Nfld. & Labrador

Andy Wells fires back after criticism from former premier over Muskrat Falls review

The former head of the PUB says the review was skewed by a lack of co-operation from Nalcor.

'The only question for me is whether it rises to the level of criminal neglect,' says former head of PUB

Former Public Utilities Board chairman and Muskrat Falls critic Andy Wells says it was the provincial government that skewed the Muskrat Falls review process, not him. (Ted Blades/CBC)

Andy Wells wasn't fazed Wednesday when former premier Kathy Dunderdale said his negative opinion of Muskrat Falls skewed the results of the review by the Public Utilities Board, chaired by Wells at the time.

"We were just trying to do an honest job in the face of insurmountable odds, in the face of a government that was manipulating the process, and Nalcor, that was manipulating the process," Wells said Wednesday.

Dunderdale made the comments Tuesday on the witness stand at the Muskrat Falls inquiry.

"To me, the whole process had been compromised by the conduct of the chair that continued — and continues to this day, in terms of how he felt about Muskrat Falls," Dunderdale said.

"Whatever his personal feelings were, he was chair of the PUB, and I believe I had a right, as did the people of Newfoundland and Labrador, to expect him to set his personal views to one side and do a complete objective examination of the issue at hand and make a report to government."

He skewed that process to such a degree that I couldn't have any confidence [in it].- Kathy Dunderdale

Dunderdale accused Wells of becoming a lobbyist against the project in the course of reviewing it.

"He skewed that process to such a degree that I couldn't have any confidence [in it]," she said. In January 2012, Wells said Nalcor wasn't co-operating with the review, three months before the board's report was due — a report that said not enough information had been provided to determine whether or not Muskrat Falls was the best option.

Wells contended Wednesday that it was the provincial government that skewed the process — which he said Dunderdale didn't and still doesn't understand — by limiting the PUB's ability to do a full review.

Kathy Dunderdale says Wells didn't set his personal opinions aside when the board reviewed Muskrat Falls. (Terry Roberts/CBC)

"By the time I made the statement about it being a torturous process, we'd been at it seven months, had gotten no co-operation from Nalcor. They had sabotaged our attempt to do what I call a phoney review, ordered by Dunderdale."

As for whether his own personal views meant Muskrat Falls didn't get a fair shake from the PUB, Wells scoffed.

"There's four commissioners. We had a team there with people with a hundred years of utility experience, hydro experience."

If Muskrat Falls was such a robust project, asked Wells, why didn't the provincial government ask the PUB to do as full a review as was done in Nova Scotia on the Maritime Link?

'Unparalleled in … waste and dishonesty'

"They didn't do that because they were cowards, they were dishonest, and they were afraid that we would find this project had no merit," he said. "And this is what has happened."

Muskrat Falls is "unparalleled in the scale of waste and dishonesty and the damage that is being done and will be done to the people of Newfoundland for the next 50 years," Wells said, adding that removing Holyrood from the provincial power system will make the island more vulnerable to power outages if anything happens to the transmission link from Labrador.

"What these people have done to the energy system of Newfoundland, and to the future of Newfoundland — the only question for me [is] does it rise to the level of criminality," he said. 

"We know it's politically incompetent and politically stupid. The only question for me is whether it rises to the level of criminal neglect."

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from On The Go

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