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Former natural resources minister tells Muskrat Falls Inquiry he tried his best

Former natural resources minister Jerome Kennedy.
Former natural resources minister Jerome Kennedy. - Joe Gibbons

Jerome Kennedy finishes second day of testimony

For the public, the Jerome Kennedy testifying at the Muskrat Falls Inquiry is strikingly different in tone and demeanor than the man who was the province’s minister of natural resources in 2012.

By Kennedy’s own repeated admission, sometimes he would give inappropriate responses back then to public criticisms and questions on the Muskrat Falls hydroelectric project. It would happen when he was tired, frustrated from extended debates and charged up by social media attacks.

In response to questions from lawyer Erin Best (representing former premier Kathy Dunderdale), he testified people in the Progressive Conservative government saw a different side.

“I set out (after being appointed in 2011) and in the cabinet setting, people would have thought I did not support Muskrat Falls. I was so critical of the process. I was so critical of all aspects. That’s not the public persona I put out there,” Kennedy said, agreeing when Best asked if he came around to supporting the project.

He testified to examining the province’s energy options, associated costs and risks to the best of his ability.

“I tried my best,” he said at one point, becoming soft-spoken at times.

For a second day, Kennedy was also critical of Nalcor Energy’s efforts.

A flash of the aggressive politician returned momentarily, while he was being pressed by Nalcor Energy lawyer Dan Simmons.

He was taken to a public document with a reference to probability factors (“P factors”) used in estimates. He had already testified he wasn’t familiar with the concept and said it’s something Nalcor Energy should have brought forward to the government, in cabinet briefings.

He was asked about his real understanding of costs, being taken to numbers from the “sensitivity analyses” in a report comparing the isolated and interconnected (Muskrat Falls) project options, with a line to show where the numbers could go as the Muskrat Falls project ran over its estimated budget.

"If we made a mistake here, we trusted Nalcor," the former minister responded.

There were questions as to how well he was informed by people within his own department.

He was asked by Simmons about the work of bureaucrats, including then-associate deputy minister Charles Bown.

Bown received emails from Nalcor Energy reps related to, for example, consultant reports. Simmons suggested Bown would have been in a position to pass on information.

Kennedy said he trusted Bown to provide information that would add to the project cost estimate or add to the government’s understanding of costs.

When Harold Smith (representing then-Nalcor Energy president and CEO Ed Martin) asked Kennedy if he had any guarantees from Martin the project would come in on budget, Kennedy agreed he and the rest of government had no guarantees.

Smith also asked if it would be expected that information on $500 million in estimated strategic risk for the project — a potential cost — would go to the government if that information was no longer considered valid by Nalcor Energy’s team.

Smith and Martin have said more than once the figure was dated by the time of the final political debates and project sanctioning. They’ve said the same on the consultant warnings of the project having a schedule all-but-doomed to fail.

Kennedy said he would always want real numbers.

Lawyer Geoff Budden (for the Concerned Citizens Coalition) asked about oversight by Kennedy of Nalcor, and appointments to the Nalcor Energy board of directors. Budden referred to evidence from former board member Tom Clift, who had emailed Robert Thompson, clerk of the executive council, about the board’s desire for additional members, specifically members with experience in areas relevant to the project, including major project management, engineering and hydroelectric power.

Kennedy said he wasn’t aware. But it also was not established he was involved in appointments.

Appointments to the board came in mid-2012. Thompson already testified the individuals added to the board brought different capabilities, but they did not address the skills and knowledge gap Clift and the existing board had brought forward.

Kennedy was expected to finish testifying Tuesday, but cross-examination was not completed, so he will continue on the stand Wednesday. He will be followed by Bown.

Former Nalcor Energy president and CEO Ed Martin is scheduled to testify next week. He will be followed by Kathy Dunderdale, with the inquiry scheduled to break by Dec. 21.

Related stories: 

The Muskrat Falls Inquiry

Nalcor Energy didn’t report in full, Jerome Kennedy tells Muskrat Falls Inquiry

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