Sunday, November 14, 2010

More inconsistencies with Liberal sole-sourced contract

[Further to my previous post:]

Corey Laroque wrote in "Niagara branding expertise reason firm got contract" (St.Catharines Standard, Nov.13, 2010):

"A Niagara Falls publishing company was allowed to skirt government rules against sole-source contracts because it had newspaper boxes with the name "Niagara" on them and it published an existing hotel-room magazine, a spokesman for Tourism Minister Michael Chan said.

Chan's office provided some more details Friday about why he approved Niagara's regional tourism organization's hiring of Rev Publishing in May to create a "destination magazine" to promote Niagara's tourism offerings.

The tourism organization -- one of 13 new bodies created by the province last year -- spent $500,000 in public money and $250,000 in member contributions to commission 500,000 copies of Niagara Today, a 96-page magazine. They were to be distributed in the Greater Toronto Area.

The tourism group did not seek bids from competing publishers.

In a seven-sentence e-mail, Chan's spokesman, Mukunthan Paramalingham, summarized the four points the Niagara tourism organization used to justify a sole source contract:
- Rev Publishing had "significant" Niagara-related content ready to go.

- Niagara Today was an "easily recognizable brand" that Niagara hotel guests had seen.

- Rev was the only publisher that maintained "Niagara-branded" street boxes in GO stations.

- The street boxes, printing and distribution were "an important tool" for promoting the Niagara region.
The explanation came a day after Niagara Falls MPP Kim Craitor called on the board of Niagara's regional tourism organization to publicly release whatever documentation it used to convince ministry officials to exempt them from a rule requiring government contracts to be subject to a competitive bidding process.

The head of Niagara's RTO says it has been "as transparent as we can" and insists it played by the rules when it gave the untendered contract to Rev Publishing.

"I trust the folks around this table. They vetted it and decided it was a good project," Dragan Matovic, chairman of the Niagara's regional tourism organization, said during a board meeting Friday.

Matovic did not return media calls asking whether his board would release the information Craitor said it would help restore public confidence in the regional tourism organization. In an e-mail he said he would ask the board about releasing it and respond later.

Matovic said Friday he was not at the May meeting where the board decided to give Rev Publishing the magazine contract.

Former Niagara Parks Commission executive Joel Noden, who represented the government agency on the tourism board, was co-chairman when the magazine contract was issued.

Noden did not attend Friday's meeting of the tourism organization. He left the parks commission Tuesday.

In most cases, government rules require regional tourism organizations to "obtain a minimum of three written quotes" for goods or services worth more than $5,000.

But they're allowed to skip that tendering process and pick just one source when the expertise is "specialized and is not readily available."

Those rules are outlined in the agreements between the Ministry of Tourism and its regional tourism organizations. Representatives from Ontario's regional tourism organizations were reminded of those rules as recently as Nov. 7 at a summit of tourism officials.

Matovic said the organization, formed in May to promote Niagara's tourism industry, has abided by the Ministry of Tourism's requirements for managing the $3.5 million Queen's Park made available to Niagara this year.

Known as RTO No. 2, the group of tourism industry representatives will formally become the Tourism Partnership of Niagara when it's incorporated as a not-for-profit corporation in December.

The creation of regional tourism organizations to better promote an area is part of the Liberal government's plan to strengthen the tourism industry.

Niagara's organization came under scrutiny this week after revelations surfaced it hired Niagara Rev Publishing without asking competitors if they could do the work better or cheaper. Ontario's Liberals came under fire last year over the lack of competitive bids at eHealth Ontario, prompting Premier Dalton McGuinty to issue a directive ending single-source contracts in all but the most exceptional circumstances.

Despite the new rule, Ministry of Tourism officials granted an exception to Niagara's RTO because its magazine needed to be printed and distributed before the start of the 2010 travel season.

Friday's explanation clarified what Chan said Wednesday when he said ministry staff accepted the explanation Rev Publishing' had an "exclusive" arrangement to distribute magazines at GO Transit stations in the Greater Toronto Area.

"We needed these GO boxes as a vehicle to distribute these magazines," Chan said Wednesday.

But a GO Transit spokeswoman told The Review the provincial agency doesn't have any exclusive deals with any company for the distribution of newspapers or magazines at GO stations.

"GO has always followed an open policy about the distribution of publications. We do not currently have any exclusive arrangements on our system or at our stations," GO spokeswoman Vanessa Thomas said.

There are 20 publishing companies that distribute two dozen publications at GO stations, including Sun Media and Torstar, both of which have subsidiaries that publish Niagara-based magazines.

Craitor dropped in to Friday's board meeting to tell members in person they should release all the details behind its decision to solesource the magazine contract.

"The best people to ask are the people who made the decision," he said.

But the government itself refused a media request to release the information it received from Niagara's tourism organization.

Despite the controversy over the untendered contract, Craitor said he had faith in the regional tourism organization and the tourism-industry representatives leading it.

"It's a bit unfortunate we had a bit of a bump. We can clear that up," Craitor said."


Talk about these government agencies circling the wagons on this contract: this 'open-tender' idea looks like it was designed to fail with skewed requirements; now, inconsistent backpedalled stories are justifying the decison.

Take a look at one of Liberal tourism minister Chan's main "reasons" for handing out this sole-source contract: that Rev had some kind of supposedly-exclusive street box arrangement with GO Transit. GO, meanwhile, says they have no such arrangement.
Who's telling the truth here - McGuinty's Liberal tourism minister, or GO?!

Furthermore, if the reason/excuse for handing out this untendered contract was based on the recipient company having some kind of 'exclusive' arrangement with GO, then it practically makes having ANY bidding process an outright sham anyway, seeing as the whole thing - according to the Liberal tourism minister Chan himself - revolves on a bidder already having access to this so-called 'exclusivity' deal with GO!
Any other 'bidder' would be precluded from the get-go, making the 'bidding process' a pointless, rigged deal. So why bother having any bids - right?!

Is that what really happened here? And now the Liberals are burying themselves deeper in shit because of their unconvincing, after-the-fact, backpedalled excuses.

1 comment:

Dogmatic Pragmatist said...

The thing you should check into is if Rev Publishing has donated any $ to the Liberal Party of Ontario - that would explain a lot regarding the "decision" by Minister Chan.