The entrance to Nalcor Energy on Hydro Place, off Columbus Drive in St. John’s, is marked by a sign that the Liberals say cost too much. — Gary Hebbard/The Telegram
Nalcor spent almost $100,000 on headquarter signage, and the Opposition believes that’s a signal of how unaccountable the Crown corporation is becoming.
“There’s no private company in this province that would spend that kind of money on new signs,” says Liberal critic Marshall Dean.
“They’re acting like a big, private corporation, but unlike a private company that has to earn its income, Nalcor has the luxury of being able to always turn a profit (as a government-owned utility).”
Documents obtained by The Telegram indicate the province’s energy corporation paid $98,000 for roof, entrance and roadway signs at Hydro Place, off Columbus Drive in St. John’s.
The sum was part of the nearly $325,000 Nalcor spent on branding and signage between 2008 and 2010.
While Dean suggests the signs signal excess, Nalcor’s manager of corporate communications says that was the lowest price from a tender call.
“We went to the local marketplace as we did with brand development,” says Dawn Dalley.
“I can’t tell you whether I was up in Calgary or Toronto I would have gotten that any less expensively.”
She adds it was important to mark the building with signage and Nalcor was cost conscious in doing so.
“An example of how we tried to moderate this: our plan was to put another sign up on Williams Drive, around the other side of the building, and when we got the prices back, we went, ‘You know what, we probably don’t need that.’ ”
But going to tender and being prudent are not the only important factors to Dean.
“Due diligence is one thing, but is it necessary to spend that amount of money?” he asks. “They could tender for a $1-million sign, but that doesn’t make it right.”
Regarding the money pumped into branding, Dalley points out Nalcor was a new company at the time and needed a name, brand and the standard things involved with establishing corporate identity. Again, she says its approach was responsible.
“We went to market and did some research before we started this exercise, and to be frank, we thought it would be much more. … We looked at other like-minded companies that had similar experience. The mid-range was around half-a-million dollars. So what we did — and I think we did it — we tried very hard to be very moderate in our approach, very modest in how we did it. We did a lot of stuff internally.”
She adds Nalcor also pressed the marketing company to be as prudent as possible.
Dalley notes the brand has received positive feedback and she believes Nalcor got good value for its money.
Nonetheless, Dean says, Nalcor seems to be a company where money doesn’t seem to be a problem.
He wonders what other expenditures there are to question and notes the Liberals are concerned about the difficulty in getting such information from the Crown corporation.
“What else is there that we don’t know? We’ve been calling on government to open the books of Nalcor. Let the auditor general in. Let’s see exactly where they are spending money. There’s probably a much larger debate there.”