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EDITORIAL: Inquiry revelation

Nalcor Energy vice-president Gilbert Bennett at the Muskrat Falls Inquiry Monday.
Nalcor Energy vice-president Gilbert Bennett at the Muskrat Falls Inquiry Monday. — Telegram file photo

This was going to be an editorial on the benefits of loosening regulations and tax rates in the craft beer industry, but Muskrat happens.

The discussion of craft beer, wine and distilling regulatory changes will have to wait for another day.

Why?

Because Monday, Nalcor Energy vice-president Gilbert Bennett confirmed that senior executives at Nalcor knew that cost estimates for the project had been lowballed to make it more attractive, and that the schedule for the project was so overly enthusiastic that it had only a one per cent chance of being met.

Not only that, but Bennett said he did not pass that information on either to provincial government officials or Nalcor’s own board of directors — and said he does not know if anyone did, including then Nalcor boss Ed Martin.

It is stunning all by itself; neither the stated costs nor the amped-up construction schedule accurately reflected the facts. As Consumer Advocate Dennis Browne put it, knowing the true numbers would have critically damaged the business case for the project moving forward.

What will the inquiry solve and what benefit will we gain from the information it continues to reveal? For most of us, in the words of country singer Tennessee Ernie Ford, we’ll just be “Another day older and deeper in debt.”

But it shouldn’t be seen as an opportunity to let everyone else involved off the hook.

No doubt, this is just the kind of escape clause some of this province’s politicians have been waiting for. We can probably look forward to hearing our elected leaders, past and present, complain that they were — gasp — misled, even though the same reviews that warned of problems (and that the inquiry is now highlighting) would have been available to the politicians involved if they had only asked to see them. They didn’t ask, and there’s no escaping that.

What will the inquiry solve and what benefit will we gain from the information it continues to reveal? For most of us, in the words of country singer Tennessee Ernie Ford, we’ll just be “Another day older and deeper in debt.”

But one thing’s for certain: this inquiry is showing us that the talent pool in provincial politics is shallow enough that we should never again accept at face value the suggestion that our provincial government is completely on top of any issue.

Before we step even one foot into any hopeful future plans — from the likes of cannabis tax breaks to major cannabis firms to monster Placentia Bay open-water aquaculture projects to regulation of the offshore — we should insist on full public review by reviewers completely independent of the projects themselves.

And that means completely independent of the booster-like government.

When the provincial government has a vested interest in the outcome of a project, it is not an effective and disinterested reviewer, planner or legislator.

What the inquiry is showing us is that governments can see what they want to see, hear what they want to hear, and dismiss everything else — except the bills.

The bills come to us.

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