NDP's Bevington questions gov't contract for Tory's campaign manager

The federal NDP candidate in the Northwest Territories is crying foul over a government contract that the Conservatives gave to their campaign manager there.

The federal NDP candidate in the Northwest Territories is crying foul over a government contract that the Conservatives gave to their campaign manager there.

Richard Bargery, who is Conservative candidate Brendan Bell's campaign manager in Western Arctic, was awarded a $69,304 contract with Health Canada on Nov. 12, 2007, according to documents obtained by CBC News.

Bargery's management consulting contract, which Health Canada has disclosed on its website, came three days after Bell, a former N.W.T. cabinet minister, declared his federal candidacy on Nov. 9, 2007.

That has New Democrat Dennis Bevington, the incumbent MP in Western Arctic, accusing the Tories of handing out contracts to their friends. Bevington said he questioned the contract in Parliament this year and received a written response April 24.

"The contract was awarded on a sole-sourced basis. And they tried to justify it as an emergency," Bevington said in an interview.

"When you think of seven phone calls and a few face-to-face meetings, you kind of wonder about the emergency nature of that one."

The contract called for Bargery to negotiate fees with pharmacy associations in the N.W.T. and the Yukon. The groups were locked a two-year-old stalemate with the federal government over reduced fees for providing service to aboriginal and Inuit people.

According to the government response Bevington received about Bargery's contract, "both negotiations were considered extremely sensitive as there were concerns that if negotiations failed, pharmacies in either region could withdraw from Health Canada's non-insured health benefit program, leaving First Nations and Inuit clients in those areas unable to obtain their medications in a timely manner."

The response also stated that the person who was originally hired to lead those talks unexpectedly pulled out and that Bargery was available to work on the contract. Two other qualified candidates told Health Canada they were not available.

Pharmacists in both territories report that Health Canada gave Bargery no room to negotiate, so talks soon stalled again. Bargery's contract ran until May 31, 2008, according to Health Canada's website.

In the Yukon, Conservative candidate Darrell Pasloski, who owns two pharmacies there, declined to say what went wrong.

"Right now I've left the business in the competent hands of the management I have in place," Pasloski said. "I'm not sure … what's going on in the negotiations. I've pulled away from that, and so I can't comment on that."

Bargery told CBC News that his work on the contract is his personal business, and he's never discussed it with Bell. For his part, Bell said he didn't know anything about the contract.

"I can't imagine there's any link here at all … in fact, this has very little to do with the election," Bell said. "I really don't know anything about the contract, the details of the discussions or negotiations."

Bell said he knows Bargery from their time in then-premier Joe Handley's administration, so he invited Bargery to be his campaign manager when they left territorial politics last year.

"I made the decision by that point that I was going to run [and I] started to talk to a number of people about whether or not they would be interested in the job of campaign manager, and I was very happy when Rick accepted," Bell said.

Still, Bevington said he believes Bargery's contract with Health Canada was a poor use of public money.

"It's the job of government not only to act properly, but to appear to act properly. So I think the Conservative government has something to answer here," he said.

"They're the ones that determined the nature of the emergency that they were following, they're the ones that have yet to come up with any solution to this particular issue that was such an emergency last year."