Monday, 7 December 2020


If the Industry, Energy and Technology Minister had cleaned house at Nalcor immediately upon his arrival, we would have applauded him. No applause is necessary.

The public moans, again, over Nalcor’s narcissistic leadership; a “runaway train” unbowed and unpunished.

How many successive years has it been; repetitious and frustratingly undeserved bonuses given to Nalcor officials? Why is government so deaf? How is it that no institution in the province possesses the capacity to, at least, nudge them to change? 

It seems Andrew Parsons knows not where to begin. It is a far tougher job than the Justice Ministry, a place where rules abound, a bevy of lawyers administer them and even make the political role routine.

Industry and Natural Resources is different. It requires personal energy, brains, creativity, boldness and above all leadership.  The job has been vacant for a very long time.

An engaged and competent Minister would have shed Nalcor of the cabal who run it and who are a source of untold grief and embarrassment. Nalcor’s future would be clearer, too.  

Nalcor has circumvented the Public Sector Transparency Act allowing senior staff to be employed as third party contractors. Their compensation is kept secret using the authority given the CEO (under the Energy Corporation Act) as he pleases, on matters deemed by him arbitrarily to be “commercially sensitive”.

Even Project Director Paul Harrington, is still contracted through his own private corporate entity. The concept makes sense when experts are hired to perform temporary work or the kind for which full time staff lack the necessary skill-sets. But does it still make sense for someone hired in 2005 – 15 years ago?

Harrington was unsuitable at the start, a friend of Ed Martin’s pulled in from a middle level job on the Terra Nova FPSO. He - and others – are still using those personal service contracts to skirt public disclosure.

Minister Andrew Parsons
Politicians, like Andrew Parsons, throw up their hands when someone dares to complain about Nalcor’s intransigence and abuse; the Ball and, now, the Furey Administration - no different than the Tories – content to let the tail wag the dog.  

Especially galling is that the bonuses are given to some, including V-P Gilbert Bennett and Paul Harrington, who helped engineer and execute deception on a massive scale over several years, leading to the sanction of the Muskrat Falls Project.

The deceit included interference in the MHI Report. The outcome caused the Commissioner to opine that the Report “was inadequate and lacked independence.”

Giving the conclusion greater specificity, LeBlanc added: “GNL and Nalcor approached this review as a means of securing support for the sanction of the Project. They were not interested in obtaining a comprehensive, independent analysis of the Project, its costs or its associated risks, although this is what the public was being told that they were getting.”

LeBlanc leaves no doubt where the ultimate responsibility lies for the corrupted MHI Report.

It is an indictment of a behaviour unacceptable within even the most pedestrian notions of responsible government. 

In any other civilized society, the problem of deceit would be resolved in a Court of law; the culprits fired and held to account. In a civilized society, the administration of Government would demand that the concept of “bonus” assume the requirement for extraordinary contribution. As it stands, it is just another portal for deception. 

Of course, the problem may be us – not them - and whether we care about “standards” in how we are treated, in the handling of public money and in the delivery of public services.  

Stan Marshall took a large cut of the bonus money for himself, notwithstanding his own abysmal performance as the CEO. He is the guy who was quick to let us know, five years ago, that he was doing us a favour replacing Ed Martin; his compensation less than that earned at Fortis Inc. Generosity, however, is not taking from one public pocket what, if anything, was saved in the other. 

Five years later, the cost of the Project is higher than his own forecast and going higher still; the completion date remains indeterminate. The software issue, synchronous condensers, an unfinished Powerhouse, and Astaldi litigation remain unresolved. Financing costs for the debacle mount; repayment of principal on the Bonds began in 2020. Power rates have not changed, but ratepayers are not off the hook.

COVID remains Stan Marshall’s cover. He has proven himself unsuitable as a crisis manager; key personnel below him incapable of elevating their skills as much as their values. But he keeps them around.

On this account, Andrew Parsons exhibits his unsuitability, too. He is advertising for Stan Marshall’s replacement, not having considered the skill-set Nalcor needs, how it will be changed or if it will be shut down.

He seems unaware of the recommendations of Liberty Consulting who saw “rate mitigation” savings in eradicating massive duplication with Newfoundland Hydro and Nalcor.

The PUB’s Final Report, “Rate Mitigation Options and Impacts Muskrat Falls Project”, quotes Liberty Consulting: “the pursuit of the savings associated with the re-integration of Power Supply and Hydro would promote the efficiency required to provide reliable service at optimum cost for customers. Liberty estimated the savings at $12.7 million…increasing to $17.6 million by 2023.” (p.32) Fuly integrated with Hydro the savings would be much higher.

The growth of Nalcor is the reason NL requires more people per capita (some say five times as many) to operate and distribute electricity than any other province in Canada.

Other efficiencies proposed by Liberty could include Nalcor’s marketing and sales division which might be better contracted to a third party.

A merged or redefined Nalcor Energy Inc. suggests the need for a CEO possessing skills and befitting a “reimagined” Corporation - a word the Liberals are fond of using. Parsons only knows the “F- word”, as in “flat-footed”.  

Some have suggested that the award of bonuses is just bad optics at a time when the province is going through a rough patch exacerbated by COVID-19. The characterization could not be more inaccurate. When is rewarding participants in a scandal ever just optics?

But mostly, it is about another Minister who has ‘dropped the ball’. Andrew Parsons holds the most important economic portfolio in the Furey Government. If he can’t step up, having been given the challenge of a lifetime, the Premier will need to “reimagine” him, in addition to a corrupt Nalcor.