10/31/2012 02:16 EDT | Updated 12/31/2012 05:12 EST

Is B.C.'s New CareCard Another Technological Quagmire For Province?

B.C. Gov't

Despite the disastrous launch of the Integrated Case Management System earlier this year, the B.C. government is poised to unveil its next multimillion-dollar, can't-fail IT project: an ID card for everyone in the province.

But these days, this would-be jewel of the Government 2.0 project is starting to look more like a lump of coal.

With ICBC in the middle of a labour dispute that finds corporation employees refusing training on the new card, Health Minister Margaret MacDiarmid has put the massive project on blocks, only weeks before its slated November launch.

With this unexpected pause in the proceedings, it's an ideal time to ask what we really know about this new ID card.

As with so many of the B.C. government's projects: not a lot, actually. Other than the occasional announcement, the government has been quite reticent to provide information about the project and what it will mean for British Columbians.

Announced in May 2011, the new combined CareCard and driver's licence promises access to hyper-efficient online service provision and slick integration between various government databases (health and driving records chief among them). It also boasts anti-fraud features meant to crack down on the fraudulent health care expenses that allegedly plague the province.

bc id card Image from Province of B.C.

However, the government has yet to demonstrate, beyond pointing to vague top-end cost estimates generated by the Canadian Anti-Health Care Fraud Association, that B.C. really does have a fraudulent expensing problem.

In an attempt to break through this silence, we at the Freedom of Information and Privacy Association submitted a number FOI requests about the project following its announcement.

Maybe the bidding and contracting process would provide some enlightenment. No such luck. In January 2012, the government issued a Notice of Intent, which normally would have kicked off a bidding process for the contract. But this "notice" was actually an announcement that Toronto-based tech firm SecureKey would be at the project's helm, pulling down a six-year, $20 million dollar contract with the province to develop the readers for the new card (only a small portion of the whole initiative's $200 million price tag).

Short-circuiting a full bidding process, the government awarded the contract directly to SecureKey on the basis that the upstart firm already had a similar sole source contract with the federal government.

Following that lead, we filed a FOI request for copies of all correspondence between the guy running the whole ID management project -- then-chief Information Officer Dave Nikolejsin -- and SecureKey. This request asked for records related to the development and implementation of the new CareCards, going back to July 1, 2011.

The answer? No responsive records.

That's right, apparently in the 12 months around the issuing of the Notice of Intent, the chief information officer of British Columbia, the man in charge of the entire CareCard project, had no contact whatsoever (or at least none that generated records) with the company that ultimately received an untendered $20 million dollar contract..

At the beginning of October, Nikolejsin was quietly moved to the Office of Environmental Assessment where he now toils as an associate deputy minister. There was no announcement beyond the Order in Council explaining the move and few details have since emerged.

In an ironic twist, despite the patchwork of non-responsive records, blanket refusals and huge fee estimates veiling the project, the government does apparently plan a major publicity campaign for the new cards when they finally get going. How reassuring.

Not surprisingly, no estimate on the cost of that campaign has been released. But you can be sure it will have all the information the government thinks you need to know.

With files and assistance from Kate Milberry