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Tories to fight $27M claim (January 11, 2002)

FREDERICTON, N.B. -- The provincial government has no plans to cut a $27-million cheque to pay extra charges from t...

FREDERICTON, N.B. — The provincial government has no plans to cut a $27-million cheque to pay extra charges from the Moncton-to-Fredericton four-lane highway.

Premier Bernard Lord’s government has filed a defence to the Maritime Road Development Corporation’s claim that the government owes the company an additional $27 million beyond the amount agreed upon in the original road contract.

“The arbitration panel will meet some time in the spring to determine whether the claim is valid or not and to what extent. No payment is being proposed at this moment,” says Lord. “The government has not accepted the claim.”

But despite the premier’s commitment to protect the interest of taxpayers during negotiations, Lord admits it’s possible MRDC could file even more claims beyond the $27 million.

About six months ago, before the highway was opened, the province and MRDC entered into private discussions before a three-member arbitration panel to hash out several contractual disputes. On Wednesday, the government revealed the company is claiming $27 million in additional costs associated with construction.

The possible pay-out to MRDC was a hot topic in the legislature Thursday, with Opposition Leader Bernard Richard accusing the government of secretly agreeing in 1999 to be lenient during negotiations so that MRDC would open the contract to remove the tolls from the $600-million highway.

“What promises were made to MRDC when your government, the Lord government, opened up the toll deal in the fall of 1999? … What promises were made with regard to future payments?” questioned Richard in the legislature.

“This is ludicrous,” blasted back Transportation Minister Percy Mockler. “This is Liberal fearmongering? … There was no secret deal with MRDC. … We have nothing to hide.”

Lord insists there is no link between the current negotiations and the toll removal deal. And the discussion deteriorated from there.

“I think that for the leader of the Opposition, it is unfortunate that jumping to conclusions is not an Olympic event, because he would certainly get the gold medal,” charges Lord.

“If slithering to avoid answering a question were an Olympic sport, the premier would have a gold medal,” retorted Richard.

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