Q.P. F.H. Collins Contracts May 2, 2013

Question re:  F.H. Collins Secondary School reconstruction

Mr. Silver:    Mr. Speaker, I have some questions for the Minister of Highways and Public Works on some contracts related to F.H. Collins.

When the Premier announced he was pulling the plug on the old design of F.H. Collins, he said the approved construction budget, as detailed by two separate independent estimators, was $38.6 million. On the second day of this sitting, back on March 25, I asked the Premier to release those estimates so that the public could see whether or not they did, in fact, match the construction budget. He refused to answer.

Almost six weeks later, the government is still refusing to release those independent estimates. It is my understanding that these contracts were led by Highways and Public Works. Will the minister release these estimates so that the public can see whether or not they did, in fact, match the construction budget?

Hon. Mr. Istchenko:    I find this question a little bit disappointing because the member opposite also asked me this after he asked it to the Premier in the House. I asked the department and they told me that their legal opinion is that this information is proprietary to the project. We didn’t cancel the project, so there are budget implications in there. There is commercial confidentiality.

The government is committed to replacing F.H. Collins Secondary School. We’ve said this a million times, but we’re committed to doing it in a fiscally responsible way.

Mr. Silver:    I’m sure that the minister’s office can afford a Sharpie and block out those things that we don’t need to know. The point is that the bids came in way overbudget on the F.H. Collins Secondary School tender and the government said it was surprised. The Premier said that he had two independent estimators that put the price of the construction at $38.6 million. We’d like to have those estimates and so would the public. The government, on the other hand, is in no rush to release them. I’ve been asking for them for almost six weeks in this House and at a briefing with the department officials, and off the record with the minister. The public scepticism is mounting on the F.H. Collins Secondary School project and on the forecasted savings of $10 million this government claims as a result of changing the plan this late in the game. The public deserves to see those reports themselves and to see if the estimates did in fact tell the government that the school could be built for $38.6 million. Why is the government refusing to release these documents?

Hon. Mr. Istchenko:    It’s very disappointing that the member opposite fails to recognize the good work that has been done by this government and our government employees. I said to the member opposite I looked into it. I already mentioned this and I answered this question to the member twice now. I guess I’m going to do it three times.

Independent estimates, legal opinion — the information is proprietary. There are budget implications. We haven’t cancelled the project. The good work of the government employees who provide advice to us pass this on. The Department of Highways and Public Works, the Department of Education, ministers, the Minister of Education and I are working on this file as we speak. We look forward to the next steps.

Unlike the member opposite who sees a silver lining in everything, I see a gold lining in this.

Mr. Silver:    Once again, we’re not looking for the proprietary information; we’re just looking for the numbers. One of these estimates was produced by a company called BTY Quantity Surveyors BC Ltd. Yukon taxpayers paid the B.C. company $120,000 to provide construction cost estimates for the F.H. Collins replacement.

The open and accountable thing to do would be to release this work so that the public can see what it got for this money. There is also a second report that the government is refusing to make public.

When will the minister release these estimates so that the public can see whether or not they actually in fact did match the construction budgets?

Hon. Mr. Kent:    With respect to the F.H. Collins Secondary Schoolreplacement project, the approved construction budget was $38.6 million. The lowest bid that we received in the tendering process — among three bidders — was $47.78 million. That’s 21-percent overbudget. In our efforts to be fiscally responsible, we decided not to proceed with that tendered design concept. We are going to use a concept that has already been constructed successfully and economically in other jurisdictions and will incorporate elements from the previous consultation process that was done with the building advisory committee.

Clearly, $10 million, or 21-percent overbudget is not the fiscally responsible way to proceed with such a project before the first tradesperson even shows up on the site. I know the member opposite — 21 percent, $10 million — he understands that, and he should understand that we are committed to fiscal responsibility and building a school there that the entire F.H. Collins Secondary School community can be proud of, but doing it in a manner that respects the budgeting process and the fact that we are not going to start something that’s $10 million over before the first tradesperson arrives on site.