N.W.T. gov't dismisses complaint alleging it improperly awarded A New Day contract
Joe Pintarics’s complaint on behalf of the Behchoko friendship centre has been dismissed by the government
The Government of the Northwest Territories has dismissed a formal complaint filed by Joe Pintarics, executive director of the Tlicho Leagia Ts'iili Ko Rae-Edzo Friendship Centre in Behchoko.
Pintarics filed a vendor complaint on behalf of the friendship centre on June 5, after Louis Sebert, the territory's minister of justice, announced that the government had made a sole-source award of the contract to run the A New Day men's healing and anti-violence program to the John Howard Society on May 31.
Pintarics's complaint, shared by others at the time, was that the terms of the contract as awarded to the John Howard Society in a closed door deal were radically different than the terms described in the original request for proposals (RFP).
The contract was originally tendered as a nine month contract, with the possibility of renewal at the end of those nine months. No Yellowknife organizations bid on the contract. Some cited concerns with the terms of the contract, saying the program couldn't be effectively delivered as tendered.
At the time, the government defended its decision. Sebert said that because the original RFP included the possibility of an extension beyond nine months, giving the John Howard Society a four year contract wasn't a significant change in the contract terms.
But Pintarics continues to disagree with that assessment.
"Everyone at the [Coalition against Family Violence] said, had they been able to bid on the four year contract, they would have come forward, because that would have given them time to get stuff done," Pintarics told the CBC.
Ben Singer, the senior contracts advisor who wrote the decision dismissing Pintarics's complaint, sided with the government. Singer's position, essentially, was that everything was done by the book.
Singer stated he "did not find any significant changes between the scope of work in the RFP and the scope of work included in the sole-source contract." He did not specifically address the change in contract length, beyond stating it was "noted."
Singer also dismissed another of Pintarics's complaints — that the contract should not have been awarded in a sole-source process, as it exceeded the $50,000 cap on direct awards for professional services like the A New Day program.
Singer acknowledge the contract exceeded the cap, but that was "not the only criteria available to justify a sole-source approach." According to rules governing sole-source contracts, the government can also award a contract without first tendering it if the contract is an urgent one, or if only one qualified and capable proponent is available.
End of the road
Pintarics told CBC he disagrees with reasoning behind the dismissal of his complaint, but he won't take the matter any further.
"We don't have a next step… I don't have any faith that there is any appeal mechanism that will challenge the minister," he said.
"I think I've taken it as far as it makes sense. The only place it would make sense to take it [now] is outside the government and to the courts."
Pintarics said the Behchoko friendship centre doesn't have the resources to sue the government in civil court.
In his letter dismissing the complaint, Singer also noted that Pintarics didn't bid on the RFP in the first place, or attend proponent meetings where he could have voiced his concerns.
Pintarics acknowledged as much, but said the friendship centre's interests were well-represented.
"I felt very comfortable that the people who attended the meetings would raise the questions that needed to be raised, and they did," Pintarics said, speaking of NGOs and other advocates that went to the meetings and with whom, he said, he was in email communication with throughout the process.
As for not bidding on the contract, Pintarics voiced a sentiment heard during the original RFP process.
"There was no way we were applying for the contract on those terms."
The Department of Infrastructure, which is responsible for the complaint, did not immediately respond to a request for comment from a department minister or Singer.
- A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that the Department of Justice did not respond to a request for comment. In fact, it was the Department of Infrastructure that did not respond.Aug 25, 2017 4:22 PM CT