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Ches Crosbie wants AG called in on wetland capping

PC Leader Ches Crosbie speaks to reporters in St. John's Tuesday.
PC Leader Ches Crosbie speaks to reporters in St. John's Tuesday. - Joe Gibbons

Dwight Ball says it's just ‘another desperate attempt’ to distance PCs from project

ST. JOHN'S, N.L. —

Progressive Conservative Leader Ches Crosbie wants the province’s auditor general to investigate why wetland capping did not happen as planned at the Muskrat Falls reservoir.

He has written the Public Accounts Committee, a committee of the legislature, asking for an urgent meeting, requesting the committee vote to call in AG Julia Mullaley for a special investigation.

Premier Dwight Ball suggests the request is partisan and designed to pull focus from the PC Party’s history with the Muskrat Falls Project, before the final report of the Muskrat Falls Inquiry later this year. 

In addition to a letter to the Public Accounts Committee, Crosbie spoke at a news conference at the Confederation Building Tuesday. He said the failure for the provincial government to handle permitting in 2018 in time for the wetland capping work — an effort towards methylmercury mitigation — led to a “rupture in relations” with Indigenous leaders in Labrador.

Wetland capping was considered by the Independent Experts Advisory Committee (IEAC) and supported by the leaders of the Innu Nation, Nunatsiavut Government and NunatuKavut Community Council.

Nalcor Energy applied to the Department of Environment for the required permit in the summer of 2018, but the government did not deal with that application in time for the work to move ahead that fall. By January, taking into account environmental limitations including ground conditions and migratory birds, the window for the work had closed.

The delay in the permitting was generally attributed to internal miscommunication.

Andrew Parsons was Environment minister at the time, up until November 2018, but has so far not commented on the details of what happened. Current minister, Lisa Dempster, says she won’t comment, as it pre-dates her time as minister.

“Unfortunately, we’re going to labour under the mystery of what happened to cause this, this failure in relations with Indigenous people, because it was a solemn undertaking, unless we use some other mechanism to get to the bottom of what went wrong. Was there bad faith involved in this? Or was it simply incompetence?” Crosbie said.

“We will never know the answer to this unless we use a mechanism like the auditor general to get the facts of the matter, to start the process of healing with Indigenous people and to fill in the gap that the (inquiry) commissioner has in the evidence, and that gap is Minister Parsons.”

Crosbie did not contact the Innu Nation, Nunatsiavut Government or NunatuKavut Community Council to discuss the issue prior to holding the press conference, although he did cite past statements from Indigenous leadership.

"Was there bad faith involved in this? Or was it simply incompetence?” — Ches Crosbie

He said the issue of wetland capping can fairly be investigated by the AG since it involves financial matters, including implications if consumption advisories are needed for wild foods in the area around Muskrat Falls due to methylmercury increases.

The provincial government re-committed the $30 million meant for capping work. The Innu Nation and NunatuKavut Community Council each accepted a $10-million commitment from Nalcor Energy, in support of programs to support community health and well-being.

The Nunatsiavut Government refused the same offer, saying compensation is not a form of mitigation and suggesting it would be perceived as “hush money.”

A spokesman told The Telegram the Nunatsiavut Government’s position has not changed.

Premier Dwight Ball.
Premier Dwight Ball.

 Crosbie said he isn’t advocating the existing $10-million agreements be scrapped, but he repeated the “hush money” comment.

Ball took offence to the Opposition leader’s use of the term.

“It wasn’t about hush money; it wasn’t said ‘here, take this and be quiet,’ it wasn’t like that at all. It was ‘how do we make the best use of this money?’ And Indigenous groups have said there’s $10 million that we could actually use to leverage with the federal government and private partners and actually bring many benefits to Indigenous groups,” he told The Telegram.

Ball said he has shared everything he knows and the government has shared all relevant documents with the Commission of Inquiry Respecting the Muskrat Falls Project. The premier said he isn’t interested in seeing an investigation that might undermine the work of Commissioner Richard LeBlanc.

But he isn’t standing in the way of anything, either.

The Public Accounts Committee is independent and free to consider Crosbie’s request. Committee members are a mixture of Liberals (four), Progressive Conservatives (two, including chair Kevin Parsons), and NDP (one). The Telegram reached out to all members Tuesday afternoon and was told Crosbie’s request will be discussed at the next meeting, in early September.

Twitter: @TeleFitz


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