The new driveway at the Parliament Buildings is going over its $1.5 million budget.
The Legislative Assembly Management Committee voted Dec. 3 to spend another $255,000, after the executive financial officer, Hilary Woodward, delivered the bad news.
Woodward said digging up the 109-year-old driveway revealed contaminated soil, though she did not say what contaminants were found. That cost another $200,000 for the testing and removal. Old pipes containing asbestos were also found. Existing waterlines needed to be lowered and electrical repairs undertaken.
“It’s not just the replacement of the driveway itself,” Woodward said in the meeting. “We were able to take that opportunity and do a lot of underground infrastructure and put it in place, including a conduit for lighting for future projects as well.”
By email, Acting Clerk Kate Ryan-Lloyd told theBreaker.news that two pipes buried in a shallow concrete trench tested positive for asbestos. The area was immediately taped-off and visitors and staff banned from the area. Sixteen of 50 test hole locations turned up contaminated or hazardous materials. Fourteen of them contained chlorides at levels exceeding Ministry of Environment thresholds. Lead was found in one test hole and barium in another, both at levels exceeding Ministry of Environment guidelines.
Meanwhile, the proposed Legislative Assembly operating budget for next fiscal year is $85 million, a $2 million increase over the current year.
Ryan-Lloyd said the additional funds would improve the workplace environment, with enhanced staff engagement, training and development, labour relations initiatives, a respectful workplace policy and creation of a whistleblower policy.
The committee is also requesting $6 million for capital funding, a decrease of $224,000 from the previous year. The focus is safety, security and infrastructure improvements.
Ryan-Lloyd’s report to the committee also summarized a series of transparency measures. The Legislative Assembly is now publicly reporting quarterly the expenses and compensation for executive staff and travel spending by all assembly staff. There are also new disclosure provisions for transition payments to retired or defeated MLAs and the online posting of MLA conflict of interest disclosure statements. The next wave of proactive disclosure categories could include procurement contracts, purchasing card transactions, and interparliamentary visits, exchanges and conferences.
The measures are a stop-gap until the NDP government fulfils promises made earlier this year to place the Legislative Assembly under the freedom of information laws. The promise was made by NDP Government House Leader Mike Farnworth in the wake of Speaker Darryl Plecas’s report on corruption in the offices of the Clerk and Sergeant-at-Arms. Craig James and Gary Lenz both retired in disgrace and are under RCMP investigation.
Also stemming from Plecas’s investigation, the Legislature has instituted new policies for purchasing cards, travel, liquor, uniforms, standards of conduct, gifts and even a policy on creating and updating policies.
Polices are either under review or development for asset disposal, hospitality, legal assistance, parking, retirement allowance, vacation and whistleblowers.
The Legislative Assembly is also playing catch-up with modern human resources strategies. Ryan-Lloyd said there are now regular meetings with senior management. A management seminar was held, as was a full, organization-wide staff meeting. For the first time, the Legislative Assembly conducted a staff survey.
“We’ve had employee suggestion boxes, coffee drop-in sessions and as we look ahead to the new year,” Ryan-Lloyd said. “I hope to continue those efforts and do everything we can to sustain ongoing staff engagement as well as provide new training and development opportunities for legislative staff and improve our human resource management practices.”
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