Another brick not in the wall

Brian Jones
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Anyone who has been ripped off by a no-good contractor can sympathize, sort of, with the provincial government and its renovation woes at the Confederation Building.

When construction workers at Confederation Building took off the brick facade to replace windows, they found shoddy construction — especially around the top of the building — that added $4 million onto a project that has already ballooned over budget.— Submitted photo

Homeowners who have been given the runaround by a contractor — “We’ll be there next week to finish the job,” they told you a month ago — can take comfort, sort of, in the knowledge that none of the lies and ineptitude were their fault.

After all, if Joey Smallwood’s government could be ripped off by lazy, incompetent contractors, there’s not much chance a Newfoundland (or Labrador) livyer would experience anything different.

The ongoing renovations at Confederation Building have uncovered shoddy workmanship on Smallwood’s flagship phallic symbol. There is water leakage into the building, and rot. The estimated cost of replacing the windows has jumped to $56 million from $40 million.

Transportation and Works Minister Nick McGrath wins this week’s award for Most Expressive Euphemism with his statement that renovators have found “significant structural inappropriateness.”

In common language, some workers a half century ago apparently had the masonry skills of five-year-olds in a sandbox.

Imagine a scene from 1958. Workers are 200 feet up on scaffolding, applying bricks to the façade.

“There’s a big gap here,” says one.

“Just plug it,” says another.

A deputy minister described it this week as “very messy construction.” If even the provincial government can be susceptible to inept workmen, any hope that your contractor didn’t or won’t cut corners can pretty well be tossed out the window.

Of course, it is unfair to taint an entire industry because of a few leaks in political offices. But notice the strange silence of the builders’ association. At times like this, a wise approach is to shut up and hope nobody notices.

The trouble is, hundreds — perhaps thousands — of homeowners probably did notice. It’s not as if Joey was the first guy to have lousy caulking around his windows.

Rocky roads

“Messy construction” isn’t limited to buildings, unfortunately. Anyone who regularly uses the Outer Ring Road or the Prince Philip Parkway must marvel at the ruts that grab wheels as if they’re magnetized.

The Romans built roads that lasted centuries, but apparently Newfoundland (and Labrador) engineers are incapable of putting down pavement that won’t sink within a decade or two.

Some people have erroneously blamed the ruts on studded tires. This is illogical and false. If studded tires created them, the ruts would run the entire length of the pavement; i.e., where studded tires went, ruts would follow.

But the ruts appear only in certain sections of road.

The cause is not on the pavement, but below it. Roads, like buildings, need a good, solid foundation. Ruts appear when a section of road has a faulty foundation — or “structural inappropriateness,” as Nick McGrath might put it.

The people’s representatives have good cause to haul some road-builders into court for negligence, dereliction of duty, etc., but — as we have seen lately — the government has a bad habit of letting paving companies skip out on their obligations.

Name that price

Nalcor Energy is supposedly only three years away from throwing the switch at the spanking new Muskrat Falls hydroelectric plant.

And yet, at this late stage, the Crown agency can’t — or won’t — tell ratepayers how much their monthly power bills are estimated to rise when Muskrat’s juice begins to flow.

Nor can — or will — Nalcor tell the public how much its cost estimates for construction of the project have gone up.

Such secrecy is indefensible. But taxpayers can figure a few things out from experience. As with the renovations at the Confederation Building, and as with the construction of your back deck and/or additional room, building Muskrat Falls will cost considerably more than originally planned.

Brian Jones is a desk editor at The Telegram. He can be reached at

Organizations: Confederation Building, Crown agency, The Telegram

Geographic location: Newfoundland, Outer Ring Road, Prince Philip Parkway

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Recent comments

  • Yo mama
    June 07, 2014 - 06:53

    Excellent piece you need to "name and shame", and if you don't mind, do the same with shady residential contractors, I can give you a few names if you're interested.

  • Frankie Bircher
    June 07, 2014 - 06:45

     This is not the politician's house, it is Ours, the socially assisted tenants  are the civil servants, the politicians are not the owners nor operators at any measure, but only the bed bugs. Bed Bugs can't be blamed for bad masonry jointing, Engineers who think they are Hercules for donning a steel ring, or silly bored aproned, middle-aged-mr.dressups; silly Masonry. However, the venerable Hiram himself would fire down the square and compass and run from these!! Joey had a self esteem issue that the average liveyer didn't, the need to expediently  impress, and make creepy bedfellows to get it done; small wonder we are so infested to this day and no wonder Jones hangs this article on taking paving companies to court. Why not take the moose to court Brian? Oh, been done, anything but really undermine the bed bugs hey TC Media. What decent contractor do you know who would work within an infestation? Sorry Brian, you have a goofy charm, but you are not the Billy the Exterminator, or Billy Boot we need to fix this at the root. You are making this more complicated than it is, WHY? The People's Paper, or the bedbug's, er, I mean, the people's representatives?why name things like rivers and major roads after British War Mongers? Insects dominate the planet in # and in mass. We just need to eliminate these names to start the deinfestation, slowly. This master-word-jumble-builder's attempt at repair is rooted in insect vision! Nice try bug-eyes! Interview civil servants dude, we can all see the tarp...

  • Yo mama
    June 07, 2014 - 05:49

    Excellent piece you need to "name and shame", and if you don't mind, do the same with shady residential contractors, I can give you a few names if you're interested.

  • david
    June 06, 2014 - 18:26

    Confederation Bldg. should be celebrated as a provincial historic site, representing the very birthplace and time of the systemic practice of brazenly ripping off the NL government with shoddy work and inflated costs on dubious whims. Muskrat Falls will be the "piece de resistance" for the 21st century.

  • The Dicktionary
    June 06, 2014 - 17:13

    Facade - the false face of government, hidden by a white balaclava. Balaclava - the global standard preferred ski bunny appropriated criminal terrorist headgear. If some other app could cut the face&eyes out on photoshop, it would explain things...I'm a Dicktionaryme, not an image processor!!

  • Conspiracy Moose
    June 06, 2014 - 16:59

    Ball will be elected based on Trudeau's hair, not his difference from Coleman. Enjoy the Churchill river, Prince Phillips drive, and confederation hill Newfoundlanders, you earned it all with wicked, deadly democr- wait, you didn't vote on any of those awesome names? Oh, excuse me, wait, I can't understand you all at once, what ma'am, oh you didn't even really properly vote for confederation.OH?!? Ok, so, other than common British heritage, you are no more to the Crown or Canada than we, the moose are to you, something to exploit, or failing that, resent and blame and take to court. You all brought us here.MOOOOOOOOO. Geoengineering will remove us, and you all, after they experiment on your inbred DNA. MOOOOOoooooo.

  • Joe bLow
    June 06, 2014 - 16:05

    @ Roy, Seems as though Brian has touched a nerve with you eh? jer. del. wonders if you are not a closet PC supporter but I suspect you might be one of those "contractors/ builders"? Regardless, I think you are in for one hell of an eye opening when MF eventually comes online. Naturally there are going to be cost overruns, this a real but sad angle to the construction racket, not just in Newfoundland but everywhere. And when Nalcor comes forth at the end of the construction portion of the project, with a sheepish little grin on it's proverbial face with "the bill", God help us. You know somebody must pay and brother as sure as there is shit in a politician, that is going to be you and me. And pay heavily we will. If you use electric heat you can expect your power bill to double. This is not speculation, I'm sad to say this came form inside. I pay $252.80 a month on a regulated schedule and right now I'm preparing for that to be over $500.00 a month and this will be around the two year mark. Oh well, can't wait for those oil revenues to start rolling in.

  • jerome delaney
    June 06, 2014 - 12:20

    Roy, you have problems, we need a free press, to state their opinions and give us different perspectives than the government. If it was not for them , how much do you think the government would actually tell us. Roy you don't happen to be a PC supporter are you :)

  • Joebennett
    June 06, 2014 - 08:49

    To Roy - You won't be so smug with your comments when you receive your first light bill once MF is on stream. Jones is spot on and I hope he keeps this so called Govt on their toes until 2015.

  • Roy
    June 06, 2014 - 08:02

    Looks like Jones is some kind of "Beautiful Mind", a self appointed authority on everything including engineering. I wonder what kind of expert will he be imagining himself to be tomorrow.

    • Ken Collis
      June 06, 2014 - 14:46

      Roy, sometimes common sense and expierence should be used instead of experts. Does my expierence tell me that Muskrat will not be on budget and on time when I consider other Nalcor/NL Hydro/Government work? Yes it does!! Does common sense tell me that provincial roads are poorly built? Of course. Does St. John's need to put more money into snow clearing? Does not common sense dictate that it does. But yet, everyone seems to need an 'expert' tell them what you should be able to see with your own two eyes.