Premier Tom Marshall has formally asked the auditor general to study a controversial paving contract linked to premier-in-waiting Frank Coleman, following a week of criticism in the media and in the House of Assembly.
Premier Tom Marshall. — Photo by James McLeod/The Telegram
Marshall had been out of the province at an oil and gas conference, but when he came back Thursday, he announced in the legislature that he has complete confidence in Transportation Minister Nick McGrath, but he wants the independent perspective of auditor general Terry Paddon to clear the air.
“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 then the people can decide,” Marshall told reporters.
He also promised to make correspondence between Humber Valley Paving and the government publicly available by tabling it in the House of Assembly.
Just days after Coleman sold his shares in Humber Valley Paving, his son, Gene Coleman, spoke to McGrath about a contract to pave a section of the Trans-Labrador Highway.
After negotiations between the government and the company, McGrath agreed to abandon the contract because Humber Valley Paving was losing money on it.
Coleman has not said who he sold his shares to, and two of his family members, Michael and Robert Coleman, remain on the board of the company.
McGrath told reporters at one point that he has never personally intervened to renegotiate a contract during his time as Transportation minister.
McGrath has repeatedly said the reason the goverment let Humber Valley Paving out of the contract was because forest fires in Labrador made it impossible for them to complete the work; because it was an “act of God” nobody should be held at fault.
Coleman will become premier of the province in July, since he’s the only accredited candidate in the PC Party leadership race to replace retired premier Kathy Dunderdale.
With all sorts of questions swirling around the contract situation, the NDP has been saying all week that the government should direct the auditor general to study the issue.
But ordering the auditor general to do a report on the matter wasn’t good enough for the Liberals.
Liberal Leader Dwight Ball said that because of a lack of documentation around the deal, he’s convinced that the only way the auditor general will be able to get answers is to subpoena people and interview them.
“The minister has been on record as saying that there’s very little paper trail here,” he said.
In the meantime, Ball said they still have lots of questions.
New Democrat Leader Lorraine Michael said that once the report comes back, it’ll be up to voters to decide if everything was above board.
“I’m very glad it’s going to happen. I think it is the right thing to do,” she said. “I certainly will accept the report of the auditor general. The question will be, on a political level, what will the response of the people of the province be?”
In making the announcement Thursday, Marshall seemed to deliberately pour cold water on the Liberals, who have been asking for McGrath’s resignation as a result of the whole situation.
In the same breath as he said he was calling in the auditor general, Marshall said he is standing by McGrath.
“I am satisfied that the minister has acted — always — with the best interests of the people of this province in mind, and not for any other purpose,” Marshall said.