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Inquiry needed into infrastructure waste

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08Apr

By: Graham Lane
Posted 04/8/2016

Premier Selinger isn’t being truthful when be boasts the floodway expansion was completed on time and on budget. The expensive part of the planned expansion involved rebuilding 10 bridges that crossed the floodway. The budget was passed in 2003; all 10 were to be re-built to the same proper standards. Some years later, when it became clear to the NDP that all 10 bridges could not be built within the budget, their “fix” was to cancel four and cut two lanes down to one on two others.

This is the same as contracting for a 1,200 square foot home and attached garage only to get an 800 square foot home with no garage, but for the same price. However, as no one lives in the floodway there is no one to see how much of the original design was dropped.

The floodway was a disaster contingency project designed to protect against the worst floods seen in 500 years. Now, we are left with only six bridges that can withstand that level of water and four that cannot. Selinger simply ignores the unfinished work while “proudly” claiming the project was done on time and budget.

When the project was approved in 2003, the targeted completion date was 2009. Instead, with several delays the floodway was still being “finished” in 2013. Continuing the house analogy, it is like the contractor who promised to build your house and garage in six months was actually still at it two years later. It seems because Selinger approved the time extension he falsely claims the work was completed on time.

So, how did only 60% of the bridges get built with the funds allocated? The NDP hired Ernie Gilroy, a former insurance salesman, in 2003 on a one-year contract to oversee the awarding of the floodway contracts. To appease the union bosses (always a key NDP requirement for any tendered work), all contractors bidding on the project had to agree to pay and follow union wages, union dues and union work guidelines. Gilroy’s one-year contract turned into a 13-year career. He now runs the East Side Road Authority, where he tries his best to impose the same floodway labour contract conditions on its contractors and workforce.

As almost all Manitoba heavy earth moving contractors are open shop (not unionized), this means they had to either comply with the floodway bidding requirements or refuse to bid. Out of a belief that the NDP would not enforce their unionized will onto local industry, most local contractors, expecting that the onerous conditions would be removed, refused to bid. But it wasn’t.

So, the heavy earth moving work was awarded to out-of-province unionized contractors, and at much higher costs. Local industry experts estimate that this added about $60 million to 80 million extra over what it would have cost if the NDP and Gilroy had allowed local open shop contractors to bid without having to add forced union dues and productivity-draining terms. For the NDP, sticking with union bosses were more important than saving taxpayers millions and building what was needed.

An inquiry into all major infrastructure projects controlled by the NDP is needed.

— Graham Lane leads Manitoba Forward (www.manitobaforward.ca); coauthor Doug Petrick P.Eng. is senior VP of FWS Construction.

Republished from the Winnipeg Sun online edition April 7, 2016.

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