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EDITORIAL: For Nalcor’s eyes only

Paul Harrington, project director for the Muskrat Falls project pre-sanction, was more recently named project director (generation) in a rearrangement of the project following a change in 2017 in Nalcor Energy’s president and CEO to Stan Marshall.
Paul Harrington was project director for the Muskrat Falls project, pre-sanction. — Telegram file photo

It’s probably a bad idea to draw conclusions from just a few pages of the evidence before the Muskrat Falls inquiry. After all, the inquiry is dealing with millions of pages of documents, and week upon week of testimony.

But sometimes, the irony to be found in the juxtaposition of some parts of the evidence is too jarring to be ignored.

Take exhibit P-01830, just one of 34 individual exhibits posted on the inquiry’s website on March 15th.

It includes several emails and PowerPoint slides, including a 2014 PowerPoint deck that was to be updated and used by then Nalcor Energy CEO Ed Martin to prepare him to explain an increase in the cost of the project — from $6.9 billion to $7.5 billion — to the provincial government. (Of that increase, by the way, $340 million was described as being due to bids on major pieces of work coming in at 1.5 to two times the budgeted amount, because contractors viewed this province as a high risk because of low worker productivity at Long Harbour, Hebron and other projects. But that’s another story.)

But the revisions and the PowerPoint deck that contained them apparently weren’t going to be shared in Nalcor’s self-professed open and supportive manner or, for that matter, in an environment where information moves freely.

The original 2014 briefing document that was to be updated was emblazoned with the usual Nalcor Energy watermarks, sentiments like, “Open Communication — Fostering an environment where information moves freely in a timely manner,” “Teamwork — Sharing our ideas in an open and supportive manner to achieve excellence” and “Honesty and Trust — being sincere in everything we say and do.”

The meeting with Martin was set for the afternoon of Sunday, March 8, 2015 — but before that, project manager Paul Harrington wanted to meet with senior Nalcor staff to check the numbers on the revised document. Remember, these are the company’s top-ranked staff, people who already knew where the project stood.

But the revisions and the PowerPoint deck that contained them apparently weren’t going to be shared in Nalcor’s self-professed open and supportive manner or, for that matter, in an environment where information moves freely.

In fact, as Harrington spelled out in an email, any sharing of that information was going to be short-lived and very limited.

“I do not wish to have the deck sent around by email,” Harrington wrote. “Hard copy drafts only will be handed out, collected and shredded because this is scenarios-based and preliminary data.”

Now, that’s only one small sentence amongst thousands upon thousands of sentences. But the tone is eye-opening, especially as the inquiry has heard evidence that Nalcor as a whole was concerned about the ability of people outside the corporation to get their hands on sensitive information about the ballooning costs of the project — and further financial risks on the horizon.

“Sincere in everything we say and do,” but documents are to be collected and shredded after the meeting.

Lofty goals are measured by how successful they are or whether they are just so much lip service.

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