Monday, April 16, 2007

On contested titles

The race for the title of Most Embarrassing Con Cabinet Minister has been a hard-fought one from the beginning. Early favourites Rona Ambrose and Vic Toews were moved to lower-profile portfolios, leaving Gordon O'Connor as the current leader.

But there's a new dark horse in the race. Last week, Michael Fortier decided to make a government polling investigation as partisan and untrustworthy as possible by appointing Daniel Paille to the task. And today, word comes out that Fortier is alleged to have rigged a contracting process in order to award a $400 million deal to a former client:
An Ottawa IT contractor is calling for an inquiry into the preliminary award of a $400-million contract to Montreal-based CGI Group Inc., a former client of Public Works Minister Michael Fortier from his days as an investment banker.

TPG Technology Consulting Ltd. of Ottawa will file a request today with the federal Public Sector Integrity Office to investigate whether Mr. Fortier was in a conflict of interest.

Mr. Fortier was an investment banker with Credit Suisse First Boston from 1999 to 2004, during which time he headed the firm's Montreal office.

In March 2004, Credit Suisse was one of the underwriters for a share offering by CGI that raised more than $330 million, and Mr. Fortier was listed in regulatory filings as the primary contact for Credit Suisse...

TPG has been providing IT services to a variety of federal departments and agencies through an eight-year contract with Public Works worth roughly $200 million, said Mr. Powell.

In May, the department issued a request for proposals for similar "engineering and technical services."

But when TPG attempted to bid, the company was told by government officials that it would need references for work the size of the new contract, estimated to be worth more than $400 million over seven years.

"We could not respond to it, even though we're doing the work today. That looked a little strange. We wrote to the minister on that," said Mr. Powell.

Government bureaucrats also told the company that the technical evaluation of the bids was "very close," and TPG's bid was easily the cheapest, said Mr. Powell. But the company alleges that Public Works changed the process by asking that the scores be re-evaluated.
While the claim isn't yet proven, the conflict of interest at least appears to be fairly obvious. And the prospect that the minister generally responsible for government services might be inflating costs paid out of the Canadian public purse should be ready fodder for both discontent among any principled Cons who haven't yet jumped ship, and attacks from the opposition parties.

Toss in Fortier's consistent incompetence on his department's planned selloff of government buildings, and there's no lack of readily-visible problems with Fortier's tenure. And that's without his having faced the scrutiny of the House of Commons - which means both that the may be plenty already waiting to surface, and that Fortier hasn't yet had a full opportunity to make a fool of himself through words as well as actions.

Of course, the overriding embarrassment has to lie with the Prime Minister responsible for handing over the power which these ministers have handled so poorly. But it never hurts to point out that Harper's most-trusted few have in fact shown themselves entirely undeserving of Canadian confidence - and hopefully a bit more focus on that group will help to make sure their race to the bottom comes to a merciful end.

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