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BC Politics

Come Clean on Bungled BC Bid System, Say BC Liberals

The project is late and well over budget, as The Tyee previously revealed.

Andrew MacLeod 4 Mar

Andrew MacLeod is The Tyee's Legislative Bureau Chief in Victoria and the author of All Together Healthy (Douglas & McIntyre, 2018). Find him on Twitter or reach him at .

BC Liberals are accusing the British Columbia government of hiding just how badly it has bungled the still unfinished replacement for the BC Bid system.

“Page after page after page of documents obtained by FOI confirm... that this project is years behind schedule, significantly over budget and continues to be plagued by problems,” said Abbotsford West MLA Michael de Jong in the legislature Thursday. “The minister has tried deliberately to conceal that fact from this house for the past three years.”

Each year public bodies including provincial ministries, crown corporations, health authorities and municipalities make some 9,000 purchases through the BC Bid system for goods and services worth about $7 billion.

The provincial government announced the BC Bid replacement project in 2017, saying at the time that it was a first step towards overhauling the provincial government’s approach to procurement and would be completed in 2019.

Large Canadian tech firm CGI Information Systems and Management Consultants Inc. won the $8.9-million contract to manage the project. It is working with California company Ivalua Inc., using its off-the-shelf “procure-to-pay” application and customizing it for the province’s needs.

The government has extended the deadline for the project at least three times. As recently as last April Citizens’ Services Minister Lisa Beare gave assurances the new BC Bid site would be live by the end of 2021.

BC Liberal Citizens’ Services critic Bruce Banman, the MLA for Abbotsford South, said that when he raised questions during that budget debate last spring, Beare “completely dismissed the concerns and claimed nothing had changed from the original budget.”

He asked, “Why was this minister pretending the project was on time and on budget when it wasn’t even remotely true?”

In the legislature Thursday Beare said much of the BC Liberal line of questioning amounted to a character attack on her. “I truly believe it speaks more to them than it does to me,” she said.

The work is coming along, Beare said.

“We're now testing the application, we're preparing buyers and suppliers for registration and on-boarding,” she said. “We're training government buyers on using the new tool, and we'll be hosting information sessions for broader public sector users and suppliers to ensure that they become familiar with the new application on launch.”

The BC Bid system is complex and the work has taken longer than expected in part because of the COVID-19 pandemic, she said. She also blamed the condition the website was in when the NDP took over from the former BC Liberal government.

“When the members opposite were government, they did absolutely nothing to improve a 25-year-old system that was falling apart,” she said. “It is because of a lack of planning by the previous government that we are here today and our government is doing the hard work to actually fix the system.”

Planning for the BC Bid replacement in fact goes back to at least 2014, according to an Issues Note dated 2017 and prepared before the change of government.

“It is once again very difficult to reconcile what the minister is saying with the truth that is revealed in her own documents,” said de Jong. “It’s a recurring pattern for this minister, and I’m sorry to have to say that.”

Banman said in an interview that the NDP has now been in power for almost five years. “It’s time to stop blaming everyone else and own up to your own mistakes.”

The government needs to be more forthright about what’s happened with the BC Bid replacement and on other issues of public interest, he said. “Now more than ever [the public] want to know the government is giving them the facts.... There just seems to be a pattern of doing the sidestep.”

It’s insulting that Beare insisted last April that the project was on budget and on track when she should have known that wasn’t true, Banman said, adding she’d further damaged her own credibility. “There is so much to lose and nothing to gain by not fessing up to what the real numbers were.”

Either she was unaware of the state of the project or she misled him and the public, he said. “Either way, neither one of those options are good for the taxpayers of British Columbia.”

Records released to The Tyee in response to a request made under the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act tell the story of budget pressures, scaled-back expectations and a strained relationship between the government and CGI.

The documents included a series of 34 change requests made under the contract, with the first dated March 1, 2019. All together they involved more than $2.5 million that was either added or repurposed.

When the original three-year contract ended in December the government entered an interim agreement with CGI that goes until the end of March and began negotiating a further two-year extension with the company.

BC Liberal Leader Kevin Falcon said the bungling of the BC Bid replacement shows a lack of competence.

“They have no idea what they’re doing,” he said. “When people that have no idea what they’re doing are spending tax dollars on major projects, they unfortunately are going to get really bad results.”  [Tyee]

Read more: BC Politics

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