Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Renogate expanding today

Update (5:20 p.m.) below. 

More today on the the burgeoning Parliament Hill renovation brouhaha affectionately termed "renogate."

1. The latest and potentially big story on this file that popped up on the weekend is worthy of some attention. It was reported that the week before a crucial competitive bid process closed, the one that contractor LM Sauve won for $9 million, the criteria that contractors had to meet were suddenly changed. As in, downgraded in a way that would benefit LM Sauve in particular, being a smaller firm. We know the allegation that the LM Sauve firm owner paid a lobbyist "with ties to the Conservatives" the sum of $140,000 to help win the contract. And we also know that LM Sauve did go on to win the contract but went bankrupt and couldn't complete the work.

So why did the criteria for the bidders change and who instigated that change? The questions were asked yesterday in Question Period and rather shockingly, here was the response: "Tories point to bureaucrats in renovation contract."

The government must be worried, however. Get a load of the explanation that came last night from this government, the one that wants to sole-source $16 billion in fighter jets.

Last night came word from a "senior government official" admitting that yes, the changes were to the benefit of LM Sauve, but the contracting process needed to be filled up with extra bidders. Yep, they needed to dot the i's and cross the t's to make sure the bid was competitive enough. See, on some matters, competitive bids seem to matter to this government. Seem to, anyway.

I'm not familiar with exactly how many contractors they needed in order to satisfy a competitive process here, but based on the Maher report on the weekend, it certainly sounded like they had enough other and larger reputable firms bidding:
"The other four companies that pre-qualified — PCL, Daoust, EllisDon and Thomas Fuller — are large, corporate general contractors."
All of those firms qualified for the bid without the loosened bid criteria. So why was there a need for more? The senior government official pleads that the bid became more competitive and "...had the change not been made, the government’s tendering process would have been vulnerable to a legal challenge."

Surely there must be some provision to maintain integrity in the process where you don't open up bids to just anybody simply out of a need for bodies to fill your quota. On the Parliament buildings? Look at what happened to the project by adding this unqualified bidder to the process.

Now that's the government spin in any event. The cause of the change to the bid criteria remains a question mark. Whether there was political interference is still a question to be answered. You have to love the irony of these Conservatives citing the need for competitive bids though! Their actions as a government suggest they value such processes only when it's convenient to them.

2. There is also a report by CBC's Greg Weston on the cost of temporary meeting rooms while Parliament Hill is under all this renovation. An expense of $24 million for four meeting rooms is being reported when the budgeting was apparently in the $11 million range for those facilities ($11 million figure from Weston video on that CBC page link).

Guess we'll be hearing the explanations today, variations on parliamentary needs and, well, given the tendency to buck pass, possibly that public servants were in charge. Explaining the costs will be the big issue though. Especially since we're all against gravy trains these days. Aren't we?

Apparently we're building a big new parliamentary building too. Out of the blue, an old plan that was buried has been resurrected. Look forward to hearing the explanation on that one. Not necessarily a bad thing if it's needed and can be justified. However, this is a government that is repeatedly pointing at the opposition as having big spending plans and nickels and dimes the opposition on its policy plans. How they can justify not disclosing this plan, which must be for hundreds of millions, is a glaring question.

All in all, "renogate" seems to be serving up some very sloppy financial management from these Conservatives. Who would hire these people?

P.S. Don Martin doesn't like the renogate term ("Please, no"). I'm going to keep using it anyway, because really, there's nothing better on tap and we need to capture this one in some neat label. BCL likes it too, good enough for me.

Update (5:20 p.m.): A little birdie suggests to me that there is a flip side to the government's explanation above, that they needed to get more bidders in the contract bidding in order to avoid a legal challenge to the process. In changing the criteria, did they open themselves up to possible legal action? Those who prepared their bids based on the original criteria spent time and money in reliance upon those criteria. I don't know if there's a cause of action but it's worth considering.