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EDITORIAL: Paying the price for politics

['Work in building up the Muskrat Falls hydroelectric plant spillway is ongoing by Astaldi Canada, with clear progress. On Thursday, Nalcor Energy provided its latest benefits report on the project, highlighting the spillway work. —Submitted photo courtesy of Nalcor Energy']
Astaldi Canada’s work at the Muskrat Falls hydroelectric plant spillway is shown this file photo. — Nalcor Energy photo

The devil is in the details.

And sometimes, in the mirror.

There is a river of evidence at the Muskrat Falls inquiry — so much so that, day in and day out, reporters covering the inquiry can only keep up with the biggest stories of the day.

Sometimes, there are pieces that just don’t fit in.

Here’s a senior on-site official with Astaldi, talking about some of the productivity challenges facing the project.

The manager said when he came on site, it was taking 18 to 20 man hours to pour a cubic metre of concrete, instead of a more reasonable 10 to 12 hours. Astaldi had apparently bid on the project expecting it to take six to 6.5 man hours, something the official said could not be achieved anywhere in Canada, let alone in Labrador in winter.

The health of the workforce from inside the province was also a problem. Let’s face it, we aren’t the healthiest people in the country.

What’s most interesting is why; the notes, which are not a direct transcript but are taken from a recorded interview, spell out that part of the problem was labour wasn’t divided up well. A loader driver might be needed for four hours of work in a day, but would have to be paid for a full 10-hour shift.

But the manager pointed out that the political requirement for local labour also took a toll.

“Labour again, hate to be negative, but (a) lot of political pressure to have all Newfoundland built,” the manager told auditing firm Grant Thornton. “Getting skilled individuals that would have helped productivity from outside of the province was not an option.”

The health of the workforce from inside the province was also a problem. Let’s face it, we aren’t the healthiest people in the country.

“I’ve got numbers that show we instituted medical for workers 3-4 months after I got there — I noticed on site there was a lot of unfit individuals — Not bad individuals — Good hearted, they need a job, but to build $2 billion dollars’ worth of work, (you) need skill. And you need to be able to tell the guy pick this up and do this … You don’t have time if you’re going to meet these numbers.”

And those medicals?

“Instituted medicals, and the last time I did the number we sent 6,900 people through medicals to see if they (were) fit and in that you have drug, alcohol and limitations — 1,700 failed — Your expectation when I’m hiring from a union is you’re going to send me (a) guy that’s fit, has skills to do the work — That’s all I’m looking for — I can take attitude — I like a little bit of attitude — Trained and can do the work — That’s not at all what you get — Until we instituted the medical.”

What’s it all show?

That politics played all kinds of roles in this debacle.

And every scrap of evidence shows that in that in a painful new way.

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