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Pam Frampton: SNC-Lavalin was obligated to deliver risk report


Published on July 26, 2017

It was interesting — and might have been amusing if not for the seriousness of the subject — to see duelling letters on Muskrat Falls from the Liberal government and the Progressive Conservative opposition in Saturday’s Telegram.

Pam Frampton

Natural Resources Minister Siobhan Coady accuses the previous Tory government of having lowballed the cost of the now $12.7-billion hydroelectric project and of having “rejected” SNC-Lavalin’s 2013 risk assessment report warning of delays and cost overruns.

The Tories’ natural resources critic, Keith Hutchings, blames the Liberals for more recent ballooning costs and asks why the SNC-Lavalin report was in the hands of Nalcor CEO Stan Marshall for a year before Premier Dwight Ball knew anything about it.

“In all that time,” Hutchings writes, “did the Nalcor CEO never discuss with anyone in the Liberal government — until weeks ago — this independent assessment of project risks that he says he had in his possession? Does the premier believe it was appropriate for information of this importance to be withheld from government by the Nalcor CEO?”

Well, perhaps he should turn those questions around and ask them of his own party. Did Nalcor never discuss with anyone in the then Tory government this independent assessment of project risks?

Former CEO Ed Martin says he did not see the report, it was not “transmitted” to him, he had no recollection of it. But did he know of its existence? Did any key players at Nalcor?

Presumably, someone at Nalcor was aware of that attempted delivery. The report was not sent into thin air.

And, if so, do the premiers of the day — Kathy Dunderdale, interim premier Tom Marshall, and then Paul Davis — believe it was inappropriate for information of this importance to be withheld from their government?

Was it appropriate, as Hutchings rightly asks, for Stan Marshall to have known of the risk report for a year before telling Dwight Ball, or has there been politics and plausible deniability at play ever since the report was written in 2013?

If you don’t know, you can’t be held responsible, right?

I asked Geoff Emberley, CEO of the Professional Engineers and Geoscientists of Newfoundland and Labrador, about the professional responsibilities of a prime consultant on a major project.

That’s the role SNC-Lavalin held at the time it wrote its risk assessment report, with Nalcor its client as owner of the project on behalf of the people of the province.

Emberley was not commenting on this particular situation, but said generally, the prime consultant has responsibilities as the member of a professional organization to bring forward issues of concern to their client.

“Public health and safety and welfare have to be protected, and professional standards have to be met,” he said.
“The prime consultant has an obligation to inform the client and others under a code of ethics, especially if (they fear) laws are going to be broken or environmental hazards are not being addressed properly.”

Emberley said the prime consultant would be expected to relay the concerns to someone at a reasonable level of authority at the client company in order to discharge their responsibilities.

SNC-Lavalin has said it “attempted” to hand its report over to Nalcor and fully anticipated it would be made public.

Presumably, someone at Nalcor was aware of that attempted delivery. The report was not sent into thin air.

If someone at Nalcor knew about it, was there no moral obligation to tell the people governing the province?

And if no one at Nalcor knew, shouldn’t the Crown corporation be bristling now at the suggestion that it turned a blind eye to a risk assessment that contained grave warnings about the viability of Muskrat Falls and raised concerns about Nalcor’s lack of experience with such work?

Where’s the affrontery, the outrage?

There is none. There’s just an unfathomable lack of explanation. And the province’s politicians, both those in power and those formerly in power, seem unable  — unwilling? — to wrest answers out of the corporation Danny Williams hailed as a “flagship for the province” in announcing its creation in 2007.

Just who’s running the show?

Let’s none of us forget that we have whistleblower legislation in this province, and it does apply to Crown corporations.

 

Pam Frampton is The Telegram’s associate managing editor. Email pframpton@thetelegram.com. Twitter: pam_frampton