The Muskrat Falls Inquiry is dealing with a late, mass submission of notes from the provincial government.
Commissioner Richard LeBlanc was so taken aback by news he received Friday morning that a collection of notes and notebooks were arriving from government, he called a short break to check with inquiry counsel and confirm the new documents were already being reviewed.
Personal notes have become an issue as inquiry hearings have progressed, with the revelation that the personal notebooks of multiple senior civil servants and ministers were nowhere to be found and presumed destroyed after they changed roles or left government. The belief is they were considered “transient documents,” not essential for the official record, and destroyed.
“Not a good state of affairs from my perspective.” — Commissioner Richard LeBlanc
Now there’s news that there are notebooks that weren’t produced by the province in response to the original summons and demand for documents. Those are now being delivered to the inquiry.
Inquiry co-counsel Irene Muzychka, who was preparing to question Nalcor Energy executive vice-president Gilbert Bennett, told LeBlanc anywhere from 25 to 50 documents arrived Thursday, some only three to five pages, others binders with more pages, including copies of presentation slides where notes were written into the margins. And there was word of more to come (by the end of the day, the total reported was 67 documents).
“Not a good state of affairs from my perspective,” LeBlanc said.
He pointed out the inquiry only has two weeks left in the current phase of hearings, and he will have to determine now if witnesses need to be recalled for questions based on the contents of the notes.
LeBlanc said the province needed to produce any remaining notes by 4 p.m. and all staff would be working through the weekend, as needed, to review and prioritize anything relevant to the questioning of Bennett.
Lawyer Tom Williams, representing a collection of former Progressive Conservative government members, asked if lawyers for the parties with standing could be given some idea of the volume of documents, to try and gauge what staff they might need to review them, if there were a significant number of documents to be entered into evidence.
In response to a question back on Thursday about several pages of notes entered into evidence, Government of Newfoundland and Labrador lawyer Peter Ralph said there had been a realization that some notes existed that had not been provided to the inquiry.
“When the summons went out in January 2018, there was request for all paper records,” he said, saying the summons went out to all the departments, “and for whatever reason the notebooks were not considered a paper record, I guess.”
On Friday afternoon, Ralph offered an update. He said he did not believe it was a government-wide misunderstanding, and said document checks had been re-affirmed, with additional documents filed by the 4 p.m. deadline. The exception was notes for a deputy minister who was on the road, but would be able to be in his office to confirm within 24 hours.
There’s been no indication so far on exactly who might own the different notes now arriving. They are not expected to be tied to earlier searches (Notes became an issue for former clerk of the Executive Council Julia Mullaley and other witnesses, with memos from government staff filed, to attest to extensive, fruitless searches in those cases).
(NOTE: This is an updated version as of Friday evening, to include the latest information on the document search and submissions from Peter Ralph, at the conclusion of Friday's public hearing.)