Premier Christy Clark strongly defended one of her senior ministers Tuesday against allegations from two B.C. Liberal insiders that he acted in bad faith during the bid process for a multimillion-dollar government contract.
“I believe all of that [process] has been done at arm’s length by qualified civil servants,” Clark told reporters Tuesday, facing questions about the actions of Minister of Jobs, Tourism and Skills Training Pat Bell in connection with the Wood Innovation and Design Centre in Prince George.
New Democratic Party leader Adrian Dix led off question period pressing the government over the allegations and called for an immediate investigation.
Clark’s defence came after a businessman who has donated more than $120,000 to the party accused Bell of bad faith. Brian Fehr also said that Bell subsequently adjusted the terms of a bid document to favour Fehr’s proposal.
Fehr, whose company was among the unsuccessful bidders for the $25-million Wood Innovation and Design Centre, said Bell promised to ensure that his company would make the shortlist of three companies if Fehr could build a more substantial project.
“The problem was that the province had overcommitted on building a fancy building in three throne speeches ... about how this was going to be iconic and 10 storeys and the biggest in the world,” Fehr said in an interview Tuesday.
Fehr said the bid documents that had been issued called for something much less substantial than this.
He said that in a meeting with Bell, he offered to help out by involving private-sector money.
“He committed to me that if I would do that — purchase the land off [Prince George businessman] Dan McLaren — that he would make sure we got shortlisted and then you could have what they call an alternative method in the bid,” he said.
Fehr said his company then entered into an agreement to buy the land from McLaren, but was not shortlisted.
He said Bell was apologetic after the final three companies were announced at the end of last year, and offered to rework the final process of the bid in a way that would allow disqualified companies to vie for a part of the project.
The project’s request for proposals added a requirement that the winning bidder work with the private sector to build another project on adjacent land.
The government suspended the bidding process at the end of last year after receiving complaints about the added requirement.
None of the allegations have been proven.
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