Project director wants questions about his pay off-limits at Muskrat Falls inquiry

A top manager and contractor on the Lower Churchill hydro megaproject says questions about his pay should be forbidden when he takes the stand at the Muskrat Falls inquiry on Monday.

Lawyers for Paul Harrington filed what they acknowledged was an "11th hour" Supreme Court application Friday.

They were seeking an order allowing Harrington to "refuse to disclose information related to his rate of pay and compensation to the inquiry."

He also sought a declaration that "any record, document or thing which discloses this information may be withheld from the commission."

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Harrington's lawyers said in court documents that releasing these details "would not serve the public interest, but would cause undue financial harm to him and his consulting company."

His Supreme Court action is now on hold, pending Commissioner Richard LeBlanc's decision on how to deal with the matter at the inquiry on Monday.

Separate court action to block pay info release

Harrington has a separate application before the courts, seeking to block the release of his pay details under access to information laws. CBC News filed that request this past summer.

That matter has been on hold because of a recent decision in a separate case that could have an impact on the privacy arguments being made. That separate case, involving the province's teachers' union, may be on the way to the Supreme Court of Canada — if the nation's top court decides to hear it.

If the inquiry releases his pay details before the legal process in all those matters plays out, his lawyers say, "Mr. Harrington would be denied this opportunity to have his day in court."

Commission counsel says pay is relevant to inquiry

But lawyers for the commission said in court filings that Harrington's pay information is relevant to the mandate of the inquiry.

"The compensation paid to Mr. Harrington or his company was included in the cost estimates for the project, and forms part of the construction costs of the Muskrat Falls project," associate commission counsel Kirsten Morry wrote in an affidavit.

"As a primary project manager, Mr. Harrington was a key decision-maker within Nalcor Energy before and after sanction of the Muskrat Falls project," Morry added.

"The compensation Mr. Harrington or his company received could have had an effect on his motives or actions."

'Disturbed' by comments in affidavit

At a hastily-assembled court hearing late Friday afternoon, Harrington's lawyer, Deborah Hutchings, said she was "disturbed" by Morry's comments.

"I'm very concerned about the rights of my client," Hutchings said.

"I'm concerned that he is going to be put on trial."

But Chief Justice Raymond Whalen asked her: "What's he going to be put on trial for?"

Hutchings indicated that commission counsel could be trying to show that Harrington has influenced the project based upon his remuneration.

"What's wrong with that?" the chief justice replied.

"I find that very offensive," Hutchings said, noting that all parties are supposed to be treated fairly and saying this was "beyond the scope" of the inquiry.

Court action on hold, for now

In the end, after the lawyers took a break to confer, the chief justice ruled that Harrington's Supreme Court application will be put on hold — at least for now.

Both sides will now wait to see how the commissioner handles the situation at the inquiry on Monday.

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Harrington is scheduled to be on the stand for three-and-a-half days next week.

The inquiry is examining what went wrong at Muskrat Falls, which is years behind schedule and billions over budget.

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