Today in the city Brandon 21.10.2020

Procurement ombudsman opens investigation into six sole-source contracts awarded to WE by Trudeau government

OTTAWA – The federal procurement watchdog has launched an investigation into a series of sole-source government contracts awarded to the WE organization since 2017.

In an email to National Post, Procurement Ombudsman (OPO) Alexander Jeglic’s office confirmed that it had launched an in-depth review of at least six non-competitive contracts that were awarded to WE.

The deals, all under the $40,000 threshold that would require a tendering process, were signed between 2017 and 2020 by four federal departments: Global Affairs Canada (GAC), the Privy Council Office (PCO), the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) and the Canada School of Public Service (CSPS), said ombudsman’s spokesperson Anik Trépanier.

The review of the six contracts, as well as any others that may come up during the investigation, aims to determine if each was issued lawfully and respectfully of “principles of fairness, openness and transparency”, her statement said.

OPO decided to launch the reviews after assessing preliminary information provided by each department, Trépanier added.

The ombudsman’s office also considered examining the government’s handling of its now-cancelled $912 million Canada Student Service Grant agreement with WE, but ultimately determined that was outside of its legal mandate.

The investigation comes nearly two months after the National Post first reported that WE Charity had obtained a series of sole-source contracts from the federal government since Justin Trudeau was elected prime minister in 2015.

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Contracts are considered “sole-source” when they are handed directly to a chosen supplier, without the opportunity for others to provide competing bids on government work.

A few days after the initial report, the Conservatives sent a letter to Jeglic’s office requesting an investigation into all deals involving WE.

“I am pleased that the ombudsman has confirmed what we were suspicious about, that there is something worth looking into,” Conservative procurement critic Kelly Block said in an interview Thursday.

“When it was reported that there were other sole-source contracts given to this organization over the last three years, we certainly felt that (the sole-source contracts were) something that needed to be looked into as well.”

Trépanier refused to disclose which six contracts were under review. But National Post reported on June 30 that WE Charity received five federal contracts worth a total of $120,000 since March 2017 from GAC, PCO and PHAC, according to public government records.

At the time, WE Charity explained that it had occasionally signed contracts with the federal government and that “in all instances, appropriate contracting procedures have been followed.”

The same government records show a sixth, previously unreported contract between the Canada School of Public Service and ME to WE Leadership — part of WE’s for-profit arm — worth $11,300.

No other contracts under appear under the names “WE”, “WE Charity” or “ME to WE”.

In separate statements, PHAC, GAC and PCO said that government regulation allows departments to sole-source a service contract worth under $40,000. They also stated that all their deals with WE respected procurement rules and that they would fully cooperate with the ombudsman’s review.

“Given the low dollar value of the contract, it was determined that the cost and resources required to solicit bids would outweigh any economic advantage that might be gained through a competitive process,” PHAC added in a statement regarding its $24,900 contract with WE in 2019.

The federal public service school declined to comment.

The procurement ombudsman’s review comes on the heels of two other investigations by the ethics commissioner into Justin Trudeau and Finance Minister Bill Morneau’s involvement in the outsourcing of the Canada Student Service Grant to WE.

Both men have apologized for not recusing themselves from the decision because of their close ties to the Toronto-based organization.

Trudeau has spoken for free at multiple major events for the organization up until 2017, whereas WE said it paid hundreds of thousands of dollars in total speaking fees to his wife Sophie Grégoire Trudeau, his mother, Margaret Trudeau, and his brother Alexandre Trudeau.

In Morneau’s case, one of his daughters currently works for WE, and his family and himself have travelled multiple times with the organization.

A few weeks ago, Morneau revealed to the finance committee that he had omitted until mid-July to reimburse $41,000 in free travel offered by WE to his family and himself back in 2017.

“I think the Conservatives certainly built the case that there’s a scandal here and it needs to be looked into” in its entirety,  Block said Thursday.

• Email: | Twitter: ChrisGNardi

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