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Editorial: Buried treasure

Nalcor Energy
Nalcor Energy

 

All that’s old is new again.

Monday, with the provincial legislature back in session, the subject of the day was a tussle between the provincial government and its energy giant, Nalcor Energy, about Nalcor’s refusal to release details about what it was paying scores of embedded contractors.

Nalcor is saying there are competitive reasons to keep those pay rates secret — even after Premier Dwight Ball asked the Crown corporation to revisit releasing the information.

The current impasse, unfortunately, is exactly what the opposition pointed out in the spring of 2008: that the legislation that was being used to create Nalcor in the first place would allow the company to hide many of its actions from the people of the province.

Not so, claimed then-premier Danny Williams in the House of Assembly.

“The intent here is to have this energy corporation maximize its return, maximize its profits, maximize its dividends, become a very, very profitable asset, owned by the people of Newfoundland and Labrador. That is our sole goal,” Williams said on May 28, 2008. “The restrictions … are very, very narrow restrictions, and that is to ensure that this company can be successful, that it can operate in a competitive environment, that it allows itself to enter into partnerships with major corporations around the world who would not enter into these partnerships if not for these provisions.”

Williams was talking about a need to keep details of major deals with oil companies secret, along with protecting things like proprietary technology.

The current impasse, unfortunately, is exactly what the opposition pointed out in the spring of 2008: that the legislation that was being used to create Nalcor in the first place would allow the company to hide many of its actions from the people of the province.

Then-natural resources minister Kathy Dunderdale echoed that position: “(We) are taking the necessary steps to ensure that commercially sensitive information cannot get into the hands of competitors through these acts. Protecting against the release of this information is critical, Mr. Speaker, to the success of our Energy Corporation. …We have taken a great deal of care to bring into the corporation this kind of expertise, because it does not exist within government. It is a special competency to understand the global economy and the impact on a corporation or its partners, of the release of certain information at delicate stages within the commercial and global environment,” Dunderdale said on June 2, 2008. “Our new energy corporation is staffed by extraordinary people with global experience in megaproject contracting, and we are very lucky to have them, Mr. Speaker.”

It was abundantly clear at the time that Nalcor’s creators intended its legislation to protect major partners. The protection of the global environment with competitive secrecy hardly includes what Nalcor’s using it for — covering up the day rates of individual staff, including some administrative contractors.

The best explanation?

That Nalcor, saddled with huge Muskrat Falls cost overruns, knows that it can’t publicly defend the rates it is paying.

In other words, Nalcor’s scrambling.

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