Marshall says he had no part whatsoever in the decision of the Minister of
Transportation and Works, Nick McGrath, to cancel the Humber Valley Paving (HVP)
Contract. He also said he is confident the
Minister handled the matter properly.
is not believable.
should be casual about casting aspersions on the Premier’s integrity. But if he insists that the public ignore both
the historical and the institutional framework within which major governmental
decisions are made, taking into account well established limitations on
Ministerial latitude, he is inviting expressions of incredulity.
assess the HVP decision in context, it is important to look at the process of
decision making in Government. On any
level, except governmental dysfunction, the Premier’s assertion doesn’t add up.
million decision is important; but it isn’t the only reason.
of five others:
all accounts, it is precedent setting.
has public policy implications involving the principle of fairness for all
Bidders on Government Tenders.
issue contains legal implications; HVP had already been granted an extension,
without penalty, in consequence of the June 2013 forest fires; the opportunity
for a “force majeure” evidently could not be justified. It was not sought anyway.
there is the matter of the money – isn’t there always! On this there are two critical issues:
A) The Minister unreservedly states that had his
officials called the Bonds HVP might have gone bankrupt. Isn’t that a critical
point? What differentiated HVP from any
other of the many Companies that had a Bond called?
it is impossible to divorce the element of a potential conflict of interest
involving the incoming Premier, Frank Coleman.
issue had multi-dimensional consequences – policy, financial, legal and
the political level alone, properly handled the HVP decision might not have
been taken by just the Premier or even the Cabinet. Given the involvement of
Frank Coleman, his family and associates, the Auditor General might have been
asked his opinion, by the Premier, before the release of the Bonds became
official, just to give the decision a level of sanitation.
inventory of the fall-out from the HVP issue is rendered, it is hard to see why
Nick McGrath is still in the Cabinet. We
can draw that conclusion only having weighed the matter on a public policy
to assess the decision in the context of whether the normal process of governance
– the accountability structure – was adhered to. On this level, the
Premier’s position is even less tenable.
standard operating procedure for large Companies to impose administrative and
financial controls on executives. Major decisions require reference to a person
more senior or to a Board of Directors.
is similar for Ministers of the Crown.
that $20 million solo decisions could be rendered in a system where 15 or more Ministers
frequently change. Without reference to oversight
groups like the Treasury Board, the Departments of Justice and Finance, programs,
regulations and the budgetary process would be in a constant state of disarray.
periodic instances of insanity (Muskrat Falls), governments, including the
Government of Newfoundland and Labrador, are not managed that way.
phone call, under normal circumstances, would have been deflected to an
Executive Assistant or to officials in the Contract and Tender Division (unless
the caller had very significant political cache.)
would either have landed on the Minister’s desk in the form of a letter from
the Company’s Owner. Otherwise, if officials ascribed to the request a modicum
of justification, it would have received his attention via a written Report
(not a verbal one).
talks with HVP were undocumented suggests there existed a plan to deliberately
avoid a paper trail which would implicate all who were copied.
my days on the “Hill”, a normal chronology of events would have included a
briefing of the Premier by the Minister if only because it had a connection,
however moot, with the incoming Premier, Frank Coleman.
decide if the matter should be reviewed by senior Ministers (called the
Planning and Priorities Committee) or go directly to Cabinet.
case the Minister would instruct his officials to prepare a written brief
containing an analysis of the issue including the reasons Government should dissolve
opinion would be sought from the Dept. of Justice. Its financial implications required a
submission to the Treasury Board.
analysis by the Cabinet Secretariat might add to that offered at the
Departmental level. A lengthy factum would have found itself on the Cabinet
matter progressed at all, certainly it would have been removed from the Minister’s
desk early in the process. Besides, the current Minister of
Transportation and Works is not a heavyweight; he doesn’t get to make important
decisions on his own.
Federal level, a Minister might make that decision. But Newfoundland and Labrador is not Ottawa. $19
million is a lot of money for a small provincial government; so all the normal
management and accountability mechanisms ought to be employed.
suggestion that the Minister acted singlehandedly and properly in spite of cost,
policy and political implications, defies established practice as well as
common sense. The Premier’s remarks constitute political cover.
Minister acted alone, having
broken all the rules of governance, a prudent and responsible Premier would
have fired him.
is still in Cabinet. The Premier
believes he acted properly.
only mean the Premier was a party to the decision in the first place.
Parties should have another busy week in Question Period.