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Editorial: Inquiry tally

The Dunphy Inquiry public hearings were held at the former Newfoundland School for the Deaf in St. John's.
The Dunphy Inquiry public hearings in St. John's. — Telegram file photo

It was a point Justice Leo Barry made frequently, both at the start of the public inquiry into the shooting death of Donald Dunphy, and throughout the process.

While he wanted the inquiry to do the best job it could to establish the events — and any errors — that led to Dunphy’s death, Barry was not prepared to let the inquiry’s costs run rampant. When lawyers suggested delays or proposed new lines of inquiry, Barry kept the process on point.

Observers seemed satisfied with the inquiry’s conclusions, and some of its recommendations — such as the establishment of a serious incident response team to investigate police shootings — are already in process.

Despite holding hearings with several lawyers representing different interests, a Telegram access to information request for the full final cost of the inquiry shows that Barry managed to keep expenses — everything from staff to rented space to a webcast of proceedings so that the inquiry was publicly available daily by internet connection — to less than $3 million.

People will probably be satisfied with the financial result as well.

In his final report, Barry highlighted that effort: “Knowing the province’s need for fiscal prudence, I decided the best way to minimize costs was to keep a tight schedule as each additional day added considerable legal and administration fees.”

The inquiry was launched on Sept. 23, 2016, and Barry’s final report was delivered on June 27, 2017.

Despite holding hearings with several lawyers representing different interests, a Telegram access to information request for the full final cost of the inquiry shows that Barry managed to keep expenses — everything from staff to rented space to a webcast of proceedings so that the inquiry was publicly available daily by internet connection — to less than $3 million.

It was $2,919,196.42, to be precise.

That’s even more impressive given that the bill for lawyers alone was over $2.3 million. Consulting services came in at $204,456, salaries for staff came in at $195,535, and purchased services at $161,436.

The inquiry reviewed 100,000 pages of evidence and heard from 56 witnesses.

But if it was thrifty, the Dunphy inquiry is also a cautionary tale. The witness pool was a limited size, as were the number of people with standing and legal representation. It only held 39 days of hearings.

By comparison, the inquiry into Muskrat Falls is a massive undertaking — it is scheduled to take two full years, reporting on Dec. 31, 2019.

Depending on the direction taken by Justice Richard LeBlanc when the inquiry begins on Jan. 1, 2018, and the sheer breadth of the inquiry’s terms of reference, it’s not hard to imagine that any similar frugality will be virtually impossible. After all, just one aspect of the inquiry requires Justice LeBlanc to examine “Nalcor’s conduct in retaining and subsequently dealing with contractors and suppliers of every kind” to see if that conduct was “in accordance with best practice.” Just imagine the number of contracts that includes, and the sheer volume of paper involved — and that’s only part of the terms of reference.
In just 16 days, the meter starts running.

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