Shooting the messenger gets you nowhere

Peter Jackson
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In the spring of 2008, a testy Danny Williams was answering questions during a media scrum at Confederation Building.

Premier-in-waiting Frank Coleman speaks to reporters in the lobby of Confederation Building Wednesday following a meeting with the PC party caucus. — Photo by James McLeod/The Telegram

CBC reporter David Cochrane was prodding the then premier about a controversial fundraising dinner being held in honour of outgoing St. John’s mayor Andy Wells. Williams suddenly snapped.

“You’re cut off,” he said, looking at Cochrane. When the scrum ended, the premier turned to his communications director and pointed at Cochrane. “Make sure he gets cut off.”

In the annals of politicians threatening journalists, it was not the worst thing that could have happened.

In fact, lashing out at the media is nothing new. When things aren’t going well, it’s always tempting to shoot the messenger.

A new premier will be taking the reins in a few weeks, and he obviously has no experience handling the slings and arrows of public scrutiny. When the questions get tough, he doesn’t know how to handle it, other than to follow his mentor’s lead.

It’s no secret Frank Coleman and Danny Williams are kindred spirits. Williams endorsed Coleman for the PC leadership, and the premier-in-waiting has even started to talk like Williams.

“Nothing could be further from the truth,” Coleman told The Telegram Monday in attacking CBC coverage of the controversial Humber Valley Paving contract.

If the interview were an episode of “Scooby Doo,” someone could have pulled an elaborate disguise off his head, revealing the former premier underneath.

Coleman says the CBC offered a “gross misinterpretation” of his connection to Humber Valley Paving and the fact that the company was excused from finishing a project in Labrador without penalty.

Transportation Minister Nick McGrath waived a pair of bonds valued at about $19 million when the contract was cancelled in May. Coleman has maintained he was free and clear of the company by this point.

But in an interview with CBC aired over the weekend, he said he was a personal guarantor for the bonds put up as insurance. That means he would have been on the hook had they not been released.

Coleman told CBC that cancelling the contract was not the only course of action available. “The company would have had other options, either to complete the work or to sell the work,” he said.

But that isn’t what happened. And that’s the whole point.

Talking to The Telegram’s James McLeod, Coleman countered that the government wasn’t in a position to call the bond. He said the job was about two-thirds completed and the company could have finished the job.

“There was maybe six or seven million dollars left on the job. We could have finished the job. It was not in default,” he told The Telegram.

But CBC hadn’t suggested the entire amount was at stake. In its online story, the broadcaster said Coleman and other shareholders “could have ended up paying up to $20 million.”

Meanwhile, Nick McGrath is receiving no end of heat on the matter, both in the House of Assembly and out.

Surety Association Canada issued a release Monday saying the minister’s understanding of how contract bonds work is muddy at best.

Essentially, bonds are there to reimburse the government and/or subcontractors if the company defaults on its obligations. The Association says McGrath is wrong to suggest calling in the bonds would have caused extra delays and expense. In fact, it would have been the other way around.

There is one important mitigating factor in all this. Humber Valley’s work was impeded by forest fires along the route. So there was at least one reason to perhaps give them a break.

But people really need to start getting their stories straight. And when they don’t, bashing the media is hardly going to solve anything.

NDP Leader Lorraine Michael had perhaps the best take on the matter. Let the auditor general sort it all out in his review, she said.

Let’s hope she’s right.


Peter Jackson is The Telegram’s

commentary editor.


Twitter: @pjackson_NL. Follow his daily forum Naked Lunch, 12:30 weekdays




Organizations: CBC, Cochrane, PC Association Canada

Geographic location: Labrador, Humber Valley

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Recent comments

  • Corporate Psycho
    May 28, 2014 - 16:43

    This whole thing just reeks. The Coleman train wreck continues. McGrath is looking real bad. His goose is cooked. Coleman should just get it over with and rename it the Danny Party.

  • Maxwell J.
    May 28, 2014 - 14:34

    Had government not stepped in to release HVP from its surety, no doubt Coleman would have taken steps to mitigate his losses. It might mean, as he says, completing the work themselves, sub-contracting it, or even going to court to argue force-majeure (long shot though it might be). That said, it is highly unlikely that HVP could have stayed on their original budget (otherwise they would completed and realized their full profit). It is almost certain that no other party could do it this year for near the amount cited by Coleman. There is a large incremental cost associated with re-starting a road project the following year (constructed sections left unpaved typically have to be re-worked), a new contractor will rarely look at picking up the pieces without a significant margin of comfort and a substantial profit of their own. It has also been reported that asphalt prices are up some 37% this year over last. Inevitably Coleman personally would have been on the hook for at least part of that surety. Would the concession made to a PC insider - a premier-in-waiting - have been extended to any other contractor. That's part of the issue the AG must address - hopefully very soon, before this becomes a major distraction for government, Premier Coleman, and for that matter the public. Whatever the AG concludes about the underlying justification for government's decision to return the sureties, one thing is almost certain - he will decry the manner in which it was done. That in itself will cast a shadow on this government and on the credibility of the incoming leader.

  • Democracy
    May 28, 2014 - 13:41

    Given the keen interest by a number of Telegram readers on this issue , I would think it interesting if the Telegram were to conduct a poll asking readers to vote " yes" or "no" as to whether or not Frank Coleman should step aside and allow a more democratic process in determining who should be the next premier of the province. It would also be interesting to see whether or not readers think he gained personally from the backroom deal re; paving work in Labrador.

  • Gerald.
    May 28, 2014 - 13:00

    The current governing party is DOOMED...DOOMED...DOOMED. They have been setting the stage for the depths of their oblivion. I am puzzled by the seemingly self-destructive abyss they are creating for themselves. The only possible scenario which could help them recover a respectable level of credibility is to convince Frank Coleman to resign and return to operating his business enterprises. If that were to happen the process of selecting a new leader could begin again and hopefully strong, credible, charismatic, honest, well-educated, leadership material candidates would be enticed to come forward in a truly competitive race to lead the party. If things remain as they now are the party is DOOMED....DOOMED .DOOMED. Surely they must know that.

  • Sam
    May 28, 2014 - 11:58

    First of all I'm encouraged to see the Telegram give solid coverage on this issue. I agree with all the points contained in this article and the comments made by others. The people of this province deserve better than this kind of mismanagement of public funds. And to then see the Frank Coleman take over as premier without even as much as contest, it speaks volumes. Danny Williams by his actions has made a mockery of the democratic process in this province. Bad enough that he's done this, but one has to then look at the outcome. Kathy Dunderdale had to be removed from office, Tom Marshall is in the job but doesn't want it and now the ordained Frank Coleman is about to take over the top job within the province never having held public office before. If Frank Coleman dislikes the media coverage he's getting, I strongly suggest he walk away and in doing so tell the other Clown McGrath with him.

  • ABPC
    May 28, 2014 - 10:15

    All it takes is one person and it's really too bad that good people don't step forward to become politicians but it's also totally understandable why they don't.

  • guy incognito
    May 28, 2014 - 08:12

    King Danny was the ultimate bully/sook.

  • Laughable
    May 28, 2014 - 05:51

    Don't let Humber Valley paving, bid on anymore Government contract.

  • citizen kane
    May 28, 2014 - 04:46

    The only consistent thing about this whole mess is that McGrath's message and Colemen's keep changing as more comes out. It is obvious to most now that something underhanded happened here, only the scope of it is yet to be determined. We have a transportation minister who has no clue about how bonds work. He should resign and just go away. Frank Colemen already has his staff running the legislature when he is at this point nothing more than a private citizen. Tom Marshall should be ashamed of himself, in as much as that is possible. What a bunch of clowns these PC's are showing themselves to be. Call the election so we can throw you bums out on the street where you belong.