Monday, 24 August 2015



The master of spin, Nalcor CEO Ed Martin, should be weary of his own storytelling. But, when even reporters offer no interruption, I guess he just can’t help himself.

It’s the kind of stuff that makes your teeth grind because, intuitively, you know that Muskrat Falls, at $10-12 billion, will be reported as just an innocuous detail; reporters will never note their failure to challenge the blather (or the decisions) of officials like him.

Recently (July 14th) Ed Martin toured the Muskrat Falls site with some of the provincial Premiers.  The CEO told a media "scrum” he can’t guarantee the project will generate first power by 2017 as scheduled, or if it will meet budget targets.

The statement contained uncharacteristic bluntness for one who never wastes an opportunity to ‘gild the lily’. But, alas, the slip was deliberate; the sad state of the project is beyond plausible deniability, even for Ed Martin. 

The CEO had come to Labrador to be praised, not pilloried; reporters had plenty of evidence to upbraid Nalcor's man but chose to leave his self-praise unedited. 

Omitting questions about project delay and late power, The Labradorian quoted Martin ad nauseaum. It's sister paper, The Telegram, was sufficiently pleased to re-print the extensive monologue. The story lead read, in part: Martin stressed that, as a long-term project, the construction schedule is just one of several factors that must be considered, including, cost, quality and safety.

This is Martin’s direct quote: “we want to keep (the)…schedule to the extent possible … and make no mistake, we are making 100-year decisions here and I think our main focus is to get the balance right and don’t give anything away in the long-term for any short-term gain to be made….these are 100 to 200 year projects; I liken it to Niagara Falls, which started in the early 1900s. There’s cost, there’s schedule, there’s quality, and there’s safety, and each of those have to be in balance.” (emphasis added) The diatribe ran paragraphs.

The invocation of Niagara Falls was classic for the Nalcor CEO. Martin was referring not to the tourist attraction but to the hydro power plants that have reliably produced energy, for Ontario, since 1893. It's mere mention is expected to defy time value of money and a plethora of other core principles of economic thought. It was intended to paper over any concern that Nalcor management incompetence has played a role in the various predicaments Muskrat is facing.

Interestingly, Martin didn't liken Muskrat to New Brunswick's Mactaquac Dam, commissioned in 1968 and already in a serious state of deterioration due to faulty concrete; replacement cost may be as high as $5 billion by 2030.

Good reporters are expected to be possessed of a modicum of cynicism and to ask tough, insightful questions.  It is fine to have Ed Martin preoccupations written into the public record, but most readers still expect ample cross-examination, in case the smoke being blown should make them nauseous.  

Martin knows the schedule slippage is serious as are burgeoning cost overruns. But he was walking among the political giants of Canada. The Premiers had been invited to visit the Tory legacy project; it was just too bad the Premier of La Belle Province wasn’t on the tour so that Ed could show him how we’re screwing ourselves in order to screw Quebec.

Of course, it is tough to be a giant when you have no good news to report; that’s when hyperbole goes a long way; any claim to 100 year decisions might come in handy.

Aren’t the public in awe of a man who walks among First Ministers, anyway? 

Now, funnily enough, Martin didn’t tell the media scrum, as one insider told this Blog, that he had to ink a deal with the manufacturer, at some considerable cost, to store the Muskrat Falls’ turbines in an airplane hangar in Goose Bay for a couple of years even though officially, the project is still on schedule and that first power will arrive in 2017.  And, to be fair, reporters cannot be expected to know these things.

But a lot of questions remain about the huge quantity of scrap (brand new) structural steel that is hidden in a junk pile, in the back woods of Happy Valley-Goose Bay, in consequence of an unfinished “dome”. If delays, cost overruns, low morale, a slow and litigious contractor, and a host of other problems did not seem real enough for the indolent scribes, surely a $120 million embarrassment, Nalcor’s reported budget for the structure, ought to have inspired good questions. And the perfect photo op, too! Problem is, they might have had to forego hors d’oeuvres with the Premiers.

Harder still, the star struck veterans were in the grip of NL’s great white hope; seized by his enthrall.

Imagine, being in the shadow of one making 100 year decisions!

Related to this story:


Now, Ed Martin is not dumb about everything. He knows that Muskrat Falls is just a construction project. It is larger than many; but it is still just a construction project. And he knows that any 100 year decisions occurred at project sanction.

Any left-overs are of the operational kind; the “where do I lay down my screw driver” variety.
A decision to put the turbines in mothballs is a huge embarrassment and, incidentally, for sound technical reasons, horrifies some engineers who believe, if Nalcor knew what it was doing, would have re-scheduled the manufacture and arrival.  

But should a bevy of reporters let Martin off the hook; permit him to elevate ordinary decisions by an incompetent leadership to the 100 year class?

He could fire Astaldi, ostensibly a major cause of project “slippage”, a decision demanded by several Managers, one he refuses to make; but even that decision, rather than "100 year", constitutes for most capable CEOs just another day at the office!

Martin continues his blather with reporters: “If we have to adjust (the schedule) for quality purposes or for the right reason, for the sake of months when we’re talking decades, we’ll make the right decision.”

He is still in hyperbolic mode, leaving no doubt that he makes only big decisions, historic ones; the 100 year type.

But, he was only referring to a process even the builder of a man-shed insists on: the simple but essential matter of construction quality…as in quality assurance. It is far from certain he has been able to get even that right!

National reporters were down to hear the First Ministers’ Energy Policy for Canada, and a host of other pronouncements. Globe and Mail Columnist Konrad Yakabuski wasn’t taken in by the Davis/Wynne photo-op, even though his paper still only counts nine provinces.  But, in the face of a multi-billion dollar project, clearly off the rails, local reporters (the ones who live here) were content with a treatise from Ed Martin on Q&A…elevated to the status of “100 year” verdicts!

It was pure bombast, blather, bullshit; and every word of it was recorded in the newspaper for posterity.

Even if a single journalist took offense to Martin’s babble, you might note none thought it worth reporting.