The Gallant government says it will invite new bidders for a contract to provide equipment to disabled New Brunswickers rather than automatically extend the current agreement with the Canadian Red Cross.
Families Minister Stephen Horsman told CBC News he recognized there have been "hiccups" with how the Red Cross has run the program, which provides equipment such as wheelchairs and canes to low-income people.
Several people who use the program have complained that the service was slow, forcing them to spend their own money or turn to charities to get their equipment.
"Hopefully they'll learn from the past, whoever gets the contract, and if it's Red Cross again, hopefully they'll learn again," Horsman said Monday.
"Nothing's perfect today but we're going to try to make it better."
The original contract was for two years and will expire in January 2017. It allowed for up to three extensions of one year each.
But instead, Horsman said, the province will issue a new request for proposals and invite new bids.
'We want the best for New Brunswickers'
"We're going to look at everything and we want the best for New Brunswickers," he said.
The Red Cross starting supplying the equipment on behalf of the Department of Social Development in January 2015.
The previous Progressive Conservative government had decided to centralize the service with one agency replacing a range of suppliers.
Bill Lawlor, the provincial director for the Red Cross, said the organization hasn't been told officially that the contract won't be extended.
He said they want "to determine what is the most appropriate next step, and what would make the most sense for all the stakeholders involved.
Warnings about Red Cross
"We just want to make sure that whatever the future holds, we can make sure we're doing it as the Red Cross for all the right reasons — ultimately for the clients."
Earlier this year, Kaitlyn Layden of Saint John told CBC News the Red Cross took more than a month to fix her wheelchair. Ability New Brunswick said there had been problems.
The New Brunswick Association of Occupational Therapists had warned in 2014 that the Red Cross wasn't ready to handle the program.
"Certainly there have been some challenges with the program," Lawlor said Monday.
"We've worked very carefully to try to find ways to make improvements or make suggestions for improvements."
Horsman said there have been "hiccups, but for every hiccup, I'm sure there are hundreds of good things that have happened."
The Red Cross contract was in the spotlight again last week when Progressive Conservative MLA Dorothy Shephard asked questions about it at a legislative committee hearing.
Service NB offers explanation
She said she was told the contract had apparently been approved without going before the cabinet in the period between the 2014 election that the PCs lost to the Liberals and the swearing-in of the Liberal government.
Horsman said he wasn't familiar with that.
"The past process was with the past government, so I don't know how the process started with them," he said.
"There's a new process starting now."
Lawlor said he also wasn't aware "of the exact process within government" and didn't know the exact date it was approved or signed.
Shephard's questions last week led the public accounts committee of the legislature to unanimously pass a motion asking for another committee on Crown corporations to invite Service New Brunswick to answer questions on the contract.
Service New Brunswick said in an emailed statement Monday that procurement legislation in 2014 allowed the minister of government services to approve a contract and that happened on Aug. 13, 2014, when the PC government was still in office.
The statement said it would be willing to appear before the committee to explain the process.