Clashes at the inquiry as credibility of Muskrat critics challenged

Accusations were flying Wednesday at the Muskrat Falls inquiry as clashes erupted between those on both sides of the debate.

With some big names slinging arrows as the inquiry continues its investigation into why the hydro project was sanctioned in 2012, why costs have more than doubled, and why it is years behind schedule.

The sparks flew as two longtime critics of the controversial hydro project, Ron Penney and David Vardy, testified before inquiry commissioner Richard LeBlanc.

As expected, Penney and Vardy spent hours detailing why they are so opposed to the project, most notably government’s refusal to allow the public utilities board to carry out a full review of Muskrat Falls and the province’s future electricity needs.

Penney called the project a “terrible blunder” and said it was “poorly managed.”

Vardy said, “The notion of putting forward a project like this when the demand is not there and the ability to repay the cost, even at $6.2 billion, let alone $12.7 billion, I think is a big concern of ours.”

Testy exchanges and an intervention

Their testimony invited a vigorous response from lawyers representing those who championed the project, who attempted to weaken Penney’s and Vardy’s credibility.

That effort was led by lawyer Tommy Williams, who is representing former government officials, including his brother, former premier Danny Williams.

Former premier Danny Williams was on the attack again Wednesday at the Muskrat Falls inquiry, calling into question the credibility of witnesses Ron Penney and David Vardy. (Terry Roberts/CBC)

The testy exchanges resulted in LeBlanc having to intervene on several occasions.

“I’m not too concerned about all the personalities involved,” Leblanc said at one point.

“I don’t know what all the love-hate relationships are, and to be quite honest with you I don’t really care about that.”

They’re basically ‘insignificant’

The tensions spilled outside the hearing room later in the afternoon, with Danny Williams offering to share his views with reporters in an adjoining room.

And as he did during his own testimony on Oct. 1 and 2, Williams went on the attack, questioning the credibility of Penney and Vardy and describing their opposition as “rash and foolhardy.”

I’m suggesting that the credibility and the weight of the testimony of Mr. Vardy and Mr. Penney is basically insignificant.– Danny Williams

“I’m suggesting that the credibility and the weight of the testimony of Mr. Vardy and Mr. Penney is basically insignificant,” Williams said.

“They’re not megaproject experts. They’re not experts in anything that’s really particularly relevant to this inquiry.”

Williams went further with Vardy, saying, “You don’t basically drink out of a carton of milk that’s gone past its due date.”

Vardy, 78, is an economist, and once served as the province’s top civil servant. He also served as chairman of the public utilities board for seven years.

Penney is a former deputy minister and top bureaucrat with the City of St. John’s.

Both are founding members of the newly formed concerned citizens coalition, which has more than 240 members.

The more information we got on this, the more concerning it became. Hard to see any issue since Confederation that is of greater importance to us.– David Vardy

“The more information we got on this, the more concerning it became,” Vardy said during his testimony.

“Hard to see any issue since Confederation that is of greater importance to us.”

Penney and Vardy both said they “failed abysmally” in their efforts to lobby for greater public scrutiny of the project.

“We felt we did our best, but our best wasn’t good enough,” said Penney.

Williams derides ‘Uncle Nutty’

A third founding member of the coalition, Des Sullivan, was not on the witness stand Wednesday, but was in the public gallery. Sullivan is author of the Uncle Gnarley blog, which has showered scathing criticism on the Muskrat Falls project for years.

Tommy Williams questioned why Sullivan was not available for cross-examination, and Danny Williams also targeted Sullivan.

Williams referred to the blog as “Uncle Nutty” and said it’s obvious Sullivan “doesn’t want to come under scrutiny.”

“He’s not prepared to stand up and be counted,” Williams said.

Des Sullivan did not testify at the Muskrat Falls inquiry Wednesday, but that did not shield him from criticism as former premier Danny Williams attacked the author of the Uncle Gnarley blog. (Terry Roberts/CBC)

But Sullivan said he wasn’t a witness because the testimony centred around the pre-sanction decision in 2012, and Sullivan said he wasn’t involved with Penney and Vardy at the time.

“There’s a very different paper trail and I think it needed to be examined differently,” Sullivan said. “And I think that decision to do it that way was the right one.”

Andy Wells weighs in

The line of questioning and Danny Williams’ broadside drew a strong reaction from Andy Wells, who served as chairman of the PUB from 2008 to 2017 and is also a vocal critic of Muskrat Falls.

Former public utilities board chairman and Muskrat Falls critic Andy Wells came to the defence of two witnesses at the public inquiry Wednesday. (Terry Roberts/CBC)

Wells described the attacks on Penney and Vardy as an attempt at character assassination.

“They’re not in this because they have an axe to grind. They’re in it because they’re people of virtue,” Wells said of Penney and Vardy.

They have a lot of expertise to bring to the table. And they’re attempting to inform the people of Newfoundland that … there has been a major public policy mistake.– Andy Wells

“They have a lot of expertise to bring to the table. And they’re attempting to inform the people of Newfoundland that … there has been a major public policy mistake.”

Sullivan also defended Penney’s and Vardy’s credibility as witnesses at the inquiry.

“Given their substantial public service at very senior levels, they have one heck of a lot to say credibly, in an expert manner, as with regard to public policy processes and how something as important as Muskrat Falls ought to be weighed,” said Sullivan.

Meanwhile, Commissioner Richard LeBlanc defended the inquiry’s decision to hear from experts like Penney, Vardy and others who have strong opinions on Muskrat Falls.

“If I only hear from experts, I’m not sure the whole story will be told,” said LeBlanc.

Clashes at the inquiry as credibility of Muskrat critics challenged

Source: https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/newfoundland-labrador/inquiry-penney-vardy-1.4857765?cmp=rss
Aggregated from: CBC | Newfoundland and Labrador News

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