The Muskrat Falls Concerned Citizen’s Coalition - General Meeting, February 13, 2019
Thanks for coming to our meeting either physically or through Facebook Live.
We have finished the first phase of the Inquiry, which has focused on the events leading up to sanction.
The second phase, focusing on the construction phase, will be starting next Monday in Happy Valley-Goose Bay. Similar to the first phase, this phase will start with the forensic audit conducted by Grant Thornton.
The witness list has just been released and I am confident that we learn a great deal about what happened to cause the project to be so over budget, just as we did during the first phase on what led up to sanction.
The first phase required a large volunteer effort by the Board to assist our lawyer, Geoff Budden, in preparing for his examination of witnesses.
We have access to all the evidence but given the overwhelming volume of materials we focused on the witness interviews conducted by Inquiry Counsel, which, for the most part, were only received a few days before a witness was called.
I want to acknowledge the work of Dave and Des, in this regard. Between the three of us we read every interview, as much of the documents as we could absorb and divided up attending almost every hour of the testimony.
We recently give it will be difficult for us to maintain that pace for the next phase and we hope that others, particular those with engineering and project management experience will step up and help us out.
We also had a small group of engineers work with us, some of whom wish to remain anonymous, and their help was invaluable in assisting Geoff in his preparations.
I want to thank Geoff for his excellent work. Some of the most important and dramatic incidents during the first phase came as a result of his examination, in particular the Commissioner’s outburst against Ed Martin. It was the highlight of the Inquiry so far for me!
Mr. Martin will return for the second phase and we, and Geoff, look forward to his testimony.
In addition the three of us were interviewed by the media many times during the course of the first phase which I hope helped in advancing the public understanding of the Inquiry and if the Inquiry.
Many of you will have seen my guest blog about my analysis of the first phase in Uncle Gnarley.
To summarize, many insults were thrown our way by Mr. Williams, a former Clerk of the Executive Council, Robert Thompson, and Ed Martin.
As I have said to my friends, being called a “bottom feeder” by Mr. Williams is a badge of honor. I have suggested to our Treasurer that we produce t-shirts from a design suggested by one of our members. An excellent fundraising idea!
My key insight from the hearings is that the communication skills of Mr. Martin, and his entree to the highest levels of government, overwhelmed the public service of the province, whose critical skills seemed to fail them on this key public policy issue.
We really depend on a knowledgeable public service, who can deal tactfully with politicians in telling truth to power.
The public service failed us badly and I hold them largely responsible for this public policy debacle. The politicians have the ultimate responsibility but our system depends on a strong public service, which there was no evidence of during the first phase of the Inquiry.
Nalcor controlled the flow of information going to the government, including so-called independent reviews and we learned that they successfully edited many of those reviews, with, in many cases, the support of senior government officials.
We have been asked by Commission counsel to make suggestions on the contents of Phase 3 of the hearings, which is a two week period which is expected to be less formal than the first two phases of the Inquiry.
We have until February 22 to provide suggestions and welcome any thoughts which you may have. Remember that they have to be within the terms of reference as interpreted by the Commissioner.
One of the key problems we have identified goes to the democratic deficit in Newfoundland and the lack of independent civil society.
We are so dependent on Government in all aspects of our life that there is a reluctance to enter in debate or to dissent.
So far the Commissioner has been reluctant to get into what is our fundamental problem but we may make another effort to convince him otherwise for this third phase.
Before concluding I would like to thank Geoff’s staff for all their help. Keisha Follett, has been great in getting all the information to us and doing so much for us over the past few months, and Wanda Lawlor for organizing our meetings with the Coalition. And, of course, Jenn Deon for creating our website and helping to organize our meetings.
Unlike the Province, the Coalition raised more money than it spent even if our success was modest. We had hoped to engage in a concerted fundraising effort but the demands of Phase I of the Inquiry dominated our time.
Still a number of donors responded to our invitation to contribute.
In addition, Cabot Martin agreed that the unused funds raised to fly Dr. Stig Bernander to the Province for his field work in Labrador and presentations here in St. John's, should be added to the account of the Coalition.
In all, $14,250. was raised. Expenditures amounted to $3,450. leaving a balance of $10,800 for continuing expenses of the Coalition.
As you know, the fees of our legal Counsel are paid by the provincial government.
Expenses by the Coalition relate to venue and set-up costs for events such as this and construction of our web site in relation to which I want to thank Tor Fosnaes for registering and paying for our domain name.
We did not use the site as well as we might have last year because the demands on our time, as interveners, simply did not leave time to do better communications except through the media or the Uncle Gnarley Blog. We are working towards using the web site more productively in the coming weeks and we have an offer of assistance to help make this happen.
The biggest need for additional funding is research. At times, the volume of witness interviews and other exhibits, some posted just a day or two prior to the appearance of a particular Witness, imposes a huge demand on our time and on that of the experts who also help with the material and who work pro bono.
At times, we have a need to research public statements by Nalcor officials and Government statements.
While we will continue to be niggardly over the expenditure of funds donated, on-going donations will be welcomed. Finally, we wish to thank all who have made donations and thank all our members for their support.