The second phase of the Muskrat Falls Inquiry is looking at the construction project details, and immense cost overruns, with public hearings beginning again in Happy Valley-Goose Bay.
From the point hearings wrapped in the first phase in late 2018, staff with the commission of inquiry have been continuing research and conducting interviews, preparing for this next step.
The first phase of the inquiry (split into “phases” by Justice Richard LeBlanc for organizational purposes) explored the provincial government and Crown corporation’s decision to actually pursue the hydroelectric megaproject on Labrador’s Churchill River. This next phase, focused on construction, involves public and private interests, ongoing legal disputes, and includes a period of restructuring at the province’s energy corporation and a change in political leadership.
Intervener status has been granted recently for private corporations wanting the ability to question witnesses and elicit evidence during the hearings, to protect their interests as needed. This includes Grid Solutions Canada ULC and Andritz Hydro Canada. Several other contractors on the project, including Astaldi Canada, had already applied for and been awarded standing.
The witness schedule is ever-shifting, but an update on Feb. 15 shows the first witness, following any remarks from Justice Richard LeBlanc and Commission co-counsel, will be Chief Jean-Charles Piétacho of the Conseil des Innu de Ekuanitshit. His testimony was originally expected as part of the first phase but was delayed after he refused to testify in a second language (French), demanding the ability to testify in his Indigenous language. LeBlanc said the inquiry staff would assure the right interpreter was made available.
After Piétacho, Grant Thornton’s Scott Shaffer is scheduled to present the findings of a highly anticipated forensic audit, looking at the rising cost of the project through construction.
The parties awarded standing at the inquiry have been provided a copy of the auditor’s report for review. The report will be made available to the public when it is entered into evidence, at the start of Shaffer’s testimony.
Other witnesses scheduled in the next two weeks, for hearings at the Lawrence O’Brien Arts Centre, include: Roberta Benefiel from the Grand River Keeper Labrador; Marjorie Flowers for the Labrador Land Protectors; Keith Dodson of Westney Consulting Group; and academic expert Guy Holburn.
Former premier Paul Davis and former natural resources minister Derrick Dalley are currently scheduled for Feb. 26 and Feb. 27 respectively.
Todd Russell, president of NunatuKavut Community Council; former Innu Nation Grand Chief Anastasia Qupee and Clementine Kuyper, for the Innu Nation; Pat Hussey with Nalcor Energy and former Nunatsiavut deputy minister of land and natural resources Carl McLean are also scheduled to take the stand.
In some cases witnesses will have previously testified but — respecting the division of hearings into distinct “phases” — would, for the most part, not have been questioned before on events reaching beyond the end of 2012.