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Muskrat Falls Inquiry commissioner tells Ed Martin he can’t ‘run the show’

Commissioner Richard LeBlanc.
Commissioner Richard LeBlanc. - Joe Gibbons

Former Nalcor Energy president and CEO Ed Martin has been involved in some tense rounds of questioning at the Muskrat Falls Inquiry, but the tension boiled over Wednesday afternoon, with Commissioner Richard LeBlanc stepping in.

Questions were being posed at the time by Concerned Citizens Coalition lawyer Geoff Budden. He was asking Martin about cost estimates and probability factor, or “P factor” in estimates, and the wisdom in using a “P50” for the estimates on the Muskrat Falls hydroelectric development, essentially setting just a 50 per cent chance costs would come in at or below the $6.2-billion budget.

Budden and Martin went back and forth on the testimony of John Mallam, a former Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro vice-president of engineering and current Nalcor Energy board member who said earlier hydroelectric projects at Hydro would have been estimated using a P70-level, or even P90-level estimate.

Martin disagreed with the suggestion that was a standard, or reasonable for the Muskrat Falls project.

“It’s either right or it’s wrong. It’s answerable. So let’s assume. And again, if I’m wrong…,“ Budden said, beginning a question to Martin.

“I will not assume it. Because it’s wrong,” Martin replied, interrupting.

“I’m asking you to assume…,“ Budden tried again.

“Not gonna happen,” Martin said, again cutting off the question.

Budden was about to begin again when the commissioner slapped his hand down on his desk.

“Now I’ve had, I’ve had, this foolishness, I’ve had it Mr. Martin. You’re not being the witness here, you’re trying to run the show,” LeBlanc said, speaking directly and forcefully to Martin. “It’s going to stop right now. And if it doesn’t stop, unfortunately I won’t be able to hear the rest of your story. Now I’ve had it. I’ve listened. I’ve been very patient. I’ve tried very hard to take notes on everything you’ve said because I want to know it. But I don’t like the attitude that you’re displaying here, to be quite frank. You are not responsive to the questions. You’re actually being rude, as far as I’m concerned. And I don’t want it anymore. I wouldn’t put up with it in court and I’m not going to put up with it here. So, we’re going to take five minutes, because I need to cool off. And then we’re going to come back and it’s going to shift from what’s been going on and we’re going to go through this in a way that we can look like professionals even if we don’t. That’s it.”

LeBlanc then stood and walked out of the hearing room.

The session resumed five minutes later, with no further remarks on the subject. Budden continued with his questions, with Martin responding in full.

While Martin maintained disagreement with the premise or comment made in some of Budden’s later questions, he did not interrupt again to flatly refuse to hear a question.

Martin did not move off his position of confidence in the megaproject’s $6.2-billion cost estimate (as announced, not including financing costs).

Including financing costs and growing interest costs, the project — not yet through construction — is currently estimated at $12.7 billion.

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