Monday, 24 October 2016

MUSKRAT'S INCREASING COSTS: STAN MARSHALL SHOULD STEP OUT INTO THE LIGHT

It seems the aboriginal people of Labrador will finally have their issues aired as they should. Still, any deal will represent more cost overruns. Someone needs to ask: how much more is too much? When is it time to say that enough is enough?

The Government has stated it is too late to cancel the project though it has provided no evidence for this position. Meanwhile, the public has no idea how this nightmare will end. Nor have they been promised the kind of disclosure expected after public officials have so badly screwed up.

Labrador’s “Manifesto”, which includes demands regarding methylmercury contamination and the North Spur, needs to be taken seriously. Yet the cost of continuing should be evaluated, given that major additional costs will be laden onto an already far too expensive project.

Island ratepayers need to get their minds around that question. They need to address other key issues to the Premier, too such as oversight. Perhaps the new Consumer Advocate, Dennis Browne, can help give formality to this process. The Premier should ask him to engage with "naysayers", Browne having been one of them.

Right now, context is important. We should examine why we are in this awful position and whether we should be content to let the Government stumble its way into oblivion.

To set the stage for a later discussion about a wider "Manifesto", I want to provide some context for that conversation.

Beneath the anger directed at Nalcor and the Provincial Government over the Muskrat Falls project lies the breakdown of an essential trust relationship with the public. In addition, the current crisis seems dysfunctional because, up to the level of the Premier, there is no public official able to step in and claim a moral high ground that normally accompanies the resolution of such major disputes.

Nalcor had poisoned the well of public trust from an early date. Admittedly, the public was on-side with its mandate to build the Muskrat Falls project. But, as in all relations between citizen and state where an act of faith is demanded on an issue which is technically and financially complex, the state rides entirely on that trust. In so doing, the authorities leave no room for forgiveness if their claims are a bust.

Nalcor could have earned some wiggle room. But doing so would have required open engagement of the public and a demonstration that it was taking pains to justify key decisions leading to project sanction and afterwards through transparent reporting and rigorous independent oversight.

Nalcor chose the ‘we know best’ approach, leaving any complainants isolated amongst otherwise compliant company.

The Government earned no trust either. The Tories essentially handed Nalcor a mandate to build the project, assuring the Crown Corporation “hands-off” and not even conditional oversight. Before receiving a golden handshake, Ed Marin went so far as to demand that the Government stop interfering so vexed was he over a few measly Budget Speech comments by the Finance Minister about excessive and overpaid management. The Government had set up the perfect environment for arrogance and abuse of the public trust by its own Crown Corporation.


It was from the same pedestal that Nalcor felt impervious to the small “naysayer” community seeking full transparency of Muskrat. The PUB was pilloried for its refusal to get “on board”. The climb in projected costs to $11.4 billion and Nalcor’s confirmation of 21.4 cent power to ratepayers were just bumps along the way, for which Nalcor offered neither explanation, promise of change, nor contrition. But, much earlier, deceit as to the cost structure of major contracts, deep-seated management and quality assurance problems, the question of North Spur stability, and concern about methylmercury could not elicit proof of sound practices from a group convinced of its own superiority.

The Government had no appetite to understand or even intelligently discuss a project which Nalcor and SNC Lavalin had contrived to make as opaque as possible.

A fake Oversight Committee, and a Natural Resources Department which (as frequently noted) was a mere courier service to Cabinet for Nalcor, were Government’s connections to a Corporation with its hands firmly in the public’s pocket. 

Even the Department of Environment, which had regulatory obligations and the responsibility to ensure that Nalcor followed through on its own undertakings and those proposed by the Lower Churchill Environmental Panel, found no appetite for challenging the supreme authority of Ed Martin and Gilbert Bennett. A compliant Nalcor Board of Directors was never a concern for them either. 

As for the aboriginal peoples why would an arrogant Nalcor think that 150 of them held the capacity to bring the project to a halt?


When Ed Martin was finally ushered out with an unwarranted severance package, and Stan Marshall replaced him amidst high expectations, nothing else of a transparent nature occurred except for Marshall’s confirmation, as if it were needed, that Muskrat is a “boondoggle”. 

Not even the election of the Liberals could break the logjam of secrecy around the project. Indeed, under Ball’s Liberals, even Reports of the Independent Engineer, established to report to the Federal Government, became unavailable. The word “oversight” had never seriously entered the Liberals’ lexicon.

Even the Liberty Group’s assessment that Muskrat power will be so insecure that we will need the Holyrood Generating assets in addition, prompted not a whimper from Nalcor. (Ready for publication soon is a review of the Liberty Report Phase II by retired engineer Phil Helwig.)

It is in this context, Nalcor VP Gilbert Bennett having already downplayed the importance of the methylmercury issue (in spite of an otherwise irrefutable Harvard Study giving it appropriate alarm), that the aboriginal peoples began their protest one that culminated with the Premier’s decision to curtail operations at the Muskrat Falls site.

On what basis does Premier Ball now enter negotiations with them? Where is the trust that enables him to extend a credible hand?

By sending out Gil Bennett? Or Stan Marshall not heard from except for a day or so following his appointment, and having made no change to the way Nalcor does business? Siobhan Coady or Perry Trimper neophytes each having proven that they are unprepared for big responsibilities?


It has taken a lot of arrogance and incompetence to reach this point. The aboriginal peoples have proven that activism is the only recourse against massive political dysfunction.

On the other hand Islanders, for whom Muskrat is being constructed and who will be required to pay almost all the cost, still have no mechanism to have their concerns adjudicated.

That has to change. Likely, whatever is done now, the project will be a millstone for generations.

Still, for our collective economic survival, we should not let the Ball Government make decisions piecemeal. We must not let the Premier spend any sum to get Muskrat done.

We need to expand on the aboriginal peoples' “Manifesto” to be sure. But first, Stan Marshall should come out into the light and provide a full accounting of this project, so that the public not he and not Dwight Ball can decide if the investment is still worth it.

16 comments:

  1. It is important to note that with a 11.4 Billion price tag (with interest during construction) each year of delay will cost about another 400 million in interest charges. This is nearly 60% of the entire rate base recovered through electricity charges in the province.

    This project is a disaster of mythical proportions.

    It is clear the Nalcor and their project management team (with their 2 degrees of separation from Ed Martin) were not adequately experienced to run a project of this magnitude.

    What were we thinking? How could of anyone thought this was a good idea?

    Now MeHg will potentially stall this project. An issue which Nalcor has known about since the beginning, but chose not to effectively communicate.

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  2. A very good summary of the quagmire that is Muskrat falls Des.

    Lies and "trust us" in absolute secrecy while the poor chumps on the hook for the costs both fiscal and cultural are ignored. The contempt for democratic process, fiscal transparency, peer reviewed science and the Labrador cultures is abhorrent.

    Hiding from these issues is endemic. The Premier and Minister of Aboriginal Affairs was in hiding until an uprising over the lies and betrayals interrupted his vacation. A "Minister of Environment" that can do no better than questioning the assumptions of peer reviewed science from Harvard now mounting a not so veiled threat to the Harvard researchers. While Nalcor remains locked down in secrecy over contracts, engineering and mushrooming costs, "oversight" remains non existent. Stan Marshall, the part time head of Nalcor, is absent from any public involvement. He must be on his nearly six months of paid vacation. I wonder if he was hiding out with Ball in Florida. Nalcor needs more than a silent largely absent leader. Come to think of it NL does too.

    When will the secrecy and regulatory disempowerment that ensured the Muskrat disaster end?

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  3. Tom Johnson, in April, visited my home for a discussion on residential customer energy and conservation measures. The issue was the potential and cost effectiveness of the mini-split heat pump technology for houses to reduce energy use and peak demand. He was impressed with the technical data and known results I presented to him. He admitted his own lack of knowledge on this technology (yet he was our Consumer Advocate). He asked me if I thought it was possible that Nfld Power and Nfld Hydro did not know this before Muskrat Falls sanction.His question implied that they must have known but dismissed it .
    In addition, Nfld Power`s own consultant had recently quantified the substantial energy savings and potential peak demand reduction for these system. And Nfld Power, itself had misrepresented the potential, with a admitted flawed study.
    Johnson`s questioning at the rate hearing in April exposed their flawed study. (Of interest, Nfld Power is now advocating for this technology in their flyers and Take Charge website).
    What was a significant change of his prior position, Johnson, not only wrote in his report to the PUB that both Nfld Power and Nfld Hydro had failed in their conservation measures, but that also incentives should be given to assist customers to install this energy saving heating systems. For Johnson`s conversion, this was too little and too late, and was also of no effect.
    By May, Nalcor has already moved back their energy forecast loads by 16 years (loads expected for 2020 will not be reached until 2036). And this analysis does not even include reduction that will accumulate from residents installing these new heating systems. 5000 have been installed in the last few years, and there is growing uptake for these.
    The point being: in a review,for island ratepayers, surely we need to address the question, DO WE NEED THE POWER, from Muskrat Falls. The rationale was to meet the increasing load for electric heat. These electrical loads,with the combined effect of a slow economy and with these heating systems, will continue to decline.
    Whether the power companies knew or should have foreseen this: they may have known and decided to ignore it, or they may not have, which shows their incompetence as to a technology has has been around for decades. On this point: in 2011 alone, Nova Scotia installed 20,000 of these systems, and encouraged their uptake with incentives to customers. We will pay a high price for our power company`s incompetence and unconcern for the residential customers.
    Winston Adams, Logy Bay

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    1. Ratepayers in NL always had these types of alternatives to electric heat their homes. You took the initiative, maybe the current crisis will enlighten others to reduce their dependence on Hydro Power. Good on you!

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  4. Rumour has it that the RCMP have brought tactical teams into Goose Bay, presumably to "deal with" the protest at MF. Does anyone know if this is true? I find it very difficult to believe that in 2016, in Canada, a signatory to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of indigenous Peoples, is preparing to shoot these very indigenous people protesting on their own lands. I fully expect arrrests after the conclusion of tomorrow's meeting but we must not allow our own police forces to shoot Indians on thier own land. PM Trudeau, if you have anyone monitoring this blog please do whatver it takes to stop the RCMP from deploying taxtical units against the native people of Labrador. This is a disturbing development which cannot be allowed to happen in the civilized world.

    John D Pippy, a full supporter of "Indigenous Lives Matter"

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  5. The link below will open a pdf of the UN Declaration from the UN website. The native people of Labrador have all of the rights recognized in this declaration. At this point in the MF debacle, the main point is the dignity of these people. We can no more allow ourselves to stand by and watch their lands be poisoned than we can watch them be shot by members of the tactical teams of the RCMP. We must not allow the RCMP to employ lethal force in the breaking up of this demonstartion. This Canada in the 21st century, not the 19th American West of General Custer.

    John

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  6. Here is the link.

    www.un.org/esa/socdev/unpfii/documents/DRIPS_en.pdf

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  7. The CBC says the RCMP has a tactical team there. The RCMP has not had a major boo boo hurting their reputation for the past two weeks, since announcing a 100 million fund to settle sexual harassment charges against them by female RCMP officers. And then there is the on-going issue of 1600 murdered and missing aboriginal women.
    Meanwhile, what of the apparent assault against the female protester last week at Muskrat. The video, as I understand it, has the woman on the side where she was instructed to go, to avoid obstruction of traffic. She says to the officer `How would you feel. How would you feel` This seems to imply she was asking the officer how he would feel if it his livlihood was affected. In other words, put yourself in our place and what would you do.
    This seems a clear case of freedom of speech to say this. And yet for this, the officer says `You are under arrest, and goes and seizes her. Two other officers go to his assistance and the woman is forceably taken away. What happened to the Charter of Rights and freedom of speech. Is this not assault and false arrest! Why have all 3 officers not been charged, when the evidence seems clear. Maybe I have missed something in that event that some reader can clarify. But it does appear to be violence against that woman. If she had gone over and grabbed them, well that is different. The RCMP as peace officers, should set a good example of lawful conduct, but did they....
    Winston Adams, Logy Bay

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  8. have they sent in the Royal Nalcor Constabulary yet?

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  9. The Mounties are nothing now but a goon squad for out of control governments in Canada. Disgraceful conduct for which they should be ashamed. Their worldwide once respected reputation is in tatters.

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    1. As the Mounties send in a tactical unit to Muskrat, The CBC National reports another lawsuit against Mounties, this time by other male Mounties. Maybe the Mounties Police Force should get the same treatment as needed for the Muskrat project:Put them on ice. DO we really need Muskrat Mounties, a tactical team , which I read includes snipers!
      Unsettling to hear about snipers, and Telegram comments online about Oka Mohawk warriors may come if things get bad. Ball is still in meetings after 8 hours. I hope cool heads prevail. We need neither snipers nor warriors. Most protesters are women. I am confident the protesters will remain peaceful, but defiant if their concerns are ignored.
      Winston Adams

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  10. For those not aware, if one Googles :the independent.ca you can get much more information on what is happening at Muskrat with the protests, a lot of excellent writing too. It is an online newspaper.

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  11. The province is slowing coming to realise what a boondoggle Muskrat really is. The VOCM question of the day show only 52 percent feel we can afford to stay in control of the project. Nearly as many feel we should sell it or get a partner to assist with the cost. Yet it shows it has taken 4 years for the population to get where the naysayers were 4 years ago: that is was not an affordable project for our needs, and now much less affordable, with costs out of control. What does it say for the mainstream media who failed to expose the false assumptions of this boondoggle.

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    1. I waited up late, (0300 NL time), in BC. hoping that VOCM would give a news report on the "negotiations". They kept "announcing news" but gave no real news. Keep up the good work in publishing this Blog and maybe the Public will follow. Looking forward to the Construction Management Progress Report on the Boondoggle, as most of you are.

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  12. Robert, how long before more protests on the North Spur risk. How long before Nflders protest at 20 cent or more power rates, and reduced government services to cover the debt burden. The Board of Trade here is now running a provincial debt clock, showing more than 14 billion. And they the big promoters of this boondoggle! Winston Adams

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  13. Congrats to Premier Ball and his team on a resolution ongoing but nonetheless well done.

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