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Deputy minister doesn’t recall learning $6.5-B figure for cost of Muskrat Falls

Charles Bown is a former deputy minister of Natural Resources.
Charles Bown is a former deputy minister of Natural Resources. - SaltWire File Photo

Text message claims ‘amnesia’ on part of witnesses, is retracted

ST. JOHN'S, N.L. —

Charles Bown was deputy minister of Natural Resources at the time of financial close on the Muskrat Falls project and then sat on the government’s oversight committee, but he doesn’t recall when he first learned the project’s cost was increasing beyond the $6.2-billion price announced in 2012.

At the Muskrat Falls Inquiry Wednesday, Bown was asked in detail about the change in estimated price to $6.5 billion. It happened at financial close, in late 2013.

Bown said he didn’t recall being told of that change before financial agreements were signed. He also reviewed documents, including old emails, but testified he could find no reference to the change in anything provided to him at that time.

He said he did know about the change in price by March 2014, where email exchanges show $6.5 billion was discussed as the cost. It wasn’t shared with the public.

Bown was pressed on his recall by lawyer Erin Best, representing former premier Kathy Dunderdale, who noted the deputy minister’s deep involvement in the file. She asked if he remembered anything about when he first learned of the change in price — anything about the circumstances, or his reaction.

He said he just couldn’t recall.

Apology issued for text before testimony

Evidence at the inquiry now also includes a text message from Nalcor vice-president of finance (power supply) Jim Meaney, sent to Bown on an evening in late March of this year, on the heels of testimony from former Natural Resources minister Derrick Dalley.

“In Derrick’s testimony today (inquiry co-counsel Barry) Learmonth mentioned that a number of folks who were senior civil servants at the time of financial close in Nov 2013 said in their interviews they don’t recall being told about the $6.5B capital cost estimate. Of course Dalley and (former premier Paul) Davis already claimed the same at the inquiry,” Meaney texted.

“I know who has been interviewed and that we spent A LOT of time with some, including yourself, during that period. I sure hope you are not one of the folks who suddenly have amnesia from that time … that wouldn’t seem to me to be the ‘Shareholder’ I’ve always respected.”

The text was put into an email and was forwarded by Bown to his lawyer, Andrew Fitzgerald, on March 28.

Fitzgerald forwarded it on to the commission of inquiry the afternoon of the following day.

Meaney was called to the stand briefly on Wednesday, prior to Bown’s testimony. He confirmed it was an accurate capture of his text.

Meaney was asked how he knew, as he claimed in his text, who was interviewed by the Inquiry staff. He couldn’t say exactly how he knew.

He said it was never his intent to influence Bown’s testimony.

Apart from that, Meaney had testified previously he did not have direct knowledge of Bown being informed of the cost change. When asked about that aspect, he referred to emails and notes of Nalcor CFO Derrick Sturge as the root of his belief Bown was in the know.

He said the text was an error in judgment on his part.

“I shouldn’t have done it. I acknowledge that. It was offsides,” he said, adding his apology.

Commissioner Richard LeBlanc said it was “an understatement” to say he was surprised by the exchange.

“For an official at your level at Nalcor Energy to have sent this email was very shocking to me,” LeBlanc said, adding he hoped it was a simple mistake on Meaney’s part.

“I hope this is not what is happening behind the scenes.”

(NOTE: This is an updated version, to clarify the text message from Jim Meaney was put into an email.)

ashley.fitzpatrick@thetelegram.com


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