The Report of the Commission of Inquiry named the chief culprits of the Muskrat fiasco as Ed Martin, Gilbert Bennett and the PMT. Some of the originals, including Bennett and Harrington, were permitted to keep their positions. The Commissioner’s conclusion evokes a number of questions including whether Stan Marshall was the right person for the job.
Last week’s piece concluded that he was not.
More important for this conversation, is the Government’s relationship with Marshall, the public’s reaction to their hands-off approach, and the worry that our expectations of politicians and public servants remain low.
Let’s start here.
What is Muskrat’s status five years after Marshal’s arrival?
It isn’t very pretty and that is partly because Premier Ball, and subsequently Stan Marshall, accepted Nalcor’s – yes, Nalcor’s - conclusion that it was too late to shut down the Muskrat Falls Project. It is tantamount to having the foxes assess the integrity and viability of the chicken coop they had undermined.
The consequences of this decision are still ahead of us.
The latest commissioning date for Muskrat reported to the PUB is November 14, 2021. Liberty, the no-nonsense Consultant hired by the PUB to parse Nalcor’s claims, is unconvinced.
The Project continues to suffer setbacks from problems associated with the synchronous condensers (which stabilize the electricity grid), bi-pole software over which Marshall dithered with GE (the contractor), under designed bolts, problems with welds, and other issues. They also include repairs associated with last winter’s rime ice damage to the electrodes and other (under designed) components on the Labrador Island Link (LIL).
|Stan Marshall (photo credit: Saltwire)|
An improved Holyrood Generating Plant may well be Stan Marshall’s legacy after five years at the helm.
Liberty reported in May, 2021 that their concerns over Muskrat were “not just about bringing the LIL to commercial operation, but in evaluating its long-term exposure to weather-related outages.”
The substandard design ought to have been a key feature of a competent and independent review of the Muskrat Falls Project in 2016. Stated Liberty, “it would be rash to conclude that the threat of still lengthy LIL delays has passed into history.”
Assessing Stan Marshall's Tenure at Nalcor (Part 1)
Those issues give you a pretty good idea of the shallowness of Nalcor’s – and Stan Marshall’s – Muskrat Falls review and why a more independent assessment in 2016 might have suggested that the project represents something less an asset than “sunk cost”.
An unrepaired LIL, together with the prospect that the Holyrood thermal plant might have been shut down as originally proposed, suggests that the Island could have come face to face with DarkNl.2 last winter. It is doubtful, however, that this consequence even made it into the public’s consciousness.
Worrisome, therefore, is that our laid-back relationship with government, which some describe as “hope for the best”, is emblematic of doubts that we can govern ourselves.
There are other reasons for raising this question now.
We might remember that when he became CEO, Stan Marshall answered to a new Board of Directors and to a new Premier after Paul Davis was defeated in 2015. Many will also remember the prior Board’s mass resignation and the showering of benefits on Ed Martin after he quit, placed a spotlight on that quisling group.
The new Board of Nalcor ought to have insisted on executive replacements as soon as it was evident that Marshall was not up to the task.
They did not, suggesting that one group of quislings were replaced with another.
Marshall’s flat footedness ought to have come under the notice of Premier Ball and Minister Siobhan Coady. Following the conclusion of the $16.5 million LeBlanc Commission of Inquiry, another Premier – Andrew Furey – and Coady's replacement, Andrew Parsons, were in possession of all the evidence needed to dislodge Vice President Gilbert Bennett and any hangers-on among the PMT – including Paul Harrington. This same group, by the way, are still under investigation by the RNC.
Yet, each of them – Board Members and politicians, including Dwight Ball and Andrew Furey - took a hands-off approach to the way Stan Marshall decided to run the project. Their actions differed from those of Danny Williams and Kathy Dunderdale only in the way the latter were complicit with Ed Martin; otherwise, they also handed the project off to the next CEO - and hoped for the best. The unwarranted assumption was made that Stan Marshall knew his stuff.
What have we learned from the Muskrat Falls fiasco?
What does this say about the capacity of more recent governments to protect the public interest any more than did the Governments of the Williams/Dunderdale/Tom Marshall/Paul Davis era?
Stan Marshall may have unwittingly answered this question best.
On his way to the exit on June 10th, Marshall told reporters: “you are going to need the expertise that’s at Nalcor…if we’re going to deal with the Upper Churchill…with rate mitigation measures…Atlantic Loops and Gull Island…if you don’t, your going to end up in the same disasters we have had in the past…if you want to do Gull Island this is the time to do it…we have all these highly skilled people available to us.”
Remember, Marshall is referring to the same “unprincipled” group that the Commissioner found to be unqualified to manage the project at the start, who Stan Marshall, himself, admitted “were learning as they went along”; the same group who succeeded in giving the province a $13 billion project, likely having a negative value.
Stan Marshall advises Government that a group who deceived the Government, the public, and made one of the greatest blunders in the history of global megaprojects, should be elevated to even bigger leagues.
It is disturbing when not just the Government but an entire NL society is mute in response to the drivel that Stan Marshall shared upon his departure. Not just his time as the CEO but his ostensibly sage departing words of advice deserved condemnation. Instead, they went unanswered - by virtually everyone.
Can we govern ourselves?
Not so long as people think they have something to lose by putting officialdom in their place.