And then there were two

Com­ments on over­sight, re­spon­si­bil­ity ahead of for­mer premier, CEO tes­ti­mony

The Western Star - - FRONT PAGE - BY ASH­LEY FITZPATRICK

The pub­lic hear­ings for the first phase of the Muskrat Falls In­quiry will con­tinue on Mon­day with tes­ti­mony from for­mer Nal­cor En­ergy pres­i­dent and CEO Ed Martin. For­mer Premier of New­found­land and Labrador Kathy Dun­derdale will be the fol­low­ing week, as the last wit­ness cur­rently sched­uled.

Both in­di­vid­u­als will be asked ques­tions de­tail­ing the re­la­tion­ship be­tween Crown cor­po­ra­tion Nal­cor En­ergy and the pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ment, in the con­text of the Muskrat Falls hy­dro­elec­tric pro­ject.

They’re go­ing to be asked about over­sight and re­spon­si­bil­ity.

There have been ques­tions on the sub­jects this week, for for­mer Nat­u­ral Re­sources Minister Jerome Kennedy and for­mer as­so­ciate deputy minister and then deputy minister Charles Bown.

Com­mis­sioner Richard LeBlanc di­rectly asked Bown on Fri­day if he had any re­grets at this point, given his in­te­gral role in the pro­ject pre-con­struc­tion.

LeBlanc listed things he had heard dur­ing ques­tion­ing, re­lat­ing to the com­mu­ni­ca­tion of in­for­ma­tion, doc­u­ments and ac­tiv­i­ties.

“Is there any­thing else you want to say about this? Gen­er­ally?” LeBlanc asked.

“No. I don’t think I have any­thing else I’d like to share. That’s the most im­por­tant point that I see that there was a short­com­ing and I didn’t fol­low up on,” Bown replied.

Bown was asked ear­lier in his tes­ti­mony, by in­quiry co­coun­sel Barry Lear­month, if the gov­ern­ment is ul­ti­mately re­spon­si­ble for the ac­tions of Nal­cor En­ergy, what­ever the out­come.

Lear­month put for­ward the idea that in­di­vid­u­als within gov­ern­ment, in­clud­ing for­mer elected min­is­ters, were be­ing “pas­sive by­standers” and “not do­ing very much” in the over­sight role.

Dun­derdale’s lawyer, Erin Best, grabbed onto the sug­ges­tion for cross-ex­am­i­na­tion on Fri­day and asked Bown if he ever viewed for­mer Nat­u­ral Re­sources Minister Jerome Kennedy as a “pas­sive by­stander.”

“Hardly,” Bown replied. He of­fered a sim­i­lar no for for­mer premiers Danny Wil­liams and Dun­derdale, as Best asked af­ter spe­cific names.

He agreed the level of in­volve­ment of the premier’s of­fice in mat­ters ahead of sanc­tion­ing sug­gested to him a height­ened level of over­sight.

He was asked by Tom Wil­liams (for for­mer elected of­fi­cials, a col­lec­tion of min­is­ters and premiers not in­clud­ing Dun­derdale) about Kennedy, for­mer Fi­nance minister (later premier) Tom Mar­shall and oth­ers - the ex­pe­ri­ence gen­er­ally with them from about 2003 to 2012.

“I al­ways found that the min­is­ters were very en­gaged with the files and very en­gaged with the staff,” Bown replied. When asked specif­i­cally about Kennedy, he said he was “very en­gaged” in factfind­ing at Nat­u­ral Re­sources and even “ob­sessed” with try­ing to clearly see if power from Muskrat Falls was needed and a least-cost op­tion.

But the ques­tion is if they were ask­ing the right ques­tions at the right times to the right peo­ple, and cover­ing the bases.

In an ex­am­ple, John Cowan (rep­re­sent­ing the Con­sumer Ad­vo­cate) asked Bown about an in­vi­ta­tion to at­tend a meet­ing at Nal­cor En­ergy where the pro­ject would be dis­cussed, with the leads on var­i­ous el­e­ments of the hy­dro­elec­tric pro­ject walk­ing through where those el­e­ments stood.

“I al­ways found that the min­is­ters were very en­gaged with the files and very en­gaged with the staff”

For­mer Nat­u­ral Re­sources deputy Minister Charles Brown

He was asked if some­thing like at­tend­ing this meet­ing would have been a way to of­fer more over­sight by gov­ern­ment. “Likely. But when I say they were de­tailed, they were right down in the weeds of de­sign el­e­ments of the pro­ject,” said Bown.

Ho­gan asked if the “height­ened over­sight” re­ferred to was enough, suggest­ing it wasn’t.

“But if you don’t re­ceive the in­for­ma­tion you need, then re­gard­less of how much over­sight you put there, it’s not go­ing to re­solve that,” Bown said.

In terms of the Nal­cor En­ergy-pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ment re­la­tion­ship, Bown was asked about Nal­cor En­ergy act­ing out­side of its man­date. He said the gov­ern­ment, Cab­i­net, has tools to ad­dress it and should re­spond, given the over­sight role. Best (rep­re­sent­ing Dun­derdale) had him ac­knowl­edge an ad­di­tion of: “when they be­come aware of it.”

It sets the stage for Martin to speak to whether or not Nal­cor En­ergy stepped out­side of its man­date in the process of de­vel­op­ing Muskrat Falls.

FILE

For­mer New­found­land and Labrador premier Kathy Dun­derdale and for­mer Nal­cor pres­i­dent and CEO Ed Martin.

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