Central Newfoundland towns lament construction delays caused by prolonged election

·4 min read

In an ideal world, the Town of Gander would be finishing its new sports multiplex facility in the latter stages of 2021.

A $4.5-million facility that was announced in October 2020, it is set to have a FIFA regulation soccer pitch and a rubberized walking track.

Now, the town fears the completion of that project will be delayed because of the delay in the issuing of tenders related to the construction of the facility.

And the delays have to do with the provincial election, the town's mayor says.

“At this point, I don’t see any possibility that we’ll have anything that is usable in time for this soccer season and so on,” said Gander Mayor Percy Farwell. “If we had a contractor at the ready … we probably did have a reasonable shot at getting it completed, at least during this construction season.”

When an election is called and the House of Assembly is dissolved, the provincial government enters into something called the caretaker convention — a basic idling of government during an election period, with incumbent ministers in a caretaker role should they be needed until the new provincial government is sworn in.

Farwell says this also ensures the basic function of government until the end of the election and a new government is put in place.

The caretaker convention was supposed to end after the original Feb. 13 election day, but that has since been extended, as in-person voting was suspended because of the COVID-19 outbreak, and then mail-in voting only was imposed, with the deadline for those ballots to be postmarked set for March 12.

Still, there's concern voting counts and challenges to results may extend the caretaker government even further.

With that possibility, Farwell says he fears the sports facility, and other projects in the town, will not be completed as the town would have hoped.

“We are in an indefinite election period,” said Farwell. “It is not just the Town of Gander’s projects. It is everybody’s projects.”

It is not only Gander that could delay construction — Farwell says there are towns in the province waiting to start projects to help with boil-water orders, the federal wastewater regulations and roadwork, as well as other projects.

These would all be projects for which funding has previously been announced.

One of the towns that has similar concerns about the delays is Grand Falls-Windsor.

Like Gander, Grand Falls-Windsor has concerns about the effect delays in the tendering process will have on the construction process, as well as the funding structure of the province's multi-year capital works program.

That program comes in three-year blocks and allows larger municipalities to avail of funding for that period. As the name suggests, the town can make multiple-year commitments to completing projects.

Grand Falls-Windsor Mayor Barry Manuel said most of the work that was completed in the town in 2020 was left over from the previous year.

He said the town often has to wait later and later to get approval for capital works funding, which pushes the rest of the timeline for that year further down the line.

It can become problematic for planning, he says.

“With regards to this year, we can expect it to be even worse because of the election delays and the government caretaker mode,” said Manuel. “We certainly would expect that if and when we get capital work approval, that it will be late again and we’d be running into the same issues with regards to getting work actually started and all of the stuff that has to be done to get it to that point.

“So, yeah, we’re concerned and we’ve expressed that concern.”

In a prepared statement provided to SaltWire Network, the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure said the impact of any tenders it plans to issue must be considered by the government during the caretaker period.

That consideration should also include the impact of waiting until the end of the caretaker period before starting work and how that will impact the progress of projects, the department stated.

“We understand the concerns municipalities may have regarding municipal capital projects being completed this construction season,” read the emailed statement. “In light of the extended caretaker period, the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure will begin issuing some tenders this week. Each project will be reviewed individually.

"That review will take into account previously announced projects, and projects that could be substantially delayed if a tender is issued once the caretaker period ends, as well as projects that affect health and safety, will all receive the highest consideration when tenders are issued."

Nicholas Mercer, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Central Voice