Muskrat Falls report draws praise from activists, lawyers and opposition parties

The $16-million Muskrat Falls inquiry report was released in full on Tuesday. Some needed time to process exactly what was in it.

'It may well be our downfall as a province,' says longtime critic of project

The Muskrat Falls Inquiry began in September 2018. Its official report was released on Tuesday. (Submitted by Nalcor Energy)

The $16-million Muskrat Falls inquiry report was released in full on Tuesday with scathing details outlining issues found with former Nalcor CEO Ed Martin, his right-hand man Gilbert Bennett, and the former Progressive Conservative government.

It's also been sent to police and the provincial Department of Justice by Premier Dwight Ball for potential criminal charges and civil litigation.

'Authoritative record of this debacle'

The report came with 76 findings and 17 recommendations tabled by Commissioner Richard LeBlanc about the project, which ballooned from $7.4 billion at initial cost in 2012 to $12.7 billion today.

David Vardy and Ron Penney of the Muskrat Falls Concerned Citizens Coalition said there were no surprises in the report's executive summary.

"The province is very well served, because this will be the authoritative record of this debacle and it'll be looked at for decades and decades to come," said Penney, a lawyer and former senior public servant with the province.

Muskrat Falls critics David Vardy, left, and Ron Penney testified before the public inquiry that investigated the controversial Muskrat Falls project. (Terry Roberts/CBC)

Both men agreed they would have written almost the exact same report as LeBlanc, except for what they say was a lack of attention on former premier Danny Williams, who got the ball rolling on the project, Penney said, with the cabinet ministers he appointed, the Nalcor board of directors he appointed and the executive team, headed by Martin, whom he also appointed before Martin resigned.

"I think you really need to go back to [Williams]," Penney said. "It may well be our downfall as a province."

Penney said there's no harm in sending the report to police to pursue any criminal investigation, but he doesn't believe anything will come of it.

"I suppose for a lot of people it means there may be some satisfaction at the end that somebody may be charged. I don't see it ever happening," he said. 

No time to read

Premier Dwight Ball and Natural Resources Minister Siobhan Coady released the report with no advanced copy available to media members to prepare questions ahead of their news conference Tuesday afternoon. 

Progressive Conservative Leader Ches Crosbie said Tuesday he was in the same boat — not being given ample time to go through the report — but promised to make himself available Wednesday for questions after he has had time to read and digest it.

Crosbie — leader since 2018 — said he had nothing to do with the project, and said the only affiliation between the current PCs and Muskrat Falls is in the party name. Crosbie was among lawyers who signed a letter in 2012 demanding government submit the project to a proper examination by the Public Utilities Board and that the business case be "thoroughly evaluated." 

Several of his fellow PC members were part of the governments in power during the project's early days. 

"The relationship anyone in my caucus has with this project is tenuous in the extreme," Crosbie said. "One member, for example was a junior cabinet minister, came along long after the whole thing was launched.

"The Liberals themselves have had their arms around this project for years now and spent another $3 billion on it." 

Tory Leader Ches Crosbie said his party today is far removed from the Progressive Conservatives that sanctioned Muskrat Falls. (CBC)

Provincial NDP Leader Alison Coffin told reporters she had time to read only about six paragraphs of the report before having to go to question period at the House of Assembly on Tuesday. 

"They are egregious, they are disturbing, there are some findings in there that we all ought to be very, very upset about," she said.

"Lack of oversight, responsibility, not sharing information, all of the things that we've all been saying, 'Well, there's been a problem with this.' Those findings certainly solidify what we have been suspecting all along." 

Caitlin Urquhart, a lawyer representing the Labrador Land Protectors group, said she's happy with the contents of the report, adding it pulls no punches with top executives involved in making the hydroelectric project happen.

But Urquhart said she's not particularly hopeful government will learn anything from this report or the Muskrat project, adding the environmental committee had the environmental report in its hands for months without acting on it, which ultimately led to the missed deadline for capping wetland areas downriver from the project.

"So I'm not sure how hopeful I am that these recommendations will get their due and be truly listened to, but we can remain, I suppose, cautiously optimistic," she said.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from Anthony Germain, On The Go