In April 2016, former Fortis boss Stan Marshall took over the top job at Nalcor Energy. The cost and schedule for the ongoing Muskrat Falls project were aggressive and overly optimistic. It was “not the right choice,” he told the public.
But he also committed to finishing the project as efficiently as possible. He proceeded with splitting the work left into two, main streams: generation and transmission (including getting the Labrador-Island Link operational).
It required an overhaul in management — reorganization, with new titles and assignments.
At the Muskrat Falls Inquiry, it’s sometimes referred to as the “bifurcation.” And not everyone was happy with how things progressed.
“I think Mr. Marshall’s intentions there were great,” said deputy general project manager Jason Kean, who became deputy general project manager (transmission). “The aspect of why we’re doing it I think could be explained moreso.”
At the public inquiry Monday, Kean said he thought the splitting brought “extra leadership to the table.” But he also personally ended up reporting to John MacIsaac, who became the executive vice-president responsible for power supply.
“I don’t know if our chemistry was great. You know, management style is quite different,” Kean said, before a more pointed comment.
“I guess it’s fair to say that I didn’t appreciate his marginalization of individuals and his ill regard for business processes.”
Kean said his relationship with MacIsaac contributed to his decision to quietly leave the project in January 2017.
“I guess, Mr. Marshall’s appointed him to that role. The project’s too important to have factions. It’s time for me to move on. I moved on,” he said.
MacIsaac has also since left the project, in early 2019. He is scheduled to testify on June 11.
Apart from some clashes between managers working in new roles, the Marshall era also began with general discontent over public comments from both Marshall and the new Liberal government.
A letter from June 2016 signed by Paul Harrington was actually drafted with input from multiple senior project team members. It asked for consideration of the fact the project management team was taking criticism for decisions made by the executive and by the former Progressive Conservative government.
Kean said he believes it was “well known and communicated” to the executive at sanctioning that the Muskrat Falls project could run over its $6.2-billion budget, given the level of risk involved.
The Harrington letter said the same, of the executive and the government, noting the project team didn’t make the decision to greenlight the project at the stated cost and risk.
“The morale of the project team has been seriously damaged by recent critical statements in the public forum,” reads a version of the letter from June 4, now in evidence at the inquiry.
New criticisms from leadership, they said, were piling atop personal attacks from the public.
“The project team were able to withstand the (past) negative statements because they had the support of government and Nalcor leadership. They now feel abandoned and feel they are being painted as scapegoats for the decisions that were made outside their control,” the letter stated.
Harrington apparently disagreed that splitting of the project into generation and transmission was a necessary move, and expressed his concerns in the letter, suggesting it would be disruptive and a distraction from the construction.
A separate Nalcor Energy briefing note (for lawyers at McInnes Cooper) stated the change in leadership and approach brought “ideologies that quite often differed from the established ideologies and resultant plans.” The private assessment claimed “the project’s performance suffered” with a loss of focus. The inquiry itself was also flagged as a distraction and cost to the project.
NOTE: This is an updated version, to clarify Jason Kean said the risk of cost overruns was 'well known and communicated' specifically to Nalcor Energy executives.