Release details of Ontario highways agreement with struggling contractor, NDP says

23 Feb 2018 3:45 PM | Smart About Salt (Administrator)

The Ontario NDP is calling on the provincial government to release details of its revised arrangement with one of the maintenance contractors responsible for plowing and sanding the province's highways.

Carillion Canada has contracts to maintain the highways in eight different parts of the province; in the north, that includes from Thunder Bay east to Marathon and Longlac and around the Huntsville area. Carillion's Canadian subsidiary received creditor protection after its U.K.-based parent went into liquidation in January.

At the time, the province and Carillion announced they reached an arrangement "to ensure these services continue uninterrupted for the remainder of this winter." In the legislature on Wednesday, Ontario NDP transportation critic Wayne Gates said he wanted more details.

"It's impossible to say anything for sure because the government will not release the contract," Gates told CBC News. "The contract's being paid by ... taxpayers' money; that agreement should be given to all the residents of Ontario."

"If you have an agreement with Carillion to last until May, or whatever the length of the agreement is, they have, I believe they have an obligation to release that ... so we can see the agreement," he continued.

In its creditor protection filing, Carillion said cash flow projections showed the company "should have sufficient cash on hand to remain operational through the week ending February 17, 2018," and that it would explore additional financing.

Company spokesperson Cody Johnstone told CBC News on Feb. 22 that "operations are continuing on" but he couldn't get into specifics; he added that Carillion doesn't anticipate any changes to service standards and that all employees continue to be paid.

The company has said its arrangement with the province "protects over 1,100 jobs in Ontario."

'Paying some key suppliers'

In response to Gates's query in question period on Wednesday, Minister of Transportation Kathryn McGarry said that under the current arrangement, the province "is paying some key suppliers directly for critical tools like road salt and equipment repair and leasing."

"We are only paying Carillion for the services they provide, not paying any of Carillion's corporate costs," she continued.

McGarry, as well as ministry officials, said that the province is "closely monitoring" money paid to the company to ensure employees and suppliers are paid. "To date we have no concerns in that regard," ministry spokesperson Annemarie Piscopo told CBC News.

Gates said the province's ability to ensure highways remain safe in the winter should be of the upmost importance. "When you look at the safety of our roads, we're talking about our kids, our grandkids, our first responders," he said.

Replying to Gates's questions in the legislature, McGarry said opposition parties were engaging in "fear mongering" on the highway file and that she has offered to meet with MPPs concerned with the issue.

"We are committed to ensure that we have the roads safe and clear for our folks that are travelling the highway," she said. "Our number one priority is to make sure that we keep our roads safe right to the end of the winter season."

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