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Questions get personal at Muskrat Falls Inquiry

From left, former members of the board of directors of Nalcor Energy Tom Clift, Ken Marshall, Terry Styles and Gerry Shortall at the Muskrat Falls Inquiry on Monday.
From left, former members of the board of directors of Nalcor Energy Tom Clift, Ken Marshall, Terry Styles and Gerry Shortall at the Muskrat Falls Inquiry on Monday. - Joe Gibbons

Four-man panel challenged, but Nalcor board members say they were not told to vote for project

Some witnesses at the Muskrat Falls Inquiry — frustrated by the approach to the hydroelectric project and who felt questions went unanswered ahead of sanctioning in late 2012 — have had their comments challenged based on their background and credentials.

Are you offering one person’s opinion, or expert evidence? Was someone influencing your decisions? How well do you really understand?

This week, the questions went to former Nalcor Energy board members.

“I wouldn’t recommend it to anybody, but it’s a fair process for the purpose of uncovering what we can learn in terms of future projects,” former board chair Ken Marshall told reporters. Others left without further comment.

Marshall appeared as a witness alongside Tom Clift, Gerry Shortall and Terry Styles. All four men were part of the board of directors at Nalcor Energy in the lead-up to the Muskrat Falls project. Styles was chair of the board at sanction, having been appointed in June 2012.

Questioning covered how they became board members.

Former Nalcor board members say they don’t recall risk assessment

Clift was a former professor with the faculty of business administration at Memorial University of Newfoundland; Shortall was a public accountant for more than three decades, before his retirement from Ernst and Young (now EY); Marshall was president of the Atlantic region with Rogers Communications; and Styles was the managing partner of Appalachia Distributing and Nakyska Holdings in Stephenville, also having served as chair of the board of directors for the College of the North Atlantic.

Lawyer Geoff Budden, representing the Concerned Citizens Coalition, didn’t ask each about the experience on cross-examination but did ask about business and personal relationships to former premier Danny Williams.

Styles was appointed to the Nalcor board after Williams finished as premier, and said he had no past relationship to Williams to note.

“I understand from your evidence that you were recommended to this board by your local MHA and I believe cabinet minister Ms. Joan Shea,” Budden said.

“No. It’s my understanding that the direction came from the premier’s office, premier (Kathy) Dunderdale,” Styles corrected.

Budden continued. “OK. You and Ms. Shea, what was the nature of your relationship?”

“We have a personal relationship,” Styles responded.

“You had a personal, romantic relationship at that time?” Budden asked.

“Yes,” Styles answered.

And the run of questions ended.

Budden asked about the decision to green light the Muskrat Falls project.

“It’s been suggested by certain unkind critics of the board, and there have been a few over the years, that Mr. Williams and perhaps others in government actively desired a small, under-resourced board made up primarily of friends, supporters of Mr. Williams, so that no truly independent oversight of the plan to develop Muskrat Falls would take place. You now have a chance to respond to that,” Budden said. “What do you have to say to that Mr. Shortall?”

“I’d say that’s nonsense,” he responded, with others dismissing the idea as well.

Inquiry co-counsel Barry Learmonth asked Williams about Nalcor board appointments on Oct. 1, when Williams was on the stand at the inquiry. The former premier described what he considered to be a common impression: that premiers used Crown board positions as gifts to friends and political supporters, but he suggested it’s popular myth.

“In fact that doesn’t happen, whereby a premier sits down and goes through every single appointment, because he or she is too busy to be caught up in that kind of minutia,” Williams said. “Yeah, here’s certain senior appointments that are very, very important, because they affect the policy and direction of the province,” he said, “but as to manning or ‘womanning’ every single position and board, no.”

The appointments process has changed since the introduction of an Independent Appointments Commission. The commission seeks applications, evaluates potential candidates and makes recommendations. Recommendations from the commission go to the cabinet, which makes the decisions.

The former Nalcor board members were also questioned about their individual competencies, and their ability to challenge people such as then-president and CEO Ed Martin on the details of risk and cost assessments on the Muskrat Falls project.

Both in testimony and in various emails sent during their time on the board, they acknowledged they were not electrical engineers, did not have experience with hydroelectric megaprojects and wanted additional board appointments of people who knew more in those areas, while helping with the sheer workload at the time.

But they also said they sacrificed personally to punch in hours needed to consult and question. They expressed confidence in their decisions, including the launch of the Muskrat Falls project.

“Despite the fact that we may not have had the expertise on the board that we had continued to petition for in various areas, I don’t think any of us were shrinking violets and would shy away,” Marshall said about challenging Martin and others as needed.

Tuesday’s proceedings finished with the introduction of John Mallam, a former Nalcor Energy employee who became part of an “independent project review” (IPR) group. Mallam was appointed to the current Nalcor Energy board in July.

He will be back on the stand Wednesday.

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