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EDITORIAL: Don’t knock Nalcor

Former Nalcor CEO and president Ed Martin.
Former Nalcor CEO and president Ed Martin, during his testimony at the Muskrat Falls inquiry. — Telegram file photo

A long, long time ago, before the dawn of Nalcor, a premier argued you had to pay highly for skill.

That premier was Danny Williams, who said he needed the freedom to pay people more than the government rate.

“What that allows me to do is build up a level of expertise in Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro that I wouldn’t be able to do within government,” the premier said in October 2005. “Because within government, you’ve got certain salary levels and ranges and everything else. You have to work with them, and you have to live with them. In order for me to get somebody who’s a match for the top negotiator at Hydro-Québec or ExxonMobil or Inco or anywhere else, I’ve got to be able to pay the right salaries to do it.”

Turns out, though, that cash isn’t enough to keep that expertise — you also need to treat them with kid gloves.

OK, that might not be exactly fair.

A long, long time ago, before the dawn of Nalcor, a premier argued you had to pay highly for skill.

But consider the final submission to the Muskrat Falls inquiry by the lawyer for its former CEO, Ed Martin.

“Operating a Crown corporation such as Nalcor is a complex endeavour, and it is absolutely critical that the best candidates are attracted to working in the environment that Nalcor can offer. This is true at all levels of the corporation, including in particular at the executive and board of directors level. It is submitted that the Commissioner must be sensitive to the future difficulty of attracting and retaining qualified executives to operate Crown corporations,” the submission says.

“Mr. Martin is concerned that the spectacle of executives being examined in public and the aggressiveness occasionally shown towards them, may send an unwanted ‘chill’ through the community. It telegraphs the message that leading a Crown corporation will potentially subject future office-holders to a similar fate. Mr. Martin further states that recruitment from the private sector will be even more difficult where the barrage of criticisms and second-guessing of decisions made in good faith, and based on the best information which was available at the time, is reinforced by the Commission’s final report.”

Not only that, but the highly paid expertise shouldn’t be second-guessed, either.

“The Commission ought not to criticize individuals in the executive and other officials of Government and Nalcor, on the basis of innuendo or ‘what should have occurred.’ To do so would be based on hindsight. Such criticism ought to only be levied upon clear, cogent, and reliable evidence before the Commissioner from those involved at the time,” the submission says.

Here’s just a thought.

We paid, so we were told, for experience and expertise, for the ability to make tough decisions and justify them.

And we paid well for it. Paid extra for it.

Shrinking violets, presumably, need not apply.

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