On Point: Liberals won't let up on Humber Valley Paving contract

Premier Tom Marshall's call for the auditor general to investigate the cancellation of a $19-million paving contract in Labrador won't stop the Opposition Liberals from asking questions about it.
The government's handling of the Humber Valley Paving Contract & leadership challenges facing Lorraine Michael. 18:18

Premier Tom Marshall's call for the auditor general to investigate the cancellation of a $19-million paving contract in Labrador won't stop the Opposition Liberals from asking questions about it.

​Humber Valley Paving had agreed to complete work on about 80 kilometres of the Trans-Labrador Highway. But the company was released from its obligation without finishing the job, citing costly delays largely due to forest fires in the Big Land last summer.

Premier-to-be Frank Coleman was the president and CEO of HVP when the company ran into trouble with the contract.

Liberal Leader Dwight Ball told CBC Television's On Point that his party won't ease up on the Humber Valley Paving contract controversy. (CBC)
However, he stepped down just before his son, Gene, approached the government with a request to cancel the contract without penalty.

The province could've called in millions of dollars in insurance bonds that companies must put up to protect against such scenarios, but chose not to. Instead, Humber Valley Paving was released from the unfinished contract a week after making the request.

Quick decision

Liberal Leader Dwight Ball said it simply doesn't add up, noting he's heard from other contractors who say government rarely moves that fast.

"One guy said to me 'you can't get a permit to cut wood in this province in a week, let alone get out of a $19-million contract.' " Ball said on CBC Television's On Point.

"So when I hear issues like this, when I have questions about this, of course we're going to continue to press the government, because we want to make sure that the information gets out there."

There have also been reports that some companies are still owed thousands of dollars by Humber Valley Paving, related to the contract.

Transportation Minister Nick McGrath says the pilots of a waterbomber that crashed in a Labrador lake last summer likely won't be disciplined. (CBC)
Transportation Minister Nick McGrath has said the province has about $2 million set aside to reimburse them, but none have come forward.

Ball said it's still early.

"The contract was terminated on March 21st, and the premier himself didn't know that until April 28th," he said. "So if the premier didn't know, how would you expect people that had supplied a service on this contact ... how would they have known?"

Plus, he said, 30 days' notice is required before a company can put a mechanics lean on unfinished projects.

Ball also dismissed suggestions that the Liberals are pushing the issue purely to discredit Coleman.

"It's not about the politics in all of this," he said. "And this is in no way a smear campaign. Nick McGrath is suggesting he did this because Humber Valley Paving was in financial difficulty. What we're asking questions about is the sub-contractors. Why it is they stepped in here, but did not in the past?"

Marshall, meanwhile, said he's confident the decision to let Humber Valley Paving off the hook was the right one.

"I'm satisfied that the department was doing what it felt was in the interest of the people of the province to try and get that work done, done on time, and on budget," he said.

"It's out there, it's a concern, the people trust the auditor general, let's get the auditor general to look at it and bring the facts out. Everything will be open, and the people can decide."


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.