Gov't spending $100,000 plus on PR site renovations

The provincial government is on track to spend more than $100,000 to renovate the Website it uses to put its public relations material onto the Internet. A citizens' services ministry spokesperson defended the renovations as being part of the Clark administration's commitment to open up government, noting they came in "well under budget." But New Democrat House Leader John Horgan is blasting that project as an unnecessary expenditure.

The renovated site - which was launched in mid-March - is supposed to provide reporters with a "one-stop" 24/7 shop for the government's "news, feature stories, videos, audio, photos, livestreaming and social media."

According to records obtained by Public Eye via a freedom of information request, Pennsylvania-based After6 Services LLC. received $55,441 to setup the software powering the new "Digital Hub BC Newsroom."

Another $43,085 will go to Liberal-connected Backbone Technology Ltd. That includes the $16,685 the company has already received to design the hub and another $2,000 per month to host the site.

Backbone Technology is the same firm that has worked for the BC Liberals since 2001, setting up a private intranet for its executive, as well as the party's Website.

The company made news last month when it was disclosed the government had secretly given it a $52,746.75 contract to develop its harmonized sales tax information Website.

Like the HST work, Backbone Technology's digital hub contract would usually have been awarded following a competitive process.

But internal government guidelines allow that process to be circumvented if only one contractor is qualified to do the work - which is what happened in this case.

The citizens' services spokesperson also said Backbone Technology got that work, which commenced in early March, because the government didn't have the time to go through a competitive process.

And, in any case, the company "delivered this project on time and to a high standard of quality."

The spokesperson said the new Website will help "families and businesses...quickly find information, photos and videos about what government is doing to serve them," while responding to the media's "evolving newsroom requirements."

In response, Mr. Horgan said, "Quite honestly, the fact they're characterizing this as in the interest of families is just absolutely laughable."

"It speaks to taking government messaging to the level of the absurd," he continued - a reference to Premier Christy Clark's ubiquitous commitment to put "Families First."

"And it's clearly absurd to say that families are going to want to know what obscure cabinet ministers are saying while spending public money trying to curry favour."

"I think if I had $100,000 I would be putting it toward autism services, I would be putting it towards a whole host of programs that have been cut or eliminated by BC Liberals rather than finding ways to make them look family friendly on the Internet."

As for the government's decision to directly award a contract to Backbone Technology, Mr. Horgan stated, "If you're committed to open tendering processes then timelines have to be established so you can have open tendering processes instead of using timelines as an excuse to circumvent."

Digital Hub BC Newsroom contracts

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