Ottawa·CBC Investigates

Ottawa Hospital ex-director 'guest' on PCL luxury fishing trip

The Ottawa Hospital's former director of capital projects, Frank Medwenitsch, was a "guest" of PCL Constructors Canada Inc. on a luxury fishing trip, and despite the hospital's strict policy forbidding employees to accept gifts over $25.

Frank Medwenitsch went on trip July 2013 ahead of September bidding process

The public bidding process to award the $135-million project to expand the University of Ottawa Heart Institute began in September 2013. PCL Constructors Canada Inc. in Ottawa won the bid in November 2014. (CBC)

The Ottawa Hospital's former director of capital projects, Frank Medwenitsch, was a "guest" of PCL Constructors Canada Inc. on a luxury fishing trip despite the hospital's policy restricting employees from accepting gifts over $25.

After a public bidding process, PCL won two major construction contracts with the Ottawa Hospital.

They include a $113-million project to build the Ottawa Hospital Regional Cancer Centre, completed in 2010, and the ongoing $135-million project to expand the University of Ottawa Heart Institute.

As the former director of capital projects, Medwenitsch would have overseen construction projects at the hospital and at the University of Ottawa Heart Institute.

Fishing trips start at $5,595

The fishing trip took place at the West Coast Fishing Club, which advertises a starting price of $5,595 per person.

PCL confirmed Medwenitsch stayed as the company's "guest" at the club on July 28, 2013, but gave no further details about the trip or what was included.

Frank Medwenitsch, seen here in a photo taken from the December 2006 issue of Ottawa Construction Association's Construction Comment Magazine, is the former director of planning and capital projects at the Ottawa Hospital. (OCA)

According to the fishing club's website, the $5,595 trip price includes a charter from the Vancouver airport and a helicopter ride to the remote fishing lodge in Haida Gwaii off the B.C. coast, north of Vancouver Island.

An online article on the club's website from the date of the trip mentions that salmon were caught by a number of guests, including Frank Medwenitsch "with the PCL group."

While there is nothing wrong with offering gifts, the Ottawa Hospital's ethical rules say Medwenitsch should have declined.

The hospital's employee policy for accepting gifts sets the limit for "nominal gifts" at $25.

The policy does include exceptions, such as "vendor supplier sponsored entertainment," but employees are expected to consider the reason for the gift and whether it is appropriate, as well as "his or her role at the hospital and how the acceptance of the gift might be perceived by others."

Heart institute project worth $135M

The Infrastructure Ontario website features this mock-up of the soon-to-be-completed $135-million expansion of the University of Ottawa Heart Institute. (Infrastructure Ontario website)
The Infrastructure Ontario website valued the contract to expand the heart institute at $135 million.

The request for qualifications for that project went out on Sept. 19, 2013 and it was announced that PCL won the bid on Nov. 28, 2014.

The timing of the fishing trip, months before the start of the bidding process, leaves the public with a poor impression, according to construction law specialist David Debenham.

"The obvious question is, where were your internal auditors?" Debenham said.

Debenham notes that rules need mechanisms in place to make sure employees are complying with the hospital's conflict-of-interest policies.

Former director already facing allegations in Ottawa Hospital lawsuit

Last week, Ottawa Hospital lawyers filed a statement of claim accusing Medwenitsch and the now retired director of engineering and operations, Brock Marshall — along with five vendors — of conspiring in a "scheme" involving contracts worth less than $250,000.

The lawsuit alleged, among other things, that the employees made ethical breaches involving gifts from the vendors named in the suit.

Among the alleged breaches, the suit claims since 2009 the vendors paid for multiple fishing trips for Medwenitsch and Marshall, "none of which were disclosed to the hospital prior to accepting."

The hospital accepted Medwenitsch's resignation in October 2015 and, according to the statement of claim, did so "without prejudice to the hospital's position that the hospital had just cause for the termination of Medwenitsch's employment."

The whole process from soup to nuts, up the line, down the line, is now opened to questions.- David Debenham, lawyer

None of the allegations has been proven in court.

PCL is not part of that lawsuit.

In an online statement, the hospital said it is "confident that we have the appropriate internal controls in place."

But Debenham said the lawsuit and the PCL trip are "proof that they don't." 

"The whole process from soup to nuts, up the line, down the line, is now opened up to questions," according to Debenham. "The real point is, they have a gap in their systems."

The Ottawa Hospital and the Ontario Ministry of Health did not respond to a CBC News request for comment on the PCL fishing trip.

Frank Medwenitsch also did not respond to requests for comment from CBC News.