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Editorial: Mega-project, mega-inquiry

['Muskrat Falls']
Muskrat Falls under construction.

 

Maybe it’s fitting that the most expensive public project in this province’s history is going to be the subject of what could be its most expensive public inquiry as well.

But, ouch.

Truly, the Muskrat Falls commission of inquiry, to be undertaken by Judge Richard LeBlanc, could be called the Everything-Including-the-Kitchen-Sink Inquiry.

It’s set to look at virtually every aspect of the project, from macro issues to micro ones and everywhere in between.

Now, it is specifically not tasked to try to find civil or criminal liability, but it’s not only going to examine the decisions at the root of the project, right down to how Nalcor retained and dealt with “suppliers of every kind…,” but how the budget for the project was completely blown out of the water, as well.

The inquiry will look at how decisions were made to move ahead with Muskrat Falls, and whether the government of the day was given accurate information about the project.

It will look at the costs of the effort, and at the decision to exempt the project from the oversight of the province’s Public Utilities Board (PUB).

Logistically, this effort could be massive.

And with massive, will certainly come expensive.

It’s set to look at virtually every aspect of the project, from macro issues to micro ones and everywhere in between.

From project managers to major suppliers to staffing agencies, scores of businesses will want to have standing, and will argue their costs should be covered. Some politicians will no doubt opt for full standing and legal representation, as will all sorts of major players: Nalcor, and Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro, for certain, but also perhaps Newfoundland Power and the consortium of large power users known as the Industrial Customers group.

The PUB may want representation, and the province’s consumer advocate may want to be present. Ed Martin, Nalcor’s former boss, will no doubt want full representation, and that’s completely reasonable.

Companies that prepared analyses that supported the view that Muskrat Falls was the best choice could conceivably want a seat at the commission table, in order to ensure their corporate reputations are not ridden over roughshod. Other interested parties will want a seat: representatives of Labrador’s Indigenous groups, and perhaps established environmental groups with questions about whether the project took shortcuts in the environmental review process as well.

The list could be very, very long; the evidence, voluminous; and the process, plodding.

In legal terms, this is the kind of bonanza that refurnishes legal firms and builds new homes for the partners.

Because it’s all billable time.

And even with all that, we may not end up with a clear answer to the most important question of all: were our politicians simply blind, or were they so in love with their own project and the chance to get one over on Quebec that they refused to properly look at the risks?

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