30 July 2010

Sins of omission

“Five key bridges in the western portion of the T’Railway Provincial Park that closed in 2008 are now re-opened to park users. … [The five bridges are being ] replaced as a result of a $3.6 million allocation in Budget 2010: The Right Investments – For Our Children and Our Future.”

That’s part of the first paragraph of a happy-news release from the province’s environment.  It’s one of dozens issued every week in July as part of the happy-news offensive mounted by the provincial government in the run up to August’s scheduled polling by the provincial government pollster.

The release leaves out much relevant detail.

Not surprisingly, that detail is embarrassing to the provincial government and especially to the ever-embarrassing minister, Charlene Johnson.

For starters, the bridges in questions were all former railway bridges inherited by the provincial government in 1988 when the railway closed.  The provincial government took responsibility for the bridges but until 2008 – apparently  - did nothing with them.

No maintenance.

No repairs.

No inspections either, apparently.

At all.

That is until the federal government inspected a few that crossed over federally-monitored waterways.  They found a raft of them in what appeared to be perilous states of disrepair. 

In one case, one of the bridges had vanished entirely.  When inspectors showed up to take a lookee-look, they couldn’t find anything except the footings on either shore.

So basically this splendiferous investment of more than three and a half millions could have been avoided or at least spread out over time if someone – anyone – at any point along the way had decided to do some regular maintenance on the bridges.

Or even taken a peek at them once in a while.

Even an auditor general’s report in 2003 on inadequate inspection of road bridges seems to have prompted any action on the former railway bridges, the ones now used by pedestrians, snowmobilers and ATV operators.

None of this, by the by, stopped Johnson from claiming that her department prized public safety. As your humble e-scribbler noted at the time:

We understand the inconvenience of the closure of these structures; however, public safety has to be our number one priority," said Minister Johnson.


Environment Minister Charlene Johnson said today the province does not conduct routine safety assessments of structures on the T’Railway, which is a provincial park.

There’s no regular inspections, no,” Johnson said in response to questions from reporters.

That sort of bumbling is why some people find it odd that Charlene has adopted a tone of haughty arrogance when dealing with issues like the Abitibi expropriation fiasco or offshore oil.

That sort of bumbling is also likely why Charlene’s publicists decided to torque this release without any reference  whatsoever - an omission in other words - to the mess that started it all.

But all of it doesn’t explain the real sin of omission here:  namely the explanation of why the Premier keeps this minister in a job for which she is clearly unqualified and at which she has clearly been a disaster of BP proportions.

- srbp -