” lead­ing to the leg­isla­tive change ear­lier this year.

Fol­low­ing the change, The Saltwire Net­work had re­turned to its ear­lier re­quest, ask­ing for the lists again, but with the pre­vi­ously redacted and omit­ted in­for­ma­tion in­clud­ing con­trac­tor rates.

It has yet to make a de­ci­sion on whether or not to file new re­quests, or chal­lenge the re­sponse and ap­peal its case to the Of­fice of the In­for­ma­tion and Pri­vacy Com­mis­sioner.

While The Saltwire Net­work was await­ing re­sponse to its re­filed ac­cess to its re­quest, the CBC pub­lished a story about its own bat­tle for more con­trac­tor in­for­ma­tion. In its case, cov­er­ing a more select group, three se­nior man­agers on the Muskrat Falls pro­ject, hired through con­sult­ing com­pa­nies they own, filed a le­gal chal­lenge to block the re­lease of their pay in­for­ma­tion. That case re­mains be­fore the New­found­land and Labrador Supreme Court.

Asked about the re­cent cases, the De­part­ment of Nat­u­ral Re­sources pro­vided a state­ment on be­half of min­is­ter Coady.

“Our gov­ern­ment made the leg­isla­tive changes nec­es­sary to the En­ergy Cor­po­ra­tion Act to en­sure in­for­ma­tion re­lated to in­de­pen­dent con­trac­tors within Nalcor would be sub­ject to the Ac­cess to In­for­ma­tion and Pro­tec­tion of Pri­vacy Act. As such, in­for­ma­tion should be re­leased as re­quired by the Act,” she said.

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