Ministers to face questions over COVID-19 procurement process for Indigenous communities

The motion follows the resignation of Cathy Bennett last week from the federal government's COVID-19 Supply Council over allegations of a perceived conflict of interest with her role as board chair with a company that landed a contract with Indigenous Services to supply medical tents.

Motion comes after supply advisory group member connected to company that landed Indigenous Services contract

Cathy Bennett, a former provincial Liberal cabinet minister in Newfoundland and Labrador, was described as the chair of the board for Dynamic Air Shelters, according to the federal government announcement listing the 17 members of the COVID-19 Supply Council. (CBC)

The House of Commons Indigenous affairs committee will call Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller and Minister of Public Services and Procurement Anita Anand to face questions over the procurement process to provide supplies and services to Indigenous communities.

The motion was triggered by the resignation of Cathy Bennett last week from the federal government's COVID-19 Supply Council over allegations of a perceived conflict of interest with her role as board chair of Dynamic Air Shelters.

The company landed a contract with Indigenous Services Canada to supply medical tents to Mathias Colomb Cree Nation — tents the community did not request. 

"Given the recent resignation of Cathy Bennett … the continued lack of transparency for predominantly Indigenous communities with respect to the delivery of supplies and resources from this federal government ... the committee invites [the ministers] to provide testimony about how the federal government will work to improve the Indigenous communities' COVID-19 response, and not corporate interest," said the motion, tabled by Nunavut NDP MP Mumilaaq Qaqqaq.

The committee unanimously adopted the motion tabled on Friday. The exact date of the ministerial appearance has yet to be set.

Nunavut NDP MP Mumilaaq Qaqqaq tabled the motion to call the ministers for Indigenous Services and Public Services and Procurement before the House of Commons Indigenous affairs committee. (Sara Frizzell/CBC)

The Liberal members on the committee said that while they didn't necessarily agree with the framing of the motion, they supported it in principle. 

"In an effort to ensure expediency here and ensure Indigenous people receive everything they need and are entitled [to], we support Ms. Qaqqaq's motion in principle," said Milton Liberal MP Adam Van Koeverden, whose riding is in Ontario.

Churchill-Keewatinook Aski NDP MP Niki Ashton said Bennett's resignation did not answer questions over how Dynamic Air Shelters landed the contract with Indigenous Services Canada. 

"They have yet to give us any answers on how this happened or how this deal came to pass," said Ashton, whose riding is in Manitoba. 

"While I appreciate the Liberal support on this, the reality is the Liberals are continuing to hide critical information on how these tents … came to be a reality."

Before her resignation, Bennett, a former provincial Liberal minister in Newfoundland and Labrador, told CBC News she had no knowledge or input into the awarding of the contract to Dynamic Air Shelters.

Bennett was one of the 17 members of the federal COVID-19 Supply Council, which was created to provide procurement advice to Ottawa during its response to the pandemic. 

Anand's office said in a statement that Bennett resigned "out of an abundance of caution."

Bennett sat as independent board chair of Dynamic Air Shelters, which is headquartered in Calgary with a production facility in Grand Bank, N.L., and a sales and marketing office based out of Houston, Tex. 

The company's CEO announced earlier this month that the firm had landed a contract to supply Mathias Colomb Cree Nation in northern Manitoba with tents to house medical facilities in case of a COVID-19 outbreak. 

The announcement caught the First Nation by surprise and they questioned why the department chose to pay an outside company for the facilities instead of funding the community's own proposal to retrofit its youth centre to accommodate extra medical facilities. Indigenous Services has since said it has committed $353,000 to the youth centre.

Dynamic Air Shelters CEO David Quick had said initially that the tents were to be delivered by May 22, but the shipment remains in limbo as the community focuses on retrofitting its youth centre.