Nfld. & Labrador

Here's how the N.L. election could cause a construction backlog

Communities like Gander are in a holding pattern because they can't go to tender until after the election, and the town's mayor says needed work might not get done in time.

Municipalities can't go to tender while election is underway, even if work was approved months ago

Gander Mayor Percy Farwell says the spring election has held up the tender process for municipalities across the province. (Garrett Barry/CBC)

The spring election call has forced municipalities to delay the release of tenders and could mean crucial construction work around the province won't get done before winter, says Gander's mayor.

Caretaker convention allows the basic work of government to continue during an election campaign and until a new government is in place. But during that time, said Percy Farwell, municipalities can't go to tender for work that is cost-shared with the provincial government, even if that work was approved long before the election was called.

"The concern is what would the Opposition say and my response was, the Opposition should say 'Bravo,'" Farwell told CBC Newfoundland Morning.

It's not an issue if the election happens in the fall, he said, because that's the end of the construction season — the tenders have long been issued and approved at that point.

But with an election set for May 16, municipalities across Newfoundland and Labrador are in a holding pattern. They've done the work up to the point of issuing tenders, but have to wait to do so until after the election, pushing back the start date for needed and approved work by several weeks.

The construction season is short in Newfoundland and Labrador, and Farwell says work that has already been approved might not be done in time this year. (Colleen Connors/CBC )

"That sort of backs everything up," Farwell said. 

"It means when the election is over, you've got municipalities all over the province that are going to be going to tender for stuff. Contractors are not going to be able to meet all the demand, likely, for the rest of the season."

'This is strictly a bureaucratic process'

Work like road paving is cost-shared between municipalities and the provincial government, Farwell said. Those agreements were made some time ago, he said, typically in January or February of the year.

Once a particular project has been approved and the cost-sharing agreement has been made, the municipal government does the engineering work required for a project. The provincial government is then needed again to provide its permission for the municipal government to go to tender and seek out contractors for the work, Farwell said. Once that approval is given, the tender can go out, the municipal government can award contracts, and the work can begin.

Farwell said his government should be allowed to issue tenders for projects that have been approved.

"As far as we're concerned, this is strictly a bureaucratic process now," Farwell said. "There's no further political consideration required to determine whether or not we're going to be allowed to get this money and engage in a contract to get the work done."

With the tendering process taking five to six weeks at its shortest, work won't be able to begin for a significant amount of time because municipalities can't go to tender until after Thursday's election — next week at the earliest, he said.

"We're looking at potentially not even being able to award any contracts for paving and roadwork and so on until possibly as late as August."

Work might not be completed before snow begins to fall, Farwell said, or could get done so close to winter that it is compromised — for example, if roads are paved just before they begin to be covered in snow and ice.

Farwell said he has spoken to Dwight Ball, the Liberal leader and the most recent premier, about the issue, and Ball was understanding — but things did not change before the election call.

"The concern over the political optics trumps any consideration of negative impacts that this sort of a thing would have on municipalities across this province," he said, "which is very unfortunate and disappointing."

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

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