Thursday, October 29, 2009

Maid of the Mist lease up for tender

The Niagara Falls Review reported Oct.29, 2009, that the Ontario government has ordered the Niagara Parks Commission to call for open tenders on the boat cruises now run by the Maid of the Mist.

The Review's Corey Laroque reported:

"For the first time in years, the Maid of the Mist will have to fend off competitors to hold onto the right to run boat tours in the Niagara River.

Ontario Tourism Minister Monique Smith announced Wednesday the Niagara Parks Commission will solicit competing bids from companies interested in leasing the property needed to provide the tours.

"For once, the taxpayers have won. It's unbelievable," said Bob Gale, the former commissioner whose concerns about the attempt to renew the lease in 2008 led to a year and a half of intense scrutiny for Niagara Parks.

The Liberal government's direction to the parks commission stems from its reaction to the recent scandal at eHealth Ontario, where it was revealed the electronic health records agency issued millions of dollars in untendered contracts.

After the eHealth scandal, Premier Dalton McGuinty announced a new policy aimed at opening government-issued contracts to competitive bids more regularly.

"We think that this process aligns itself well with that," Smith said in an interview just hours after she recommended cabinet not give its approval to the deal the parks commission negotiated in 2008 with the Maid of the Mist Steamboat Co.

"I think this is the appropriate course," Smith said. "It ensures all interested parties get the opportunity to submit proposals in a fair and open competition."

Parks commission chairman Jim Williams said his board will abide by the order.

"As a dutiful agency of government, we are not our own masters. We work for the government," Williams said. "They're wanting an open, transparent process. We will certainly follow that recommendation." "


We have to wonder: if McGuinty's eHealth scandal had not been uncovered (and the Liberals tried their best to hide it from scrutiny), would this ever have come about at the NPC? And what other cosy little arrangements are there that we aren't aware of?

For months after Bob Gale quit the Parks board, he was shunned; now suddenly - and ONLY AFTER McGuinty's Liberals were caught in the eHealth scandal - does it occur to McGuinty's Liberals to 'institute transparent processes'??!! For cryin' out loud.

Laroque also writes:

"The Maid of the Mist lease has been controversial since April 2008, when the 12-member parks commission voted to extend it. Then-commissioner Gale objected to renewing it before finding out if another company might pay more for the right to run tours.

Two others, including Ripley's Entertainment and Atlanta-based Alcatraz Media, had said they were interested.

Gale's complaint to Ontario's integrity commissioner led to an eight-month investigation, two government reviews and Smith's order for the parks commission to take a second look at its 2008 decision.

When commissioners reviewed that decision in September, they reached the same conclusion - extend the Maid lease -and asked the Liberal cabinet to approve it.

Gale said he was "pretty pleased" the lease was ultimately going to tender, something he pushed for a year and a half ago.

"It's the right first step ... I salute the government, I salute Monique Smith for putting it out to tender," said Gale, adding the commission needs supervision to make sure the bidding process is fair.

Niagara Falls MPP Kim Craitor, who backed Gale's call for openness, said he was happy with his party's new approach.

"I always felt that should have been tendered out," Craitor said.

It means the parks commission has less than five months to draft and issue a tender, give companies time to prepare their bids, consider the bids and award a contract.

There is a provision in the current lease for the Maid of the Mist to continue on a month-to-month basis. If the Maid company lost the contract, it could continue business until the winner takes over. "

With all this saluting to the Liberals - let's not forget that those same Liberals - before eHealth - would have denied and laughed off concerns that there were any transparency issues in their government depts., agencies, and boards!

And let's look at Kim Craitor's claims that he always felt that the Maid of the Mist's lease should have been tendered out.

Why, then, doesn't Craitor apply his same (faux) ideas of openness to his closed, secretive, Liberal health care monopoly?

Why, then, doesn't Craitor call for tenders and competition within the Liberal health care monopoly, and call for the de-monopolization - ie for reform - of Ontario's health monopoly?

Why isn't Craitor advocating for patient payer and provider choice, and planning a phased process in which competing medical service providers and insurers bid for business?

Why does Liberal Kim Craitor bizarrely go protesting about health care cuts in front of his Liberal buddy Jim Bradley's office (what was that about?!) - yet he can't fathom that his own Liberal party's misguided monopolism is the problem?

Really, why is Craitor in the Liberal party anyway? Isn't he a closet Dipper? He could just quit and sit as an independent MPP, where he can really be a more honest voice - especially as McGuinty's Liberals (to whom Craitor means little) disintegrate in the next two years.

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