Thursday, 16 February 2017

REPORTERS SHOULD REMEMBER THE ONES WHO LIE

When the media choose to be bystanders, willingly complicit in propagating Nalcor’s persistent falsifications, is there anything to be done but wait for the fallout such misdeeds inspire?

The silence that now envelops the squandering of $4 billion by Nalcor on the Muskrat Falls project a sum expected to go higher constitutes an inspiration for some head scratching. We surely need to ask why the perpetrators deserve protection from questions of accountability.

When all the ‘normal’ checks and balances of a modern democracy fail, isn’t that when the media should be on the top of their game?

While the public must take ultimate responsibility for being informed, one aspect of that job should be to keep an eye on how the media treat the social licence that is the claim of their profession.

None of us is oblivious to recent changes in how people get their news, nor to the fragmentation of media and advertising revenues. Undoubtedly, a much altered marketing paradigm has impacted the staffing of many newsrooms.

But even if the ‘old-fashioned’ news junkies have, by and large, surrendered their craving for ‘hard’ news in the face of defeat by an explosion of what is euphemistically known as ‘soft’ news respect for good and fair reporting is still strong. 

Reporters today spend too much time dissecting weather, news about weather, incidents caused by weather, and the urgencies of impending terrible weather most of which blows out to sea. On occasion, they perform well such as the Dunphy Inquiry, where important questions are being asked about bad judgement and possibly a less-than-professional even mendacious police culture. 

But when an outfit like Nalcor engages not just in mendacity but in decisions which threaten our essential economic well-being, and its favoured method of accountability is persistent and calculating political spin exceeded sometimes by lies on what basis are they due the benefit of the doubt?

I suggest most people don’t define freedom of the press as merely their right to be free from restrictions or coercion by the state. The public’s patience alone suggests that they acknowledge that it is the right of the press even to maul the news. But that does not amount to an affirmation by the public that reporters should be tolerant of the political and bureaucratic leadership or willing to advance their propaganda agenda.

Nalcor’s press release confirming the recent lay-offs by Muskrat sub-contractor Pennecon is instructive on this point.

The Telegram’s (Feb. 3, 2017) headline declared: “Over 200 workers at the Muskrat Falls site were sent home on Feb. 3. The story read::

The workers are on site with Pennecon, a sub-contractor of GE Grid, and are part of a planned reshaping of the workforce, according to…

“This is to ensure the workforce is the right size and that their work is executed in a prioritized and productive way to achieve best value for the transmission project at the Muskrat Falls site in Labrador…

told TC the 225 workers should be back in a few days. She said they are working with GE Grid to ‘revise the scope of work definitions and execution priorities.’

“This is a large and dynamic project and it isn’t unusual to have to take the time to clarify work scope and ensure that our workforce is efficient with the project needs and we’re all on the same page when it comes to execution priorities So that’s what we’re doing, taking a step back, high-level big-picture conversations.”

What journalist would not have felt they had just been drowned?

The “guts” of the Press Release are bolded  obviously to magnify (as if it was needed) the immense gobbledygook employed to explain the Pennecon lay-off.

It should have been painfully obvious not just to a reporter but likely to anyone that Nalcor/Pennecon wanted to obscure the reasons for the sudden issuance of 225 pink slips. Yet the Press Release was reported verbatim with all the meaningless buzz-words and phrases that could be packed into a single press statement, still leaving the reader ignorant of any discernible basis for the decision.

And, not just by one member of the media.

VOCM, for example, initially reported the "reshaping" of the subcontractor's workforce. The news story stated:

“Calls to the VOCM Newsroom Friday indicated that a large number of people working for Pennecon were told they were going home on Friday. One caller described the scene at the camp in the wake of the news "chaotic", as arrangements were being made to get workers, some of whom had only arrived days earlier, back home.”

But that report was soon “updated” with the one straight out of Nalcor central casting the same one used by the Telegram empty of words like “chaotic” or even the best denier of corporate planning, the words “workers… had arrived only days earlier…” Instead, the more corporate-friendly and sanitized version took precedence without qualification including Nalcor’s assertion of “high-level big-picture conversations”. The 225 people sent home must really have felt wiser with those explanations.

Likewise the CBC, the public broadcaster, put no effort into Nalcor's diatribe in spite of its self-acclaimed investigative practices. It too chose to report Nalcor’s verbatim press release  with hardly any circumscription. I did not see what NTV reported.

I emailed a contractor at the Muskrat Falls site for some clarity, stating “… the Nalcor press release is indecipherable.”

Within minutes I received a reply, which in part read: “Press release was a con job, hiding the truth… contractors will be looking to get many extra costs covered (as a result of the sudden stoppage of work) and the show is just starting …”

It is not new for the media to publish corporate- or government-issued press releases verbatim. Many relate to ongoing issues, and the bafflegab they contain is less offensive possibly because most are innocuous.

Muskrat, though, has never ever enjoyed that status. Now elevated in the public lexicon as a “boondoggle” a consequence of Nalcor’s inexperience, incompetence, and deceit — it is an economy killer. Besides, what is not newsworthy about yet another “chaotic” situation on this doomed project?

Why can’t the media call out Nalcor’s BS? Who are they afraid of offending? Is journalistic licence a joke in small local markets? Do the media cower before advertisers like Nalcor? Could there be another reason?

There are local journalists who do solid work. One is the Telegram’s Russell Wangersky. And, coincidentally, his most recent commentary Sifting through minutiae for the truth, describing his concern for the plethora of news stories, updates and sources of uncertain veracity — much of it minutiae invading our increasingly dodgy news world — is well worth reading.

The acclaimed columnist commented that he “doesn’t always know what’s true and what’s hype.” But he had this sage advice to offer:

Plenty of chaff, not much wheat. And I don’t blame anyone for getting lost in that, or getting lost in any of the other conflicting stories. I agree we’re part of the problem, delivering too much that doesn’t matter, but at the same time, if you listen to a politician and think they’re stretching the truth, remember that you have tools like never before to go back in time and see what was actually said. The only thing you have to do is have the civic energy to bother.”

Wangersky goes on to say:

Sometimes, I forget a face. But you know what? I never forget someone who lies to me.

Wangersky’s piece is good advice for a public far too disengaged. But I suggest that he should also send that memo to many of his media colleagues  just to remind them that notions of “alternative facts” did not originate with 'the Donald'. The propagandists, too, have a strong claim to the ‘oldest profession’.

When reporters rush to plug a hole in the news line-up, when bafflegab is coming off the wire faster than Ed Martin can say “hundred year project”, they need and, yea, as a matter of journalistic licence, have an obligation — to remember the ones who lie.

29 comments:

  1. Churchill said "the first casualty of war is truth".
    It seems our government and Nalcor has been at war with our citizens since making the decision to advance the MYTH: that Muskrat was our best long term option for addressing our power issues on the island, and the least cost option by far, 2 billion dollars cheaper than any alternative.
    And the media, our watchdog that should have helped protect us against this boondoggle, just jumped on board the Nalcor and government propaganda train. And early on it was stated that Nalcor were following the comments of "known critics".
    No doubt is some obscure email file there is comments about the Lunatic Des Sullivan, Cabot Martin, Adams and others. The "lunatic fringe" was the favorite phrase of one "John Smith" who regularly posted at dawn, against any letter writer to the Telegram who was critical of Muskrat.
    We should worry about being on the police watch list, more so when the legal wording was published warning the protesters (water protectors) at the Muskrat site, stating that anyone who gave support to protesters could be charged with a crime. One brave journalists is facing criminal charges for doing his job. One wonders if moral support by posted comments online might cause a unexpected knock on the door, of a Sunday morning. The Dumphy Inquiry is exposing the mindset of the police and their masters. And Dumphy, defiant, called the office a puppet. So much for our Charter of Rights and Freedom. This invasion was into Dumphy's house.
    Propaganda is pretty slick when seasons journalists like Wangersky got trouble telling truth from hype.
    Are we to get a new saviour for our economy, one who wears sealskin instead of sheep's clothing, as Ches Crosbie announced his decision to save our economy. I have not heard him say a single word on Muskrat. If I recall, he lost the moose class action, in part for bringing false expert testimony into his case. If truth is a virtue, and surely it is, then is Crosbie our saviour? And what state will our economy be by the time Crosbie could take charge?
    An exceptionally fine piece Uncle. A call to rally the good journalists, few though they are.
    WA

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  2. This is a good overview of the media dysfunction.

    Even the national broadcaster, not dependent on advertising. is largely disinterested in getting to the truth. No, it is not cowering before advertisers, it is cowering before the clan chiefs and oligarchs who are benefiting from the systematic pillaging of the treasury.

    The scandal is deepened by the short circuiting of the democratic controls and oversight by the design of successive governments. Secrecy, not transparency and accountability, has been politically enshrined to ensure the rate/taxpayer remains uninformed and disempowered.

    The provincial regulators are stifled or have succumbed to the implicit or overt threats from the minions in Justice that neutralize the civil service. This was plainly and disgustingly displayed at the JRP.

    No, the lazy and dysfunctional media is only partly to blame for the ongoing disaster at MF. Regulators, legislators and now the courts have become blunt instruments to keep the lid on this corrupt disgrace.

    Thank god for the investigative work by this blog and several independent journalists that grapple with the reality and try to illuminate the truth.

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    1. Bruno,some may refer to you as a troublemaker who makes brash unmitigated statements and you may have been stifled in even mentioning a certain former politician's name possibly for fear of a lawsuit, but in my humble opinion, most if not all your comments are "spot on". Keep up the good cause. Des Sullivan is providing a valuable public service to allow the public insight into the absolute discusting wrongdoing of our former premiers (Williams and Dunderdale) and what is looking like our current "do nothing" Premier.
      KUDOS!

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    2. Bruno, good comment. Void of any nasty comment, but covers your points. Keep your cool , like the Uncle, and don't let your piss get hot!.Perhaps even Pat Daley at the VOCM may call you for a comment!!!!!!!. Patty is a hot head, who don't like criticism, but is starting to see the light. Sunlight is the best disinfectant.......and Nfld just gets too little sun. Hence the SAD syndrome. Could that explain the apathy of our population?

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  3. If NLer's cared about themselves collectively as much as they did individually, the quality of news would reflect it. Media now have the ability to know exactly what their audience wants, and they are giving it to them. NLer's will stay in their comfort zone until they are dragged from it, kicking and screaming.

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    1. DT, you may be right, the CBC here and Now news is a giggle event,as to who can laugh the most. Who cares if they just spent 5 million fixing a new gas turbine that now has failed numerous times. Entertainment is the game, anything to distract from serious news. Take no investigative journalism, no intelligence or hard work, no breaking news of importance , Eaton jumping in a snow bank......the Happy province.............the real comedians give more news!

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    2. I've adjusted myself to watching as little as possible on "Here and Now". The Weather section is the most watchable and is what I tune into--the remaining "News" is far more investigative on NTV. For example--there was a death of a prominant businessman recently which the CBC pretty well took up the whole of it's "News" when so much more is front and centre. Investigative news reporting at CBC NL is pretty well deplete of substance. If they don't soon get their act together they wont have an audience.

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    3. I gave up on "Here & Now" after the two piece story about John Crow's cat. I repeat, "two piece". Need I say more? All I can is god help the young minds doing the journalism course. But on a serious note, what else can be expected from the local CBC? They're no different that any other public employees in the province - too many of them for starters, and mainly concerned with doing to bare minimum to receive their "entitlements".
      "Oh, you don't like the story we just ran? Sorry, not my department - let me transfer your call."

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    4. I'm also guilty of not watching local news since I came back to the province....The state of this island in every way has gone to the dogs and of no interest to me..Sad but true...

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  4. The complete implosion of the CBC as a serious news agency in Newfoundland is disheartening. They still have a depth of resources which the telegram or NTV can not compare. Yet over the past 3-4 years have gone mainstream, and trendy in both radio and TV. They can manage the odd "cbc investigates" which will scratch at what can be considered investigative journalism.

    Hopefully there is someone from the CBC news room who is reading this... and angered.

    Well as a test, has anyone from the CBC contacted Nalcor to get a comment on the story which UG ran on monday. This is potentially a 100 million dollar issue for Nalcor. UG could be right, or he could be wrong on the issue. But has anyone from the CBC acted upon it?

    A 3 minute phone call to Nalcor. An absence of this phone call is not due to being over-worked. It is due to a lack of initiative.

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  5. follow the money .... has penny been paid?

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    1. yeah I heard pennecon did not get paid for extra work so THEY pulled the guys off the job

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  6. Here's a short (Letter to the Editor) piece on this topic, that I sent to Pam Frampton at the Telegram, (she replied stating that she will publish it), and I've also sent it to Justin Brake at the Indy.

    Pay attention to nonviolence ... or else!

    Is this headline is controversial or threatening? It's meant to be. It's a wake-up call. The message is vital, on a life or death basis, and it's a valid message.

    This message can be placed, (fairly), at the feet of "mainstream media", but it certainly doesn't belong there, entirely.

    Ratings measure what consumers consume. Because media is big business, media outlets feel they must follow the ratings, or otherwise perish. Some outlets may actually perish by following that business practice, while others may change and survive. Ultimately that all comes down to consumers' choices.

    Outside of media boardrooms, the reality is that actual humans live or die everyday depending on what shows/topics "we the people" choose to consume.

    As an example, social media is driven by the citizens and online interests, yet ratings differ from mainstream ones. We citizens have the power to shape what is covered and what is not.

    How often did you see images of the Dakota Pipeline controversy on your TV set? If it all, it came long after it showed up online.

    How much do you actually know about Muskrat Falls? To be fair, that issue did show up in local media and is slowly becoming more prevalent. But do you truly know the rights (and wrongs) of the issue? Recently a failing dam in California forced the evacuation of almost 200,000 citizens. Several hundred Labrador citizens face a similar fear every night.

    While we hear nothing, or little, about either, we're inundated about a simple winter storm up to thirty times a day.

    A profoundly important, and pertinent, Ted Talk is available online, if you search the title or speaker, "Pay Attention to Nonviolence" by Julia Bach. It's quite deserving of our ten minutes.

    http://www.ted.com/talks/julia_bacha

    Peter Austin

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  7. Paul Withers, good old Newfie boy, doing his best.

    http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/nova-scotia/emera-muskrat-falls-maritime-link-nova-scotia-newfoundland-hydro-1.3987248

    Emery can't lose on the Link deal.

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    1. Paul Withers also contributed the French "evil" Radio-Canada" version...

      http://ici.radio-canada.ca/nouvelle/1017468/lignes-transport-sous-marines-electricite-muskrat-falls-maritime-link-nouvelle-ecosse-acadie

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    2. Last para: Newfoundland and Labrador ratepayers, through Nalcor, are eating the cost overruns.

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    3. NS Liberal MPs and MLAs are happy/content over all this. Can we say the same for NL MPs and MLAs? All quiet on the Federal front.

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    4. Robert, on the prior piece, you mentioned a hit list for energy conservation buildings, at MUN etc.
      In scope of our island peak demand, Jan average is 1450MW. Nfld Hydro plus Nfld Power water source generation is 1119.8MW, so 77percent. We have 54 MW of wind and another 63.7 MW of hydro which is not firm power, but an asset to generation (but I leave out for now)
      So we are 23 percent short on meeting avg winter demand with hydro. So at this time short about 330MW which is met by thermal at Holyrood. Holyrood at peak times produces more than 330MW during very cold snaps, because of our electric heat loads, for very few days each year.
      Yet on an energy basis, Holyrood does not produce anywhere near 23 percent of our energy, but just 13 percent. So 87 percent of our energy is already hydro, and about 90 percent allowing for present wind.
      Imagine what conservation can do for this. The Nfld Power energy consultant identified a potential of 31 percent reduction for domestic energy, alone. Then there is the commercial that you mention. I don't have their figure for that , but could dig it out.
      Of course this type of analysis is what was intentionally ignored in the least cost option. But compared with Nova Scotia with more than 50 percent coal, our challenge here seemed minor.........not a 12 billion solution, and likely reduced reliability. Do you agree?
      Winston

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    5. I have no argument with your analysis, and demand management for the Residential market. I am suggesting that the Industrial/Institutional/Commercial Sector has an equally important role in conservation, and thereby deferral of the "mega project" syndrome. Not having better planning for growth at the Municipal level, with respect to usage of limited and costly resources, is a Canadian and Global problem. Europeans have done a better job; CHP, integrated renewables with fossil fuels, smarter grids, better management, higher density cities, etc. need to be present and practiced at all levels.

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    6. Agree wholeheartedly with your view of a comprehensive approach, and I think most engineers with agree with this.Each sector has an important role to play. And carbon credits, and incentives to help fund these measures is important, I suggest, as savings come back from the efficiencies, so it is very cost effective.
      One one think the Harris Centre at MUN would long ago have initiated an event to promote this within our province and with recommendations or guidelines to the provincial government. Should have been done a decade ago, but never too late, and more urgent than ever to do this, I think.
      Winston

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    7. It is interesting that Emera told the NS regulator that the maritime link will carry up to $120 million of electricity into and out of NL once the transmission system is complete in 2018-19.

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    8. Emera probably now realizes that they will have access to cheap power from the Atlantic grid, to sell to NF via the Link, and profit accordingly. This of course depends on how effective Winston is in convincing NLers that they cannot afford higher rates, and practice demand management, (joking). No demand, no juice in the East bound Link. Maybe Beothuk will supply any demand spike on the Avalon, from the planned wind farm in Bay St. George.

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    9. Actually, Robert, it is pretty lonely, being the only person in the province to challenge the Conservation Plan put forward by Nfld Power in April 2016. Not a single resident or company involved in energy saving products were there. Yet the power company had to admit their so called "research study" was NOT "authoritative", when presented with our results. No engineer stamped their study nor engineer's name was given to back up their study. Yet they were paid for their study through the power bills. And it took them 3 years to produce the study that they could not defend the results. Not a single media person was there for this Conservation issue, but was told by Nfld Power PR person that all media had been notified that this issue was on for that day. So it is just you and I Robert(as engineers) who think Efficiency and Conservation is important, and Dave Vardy,and a few others. To be fair, this is part of the rate hearings that is usually agreed upon in writing by the Consumer Advocate and Nfld Power and Hydro, before the public hearings, so no discussion in public. So few know the opportunity even exists!
      As to convincing Nflders that higher rates is unaffordable, economist Jim Feehan says this also, and argues on the elasticity issue of electricity pricing, of which we can expect more from him. But so far he seems to just argue to keep rates from going too high: least demand for Muskrat power will cause consumers to abandon electric heat. This is not a conservation approach, but how to cope with Muskrat. Of course, all of this should have happened before sanction of MF, as part of the various options. It is late now, but better late than to ignore this.
      I am with the Uncle ; put Muskrat on ice pending a full review.....meanwhile implement a robust conservation and efficiency plan. You cannot discourage people from using alternatives to baseboard heat when prices rise significantly.......its already happening while prices are modest. Demand forecasts by Nfld Power have been slashed twice in the past year.
      Winston

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    10. I am into discussions with MUN on issues of importance of electric heating for residential on our grid. Most are technical issues , but one item is the length of our heating season in Nfld. MUN engineer said 4 months but after I said 10 months, he said 6 months.
      My position is 10 months for a older house, and 9 months for a R2000 house. We have 4 heavy use months. Older house need heat when outdoor temperatures drop below 60F, R2000 below 50 F. Above these temperatures heat from lights and appliances is generally sufficient.
      This is a weather issue, and everyone in Nfld discusses weather...even the media. Can any reader here give an opinion on this, the length of our heating season?
      Winston

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  8. Following a comment on this blog that the gas turbine that shut down on Monday was the NEW one, Russell at the Tely dug deeper, and reported that this unit (a used unit, and about 7 years old when purchased) has failed 4 times already this year. And that 4.7 million was spent on it in maintenance already.
    Hydro was vague saying there was an underfrequency situation, needing load shedding. Load sheding means power was cut and there was outages on Monday. This unit at 123 MW is a large generator. Underfrequency can happen Hydro said, when there is a generator problem or other problem on the system. This is vague enough to avoid saying the generator was faulty, or may have shut down from a problem elsewhere.So no admission the gas turbine , which cost 120 million, may be a lemon.
    Underfrequency means our 60 cycle power dropped to about 59 cycles. This means that a generator showed down, and when this happens the voltage drops, and all the grid generators would shut down if the problem was not isolated by protective devices.
    A large sudden increase in load could cause generators to slow.But we have no large load increases to cause that. A reduction of water to hydro generators could cause it. A loss of steam to our Holyrood steam thermal units could cause it. Or, more likely, the gas turbine engine that drives this generator could cause it. Reduction of air flow to this engine, or other more serious issues with the engine could be the problem.
    These large units have their own protection, including underfrequency detection, so it would send a signal to isolate itself. Event recorders shows what is happening on second by second intervals. These events are analyzed by engineers , and the likely problem is known rapidly. Certainly, within 24 hours the public and the PUB should be advised the results of the event recorders which would show the problem in most cases, or the likelihood of whether it was a gas turbine failure.
    This is not transparency, as Liberty and the PUB demanded from Hydro following Dark NL. This is more of the same, circle the wagons, put our vague information, and the public will forget.
    Who at Nalcor wants to defend a lemon purchase, if that is what it is!
    Perhaps Russell can ask the results of the events recorders!

    Disgusted engineer.

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    1. If memory serves me this used generator was purchased at nearly the same cost as a new unit that unlike the unit Nalcor bought , came with a warranty.

      This is another deal that even from afar stunk coming out of the gate. It would be illuminating to find out who the agent that arranged this purchase is, would it not?

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    2. Hibernia etc uses gas turbines for power.....I am being told that 4.7 million for maintenance for a unit with just a few months of operation is high. They use units that can be completely changed out in a day if necessary, and are of smaller capacity that Holyrood, and GE rather than Siemans.

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    3. The confederation building has had several planned power transfers to diesel backup. I suspect that these are at the request of Nalcor to reduce load. We are never given any reason why - and kept in the dark so to speak. See example e-mail message below:

      >> Feb 13, 2017 e-mail
      Confederation Building power interruption today at 4:50 p.m.

      Back-up power generators for the Confederation Building, East and West Blocks will be activated today (Monday, February 13) at 4:50 p.m. There will be a brief power interruption as the back-up power generators are turned on and again when they are shut down.

      Employees should power off computers just prior to the interruption and avoid using the elevators. In addition, while most individuals will have left the Confederation Building Complex when power is restored, all employees should power off computers before leaving for the day.

      The Department of Transportation and Works apologizes for any inconvenience this may cause.

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