Economic Development Minister Stacey Hassard says he sole-sourced a $1.3-million contract to Whitehorse-based Total North Communications because the company came up with the idea to upgrade internet speeds in Teslin, Carmacks and Watson Lake.
On July 28, the CBC reported that the Yukon government’s procurement support centre analyzed the contract and recommended that it be put out for competition, but Hassard ignored the recommendation and awarded the contract directly to Total North.
Last week, Hassard told the News that Total North came to the government in January or February with an unsolicited proposal to install local fibre networks in various Yukon communities that would allow for faster internet in public buildings.
In June, the government announced it was moving ahead with a project to provide one gigabit per second internet to schools, hospitals and health centres in Teslin, Carmacks and Watson Lake, in partnership with Northwestel and Total North.
Hassard said he sole-sourced the contract because Total North is a Yukon company providing a service to Yukon people.
“It just made sense. It was a good program for Yukoners,” he said. “When I see an opportunity to improve the life of Yukoners, I’m going to go for it.”
The News has so far not been able to confirm that the idea originally came from Total North. Calls to the company have gone unanswered. Neither Hassard nor the Department of Highways and Public Works, which oversees government contracts, has provided the News with a copy of Total North’s original proposal.
The Yukon government is required to ask the procurement support centre to analyze any contract over $50,000 that it wants to award directly, according to information provided by the cabinet office.
In this case, the centre recommended that the fibre contract be put out for competition, but Hassard chose to award the contract directly to Total North anyway.
“Their job is to recommend that we don’t ever sole-source anything, or try not to sole-source anything,” he said. “I felt that it was a worthwhile project and it was worthwhile overriding the … recommendation.”
Hassard said the Yukon Party talked about providing fast, reliable and affordable internet during the last territorial election in 2011, and this is part of making good on that promise.
The Yukon government estimates the entire project will cost $3.8 million. The contract with Total North is worth $1.3 million, and another $2.5 million will go to Northwestel to expand the reach of its fibre network in Watson Lake and to expand service to Teslin and Carmacks.
According to information from the cabinet office, that $2.5-million contract did not need to be put out for competition because the existing infrastructure already belongs to Northwestel.
Until recently, Hassard’s profile photo on the Yukon Party’s website showed him wearing a Total North cap. That photo has since been changed.
Another photo on the website appears to show him and Highways and Public Works Minister Scott Kent in Total North’s offices.
But Hassard said that was just part of a “routine visit to businesses throughout the territory,” and this particular project was not discussed at that time.
“We try and visit as many businesses as we can and just connect with people and discuss issues of the day,” he said. “And I guess somebody took a picture of us at Total North on that particular day.”
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