"We can't allow things that are inaccurate to stand." — The Word of Our Dan, February 19, 2008.

Friday, March 14, 2008

The Trans-Labrador Lieway

Last June 18, then-transportation Minister John Hickey took the editor of The Aurora to task for being “dead wrong” in an editorial about what, to her eyes, were broken promises to Labrador by the provincial government.

Zeroing in on her comments conerning the Trans-Labrador Highway, Minister Hickey wrote:

This government will invest $100 million over the five-year life of this project, which will eventually see hard-surfacing of the entire Trans Labrador Highway from Labrador City-Wabush to Happy Valley-Goose Bay.
A few days later, he reinforced the point in a press release:

The Provincial Government eventually plans to hard-surface the entire Trans Labrador Highway from Labrador City-Wabush to Happy Valley-Goose Bay and expects the federal government to cost-share the $100 million, five-year project.
(Clever use of the word “entire” to describe the TLH between Labrador City-Wabush and Happy Valley-Goose Bay, when the “entire” Trans-Labrador Highway contines on to L’anse au Clair, but anyway…)

The $100-million figure was reported as factual by, for instance, the Northern Pen of July 3:

The province says it plans to hard-surface the entire Trans Labrador Highway from Labrador City-Wabush to Happy Valley-Goose Bay and expects the federal government to cost-share the $100-million, five-year project.
So, well before the fixed election campaign of September and October, the nice, large, round, many-zeroed figure of One! HUNDRED! MILLION! DOLLARS! was well-established in the popular imagination.

So much so, that Williams Government began to believe it itself.

Flip ahead to the December announcement of the federal-provincial infrastructure deal.

On December 17th, the two governments announced, among other things:

The governments of Canada and Newfoundland and Labrador today also jointly announced that improvements to the Trans Labrador Highway and upgrading of the Argentia Access Road will be among the first funding priorities under Building Canada. The Government of Canada will provide up to $51.5 million, representing a maximum of 50 per cent of total eligible costs of these initiatives, after the successful conclusion and signing of a base funding agreement.
Inside twenty-four hours, the list of projects covered under that envelope had already expanded:

Minister Whelan says that while she is pleased the Federal Government agreed yesterday to cost-share hard-surfacing of the Trans Labrador Highway (TLH), improve the Argentia Access Road and extend the Conception Bay South (C.B.S.) By-Pass, she is requesting the Federal Government be ready to move the projects forward in the spring.
On the federal end, Loyola Hearn, on the day of the Big Announcement, referred to “extra roads” that were wanted to be “done” with that pot of money. Here and now, in March, it’s still not certain whether the Argentia and CBS projects are the entirety of that list of “extra roads”, or whether there are yet other claimants for a part of the booty.

The amount of cost-shared money for which the TLH project is eligible is $100-million, and in fact a bit more: $51.5-million × 2 = $103-million.

However, it was clear, from the day of the announcement, that the TLH would be but one of the several, if not numerous, highways projects to be splitting that pot of money.

Simple logic and arithmetic — you don’t even need to be as smart as a Fifth Grader — tell you that the amount for the TLH is going to be less than $100-million.

But did logic or math stop anyone from claiming it would be?

Of course not.

So on December 18th, you have VOCM reporting, uncritically:

Two hundred kilometres of the TLH will be widened, while some forty kilometres will receive hardtop at a cost of $100-million, split fifty-fifty between the two levels of government.
You have David Cochrane of the CBC, in his legislative report, breathless and without question:

The big one for Labrador is the Trans-Labrador Highway, this is the stretch of road between Lab City, Churchill Falls, and Happy Valley-Goose Bay, it’s $100-million to hard top that, put a hard surface on it, the province has said its money is there today, the feds came up with their money. So that’s 100-plus million dollars that’s gonna be done on that.
Not just $100-million, $100-PLUS million!

Following — what else? — a call-in appearance, VOCM reports on New Year’s Eve:

Transportation Minister Dianne Whalen says government is committed to completing the Trans Labrador Highway. Government recently signed a cost sharing agreement with the federal government to the tune of $100-million to widen and pave a portion of the road. Whalen says if that money is not sufficient to finish the project, government will consider its options.
On January 7th, The Aurora and The Labradorian quote Labrador City mayor Graham Letto:

"The first two projects that they announced would go ahead were $100 million shared 50-50 with the province for Phase I of the Trans Labrador Highway to complete the hard-surfacing between Labrador West and Happy Valley-Goose Bay, and the second part included the upgrading of the Argentia access road," Mr. Letto explained.
Like Whalen, he states, plainly, that it’s $100-million for the TLH.

But just days later, and almost un-noticed — it’s hard to stop that “$100-million” juggernaut when you’re the one who set it in motion — the belated attempt begins, more to downplay expectations than grudgingly correct the record. Whalen announces, on January 10th:

Included in the $182 million overall total in provincial road funding this year are $17 million for construction of Phase III of the Trans Labrador Highway, $5 million in carry-over from widening and hard-surfacing of Phase I of the Trans Labrador Highway last summer and $3 million in carry over from the 2007-08 Provincial Roads Improvement Program.

The Provincial and Federal Government will also cost-share, on a 50-50 basis, the following projects:
$40 million for hard-surfacing of Phase I of the Trans Labrador Highway;

Not $100-million.


The next day, in the daily papers, Steve Bartlett reports:

On Thursday, the minister of Transportation and Works announced government will spend more than $175 million to improve roads on the island and in Labrador.

The Trans Labrador Highway will get a decent chunk of the $175 million through different programs. The province will spend more than $17 million on various parts of that highway and cost-share $40 million with Ottawa for the hard-surfacing of Phase I.
Again: $40-million.

Not $100-million.


On Thursday, the province “upped” that figure to $45-million by triple-announcing $5-million worth of last year’s money:

The Provincial and Federal Governments are cost-sharing $45 million for hard-surfacing of Phase I of the TLH, while the Provincial Government is also investing $17 million for construction of Phase III.
$5-million of that $45-million is a carry-over; the fed/prov cost-shared portion is, again, $40-million.

Not $100-million.


Even $100-million, after deducting the costs of widening that are magically lumped into “hard-topping”, that “hard-topping” is going to have to be chip-seal for the dollar values and distances involved.

At $40-million — which is less than $100-million — you are not just talking the oft-derided “cheap seal”, you are talking about “cheap sealing” only a fraction of Phase I of the Trans-Labrador Highway – certainly not about completing Phase I, let alone the entire TLH from Labrador City to the Straits.

Simple logic and math, at the time of the December announcement, would have immediately cast cold water on the “$100-million Trans-Labrador Highway” hype, at least for anyone smart enough to think or read for themselves.

Certainly, after the quiet January 10th correction, there should have been no excuse for bandying about the imaginary $100-million cheque as if it were real.

But there, in the March 3 edition of The Aurora, and the March 2 edition of 53 North, you have Labrador West MHA Jim Baker claiming:

Our government along with the federal government on a 50/50 basis has committed to complete the widening and hard surfacing of the TLH at a cost of $100 million.
It is very clear from the nature of the December announcement that, even in the months leading up to it, there was never a deal for $100-million for the TLH on its own.

It became abundantly clear, even to the stone-cold stunned, the willing believers, or the proxies, back in January.

Those in the media who reported that $100-million figure in December, uncritically and without question, were, at best, very, very sloppy in their work.

And those provincial political figures who built up the “$100-million” hype in advance, and kept the myth alive for as long as they could, even after the responsible minister slunk away from it?

Well, they were, and are, liars, pure and simple.


At 10:34 AM, March 14, 2008 , Blogger Mark said...


Nah, as Jim Flaherty notes, "we're not in the pothole business..."

At 2:17 PM, March 14, 2008 , Blogger Charles Cheeseman said...

Since I started reading this blog about the TLH delays and misleading funding information almost two years ago, I still wonder why this issue you describe in good detail, is not a big story in the media. Guess many don't want to get in the bad books with gov. This long and winding unfinished road history is Fifth Estate material.


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