And then there were two
Comments on oversight, responsibility ahead of former premier, CEO testimony
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.
Former Newfoundland and Labrador premier Kathy Dunderdale and former Nalcor president and CEO Ed Martin.