Temporary premier Tom Marshall and natural resources minister Derrick Dalley released a 40-odd page document on Thursday. It’s was supposed to be a report of a committee of senior public servants appointed to provide something called “oversight” of the project.
Neither the report nor the committee actually reports on anything about the project. This first report is actually about re[porting on the project. More specifically it contains information about the oversight committee, all the other sources of “oversight” for the project, some boilerplate about project schedules and budgets, and a report from Ernst and Young.
That last document takes up about 12 pages of the total. It is dated July 25 and describes what Ernst and Young suggest would be the best way for this “oversight” to work.
If you wanted to know how to say absolutely nothing useful in 40 pages, this is the document to study.
Beyond that, though, there is something entirely appropriate about the committee and this document. The Ernst and Young document, laden as it is with fashionable jargon, is the sort of thing one would normally expect to find well before the provincial government embarked on the most expensive construction project ever undertaken by the provincial government.
But like everything else associated with the management of this project it is coming long after the cabinet approved the project and long after such advice could make any material difference to decision-making about the project. Cabinet and Nalcor should have investigated the North Spur before approving it for construction, not after as they did. They should have actually investigated alternative ways to meet the province’s energy needs, to confirm that Muskrat Falls really was the lowest cost way to do it. They never have, of course. They merely claim they’ve done it.
The Telegram story on the news conference called the committee the “independent’ oversight committee. It isn’t. The provincial government has not let willingly let anyone independent of the project look at it. The independent engineer was a non-negotiable part of the federal loan guarantee. The provincial cabinet had no choice but let the engineer have access to the project.
The committee of senior public servants is no different. They have no authority to halt the project and are in no position to reveal to the public any information that would call into question the future of the construction, no matter what they find. Their initial report confirms exactly to the official talking points on the project, right down to the use of the new benchmark for costing (December 2013) that makes it look like the project is less out of whack with original projections than it actually is.
Ultimately, the committee’s purpose is more political than practical. They exist so that, as Tom Marshall put it, the people of the province “can be satisfied that everything that can possibly done is being done.” That, too, is fitting since Muskrat Falls is an entirely political project and has been from the time cabinet actually committed to building it, in 2010, not in 2013 as the “oversight” committee, Nalcor and the provincial cabinet now claim.