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Andrew Furey, Charles Bown, and Tough Decisions

in Featured/Opinion by

If Andrew Furey wants to sell himself as a political leader who can make tough decisions in these difficult times, then his appointment of Charles Bown to head a crown corporation may have just made that task more difficult.

According to Justice Richard LeBlanc, Commissioner of the Inquiry Respecting the Muskrat Fall Project, Charles Bown was the Province’s “point person” as the megaproject transitioned from the drawing board to financial debacle. In his report, “A Misguided Project,” Justice Leblanc concluded that while there is “no doubt GNL politicians must be faulted for failing to provide a reasonable level of oversight of Nalcor” he singled out Mr. Bown, then-Deputy Minister of Natural Resources, calling his performance “inexcusable.”

Premier Furey recently reorganized his cabinet, government departments, and the staffing of the senior levels of government departments and in his everything-is-on-the-table approach he would have weighed options for Mr. Bown’s future. The Leader of the Opposition said Mr. Bown should not be working for the Provincial government.

Instead, Andrew Furey decided to land Charles Bown and his $177,000 annual salary in the CEO’s office at the Multi-Materials Stewardship Board. Presumably, Mr. Bown will maintain a low profile, collect his salary, eventually retire, get his pension, and be a wonderful grandfather. But, while he is still around collecting $177,000 a year, voters will be reminded of his role in the Muskrat Falls debacle and Andrew Furey’s willingness to make tough decisions.

In announcing his decision about Mr. Bown’s future, Andrew Furey made it clear he was depending on advice from his Clerk of the Executive Council. In case the Clerk did not include excerpts of Mr. Bown’s May 2019 testimony at the LeBlanc Commission in the Premier’s briefing notes, then perhaps Dr. Furey may find the following helpful.

[What follows are excerpts from Vol. 36 and 37, Transcripts. Phase 2. Commission of Inquiry Respecting the Muskrat Falls Project.]


MR. LEARMONTH: [note: lawyer for the Commission] Was there a meeting?

 MR. BOWN: I have no idea. I don’t remember.

 MR. LEARMONTH: You have no record of that?

 MR. BOWN: No.

 MR. LEARMONTH: And no recollection of it?

 MR. BOWN: No.


MR. LEARMOUTH: So you receive this information on March 10, 2014. Do you recall whether you had any reaction to learning this?

MR. BOWN: I don’t recall.

MR. LEARMONTH: No recollection at all?

MR. BOWN: No recollection.

MR. LEARMONTH: But if you thought that the number—right up to that point, if you thought that the number of 6.5—or 6.531, for greater precision—if up to that point you thought that that was just a, like a—it wasn’t a real number, then when you find out that it is a real number, one would expect that you’d have a reaction like, what’s going on here? Do you remember having any such reaction like that?

MR. BOWN: No, I can’t remember the exact moment that I became aware of the 6.5. That’s been a challenge.


MR. LEARMONTH: Now, the question I have is: If the government was serious about actually giving the Oversight Committee any teeth, why would it wait almost two years to do this deep dive of the cost and schedule of the Muskrat Falls Project? Can you give me an explanation for that?

MR. BOWN: Why would the government wait or why would the committee wait?

MR. LEARMONTH: Well, why would the committee wait?

MR. BOWN: That question is best probably dealt with by the chair of the committee.

MR. LEARMONTH: Well, I’m asking you though. You’re here today.

MR. BOWN: But—

MR. LEARMONTH: You’re a member of the committee

MR. BOWN: And I don’t have an answer for that.

MR. LEARMONTH: You don’t have any answer.

MR. BOWN: No.


MR. BOWN: We continued to follow up with stuff.

MR. LEARMONTH: But you never got the reports.

MR. BOWN: They didn’t provide us with the reports.

MR. LEARMONTH: Well, why didn’t you order them to provide you?

MR. BOWN: Well, that’s the same as us saying: Do you have a report? No, we don’t have it.

MR. LEARMONTH: But you knew there were drafts. Like—

MR. BOWN: No, we didn’t know there were drafts. We knew—one draft is what we were aware of.

MR. LEARMONTH: But why didn’t you contact the independent engineer?

MR. BOWN: We weren’t engaged with the independent engineer.


MR. LEARMOUTH: But, you know, you may suggest that that’s enough that we asked them and they didn’t provide it, but I’m going to suggest to you that it wasn’t enough. That you’re the government, you’re protecting the taxpayer’s money, you knew that there were going to be subsequent reports. You should’ve documented your requests and you should’ve pressed them, demanded that they provide you will all the reports. And you didn’t do that and I wonder why.

MR. BOWN: That wasn’t our way that we did business with them.

MR. LEARMONTH: What do you mean by that?

MR. BOWN: Well, we would ask for things, not write memos and demand. That’s what I’m differentiating.

MR. LEARMONTH: But, in this case, I suggest to you that you should’ve demanded. You should’ve put your foot down very firmly. Do you agree in retrospect that that would’ve been appropriate?

MR. BOWN: I believe, as I shared in my testimony, in retrospect we should’ve been more vigilant.


MR. LEARMOUTH: So if this was required information in March 2014 why was it another 20 months or around before EY [note: Ernst and Young, an accounting firm] was engaged to get this information?

MR. BOWN: I don’t know the answer to your question.

MR. LEARMONTH: Pardon?

MR. BOWN: I don’t know the answer to your question.

MR. LEARMONTH: You don’t? Okay.


MR. BOWN: No, I wasn’t part of that discussion.

MR. LEARMONTH: You weren’t, but you were on the Oversight Committee.

MR. BOWN: Oh, yes.

MR. LEARMONTH: So you know what I’m talking about, about the splitting of the reports. Did you agree to have those reports split or was that—?

MR. BOWN: It wasn’t my decision to make.


MR. LEARMOUTH: The premier’s staff and JM, Julia Mullaly, attended. Were you familiar with this meeting?

MR. BOWN: No.

MR. LEARMONTH: Before you saw this exhibit?

MR. BOWN: No.

MR. LEARMONTH: But your minister was there. Wouldn’t your minister have—?

MR. BOWN: Well, I wasn’t aware of the outcome of the— I knew that the meeting took place but not about the outcome.

MR. LEARMONTH: Well—but you’re the deputy minister so wouldn’t there be some communication to you or updating since it had to do with Muskrat Falls?

MR. BOWN: Yeah. Not necessarily.

MR. LEARMONTH: No?

MR. BOWN: Nope.

MR. LEARMONTH: So you didn’t know about this—

MR. BOWN: No.


MR. LEARMONTH: How can this be that on September 11 they’re talking about 7.6, right?

MR. BOWN: Mm-hmm.

MR. LEARMONTH: And then in this document, as far as I know, September 16, 5 days later, the Oversight Committee, they don’t mention that.

MR. BOWN: (Inaudible.)

MR. LEARMONTH: Unless you can—

MR. BOWN: I don’t have an answer to that.

MR. LEARMONTH: Do you see what I’m getting at?

MR. BOWN: I understand exactly what you’re getting at.

MR. LEARMONTH: It’s strange, isn’t it?

MR. BOWN: Yes.


MS. E. BEST: [note: Erin Best, Lawyer for Kathy Dunderdale] But you don’t recall asking?

MR. BOWN: No, I don’t, but I’m sure I did.

MS. E. BEST: But there’s no evidence to that effect?

MR. BOWN: No.


MR. BOWN: I probably didn’t.

MS. E. BEST: Probably didn’t ask them?

MR. BOWN: No.

MS. E. BEST: Why not?

MR. BOWN: I can’t answer that. I don’t know.


MS. E. BEST: But if you had a problem getting the information, wouldn’t that be something you would report up?

MR. BOWN: Correct.

MS. E. BEST: Yes?

MR. BOWN: Yes.

MS. E. BEST: Okay. So was that reported to your minister?

MR. BOWN: I don’t recall that.


MS. E. BEST: Do you remember anything about when, where, how you learned the 6.5 number?

MR. BOWN: No, I do not.

MS. E. BEST: We just know that by March 10 you knew it.

MR. BOWN: Yes.


MS. E. BEST: And we had a new premier then—

MR. BOWN: Mm-hmm.

MS. E. BEST: —and do you recall briefing the premier, with respect to that number?

MR. BOWN: I don’t recall briefing the premier, no.

MS. E. BEST: I can’t make out what you’re saying.

MR. BOWN: I don’t—sorry, I apologize for speaking low.

MS. E. BEST: That’s okay.

MR. BOWN: I don’t recall briefing the premier, no.


MR.SIMMONS: [note: lawyer Dan Simmons representing Nalcor Energy] Now, we’ve heard evidence from Premier Dunderdale that she knew about the $6.5-billion forecast.

MR. BOWN: Mm-hmm.

MR. SIMMONS: And Mr. Learmonth has indicated that we can expect to hear evidence from Mr. Morris [note: Assistant Deputy Minister for Energy Policy]—I don’t know myself what he would say and haven’t seen any interview transcript, but apparently he’ll say he knew of this. Mr. Morris was your deputy?

MR. BOWN: Assistant deputy.

MR. SIMMONS: Assistant deputy?

MR. BOWN: Yeah.

MR. SIMMONS: Okay. Who was your deputy at the time?

MR. BOWN: I was the deputy.

MR. SIMMONS: Oh, sorry, I lose track of who’s who, yeah.

MR. BOWN: Yeah.

MR. SIMMONS: And so Mr. Morris reported directly to you?

MR. BOWN: Yes.

MR. SIMMONS: Yeah. He appears to have been pretty closely involved in the financial close process in the month or two leading up to financial close on November 29.

MR. BOWN: He was part of the team that was assigned with the Department of Finance—

MR. SIMMONS: Yes.

MR. BOWN: —that was looking at the equity costs and—

MR. SIMMONS: (Inaudible.)

MR. BOWN: —and what the financing process was going to look like.

MR. SIMMONS: Mm-hmm. Okay. So, can you give us any explanation as to how Mr. Morris would have that information and it wouldn’t have found its way up to you?

MR. BOWN: I can’t answer that. I don’t—

MR. SIMMONS: Okay.

MR. BOWN: —know.

MR. SIMMONS: Can you give us any explanation as to how the premier would have that information and you wouldn’t have been aware of it?

MR. BOWN: No, I don’t have an explanation. The premier can be aware of information other staff wouldn’t be.


MR. SIMMONS: Is it possible that there was discussion at this meeting, about an increased capital cost? ‘Cause there’s a number in play now since the 19th. There’s a particular number in play, 6.531. Is it possible that that got discussed here and you just don’t remember it?

MR. BOWN: I don’t recall it being discussed.

MR. SIMMONS: Okay. Do you recall the meeting at all?

MR. BOWN: Not particular.

MR. SIMMONS: Is that “no”?

MR. BOWN: No, I don’t remember it.


MR. PEDDIGREW: [note: lawyer for the Consumer Advocate]. So, basically, just so I’m clear, you were aware there was a possibility of cost increases in the lead up to financial close.

MR. BOWN: Well, we were aware that they were under some cost pressures. They were still negotiating contracts and they were telling us that, you know, some were up, some were down, we’re mitigating, we’re negotiating. So there was some potential there.

MR. PEDDIGREW: You were satisfied with that explanation from Nalcor—

MR. BOWN: (Inaudible.)

MR. PEDDIGREW: —and it didn’t rise to the level of concern for you.

MR. BOWN: At that time we were satisfied.


MR. LEARMONTH: Okay. The question I anticipate… many people have is that if Mr. Morris [note: Assistant Deputy Minister Energy Policy] knew about this budget increase is 6.531, how was it that you wouldn’t know? Can you give us any more information than you’ve already given us, on that topic?

MR. BOWN: No, I think I’ve explored the full breadth of my memory and my records on that.

MR. LEARMONTH: Yeah. But does it not surprise you that this— that you’re in the same department, he’s working closely with you, although on a different floor, that this important information, $300 million, wouldn’t come up somewhere?

MR. BOWN: Yeah, on face value, yes.

MR. LEARMONTH: Yeah.

MR. BOWN: But, again, I don’t have a clear recollection of that.


Roger Bill is a retired CBC Radio journalist. Following retirement, he enrolled in the PhD program in the Department of Anthropology at Memorial University. His dissertation manuscript, Newfoundland, Tourism, and Selling Culture, is online at www.oldjockey.com.

Photo of Charles Bown via screenshot, Muskrat Falls Inquiry Webcast, 16 May 2019.

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