Opposition questions untendered consulting contracts

Alberta opposition parties raised more questions about government spending on Wednesday — especially about sole-sourced contracts awarded to former insiders
Liberal leader Raj Sherman believes a series of contracts under $75,000 were given to Navigator Ltd. to avoid having to put them out to public tender. (CBC)

Alberta opposition parties raised more questions about government spending on Wednesday — especially about sole-sourced contracts awarded to former Tory insiders.

The Alberta Liberals have revealed that the Ministry of Health awarded a series of sole-sourced contracts to Navigator Ltd. totalling $250,000.

The “high stakes” communications firm includes managing principal Randy Dawson, the former Progressive Conservative election campaign manager, and senior consultant Carol Anderson, the former chief of staff to the health minister.

Each contract was under $75,000. Liberal leader Raj Sherman thinks that was done on purpose.

“It almost seems that the contracts were divided up to skirt the rules, so they would not have to be publicly tendered out under that $75,000 rule,” Sherman said.

“The minister has a lot of explaining to do.”

Health Minister Fred Horne said he isn’t concerned with Navigator contracts and wouldn’t comment on the government’s ties to Dawson and Anderson.

Although the department has its own communications staff, Horne says work sometimes needs to be contracted out.

“We do have some very talented people in my department in communications,” he said. “But do they have all of the expertise we need for everything that we do? Absolutely not.”

Navigator wasn’t the only contract raising critics' eyebrows on Wednesday.

The Wildrose revealed that Pam Whitnack, a former executive vice-president with Alberta Health Services, was awarded a $252,000 sole-source contract the day after she left the health authority in 2011.

"Left with a million dollars of compensation and the very next day was rehired on a quarter-million dollar consulting contract to provide executive consulting services,” Wildrose leader Danielle Smith said.

“I think that this is a prime example of this revolving door of entitlement.”

Colleen Turner, vice-president of communications with AHS, said that Whitnack was hired to provide executive coaching because of her knowledge and experience with the province’s health care system.

“That was valuable at the time,” she said. “We've since actually moved away, trying to move away, from hiring as many consultants.”

Horne has asked AHS to look at whether that contract was given enough oversight, Turner said.