Here's to the crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers, the
round pegs in the square holes... the ones who see things differently -- they're
not fond of rules... You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify
them, but the only thing you can't do is ignore them because they change
things... they push the human race forward, and while some may see them as the
crazy ones, we see genius, because the ones who are crazy enough to think that
they can change the world, are the ones who do.

Steve Jobs
US computer engineer & industrialist (1955 - 2011)

Friday, June 6, 2014

Frank Coleman and Lies of Omission

What to say on the Frank Coleman/Humber Valley paving story? It's a story of greed, politics and deal making. A tale that one might expect to read from yesteryear, but not in today's "transparent" world of politics. An agreement founded in such arrogance, and so contemptuous of the people of the Province, that you couldn't be blamed for having a hard time believing it could happen today - even given the murky waters of Newfoundland politics. Yet, here it is.

It starts with a sudden coup in the Premier's Office as Kathy Dunderdale is forced from office by a caucus revolt - that was January 22, 2014. The, on February 11, former premier Danny Williams stepped out of the shadows and smeared the position of PC leadership candidate Bill Barry:

"Bill Barry would definitely not have my support. Absolutely not... He indicates that he's interested in privatizing energy..Nalcor, Hydro, he has an interest in privatizing health care, and he has an interest in privatizing education. Well, he doesn't stand for anything that I support, so Bill Barry is off my list. That's probably the clearest thing I can tell you."

Barry's response was direct, but diplomatic:

"Unfortunately, he (Williams) talked about a letter I sent to caucus which, in my view, he totally mischarasterized (sic). I certainly didn't say Nalcor would be privatized and health and education would be privatized. That's not what I said at all."

Barry's response was tame, because he should have called Williams' comments outright lies, with the somewhat obvious purpose, given the context of the rest of his commentary, to destroy Barry as a PC leadership candidate. These were the first shots so to speak.

By sheer coincidence no doubt, two days later Frank Coleman is interviewed by the Telegram on "rumors" he may be running for the leadership. It's actually a most interesting and foreshadowing interview as it turns out. Coleman's comments then:

" It (running for leadership) depends on me having a fairly robust discussion with my partners in the businesses that I am involved in about if I do make a run at this.."

" I am heavily involved (in the business) and there is a bunch of things we are in the middle of, and we are trying to work our way through."

" There is a bunch of things I'm working through...if they transpire the way I hope they do, great. If they don't, it will be somebody else's mantle, not mine."

Cryptic, very cryptic words given the time and what was about to transpire. Coleman admits several things here: 1. That his running for leadership depends on "working things through" with his businesses; 2. That the conversation involves his business partners; and 3. That he is personally working these things through. A man very deeply involved. Now consider, at this very moment in time, his business Humber Valley Paving (HVP) is in trouble with its largest contract - the $19 million paving contract for the Trans Labrador highway. He is losing money, had to get a year extension to complete it, and had personally guaranteed the performance bonds to finish it. In other words, Coleman was a man in a serious bind. Can it possibly be that the words he says above do not refer to such a bind? A reasonable person would conclude they refer to the exact situation Coleman was facing with his government contract, the bonds and HVP.

Then, the very next day no less, Coleman contends he resigned as President and CEO of HVP. That's odd for a number of reasons, the least of which being: Why would the President and CEO of a company, that had just admitted he was "working things through" suddenly resign the next day? Is it reasonable to think that a man with his name on a $19 million bond, and with that company apparently unable to finish the job, would simply walk away from control of that situation on blind faith that something might come down the road to save him? Not only is that unreasonable, it simply defies imagination. The only logical conclusion is that he knew the issue would be resolved in his favour.

Then, on March 10, Coleman contends he resigned as a "director and shareholder". His words. To my knowledge, there is no way to resign as a shareholder. The only logical interpretation of that statement is he sold his shares in HVP. Considering his controlling interest in HVP, that can only mean he sold the company. That begs this question: Who would sell their control of a company if that company's performance of its work on a contract (in this case the Labrador highway) could mean being personally accountable for up to $19 million of your personal wealth? Not just that. Who would buy a controlling interest in a company that was about to default (possibly) on a $19 million contract? Then there are the issues that accompany any sale of a business like: negotiations; due diligence; legal work; and closing, etc. All of this would require much more than the month timeline that Coleman has put out there officially. Again, that defies any reasonable logic.

The obvious conclusion, of a reasonable person, would be that Coleman had full knowledge that his name would be removed from those bonds before he sold his shares - which would mean before March 10. In his words: "..if they transpire the way I hope they do." Apparently they did. Three days later, Coleman's son, apparently representing the new ownership, contacted Minister McGrath to have the contract cancelled, and thus remove the need for the bonds. Seven days later the contract was dissolved and Frank Coleman was released from his $19 million bonds.

Perhaps there is a hint of the truth when, during an interview with Fred Hutton at VOCM on May 9, 2014, Coleman made the following statement:

" I've been in this race for 6 months.."

Six months. That's an interesting statement considering at the time of the interview that would put Coleman's involvement at about the beginning of December, 2013 - or just before Dunderdale was forced to resign by her caucus. For Coleman, that means he would have had to been involved in the ouster of Dunderdale in some way. After all, how could he be involved in a leadership race that didn't exist at the time? There is only one answer for that - it was a backroom plot to dump Dunderdale, and that plot had to have involved Coleman in some way. His words, not mine - "I've been in this race for six months".

The CBC uncovered all this and broke the story. At first it was reported as a $9.5 million bond. Then it was discovered to be two $9.5 million bonds, equaling a total commitment of $19 million. Then it was discovered that Coleman had to sign for the bonds personally. All of this had to be dug up by the media. Coleman never proactively disclosed any of it, even when he knew the exposure was more than was being reported, and even though he new he had personally endorsed them.

Then, as the walls started to close in on him and McGrath, the stories started to trip themselves up. Coleman refused to be forthcoming with who the new owners were of HVP. He even refused to tell the media who he sold his own shares to. He began to trip himself up in his own lies. One such example:

" I don't believe that representatives of the company dealt directly with the Minister...My son, and other members of our company would have spoken directly to the officials. This would have been a decision by officials within the department to make the decision, and they would have made recommendations to the Minister."

As it happened, that wasn't true, and Coleman's media representative got back to the reporter:

"... (Coleman) did not intend to deny that his son, Gene, spoke to Minister McGrath."

Well, it wasn't just an intention to deny the meeting, it was a statement that there wasn't one. In fact, Coleman's son did the negotiating, and was still a director, if not a shareholder as well, of HVP.

Then, on April 30, McGrath made the following statement:

"We don't want to put a company out of business, because if you take their bonds away they would easily be put out of business for future work."

That was original excuse for dissolving the contract - to save the company and its employees. McGrath added that in order to have the job done on time and budget that it was necessary to cancel the contract as going after the bonds was unreliable. That lasted until the national association responsible for bonding agencies accused the Minister of misleading the public by giving false information regarding how bonds work. Yet McGrath still had his whole save the company and the jobs argument floating. Coleman remained silent on the issue of saving the company and the jobs. He never once said the company was in trouble. In fact, he called it "a great company". He bristled at the accusations that this "great company's" bonds were traded off for his agreement to run for leadership - May 6:

" No, I did not benefit personally from this whatsoever. It is incomprehensible to me that somebody would infer that I benefited personally from this."

That was until the media disclosed Coleman personally signed for the bonds, and would have been responsible for their having to be enforced. Then, despite not having mentioned one word of this before publicly, Coleman came out and said this:

" The option that the company would have had its bond pulled is not necessarily the right conclusion to reach. The company would have had other options, either to complete the work or to sell the work."

As usual in this saga, Coleman attempts to cover one lie with another twist. His problem though is his cover story only adds significantly to the drama. Consider his words. There was no urgency to cancel the bonds. The work could be finished or sold. Take him at his word on this for a moment. If those things are all true, then why did the Minister dissolve the contract and release Coleman from the bonds? That would only benefit one person, Frank Coleman. Not the employees. Not the company. Coleman's own defence to personally benefiting was there was no need to release him - so why did Coleman's son request it and why did McGrath do it? See, that's the problem with lies. We even tell our children this as they grow up. Lies only beget more lies, and eventually they all fall. I will leave you with this last Coleman quote, which I believe is the biggest lie of all:

"I can absolutely tell you there is nothing untoward here."



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