Thursday, 12 March 2020


The public should be disturbed that, in releasing the Report of the Muskrat Falls Inquiry, Premier Ball and Minister Siobhan Coady were unwilling to demonstrate that there are consequences for senior public servants who engage in a calculated and systematic abuse of the public’s trust. Indeed, they exhibited no capacity to even check the behaviour of their Tory predecessors.

Among the Commissioner’s findings is that, in the case of Nalcor, the Corporation failed to adhere “to the core values of open communication, honesty and trust, or accountability in their discussions and communications with GNL [the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador] and Nalcor’s board of directors.” He found that “Edmund Martin, Gilbert Bennett and the PMT [Project Management Team] frequently took unprincipled steps to help secure Project sanction. They concealed information that would undermine the business case reported to the public, to GNL and to Nalcor’s board of directors.” His findings confirm that senior officials of Nalcor and GNL behaved in this way on multiple occasions.

That at least seven senior officials were not fired on Tuesday — unceremoniously expelled from the positions which they currently hold — constitutes a fundamental failure of political leadership by the Ball Administration.

That CEO Stan Marshall — despite the findings of Judge LeBlanc — has expressed confidence in Vice President Gilbert Bennett and the others, and is supportive of their continued employment, and that the Premier did not possess the strength to hold him to a higher standard — as if his mattered, and the Judge’s didn’t — is of equally great concern. Was the Judge language not plain enough, Sir, or is the problem that your officials did not get to edit the six volumes; a fairly typical Nalcor practice with its consultants?

While Marshall exhibits an arrogance reminiscent of his predecessor, the Government’s response should not be excused just because Ball’s Caucus leash is actually a chokehold, and his mandate is at an end. Ball already let Ed Martin away with a sizable pot; Sturge, too. When elected officials are tolerant of officials who have, by objective assessment, participated in deception and “unprincipled” behaviour, what does it say about them? Is there no ‘line in the sand’, no point at which either CEOs or political leaders see it necessary to convey their disgust or to reassure the public — by their actions — that the public interest is paramount?

After hearing Judge LeBlanc’s conclusions, the correct response would have been to fire each of those officials — Nalcor and non-Nalcor alike — without their bonuses or financial settlements, and ‘with cause’. Who would want to keep around public officials who have violated the requirement to be honest, to serve with integrity? Aren’t those the essential conditions of public service?

While those people ought to be required to show proof in a Court of Law that they are due any entitlements, isn’t it also important that every public servant learns that there is consequence when they engage in the kind of behaviour Judge LeBlanc has chronicled in his 1100-page Report? Isn’t it an obligation of the Government that a clear message is sent, if only to confirm that, under their watch, such demonstrations of shameless, unprofessional, unethical conduct (minimally described) will never again be tolerated in the Newfoundland and Labrador public service?

I suppose it would be too much to expect that any of those named by Judge LeBlanc would have considered resignation, he having proven that they are unfit for public service?

Minimally, however, seven firings on Tuesday would have constituted a clear message to CEO Stan Marshall and other senior officials, too, that more is expected of them and that, especially in the case of Marshall, he might wish to reconsider the values and standards of behaviour he has brought to the office of CEO. The action might even have been a less-than-subtle reminder that there are no indispensable people, including him.

Accordingly, although we can engage in an extensive discussion of the Final Report of the Inquiry, to what purpose if the Government shares no higher values than those whose complicity led to the Inquiry being called?

Judge LeBlanc also expressed serious concern in his Report about the behaviour of the Government. The Judge stated (emphasis added): “Although it had publicly professed that a business case for the Project would have to be established, in effect GNL had predetermined that the Project would proceed. In so acting, GNL failed in its duty to ensure that the best interests of the province’s residents were safeguarded.”

The statement is a serious indictment of the former Tory Government, and LeBlanc had more to add. Says the Commissioner: “Although GNL and Nalcor were united in their shared goal to proceed with the Project, GNL had no capacity or strong inclination to effectively oversee Nalcor. Before and after Project sanction, Nalcor exploited this trust by frequently concealing information about the Project’s costs, schedule and risks.”

LeBlanc is saying that, even though Nalcor had gone rogue in terms of the public interest, the Government had no interest in putting a stop to the behaviour. In this respect, Ball was given first-hand knowledge, having been briefed by EY regarding the Davis Government’s refusal to allow the Auditor to complete its investigation of Nalcor’s cost overruns and other issues. The Judge’s Report constituted one opportunity to deal with some of the culprits involved.

This, of course, was a larger issue than that represented by arrogant fools. LeBlanc was able to see that a whole Government was complicit and that fundamental changes needed to be made. What better opportunity for a Premier with nothing to show after five years than to begin the process of redeeming his legacy with the arrival of the most important judgment that has been rendered on a government since Confederation?

When a blind eye is turned to wrongdoing by the very Administration charged with correcting the egregious shortcomings of its predecessor, whose interest is advanced?

Judge LeBlanc has described the essential breakdown of both governmental and institutional leadership under the Williams/Dunderdale watch. Alongside a reckless $12.7 billion venture, this is not a legacy in which any of the complicit former Premiers — Williams, Dunderdale, Marshall or Davis — should take pride. Unfortunately, the public should not feel safe that much has changed.