Monday, 15 June 2015


Stories of Nalcor’s arrogance are not new; though, when they have consequences for the public purse and add to evidence the crown corporation is out of control, they should be exposed.

Recently, a Professional Engineer, in the course of reviewing sections of Nalcor's web site, noted one disturbing answer. It can be found on Nalcor's web site, within a group of questions and answers on the Muskrat Falls project, given in 2014.

The unidentified questioner had put two questions to Nalcor. This is the second one::

And is Nalcor aware that they (Astaldi) did not qualify to bid on a hydro project in BC?
Nalcor answered: 

“Astaldi Canada Inc. was selected as the contractor for this work based on the best technical execution plan combined with the best commercial bid, which ultimately provides the best overall value for the Muskrat Falls Project and Newfoundlanders and Labradorians. Nalcor does not get involved in the procurement decisions made by parties that are not directly associated with the Muskrat Falls Project. Procurement decisions made by other parties in other jurisdictions are the sole business and discretion of those entities.” (emphasis added)

So appalled was the Professional Engineer by the dripping arrogance of Nalcor’s response, he felt compelled to bring it the attention of this Blogger.

First, the Professional Engineer took notice of Nalcor’s refusal to justify having issued a single contract (untendered) for the entire 1100 kl. Labrador Island Link transmission line, a matter reported on this Blog recently. He also found incredulous CEO Ed Martin’s justification for Nalcor’s award to a company who principal owner, Joe Borsellino, has admitted an association with organized crime.

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But, he was left speechless by Nalcor’s comment regarding the award of the Astaldi contract.

“Procurement decisions made by other parties in other jurisdictions are the sole business and discretion of those entities.”

The comment offended this engineer on two levels.

First, he felt that the tone and text of the reply reflected a culture, within Nalcor, that encouraged a haughty and supercilious attitude evidenced by the fact that even Nalcor’s communications’ types, who normally sanitize any piece of information not entirely innocuous, failed to even notice its implicitly unwise message..

When you put this kind of comment, together with Nalcor’s refusal to be subjected to oversight or its unwillingness to explain some pretty large contract awards without deference to the public’s right to know, you can be sure, he stated, hubris is reinforced at all levels.

His second comment was that he was offended, on a professional basis, as an engineer.

The very suggestion we have nothing to learn from another jurisdiction, he remarked, is misguided and wrong. Real engineers, and other professional groups, will never eschew the opportunity to improve their knowledge base and, hence, the quality of their analysis.

Given the size of the Astaldi contract and the challenging work the general contractor was expected to perform; considering, too, the difficult northern environment and importance of achieving project schedule on a megaproject, Nalcor management, the engineer suggested, ought to have been eager to pick up the phone to BC Hydro. He added that he could not imagine BC Hydro refusing to share the information, especially if a senior person initiated the call.

The possibility that Astaldi had not even pre-qualified for work with another utility when it was selected as one of the main contractors on Muskrat ought to have concerned Nalcor even after having realized they failed to perform adequate due diligence. 

If they knew of the decision by BC Hydro respecting Astaldi and chose not to follow it up, they have revealed great incompetence. To advertise it, too, suggests Nalcor doesn’t even know just how incompetent they really are, he added.

The engineer noted that BC Hydro has far more experience in megaproject construction than Nalcor (which actually has none) implies Nalcor could have benefited from BC Hydro's advice . That Nalcor could not state, in response to the particular citizen’s question, that it had consulted a plethora of Astaldi’s prior employers, suggests either little due diligence was actually done or Nalcor cared not enough to give the questioner a full or accurate reply.

The trail of evidence emanating from Nalcor confirms not just hubris but a lack of management discipline, and a distain for the public’s right to transparently, and effective oversight.

Sadly, the evidence mounts almost daily.

Individual citizens deserve better than the unknown questioner received; the public, too.

Yet, many, especially the Davis Government, seem blind to the fact that this crown corporation is out of control.

With a General Election in sight, Dwight Ball and Earle McCurdy can expect to be challenged with demands for specific commitments as to how they will begin a process of change at Nalcor. 

As to Nalcor, only if more members of the public, like this Professional Engineer, express outrage when legitimate concerns are rewarded with arrogance, will politicians take note.

The leadership simply won't come from within.
Editor's Note:
Part III of the JM Series, The Budget Colloquy, will be posted Monday, June 22.

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