Nfld. & Labrador

Premier defends reassignment of civil servant criticized for Muskrat Falls lapses

Based on the report from the inquiry into the hydroelectric megaproject, says PC Leader Ches Crosbie, Charles Bown, the new CEO of the Multi-Materials Stewardship Board, shouldn't have a government job.

Based on inquiry report, Charles Bown shouldn't have a government job, says PC leader

The provincial government announced Wednesday that Charles Bown is the new CEO of Newfoundland and Labrador's Multi-Materials Stewardship Board. (Terry Roberts/CBC)

The premier of Newfoundland and Labrador is standing by his choice for the new CEO of the province's Multi-Materials Stewardship Board, despite criticism of the longtime civil servant's work during a critical phase of the Muskrat Falls project.

Andrew Furey said Friday that Charles Bown's reassignment was made with the advice of the clerk of the executive council.

"I trust him in his current role and position," he said. "The clerk has the best line of sight into performance evaluations and alignment, direction, future direction of different departments. So I sought that advice and I took it."

Bown had been the deputy minister of the Department of Tourism, Culture, Industry, and Innovation since February 2019.

After serving as an assistant deputy minister and associate deputy minister in the Department of Natural Resources beginning in June 2006, Bown was deputy minister of the department from September 2012 until December 2016, a stint that included the critical planning and sanctioning phase of Muskrat Falls.

Premier Andrew Furey says he trusts Bown in the new role. (Colleen Connors/CBC)

The hydroelectric project was sanctioned in December 2012, and its cost has doubled from the more than $6 billion price tag that was announced at the time.

There have to be consequences for misbehaviour of this magnitude.- Ches Crosbie

Justice Richard Leblanc's final report for the Muskrat Falls inquiry, released in mid-March, was deeply critical of Bown's involvement in the project.

"Mr. Bown was [the government of Newfoundland and Labrador's] point person and conduit for information from Nalcor on the project. It is likely that he, too, was aware of an increase in the cost estimate of the project before financial close but he failed to take any steps to advise the minister of natural resources and the premier. His failure to report this information to his minister is inexcusable."

Conservative leader blasts decision

Progressive Conservative Leader Ches Crosbie said Friday that Bown's appointment to a new government job is unacceptable.

"It's an example of the Liberal government not acting on moral imperatives and continuing to practise inappropriate patronage," said Crosbie.

Progressive Conservative Leader Ches Crosbie says Bown shouldn't have a government job, following his involvement in the Muskrat Falls hydroelectric project. (Mark Quinn/CBC)

Crosbie said Bown shouldn't be working for the provincial government.

"There have to be consequences for misbehaviour of this magnitude."

Bown's pay

The Telegram was first to report details of Bown's compensation in his new position.

The premier's office told CBC news Friday that Bown's salary in his new role is $177,287. The premier's office said Bown is being paid the same amount he was paid as a deputy minister and because of contractual obligations he can't be paid less. 

The salary of the last CEO of the MMSB, Dara Spurrell, was $148,000 — almost $30,000 less than Bown. In 2013, Mike Sampson, was paid $168,000 in the role, and in 2009, then CEO Leigh Puddister was paid $173,000 annually.

Furey declined to comment on Bown's compensation Friday.

"I can't discuss details of contracts. I am the employer but this is not a contract that I created. But it's one that I am bound by," he said.

Demotion?

NDP Leader Alison Coffin suggested Bown's new job is a demotion.

NDP Leader Alison Coffin suggests Bown's new job is a demotion. (Mark Quinn/ CBC)

"He's certainly been moved from a position where he would have that [higher] level of responsibility to a less responsible position, which certainly gives you a very good sense of how the Liberal government sees this and what they value in terms of the people they want working with them," she said.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from Colleen Connors and Mark Quinn

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