Last week’s
meeting of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC), which did little more than allow
a few questions to be raised about the Humber Valley Paving affair (HVP), featured
former Transportation and Works Minister, Nick McGrath, the Clerk of the
Executive Council, Julia Mullaley, and the former Deputy Minister of
Transportation and Works, Brent Meade.

Following their
testimony, the public might have been left with the impression the claim, by
Premier Tom Marshall, that he was not informed of the Minister’s intention to
cancel the HVP contract, was all one big misunderstanding.  

We are left to consider that the unwarranted assumption by Meade was just an error; that we should not consider if he was providing a fig leaf to Premier Marshall, or whether senior
public servants have rules for protecting themselves against arrant Ministers.

I suggest
you not make any such assumptions.

experience includes eleven years of interacting with Cabinet Clerks and with
Deputy Ministers. Admittedly, that was a long time ago. But, I suggest the
“rules of the game” have not changed, even if Clerks and DM’s have.

bureaucrats know what they must do when Ministers conspire to misbehave.  Such behaviour includes making decisions which
are legally suspect, and those which diminish the Government’s integrity (or, as in this case, what is left of it).  Suggestions
the equivalent of ‘I thought the Premier had been informed’, asserted by Meade,
don’t make the cut. 

Not playing
by the rules of the game does not suggest the game has no rules. 

Of course, when
rules are broken the expectation is that the Premier will mete out consequences.
If none are forthcoming, the presumption is the Premier either runs a loose
ship or those same public servants might have helped the Premier out of a nasty
political problem.

servants ascend to the rank of Clerk of the Cabinet not because they lack
astuteness, are timid, or dumb, but for reasons quite opposite.

Deputy Ministers, by and large, are careful managers. They are appointed by the
Premier. They answer to him, not to the Minister.

Most Deputies
are capable of navigating Ministers, especially the dull hyper-partisans. Nick
McGrath was easily one of those.

is not normally a circus, either.  Ministers
don’t get to make $19 million decisions completely on their own, a fact to
which Julia Mullaley, the Cabinet Clerk, attested, even if her evidence seemed incomplete and
contrary; she having described the Premier’s reaction to McGrath’s decision as manifesting “upset”.

Minister Nick
McGrath told the PAC he did not inform cabinet. He said, “I just didn’t do
it. I had accepted the responsibility as a minister and I felt I was within the
realm of my responsibilities and duties as a minister. It didn’t seem important
to me at the time.”
Nick McGrath
is not believable; he never was.

But his
testimony serves to connect the evidence given by the Clerk and the Deputy

Here, too, believability
finds drag.

Brent Meade
said, he assumed that the former Premier and the Cabinet were in the loop.
He stated, “the
Clerk was not informed…and the reason is the context….I had a call from one
Minister and an interaction with my own Minister, the fact that I was having
the conversations outside the Cabinet Room and because I asked those questions:
should we move this up the line and are you aware of the political sensitivity
and the responses I received I was of the belief this issue had been discussed
in Cabinet.”

Brent Meade relied
on what he calls “context” and conversations with the Minister. Evidently, he
did not actually ask the Minister the pivotal question: did you inform the

If on no
other point, one would think that Meade would have been alarmed when McGrath
told him to “move on it today,” and “not to worry” about
any political fallout. Any dolt would have foreseen the political consequences, knowing on whose behalf the decision was taken.

When the PAC
asked him if he informed the Clerk, the Deputy said: “you see the Clerk because
you need to seek…authority… (and) “in this case the Minister had clear
authority”.  The second reason (to see
the Clerk) was to inform the Premier…because of the circumstances of that
day…it was my belief the Premier was aware of this decision…so, no, I did not
notify the Clerk on the 13th of March.”

Meade said
he reminded Nick McGrath of the “political sensitivity” of Coleman’s

So, Meade
clearly understood the gravitas of the issue.

The facts,
again, are these: a $19 million contract was awarded under the rules of the Public
Tender Act. McGrath ordered, unilaterally, (he says) the cancellation of the
contract and the return of two security bonds totalling $19 million. The
decision had no precedent. The recipient of the favour is a Company, until the
time of McGrath’s decision, headed by Frank Coleman, then publicly known to be
entering the race for the P.C. Leadership race, whose assets provided security for the bonds. The decision is described as urgent
by the Minister.  The Deputy is told to
“move on it today”.


relationship between Deputy Ministers and the Clerk is well understood.
Deputies know their very careers are on the line, if they embarrass the Premier
or bring the Administration into dispute. If a Minister is being dumb, he will warn
the Premier via the Clerk, or directly. In this case, he “makes a judgement
call” not to warn the Clerk.

Meade wants the
PAC to believe he would discard his career in favour of an assumption arrived
at, not by virtue of the questions he asked the Minister, but as a consequence of
the geographic location where the two spoke, i.e. outside the Cabinet room.

Not just
common sense, but ‘the rules of the game’, dictates that the ‘astute’ Deputy
would rise from his chair, having arranged to see the Clerk of the Cabinet, on
an urgent basis, and head for the elevators. 

He would
feel relieved that the “problem” would soon be placed on the shoulders of a more
senior bureaucrat; one enjoying a higher pay scale and the Premier’s frequent
ear.  After all, no Deputy gets fired for
having discharged their duty.

What about the
Clerk’s testimony?

When asked
how Tom Marshall reacted, Julia Mullaley said:
“From my
perspective he was quite upset,” because the decision was a “significant
issue”, one that was in the category of “requirement” to go before cabinet.

The Clerk
mentioned all the words that give the matter gravitas: “upset”, “significant
issue”, the “requirement” for a Cabinet decision.

Did any consequences
follow from Premier Tom Marshall’s insistence he was not informed?

There were

The Clerk
was not fired…even though the Deputy’s failure may easily have been seen as her
failure, too.

The Deputy
Minister was not fired or even demoted.

He is still
a Deputy Minister.

The Minister
wasn’t fired. (He didn’t quit until Premier Davis told him to quit or be fired,
following the A-G’s report.)

So, there
were no consequences following one of the most serious, crony connected,
conflicts-of-interest ever recorded in any Government of this Province. In
fact, a stronger Auditor General might have acquainted the RCMP with the file.

Paddon wrote in
his Report that the transportation minister “knowingly withheld
information” from Tom Marshall, regarding the contract’s cancellation. He
offered not a shred of evidence to support the claim. On the contrary, the
former Premier went so far as to state he supported Nick McGrath’s decision.

This is not the reaction of a Premier “upset’.

Perhaps, Julia Mullaley’s observations, like those of Brent Meade, were not so astute after all. 

I suggest the senior public service took a big hit during this meeting of the PAC.

Certainly, a supposedly
professional public service has seen better days.
Des Sullivan
Des Sullivan
St. John's, Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada Uncle Gnarley is hosted by Des Sullivan, of St. John's. He is a businessman engaged over three decades in real estate management and development companies and in retail. He is currently a Director of Dorset Investments Limited and Donovan Holdings Limited. During his early career he served as Executive Assistant to Premier's Frank D. Moores (1975-1979) and Brian Peckford (1979-1985). He also served as a Part-Time Board Member on the Canada-Newfoundland Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board (C-NLOPB). Uncle Gnarley appears on the masthead representing serious and unambiguous positions on NL politics and public policy. Uncle Gnarley is a fiscal conservative possessing distinctly liberal values and a non-partisan persusasion. Those values and opinions underlie this writer's views on NL's politics, economy and society. Uncle Gnarley publishes Monday mornings and more often when events warrant.


Bill left public life shortly after the signing of the Atlantic Accord and became a member of the Court of Appeal until his retirement in 2003. During his time on the court he was involved in a number of successful appeals which overturned wrongful convictions, for which he was recognized by Innocence Canada. Bill had a special place in his heart for the underdog.

Churchill Falls Explainer (Coles Notes version)

If CFLCo is required to maximize its profit, then CFLCo should sell its electricity to the highest bidder(s) on the most advantageous terms available.


This is the most important set of negotiations we have engaged in since the Atlantic Accord and Hibernia. Despite being a small jurisdiction we proved to be smart and nimble enough to negotiate good deals on both. They have stood the test of time and have resulted in billions of dollars in royalties and created an industry which represents over a quarter of our economy. Will we prove to be smart and nimble enough to do the same with the Upper Churchill?


  1. Too bad we can't what goes on between hired consultants and the government. We got lucky because this contract is subject to the Public Tender Act. Your readers should try to imagine what goes on with multi-millions of dollars in consulting contracts of every concievable type. From decisions made at the ministerial level on down to the construction site, our tax dollars are being spent for the extreme benefit of this province's economic, political, and social elite. If anyone thinks this is an exageration, make a freedom of i formation request to see the amount spent on design and engineering for buildings that have not, and in all likelihood will not, been built. These examples are the tip of the iceberg.

    John D Pippy

  2. We live in a sick society. Nepotism is the greatest threat to future, just as it shackled our past. This issue deserves a more indepth review by the RCMP. All the players should be questioned including Marshall, Coleman (Gene and Frank) as well as Danny Williams himself. Peoples tax dollars deserve more respect than this.

  3. And Paul Davis says we need to fear the Liberals. He and his cronies have made a mockery of our political system while at the same time squandering the public purse. This review is but another example of the little respect shown for electorate. You would have to be totally inept and lacking little or no grey matter to believe Nick McGrath's concocted story designed for no other reason than to protect the interests of the one person he viewed as his future boss.

  4. Paul Davis and Ryan Cleary will find a way to blame Quebec for all this. They don't trust people so well, oh so well, and they refuse to negotiate so fervently, on our behalf, on principle, God bless them CETA defenders! Coleman is closer to Quebec than St. John's. Fact. Blame Quebec? I have a theory. We all could have put a stop to this somehow but didn't. Because? We love it. Good governance is boring. A scandal is not. We love scandals and we get one. PC shills love OPM, and get to keep it. Win-Win.