The Uncle Gnarley Blog has a new website. Click here to visit to view the latest posts!

Thursday 20 April 2017


The Ball Administration recently made four new appointments to the Muskrat Falls Oversight Committee. Two professional engineer Jason Muise and Memorial Economics Professor Dr. Jim Feehan are longstanding anti-Muskrateers, “naysayers” in the idiom of the Wiliams/Dunderdale era.

Now the Committee has three who tried their best to warn successive Tory administrations of Muskrat folly, including Bern Coffey the Clerk of the Executive Council, who is the Chair.

While those appointments seem a step in the right direction, for the present I am inclined to counsel caution that they actually represent a shift in the way oversight is performed.

Two others an accountant and a former bureaucrat were appointed along with Muise and Feehan.

The four joined the Deputy Ministers who have inhabited the Committee from the very beginning. Of course, the latter should only be ex-officio, available solely to give support to the independent members of the Committee.

Jason Muise, P.Eng.
The Deputies long ago demonstrated their unsuitability, allowing themselves to become pawns of Nalcor and to be used for a political purpose  to give the illusion of “oversight”. They didn't have the professional qualifications and experienced for the job anyway.

A complete revamp would have seen the Committee restructured and given the benefit of additional experts whose resumes boast megaproject expertise in both project management and oversight roles.

Chalk up another missed opportunity for the Premier.

That is unfortunate.

Seventeen months after a general election in which the Tories were decimated, we still await just one positive surprise from the Liberals. The Muskrat Falls project has climbed to $11.7 billion. How much convincing does this Premier need. 

The province yearns for some manifestation of serious leadership moreso even than we pine for the summer sun.

The public shouldn’t forget that, rather than as part of a sensible system of checks and balances, Dunderdale thought oversight an affront to then Nalcor CEO Ed Martin as if his interest exceeded the public’s. Former Premier Tom Marshall was no wiser.

Under Dunderdale, Nalcor consolidated its control over every government decision that impacted Danny Williams’ energy warehouse mandate. Though it had not a clue how it would go about giving it responsible and intelligent implementation, the crown corporation was never prepared to have its professional and intellectual deficits exposed by better people.

The result is the current mess.

A savvy Premier  even just a sensible Premier would have rushed - on day one to install a group capable of holding Nalcor to account: to assess management performance, review contracts and contractors, get to the bottom of cost overruns, insist on diligent quality control procedures, and keep tabs on the all-important schedule.

Ball knew that the Committee that Tom Marshall had struck was patently useless. The PR types at Nalcor had told Marshall that all he needed was a committee bearing the name “oversight”. The public and the media wouldn’t differentiate it from the real thing anyway. 

And they were right.

Memorial Economist, Dr. Jim Feehan, Ph.D
The Deputy Ministers were content to be wallflowers for the Tories. Besides, Stan Marshall has exhibited only the proof that the skills necessary to revamp Nalcor management and put Muskrat on a stable trajectory are not in his tool box.  

In short, the Premier needed to signal straight away that real oversight, not the fake kind, would be a hallmark of his Administration.He needed to demonstrate that while the Committee, under his leadership, was dormant he had had been searching not just for new members, but writing a new mandate and defining new powers under which it would operate. 

In so doing, Ball might have been expected to prescribe a budget so that the Committee could initiate independent study and analysis of Muskrat’s management and operations.

He might have released a copy of the letter he surely must have sent to Stan Marshall.

The letter would constitute an order that the new and real Oversight Committee had been given unfettered access to all of Nalcor’s data not just the information Marshall or V-P Gil Bennett allowed.  

Indeed, the Premier might have sent extra copies of his instructions principally for the benefit of Gil Bennett in case he lost the first two or three copies possibly on Project Manager Paul Harrington’s desk, where they might have gotten buried along with that elusive Report into the collapsed concrete formworks. That incident occurred a year ago. Any Owner worth his salt would have received a report within 48 hours. As it stands, a response to my second ATIPPA request for that same report still awaits.

Having failed to do any of those things, the Premier confirms he does not well understand oversight either.

Shouldn't he have told the public that the "new" Oversight group will have authority to look back as well as ahead. Wouldn't he want them to examine how Nalcor fiddled with the numbers in order to obtain sanction? 

Couldn't he have assured us that the Committee will have the power and the resources to instigate an independent review of the North Spur remediation plan?

Are such activities not fundamental to the very notion of oversight?

To his credit Ball has added two very capable people to what is arguably the most important committee of government right now. He has added to “fake” the strong integrity of Muise and Feehan. Unfortunately, he has committed none of his own.

For people of their calibre, Ball should know that if he can’t do more if he can’t empower them to use their knowledge and talents to perform they, likely, won't risk their reputations on his behalf. 

Unlike the Deputy Minister, they won’t stand to be wallflowers, too.