Premier-in-waiting Frank Coleman says he’d be happy to see the auditor general scrutinize a controversial deal between the government and his former company, Humber Valley Paving.
All this week in the House of Assembly, opposition parties have been hammering away at the government for more information about a paving contract the company had with the government.
The NDP has demanded that the auditor general look at it.
Coleman said he’d be fine with that.
“I would welcome the auditor general to do his duty, and if he saw fit, to look into this. I would welcome him to come in,” he said. “The Department of Transportation acted, in my view, perfectly in this matter.”
When The Telegram requested an interview with Coleman Tuesday, his spokeswoman flatly refused the request, but he spoke to reporters who were waiting for him in the lobby of Confederation Building following a meeting with the PC party caucus.
“I think I’ve said everything I had to say about it, but I’m happy to take more questions,” Coleman said.
Humber Valley Paving was let out of a money-losing multimillion-dollar contract to pave sections of the Trans-Labrador Highway earlier this year, around the same time that Coleman declared himself as a candidate for the leadership of the PC party.
The renegotiated contract happened after a conversation between Coleman’s son, Gene Coleman, and Transportation Minister Nick McGrath.
But despite the fact that McGrath told reporters earlier this week that he negotiated personally with Gene Coleman, when Frank Coleman spoke to media Wednesday, he denied that.
“I don’t believe that representatives of the company dealt directly with the minister. They dealt with officials within the department to reach a conclusion, and their legal counsels,” Frank Coleman said. “My son and other members of our company would have spoken directly to the officials. This would have been a decision by officials within the department to make this decision, and they would have made recommendations to the minister.”
A couple of hours after the interview, Coleman’s spokeswoman sent an e-mail to media saying that he misspoke.
“Mr. Coleman did not intend to deny that his son, Gene, spoke to Minister McGrath,” spokeswoman Carmel Turpin wrote. “It was simply that he was not aware of the details of whom Gene was speaking with in the department as Mr. Coleman had removed himself from the day to day operations of the Humber Valley Paving. Sorry for the confusion this may have caused.”
Coleman said he sold his shares of the company and resigned from the board, but he wouldn’t say who the shares were sold to.
Coleman said, “I think you know the new shareholder of the company,” but The Telegram has been unable to identify who the current owners of the company are. That information is not publicly disclosed.
On the company’s website, a statement says Coleman sold his shares. That statement is attributed to a man named Peter Byrne, who is identified as speaking “on behalf of the shareholder/ownership group.”
Coleman said whoever owns the company, it’s not in his family’s hands anymore.
“I’m not hiding any information, I’m just telling you that my shares were transacted and went to other members of the company,” he said. “My family owned the shares in Humber Valley Paving and there is a new owner that has declared himself, and his last name is not Coleman.”
However, the provincial government registry of companies only lists two directors on the board of Humber Valley Paving — Michael Coleman and Robert Coleman.
The ownership of a company is not disclosed on the registry of companies website; the directors of a company are the only information about a company’s management structure that is disclosed.
After his only competitor dropped out of the race, Coleman became the province’s next premier by default on April 17, but he will not take over the job until July when the PC party holds a convention to formally ratify his leadership.
Coleman was in Confederation Building Wednesday morning speaking to a meeting of the Progressive Conservative caucus.
He would not say if the Humber Valley Paving scandal came up during the meeting.
“A lot of issues came up, and we discussed them,” Coleman said. “When I met with the caucus we talked about the convention, we talked about leadership, we talked about my progress to date, and you know, a bunch of different things.”
Coleman didn’t stick around Confederation Building to take in question period, but he dominated the discussion anyway. Liberal Leader Dwight Ball spent more than 20 minutes peppering McGrath with questions about the contract.
Ball asked that the government table specific documents, such as correspondence between the government and the company over the past year, and the internal government legal opinion which led to McGrath cancelling the contract.
McGrath did not offer to make any of those documents available.