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Auditor stands by report under questioning at Muskrat Falls Inquiry

Scott Shaffer, a forensic auditor with Grant Thornton, continued to present his findings to the Commission of Inquiry Respecting the Muskrat Falls Project in Happy Valley-Goose Bay on Tuesday. He will take questions from lawyers of the various parties with standing at the inquiry beginning on Wednesday.
Scott Shaffer, a forensic auditor with Grant Thornton. - Ashley Fitzpatrick file photo/The Telegram

Grant Thornton's Scott Shaffer expected to field even more questions on audit report today

On Wednesday, the many lawyers onstage at the Lawrence O’Brien Arts Centre in Happy Valley-Goose Bay, one by one, questioned auditor Scott Shaffer with Grant Thornton. Questions will continue Thursday. The subject is the same as Shaffer’s report: the blown budget of the Muskrat Falls project.

Nalcor Energy lawyer Dan Simmons asked the auditor, among other things, about a key contract package awarded to Astaldi Canada and the decision to stay with the contractor after problems at start-up (hired in 2013, Astaldi was ordered off the dam site in October 2018).

Simmons suggested to Shaffer that, hypothetically speaking, changing the contractor earlier would have cost the project more, given premiums for another contractor stepping in.

“You wouldn’t know until you negotiate,” Shaffer said, refusing to agree it would have cost more.

At one point, Simmons began to pose questions on a document not in evidence but previously reviewed by the auditor.

Commissioner Richard LeBlanc interjected, hearing from lawyers who had yet to see the document. While settling the issue, LeBlanc said document management and clearing them for release is “a headache,” but best efforts are being made to avoid hang-ups.

“If corners got cut in the project, I don’t have any knowledge of that." — Scott Shaffer

Lawyer Geoff Budden (for the Concerned Citizens Coalition) asked Shaffer about a general quote about megaprojects, on time crunch and corners being cut. The question was whether or not it applies to Muskrat Falls.

“If corners got cut in the project, I don’t have any knowledge of that,” Shaffer said.

The commissioner interjected as Harold Smith (representing Ed Martin) posed questions. LeBlanc said he’s not following Smith’s suggestion the decisions were “either-or” on Muskrat Falls after 2012: to continue the project or return to an “isolated island” development plan. He suggested a third option was available, to go back to the drawing board, but said he expects to receive submissions on the idea before the inquiry concludes.

During questioning, the auditor was asked about greater clearing of the reservoir at Muskrat Falls. Shaffer said he could not say if what he looked at included funding for additional work at site (though the suggestion is not).

Additional clearing is an issue Premier Dwight Ball and Environment Minister Graham Letto have yet to announce a final decision on.

Lawyers for former government members confirmed Shaffer did not recall seeing any evidence suggesting Nalcor Energy was informing the provincial government of changes in its forecast increases in the final cost for the project. Former Nalcor Energy CEO Ed Martin has previously said the province was informed any time it was confirmed budget changes were needed.

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