Denial, deflect, discredit.

When I published the photos of the conditions of just three of the 219 retaining walls on the Sea to Sky Highway last year, the Ministry of Transportation said the issue was merely cosmetic, and that the walls are inspected annually. 

Then the news that in fact a fourth retaining wall needed significant  structural repairs such as soil anchors installed, along with a new reinforced wall face. Work would take 6 months. Residents below the wall were rightfully angry at the inconvenience,and distrustful of the contradiction between the need for repairs… and the word that everything was fine.

NDP transportation critic Claire Trevena had some questions for Transportation Minister Todd Stone in the legislature earlier this week, and I promised a transcript for you. Better yet,Ms.Trevena has posted a video so that you may see for yourself the questions Ms. Trevena asked… and the answers Mr. Stone gave.

I’m not sure whose questions he was answering,but they certainly weren’t the ones she was asking.

This is your government in action. He denied, deflected and then tried to discredit because he did not want to answer these questions. Nor was he ordered to answer the question despite his foray into the Netherlands of his mapped route of deflection.

It wasn’t until much later that Minister Stone advised media Kiewit and the S2S Transportation Group  would be covering all the costs for the repairs,and that ” making repairs like this to a project just five years after its completion is normal.

Actually, according to project documents, the design lifespan for these retaining walls is 75 years:

Pg 6 herehttp://www.partnershipsbc.ca/pdf/sts-construction-drawings-16-nov-06.pdf

Pg 4 here: http://conf.tac-atc.ca/english/resourcecentre/readingroom/conference/conf2009/pdf/Holmes.pdf

Installing soil anchors that help hold the wall in place, and building an entirely new reinforced wall face, are not normal, routine repairs. It would be comparable to buying a brand new home only to move in and a year later, find out the foundation needs to be re-done.

Would you consider that normal? No.

And lets not forget those Ministry of Transportation emails I have contradicting the first public claim that walls are inspected annually – made last year – and Stones new statement that staff are inspecting things daily around the province.

Or that according to that same Ministry employee, Kiewit found no changes or anything of concern with the walls in question.

Which is more than likely the reason why Kiewit and the S2S Transportation Group is on the hook now which for what is clearly a defective wall.

Some of you might be wondering why this matters, or why this really pisses me off so much, so let me tell you. If you don’t care, move along.

I’ve always been a bit of a policy wonk who endlessly thinks of ways to make a better province. So, back in 2008 when I was really more than a bit peeved that the Golden Ears and the Port Mann was to be tolled, while the Sea to Sky highway was not, I started doing some research to find out why those decisions were made.

In my view then, it was ridiculous that the Golden Ears was tolled while the Sea to Sky was not. A responsible government would take advantage of the traffic out to one of our most scenic drives and tourist destinations, make it resident/business exempt and charge tolls: you want to play, you have to pay. I feel the same way now,but sadly the last Liberal government signed away the right to toll that highway on the P3 contract.

By October 2009, still developing my contacts and sources, I had yet to find out why that highway wasn’t tolled. And again, I called for tolls on that highway as a source of revenue for this province.   ( of course no one listened to me back then, I was just a blogger… : )
It wasn’t until 2010 that sources in the industry revealed to me the reason why it was never tolled… and never would be until the contract with the P3 partner was up.

And that was the beginning of the now infamous Shadow Toll series that ended up receiving national coverage courtesy of Mark Hume of the Globe and Mail. 

I had received confidential documents from insiders to the deal that had  signed confidentiality agreements not to speak about the project details until it was done. And when it was done, they revealed all, in conferences, in bulletins and much more. Financiers bragged of the lucrative nature of the shadow tolls… something our government affectionately refers to as ” vehicle usage payments”.  The private partner makes so much money on this highway, that the financer sold their share to a private fund a couple of years ago.

Now, every time you or I drive that highway, we inadvertently help make a reliable and strong rate of return on other people’s retirement investments. In a wobbly world economy, P3 projects like this highway are considered a very safe investment.

But I digress.

In the face of all this documented, now public evidence,  our government when confronted, lied to the press, taking advantage of the lack of specific industry and contract terminology knowledge they had. They said it wasn’t true.

I couldn’t believe it. (If you care to spend a bit of time rehashing all of it, head over to the Best Of page where  it is still listed. https://lailayuile.com/best-of/)

There were more stories uncovered that again, were denied, deflected and the effort to discredit was intense. And it still is whenever a column or blog post hits home. Reporters often like to say when the fire is incoming over your shoulder you know you are close to your target: there is trash talk, there are rumours,anything to deflect the attention from the story at hand.

Just like Todd Stones response to Claire Trevena. He won’t simply say the contractor screwed up and we are likely going to have some serious repairs coming all over this highway but we don’t want to talk about that…..because it opens a massive barrel of worms no government anywhere would want to talk about.

Ask Quebec. http://www.macleans.ca/news/canada/montreal-is-falling-down/

He starts talking about how the NDP had issues or opposed projects while the Liberals built them. And on. And then some more.

And he never does answer how it is that a highway that cost so much damn money, is needing serious structural repairs after only 5 years.

Nor does he take the chance to negate all of this by providing the inspection reports that Kiewit conducted or agreeing to an independent agency review of those walls.

Why does this matter?

Because the funny thing about retaining walls is that it can be pretty hard to predict what going on behind them. Kiewit already did substandard work on one retaining wall on the Port Mann Project that had to be rebuilt. And court cases resulted following the collapse of of a highway widening project retaining wall that collapsed during construction in California. And while the walls on the sea to sky may not be in danger of collapsing,the province refuses to be straightforward about any of this.

So,yes, those inspection reports of Kiewits on these retaining walls do matter. Because like the shadow toll story, this one is becoming rife with contradictions,spin and deflections.

But what do I know? I’m just a writer, not a transportation minister.

26 thoughts on “Denial, deflect, discredit.

  1. With his wife and children in attendance, how did Transportation Minister Todd Stone answer Direct Questions from the Police Officer who pulled him over for speeding?

    Police: “Good Day Sir. May I see your Driver’s License? hmmmmm “Do you know that you were doing 29 kilometers per hour over the posted speed limit?”
    Todd: “Do YOU KNOW WHO I AM?”
    Police: “Yes, Sir. Mr. Stone. I’ll repeat the question to you: Do you know that you were doing 29 kilometers per hour over the posted speed limit?”
    Todd: “A bridge would be better than having to take a ferry just to get away from this Sick Culture, I CAN DO THAT, I have the power to BUILD a Bridge.”
    Police: “Yes Sir, I suppose you could. However, you still haven’t answered my questions.”

    Liked by 1 person

  2. John's Aghast

    Well said Grumps. Do you think he knows the difference between a bridge and a tunnel? (Hint: One goes over the water, the other under). What a pathetic performance in the house! Is there a course in Obfuscation that is a requirement to become a Minister? And why do they keep referring it to a $600 million project when it cost (us) twice that. Maybe that was the contractor’s cost?
    Sheesh! May my children never grow up to be politicians!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Don F.

    What a piece of work that Stone is. Fine looking young man with the soul of a fowl dead fish.
    Fassbender looking on in admiration of how proud he is, thinking, this Stone kid has got it down.
    He could with time become the biggest asshole of us all.
    This now is the plight of the people of British Columbia…..Just sad!

    Like

  4. Why did the voters in Todd Stone’s riding ever mark his name on their ballot? Were they so blind that they couldn’t see what an arrogant, scumbag he is? Actually, that goes for most, if not all, of the BC Liberals.

    Anyone know if Polak or Clark ever honoured their promise to meet with the First Nations chiefs over in Merritt the other day? Guess the phrase ‘in good faith’ doesn’t exist in their smart-ass world.

    Like

    1. Laila

      Let’s be clear here.

      Minister Stone didn’t create this mess- that belongs to Falcon and Campbell. But he did inherit it in his position as Transportation Minister.

      Transportation is a tough file for any minister but in particular for a minister with little experience or knowledge of the industry. He likely needs extensive backgrounders to get him up to speed on this file. But that does not excuse this kind of political posturing on this particular bit of infrastructure. There are issues here,and there are issues cropping up on other projects like the SFPR which is even newer.

      The issue is so much bigger than who is paying for it. It’s why did this happen in the first place.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Scotty on Denman

    Stone is incompetent; he should resign. Fortunately, he’ll probably be swept away with the rest of them. Until then he’ll answer questions with rote stupidity, the kind he doesn’t even have to think about. “In their ten years in power—in the 90s—the NDP did nothing [regarding transportation and highway-building].” That’s rote stupidity—telling, too. With so much rote hatred of the Capital which he apparently can’t get away with getting out of fast enough—even endangering his and other drivers’ families in the process—he omitted that the NDP built the Inland Island Highway, a much needed safety and economic infrastructure investment that continues to save lives and service the long neglected East Island. Probably the most important transportation infrastructure investment BC’s had in a long while and Stone calls it “nothing”? Jeez!

    The previous Socred government, which got few seats on the Island, did survey the route thrice over 20 years of growing demand for improvement, but Islanders got nothing—real “nothing”—until the NDP was elected. Over the next decade the new highway was completed by unionized contractors, on time and on budget. Where the beautifully aligned and comfortably drivable blacktop passed the hill where sainted labour union martyr Ginger Goodwin is buried almost a century ago (strike-besieged mining companies hired a “special constable” to hunt down and kill Goodwin who, despite disabled lungs, was dodging the reversal of his conscription disqualification) a sign was erected to officially honour the labour leader whose murder inspired Canada’s first and only general strike: “Ginger Goodwin Way”. The Inland Island Highway contrasted dramatically with the previous Socred Coquihalla Highway project, with its bridge-to-bridge tendering that led to massive cost overruns, and its toll station midway on the steep, rippled curb lane “short-cut” to the Interior (where Socreds did get a lot of votes).

    It’s difficult to state the value of the Inland Island Highway, the opening up of economic potential and saving of lives being practically inestimable. Anecdotally, I used to commute from Buckley Bay to Campbell River every day, often on weekends too, and I’ve seen my share of fatal MVAs on the old Island Highway; several thousand private driveways accessed just this section of twisting, hilly pavement that served thousands of commuters every day—an undeniable record of disaster, death and injury failed to move the Socreds’ partisan and deadly neglect of these taxpaying drivers. The economic impact—an area Socreds always claimed as their exclusive purview—on the Island was impossible to miss. The day the BC Liberals took power, I noted a handmade sign at the connector lane which read simply “Thank you NDP for this highway”. Indeed, it has proved to be the most important infrastructure the island has had in the many decades before, and the one-and-a-half decades after the NDP regime.

    It would appear the NDP better understood the fundamentals of economics regarding transport investment. The BC Liberals, in the starkest of contrast, mistake cronyism for prudent public investment, and worse, ignore public safety to get it done. Thank goodness we have Laila to apprise citizens of what their government is doing to them. Thank you, Laila!

    The very first thing the BC Liberals did for the Island was to remove the Ginger Goodwin Way sign. The next was to commence destroying the ferry system that serves this bastion of NDP (and now Green) support. And so it goes. We’d sure love some more of that NDP “nothing”—maybe finally get something done around here. BC Liberals are overtly anti-Island.

    Stone probably doesn’t know any of this—doesn’t need to.

    Like

    1. Scotty on Denman

      Hey John! I actually admire MLA Trevena’s industry and integrity. I’m pretty sure Ms Trevena could provide a more informed rebuttal than I, but because of parliamentary rules of order she can’t avail herself of the kind of liberty to speak we have here at Laila’s place. Besides, I’m not sure I could stand the kind of smug condescension displayed by BC Liberal MLAs in the Youtube video. Trevena’s experience shows as she takes command with a silent glower at the Speaker until she can be heard over the cat-calls and insults. The puerile response, not only of the incompetent minister, but also of his heckling colleagues shows the BC Liberals got nuthin’—job done, Claire!

      Like

    1. Don F.

      Did you read laila’s post. What do you know you are just a writer???
      Mr. Stone gets a lot of money for not even knowing what his position requires of him.
      How can you make this comparison? I wish I could give you the benefit of doubt here but your comment won’t even allow that.

      Like

  6. John's Aghast

    Scotty: ‘Parliamentary rules of order’ my ass! Why wasn’t Stone required to answer the question? Why does the Speaker allow that sort of nonsense? You wouldn’t get away with that sort of behavior in High School. The whole show makes a mockery of Parliamentary procedures. Disgusting! I refuse to let my kids watch.
    I’m glad you brought Ms. Trevena up to speed wrt the Island Highway

    Like

    1. Standing Orders http://www.leg.bc.ca/39th4th/4-7-39-4.htm
      Oral Questions.
      47A. There shall be a 30 minute Oral Question Period at the opening of each afternoon sitting on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, which shall be subject to the following rules:
      (a) only questions that are urgent and important shall be permitted;
      (b) questions and answers shall be brief and precise, and stated without argument or opinion;
      (c) supplementary questions may be permitted at the discretion of the Speaker. There shall be no supplementary question to a question taken on notice;
      (d) debate shall not be permitted;
      (e) points of order arising during Oral Question Period may, at the discretion of the Speaker, be deferred until Question Period has been completed;
      (f) Oral Question Period shall not take place on the day of the Speech from the Throne.

      Source for more Elementary and Junior High school Student questions; NOTE: BC Liberal MLA Ministers skipped this and the Standing Orders above: http://www.leg.bc.ca/info/2-2-2-2.htm

      Like

      1. PS The reason for an MLA to have a Blind Trust Portfolio: Member having pecuniary interest not to vote.

        18. No Member is entitled to vote upon any question in which he or she has a direct pecuniary interest, and the vote of any Member so interested shall be disallowed.

        If there weren’t blind trusts, half of the BC Liberals wouldn’t be able to vote, eh.

        Like

  7. Jack Hackett

    A lie is a lie and lie’s are lie’s. One should not just isolate The Honourable (ha, ha), Minister Stone for a typical performance in the house, they all do it. Isn’t it about time that major electoral reform take place. In this reform the Speaker of the house be an independent position much like the Auditor. Then power be assigned to ensure that questions are answered and on topic responses are made. Thank you for the ongoing info Laila, keep up the good work.

    Like

  8. nonconfidencevote

    Well, seems Todd Stones excellent performance at denial, deflect, denigrate is proof that he’s probably being groomed for a future Premeirship.
    Once Christy has been booted and the Liberals are delegated to the basement for a single term. The knives will come out to find a “new” leader.
    Todd Stone……. future “Preem”

    Like

  9. Pingback: ” ….the contractor who built the wall — Peter Kiewit and Sons — used parts in the retaining wall that do not meet ministry standards….” | No Strings Attached : Laila Yuile on politics and life in B.C.

    1. Laila

      Sadly, this is true of any politician. Ministers have their talking points prepared for them and if they really want to do a great job in their file there is a helluva lot of homework to be done.

      The Transportation file is hard for both minister and perhaps even more so for the critic because you need to have a working knowledge, or staff that does, to be able to ask the right questions and know when something is up. This info was given to the NDP last year and it’s taken a year for them to question the government on it, and only when repairs actually started. Don’t get me wrong,I’m happy to see Claire Trevena go after him on this,but you get the drift. I hope they stick on this now. Far too often the ball drops as long as taxpayers dont have to pay the bill. But considering we are all still paying for these upgrades for what… 20 more years I think… it’s more than a bit appalling to find this out now… after the fact.

      Like

  10. Curt

    Len, to answer your question: his new role as the executive vice-president of Anthem Capital, an investment company that focuses primarily on real estate, mining and energy and technology.

    No surprise.

    Waiting for the ALR land be sold out, the plans have been worked on since 2001. Campbell too was big on real estate. And Mining, Energy …. need I say more.

    Like

  11. Pingback: Sea to Sky highway retaining walls safety inspection reports released, raise more questions on quality of build and maintenance. | No Strings Attached : Laila Yuile on politics and life in B.C.

  12. “P3 projects like this highway are considered a very safe investment.”

    Well some of them are safer than others. In BC, the revenue risk of projects like the Golden Ears and Port Mann Bridge are retained by the province. Elsewhere, one of the reasons for using P3s is to transfer risk to the private sector. Indeed the right wing theorists who originally promoted this idea make the claim that the private sector is better at handling risk than government. In Australia the proponents of building toll tunnels underneath cities as a way of curing congestion also got their demand forecasts badly wrong – and went bust. The assets were scooped up by the government, the taxpayers did well and the private sector investors lost money. That seems to be the way capitalism is supposed to work. In BC, the private sector cannot lose because the taxpayers are on the hook for their mistakes!

    Like

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