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Thursday 31 March 2016


Nalcor CEO Ed Martin is not forthright with the public about the status of the Astaldi contract at Muskrat Falls. 

Astaldi’s version may not be entirely accurate either; but it is very different than the one Ed Martin relates, and we need to know why..

In October, 2013, after six months of evaluation, Nalcor awarded a contract to Astaldi to build the powerhouse, intake, gated spillway, transition structures and other associated work. Astaldi booked the contract with a value of C$1.0 billion.

Last week Martin told reporters: "We do have an issue with the powerhouse that Astaldi is constructing. They have fallen behind significantly”. That lag will have "schedule implications….and with schedule implications, there will be some cost implications", the CBC reported.

This is not the first time Ed Martin has spoken poorly of Astaldi’s performance; the Muskrat Falls Oversight Committee has referred to the problem frequently, too. This excerpt from the March 2015 Report is just one, and not necessarily the latest, example:

Monday 28 March 2016


It’s a lot to expect from a Premier still trying to make his first decision. 

But Nalcor CEO Ed Martin, having failed to do the honourable thing at last Thursday’s Nalcor AGM, will have to be pushed. Still, it is increasingly clear it won’t be Ball who will do the pushing.

One of the few items of substance that came out of the AGM was confirmation that Muskrat will be delayed and the cost will climb even higher, though I am unsure who is left to claim surprise.

Martin also said we won’t get a cost and schedule update until the end of June, leaving us to wonder if he will tell the Premier the E&Y March 31 deadline will also have to be extended.

One attendee at the AGM commented: "the new government has not taken a feather out of Ed Martin’s smooth-as-silk insouciance. He has risen above petty concerns about budgets and schedules to extol the longevity of hydroelectric projects, such as the Hoover Dam, while sacrificing the government’s commitment to open the books on the altar of “commercial sensitivity”.

Thursday 24 March 2016


Thursday, March 24, 2016 is the day on which Nalcor hosts its Annual General Meeting. This is a good day for Ed Martin to step down, as Nalcor CEO.

Premier Dwight Ball is testing the forbearance of the Newfoundland and Labrador public not having given the failed CEO a well-deserved push at the start of his tenure. After all, as Head of Nalcor, Ed Martin has overseen the evaporation of a great deal of public money, now counted as billions; the exact amount is a moving target. The Muskrat Falls project is only around 40% complete.

It is true that Ball indicated the intent of the EY Review “is not to make changes in the administration at Nalcor” and, in a ham-fisted way, stated that “there is no reason not to have confidence” in Nalcor management. Ed Martin might have thought otherwise, but by any measure, this is hardly a ringing endorsement of the CEO’s leadership.

Monday 21 March 2016


The public still awaits one signal the Liberals have the capacity for leadership.

The recent Speech from the Throne represents the third specific occasion of missed opportunity; the other two include an appropriate response to the Fiscal Update and revelations by the Premier, in February, of trouble in the long term bond market.

The Throne Speech is more than just ceremony signalling a new Session of the House of Assembly.  The symbolism incorporates a purpose that exceeds any ritualistic merit.
This should have seemed fortuitous to a new government promising “real change”.

A Throne Speech is expected to reflect the public policy direction, specifically the legislative agenda, of the government. But it need not. Precisely because it has no defined specifications, an enterprising and creative political leadership will lever the pageantry to profile election themes and to describe the basis of major initiatives, not just those legislative, it is planning.

But, most of all, while the Budget should constitute the financial equivalent of the pharmacist’s prescription, the Throne Speech should act as a holistic examination and diagnosis of the political corpus.

Tuesday 15 March 2016


‘If you are hunting bears, don’t go chasing rabbits’ is a familiar warning not to do something far less important than what you hope to achieve. The metaphor is perfectly applicable to those who devote great energies to minor political issues, leaving the larger ones virtually untouched.

Talk of austerity will expose many examples. Disapproval towards the Mayor of St. John’s, who is on a junket to some cruise line conference at a cost in the neighbourhood of $6,000, is one. The trip is winning more press than disclosure he had negotiated, at least initially, with Danny Williams for a 20 acre parcel of his real estate, reportedly having a price tag of $8.5 million; a secretive process that kept others at bay. The deal did not get finished. But that his head wasn’t called for or that guidelines at City Hall weren’t immediately strengthened to prevent such abuses of power, is proof of vastly misaligned public policy priorities by both the media and people, generally.

The Premier and his Fisheries Minister have been chided for attending a Fisheries Exhibition, too. Amidst a $2 billion deficit on current account, minds need to be turned to a plethora of bigger issues involving big money. It’s tantamount to tracing rabbits; it won’t get you real change.

Monday 7 March 2016


It is difficult not to feel a sense of anticipation building around the forthcoming Budget. Not just business but the public, too, are speaking fearfully about the measures that Finance Minister Cathy Bennett may impose to return the Province to a state of fiscal sanity.

Of course, the words “may impose” have no legitimate place in the current budgetary discourse; but they are there. One might ask: what does the Minister and the Premier not understand about a $2 billion deficit, and a reluctant bond market demanding proof the government will act? 

The mere fact that the Minister failed to follow through with the proposed HST hike, in spite of deteriorating revenues, and having failed to offer immediate off-setting tax hikes and spending cuts, represents a sure signal the new government was not quite ready to govern. Indeed, Ball’s early comments suggested he might find respite in Ottawa. Likely, by now, he has figured out partisanship doesn’t count for much; besides, we should fix the problems we have created.  

Thursday 3 March 2016


Following former Premier Tom Marshall's recent appearance on CBC "Cross Talk", I received an email from a quite astute listener; one seeking clarification on a point raised by the former Premier that really bothered him. I have reprinted the letter here together with my reply:

I need help. I listened to the chaotic CBC "Cross Talk" today with Tom Marshall, and I could hardly believe my ears. I actually phoned in, but was on the tail end of the show and was left hanging with a number of other callers on the waiting list.

I then thought I would write a letter to the Telegram to ask the burning question that was on my mind. But I held off, because of my total incompetence in the field of economics. I really don't want to make a fool of myself in print, because it distracts from the substance of the debate!

The question I wanted to ask Tom was on the point he kept hammering:

"Profits".  The "profits" from Muskrat Falls would come back to the people of NL, he said, so it was a good deal. What "profits", I asked myself? Simple economics tells me that if I am a widget-maker, and I only sell my widgets to myself, for my own use, I CANNOT make a "profit".