Former minister takes shot at Nalcor contracting

Ashley Fitzpatrick
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I have a stake in the game,’ acknowledges Shawn Skinner

Shawn Skinner

The single contract for the intake, powerhouse, spillway and transition dams at Muskrat Falls has not yet been awarded, but when Shawn Skinner heard it might go to an Italian company, he decided it was time to raise questions about international contractors.

On Tuesday morning, the former provincial minister of natural resources and longtime supporter of the multibillion-dollar hydroelectric project took to the airwaves on VOCM.

“For me it’s about the level of risk that Nalcor, in this case, would be assuming,” he said, in a clip later posted online.

“The level of risk with a Canadian company that is familiar with the climate in Labrador, familiar with supply chain … they have offices across the country. They have offices in Newfoundland and Labrador. They have people working in Newfoundland and Labrador. ... Your level of risk with something going wrong there, I would argue, is much less than when you bring in a company from Europe.”

From expressions of interest to requests for proposals, to shortlist and then evaluations for final award, Nalcor Energy vice-president and Lower Churchill project lead Gilbert Bennett said contracts for Muskrat Falls run through several stages and detailed investigation of contractors.

“Ultimately for us, at this point, we’re interested in best value for the people of the province. So we need a contractor who can do the work safely, can meet our specifications and the other Canadian specifications that are associated with the work and, of course, one that gives us best commercial value,” he said.

He noted any company awarded a contract will have to operate within established benefits agreements and prioritize local hires.

He also said Skinner’s statements are biased commentary.


A dog in the fight

Nalcor Energy lists bidders for Muskrat Falls contracts online. The shortlist for the intake, powerhouse, spillway and transition dams contract includes four bidders. Two of those are Italian-based, one is a St. John’s-based partnership known as IKC-ONE Civil Constructors and the last is a partnership that includes Skinner’s current employer, Aecon Construction Group. Flatiron Construction and Barnard Consruction complete the three-way joint venture.

Despite his comments on radio, the former politician told The Telegram he has no specific complaints in relation to Astaldi S.p.A. out of Italy, or the other Italian bidder on the Muskrat Falls contract, a three-way joint venture of Salini S.p.A., FCC Construction S.A. and Impregilo S.p.A.

He said his comments on air were the product of research and discussions with engineers, tradespeople, architects, project managers and “people in the union movement,” who have raised concerns to him about companies hired on large construction projects elsewhere in Canada running into trouble — because of a lack of understanding of the area, misunderstandings with aboriginal groups, a lack of acknowledgement of local regulation and/or an unwillingness to use local workers.

As for the fact his own company stands to benefit from his comments?

“So all I can say to that is, yes, they are correct, I have a stake in the game, so to speak, but more importantly, what about the comments I’m raising?”

Skinner said Canadian-based contractors could hit trouble.

“But with a Canadian company, I would suggest, the element of risk is less. That’s my point,” he said.

“These are legitimate concerns that have happened in other parts of the country and I’m saying because this is a major project for this province — probably the biggest one we’ll do for the next however many years — and the warts and all that have come with Muskrat Falls, let’s make sure we give it every possible chance to succeed.”

Skinner said he has raised the issue about proper activity by Muskrat Falls contractors with provincial government staff. As for why none of his former colleagues have expressed his concerns?

“Maybe they’ve done it internally and they have a level of comfort with it. I don’t know,” he said.

Organizations: Nalcor Energy, IKC-ONE Civil Constructors, Aecon Construction Group Salini

Geographic location: Newfoundland and Labrador, Europe, Italy Canada

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Recent comments

  • Concerned
    September 05, 2013 - 15:16

    Is it true that the Italian company being considered for the Muskrat Falls Project is planning on bringing 1000 workers from the Far East to work at the Project. If true, how much would be left for our local workers?

  • Albert Webber
    September 04, 2013 - 13:33

    Another outsider tring to get rich quick, on the backs of people he never met. Where are the contracts for the LABRADOR people...? Oh ya, we too dum!

  • Newfoundland and Labrador need to establish an Anti-Corruption Squad. We need honest politicians who are interested in doing what is right for those who elect them.
    September 04, 2013 - 08:51

    I find it despicable and corrupt when politicians decide on their own accord to develop the people's natural resources to pad their own personal economies, even when a project is not needed. It is quite plain to see with the Muskrat Falls Project, a project that will deliver less than 800 mega watts of electric energy but is touted to cost an exorbitant amount anywhere from $6.2 Billion upwards to $12 Billion to be paid for by the Newfoundland and Labrador hydro consumers/taxpayers. Of course we were told from the beginning to expect "cost over-runs", and we now know from the Quebec experience from the trial into price-fixing that companies there, over the years, colluded to price fixing on contracts. That is the very reason contracts become so expensive, when compared to contract letting in a county like Norway, in getting projects developed. Nobody is satisfied with a decent wage, they set out to fleece the taxpayers and consumers and thus the Newfoundland and Labrador Treasury.

  • Go Away Sour Grapes Skinner
    September 04, 2013 - 08:38

    Skinner could not even get re-elected in St. John's Center and then his former colleagues leave him blowing in the wind with no cushy board appointment. There's a reason for all of that - look in the mirror Skinner. And please shut-up while you're doing it.

  • brett
    September 04, 2013 - 07:46

    what a ridiculous bit of protectionism and bias. Risk? It's a lovely word to throw around - especially by people who haven't done any of the math to determine the actual risks. Nice rhetoric ex minister. fan the flames of discontent, but do not actually do the research before alarming the populace.

  • Too Funny
    September 04, 2013 - 07:43

    "But with a Canadian company, I would suggest, the element of risk is less". Uh huh. but the problem is "suggesting" is not the same as being factual. Prove that these Italian companies are more risky. I may be wrong but Skinner is coming off like a lobbyist. Aecon is a Toronto based company that has done construction projects around the world. Sorry Skinner but if your boss wants to play in the world market then don't cry foul when the world wants to come to our market.

  • Tom walsh
    September 04, 2013 - 07:20

    Where do this man get his nerve. As minister of people with disabilities he treated the people of nl so much unfairness it is embarrassing The cut backs were so harsh that people are still tryin to get around them And now he has the nerve to say that a company he represents is being treated unfairly. Well sir I say this to you Suck it up You used to say that the government had to get the best value for their money and it looks like they will again If u think because your company has a better chance because you are involved with them to bad Have your company make the winning bid Earn your money

  • i guess he wont be running PC again
    September 04, 2013 - 07:12

    i guess this 25 watt light bulb of a fellow has yet to hear of the new GLOBAL economy; i do believe they call it; can we use same logic when it comes to FISHERY; we cant send yellow tail flounder or any other species fish for that matter; because CHINA and other foreign countries DONT USE LOCAL WORKERS and dont have SAME HIGH QUALITY STANDARDS for work being done to product; what a joke this fellow is....really

  • concerned
    September 04, 2013 - 05:46

    People have to remember this project is being paid for by OUR electrical rates. If a company prequalifies, and they demonstrate they can do the work, then it should go to lowest price. This project should be run under the public tendering act. If it was then these conversations would not be happening. It would be open and transparent. The biggest issue I have is why are Nalcor awarding a 1 Billion dollar contract, when in 1 month the entire project could be in jeopardy due to either the UARB decision, or the court case in Quebec. It must be asked.... who is pushing this 2017 completion date, and why?