More provincial gear for highway work has PC saying caution ahead

John Brannen
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A political debate is stirring in Pictou East over what a wheeled aggregate screener means for the paving business.

The Department Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal is acquiring by tender the screener, used to move, distribute and sort aggregate such as sand, gravel or asphalt.

In a press release, the Progressive Conservative candidate for Pictou East, Tim Houston, said he has information the screeners will be used to re-screen stockpiles of reclaimed asphalt pavement.

“If that is the case, why wouldn’t the department just issue a tender for private companies to carry out the screening?” he said.

Houston believes there are at least three or four companies in the Pictou County area that have idle screeners capable of doing the job.  

Pictou East MLA Clarrie MacKinnon said Houston is mistaken.

“Mr. Houston should’ve got his facts straight before making statements like that,” MacKinnon said. “His release comes just short of fearmongering.”

He says that the wheeled aggregate screener has been earmarked for western Nova Scotia, not Pictou County, and will not be used in road paving.

“This aggregate screener poses no threat to paving businesses in Pictou County or anywhere else for that matter.”

According to MacKinnon the screener would be used for road maintenance such as providing grading for guardrails along the road, filling potholes and screening sand on icy roads.

“This equipment will not be used for the large scale, highway paving projects.”

Houston, however, believes the government is missing the point and cherry picking the jobs it wants and tendering the rest.

“As a result the playing field is not level. When government competes against small business it impedes growth and threatens jobs. The fears that exist among small business owners, who feel that they have no voice in government, are justified,” he said.

“It’s an MLA’s role to be the complete voice of his or her constituency.”

Though Grant Feltmate, executive director of the Nova Scotia Road Builders Association, concedes that the purchase of this particular screener may not affect Pictou County’s businesses, the purchase itself is concerning.

“Looking at the big picture, we see the government getting more involved in road building activities,” said Feltmate.

He calls it ‘scope-creep,’ essentially that the government is taking on more projects rather than contracting out the work to the private sector, which he feels is better to handle the jobs.

“We’re looking at it from the taxpayers’ point of view and, quite frankly, we have tons of capacity in the private sector to repair and pave roads more effectively and efficiently.”

He said that when local businesses don’t get these government contracts from paving to brush cutting, it’s a huge hit.

Jeff Weeks of S.W. Weeks Construction, Ltd. in New Glasgow has successfully bid and plans to bid on highway paving projects this summer. He is equally concerned about the government stretching their legs in the paving business.

“Every bit of work they take in-house is work they take away from the private business,” said Weeks.

“This screener may be for use on the South Shore, but what about next year? What’s their next step? There’s a lot unknown but the one thing we do know is that we business can do it a lot cheaper than the government.”

The tender for the wheeled aggregate screener opened on Jan. 19 and closed on Feb. 5.

Organizations: S.W. Weeks Construction

Geographic location: Pictou County, Pictou East, Nova Scotia Road New Glasgow South Shore

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Recent comments

  • a nobody
    February 11, 2013 - 08:38

    I think people are missing the point here. In my opinion if the government determines they are spending too much money on road construction and can save money by buying their own equipment than so be it. I thought i read an article in THE NEWS where the government put out tenders for jobs only to have 1 company bid on it for a ridiculous prices, and they got it. Chances are the government overpaid and started catching on. Judging by the nice new building Weeks are occupying, i wouldn't say they are struggling. I watched Weeks construction take a whole summer to pave church street in Pictou, then another company paved the whole pictou causeway in a week.

  • Lary MacKinnon
    February 10, 2013 - 20:25

    Clarrie I have voted for you in the past election and but I certainly cannot support you in the coming election. You have turned Nova Scotia into the province with the highest taxes and the highest electricity rates. Our young people are leaving in droves.This election Jamie Baillie and Tim Houston have my support. They'll lower my taxes and make sure my kids will be able to stay in Nova Scotia by creating an economic environment in which business can flourish. Not try and destroy business with new laws like first contract arbitration. Hard to believe you would support that law after many business in PC have spoke out against it, like Sobeys and Michelin. Clarrie you have failed Pictou East, go Tim go!

  • Johnny smoke
    February 10, 2013 - 10:04

    Hello Clarrie nice to see that you are alive and well.Have not heard much from you as of late, maybe I am right in assuming that an election can't be far off. I am however curious to know of the roads that you are referring to, when you state that 2 inches of asphalt over no base was constructed in this or any area. I have first hand knowledge of road building and repairing, I was present on some of these projects to which you refer. The specifications were stringent and enforced by then Department of Highways engineers and instrument crews. It is a complete and utter disservice to slander their professional abilities, which I can whole heartedly vouch for. They were carried out to the letter. Maybe in sober second thought you might like to reconsider your charges,because for your information no road regardless of how well it was constructed can stand 30 years of neglect, that should be your point, not the so called shoddy craftsmanship or dubious construction methods as you state. Maybe in future you will refrain commenting on items that you or your staff obviously know so little about, I would suggest that you stick to public relations fishery, and politics, where wear and tear are not ongoing items to be addressed.

  • Grasping at Straws
    February 09, 2013 - 18:50

    Clarrie, you are an honourable man and have conducted yourself quite honestly and sincerely on behalf of all of your constituents since being elected.For the record, I have never voted NDP in the past, but will be casting my vote for you in the next election. I am not nor have ever been a big NDP supporter, but given your track record, I can not see voting for a candidate who tries to make an issue out of non-issues (the school study, paving, and I'm sure more to come). I'm sure the skeletons will come out of his closet as election day gets closer.

  • Clarrie MacKinnon
    February 09, 2013 - 12:48

    The complete voice of Pictou East has successfully sought several important paving contracts that will be bid on by our local contractors in the upcoming construction season. The Nova Scotia Roadbuilders Association has greatly benefited from the three largest road building budgets in the history of Nova Scotia. Most of the close to 1000 km of rural roads in Pictou East have had little major repairs for over 30 years. In the past three years, we have been trying to catch up after decades of neglect. The old system was 2 inches of asphalt on no base just before an election. Thank God we have moved away from the foolhearty ways of other parties and implemented a Five Year Plan from which the Roadbuilders have been and will be the greatest beneficiaries.

  • Just to clarify
    February 09, 2013 - 06:09

    Houston is quoted as saying: “As a result the playing field is not level. When government competes against small business it impedes growth and threatens jobs. The fears that exist among small business owners, who feel that they have no voice in government, are justified,”. Tell us Mr. Houston, does a level playing field exist when government agencies give our money to new companies owned by party supporters and candidates? Is this the kind of free enterprise and level playing field that you are promoting?