The Liberal full-court press against the Progressive Conservative government continued into its second week on a controversial Labrador paving contract tied to premier-designate Frank Coleman.
Liberal Leader Dwight Ball demanded specific documents and correspondence dealing with the Humber Valley Paving contract to pave 80 kilometres of the Trans-Labrador Highway.
Ball also wanted to see legal opinions from the Department of Transportation which led to the government abandoning the contract.
Following forest fires in Labrador, Humber Valley Paving was losing money on the contract, and Transportation Minister Nick McGrath let the company off the hook after a conversation with Coleman's son, Gene, who was on the board of directors.
Frank Coleman owned part of Humber Valley Paving, but sold his shares in the company, and Gene Coleman is no longer on the board either, but two other Colemans — Robert and Michael — are the only two members of the Humber Valley Paving board of directors currently listed on the Registry of Companies.
Frank Coleman will become premier in early July after the PC party formally endorses his leadership.
The conversation between Gene Coleman and McGrath happened around the same time that Frank Coleman announced he would run for the PC party leadership.
McGrath has said repeatedly in response to questions that an “act of god” in the form of a forrest fire scuppered the contract.
Instead of fighting the company in court, McGrath said that by letting Humber Valley Paving out of the contract, the government was able to re-tender it and, hopefully, get the work done on time and on budget.
After days of pointed questions last week, Premier Tom Marshall referred the matter to Auditor General Terry Paddon, and asked him to do a report on the matter to determine whether anything untoward went on regarding the way the contract was handled.
But on Monday, Ball came back into the House of Assembly with a full head of steam.
Ball wanted, for example, the governemnt analysis that showed exactly how much work had been completed on the contract. Humber Valley Paving was paid 60 per cent of the value of the contract.
“What we're asking for is just, you know, since this document exists, will you provide this information to the people of the province?” Ball said. “So I ask the minister again, will you table the document related to the 60 per cent analysis that you just spoke about?”
McGrath took that as an attack on the civil servants in his department,.
“I'm not sure if the Opposition is questioning the integrity of the engineers in the Department of Transportation and Works, but I have full confidence with all the employees within the Department of Transportation and Works.”
After Ball asked essentially the same question three more times, McGrath agreed to table the document.
The Liberal line of questioning Monday also implied that in comparable situations, the government has treated other companies much more harshly — punishing them for failing to fulfil a contract.
McGrath repeatedly said the government deals with each roadwork contract on a case-by-case basis, and each circumstance is different.
“In the department, we deal on a daily basis with different contracts. Every contract is dealt with differently. You look at the circumstances that are put before you,” McGrath said. “In this particular case, you had very extenuating circumstances that were beyond the control of the contractor or the government. In a case like that we sit down and we try to do what is best for all included, especially the people of Newfoundland and Labrador. That is what we did in this case.”