06/06/2016 12:07 EDT | Updated 06/07/2017 01:12 EDT

Tories accuse Ontario Liberals of rewarding supporters with government contracts

TORONTO — The Progressive Conservatives say Premier Kathleen Wynne rewarded the Liberal campaign co-chair in the 2014 Ontario election with nearly $900,000 in government contracts.

Opposition Leader Patrick Brown said he was shocked to learn David Herle and his Gandalf Group consulting firm got contracts for $836,000 and $49,000 from the cabinet office, and suspected other ministries gave Herle contracts as well.

"Does the premier have an ounce of ethics left?" Brown asked during question period. "Does the premier think it is acceptable to hand out $1-million worth of contracts to her Liberal pals and cronies?"

Brown called it another example of how the Liberals crossed ethical lines, and said it was inappropriate to reward their friends and party insiders with taxpayer money.

"The Liberals and this premier will do absolutely anything to hold onto power," he said. "The only thing the Liberals care about is their own political survival."

Wynne said governments of all political stripes use market research and polling firms, and pointed out that Ontario has contracts with at least six other research companies, including a $2 million deal with Ipsos Reid.

"All of that market research and public opinion research conducted by the government is procured through a fair, transparent and competitive process," she told the legislature. "The final decision about which vendor is best-suited for a project is made by a committee of at least three non-partisan public servants."

Brown wasn't impressed with Wynne's claim that the government has given out many other polling and consulting contracts to other firms besides Gandalf.

"It doesn't seem like much of a defence," he said after question period.

NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said Wynne's biggest concern is how to make things better for the Liberal party and making sure her friends and party insiders "do very, very well, while the rest of the province falls apart."

"Her priority is always the Liberal party and well-connected Liberals," said Horwath.

Herle was not available to comment Monday, but the Gandalf Group sent an email saying the company does not normally discuss work commissioned by its clients either in the public or private sector.

"Our firm was confirmed as one of the government's vendors of record after a capabilities evaluation and a request for proposals was issued to qualified firms," said Gandalf Group vice president Alex Swann. 

Wynne didn't say if Gandalf had other Ontario government contracts, but defended the need to conduct market research to look at the impact of policies, and said the contracts were awarded in a competitive process.

"There have to be five vendors," she said. "A choice is made by public servants. It's not a partisan process."

The New Democrats said it's not the first time Liberals have rewarded their supporters, especially big donors to the governing party.

"We had movers and shakers in the banking industry who gave a lot of money to the Liberal party and then proceeded to make a lot of money in the sale of Hydro One," said Horwath. "The Liberals' priority is the Liberal Party of Ontario."

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