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SNC-Lavalin's global scandal dogs Nalcor

At the annual general meeting of Nalcor Energy in St. John's, following the sanctioning of the Muskrat Falls hydroelectric project.
At the annual general meeting of Nalcor Energy in St. John's, following the sanctioning of the Muskrat Falls hydroelectric project.

Investigation prompts questions on N.L. project

Nalcor Energy's annual general meeting Wednesday followed on the heels of a May 27 raid of the offices of SNC-Lavalin in Algeria.

Since SNC-Lavalin holds a key engineering, procurement and construction management contract on the Lower Churchill project, Nalcor president and CEO Ed Martin was asked for his thoughts.

Specifically, he was asked if SNC-Lavalin's troubles internationally with police investigation and corruption allegations would extend to reach its operations in Newfoundland and Labrador.

"I've had ongoing conversations, both by telephone and face to face, with the new president of SNC-Lavalin, Robert Card. And ... he keeps me updated, and I follow through (on) all the things that have been happening, and I'm comfortable that this is not impacting our part of the business," Martin said.

Martin was asked if he is confident the company's involvement in the Muskrat Falls project has been above board.

"I'm 100 per cent confident," he said in response.

"I think the other thing is, if you come back into Nalcor, the processes we have used to select our contractors is very detailed, very deep. It involves many, many parties. It's a very clear process that involves best practices," he said.

However, Martin did not dismiss SNC-Lavalin's ongoing troubles outright.

"It's something we're always watching, naturally."

SNC-Lavalin was awarded its contract on the Lower Churchill development because it entered a competitive bid, winning over several competitors.

Questions around the company's business ethics and corporate practises internationally started being asked of the Nalcor executive after the contract was awarded in early 2012.

The response has been consistent.

In February 2012, after news reports of questionable SNC-Lavalin activities in Libya, Martin said he still felt comfortable with the company's work on the Lower Churchill project. He pointed to communications with then-SNC-Lavalin CEO Pierre Duhaime when explaining why.

In March 2012, asked about Duhaime's departure from the company, Martin still expressed confidence in SNC-Lavalin's work under the Nalcor Lower Churchill project team of more than 100 people.

In May, Liberal Leader Dwight Ball asked in the House of Assembly about SNC-Lavalin's involvement in the project, in the context of ongoing investigations into the company's operations internationally. Then-Natural Resources minister Jerome Kennedy responded, saying there was nothing to worry about from the province's perspective.

In October 2012, at the joint Nalcor-SNC-Lavalin offices on Torbay Road in St. John's, The Telegram put questions to Nalcor project lead Gilbert Bennett and Normand Bechard - SNC-Lavalin's general project manager for the Lower Churchill project.

Bennett and Bechard said the 250 or so engineers and other experienced SNC-Lavalin staff tasked to the Lower Churchill project were not part of the company's troubles.

"They bring to us a team that they have assembled in order to take on the work, and I certainly have a high degree of confidence in their ability to do the work they've been contracted to do," Bennett said at the time.

At the Nalcor AGM, Liberal MHA Andrew Parsons said he does not believe SNC-Lavalin subsidiaries in this province should automatically be denied any and all work on the Lower Churchill project.

"But again, we have to examine the relationship. If SNC is involved, given what is going on worldwide, we have to at least examine it," he said.

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