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Letter: Of inquiries, leadership and justice

Nalcor Energy
Nalcor Energy

 

All “inquiring minds” — as a Telegram columnist recently put it — I believe, would favour an inquiry into the albatross known as Muskrat Falls. But as the same minds know, boondoggles do not happen in isolation. Because Muskrat Falls involves successive governments, a Crown corporation and thousands of contractors and subcontractors, my first instinct is that there is no one in this province who could lead such an inquiry and hope to go on living in peace after said inquiry is done. So how can justice for all concerned be assured?

My first suggestion is that the person needs to be from outside the province and with the stature say, of Madame Justice France Charbonneau, who led the Quebec inquiry into the province’s construction industry. In addition, her commissioner’s staff must consist of the very best legal minds, especially those, for example, familiar with the workings of international contracts and finance as well as money laundering and such.

Having said that, I’m not at all convinced yet that there will be an inquiry. I do not believe that the premier has the free hand we think he has. There are just too many actors. Former government officials must be fighting tooth and nail to stop this; there’s the federal government and their loan guarantees that obviously did not come without a price; Nova Scotia has interest in this deal; Nalcor, it seems to me, would be fighting to either prevent an inquiry or at the very least for it to have a restricted mandate; and then there’s all those pesky contractors. The premier will need much fortitude to call the inquiry, but I’m sure he knows he’s got the province on his side. Will that be enough?

Back to my wish list. Nalcor gave us Muskrat Falls. The inquiry must find out why Nalcor exists and why it seems to enjoy such autonomy. Back when it was first installed as an arm of government, some argued that it was a state within a state. True or not, just a couple of weeks ago our premier told us that he could not obtain requested information from Nalcor. If the premier could not obtain what he wanted, doesn’t that verify the incredible fears we had about Nalcor in the first place? It was said back then and still holds: we will only get from Nalcor what it wants us to know. The way it was, is, and ever shall be unless the mandate for the inquiry is so broad that it will be impossible for Nalcor to fall back on its founding documents.

Nalcor gave us Muskrat Falls. The inquiry must find out why Nalcor exists and why it seems to enjoy such autonomy.

Only recall what the roll of the civil service is in the parliamentary democracy system and you come to understand how very different Nalcor really is, even though it is a Crown corporation and its employees civil servants.

The civil service is the backbone of the parliamentary democracy system. First and foremost, it should be apolitical. It not only should have the expertise required by government but the institutional memory which enables one government to seamlessly follow another.  Always and ever it is hoped that the ministers of the Crown and all legislators will have a certain expertise, but it is with a top-notch civil service that our best hope lies for continuity and good governance.

But that, in my humble opinion, is not what happened in Nalcor’s case.  Nalcor, through its board, became totally politicized. I say it was “politics weaponized.”

Look at what happened to Dwight Ball’s government during its first year to 18 months in office, especially in its dealings with Nalcor. Our provincial government was in danger of becoming destabilized because the premier wanted to replace the head of a Crown corporation! How could one government’s agenda be so firmly entrenched that it affected the province and its people, not only for the life of the government that set up the agency, but that could, if allowed, continue to do so for decades down the road?

As for the rest of my wish list, others with more expertise and insight have or will spell that out.

 

Wayne Norman

St. John’s

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