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Muskrat Falls Inquiry shows limitations in written records
It’s an interesting question: how much of what is said and heard in the premier’s office should be recorded, and kept?
Physical records are of great interest at the ongoing Muskrat Falls Inquiry. When it comes to the premiers who were in power in Newfoundland and Labrador as the megaproject was decided upon, financed and built, there are questions about when particular meetings took place, but no work schedules in evidence.
There are personal notes entered from a long list of witnesses — former clerk of the executive council Robert Thompson, former Natural Resources minister Jerome Kennedy, Public Utilities Board secretary Cheryl Blundon, Nalcor Energy CFO Derrick Sturge and project director Paul Harrington, to name a few examples. Those notes have been essential, at times, for pointing to who might have known what and when.
They have helped determine how information flowed between Crown corporation Nalcor Energy and the provincial government. The records have also acted as memory aids for witnesses.
However, to date, there are no personal notes from former premiers Tom Marshall, Kathy Dunderdale or Paul Davis in evidence.
“When I left government, I didn’t take any of my personal notes with me,” Dunderdale said while on the witness stand on Dec. 17, 2018. “I have no idea where they might be. All I’m telling you is I didn’t take any of those things from my offices when I left.”
The former premier said she left with only her hat and coat, that personal items were packed and shipped to her in boxes, that there were procedures for the transfer of an office from one individual to another — but no clarity on where any notes landed.
Aside from that, premiers including Dunderdale have spoken about not keeping notes in deep detail — nothing to reflect who was in the room for a particular meeting or all of what was said.
“They’d be more points for me on pieces of information that I needed to seek or get more detail on or revisit in some kind of way,” she told inquiry co-counsel Barry Learmonth.
There are premiers’ speaking notes in evidence. These are often written by communications staff and provided to a premier ahead of a public address, but are not the same as personal notes.
There are cabinet documents, direction notes, and communications to and from the public service, but these are also not the same as personal notes or premier’s office meeting minutes.
On April 2, the Liberal Party of Newfoundland and Labrador commented on the inquiry proceedings on social media.
“No one wrote anything down and no one remembers correctly, if they remember anything at all, about the hundreds of millions in cost overruns,” read a Twitter post from an official party account April 2, with a link to more recent testimony from Dunderdale. “All this shortly after project sanction.”
For so much disputed testimony one thing seems clear.— Liberal Party of NL (@nlliberals) April 3, 2019
No one wrote anything down and no one remembers correctly, if they remember anything at all, about the hundreds of millions in cost overruns.
All this shortly after project sanction. #nlpoli https://t.co/mZCFQwtWSP
The Muskrat Falls project was sanctioned at the end of 2012 — more than six years ago.
The Telegram asked what the current premier’s approach is to record keeping.
There was no indication Premier Dwight Ball has personal notes. If there are notes, there’s no suggestion of them being archived for potential future reference.
He is scheduled to appear at the inquiry on July 4 and 5.
What about other notes of his meetings? What about his schedule?
“Depending on the nature of the meeting, it may be attended by staff of the premier’s office and/or other government officials as required. If record keeping is necessary, or if an action or direction arises from these meetings, officials attending with the premier are tasked with ensuring any necessary follow-through takes place,” read a statement from the Office of the Premier.
There is an official calendar. There is one Microsoft Outlook scheduling system maintained by staff in the premier’s office. It covers appointments, including government, caucus, constituent and personal engagements. It covers meetings for informational purposes.
Dunderdale said her meetings related to the Muskrat Falls project were typically in the premier’s boardroom, with six to 12 staff (including from the executive council and Natural Resources).
She testified there was a single meeting where she was on her own with former Nalcor Energy president and CEO Ed Martin, to talk about the Hebron offshore oil project.
The Telegram was told Ball does not hold meetings without ministers or government staff present.