$400M Army Tent Contract, Headed To Trudeau Cabinet, Sparks Questions

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OTTAWA — The Trudeau government will soon be asked to decide on a $400 million project to supply the military with new, mobile headquarters tents, but questions have been raised about one of the competitors, which recently hired a former officer who helped draw up requirements for new equipment in the army.

Former lieutenant-colonel Greg Burton was the director of land requirements until November of last year and, says National Defence, his responsibilities included a role in the development of the specifications for the headquarters shelter system project, a claim Burton disputes. Tenders on the project closed in September.  

One month after his departure, he became the senior director of strategic business development at DEW Engineering, which is among four bidders on the program.

harjit sajjan
Transport Minister Marc Garneau and Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan head to a morning session at the Liberal cabinet retreat. (Photo: Andrew Vaughan/CP)

National Defence administrative orders and directives — known as DOADs — mandate a cooling off period.

The one-year post-employment restriction says former officers with the rank of lieutenant-colonel and above may not "accept employment with an external entity or individual with which the person had significant official dealings at any time during the last year of their DND employment of (Canadian Armed Forces) service," or give advice to a new employer using information that is not publicly available.

The regulations also stipulate that person under the one-year blackout must disclose to National Defence that they have received a job offer from a company with which they "have had significant dealing" and obtain a waiver.

Burton — in a written statement to The Canadian Press — said he obtained a partial — or six month waiver — before joining the company. The conflict of interest section at National Defence was notified of his retirement and plan to join the company.

"After a thorough review and in advance of my departure, the Department cleared me of any potential conflict of interest," he said. 

"After a thorough review and in advance of my departure, the Department cleared me of any potential conflict of interest."

"While in uniform I had no involvement with the development of the specifications or evaluation criteria for the HQSS project. In my role at DEW, I am not involved with the HQSS file. All of my actions have been in compliance with the post-employment rules and restrictions and I will naturally continue to honour those going forward."

National Defence confirms Burton did not "have access to any list of comprehensive (letter of interest or request for information responses)," nor did he "have access to or partake in the review of the HQSS Project bid submissions" after the bids were submitted.

The department does say, however, that one of the director's responsibilities "was to draft and seek approval of the Statement of Requirements for the HQSS Project" — a statement Burton disputes.

Questions about his move have been circulating in the defence community since before Christmas — both anecdotally and in writing. 

Former defence procurement boss Alan Williams says questions need to be asked because perception is important as reality when dealing with contracts in the hundreds of millions of dollars.

It's up to public works — now that bids are closed — to verify the arrangement with Burton and that  "the appropriate firewalls are place."

In addition to the post-employment restrictions, public works requires contractors to be free of conflict of interest, which is defined as either a direct conflict — or the appearance of one if the company or "any of its subcontractors, any of their respective employees or former employees was involved in any manner in the preparation of the bid solicitation."

Public works was asked whether any conflict of interest been declared in the program and spokesman Pierre-Alain Bujold said the department is "following all procurement process guidelines for this procurement, and as such we will ensure that all appropriate assurances are received from the bidders, as required."

Williams said he wonders whether someone is trying to sabotage DEW's bid and lay the groundwork for a possible appeal to the Canadian International Trade Tribunal.

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