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N.L. government lawyers reviewing Muskrat Falls report before public release

Newfoundland and Labrador Natural Resource Minister Siobhan Coady and Peter Ralph, lawyer for the provincial department of justice and public safety hold a press conference on Thursday, February 5, 2020 at the House of Assembly to announce that although the government have received the final report into the Muskrat Falls Inquiry from Commissioner Richard Leblanc, they will not be releasing the details just yet. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Daly

Newfoundland and Labrador’s government has received the final report from the commissioner of a sweeping inquiry into the troubled Muskrat Falls hydroelectric project, but it will be days before the public can read the findings.

The inquiry led by Supreme Court Justice Richard LeBlanc ran hearings from September 2018 through last summer, looking into cost and schedule overruns of the $12.7-billion dam on Labrador’s Lower Churchill River.

Natural Resources Minister Siobhan Coady presented the six-volume report, titled “Muskrat Falls: A Misguided Project,” at a news conference Thursday.

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LeBlanc’s report was to include his recommendations but no findings of criminal or civil responsibility. It was expected by Dec. 31, 2019, but the deadline was extended by three months after LeBlanc requested additional time due to the complexity of the subject matter.

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A news release from the commission of inquiry says the first volume will contain LeBlanc’s executive summary, key findings and recommendations. The next three will detail the lead-up to the government sanctioning the project in 2012 and events that followed, as well as a section on “looking forward.” The fourth and fifth volumes will contain appendices and a list of exhibits presented at the inquiry.

Coady said a team of lawyers are reviewing the report for legal sensitivities before it is released to the public.

“I would expect it to be in the public’s hands in a matter of days,” she said.

The minister said she does not anticipate any of LeBlanc’s findings and recommendations will be redacted.

Justice department lawyer Peter Ralph, who represented the provincial government during the inquiry, said the review of the thousand-page report will be limited.

“The question is, ‘Would the information in the report impact litigation?”‘ Ralph said. “This is not a communications review.”

Ralph, who is also involved in the legal review, said lawyers will provide advice to government but the final decision on whether to make redactions is up to the minister and the premier.

The 824-megawatt hydroelectric dam, being developed by the Crown corporation Nalcor Energy, will send power to Newfoundland and Nova Scotia through subsea cables.

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The megaproject is now years behind schedule. Its costs have essentially doubled since it was sanctioned by a Progressive Conservative government in 2012, and it now accounts for about a third of the province’s considerable debt.

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Liberal Premier Dwight Ball, who has called Muskrat Falls “the biggest fiscal mistake” in the province’s history, called the inquiry under increasing pressure as costs skyrocketed beyond projections offered at the time of sanctioning.

Current and former politicians, high-level officials and consultants testified over the course of the lengthy inquiry, with some suggesting costs had been intentionally downplayed.

Coady said Thursday that while she had not yet looked at the report, the inquiry offered insight into a questionable project that has troubled her since she took on her ministerial role.

“I’ve spent a considerable amount of days, weeks, months – (I’ve) lost sleep over this project,” Coady said.

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“I’ve always questioned why that project was underway. I think the people of the province are now wondering why that project was underway.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 5, 2020.

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