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Pam Frampton: Nalcor owes the public answers

Protesters are shown outside Nalcor headquarters in St. John's July 8.
Protesters are shown outside Nalcor headquarters in St. John's July 8.

I finally received a reply from SNC-Lavalin’s media relations manager this week after emailing him questions last week about the company’s attempts to present a risk assessment report on the Muskrat Falls project to Nalcor in 2013.

Pam Frampton

Louis-Antoine Paquin apologized for the delayed response, saying he’d been on vacation when I contacted him earlier.

But, no matter. SNC-Lavalin will go no further than to repeat its statement to media when news of the risk assessment report broke last month: “I can confirm that we produced a report, in 2013, and that we’ve attempted to hand it over to Nalcor,” Paquin wrote via email. “When we were asked for this report, we provided it.”

When I pointed out he hadn’t exactly answered my questions, he replied: “We won’t comment any further.”

The SNC-Lavalin report, compiled in April 2013, identified several high-risk aspects of the Muskrat Falls hydroelectric project, including the lack of adequate camp accommodations for workers, the competition for skilled tradespeople with Hebron and on transmission projects in Alberta, the fact that 1,000 people were working where 2,500 were then needed, the issuing of mammoth contracts that few companies were capable of fulfilling — thus driving up the price, and the unpredictability of the ice-free window when aspects of the work could be carried out in Labrador. Many other risks were outlined, and you can read the report here: http://www.nr.gov.nl.ca/nr/publications/energy/snc_lavalin_risk_assessment.pdf

I can understand why SNC-Lavalin doesn’t want to talk too much about how its attempted report-delivery was foiled. It holds a major contract with Nalcor on Muskrat Falls, and it can safely say it tried to fulfil its legal obligation to “advise its client of any major risks.”

If Nalcor refused to accept the document (and ask yourself why), then what was SNC-Lavalin to do?

But at least SNC-Lavalin acknowledged in its report that “The public’s interest, as well as the provincial and federal governments’ interests need to be safeguarded.”

The report continues: “It is strongly suggested that these identified risks be discussed openly and with full transparency amongst the parties…”

And yet Nalcor, for all its bullishness about accountability, refuses to explain why SNC-Lavalin’s risk assessment report was not accepted, made public or acted upon.

Naclor’s website states: “Transparency means having information and data available to the people of this province, while accountability is taking responsibility and recognizing the decisions and actions taken by the company.”

Well, let’s have it. If there’s a plausible explanation for why the 2013 risk assessment report was shelved, the public deserves to know and should have known four years ago.

There was some chatter in the Twittersphere this week that perhaps the vice-president in charge of the Lower Churchill project, Gilbert Bennett, has been advised by Nalcor not to talk to the media these days. I have no idea if that’s true; I only know he wouldn’t answer my questions and hasn’t talked to local media much lately.

But I wouldn’t be at all surprised if Nalcor’s media strategy includes deliberately offering up CEO Stan Marshall whenever journalists ask questions, precisely since he’s the only key player at Nalcor who can say with complete honesty that he has no knowledge of decisions that were made before his watch began.

Also on Twitter this week, someone asked whether Bennett has a duty to answer media questions and whether he is obliged to talk to me.

Well, of course he’s not accountable to me personally. Heck, my dog doesn’t answer to me all the time.

But Nalcor and its key executives are making decisions affecting the people of this province and they owe a duty of care to the public, as do the politicians who were in power and sat blithely by while all this was unfolding. Plausible deniability will only get you so far, folks.

We pay Nalcor’s very generous salaries while our personal financial stability is being put at risk with Muskrat Falls — not to mention the cost implications for businesses and towns.

The arrogance and disrespect being shown the people saddled with this ill-thought-out encumbrance is just breathtaking.

 

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

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