Guest Post by Ron Penney
The Tail Wagging The Dog:
Reflections on Phase 1 of the Muskrat Falls Inquiry
The Muskrat Falls Inquiry has competed Phase 1 of the hearings, which focused on the events leading up to the sanction of the project on December 17th, 2012.
We hadn’t fully understood before the depths of hatred and contempt towards us arising out of our early warnings about the dangers of the path that we were on.
A senior federal public servant told us in 2011 that the tolerance for dissent in Newfoundland and Labrador was very low and that proved to be the case. So much for the notion that “dissent is the highest form of patriotism”. We were treated as unpatriotic because we opposed what has been turned out to be the worst public policy decision ever made in Newfoundland and Labrador.
Perhaps those who comment on this piece would vote on the best insult sent our way: “Bottom Feeders” (former Premier Danny Williams), “petty and narrow detractors” (former Clerk of the Executive Council, Robert Thompson), or purveyors of “bullshit” (former CEO of Nalcor, Ed Martin).
In the case of Mr. Martin I will leave it to others to decide who is the real bullshitter, but to assist readers I quote from the Commissioner’s comments about Mr. Martin arising from our counsel’s Geoff Budden’s, vigorous examination of him on December 12th. I happened to be in the hearing room at the time, and was startled by a loud bang from the front of the hearing room, which I take was the Commissioner banging his fist on his desk in utter frustration with Mr. Martin’s antics.
“Now. I’ve had it. I’ve had this foolishness - I’ve had it Mr. Martin. You’re not being the witness here. You’re trying to run the show. It’s gonna stop right now. And if it doesn’t stop, unfortunately I won’t be able to hear the rest of your story.
Now, I’ve had it. I’ve listened. I’ve been very patient. I’ve tried very hard to take notes on everything you’ve said because I wanted to know it. But I don’t like the attitude that you’re displaying here, to be quite frank. You are not responsive to the questions; you’re actually being rude, as far as I am concerned, as far as I am concerned, and I don’t want it anymore. I wouldn’t put up with it in court, and I’m not gonna put up with it here.”
Turning to the hearings.
We have learned a lot of detail about how sanction came about, much of which confirms what I and my fellow naysayers thought about what led up to this disastrous decision.
The key takeaway for me is that the key actor in sanctioning Muskrat Falls wasn’t Danny Williams after all, it was Ed Martin. He was the tail wagging the dog.
While Mr. Williams announced the project on November 18, 2010, he resigned soon after. Before he resigned he had ensured that those in charge of the project and the Board of Nalcor were allies of his and strong supporters of the project, so he isn’t totally off the hook.
The light came on for me when I watched Mr. Martin give evidence. He exuded the same self confidence and certainly about the value of the project that he had throughout the sanctioning phase of the project, and during the construction phase up to the point since he was either fired or resigned on May 20, 2017. He continues to confidently praise the project and predict billions of dollars in benefits, no matter what the cost. This is utter nonsense, as Dave Vardy and I have pointed out in a recent letter to the Editor
Early on I described Mr. Martin as the most dangerous person in Newfoundland and Labrador precisely because of the personal characteristics described above.
It was clearly his vision which carried the day and a weak and gullible public service and even weaker and gullible political class were never a match for his self confidence and his communication skills. They all drank the Kool Aid proffered by Mr. Martin.
In fact it was worse than that. We have learned that the public service not only didn’t ask hard questions about the project, some of them became cheerleaders.
We also learned that efforts were made by Nalcor, mostly successful, to edit and downplay the risks that ought to have been identified, to keep the public service and politicians ignorant of those risks, and to circumscribe the MHI terms of reference so as to limit the effectiveness and usefulness of their independent report to government, which in turn led to sanction based on a less than fulsome independent review.
Even the preferred method of communication with the government was designed to manipulate the officials and politicians. Rather than use the normal process of a memorandum setting out the issues and and policy alternatives, which I was used to when I was a Deputy Minister, Nalcor used PowerPoint, which should only be used as a presentation tool not as a way of making decisions.
So far, Inquiry Counsel, with assistance from our legal counsel and legal counsel representing the Consumer Advocate, have succeeded in showing us how this disastrous decision came about and the role played by Mr. Martin, other Nalcor officials, the public service, and the politicians of the day.
The next stage will show us why they did such a poor job in managing the construction of the project.
Chair, Muskrat Falls Concerned Citizens Coalition