The provincial government directly awarded the husband of a top bureaucrat a contract worth up to $360,000, Public Eye has learned. Economic Development Minister Colin Hansen says the direct award was made following an earlier competitive process that select Gary Cowan, a former senior real estate developer and manager, as the best man for that job. But Opposition MLA Harry Lali is calling that a "lame explanation" for awarding a "sweetheart" deal to a Liberal government friend.
The two-year contract was handed to Mr. Cowan in October 2003 - six months after his partner Dianne Rabbani was lured from the private sector and appointed the deputy minister responsible for a new leadership development and training centre. She would later be elevated to become the government's merit commissioner - responsible for making sure all hirings are merit-based.
Under the contract, Mr. Cowan was charged with evaluating which private-sector economic development projects should be fast-tracked through the government's approval processes.
That same work had been posted as a civil service position two months earlier. It was unclear, at the time of publication, whether that job was at an assistant deputy minister (maximum $111,699) or director-level ($86,502). According to Minister Hansen, Mr. Cowan - along with a number of others - applied for that job. And Mr. Cowan was selected as the lead candidate by Vancouver-based headhunting firm Pinton, Forrest and Madden/EMA Partners International.
But, following that competitive headhunting process, a decision was made to turn the job into a contract. Minister Hansen wasn't able to explain why that happened or whether Cowan had requested the change. The reason: in 2003, Rick Thorpe was responsible for economic development as the minister of competition, science and enterprise.
But Minister Hansen says the government wasn't able to put that contract out to tender because the headhunt had given Mr. Cowan inside government information that would have made him a shoe-in to win the award. So government handed him the contract. Minister Hansen also says Mr. Cowan got an extra $68,000 - $93,000 as a contractor because civil servants receive a valuable benefits package.
But Mr. Lali wasn't buying either explanation saying, "All of that just sounds like a bunch of goobleygook to cover up the mistake they made in hiring this individual. This is the height of nepotism to have the common-law husband of the merit commissioner actually circumventing a public hiring process."
Before taking the contract - which was obtained via a freedom of information request - Mr. Cowan had been a senior executive with a number of major firms, including Marathon Realty Company Ltd. That's the same real estate development firm where the premier once toiled. At the time he was awarded the contract, Mr. Cowan was also a member of the British Columbia Buildings Corp.'s board of directors - a post the Campbell administration appointed him to in May 2002.
When asked whether any of these connections helped Mr. Cowan get work with the government, Minister Hansen pointed out the headhunting firm had selected him as the best man for the job "independent of any political-level within government." He said he would be "very surprised" if the premier had been involved.
The contract was prematurely terminated just eight months after it was signed because "it was felt that the work that (Mr. Cowan) had set out to do had been largely completed," said Minister Hansen. But, under the terms and conditions of the agreement, Mr. Cowan received a $75,000 payout. That meant, in total, Mr. Cowan garnered $189,292.01 from taxpayer coffers via the contract - plus $15,922.26 in expenses.
Mr. Cowan is out of the country with Rabbani until October 20 and was not available for comment. Ms. Rabbani departed the bureaucracy back in June after the premier's office attempted to change her title from deputy minister to associate deputy minister. The following is a copy of selected portions of Mr. Cowan's contract.
COMPETITION, SCIENCE ENTERPRISE
CONTRACT # CC41004003
CONTRACTOR NAME: Westwynd Retail Consultants Inc.
From: October 6, 2003
To: October 5, 2005
SERV. LINE: 22423
CPA APPROVAL NUMBER:
PURPOSE OF CONTRACT:
To lead and direct the project assessment process working closely with the private sector, provincial government and the other levels of government to evaluate economic development projects throughout the province.
BIDDING INFORMATION SHEET/FILE INFORMATION
GENERAL: A bidding information sheet is required for every contract. Please complete fully and print on the back of the cover sheet.
A. METHOD OF SOLICIATION (Direct Award, ITQ, RFP)
X DIRECTED (Indicate yes or no. If yes, please indicate the reason for using the appropriate category below (as per GMOP, Chapter 6). If over $25,000 and Direct Award, one of the latter three categories for Direct Award must be indicated.
___ Low value contract (under $25,000)
___ An emergency exists and any delay associated with a competitive process would put life, limb or property in jeopardy or otherwise be contrary to the public interest.
_X_ The services to be purchased are of a confidential or privileged nature and disclosure of these matters through an open bidding process could reasonably be expected to compromise government confidentiality, cause economic disruption or otherwise be contrary to the public interest; and
___ Only one contractor is qualified to perform the services. Explanation required.
Serv. Line: 22423
HER MAJESTY THE QUEEN IN RIGHT
OF THE PROVINCE OF BRITISH
COLUMBIA, represented by
Deputy Minister, Ministry of Competition,
Science and Enterprise
(the "Province", "we", "us" or "our" as
applicable) at the following address:
8th Floor, 1810 Blanshard Street
Victoria, BC V8W 9N3
Fax Number: (250) 952-0101
AND WESTWYND RETAIL
(the "Contractor", "you", or "your" as
applicable) at the following address:
101 - 1284 Beach Drive
Victoria, BC V8S 2N3
Fax Number: (250) 592-9154
THE PARTIES AGREE TO THE FOLLOWING TERMS:
23. We may terminate this agreement
(a) for any material breach of this agreement, immediately on giving written notice of termination to you, and
(b) for any other reason, on 30 days' written notice to you.
(c) in the event we terminate the Agreement pursuant to sub-paragraph (b), we will pay you:
(i) the sum of $75,000.00, if there are 5 or more months remaining in the Term, or
(ii) that amount that would be owing to you for the balance of the Term, as calculated under Schedule B, if there are less than 5 months remaining in the Term,
and that payment discharges us from any liability to you under this Agreement subject to any other amounts owing up to the date of termination.
24. You may terminate this agreement for any reason on giving at least 30 days' written notice to th Province. During the 30 days' notice period, you shall be required to continueto perform your duties as outlined in Schedule A.
Schedule A - Services
1. The Services will be provided for a 24-month period commencing October 6, 2003 and ending October 5, 2005 ("the Term").
2. This term may be extended upon our mutual agreement. If either of us wishes an extension, then that party must provide written notice to the other party at least six (6) months prior to the end of the term, and, as soon as practicable thereafter, we will meet to discuss the terms and conditions of an extension. In the event that no agreement is achieved for an extension of the term, then no further compensation will be payable to you upon expiry of the term of the agreement.
3. You will lead and direct the project assessment process working closely with the private sector, provincial government ministries and other levels of government to evaluate economic development projects throughout the province. You will evaluate their viability, assess projects based on established criteria and present proposals to Cabinet requesting approval to the Project Fast-Track Branch where they will be expedited through government approval processes.
4. You will be responsible to:
a) Provide vision, leadership and direction to the project assessment process.
b) Develop criteria and timelines for the project assessment process; defines and implements policies, procedures and business practices to ensure the assessment process is objective and relevant; includes appropriate risk assessment methodologies; includes 'outcome-based' assessment criteria; documents decisions accurately and completely and provides an appropriate audit trail.
c) Evaluate project proposals based on established criteria and make recommendations.
d) Monitors and evaluates the project assessment process to ensure it is objective and relevant, achieves desired objectives and adequately documents decisions.
e) Provide expert advice regarding economic development, the project assessment process, priorities, issues and project status to the Deputy Minister, Minister, and Cabinet.
f) Evaluate the financial, social and policy implications of proposed projects and provide recommendations through to the Deputy Minister, Minister, and Cabinet.
g) Initiate and manage contracts to perform elements of the project assessment process when specialized and/or professional expertise is required.
h) Assist in managing the branch budget and expenditures.
i) Develop and maintain relationships with:
* stakeholders in the business community (small business owners to presidents of multi-national corporations) and other organizations (crown corporations) to collaborate on economic development projects and exchange information. Frequent travel is required to initiate and maintain contacts and to participate in functions and meetings.
* organizations and individuals involved in economic development throughout the province, such as local economic development officials, chambers of commerce, cooperatives, etc.
* Ministry Executives: to provide information, expert advice and recommendations regarding economic development projects and initiatives; and to identify and report on appropriate benchmarks and targets for the Ministry Service Plan and Annual Reports.
* First Nations leaders and businesses to ensure they are consulted on projects of interest.
* elected officials in all levels of government: to collaborate on projects, exchange information, provide status reports and expert advice/recommendations and to obtain approvals for projects.
* central agencies such as the Ministry of Finance, the Premier's office, Public Affairs Bureau: to exchange information, etc.