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PAM FRAMPTON: Nalcor ate my homework

Then Premier Paul Davis (left) and then Natural Resources Minister Derrick Dalley are shown in this file photo. — Telegram file photo
Then Premier Paul Davis (left) and then Natural Resources Minister Derrick Dalley are shown in this file photo. — Telegram file photo

Let’s say you go to a used car dealership to buy yourself a reliable automobile.

You see one that’s a bit pricey, but you’re soon sold on its outstanding features by the salesman, who sounds like he’s done his homework.

Safety inspection? Check.

All systems in good working order? Check.

No history of accidents? Check.

New tires, great gas mileage, responsive brakes, not many kilometres on the odometer — and “heck, we’ll throw in a brand new set of winter tires, too.’’

Sold!

Now, fast-forward six months. Your sweet deal has turned out to be a lemon, costing you twice as much in repairs as you paid for the bloody thing.

You return to the dealership to express your displeasure to the salesman.

“Well, b’y, it’s not my fault,” he says. “I only told you what the feller who sold it to us said.”

“What?” you say. “Your dealership didn’t actually have the car inspected?”

“No, b’y. The feller told me it runs like a top.”

In essence, that’s what we’ve been hearing from the politicians testifying at phase 2 of the Muskrat Falls inquiry this week. A litany of “Well, that’s a surprise,” and “I could only go by the information I was given.”

Not good enough.

Former premier Paul Davis and former natural resources minister Derrick Dalley are clinging to those excuses now, but when they were in power, they were far from as wishy-washy in trumpeting Muskrat Falls. Back then, they were actively trying to quell all doubts about the multi-billion-dollar megaproject. It was, quite simply, the best project ever. And not only that, the government’s hand was firmly on the tiller, steering the good ship Muskrat forward.

It’s clear now they didn’t always know what they were talking about.

Here’s Derrick Dalley on Jan. 22, 2014, sounding positively Trumpian: “If you look at the past three years, we’ve had tremendous successes in this province. I think we can point to Muskrat Falls, which is a tremendous piece of work."  

Former premier Paul Davis and former natural resources minister Derrick Dalley are clinging to those excuses now, but when they were in power, they were far from as wishy-washy in trumpeting Muskrat Falls.

In February 2014, Dalley said in a statement the government was keeping a close eye on the project.
"As shareholder, the provincial government has a close relationship with Nalcor and has processes in place to ensure the corporation remains accountable to the people of the province. At each phase of the Muskrat Falls Project, from sanction, to financing, construction and finally operation, the provincial government has had direct oversight of Nalcor.”
But later that same month, he told The Telegram he didn’t need to see an independent engineer’s report on Muskrat Falls, because he was content with what Nalcor was telling him. So much for “direct oversight.”

"We don’t have within the Department of Natural Resources the entire expertise to get down to every little nitty-gritty detail about engineering decisions,” he said. “We have Nalcor, which is a company that’s owned by the people of the province that have experts, among the absolute best that we could find."
Too bad they hadn’t listened to Cathy Bennett, who would go on to become minister of finance in Dwight Ball’s Liberal government. Having served on Nalcor’s board of directors, she had urged the Tory government to fill the megaproject expertise gaps on the board and was ignored.

And in 2015, the government was still telling the public it was smooth sailing.

Here’s a snippet from the Davis government’s throne speech from April 21, 2015:
“We remain on track to produce first power at Muskrat Falls in late 2017 with full power in 2018. Through the new oversight processes implemented last year, the government is taking a hands-on approach to ensure the project remains on course. … Let no one minimize the economic impact the Muskrat Falls project is having on Newfoundland and Labrador, even before power flows.…” (Try not to choke on the irony of that statement. Words in parentheses are the columnist’s).

By October 2015, Muskrat’s price tag had risen from $6.2 billion to $7.65 billion. It now stands at $12.7 billion.

But hey, what can you do? I guess no one saw it coming.

Maybe someone should have looked under the hood.

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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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