All-season road access was the goal of the East Side Road Authority (ESRA), an organization tasked with building roads to 13 different remote communities located on the northeastern side of Lake Winnipeg. The provincial NDP government created the project in 2009. In September 2016, however, the auditor general released an investigative report, followed by an audit, which eventually led to the dissolution of the project.
But this was not your run-of-the-mill infrastructure venture. Comments by the auditor general in the investigative report put this project outside the realm of infrastructure development due to the “complex community agreements aimed at ensuring benefits, over and above road construction accrue to the east-side communities.”
The ESRA hoped to stimulate the economy by providing jobs, offering skills training using partnership opportunities with respective industry-based businesses (such as construction and forestry) and providing mentoring and oversight for the project.
The auditor general's report revealed “many gaps in how the community benefit agreements and the related untendered pre-construction contracts were being managed.” The organization lacked proper expense reports, project oversight and implementation of training for jobs. The fallout of this project resulted in the loss of 80 jobs, condensing available positions from 90 to 10 full time positions and 33 part-time positions.
Page 1 of the Public Interest Disclosure Investigation states issues with the ESRA were brought to the attention of the auditor general by an official in charge of investigating complaints brought forward from a company or organization.
The ESRA signed multiple community benefits agreements (CBAs) and was obligated to mentor employees and transfer management in the areas of environment, safety, finance and construction, ensuring that the members of the First Nations and employees of the community corporation were able to function independently.
The ESRA consisted of four divisions: environment, safety, construction and engineering and Aboriginal Relations and Economic Development (ARED), each responsible for mentoring within their respective fields. The analysis of this mentoring, found in section 2.1. of the report, states effective mentoring was lacking, and most divisions didn’t understand what kind of mentorship they needed to provide and lacked proper plans to effectively deliver the types of guidance and training necessary to complete this project.
The report later notes joint ventures and subcontracts were made between the communities and private sector contractors requiring the private contractors to provide a mentorship plan to the ESRA. The report also states the CBAs required any third-party contracts must be inclined to employ persons residing on the east side first and record this in a public, transparent manner. No such plans were obtained in the contracts for the audit’s sample.
Recommendations made by the auditor called for better filing systems and record keeping to ensure retention of key documents. Nonetheless, on May 30, 2016, the ESRA was dissolved, and responsibility of road construction and maintenance were turned over to the Department of Infrastructure.
The bird is the word
Locals are sending out tweets providing access to information and public opinion on the fallout from this situation.
Ian Froese tweets about the loss of jobs, or “gigs,” with the disbanding of the ESRA.
MyToba.ca offers a link to Premier Brian Pallister’s response to the auditor’s report on the ESRA.
Steve Lambert tweets that though the auditor general’s report is not binding, it does state the lack of oversight necessary to have this project pan out properly.
It's not a scathing report, but the A-G has found fairly widespread lack of oversight to ensure project spending benefitted those intended— Steve Lambert (@stevelambertwpg) September 20, 2016
Manitoba’s NDP asks what the future holds now for Indigenous peoples in the northeast region of Manitoba now that Brian Pallister has cut the program.
Blake Robert, political communicator, brings the NDP under the spotlight with this tweet highlighting the disparity between their original vision for the ESRA versus the opinion of First Nations chiefs on the ESRA.
David McLaughlin blames the failure on the ESRA itself, claiming it lacked management and governance.
East Side Road Authority failed on almost every basic principle & application of good governance & public sector performance management.— David McLaughlin (@DavidMcLA) September 21, 2016
Tom Brodbeck, columnist for the Winnipeg Sun, says though the decision to eliminate the ESRA was tough, it was necessary, and provides a link to his article.