Soon-to-be-premier Frank Coleman says there’s nothing untoward about a deal that saw his former company given different treatment by his soon-to-be caucus mates. And maybe it looks that way from his side of the fence.
But after listening to Monday’s House of Assembly performance by Transportation Minister Nick McGrath, there sure is a lot that has to be explained.
Take this curious statement from McGrath: “I will say unequivocally that at no time have I ever had a conversation, as the minister of Transportation and Works, at no time have I ever had a conversation with Frank Coleman concerning Happy Valley-Goose Bay.”
With all due respect, that sounds like it was written for McGrath by a lawyer — especially because, later in question period, he used the same peculiarly constructed sentence again: “Again, Mr. Speaker, as I said unequivocally, never — never — have I had, as the minister of Transportation and Works, a conversation with Mr. Frank Coleman concerning this issue.”
Later, McGrath clarified the muddle, saying he didn’t ever talk to Coleman about the issue.
But even those strange and unequivocal constructions were better than a later comment, that reads like it was constructed deliberately to confuse: “(It) was on March 13 that the company had first approached government to enter into a verbal conversation to move forward to make a decision whether or not there could be a mutual agreement that termination of the contract would be in the best interest of the government, the people of Newfoundland and Labrador, as well as the contractor in question here now.”
Asked about whether he had talked to Premier Tom Marshall about the issue, Minister McGrath continued to provide bafflingly structured explanations: “Mr. Speaker, I have many conversations with the premier as well as the cabinet and caucus, and verbal conversations. I will not say that I did not have a conversation with the premier concerning this because, as I said, I have conversations almost on a daily basis, especially with cabinet. There is no written documentation as there was not with Humber Valley Paving. On March 13 they approached us to see if we could have a discussion, whether or not it was possible to move into negotiations to terminate this contract.”
So did he talk to the premier or not? He “will not say that I did not.”
Does that mean he did? McGrath has “many conversations … and verbal conversations.” Does this mean he also has non-verbal conversations? They can’t be by email — “there is no written documentation.”
All in all, it sound like a minister well in over his head in a case that grows more curious every day.
What’s missing in all this is clarity.
This requires a good deal more review, and review that’s done by someone independent of the political process, like the province’s auditor general.