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Letter: We must have accountability at the Muskrat Falls inquiry

The Muskrat Falls Inquiry is about to hold its first hearing. — Telegram file photo
The Muskrat Falls Inquiry is about to hold its first hearing. — Telegram file photo - SaltWire Network

Let me start my commentary by acknowledging upfront that I voted in favor of sanctioning the Muskrat Falls project.  I did so in good faith, based on the information provided to me at the time by those who I trusted and felt to have all of the relevant facts, knowledge and expertise. 

Were there people in our province that raised alarm bells regarding this project from the very beginning?  Yes, there were. (In retrospect, I wish we had paid them more heed.)

However, despite their warnings, I believe it is fair to say that the majority of the people in our province also trusted in what they were being told by Nalcor and felt that this would be a good project for N.L.  

I know that I certainly never heard any outcry of concern from the people of my district at the time.

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With that said, if I had felt for one second that this project would turn out the way it has, doubling in capital cost and projected to triple in operational costs, would I have supported it? Of course not! After all, I have to live here and pay the electricity bills the same as everyone else in the province as does my family, my friends, my coworkers, my neighbours and my constituents.

In hindsight (which we all know is 20-20) should I have questioned things more? Should I have listened to the small group of vocal individuals (who were unfairly portrayed as naysayers and partisans), individuals who have since been proven to be right? Should I have demanded more proof from officials at Nalcor and the Department of Natural Resources on the assumptions made and reports presented as opposed to taking their word for it?

Did I take too many sips of the blue Kool-Aid? Perhaps so, but that’s water over the Muskrat dam at this point.

So what went wrong? How did we go from $6.2 billion to $12.7 billion (and climbing) in capital costs?  How did we get to a place where operational costs are going to triple? 

Who knew what and when? Was this, indeed, a good initiative, as we were all told, that fell victim to a freak alignment of the stars that saw every conceivable worse-case scenario simultaneously come together to the detriment of the project? Can this mess we find ourselves in be attributed to mismanagement, gross negligence and/or incompetence? Are there any elements of this project that warrant an investigation by the authorities? Are there any aspects of this project that could render any contracts null and void or subject to civil litigation? Could there be a combination of some or all of these things at play?

I honestly don’t know, but look forward to the Commission of Inquiry to hopefully get the answers to these and many other questions.

And speaking of the Commission of Inquiry, one of points noted in the terms of reference is that the commissioner has no authority to initiate civil proceedings or criminal investigations relating to any of the evidence which could possibly come to light throughout this process.

While I am told that this is true for all such inquiries, it doesn’t diminish the need to ensure that accountability results from this process. 

Sure it is important to understand how we got to this place and more importantly, where we go from here.  It is important to learn from this project and ensure that any mistakes that may have been made in the sanctioning and/or management of it are never repeated. However, it is also important to ensure that the decision makers, those providing the information, those providing the forecasts, those doing the calculations, and those responsible for managing the various aspects of this project are held accountable for their actions/inactions. That’s not to suggest that anything untoward has occurred, as at this point in time we can only speculate and any of the allegations which are currently “out there” (mostly anonymous), unless proven otherwise, are nothing more than hearsay.  With that said, should evidence presented in the inquiry suggest things were not done as they should have been, appropriate accountability measures must be initiated. 

I therefore call upon our premier to ensure that he dedicates the appropriate resources to monitor, to sift through, to piece together all of the information that flows through the inquiry with an objective of ensuring accountability of all involved. Should that involve civil litigation, investigation by the authorities or the issuance of pink slips, so be it.

Let the chips fall where they may.

If the government could sign off on sending a couple hundred RCMP officers to Labrador to deal with a handful of peaceful land protectors (at a cost of approximately $9 million), surely they can provide the resources required to ensure accountability prevails. 

The people of our province deserve no less.

Paul Lane

Independent MHA

District of Mount Pearl-Southlands

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