Politicians can’t seem
to figure out, like other people, that public servants, like other people, are offended
when the political leadership fails to tell the truth.

No one likes “cover up”.

Some readers may
remember the recent assertion, by the Minister of Transportation and Works,
that the discovery of the fuselage of an old military airplane was responsible for
the increased cost and delay to the new Virginia Park School Elementary School.

The CBC reported:
“Brazil said that safely removing the airplane required a lot of time and an
additional $6 million….securing the extra funding also held up the process.”
Other media gave similar reports.

David Brazil would have us
believe he was working hard to expose the former Fort Pepperell army dump site.
He was actually trying to bury a significant cost to the public purse,
knowledge of which he preferred people stayed ignorant.

“We’ve committed the
money, an additional $6 million, to do this. I’m moving the project fully
ahead” the CBC reported the Transportation and Works Minister, as if there was
no reason for concern the school was delayed.

Brazil was responding to
criticism from Peter Whittle, a member of the school council for the Elementary
School who suggested “poor project management” was responsible.
It turns out Whittle was

The truth is, finding the old airplane fuselage was irrelevant.   

Before I get into the
story, one reference point is worthy of note.

A few months prior to
the tender award to Marco Construction, another contractor, Bursey Excavating
and Development, was the lowest bidder on a Tender on the same project, which included
only the site work. The bid price was $640,000. For reasons unexplained,
Government cancelled the Tender and started over.

The new Tender, in
addition to site preparation, included the foundation and the structural steel
for the school.

But the $640,000 price will
look like a darn good deal as the full story unfolds.

On July 25, 2014 the expanded
Tender was awarded to Marco Construction. The value of the award was $2.95 million (HST not included). It
would get the Virginia Park Elementary School under way.

The site had
contamination problems, which were known when the first Tender was issued.
By the middle of August 2014,
testing was underway to locate the boundaries of heavy metal contamination at
the old dump site.  

The Transportation and
Works Department was advised, by Marco, that more heavy metals were encountered
than expected, but no quantities were provided.

Additional materials
were removed August 16 to the 18th.

Then, on August 20th
the Transportation and Works Department issued approval to the contractor
to begin removing materials containing asbestos.

On August 26th,
sources state, the contractor provided the Department with information regarding
the quantities of asbestos contaminated materials it had removed up to August

The estimated cost was over
$1.8 million.

Had the government
received a bill for even a little more, the amount would have been good news!

But the project was about
to take a strange turn.

An official of the
Department authorized the contractor to continue removing the asbestos
contaminated materials. 
The work proceeded at a
fast pace.
Informed sources advise
that dump trucks were lined up for 3 days, 24 hours per day, for the purpose of
removing the additional material from the site. 
When bureaucrats
returned to their Offices, from the Labour Day weekend, they were faced with a huge
bill, described in a “Request for Change Order”.
Within just those few days,
the cost of removal of the contaminated soil had jumped to $7,870,949 according
to the Company’s Progress Claim dated August 31, 2014 received by the
Added to the original
Bid price of $2.95 million, the government was on the hook for a total bill,
for Phase 1 of the school, amounting to $10,821,000.
The original Bursey Bid of $640,000, in contrast, sure looked like a steal! 
Ministry officials went
into panic mode.
The Minister became
involved; reportedly, the Cabinet, too.
Then, something
unexplained occurred.
The $7.8 million figure was negotiated down to just over $4.8 million.
According to informed
sources, the contractor was in a legal position to invoice the government for
the larger figure. Yet, a “quid pro quo” was negotiated.
The literal Latin
translation for the familiar working term “quid pro quo” is “something for
something”, or an exchange of goods.
We don’t know on what
basis the Government and the contractor agreed to a $3.0 million write-down;
but that is a question that needs an answer.
While sources have
provided some information to explain the settlement, sufficient detail is still lacking..
The next question is:
how does three days of soil removal cause a bill of over $6 million (in
addition to the $1.8 million estimate for the quantities removed earlier)? 
How could such a large amount of money get spent when the Transportation
and Works Department was not even aware a bill of such size was on the way?
The short answer, the
Blog has learned, is bureaucratic incompetence.

The job of an owner (in
this case the government) is to protect its interest. That is not the job of contractors.
They will look out for their own interests.

But in the case of the site
work for the Virginia Park School, the Government failed to perform even basic
due diligence.

The removal of different
types of contaminated soil is very expensive. Based on the Tender documents,
one type of asbestos removal is $2,400 per cubic meter. Soil containing heavy
metals cost $800 per cubic meter to remove.

When quantities are not
capped, as they were not in this Tender, costs can increase very quickly; in
the absence of oversight, they can sky rocket.

When oversight is
absent, the government does not even get a chance to consider if it needs an
alternative site development strategy, if it needs an alternative site, or if the amount
and type of fill removed is properly assessed.

Standard management
practice is that the Consultant has defined the quantities which require
removal. Alternatively, an Inspector, representating the Owner, oversees the removal operation, performs a count of the haulage and
confirms how many truck loads fall in to the contaminated or uncontaminated

That is basic.

At Virginia Park
Elementary, those basic oversight practices were ignored.

On-site inspectors would
have noticed the unusual excavation activity and warned officials to install
proper protocols long before the $7.8 million bill arrived.

So, incompetence
explains the huge Invoice the Government received.

But it does not explain
the $3 million write down.

It does not reveal why the
Minister had to engage in a “cover-up”; telling the media removal of an old
buried fuselage was the cause of the overruns and the delay.

“We’ve been accused
to a point of saying we’re playing politics here or we’re stopping the school.
Nothing could be farther than the truth,” said Brazil.

What is the farthest
from the truth just happens to be ….what Minister David Brazil would have us

Now, it is time for Minister
Brazil to come clean.

Perhaps, the Minister
will also tell us:

       if any member of his department
was penalized for this egregious oversight?

       Why the initial Tender
which attracted a Bid of $640,000 was not accepted (when that Bidder, except as a sub-contractor, performed the site work, anyway)?

       What was traded-off in
order to reduce the contractor’s Invoice by $3 million?

Minister Brazil, just
tell us the truth. 
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?