North

Former N.W.T. government workers continue to get contracts without competing for them

Working for the Northwest Territories government can be profitable for some senior bureaucrats after they leave government.

Former bureaucrats win sole-source contracts, gov't cites previous experience as among reasons why

Working for the Northwest Territories government continues to deliver a paycheque for some former employees who win sole-sourced contracts with the government. (Chuck Stoody/Canadian Press)

Working for the Northwest Territories government continues to be profitable for some senior bureaucrats after they leave government.

A group of former employees of the territorial government continues to win government contracts without even having to compete for them, according to contracting data for last year.

According to a government report on its contracting, former principal secretary Richard Bargery, now of Vernon, B.C., was given an $80,000 contract for six months of consulting work related to the development of a park in the east arm of Great Slave Lake. The contract ended up costing $160,000.

The Department of Executive and Indigenous Affairs did not respond to questions from CBC News about why Bargery was given the contract, what work was done, and why it cost twice the price initially agreed upon.

Similarly, the government had no explanation for what "facilitation and project management services" it contracted Gaea Consulting Services to provide for $55,547. Gaea is owned by former territorial bureaucrat Andy Swiderski, now of Victoria, B.C. It got the contract without competing for it and ended up charging $62,228.

The Department of Justice also did not advertise a contract to build four display cabinets for carvings and other artwork for the Yellowknife courthouse.

Though a quick Google search reveals many companies build museum-quality display cases, the department decided to give the contract to a Quebec company. It charged $28,175. An official said the contractor was chosen because it has done work for the Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre in the past.

Rules for sole-sourcing

Under government contracting rules, contracts can be sole-sourced when goods or services are needed urgently and the time it would take to put it out to competition would be harmful to the public interest, or when only one company is capable of fulfilling the contract.

Contracts can also be sole-sourced for any reason if they are for $50,000 or less in the case of consulting services, $100,000 or less for architectural and engineering services, or $25,000 or less for any other type of contract.

For example, the government sole-sourced a contract to repair the runway at the Inuvik airport to Skookum Asphalt of Whitehorse for $1.4 million because the repairs were urgently needed.

"Skookum Asphalt had the only asphalt plant in Inuvik at the time," said John Vandenberg, assistant deputy minister with the Department of Infrastructure.

"You have to do asphalt at a certain time at a certain temperature, and the longer you leave it the more you risk not having that runway available."

John Vandenberg, assistant deputy minister of infrastructure, explained some of his department's decisions to award sole-sourced contracts. Some other departments did not respond to CBC's requests for comment. (Mackenzie Scott/CBC)

The Infrastructure Department handed an $80,000 contract to help identify gravel sources to Alexander Murray.

Murray, who now lives on Gabriola Island in B.C., had worked as a project officer for the department as recently as 2017.

Vandenberg said Murray has a unique knowledge of the N.W.T.'s geology, making him the best person to do the work, which ended up costing $125,000.

The courthouse cabinets were not as urgently needed as the runway repairs. In fact, only one of them sits in the public area of the courthouse and it stands empty. An official said the carvings it was designed to hold are on loan to Nunavut as the courts there celebrate their 20th anniversary.

Meanwhile, the Justice Department, which has more than 30 lawyers on its payroll, said a log-jam of legislation at this term of government has created an urgent need for outside assistance from a former department lawyer who now lives in Saskatchewan.

It gave a $45,000 contract to Kenneth Chutskoff to help write some of the new legislation because of his "prior experience with the department and his familiarity with the technical requirements and drafting conventions of GNWT legislation."

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