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PAM FRAMPTON: Muskrat Falls — catch the madness

['CP file photo<br />The construction site of the hydroelectric facility at Muskrat Falls is seen on July 14, 2015.<br /><br />']
Construction site of the hydroelectric facility at Muskrat Falls, July 2015. — CP file photo

“Nothing is so admirable in politics as a short memory.” — John Kenneth Galbraith

So, Phase 1 is done and we’ve heard from the major players in the Muskrat Falls debacle and neither one of them has a clue as to where the dam project went wrong.

The politicians and the pros at Nalcor were steering the ship, going on the best information available, consulting the experts and heeding the sharpest advice money could buy.

Uh, that is, except when some of them didn’t actually read the reports they had commissioned. As former premier Kathy Dunderdale explained to Commissioner Richard LeBlanc, she had people whose job it was to read the reports and pass along the gist of them. And, in a not-so-subtle bit of under-the-bus-tossing, she said she’d trusted the bureaucracy and her natural resources minister, Jerome Kennedy, to scrutinize the project. And “when they come back to me and tell me everything is OK, I’m pretty certain that it’s OK.”

Except it’s not OK. Not nearly. And now we’re teetering on the edge of financial disaster.

Is anyone else feeling like there’s a bit of a disconnect here?

It’s all well and good for the former members of the Progressive Conservative government to express shock and horror at learning that Nalcor might not have fully divulged the amount of risk involved in the project. But some of us can remember when those who dared question the very need for Muskrat Falls or Nalcor’s ability to execute it were dismissed as nattering naysayers.

Former premiers Danny Williams, Tom Marshall and Kathy Dunderdale were unequivocal in their support for the project.

That bravado clearly worked for the government — all the carefully crafted boosterism, delivered with such unshakeable confidence — because, after all, here we are.

“When the greatest moments of our history are recollected long generations from now, Newfoundlanders and Labradorians will remember the choice that Prime Minister (Stephen) Harper made — the choice to stand beside our people in advancing Muskrat Falls,” Dunderdale said in a speech marking the finalization of the federal loan guarantee.

Unfortunately, “our people” were not aware that then Nalcor CEO Ed Martin had told the government that Muskrat Falls could go as much as $500 million over budget — a figure that now sounds like loose coin.

So, Phase 1 is over and what have we learned?

And you can forgive “our people” if they are left scratching their heads, thinking back to as recently as 2015, when the government said it had to dip into its contingency fund of $235.5-million, not half of what Martin had said might be required, and a drop in the bucket compared to what would eventually be spent.

Then natural resources minister Derrick Dalley said on (appropriately enough for the superstitious) Friday the 13th of March 2015, “As indicated in the last oversight report, scheduling pressures are being experienced, and production improvements will be required at the Muskrat Falls generating facility in order to maintain the critical path and milestone schedule.

“Nalcor and the contractor have implemented actions to address the current pressures and the provincial government will be monitoring the progress. The project capital budget of $6.99 billion and the critical path to first power for December 2017 both remain unchanged.”

Gee, that didn’t quite work out.

The “critical path and milestone schedule” were words to soothe the populace, because had a critical path been actually followed, we’d never be in this nasty mess.

So, Phase 1 is over and what have we learned?

That the government can talk a good game. That you can’t necessarily trust that someone has protected your interests even when they say that is exactly what they’ve done. That — if any entity was ever foolish enough to lend us more money — this could happen again.

Why? Because as Ches Crosbie aptly pointed out in his year-end interview with The Telegram, “Muskrat Falls is more of a reminder of something that we all knew, I think. Which is that politicians can be overtaken by fevers.”

Delirium, more like.

Recent columns by this author

PAM FRAMPTON: Madly off in all directions

PAM FRAMPTON: Dunderdale — still running on faith

Pam Frampton is a columnist whose work is published in The Western Star and The Telegram. Email pamela.frampton@thetelegram.com. Twitter: pam_frampton

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