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The unelected, unaccountable public works minister 

[PoliticsWatch updated 5:00 p.m., August 9, 2007]

Public Works Minister Michael Fortier.

OTTAWA -- Public Works Minister Michael Fortier has been a controversial figure on Parliament Hill since his surprise appearance in the Conservative government's first cabinet. 

Fortier's appointment to the Senate so he could land in cabinet was viewed as a hypocritical decision by Prime Minister Stephen Harper, given the prime minister's past criticisms of senate appointments. 

Fortier also hasn't been immune to controversy in his role as public works minister. In April, Ottawa IT firm TPG Technology Consulting Ltd. asked the  Public Sector Integrity Office to investigate whether Fortier was in a conflict of interest in the pending award of a $400 million contract. TPG alleged the tendering process was altered to favour CGI Group, a firm which was a former client of Fortier's when he was an investment banker. Fortier denies any conflict of interest and notes he and his staff do not award contracts.

There have been other problems at Public Works as well under Fortier's stewardship. An Ottawa Citizen review of government tendering records this spring found  the Conservative government is awarding more sole-sourced contracts than the previous Liberal government. In the first 15 months of the Harper government, 26 per cent of contracts awarded by Public Works and Government Services Canada were handed out without a bidding process. This is higher when compared to the 14 per cent of contracts awarded without bidding in the last 15 months of former prime minister Paul Martin's government. In addition, a study by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives found that 40 per cent of military contracts awarded over the past year were done without any competition. 

Also, an internal audit for Public Works recently found the department spent seven year's worth of money in nine-months in an effort to reduce procurement costs. The department awarded a $24 million contract to have an outside consulting firm, A.T. Kearney Ltd., reduce its procurement costs by $2.5 billion over five years. But the money for the work ran out in nine months, ending the project before it was completed. The rush to finish the work resulted in violations of departmental policy, such as failing to ensure control over spending and allowing the outside firm to identify its own task requirements. 

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