Two witnesses say they expected to be fired after report related to hydro project
Former chairman of the Public Utilities Board (PUB) Andy Wells told the Muskrat Falls Inquiry on Thursday that he expected to be fired in 2012 after filing the report on the special reference on provincial power options.
“We all thought we were going to be fired,” Wells said of all board members, including vice-chair Darlene Whalen and commissioners James Oxford and Dwanda Newman.
The PUB was tasked by the provincial government in June 2011 to decide whether an “isolated island” option for power or the Muskrat Falls development was the “least-cost option” for meeting energy needs. The regulator found, at the end of March 2012, it couldn’t be decided, as the information in hand wasn’t complete or current enough.
Wells said the reference to the PUB was followed by delays in the filing of information by Nalcor Energy, keeping the board from its work. There was also the issue of “decision gate two” numbers being used and more advanced “decision gate three” estimates not being available at the time.
The response to the final report, it was noted, included public comments by then-premier Kathy Dunderdale and then-Natural Resources minister Jerome Kennedy. A news article entered into evidence included comments from Kennedy in an appearance on CBC-TV’s “On Point,” saying the PUB failed in its mandate and “showed a lack of respect for the process.”
“We thought we were out the door,” Wells said.
His testimony followed testimony from Whalen, the current PUB chair, who said she had packed up her office at the time, and also expected to be fired after hearing the comments.
“I just felt that if there was an expression of non-confidence expressed so publicly, that he should have fired us,” she said of Kennedy’s remarks.
Wells spoke more critically of the government members.
“From my perspective, they were a pack of bullies,” he said.
“If the jackboots weren’t marching in the streets, they were certainly marching in the suites. I was appalled.”
He testified the government was “nasty, thuggish” in later interactions with the board. But he was also critical of early meetings he was called to.
He testified about being called to a meeting at Confederation Building in September 2011 that included, among others, Robert Thompson, former clerk of the executive council and former deputy minister. He said Thompson challenged him on questions being put to Nalcor.
“It was extremely improper,” Wells said of the interaction.
Thompson is expected to be called to the stand in mid-November.
Wells also testified he took part in a meeting on Feb. 5, 2012, where assistant deputy minister Charles Bown asked him specifically if he felt — based on what he had seen to that point — Muskrat Falls work should be shut down by the government. Wells said he told Bown at that time to tell the premier to call Nalcor Energy president and CEO Ed Martin and have Martin shut it all down (early work had begun).
“I can only give you my recollection. Mr. Bown will give you his recollection,” Wells said under cross-examination from lawyer Andrew Fitzgerald, who is representing Bown.
Wells was asked about the period of late 2011 and early 2012, when he made comments to members of the public about the ongoing review, including a run-in at Costco in St. John’s with Chief Justice Derek Green (now retired), where he suggested to Green a public inquiry would be coming down the line.
“Well, time proved me correct,” Wells said when asked about the encounter.
On cross-examination, Fitzgerald challenged the appropriateness of commenting about the subject of an ongoing review while PUB chair.
Wells said they were private interactions.
“I wasn’t at the stadium at the PA, b’y,” he replied to Fitzgerald, explaining it was a casual conversation.
“I wasn’t on the microphone saying, ‘Attention everyone. There’s going to be a public inquiry and I think Derek Green would make a great chairman,’” Wells said, before Commissioner Richard LeBlanc told the two to move on.
The former PUB chairman said he did consider the special reference involving the Muskrat Falls project to be different from other, more standard regulatory matters seen by the board, such as utility capital cost and rate reviews.
On the delays in obtaining documentation from Nalcor Energy, Wells said he had no evidence anything was being purposefully withheld.