OTTAWA — The Conservative government broke its own rules by awarding a $9,200 untendered contract to the prime minister’s former chief of staff, Guy Giorno, Liberals charged Wednesday.
Giorno, Harper’s chief of staff from 2008 to 2010 and the Tories’ current election campaign chair, was paid $5,650 for a speech that was never delivered. He was paid another $2,825 for a speech that was given on March 19, the department of natural resources said late Wednesday.
In the House of Commons, Liberal MP David McGuinty accused Finance Minister Joe Oliver, then the natural resources minister, of ordering the approval of the $9,200 payment that his own department said contravened contracting policies.
“Treasury Board contracting rules are in place to prevent corruption and political favouritism,” McGuinty said. “Why were proper contracting rules violated?”
McGuinty questioned why Giorno, a lawyer with a specialty in Access to Information, accountability and ethics, would be writing speeches about natural resources: “What does Mr. Giorno know about Natural Resources policy?” There were stables of qualified people inside the department to write the minister’s speeches, McGuinty said.
Records obtained through an Access to Information request suggest that the $9,209.50 payment for “after-the-fact” contracting of two speeches was ordered by Oliver’s then chief of staff, David Forestell.
The minister’s office said: “This supplier [Giorno] was chosen as they offered a quick turnaround time, and our minister is comfortable with the style and tone of this speechwriter.”
This is a copy of the purchase order for the two speeches Giorno wrote for Oliver:
In an email, Giorno, who also served as legal advisor to the Conservative party and a lawyer to former Harper chief of staff Nigel Wright, confirmed he had written two speeches for Oliver, but said he was only paid $8,475. The department appears to have erroneously charged HST on top of HST twice.
“The contract amount included HST,” he wrote. “I cannot otherwise comment on client matters.”
Natural Resources Canada spokesperson Cathy Khoury said Giorno had written three speeches for Oliver, including one in November, 2012.
Giorno said that some time after he had left the prime minister’s office, Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner Mary Dawson had confirmed that he was permitted to write ministerial speeches.
McGuinty said the Liberals had asked Natural Resources Canada for a copy of the speech but were told one could not be found. He said there was no press release and “no evidence it was even delivered.”
Drafts of the two speeches were delivered on March 6 and March 30, according to the records.
Khoury initially said the two speeches Giorno drafted were given on Nov. 28, 2012, and March 19, 2013. But several hours later, she issued a correction saying the March invoice was for the March 19 speech and one that was never delivered. She included a word document of a six-and-half page speech waxing about Canada being “bound by the land.”
Emails obtained via Access to Information show Anne Joly, a senior procurement clerk at Natural Resources, raised concerns on March 28, 2013, that the “after-the-fact request” by the minister’s office was an “inappropriately initiated procurement activity.”
“Please keep in mind that after-the-fact contracting contravenes both the Treasury Board and NRCan Contracting Policies,” she wrote. “After-the-fact and verbal contracting pose unnecessary risks to the Crown and should be avoided.”
Joly said she needed more information about the contract, the type of goods and services purchased and the delivery dates. That’s when the minister’s office told her Oliver liked Giorno’s style and tone.
The records also show the minister’s office tried to include the cost of the untendered speeches before the April 11 deadline so they could count in the previous fiscal year, 2012-2013. Contracts over $10,000 are posted on the Internet. Anything less than that amount doesn’t have to be publicly disclosed.
On Wednesday, Natural Resources Canada spokesman Alain Cacchione said the contract orders for Giorno’s speeches had been issued at a later date owing to “urgent timelines and administrative error.”
“We recognize the error and reinforced proper procedures to all staff,” Khoury, the communications officer, said.
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