Corey Laroque wrote in "MPP wants explanation over tourism agency spending" (QMI, Nov.11. 2010):
"Whatever information Niagara's regional tourism organization used to justify an "exception" from the province's ban on single-source contracts, it should be disclosed to ensure public confidence in the agency, Niagara Falls MPP Kim Craitor says.
"I think that the chairman of the board should explain to the media or to the public what they presented to the bureaucrats that convinced them this should be an exception," Craitor said Thursday.
The first project by Niagara's regional tourism organization — a body created last year by Ontario's Liberal government to promote tourism — led to a controversy after it was revealed it commissioned Niagara Falls-based Rev Publishing to produce a glossy $500,000 tourism magazine without putting it out to tender.
"This is not a good way for it to start out," said Craitor, who is also parliamentary assistant to Ontario Tourism Minister Michael Chan.
"I'm not happy with this," Craitor said, adding he planned to get "a clear understanding about how this came about."
Dragan Matovic, chairman of the newly formed board, declined to comment on this story but said he would talk to QMI Agency Friday.
Joel Noden, a former Niagara Parks Commission executive, shared the chairman's duties when the decision was made. He could not be reached either. He left the parks commission Tuesday to "look at some other interests."
Noden already had the magazine project underway when members of the new tourism board met for the first time in May, said Niagara-on-the-Lake Chamber of Commerce director Janice Thomson.
There was already about $3 million in funding available from the province's $65-million pot to fund all 13 tourism organizations.
Board members decided to adopt the magazine, as well as a $250,000 advertising campaign NEDC was working on to market Niagara to GO Transit riders, as their first projects and use the available government funding for them.
"They were brought to us as existing projects that were in the works," Thomson said.
Members decided a "proper" tender wasn't realistic if they wanted to print and distribute the magazines in time for summer.
Conservative tourism critic Ted Arnott issued a statement Wednesday calling the magazine contract evidence that "sole-sourced contracts continue to thrive under the McGuinty government."
When it comes to government-funded contracts, the idea a project is too urgent to wait for a proper tender isn't good enough, said Walter Sendzik, chief executive officer of the St. Catharines-Thorold Chamber of Commerce.
"If you hide behind the veil of expediency, you get caught in this situation of it doesn't really add up," said Sendzik, himself the former publisher of a wine magazine.
He said there were at least three magazine companies in Niagara with existing publications that could have bid on the tourism publication.
"It begs the question — how did those around the table not look at a competitive bidding process? … There are very capable people around that RTO board. You can't chock it up to growing pains," said Sendzik, who is not a member of the tourism organization.
Chan confirmed Wednesday his staff gave the Niagara group "an exception" to the year-old government rule requiring all government contracts to be subject to competitive bids before they're awarded.
Craitor also said the directive laid out by the premier isn't carved in stone. It allows for some exceptions to the ban on sole-source contracting.
The Liberals, for example, renewed Casino Niagara's lease at its Falls Ave. home in January without inviting other bids. But Craitor said they explained their reasons for exempting the casino lease from the ban on single-source contracts — the amount of money already invested in the casino building and the additional cost if it were to move.
But when the Maid of the Mist Steamboat Co.'s lease on Niagara Parks Commission land expired in 2009, the Liberals ordered the Niagara Parks Commission to hold a competition to see if another boat tour company would be able to provide either a better service or better financial terms.
The creation of 13 regional tourism organizations was a key part of the Liberal government's plan to bolster Ontario's tourism industry. Each organization is responsible for promoting the tourism offerings in its region.
Niagara's 19-member regional tourism organization has representatives from the Niagara Parks Commission, the casinos, Niagara Economic Development Corp., Niagara Falls Tourism, Niagara-on-the-Lake chamber of commerce and the accommodations sector in Niagara Falls, Niagara-on-the-Lake and St. Catharines.
It was one of the recommendations in a high-profile study done by Liberal MPP and former finance minister Greg Sorbara. Opposition critics said then the study was an $8-million "gold-plated send-off" for the former finance minister, a close confidante of Premier Dalton McGuinty.
Despite the controversy over the Niagara organization's first project, Craitor said he still has faith in the idea of having industry-led organizations direct the efforts to market the tourism options in their regions.
If Queen's Park didn't get some local input on tourism marketing, all the decisions would be made by Toronto bureaucrats.
"If we don't, we go back to how we were before. Everybody was going in their own direction."
Did you read the part in the report that "Members decided a "proper" tender wasn't realistic..." ? Wow - yet obviously they went ahead, regardless that IT WAS AN IMPROPER TENDER - and, they knew it!
They were just hoping no one would really bother to look, or care.
Now the hapless Kim 'hey, what's going on here?' Craitor wants to find out how McGuinty's Liberals - despite their constant bleating that they've 'changed their ways'; that 'they're going to listen'; that they're going to be more 'transparent' and 'accountable'... nevertheless still gave out a sole-sourced, non-tendered $500,000 tourism-magazine contract, right under his nose.
What a joke: it's as if somehow Kim Craitor is not a direct part of this problematic Liberal incompetence; as if Ole Kimmy's not even a Liberal!! Why, it's some other mysterious government screwing things up on a daily basis, then getting caught, then promising that they're going to change their ways, then getting caught again... it's as if Craitor's just an innocent bystander, I tells, ya: Kimmy (like Good Ole Jimmy next door in St.Catharines) had nuttin' ta do wid it - nuttin' - ya hear me?!!!
[500 grand would have gone a long way to help reopen the hospital emergency rooms which Kim Craitor, Jim Bradley and Dalton McGuinty had closed in Niagara, eh? These are the same monopolist Liberal scumbags who force patients to wait while these Libs cut services in their ideological health care monopoly - yet LOOK HOW THESE SAME f^*#ers continually WASTE our taxes! Nice to see health-care cutter Sorbara was mentioned here. Interesting, too, how these bureaucratic 13 new "tourism organizations" seem to parallel Smitherman's LHIN model, eh?]
And hearing Craitor babbling that somehow "everybody was going in their own directions" (umm: when Jim Bradley was tourism minister, note!) "before" these new tourist bureaucracies were formed, makes no sense either - as apparently now the locals were also going in different directions and doing whatever the hell they wanted with our tax dollars!
Obviously, Craitor can't even see the inaccuracy of his own summation of this example of Liberal government incompetence.
Craitor and his pack of Liberal McGuintyist liars are a FLICKING pathetic joke.