Who would have thought that former chair of the Public Utilities Board, Andy Wells, would have displayed a greater sense of public duty, a greater reliance on evidence-based decision making and a greater compliance with justice itself than that displayed to date with respect to one of the most important aspects of the Muskrat Falls public inquiry?
When the PUB was faced with a government-imposed terms of reference and timeline that prevented it from obtaining a reliable cost estimate on which to ground a quasi-judicial, least-cost energy generation decision, the PUB requested that government extend the review period.
When government refused, the PUB issued its report and explained that it could not ground a decision on incomplete and insufficiently accurate cost information (and to the Muskrat Falls inquiry’s credit, one of its expert witnesses gave testimony under oath that that decision was the correct one).
Now, Section 4 (d) of the terms of reference for the Muskrat Falls inquiry states, in part, that “The commission of inquiry shall inquire into... (among other things)... whether the government was fully informed and was made aware of any risks or problems anticipated with the Muskrat Falls Project, so that the government had sufficient and accurate information upon which to appropriately decide to sanction the project...”
Accordingly, co-counsel for the inquiry commissioned a large number of expert reports, including a detailed forensic audit of worker/contractor living allowances, daily work hours, whether there was pilfering of personal protective equipment, etc., and these independent expert reports were presented under oath at the inquiry’s public hearings.
Notwithstanding that such detailed matters were considered important enough to be independently and expertly reviewed/audited, no comparable expert review has been obtained so that the inquiry could properly inquire into “whether the government was fully informed and was made aware of any risks or problems anticipated” with the North Spur portion of the Muskrat Falls Project.
When the record shows that there have been significant public and expert documentation about the safety (or lack thereof) of the North Spur, how can the commission fulfill its Section 4(d) obligations (whether the government was fully informed and was made aware of any risks or problems anticipated with the Muskrat Falls Project, so that the government had sufficient and accurate information upon which to appropriately decide to sanction the project) when it has no grounds (only blind acceptance of reports paid for by Nalcor) on which to form an independent, evidence-based judgement about the stability/reliability, potential failure and other risks associated with the North Spur?
Surely, if the commission’s interpretation of its terms of reference and schedule does not allow it to “inquire into” and reach a well-grounded, independent, evidence-based decision on the stability of the North Spur, then is it not (as it was with the PUB) incumbent on the commission to request a mandate and schedule that will allow it to properly investigate and fulfill its Section 4(d) obligations and to arrive at its own decision — one grounded on rational, independent and evidence-based expert opinion?
Does not the direction set in 2012 by Andy Wells’ Public Utilities Board (and now confirmed by the inquiry’s own expert testimony) point the way and essentially say that any inquiry/investigation that ignores the elephant in the room and fails to request the necessary government approval and extended timeline would not be acting in the public interest.
Kudos to quasi-judicial heavyweights (Andy Wells and former public utility board members).
Maurice E. Adams,