Nova Scotia paving costs increased after province left paving business
'We're paying more now and getting less,' says interim NDP leader Maureen MacDonald
The cost of some paving work in Nova Scotia has jumped by 20 per cent in the past two years, according to a detailed breakdown of highway spending before and after the Liberals sold off the government-owned paving operation in 2014.
The cost of asphalt is also up, while the number of bids per contract — a measure of competition — is down, especially in rural areas.
The NDP opposition are now saying 'We told you so.'
"We're paying more now and getting less," says Interim NDP Leader Maureen MacDonald.
Not 'getting a good bang for our buck'
The Liberals sold off the provincial government's mobile asphalt plant and chip-sealing machinery purchased by the NDP when it was in power between 2009 and 2013.
"The reason we invested in a plant to do some paving was to have some competition in the system. It was clear we weren't getting a good bang for our buck in the paving area," said MacDonald.
On Dec. 23, the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal submitted 17 pages of information on road spending to the Legislature's Public Accounts Committee.
It shows the cost of chip sealing — which embeds gravel in tar — jumped by 20 per cent the year after the government's chip-sealing operation was shut down.
Peter Hackett, the province's executive director of highway engineering and construction, admits there is less competition and prices are up, but Hackett doesn't think "it was a huge factor."
He says road builders, who moved into Nova Scotia after neighbouring New Brunswick cut back on highway construction, have returned.
"When that capital program in New Brunswick went up, those contractors went back. So, the prices went up and those contractors were doing remote work as well, so that reduced the number of bids as well," Hackett said.
Dexter Construction dominates
The information released by the province also reveals total domination by a single company when it comes to getting government road work contracts.
From 2012 to the end of 2015, Bedford-based Dexter Construction was awarded 247 contracts worth $359 million — five times more than its nearest competitor Nova Construction, which did 24 contracts worth $66 million.
SW Weeks was third and was responsible for 45 jobs worth $54 million.
Dexter also grabbed the lion's share of asphalt, supplying one million tonnes over those four years — well above SW weeks at 232,000 tonnes, Cumberland Paving at 195,000 tonnes and Chapman Bros. at 112,830 tonnes.
In a statement to CBC News, Ken MacLean, the vice-president of Municipal Enterprises — Dexter's parent company — said the company's size and scope allows it to bid on provincial transportation department tenders.
Dexter not unique
Hackett explains that Dexter has mobile asphalt plans and equipment located around the province, allowing it to compete against smaller companies in all regions.
He said he did not know if the public is paying more because of Dexter's domination.
"In most places, it's fairly competitive. They are competitive bids," Hackett said.
He also says this situation is not unusual.
"In many small provinces and many provinces across the country, there are sort of dominant players and smaller players and that's pretty much the market we go with in the construction industry for roadways, so Dexter themselves is not unique," said Hackett.