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Bridge project to be audited

Andrew Livingstone
Northern News Services
Published Friday, May 14, 2010

SOMBA K'E/YELLOWKNIFE - The auditor general of Canada has agreed to conduct a full audit on the Deh Cho Bridge project, something regular MLAs hope will help the government learn from its mistakes.

Sheila Fraser notified the government of the audit on the controversial bridge project on April 29 and said she hopes to have the audit completed in seven months.

The project has caused heated debate and accusations of mismanagement which has lead to the territorial government taking on the full debt of the now $182-million project. When the bridge was signed off by former premier Joe Handley in 2007 it was pegged at $165-million.

Kam Lake MLA Dave Ramsay said he's happy Fraser agreed to the regular members' request for the audit.

"She's going to address all the concerns we had, value for money, the decision-making process, top to bottom," Ramsay said Wednesday afternoon. "It's a good day for members who want answers and for the public who demand accountability on the process."

The Deh Cho Bridge Corporation removed the previous contractor, ATCON Construction, a New Brunswick-based company, from the project Dec. 30, 2009 because it couldn't complete the work for $165 million, the price agreed to when the GNWT hired the company in 2007. When bridge lenders Sun Life Financial and The Ontario Teachers' Pension Plan began to worry about the project and threatened to pull their funding, the government was forced to take on the full debt.

Ramsay said the government can't underestimate the mismanagement of the project and needs to make sure this kind of boondoggle doesn't happen again.

"We got ourselves way in over our head," he said. "The Deh Cho Bridge Corporation didn't have the means or the capacity to deliver on a project of that size and nature.

"At the end of the day we're going to have a bridge built, but it's going to be a costly endeavour.

Ramsay hopes answers will be given about how the project was allowed to be signed off by Handley only days before the 2007 election, something he's had issue with since day one.

"Hopefully the auditor general's review of the project will shed some light on the accountability side of things," he said.

Weledeh MLA Bob Bromley said he doesn't doubt Fraser's investigation will find gross mismanagement and poor decision-making when looking at the project.

"I hope it's able to look at how we got into this situation, it's always been my concern," he said. "Let's identify the bad management and learn what we can from this sorry mess."

Transportation Minister Michael McLeod said Thursday morning the government will co-operate fully with the office of the auditor general.

McLeod's only concern was the audit being completed mid-project, something he said could add to staff workload.

"This is a very big project ... and there has been complications and challenges we need to look at and see if there are better ways of doing it or if they could've been avoided," McLeod said.

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