'His job is done': N.L. Hydro exec Gilbert Bennett departs with $1M in severance

Gilbert Bennett, the vice-president of power development with N.L. Hydro, has been let by go the Crown corporation. He served in an executive capacity with Nalcor/N.L. Hydro for 19 years. (Terry Roberts/CBC - image credit)
Gilbert Bennett, the vice-president of power development with N.L. Hydro, has been let by go the Crown corporation. He served in an executive capacity with Nalcor/N.L. Hydro for 19 years. (Terry Roberts/CBC - image credit)

An executive with Newfoundland and Labrador's energy corporation who was singled out in the Muskrat Falls inquiry has left N.L. Hydro with a severance package of roughly $1 million.

In a press release Thursday afternoon, Hydro announced it has reduced operating costs by some $19 million over the past year through a combination of cost-cutting and efficiencies.

Much of that reduction has come from a 50 per cent cut in the number of executive positions and an adjustment to compensation — including the elimination of performance bonuses — for the nine people who now occupy executive roles at Hydro.

The final cut to the executive ranks came Wednesday afternoon, with Gilbert Bennett, the person in charge of completing the Muskrat Falls power station, working his last day.

"His job is done," said Hydro spokesperson Deanne Fisher.

Fisher said the Muskrat Falls generating station was commissioned a year ago and has now been turned over to Hydro's operations division.

"So his role is no longer required," Fisher added.

Key member of Muskrat Falls team

Bennett served as an executive with Nalcor and N.L. Hydro for 19 years and was a key member of the team that planned and executed the controversial hydro generation and transmission project.

As part of his executive contract, Bennett departs with a severance package totalling roughly $1 million. That includes two years' salary of $680,000, a retirement allowance of $127,000 and unused leave.

WATCH | Terry Roberts reports on how Hydro has cut ties with senior executive Gilbert Bennett:

Bennett was a key deputy to former Nalcor CEO Ed Martin for many years prior to Martin's controversial departure in 2016, and again under Stan Marshall, who retired as Nalcor CEO 16 months ago.

Bennett survived the first round of executive cuts made by the new CEO, Jennifer Williams, a year ago.

Bennett was a central figure in the March 2020 final report by Justice Richard LeBlanc, who served as commissioner of a public inquiry in the troubled project.

In one of the most damning sections of the report, LeBlanc said Martin, Bennett and members of the project management team "frequently took unprincipled steps" to help secure project approval in late 2012.

"They concealed information that would undermine the business case reported to the public, to [the provincial government] and to Nalcor's board of directors," LeBlanc wrote.

LeBlanc also questioned Bennett's suitability for the job, writing that he "had no prior experience in hydroelectric or transmission line projects and had no experience in construction management. He had not worked on any megaprojects prior to joining Nalcor."

Following the release of LeBlanc's report, then CEO Stan Marshall refused to hold Bennett accountable for the missteps that created what Marshall himself agreed was a boondoggle.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador