Conservative MPs on the Commons government operations committee seek a hearing on a 2018 federal contract to pay the Toronto Star to cover parliamentary committees. The contract was cancelled after the Procurement Ombudsman intervened.
“Much like the National Post is supportive of the Conservative Party, the Toronto Star is a known mouthpiece for the Liberal Party,” said Conservative MP Kelly McCauley (Edmonton West): “It plays into the controversy of the government putting aside $595 million of taxpayers’ money towards a media bailout.”
A federal agency, the Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions, last October 25 approved a sole-sourced contract to pay a Torstar Corporation subsidiary iPolitics INTEL to attend public meetings of the Senate banking and Commons finance committees. Staff said only the Star was “capable of performing the work” though 43 other news organizations are accredited to cover Parliament Hill committees. Hearings are open to the public.
“Government should not be sole-sourcing contracts without a specific reason, and there are legit reasons – something like Microsoft,” said MP McCauley. “The product’s not available from anyone else, there’s only one company to do the business, etcetera.”
The contract was cancelled December 5 following Blacklock’s complaint to the Procurement Ombudsman. Cabinet in an Inquiry Of Ministry tabled in the Commons said the contract was worth $71,190 and not $355,950 as originally reported, and acknowledged a total 80 employees already monitor parliamentary committees on behalf of 21 federal departments and agencies.
“What was the original purpose of the contract?” said MP McCauley. “Which minister initially approved the contract? Does the government have enough employees to monitor parliamentary committees without hiring the Toronto Star?”; “I have to wonder why we would sole-source the Toronto Star to do this work when there are private media people out there who could have easily done that,” said McCauley.
Notice of the contract was issued fifteen days after Torstar Corporation chair John Honderich published a commentary appealing for federal subsidies. “I think we’d prefer some real action on these files,” wrote Honderich. Torstar Corporation lost $31.5 million last year, according to public filings.
The Commons committee adjourned without voting on McCauley’s motion to investigate circumstances surrounding the contract. Liberal MPs indicated they would not support it.
Cabinet in its March 19 budget proposed a $595 million, five-year newspaper bailout including payroll subsidies for dailies deemed to meet unspecified journalistic standards. Criteria were not detailed.